• Ilan Cooley

A Seat at the Table

Updated: Jul 5

"I will let go of loneliness, and replace it with liveliness. I will let go of the disappointments, and replace them with hopefulness. I will let go of unrealized dreams, and replace them with aspirations."

Growing up in a big family we ate every meal together without fail. We had assigned seats, so we always knew our place at the table.


It has been a long time since childhood, but I still value the feeling of inclusivity, and the security that comes with belonging. As an adult, I have not had the same home life, or structure I grew up with. I have seldom even sat at a formal table. Regardless of whether there is an actual table, or people around it, I still want to feel I belong somewhere. I think most of us do.


There are many ways to build a fulfilling life, and prior to the pandemic, my life truly made me happy. It was a life of my own design; it was vibrant and satisfying. It included lots of travel, and all kinds of socializing. I was often the hub of parties, and the planner of adventures. My work focused on large events, music, and entertainment. I generally used my downtime to recoup quietly at home. It was my oasis. To me, it seemed like the perfect balance. I thought I had what I needed.


When life halted, home was still my sanctuary, but without everything and everyone, it became lonely. Not being able to surround myself with others was difficult. I had rarely wondered, or worried about where I belong. I think I was too busy making sure others felt included. For the first time in a long time, I found myself wondering where, or if, I fit.


Last night I had a vivid dream that woke me up in tears. I was trying to get into a room but was denied entry. I went to another room and sat down at a table where there was a person from my past, and someone from my present. The person from my past told me the people in the other room did not want me there. The person from my present told me I will not be embraced by everyone, and that is okay. She told me to let go.


A dream is just a dream, but I feel our subconscious can help us heal. Sitting alone at my table these past 16 months has given me time to reflect deeply about what, and who, I want in my life going forward. It is easy to want things to return to “normal"—normal is safe, and familiar. As much as I want to say every part of my life was sturdy, I know that’s not true. In the vast space of solitude, I found out which parts were not on solid ground.


Being happy with the life that existed before does not mean some things don't need to change. The life I had then is behind me. The life I had made, and all of its social structures are different now. The world is different now. Whatever I am destined for is in front of me, which is both exhilirating, and terrifying. On many levels my life worked, but it didn’t have enough soft places for me to land. I need more comfort, and more support. Maybe I didn't sit down long enough to question what I needed. Maybe I just didn’t need the same things at that time.


Like the ones before it, this chapter of life is a work in progress. I am committed to establishing firmer boundaries, and articulating them. I will continue to be vulnerable, and authentic, without fear of judgment. I believe my struggles matter, and that they are as valid as anyone else's. I will rely on my family, and close friends for comfort and support. It will be reciprocal. I will gather around the table with them to share our diverse stories, and learn from one another’s experiences. I will create a place for myself where I fit; a place that feels safe.


We all have a lot to process, and a lot to overcome in the months, and even years ahead. I have let go of some people, places, and things. It is hard to let go, but it is time to embrace what lies ahead. I know I still have some things to let go of. It is a work in progress. It will take time.


I will let go of loneliness, and replace it with liveliness. I will let go of the disappointments, and replace them with hopefulness. I will let go of unrealized dreams, and replace them with aspirations.


It is time to find my place—maybe it will be at an entirely different table.




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