This has been a busy and rather extraordinary week for me, and one which I hope will lead to something enjoyable — maybe even wondrous? — for you.
The Story Begins One Year Ago
Last year at this time I was consumed by grief over Gadget’s and Norm’s deaths as well as by the multiple other losses I’d experienced in close proximity: the loss of feeling safe in my home after a natural disaster; new functional limitations in every aspect of my life caused by Lyme disease; and the loss of several very important friendships. I was in a constant state of pained numbness. I was angry a LOT. Underscoring everything was my unrelenting self-loathing and self-judgments, which I didn’t even realize were there.
When I found out, via a friend who was also studying Nonviolent Communication (NVC), that there was a marathon global empathy call in honor of Gandhi’s birthday (October 2) and the UN International Day of Nonviolence, I was a little dubious. I didn’t get it — what would people DO? Would I have to interact with a bunch of strangers who would not “get” my life, with all its disability-related weirdness, loss, isolation, and complexity?
But the call was free, and I heard from some friends that it was really great, so I figured I had nothing to lose. I could call in and just see what it was like, and if I didn’t enjoy it, I’d just hang up. At first, I just listened. I was amazed at the courageous vulnerability of those seeking empathy and in awe of the skill — combined with a depth of compassion and empathy I’d never witnessed before — of the facilitators and participants who were so interested in supporting other participants, regardless of the topic or the person.
I started calling in as often as I could, and each time I felt a stronger and stronger desire to request empathy, even though I felt very scared and nervous. I felt comfortable with my little knot of NVC students and teacher who also had chronic illnesses and disabilities, but this number of unknown, mysterious strangers on the line, what would they think of me? Maybe they would be as disgusted with me as I was with myself. After all, hadn’t the friends who left my life told me I was a selfish, horrible person, not worthy of attention? (That was what I believed back then; now I know that that is probably not at all what they thought.)
I Finally Spoke Up
Eventually, standing in the stream of empathy flowing around me, I wanted to drink of that water, too. I really felt like I would implode if I didn’t get some empathy. I made a request for time on the call. Having held in my grief for so long — years! — as soon as I started talking, overcome by anxiety and sadness, I just sobbed, all my grief just pouring out of me. It was hard even to talk.
Honestly, I don’t remember a lot of what I or others said. I remember a few words and phrases here and there, and certain names and voices. But mostly, what I was completely astonished to learn — and what I didn’t believe the first times people said it — was how much they were moved by my call, how much it had given to them, that my sharing my pain was a gift. I actually stopped someone to ask her “Why?” Because I couldn’t believe it. It happened to be Mair Alight (one of the organizers of last year’s call and now one of my NVC teachers) who answered me. I don’t remember what she said, but she was clearly speaking the truth. She was not being “nice” and lying or being pitying or patronizing. She was genuinely connecting with me, and that connection was nourishing to her. That shifted something large inside me. I always remembered her name and voice after that.
When I first started speaking (and crying), I was cringing, waiting for the silence of repulsion or the polite words of distance, letting me know that really, it was not appropriate to just sob on the phone to a bunch of people who don’t know you. But I got the opposite. I got love and tenderness. From strangers.
That was also the first time I had a chance for a communal grieving process for Gadget and Norm. I felt held and cared for like I never had been before. To experience such deep compassion from strangers around the world was transformative. I left the call raw and open and exhausted, but also with a sense of a heavy weight on my heart having been lifted just a bit. The wound of unattended grief that had been festering for two years was finally able to begin healing.
I don’t usually use language like this, but that call for me was a rebirth. It gave me all sorts of hope. Hope that I could have friendships and close connections with other people again. Hope that maybe there was good in me, that I had something to contribute to the world. Hope for things I can’t even define or name.
Several people expressed concern about my needing much more empathy than I was getting in daily life and suggested other free NVC phone classes and practice groups, which I scribbled down on bits of paper. With these leads, I threw myself into every NVC endeavor I was able to. For a while I had several embarrassing interactions where, when I met a new NVC person in a phone practice group, they would tell me they recognized me from the call. But they all seemed to view that as a positive thing, and more than one person told me that my call had been the one that had moved them the most or been one of the most meaningful.
