This week we are proud to host, for the first time as a guest blogger on this space, Christy Tweedy. Christy is a member of our organization here in San Diego, helping people build sustainable, inclusive communities as well as building that same sustainability in her own neighborhood. She is also just a downright wonderful human being! Enjoy her musings…
I guess you can say it all started a few years ago. I remember walking on the beach one cloudy murky afternoon and there was a guy who was sitting on the side of the boardwalk. In his hand he had a cardboard sign that said, “Will Listen for Free” with a genuine smile on his face. I couldn’t help but smile uncontrollably and felt a wave of connectedness pass through my veins. I got a rush of inspiration by observing him. His simple act to express an invitation for others to join him without fear was something that seemed unique and easy. Anyone could set up a cardboard box with some words scribbled on the front. I walked away knowing that I would store that memory somewhere in a safe and loving spot in my mind.
Fast forward many years later. I find myself searching for that inspiration of connectedness once again. In my line of work, it is commonly spoken about how individuals receiving supportive living services are eager to be inclusive within their community. Our organization strives to enhance and encourage these interactions and allow for inclusion and involvement. As the months pass, I start to see the importance of connection within individuals with disabilities to their community is similar if not identical to the longing all individuals feel to be connected. In all these conversations and trainings with my coworkers, I start to see myself reflected back into these stories of loneliness.
Living alone in my own studio apartment has given me a grand sense of independence but has also gifted me more of an obstacle in searching for ways to connect and build new relationships. I began to take a lot of the lessons I have learned from my mentors and apply them into my own personal life. I was faced with the deepening anxiety of reaching out and being the first one to initiate those interactions. Even being an extrovert did not ease the anxiety of being rejected or being socially ridiculed. Ironically, through the midst of nerves the thought hit me… Everyone must feel this sense of anxiety being the first initiator, if I let my fears cloud my actions, how will any movement take place? Nothing will be accomplished and I will continue to lose out on potential connections. Then I thought of the man I saw back at the beach that day. His bravery to stick out and actively invite all those who walked in front of him to join him in conversation. He took the initiative and in turn was able to take the social strain off others around him, therefore establishing a genuine connection.
I knew that if he could overcome his fears and be rewarded with pure connections, then I could do it as well. The goal at the end of the tunnel was worth the journey of obstacles. In my experiences those uncomfortable obstacles often signify sections of my life that need attention and further development. So that’s what I set out to do.
I brainstormed fun and easy ways to get people to come together. I tried my hardest to take into account different factors that may cause people to become too shy or anxious. I wanted to think of an easy way for someone to just say “yes” and to join in without putting too much thought into it. Different inspirations and ideas brought me to the conclusion that an amateur game of Frisbee would be an easy invitation.
It has now been months since I started Frisbee Fridays in my neighborhood. I wish I could say that I have made a huge following each week, but I cannot. Each week I still face the reality that numerous people decide to not show up. Each Friday I find myself still battling with the uneasiness of extending invitations only to be rejected time after time. However, each week I am always amazed at the quality of the interactions rather than the quantity.
I have been led to believe that the success of a community involvement event means having plenty people participating. In reality, it’s always been about the connections and energy being exchanged that really matters. I now put my focus into those few connections that happen while also being mindful of my own doubt.
I am still finding ways to push myself into that uncomfortable zone of extending invitations for people to connect. A few weeks ago I finally repeated the invitation of the man on the beach. A friend and I set up a spot with signs saying “Free Listener” and “Will Listen for Free”. I thought for sure we would get ridiculed and assumed to be vagrants asking for money. Ironically, we received great support and we even had a significant amount of people sit with us and talk openly while we listened. I feel like this game of finding connection will always be evolving and changing. I look forward to learning and growing while also exploring methods to break through that social fear of coming together to just be.