As an extrovert, all I want to do is volunteer and be out with people, but so much of what I must do has to be indoors in my own house. I have really missed being with people, meeting them and getting to connect in person.
I decided the best way to feel like myself again was to do some in-person volunteering that was not public facing. So I have been helping out in the back of a food pantry once a week, packing bags for folks to pick up with a handful of other volunteers and staff, all of whom are able to practice social distancing.
Going in the first day, I was wondering if I would know anyone. That day, I only saw one person that I instantly knew. Another cyclist was in the basement packing bags.
Upstairs, I worked produce with a few others. They looked familiar, but with half of our faces shrouded in masks, it was hard to really know.
Today as I was talking to one fellow worker, I discovered the familiarity was not just his friendliness, but that he had been in my life peripherally for quite a long time.
For years, I frequented the eatery that he managed in the neighborhood and I always thought he was warm and nice. He greeted me time and again, served me, joked with me, but we had never actually had a personal conversation or a sustained interaction.
Now, sitting across from each other for four hours, we were sharing a new experience, chatting, joking, and bagging endless potatoes. I learned that others were volunteers at community gardens I had visited, and some I had met at community board meetings.
I have met new people, too. But regardless of my previous experiences with everyone in the room, our relationship was renewed together in this place, at this time.
Riding home on my bike, I thought about the nice warm feelings that come from discovering the many sides of our community. So often we know someone in only one context.
We have limited interactions with them, and the rest of their life we either don't think about or we color with assumptions we make. We decide that because they dress a certain way or seem to center on a certain activity, that the rest is known and predictable.
We can even assume this about ourselves. We all get stuck in ruts, not just for what we do but for who and how we interact with another.
Despite the terrible circumstances, it is nice to have the opportunity to shed my many known roles and identities. It feels freeing to emerge into the world and discover another self, and to meet people where they are too.
I have spent so many years locked into particular identities, it's nice to slip into another space, with new people in their new identities, and freshly connect.
As Walt Whitman wrote, “we contain multitudes.” Familiar faces can become acquaintances and friends many years later. For newness that emerges where there seemed to be only the mundane, I am so grateful.