The long-term effects of that call have been amazing — not just that one catharsis, but the connections to other people and groups have made me much more attuned to my and others’ feelings and much more aware of what my underlying needs are and how to fill them. One unexpected result is that I am a much happier person now, more compassionate toward myself and others, and much, much less angry. (Funny side note: I said to Betsy a couple of weeks ago that I realized I very rarely got angry anymore, and that now I was aware that I used to be angry constantly. I said, “Do I seem less angry to you?” And she widened her eyes and said, “Yes!” Nodding her head so emphatically that it was comical.)
I Have Come Full Circle
Ever since the call ended last year, I have been looking forward to this year’s. Last week I emailed Mair to ask her for details on this year’s event. She said it had not been planned; nobody had had the time and energy to take it on. However, she said, if I could help organize it, we could do it together.
I thought about it and decided I couldn’t NOT volunteer because otherwise the call wouldn’t happen, and I wanted it to happen so badly. I thought there would be a few of us organizing it, but nope! It’s just me and Mair, and people were referring to me as the “lead organizer”! How did that happen? I never dreamed I could or would be doing this, but the call is scheduled, facilitators are volunteering, and I very much hope you will join me!
You don’t have to know any NVC to attend and enjoy this event; all human beings are very welcome! (Of course, dogs are welcome to listen in, too.)
And because of my own disabilities and that of many of my friends, I have also added an online, all-text chat to the schedule, which I will be co-hosting. All are welcome to the online chat, just like the calls. You can do both!
Here are the details of the event: This is a free global empathy call that will span 24 hours, facilitated by teachers, practitioners, and enthusiasts of NVC. The intention of this call is to experience community through empathy. You can ask to receive empathy or offer to give empathy or just listen and witness the flow of empathy.
Every two hours a different facilitator, or team of facilitators, will be hosting — bringing their own perspectives and experiences to the call. Note: For technical reasons the 24-hour period has been broken up into six (6) four-hour “sessions,” but you can call in (or leave) any time during any “session.”
The call will START Monday, Oct. 1 at 6:00 PM EDT
END Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 6:00 PM EDT.
The timeline chosen means that in every part of the world, some of the call will occur on October 2, the United Nations International Day of Nonviolence and Gandhi’s birthday.
Plus the Online Chat!
Of course, given my own intermittent speech disability and the many Deaf and hard of hearing people I’ve had in my life, I am aware that conference calls are not always the most accessible forum for everyone (although I have used relay in NVC classes and practice groups). I know of people who prefer text to spoken communication due to seizure disorders and autism, as well. So, I really wanted to have one “call” be online. I’m excited and nervous because I will be co-hosting, and I don’t yet know who will be my co-host(s), but here is the info:
A two-hour live online empathy chat
on Oct. 2, from 12:00-2:00 PM EDT.
(Again you can find out when the chat is in YOUR time zone using this time zone converter.)
You do not have to have a communication disability to attend the chat! We welcome anyone who would enjoy giving, receiving, or witnessing empathy in an online environment or who is just curious what it’s about. To join the chat, click here or go to http://us7.chatzy.com/76139319355482.
Please spread the word about the calls and the chat!
**NEW: Another online option has been added! There will be a face-to-face empathy by webcam on October 1 from 10:00 PM to midnight PDT. To register, enter your name and email address at http://www.PANinA.org/Empathy.
Will You Join Me?
You do need to register for these events — that is how you get the call in number and PIN code for the calls (or the URL for the online events) — but you can drop in whenever you want, or decide not to go at all!
Please note that this is a free call. When it asks you for the amount you’re paying, just put in “0.” If you would like to make a donation up to $24 in appreciation of our work organizing this event, we would certainly appreciate it, but our deepest wish is for the presence and participation of everyone who wants to come!
When I took this project on, it was only with a desire for the event to happen. I knew I’d be using a lot of “spoons” on this that would leave little or no time for other activities, including training Barnum and the bits and pieces of writing and editing I’m trying to do for pay again.
* 1. If using the computer is difficult for you or for a friend who is interested, please contact me, and I will be delighted to register you or them!
* 2. If, for some reason, you have trouble registering (if you don’t get your call-in number and PIN), please contact me.
Getting the Word Out
In all honesty, I am trying everything I can think of to get the word out, and I don’t know if it’s having any effect, so I would appreciate it very, very much if you would post the link to this event on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and share with friends, etc.! Or reblog or retweet this blog post. Or tell someone in your life.
I very much hope this year’s Global Empathy Call will be as rewarding for all involved — hopefully including you — as last year’s was for me.
Love, Sharon (and Barnum, who does not understand the fascination of the black box on the overbed, the clicky thing in the lap, or the wire thing on the head that the sounds come from)