No Video Please
I snuggle into the recliner in my living room on this Sunday afternoon. I open my laptop. The Zoom event will begin in 5 minutes.
I click the “Join meeting” button.
But I’m looking for another button now to turn OFF—the most important button today—the “Start Video” button, the one I will disable so I can see without being seen.
Because I’m still stewing.
I just had to get my hair cut this morning. I couldn’t wait another day. So I rushed to a come-anytime hair salon 15 minutes away. I’ve had luck there before.
My hair is short; I only need a trim; anybody can do it, right?
Not this time. When the lady cutting my hair is almost finished, she says she’ll do a final little cleanup on the sides.
And she brings out the electric razor. And makes one too many cuts, including of my pride.
I walk out of the salon and look at myself in my car mirror. Do I cry? Do I scream? I just go silent.
This may be the worst haircut I’ve ever had.
Three hours later, sitting at my computer now, I find and turn off the “Start Video” button on the Zoom call.
No one is going to see me today.
One of our video hosts, master storyteller Matthew Dicks, comes on my screen to applaud us for showing up 5 minutes early, even though technically I’m not showing up live; I’m only a still photo in the group.
I’m fine being just a photo.
Then Matthew’s wife Elysha gets on.
Elysha also welcomes us. She’s glad we signed up for this virtual Speak Up Storytelling event. We’ll be hearing six beautiful human beings share their personal stories of trauma with us, a group of strangers on the other side of a screen.
All is well. I settle deeper into my chair. I’m excited to listen.
But then everything changes.
Before introducing the first storyteller, Elysha asks a favor of us, the audience. She reminds us that we’re here to bear witness to these stories, to these people. If we were gathered in person, the speakers would see us and watch our body language and absorb our attention as they speak.
But because we can’t be in person today, Elysha says we can still give the speakers our presence in a different way: Please turn on your computer cameras.
- Let the speakers know you’re here.
- Let them see you listening.
- Let them see your online applause when they’re finished recounting their stories.
But my hair, Elysha! You haven’t seen my hair today! I don’t want anybody to see me.
Yet her plea moves me.
I unclick “Stop video.”
My face now shows up live among the sea of faces in the online crowd.
I’m now fully here.
Who Cares Now?
I sit still and listen to the stories.
- From a Rwandan refugee who saw atrocious killings of her family members.
- From a teenage boy whose mother escaped a Bosnian genocide to make it to America.
- From children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who saw the lifelong scars they bore.
The more I listen, the more I forget about my hair. My hair, for crying out loud.
Who cares about my hair?
Not me. I am here. I am breathing. I am alive.
After the last storyteller speaks, we all hold our hands in the air and wiggle our fingers in virtual applause. I dry my tears (I’m on my fourth tissue).
I click “Leave Meeting.”
I search for the “Donate” button to contribute to the co-sponsor of the Speak Up Showcase event, Voices of Hope. I want these stories to continue to be heard. Their voices need to be listened to.
Not just by those of us on the Zoom call. But also by others.
When we listen, we are bearing witness.
- We are showing up to validate lives.
- We are affirming our support.
- We are making a statement that I hear you, I see you.
But we also bear witness by letting ourselves be seen. By keeping the camera on.
I’m still sitting in the recliner with my computer in my lap.
Yet somehow it’s not the same me that was sitting here an hour ago.
My hair hasn’t grown yet, but maybe I have.
Do you keep your camera on or off for zoom meetings? Share in the comments.
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