It's a sunny Tuesday in Charleston, beautiful really. In spite of the evacuation orders people are driving around, waiting for news of Florence, and going about their lives in general. Not everyone is this relaxed mind you. Some people are running around, grabbing supplies and preparing for a trek out of the city to safety. When hurricanes begin moving towards Charleston you get an incredible look at the reality of perception. To some people, the end of the world is nigh, to others it is time to enjoy some time of work, maybe sleep in, and wait for the whole thing to blow over. We look at something, an event, a person and we see it some way, we perceive it, and through those perceptions we end up judging it, right or wrong.
In the shadow of this storm, with all of this uncertainty, I took a moment to have a cup of coffee with Whitney Williams McDuff. It almost didn't happen. Fortunately, we are not scared of the storm today. We might be afraid of it tomorrow, but right now we have time to connect.
Whitney is wonderful. Truly, if this storm descended right now and we were trapped in this coffee shop, she would be the person to be trapped with. Her smile is warm and inviting, a beautiful prologue to her insightful questions and the gentle lean forward she does when hearing your story. Whitney wants to know all about you, even the details you might consider trivial. Make no mistake, they are not trivial to her. She is learning, finding all of the brilliant little pieces that make up who you are. The gleam in her eye is the gleam of an artist, using those pieces to make a stained glass of you. Oh how I would love to see that window, to see what she sees when she gathers all of these pieces. What colors are in mine? What shapes?
Our conversation runs these amazing tangents, beautiful trails, unicorn not rabbit, dancing around movies and books. We talk about some of the people we both know, about our paths, about philosophy and our places in the world. It is a dance. A wonderful tarantella of snippets and anecdotes, smiles and cries, questions and answers. That's Whitney, the conversation takes on a life of its own. I can imagine a sprite dancing around the room, wrapped in a cloak of our random words, from Neverland to Dune, from Jedi to marketing, a whirlwind of ideas, a hurricane of a connection.
The topic of perceptions is a big one for us. We have both misread people. Every single human being does. It all goes back to those narratives we carry with us into meetings and connections, they shift our perception, guide our vision to what we think we are going to see. Whitney has worked hard to move past them as she meets people, but she feels them just like I do. For both of us, we are seen as intimidating. Whitney is a warm and welcoming soul, she greets you with a smile and a hug, her voice is a shout to the heavens about how happy she is to see you. It's genuine and warm, sort of like the ideal holiday you see in a Christmas movie. To some people though, she is intimidating. I honestly don't get it, but I don't see her that way. The people who see me that way see the height and the beard, the general size, maybe even an excessive amount of energy.
The point in both of our cases is that we can't change what you see when you look at us, not while still being us. I love Whitney, she's just great. She loves water dinosaurs, movies so bad they are good, reading and learning. We both love stories. I have spent time with her. So, at the same time as she shouldn't change who she is just to change the perception of her, people should take a chance to get to know her and ditch the preconceptions. THe path we took through this discussion was wild, it was the greatest time ever.
After our time together, I walk away still feeling our last hug. That's the spirit of Whitney. It lingers on you, that hug, that love and acceptance. I can admit that I am not used to the feeling, but I like it. The town is losing its mind with the coming storm and I am driving home feeling that hug linger, that safety, that acceptance, that general interest in who I am, what I think and where I am going. People want to feel valued.
Whitney values people. So much she can defeat the fear of a hurricane.
Favorite Dinosaur: Megaladon
Why: She is fascinated by giant creatures, the wonder in their existence and presence. How incredible would it be to see a giant shark, a creature that has hardly changed over all of this time?