Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

After - Essay from Newsletter 43

My second word for 2021


Four years ago I travelled to Paris in January as I have every year since 2015.

This is the first year in six that I won’t be spending late January / early February in one of my favorite cities at one of my favorite conferences with many of my favorite people sharing many of my favorite meals.

We are far from done with the pandemic. It is not yet “after”.

Perhaps next year.

But January of 2017 was a trip to Paris during a different “after”.

It was my first trip to Paris since Kim had died.

Kim was killed in August, 2016 and everything stopped.

It’s weird to compare it to our current shut down. Now, everything has changed - everything has stopped.

Then - my life and the lives of some of those closest to Kim changed but the rest of the world kept moving.

After a while, even the lives of those who were close started up again.

And so, in January I decided to stick a toe in the water and head to Paris.

I “made” Maggie go with me.

It was my first trip anywhere since Kim died. My first conference. My first time on stage. My first time seeing all of my friends who had provided so much support over phone calls and emails.

So I can tell you a little about after.

It’s good to be back

In some ways it’s like that first-day-of-school feeling as a kid.

At least for me.

I loved being back at school - seeing everyone - turning back the cover of a new spiral notebook and writing the date in the top right corner.

Paris was Paris.

Maggie and I walked up to the Sacre Coeur and looked down over the city. We lit candles for Kim and Elena and others. We stopped at my favorite Creperie for savory crepes followed by a dessert crepe.

We visited museums and restaurants and walked miles and miles.

The dotSwift conference organizers, speakers, and attendees surrounded us like a wide communal hug.

It was the right place and event to choose for our first “after”.

And yet.

Not free

As you might guess, after doesn’t just happen.

I’d spent months mostly at home and when I decided to accept Sylvain’s kind invitation to host the conference again, I said yes.

This particular conference works with speakers after selecting them. We work with them on their topic and talks and the results are outstanding.

My job, on the day, is to introduce the speakers, make general stage announcements, and then take the speaker to the side of the stage where we chat for a bit.

Even though I know the talks ahead of time, I listen carefully during the talks and often throw out half of the questions I plan to ask and add a dozen more. During the conversation I often throw out many of these and follow the conversation.

It’s an intense day where I have to focus - but I can’t tell you how much but I love every minute of it from before the start to after the finish.

In addition, I teach two day-long workshops. It generally takes me a week or so to prepare each day.

Of course, there’s also the planning for what we’ll do in Paris. Like the post-talk chats, we often throw out half our plans and just go with what comes up.

Before and During

Some of what came up in Paris were memories of my many visits there with Kim.

We went to visit some of her favorite paintings in some of her favorite museums.

I took Maggie to my and Kim’s favorite restaurant and sat at a table in the kitchen while the chef cooked perfect meals.

After doesn’t erase the before.

After doesn’t erase the during.

Tomorrow when Biden is inaugurated we begin a very important after. But we have the damage of the during. We have hundreds of thousands dead who didn’t need to be. We have thousands of businesses gone that didn’t need to be. We have a schism in this country fueled by greed and ambition that will be so hard to repair.

After doesn’t just happen.

We’ve got a lot of work to do.

My second word for this year is “after”.

It reminds me of where we are and what we need to do to move in the right direction.

It reminds me of the damage of the during and the before.

It reminds me that the money I gave, the letters I sent, the text boards I volunteered for weren’t an end. They are a beginning.

This year is going to be hard.

We need to stay committed to the after to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 43. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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