• Olga C. Piehler -

A Paradox in the time of COVID19

Feeling seen in uncertainty and unseen in the safety of predictability.

In conversation with 7 complete strangers a few weeks ago I felt confronted with this paradox.

I have walked around for most of my life feeling “half-known”. I grew up in Spain and left on my own when I was 17 to come to the United States. That marked in the story of my life the space between two paragraphs. These two paragraphs were distinct and interchangeable (I could either be in one or the other) and the characters in them remained independent and unrelated. The people I grew up with, knew one side of me (one half); the people I became an adult with knew another side of me (the other half). I either inhabited one paragraph or the other and found it difficult to explain in a manner where I felt others understood who my character was/felt in the other paragraph. For example, sharing with my family in Spain the stresses of raising small children while working full time in a society where everything feels like a 20-minute car ride away. That feeling of constantly being on the go, packing everyone in the car, rushing from one activity to the next etc … I felt like they could hear the words but simply could not comprehend the feeling - how could they? I grew up in a small Spanish town where we walked everywhere and as kids, we took ourselves to the activities we were engaged in. It simply is different. One world could not relate to the other in the predictability that made up our lives. Situations just like this (how things are here versus how things are there) have made me feel half-seen most of the time.

Fast forward to my recent experience. Here I am, finding myself in a zoom room with 7 other strangers in different parts of the world and we are answering the most basic simple question we find in salutation - “how are you feeling today?” A question that most of the time in our predictable lives gets so overlooked and basically acts as a courtesy head nod that acknowledges to the other person that we know they are there - Hey, I “half-see” you. A question that is answered with the same courtesy head nod back in the form of “I’m ok, and you?” that replies “I half-see” you too. Really not so different from the space between my two paragraphs - the blank space that demarcates the boundaries between the half-seen spaces. But not today. Today we all came to this space with the intention to answer that question with the expectation to be fully-seen.

As we all take turns to answer, each answer is different yet I see myself in everyone of these strangers’ voices. I feel seen without needing to even say anything. I feel comfort in understanding. I feel grounded and even relieved by the unspoken validation. I feel human. Actually I feel PERFECTLY human.

And this is where the paradox hits me. We are in the midst of what feels like chaos, uncertainty, unpredictability yet we are bearing witness in a very clear and powerful way to the commonality of the human experience. At a time where we are experiencing something unlike anything before, we are finding a very common ground regardless of whatever experiences, costumes, upbringing, education, etc… may separate us. I can fully-see them, and understand from deep within me not so much what the world looks like for them at the moment but what it feels like to be in that world. It is empathy at its core. It is recognizing another person’s soul because it lives in me. It is fully-seeing and being fully-seen from the reflection coming back to me of that recognition. It is powerful and grounding.

And I wonder … did the predictability of our lives create such autopilots closing the potentiality of the world around us to such an extent that we could only half-see because predictability was mistaken by certainty and the fallacy of “knowing”? Are we more open to fully-see now because of our acceptance that “we don’t know” as the world feels uncertain and in doing so discovering a knowledge that transcends any other knowledge? The knowledge of our own humanness? Will we take this new found ability forward so as to create more meaningful connected experiences in our journey? I really do wonder …

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