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The Strangers Project

I was recently blessed to have spent the weekend in Manhattan on an adventure with my bestie, Stephanie. We went to see the iconic Pink in concert, it was a thing that had been on our bucket list for a minute, and we were both excited to cross it off. We landed in Manhattan around 4ish grabbed some dinner and off the the show we went, eager to watch this queen with a mohawk flip, fly, and sing the words that tugged at our souls. Her performance was mesmerizing and inspiring. Pink has an authentic way of writing lyrics that connect to our hearts. I thought I knew every one of her songs but mid-show there was one song I hadn't heard it was all about letting go and releasing trauma. The song was presented almost as an invitation to the whole stadium to collectively release. That's exactly what happened; there was healing and relating and stomping and drumming and emotion. Madison Square Garden is enormous, and it was packed; there is no way we all shared the same beliefs. We were all strangers, But we all loved pink, and we were collectively releasing our shit. We had a common bond. The entire concert was an incredible experience. Afterward, Steph and I were beat, thankfully we had already planned to stay in the city that night. Around 11 we got back to the hotel and crashed almost immediately. The next morning we were packing up and getting ready to head home when we both realized that we didn't have to. All four of our kids were occupied and all we had waiting for us was housework and chores. Fuck that, we proclaimed and instead opted to spend the day exploring the city. We started off with an incredible conversation over brunch and then went trapsing off to the concierge for a little input on how best to spend our day. Within a few minutes, we devised a plan.

First, We walked over to the 9/11 memorial a sight so powerful I felt weak as I recalled that day and how grief-stricken we all were yet, as a nation we were pulled together rather than apart. I wondered where that unity went. Did it evaporate? I don't feel anything resembling unity these days.

Just past the memorial is an underground shopping mall called the Oculus. Its entrance is a pair of wings leading to an expansive underground white shopping mecca. I thought, wings, a white mall, maybe this was heaven, your girl loves to shop this was having that religious experience energy. Our journey du jour continued as we began our Christmas shopping. Steph and I wandered in and out of whichever stores we felt were calling our names. She was looking for shoes and I was hunting for the perfect blazer. (Yes, I did say we were Christmas shopping but I never said it was for anyone else, we thought it best to get ourselves a gift or two first, you know a kind of warm-up, an appetizer if you will.) Our Journey continued as we wandered down a random hallway and stumbled upon a sort of gallery called The Strangers Project. It was a storefront whose windows were adorned with letters as we peered inside, we saw the walls were plastered with letters also. There was nothing for sale. We were trying to figure out what this space was when we noticed a station just outside the entrance that described it.

"The Strangers Project presents an interactive display of personal stories in the Oculus, where you can read thousands of hand-written and deeply moving anonymous stories and then write your own story to be put on display."

I moved slowly through the space, reading the letters that people had written. I was struck by how honest people were in them. One was talking about someone falling in love, another talking about wanting to die, another written from someone who lost a mother. These letters were all shared by strangers. They were sharing the things that none of us dared to share. The result was that we weren't strangers; I had so many similarities, so many common threads.

Hi, I am Jessika, and I am an overthinker. If you have read any of my blogs, that should be very clear by now.

Lately, I have been digging in on trying to find common threads. These threads are little air purifiers for this hostile air we breathe. In an effort not to be an asshole, I start each day with meditation and then off to the gym where I focus on my breathing while I wrestle with gravity. Meditation and weightlifting are the foundation of almost every day. Unfortunately, they are not a cure-all. On a tolerant day, I can tune out the noise coming from the MAGA dude at the gym. Not all days are tolerant days. Some days, my mood doesn't allow me to tune him out and I fantasize about shoulder-checking him. I guess that makes me part of this sickness of separateness. I rage at people whose opinions differ from mine. At the same time, I don't want to hate people, resentments weigh me down and stop me from moving forward. (Keep walking with awareness Jess, you will get there.)

I recently got my ass kicked (not literally) but I had a heated altercation. I attended a Halloween party in a trendy club on the Hudson. My friend was DJ'ing, and a bunch of my family from the gym were there. It was yet another chance to step out of my comfortable place and dance into my life. Halloween had never been my thing, but there I was. I was dressed as Wonder Woman and the boyfriend was Clark Kent. This was my first time dressing up, and I was having the time of my life dancing the night away; I even won a costume contest. Mr. Kent and I went outside for some air when a woman I knew from the gym approached me (I wasn't a big fan of hers at the time). She greeted me with a bubbly "hello." I responded with a much less friendly 'hi,", she then asked why I never said hello to her at the gym. I was impressed with her social risk, it was quite a courageous move. My heart rate sped up my breathing became labored. I was faced with a decision: be honest or make the uncomfortable situation go away. I thought her courage deserved to be met with courage so, I squeezed Mr. Kent's hand as I entered into an honest and uncomfortable discussion with her about human rights. We were both on opposite sides of the issue (which is why I was so icy cold at the gym). I tried to maintain eloquence and composure which was no easy feat since I had a few drinks, but so it goes, I dove in. I like to think that we made a little progress. I like to think that we were at least trying to hear each other, but we did talk in circles as the handsome Mr. Kent was doing his best to steer and referee (he knew I had the potential to escalate fast). I realized after our discussion, that we had a common thread: we loved our children and wanted the best for them. Our religious and political affiliations were in opposite corners, but our love for our kids was equal. That realization gave me peace. I let go and thanked her for the discussion. My resentment melted. Needless to say, I was really shaken afterward. The whole thing happened in front of Mr. Kent. If you read my previous blog, "LOVE", you understand that I am not altogether vulnerable with him yet, and here I was, a sobbing Wonder Woman; I survived (I still do cringe a little if I think about it). Maybe the people who feel differently than I do are equally as passionate, and perhaps that can help me understand all the divisions. If I want to feel that unity I crave, If I want to bridge gaps then I guess I have to navigate uncomfortable spaces.

Most people recall feeling unified at the time of 9/11. Most of us hate how disconnected we feel now. That's why the Strangers Project is a thing, it illustrates our need to feel connected even in our varying life circumstances. I am sure that is what Pink intended when she unified us in our ceremonial letting go.

And so goes my journey of exploring us human beings. My brain turns all day dissecting situations and getting inspired by others. I can't only write about fitness or nutrition anymore, I get so bored. Especially because I know that's such a tiny little piece of our overall health. There are obstacles and roadblocks and so many truths about us that we need to acknowledge to grasp health. This piece, this spiritual, social, and emotional discord is a big sickness. I am grateful to the Strangers project for providing a platform and space to connect so we can stop being strangers. I am grateful for the gym chic who approached me and allowed me to connect. I am grateful to Pink for the opportunity to connect to an entire stadium.

I am learning that if I can focus on the things we have in common I am less likely to feel angry, scared, isolated, and defensive. I am more likely to smile and say hello to strangers. In general, be happier. It seems like a healthier way to live.

Think about it....

Peace and Love,


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