I have been Facebook friends with Bill Reding for who knows how long because he works with my ex-husband, Ryan Iwanaga, and somehow we connected through posts, maybe because Bill also knows my daughter Keats. Maybe we connected that way. Who knows. I met Susan Golden because I did my massage school internship at Ryan’s office and I worked on Susan and then, later, she came to my office for massages. She referred Bill to me, and so then both Susan and Bill became regular clients.
I had asked Ryan if I could do my hours of volunteer massage at his office because it seemed like the nicest place to do something I didn’t really want to do (I’d been doing massage for 15 years already, but when California changed the law for how many hours you needed to be a certified massage therapist, I had to go back to school, and part of school was giving away services I was used to getting paid for, and if I HAD to do it, I figured Ryan’s office was the best place because if I had to give my work away for free, I might as well give it to him and his people. Mostly it felt like a safe place. I knew Ryan would take care of me.
I met Ryan in 1992 when we were in the M.F.A. program at the University of Oregon. I was there for fiction and Ryan was there for poetry, and I thought his teeth were too beautiful to be real. I kept waiting for him to tell me the story of his fake teeth, but that never happened. Instead, we got married and had a child. We also got divorced. Ryan married a woman who is perfect for him, Meena, a wonderful woman who loves Keats and whom Keats adores, and, five years ago Ryan and Meena had a son, Monroe. Every once in a while Monroe and I have a play date and what we do is go into his room and throw stuffed animals at each other for an hour or so.
I am telling you this because this piece I am writing is about community. I have been writing almost exclusively about adoption for some time now, and I have come to see the antidote to the stress of trauma is community. Community to me is synonymous with connection. Both words mean you are not alone. Both words mean you have someone’s back and someone has yours. At least one someone, and possibly many someones.
Community means I can write to my ex-husband and two realtors in his company and ask if they will have coffee with me so I can interview them. Do you know what it’s like to get a company vice president and two successful realtors in a room together? Listen to this: a week later we were at a table, drinking coffee and talking. That is part of community: the word “yes.” Community is about what do you want and how can I help you get it. Community is about I want to write about the job my ex-husband and these two realtors do because my respect and admiration for them as people and as professionals is deep and I want to share them with the world and let people know that Sereno Group is a real estate company based on the idea of community and that Bill and Susan are walking hearts that help others buy and sell their houses. Ryan is a walking heart that helps Bill and Susan do their jobs, and he is a walking heart that makes sure Sereno Group is an active member in society, giving giving giving in so many ways, supporting charities with a percentage of all the money that comes into the office and establishing an office community that is based on respect and accountability.
I recorded our hour-long conversation so I could tell you exactly what Ryan, Susan, and Bill said, but I find I want to use broader strokes. I’ll tell you two things: we laughed a lot and two of the four of us cried. I asked them to tell their favorite stories about each other. I asked them how their lives were different because they had these people in their lives. I asked them what had brought them to real estate, what they loved about it.
Okay. I’m telling you more than two things. I should have said I’ll tell you a bunch of things.
The reason why I’m going broad instead of telling you the particulars of what they said is because the reason I’m deeply affected and happy two days after we met isn’t because of the stories they told, but because they all took the time to show up. It’s something to see people talk about others who are sitting at the table with them and to see how connections equal deep emotions. What I noticed was that when Bill, Susan, or Ryan spoke, the others leaned in to really listen.
And it was the leaning it that led to laughter and tears. It was the listening.
What I got out of listening to a company vice president and to two realtors was the importance of leaning in, not in the Cheryl Sanberg way, but in the physical, I really want to hear what you are saying way.
I am telling you all of this because it’s been a tough year for this country, and as a people we seem to be struggling for a sense of safety and love. It means a lot to me that I have a good relationship with my ex-husband. It means a lot to me that he has a good relationship with the realtors who work in his company and that they have a good relationship with each other, and that all of us can be gathered together in an unlikely stringing together that becomes community--a place that brings us all to the seat of love.
I wish happy holidays to our nation, and to the world. I hope we can gather together in laughter and in tears. I hope we can lean in and listen.
It's all so good.