Guest Columns

Who Do You Want to Be?

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Nancy Sorbella

By Nancy Sorbella

Who do you want to be? I think about this every day. I want to be that person who helps friends and family, is “there” when you need me; anticipating what might be happening and there to catch you when you fall.

The pandemic has us all thinking, coping and hoping for the best. I miss my friends and family fiercely.  No Zoom, Facetime or Teams call can replace that human touch, hug, the look in your eye, face to face.  At any time in the day I wonder what my people are doing.  

I miss my work team nearly as fiercely. Never in my career have I had a team like the one I have now. Strong, smart, I-have-your-back women who inspire and amaze me every day. Our leader motivates us, empowers us and guides us to find the solution with unwavering support.

When we were first mandated to work remotely, I thought, “I’ve got this!”; 4 more hours in my day not spent commuting to NYC—the opportunities were endless. I got the landscape ready for the summer season, organized, baked, cleaned and did projects with my kids.  Home-schooling came next and that was a real harbinger of things to come, or an epic fail. I still have no idea how to manage my time, working 8+ hours a day and oversee the independent study of a curious 2nd grader. While I work on all the digital meeting platforms for my job, I struggle to get it together for class assignments, and forget about streaming ballet and tap! I get to my “desk” early each morning and manage to navigate my day with ease, while in my head is the constant hum of what is not happening and not going well.

Fortunately, my daughter seems unfazed. She is fine doing her work, dancing and later connecting with her friends on Messenger Kids. Her entire lacrosse season cancelled, she still manages to hit the ball against our makeshift backboard and practice cradling. She is resilient. My son who still lives at home, with multiple developmental disabilities has stepped up to help her get started on her assignments when he sees my frustration. Ask him to brush his teeth or clean his room and you will be reminded of his rights and hear a diatribe about how much he doesn’t care about these tasks, how unfair life is in general. However, during the pandemic, when his job as a bagger, carts and cans associate at the local grocery store deems him essential, and when left at home with his family with few external outlets, he becomes “the man”. Stepping up with the chores, the daily rhythm of our household and even some of the schoolwork set up has become his comfort zone. This is who he wants to be. I miss my other son who lives on his own, but happy he is safe, well and working remotely. We are all adjusting.

My husband, who really is “the man” around here, somehow inextricably found a new job during pandemic isolation, while his former job laid off most of its staff. So, he is out slaying dragons, interacting (at 6ft distances) with coworkers and other humans, I remain left to find my way to my usual, nearly unrealistic optimism, while everything around me has become insecure. The career that I adore, for a cause I am passionate about, in a city I love (NYC), with incredible colleagues has suddenly become tenuous. The entire landscape, literally and figuratively has changed, and we are suddenly out of control.  Our constituents need us more than ever and we are giving more than we knew we had.  We are trying to be resilient.

The endless reality of pandemic casualty weighs heavily on me and my people. We are empathic, kind, roll-up-your-sleeves doers, sidelined in the 21st century in the great state of NY. While we are physically apart, and worrying, sometimes crying, frustrated and mystified that this is even our reality, we search for control. I see my friends, often those struggling themselves, donating time and talent, lifting up a neighbor, tutoring, fostering pets, giving, giving, giving. This is who they are. This is our point of connection, shared values and character. I, myself, am picking up groceries regularly for friends and neighbors when I drop off and pick up my son at the grocery store. I volunteer to deliver food from the food bank to the elderly and when I can, or really, when I remember, sending pick-me-up treats to friends. These are some of the things I can control. This is also who I want to be.  Now, and always. I was thinking about so many that I miss daily, maybe some I have taken for granted even, and I yearn for coffee in person, dinner, sharing a seat on the train, and all the lovely ladies in my aquatic exercise classes.  I also know that when we aren’t together that my friends are doing such good, sharing their strength and their talents because that is who they want to be, too. We share those values, in good times and bad. Sometimes, selfishly, when they are not accessible, I forget that.  But they are “here.”  They are here for the long run. They are a call, a text and a heartbeat away.

There is enough advice to go around the world twice during the pandemic, and I’ve got nothing to add. I can’t imagine walking in the shoes of those on the front line. They have my endless, bottomless gratitude. Being “in this together” takes many shapes. I’m not even sure what that really means when some have so much, and some have lost all. What I do know for sure is that who I want to be is still who I am. My people, too, they are the same; they know who they want to be. And I am comforted every day knowing that I feel the glow of their love and support whenever I need it. We strive every day at work to “meet our constituents where they’re at.” I think that works for us all during this pandemic; it is meeting us where we are at and it’s up to us to rise to the occasion.

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