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What kind of difference do you want to make? It’s a compelling question anytime, and especially today.

We’ve all been through the wringer this year as COVID’s taken its toll on our health and our family’s well-being, our work and livelihood, our experience of connection and belonging.

The pandemic on top of the pervasive divisiveness of our politics has strained some of our attention and connections to their literal breaking point.

As I sat with the question and allowed it to settle in a bit, three notions showed up: the moment, the season, and the future.

The Moment

My initial response to the question had to do with pace—my own.

I’ve got lots of interests, tend to have too many projects going at once, am ambitious about my work, all while telling myself it’s because “I love all of this.”

There’s truth in my statement, no doubt. Yet some other realizations appeared too while sitting with the question.

In the past few months, my mom, my sister, and husband (OK, others too) have expressed almost the same thing: “I know you’re so busy so . . .” or “I hate to bother you because . . .” the likes of which made me cringe.

I’m not too busy to be with, talk with, laugh with those I care about, yet clearly, my behavior has been signaling something entirely different than my intention.

I blanch because those sentiments may well reveal me as rude, self-absorbed, and dismissive in ways that don’t sit well with me, nor is this the impact I want to have on others, especially those dear to me.

So, I’m going to down-shift my pace and open up more space to be present to those I’m with – whether family, clients, or neighbors.

 

The Season

A typical Thanksgiving, hosted by my mom for many years, includes anywhere from 25-40 folks: cousins, their kids, the elderly matriarch of the other side of the family, etc.

There’s skeet shooting in the morning, family arriving around lunchtime, lots of delicious food and lively conversation.

My sister, Shawna, has made it her practice at Thanksgiving to collect donations for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. She passes a hat, chats with folks, and asks us to share a gratitude statement.

Sometimes we’ve even written our thoughts down and read them aloud over dessert.

I love this shared experience of gratefulness that extends beyond our dinnertime table. And I’ll miss it.

This 2020 Thanksgiving, like many families, we won’t be gathering together.

One of COVID’s damning impacts has been a rise in social isolation, depression, and anxiety. One of the greatest gifts of our shared time is the sense of our belonging to one another as family and friends or framily 😊.

To belong is to be related to and a part of something. It’s the experience of being at home with one another in the broadest sense.

I realized, reflecting on my question, that the difference I’d like this season would be to find a way to support all of us to remember who we are.

To remember that we belong to one another and that our bonds of connection are, indeed, more significant than the Thanksgiving meal alone.

So, my commitment for this season will be a practical one. I’m going the old-fashioned route, committing to send snail mail notes to share my sentiments and gratitude.

 

The Future

Then there’s another answer that stretches out a bit into the future, related to belonging.

Research demonstrates the significant and detrimental impacts of social disconnection on our health and well-being.

Social distancing, along with the political divisiveness in our country, has upped the ante on our sense of belonging.

And despite whoever is the next President, we’re all Americans; remembering that we belong to one another will be crucial to healing and progress as we move forward.

Studies have shown that disconnection is on the rise and one in four Americans feel as though they have no one to talk to about personal concerns.

This translates to about 82 million people in this nation feeling tragically alone.

Disconnection has reached epidemic proportions.

Loneliness hurts, literally. A brain imaging study showed that feeling ostracized activates our neural pain matrix and is a risk factor for mortality.

A strain on social connection predicts vulnerability to disease and death above and beyond traditional risk factors such as obesity, smoking, blood pressure, and physical activity!

On the flip side, healthy social relationships are critical to our health and well-being, strengthen our immune system, help us recover from disease faster, and may even increase longevity by 50%!

Without exception, we thrive in community, in connection, in giving and receiving love. It’s that simple.

When asked what single activity brought about the most fulfillment, in a survey conducted with college students, the most commonly given answer was ‘spending time with friends and loved ones.’

Therefore, I’m intentionally re-committing my time, focus, and energy on ways to empower you to lead a life of greater meaning, purpose, and true belonging.