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First Person: Adrienne Maree Brown Finds Joy In Finding Her People

A woman smiles under the sunset. (RunPhoto via Getty Images)
A woman smiles under the sunset. (RunPhoto via Getty Images)

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: The American urge to constantly look forward. Yes, even here at On Point can lead to another American peculiarity, a collective historical amnesia, even for the most recent events. Well, we don’t want to fall into that trap, especially as this country went through a historic pandemic, one that’s not even over yet. So we’ve been reaching out to guests who joined us this past COVID year, and we’ve been asking them to reflect on where they were then, and where they are now.

CHAKRABARTI: adrienne maree brown is author of “Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good” She joined us last year to talk about finding joy in the midst of overwhelming world events.

[ARCHIVAL TAPEADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: It is absolutely the normal thing right now to be grieving every day. Like don’t try to run away from that. Don’t try to put joy on top of that. You can’t deny it. Feel it, and then adapt. Like the adaptations I’m making are I need to talk to my family every day. I want to see their faces every week. That’s as much as we can do right now. Be with uncertainty, the small one step at a time. Be your best self in that moment.

CHAKRABARTI: That was last year. We played the moment back to her recently and here’s how she reacted.

BROWN: I definitely feel the wave of grief that moves through me that’s been moving through and is still moving through in that moment. And I feel gratitude listening to it because I’m like, Oh yes, I have been in such good contact with my family and my loved ones. This past year has been a year of realizing how much we matter to each other, and taking it seriously. I’m grateful I said that. Yes, that’s what I feel. And that’s what I’ve been practicing.

CHAKRABARTI: She shared with this past year has been like for her.

BROWN: I’ve been astounded by how much joy I’ve received from being in closer contact with my family. We are still doing a weekly call with each other and often the children get on, my siblings get on. And just being able to see their faces, see them growing, see them changing, and all of us like learning how to share so much more of our lives with each other. We’ve always been a close family, loved each other, but now it’s different when you’re in a rhythm of weekly visual contact with anyone that’s like, Oh, what’s happening with your spirit and what’s happening with your health? Like, How’s the house? You start to have a better intimate sense of each other.

BROWN: My uncle, he went to Jamaica with his girlfriend and some friends. And they came back, and three out of four of them were sick with COVID and he passed away. So that was really difficult, you know, directly like, Oh, I don’t get to be with them. I don’t get to see him again. And then knowing the impact that has on my family. That moment was a really hard one.

BROWN: Even under duress, there’s still a choice available of feeling our feelings. But then, you know, circling back around to OK, and then where is the aliveness in this moment? What’s possible still for me in this moment? And sometimes the aliveness is just I have a shoulder to cry on. Thank God for that. I worked hard for that and have people who really love and care about me outside of anything that happens on the Internet. That is really helpful. It actually brings me joy to just sit sometimes and reflect on who’s in my life right now.

BROWN: I’ll share one more thing, which is we’ve been just literally walking around the block. Like going outside to walk around the block. And I have early-onset arthritis that is, you know, can be very debilitating. So when we were first trying to … figure out, like, I need to get more exercise, I need to do stuff with my body. And I … started tracking my steps. And I’m like, I am struggling to get 500 steps right now. And in my mind, I had that thing of, like, you’re supposed to get 10,000 steps a day. That’s how you stay healthy forever.

BROWN: And I was like, I can’t get to 500. And now I’m up to almost 5,000 a day. And the joy, every time I walk outside, I’m like, OK, I can add another block, we can add another length of the street. Like maybe it’ll still be possible for me to be in nature the way I love it. I go with my sweetheart, my fiancée. I guess that’s something you don’t know since last time I was on the show. Is I experienced a very romantic proposal and I said yes to that. So, yeah, my fiancée, you know, I don’t know anyone who could truly make it through this pandemic all by themselves. However, you’re in contact, however, you’re finding a relationship. It feels so important, so clearly important to have your people.

In this diary … we hear from:

adrienne maree brown, writer and facilitator. Author of “Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good” and “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.” (@adriennemaree)

In the coming weeks, we will continue to talk with On Point guests who joined us over this past year about what that experience has been like for them, their thoughts about COVID, this country and their lives now.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.