I donated blood the other day. It’s something I try to do every six weeks or so. The need for blood continues to be so great, and it is one small, tangible way I can give back to others — when so much of our mission is intangible in nature. Two different technicians facilitated the process. While giving the blood was run-of-the-mill, the surprise I felt when both women shared something very personal with me was anything but. There was no intentional prompting on my part. I don’t know either of these women or anything about them. We had just met, and nothing I said would have inspired them to say what they said. I was wearing a mask, and so they really couldn’t read my facial expressions. I didn’t ask any open-ended questions (which we teach about through Someone To Tell It To’s training program). I don’t know if there was something through my eyes that conveyed safety, but for some reason, both, independent of the other, needed to unload some rather weighty feelings with me. Like little droplets of blood given on behalf of someone else for new life, they were finding new life with each droplet of their lives expressed to someone else.
When the first technician tested my blood for my iron level, she off-handedly made a snide comment about her ex-husband. Afterward, she apologized to me and went on to say that he had been abusive, and ultimately she had to leave the relationship. I listened without comment. She indicated that she was a proponent of mask-wearing during the pandemic, but some of her colleagues weren’t. There was woundedness behind what she said about her ex-husband. There was irritation underlying her comments about her co-workers.
The second technician, who actually was drawing the blood, saw the tattoo on my right forearm that quotes Fred Rogers, in his own handwriting. The tattoo reads, “I’m proud of you,” something he said a lot to those he knew. Both Michael and I have a tattoo of those words, a symbol of the covenant we made when we created Someone To Tell It To. It’s a phrase we often say to one another and those who reach out to us when they need someone to listen to their stories — usually painful and intense, on occasion joyful and celebratory — of their lives.
When she asked what the tattoo meant, I explained that we all need to hear those words, the message that others are proud of us, throughout our lives. She then told me that she was also divorced and she was trying to repair the relationship between her and her ex-husband. Differing from her colleague whom I saw first, she told me, without any prompting, that she’s not too certain about the vaccine. She said she has several pre-existing conditions that could create a problem for her if she is exposed to COVID. She wasn’t certain what was best.
They both obviously had concerns on their minds that they needed to talk about that day. For whatever reason, I was someone they chose to tell it to, and I was reminded once again that we all need someone to tell it to.
The next day, we held a virtual holiday gathering with our Someone To Tell It To team. There were three questions we asked the group to talk about during our time together. Everyone offered their reflections and thoughts; the conversation was deep and personal:
What’s been one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in 2020?
What’s been one of the biggest challenges to overcome in 2020?
What’s been one of the most meaningful aspects of being involved with Someone To Tell It To in 2020?
The team learned about flexibility, letting go of many expectations, and that Someone To Tell It To is needed now more than ever. We were challenged by letting go, by the unpredictability and modification in our daily lives, by the politicization of COVID, and those who wouldn’t take precautions seriously. What was most meaningful was the teamwork and camaraderie, the incredible and inspiring people we met and interacted with, and the fact that we could pivot in a time of crisis to still meet the needs of those we serve well.
We talked about the concept of joy — the feeling of contentment, well-being, and peace that fills and guides us no matter what is happening around us. The feeling that we’ll be okay regardless of our circumstances and the uncontrollable things that come at us in life.
It was a solemn time of growing to know more about each other and celebrating our joint commitment to our common mission. All of us want to be heard and known for what inspires us, moves us, disturbs us, propels us, and gives our lives meaning and purpose.
About two months ago, I was at the grocery store. Two men were standing in the line to check out: one older, wearing a mask, the other younger, maskless. The older man brusquely accosted the younger man about the absence of a mask. The younger man responded, also brusquely, and added some colorful profanity, calling into question the older man’s masculinity. The profanity was intensified as each man reacted to the other’s growing anger in the exchange. Those of us around them stood aghast, glancing at one another in disbelief at what we were witnessing. The confrontation only lasted a few minutes, but it seemed as if it were longer. I weighed in my mind what to do. Should I step in? Could I help to deescalate the awkward, potentially violent situation? Would I get hurt in the process? Or merely escalate the tension? Thankfully, the verbal volley of name-calling ended without a punch being landed or a gun being pulled. The men walked away from one another, and the rest of us breathed in relief.
It was apparent that there had been a pent-up tension inside both those men about the reactions that others have had to COVID.
I wonder: What if those men could have healthier outlets to talk about their reactions to others’ COVID responses or any other issue that eats away at them?
One of the vital roles we see Someone To Tell It To play in peoples’ lives is a preventative measure to blow off steam, vent, talk things out in calmer, less emotionally-charged, and more productive ways. It’s to provide an outlet that we believe works to deescalate tensions, resentments, and injustices.
This week, in our nation and many others, traditional holiday celebrations will be very different for most people. The world is still facing significant uncertainties and disruptions. We know tensions, resentments, and injustices are running high. This isn’t the holiday season we imagined, but it’s the one we have. We need to find healthy ways to enter into the changes and limitations of the realities in front of us.
Having safe people to tell whatever it is that we feel about this different season, this very disrupted year, and this very uncertain new year ahead is essential. People who won’t call us derogatory names, put us down, or dismiss us for our feelings.
We all need someone to tell it to every day. We hope you can have at least one someone in your life to help process all you’re feeling. And we also want you to know that Someone To Tell It To is here if one of those other someones isn’t part of your life. We won’t stop passionately pursuing our mission until each of us has one.
After all, as author Miles Franklin has written:
“Someone to tell it to is one of the fundamental needs of human beings.”