Coming to Work on Monday

June 16, 2016 3 Comments

As I walked into the office on Monday morning – pit in my stomach, swollen eyes from too much crying, exhausted from a restless night – I wondered how we would process the horror that had happened in Orlando over the weekend. I knew we would; after all, this was an organization full of facilitators whose values statement and change lens both included the word love. But having joined barely two weeks prior, I didn’t know just how it would happen.

Our colleague leading the extended meeting scheduled for that morning made it clear from the start: today wasn’t business as usual. And, it wasn’t a day off either. It was a day to be together, to mourn, to process, to do some work, and to practice “community care instead of just self care.”

We started with a minute of silence.

Following the minute of silence was a minute of noise, with an invitation to make whatever kind of sound felt right in that moment. Some of us kept silent. Some of us jumped up and down, shaking our bodies. Others shouted some pretty loud expletives. We laughed a little too.

We did a check-in.

“What’s a check-in?”, you may ask. A check-in is an opportunity for people to share what’s present for them, as a way to fully “land” in the space, to connect with others in the room, and to release a bit of what they’re carrying. A check-in can take different forms, depending on group size, type of gathering, amount of time available, etc. On Monday our check-in was an open circle in which we just sat and shared our thoughts and feelings. Some of our colleagues were virtual and I had to lift my head to the screen to see them. It’s a bit odd, but it works.

In our circle that morning, everything was welcome: silence, tears, anger, confusion, art. Someone shared a poem, another a song from Rent. We sat together not to fix things, to hush the pain, or to offer solutions. We just sat to honor and to hold everything people were carrying with them, without judgement or comparison.

Some of us here are more deeply connected to LGBTQ and to Muslim communities, and as such feel more personally impacted and threatened by the violence and its inevitable backlash. Central to what happened in Orlando are issues of identity, safety, and privilege. In acknowledgment of this, there was an invitation to also gather by affinity group. For me, the power of the larger circle was seeing the deep grief and fear of my queer colleagues, as well as the rage and shame and commitment of my cis, hetero male colleagues, the fear and confusion of the mothers in the room, the numbness of so many of us.

We then moved into doing the work we had planned: presentations on a few big projects, time for questions, feedback. I was glad to talk about something else, and having first spent an hour processing with the team is what made that different headspace possible.

Throughout the day what stood out most to me were the little things: how people held eye contact a little longer than usual, how gentle and tender the air felt, how everyone stopped to hear the answer to “how are you?” instead of blurting it out and walking on. We actually paused to listen. Connect. Hug.

Here at IISC we work to support effective, equitable, and inclusive social change, with a fundamental value being “the love that does justice.” I know the practice of “holding space” is common in what we do, and I feel lucky to work in an environment like this. I know how rare it can be, particularly in an office context.

I came home that night and asked my two roommates how their day went. One shared that no one in his office had even mentioned the weekend events, and everyone went about their day as if everything were normal. Another said her boss was surprisingly thoughtful, though it was a two-minute conversation and left her wanting more.

What would it look like if everyone had been able to do a check-in on Monday morning? To be fully real instead of having to leave things at the door? I think about this a lot, both in times of tragedy and on days that feel easier, of what it means to fully show up as individuals, of blurring the lines between what’s acceptable in a “professional” setting and what is deemed too personal to bring into the office. Can we build beloved communities in our work spaces too?

This has been a hard week. It’s not “okay” yet; there is so much healing to do still. Being in an intentional space where I could share and be present with others has helped tremendously. It’s not small, it’s not a distraction from the work of systemic social change. It’s part and parcel of it. I see myself, my colleagues, our work, and our world more clearly. It was a moment to pause and to reenergize for the massive work we need to do to truly build a world that works for all.

Here is to community, to love, and to life.




  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Beautiful, Alia. Thank you. And welcome to IISC.

  • Samesame says:

    Raw, beautiful, and beautifully said! Sounds like a wonderful environment to work in!
    You are lucky to have them Alia, and they are lucky to have you!

  • Aisha says:

    I love you so much Alia. Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m so extremely luck and blessed to be starting as part of this team with you. You make coming to work a transformative experience every day. I’ve learned so much from you already!

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