One of the major questions that drove me in creating this project was simple; how do we make connections? Those first meetings were mostly about sitting down for that first no-strings attached meeting and learning about people, meeting them on their own ground and appreciating them for who they are, not who we expected them to be.
It's from those connections, those amazing moments where we are vulnerable for s second or two, that we start to build relationships. Obviously, not every connection will lead to a relationship, but I tend not to spend much time on what won't become, but rather spend the time on what will be.
And so I took some time to grab a cup of coffee during this frantic holiday season with Whitney Williams McDuff, Connection 51, not to ask a bunch of questions, or even to delve into some research.
I took the time to catch up with my friend.
Whitney and I first connected as Hurricane Florence was moving towards Charleston. It seems so long ago as we sip our coffee by the window, in comfy chairs, as though we were in a living room at one of our homes. Whitney is the person with whom anywhere takes on the magical quality of home. Her laugh still rings out, filling the space, lightening the heart and reminding you not to take life too seriously. There is a joy found in her presence that reminds me of childhood, when our minds were more open, more innocent.
I have seen her since out connection, and we have kept contact thanks to the marvels of modern technology. Whitney's arrival at our wrap picnic lifted my day to new heights. There is just something about my friend, some special energy that I have no desire to define, but love being in the presence of. When I saw her pass the window on the way into our meeting, I jumped a little in my seat knowing the treat I was in store for.
I have heard it said that old baseball players seek to have one more season in the sun. The same could be said for a few more moments in the presence of Whitney.
We spend our first moments catching up. Whitney asks about how I am doing, about my plans moving forward and the new projects I have embarked upon. I tell her about the new endeavors coming in January, about continuing 100 Connections and the new journeys I have been on. She laughs, smiles and is genuinely excited for what is coming up. She asks how she can support me and I tell her. It is the nature of true relationships that you are invested in one another, not for personal gain, but for the joy of watching your friend succeed, for the celebration is in the triumph.
She asks me about Mary Ann, tells me how much she loves her. I know the feeling well. For Whitney, she has watched me walk a path. Her connection took place at the halfway mark, so she has seen a great part of the transformation in me. She has seen the change and relished in the happy ending. We talk about making plans for dinner so we can spend more time together and she can chat with Mary Ann as well. I tell her that I have always observed the difference between someone I have networked with and a friend is dinner plans.
As many smiles as we share, there are some cries, for if you will share your best with your friend then so to will your heart call out for you to share your worst. I tell Whitney about some of the things I am going through, about a resurgent depression and the battles in my life I am fighting. The energy of Whitney does not change, her energy is love, and so the love continues to flow. She smiles, asks how I am doing, if I am finding peace with decisions I am making. Her words are not empty, not gestures, but the genuine questions of a friend who wants to know what is happening and make certain all is well.
I have come to know this is Whitney, in her truest form.
We talk about being true to the person we are, about how we don't have to build deep relationships with everyone. It's true. As many people as we may meet, connect with and even think highly of, not everyone will be a relationship in our life. Whitney tells me about how I inspire others, how what I am doing gives people perspective, joy and even hope. I tell her how I don't always see it, how I remind myself of the ones I know who are reading and anchor my resolve in them. She smiles the smile of someone with true life wisdom and nods. It's all the confirmation I need to know that I am living my purpose, and a life greater than the one I left.
Time flies when you are with people you love. It's as true as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. We lose track of time, that construct we built to explain the movement of the sun and drive us ever onward. I often wondered if the creation of time was to provide a quantifiable value for life. (In my life I have pondered many things.) It's in moments like these with Whitney, in the seconds with friends and my chosen family, in the sunsets with Mary Ann that I realize one of the greatest lessons they have all taught me.
There is no quantifiable value for life, no way to tell if it was worth it by the metrics. There is only a quality of life, a value of the time we have spent assigned to it by our hearts and the way we feel. It makes no sense to anyone but us and perhaps it was never meant to. It is just our knowledge that these times with people, these fragile, ephemeral, fleeting moments is one of the most valuable things we have, sitting in our memory, fading by the day, but fully brilliant for a moment, an hour or a day.
We part with a hug and a smile, with laughter and evolving dinner plans. We head back out into the week not as connections, but as friends.