WEST MONROE, La. (KTVE/KARD) — Hello, my name is Jenn Hensley.  I want to introduce myself to you, because some of you only know me as a by line on many of the articles that you read, here, on this website.

I was born in Monroe, Louisiana and I have a love hate relationship with this area, as many of us do. I am a digital journalist here at KTVE and KARD, so you will never see my face on TV, or you might on rare occasions. However, I’m still a part of the team and each member has a purpose here. I also teach at a local community college and I tell my students they have to take good care of themselves and remind them to get enough sleep and to eat when they need to; sometimes I offer them tough love, when they need it.

Why the introduction? Well, I’m about to get deep and personal because it’s time that someone addresses the world in a spirit of tough love.

We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the coronavirus taking over our back yard. Yeah, when it was across the country or half a world away it was a joke. I even joked with my students about not licking the doorknobs and taking care of those who are close to them.

For almost a year we have been locked in our homes, forced to face tough situations as family units. I don’t know about your home, but in my home, my family, we forged bonds and said, “It’s us against the world.” For those of you without this, this year has been brutal, because it’s just been you against the world.

As I sit in the newsroom typing this, I’m trying to remember life before the pandemic, life before distancing, plastic sheeting, masking, washing, cleaning, and obsessing over what will happen next. Some of you are still sitting in your homes feeling like the survivors of the Titanic. The line from the movie is rolling in my head right now, the line that says, “We were waiting. Waiting to live. Waiting to die. Waiting for something that may never come. Waiting for an absolution.”

We have all been waiting for absolution, waiting for a resolution, a vaccine, a time that looks like it was. But the thing about hardship, suffering, and pain is there is a lesson to be learned.

The lessons are different depending on who you are and what your life situation is. For some, the stories in the news about rape, murder, and devastation hit all too close to home. Some of us cry out and join forces with other people who are just as hurt and wounded. While this is a good thing, it won’t fix the root of the problem.

This is my Fiddle Leaf Fig tree a few days after I brought it home.

A few months back I bought a Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree that was almost dead. I was shopping in one of the big box home improvement stores that was allowed to remain open as an essential service. I don’t know why I picked up this tree. I knew it was dead, but I wanted to save it.

It was the saddest fig tree I’ve ever seen. I spent months taking care of it. I would water it and smother it with hope; hoping that it would survive. I thought smothering it would bring it back to life. I even convinced myself that I saw growth in it. Sometimes, we are doing that with what our lives looked like before the coronavirus, before the riots sparked by George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s painful removal from this earthly plane, before any catastrophic loss.

Loss is just that, loss. We have never been promised to have anything for any extended period of time. We are only given right now. And if we do not search for the lesson in the loss, we miss the whole purpose of having that special thing in the first place.

I’m reminded of several people who have suffered loss in recent months. I’m sure you know someone who has lost something dear to them in the last year. There is a philosophy that says death is not the end, it’s transforming, much like a caterpillar turning in to a butterfly. If the caterpillar doesn’t die first, there cannot ever be a butterfly. The funny parallel that can be drawn between caterpillars and us during this pandemic is that we have had to go into a cocoon state so we can be butterflies. Then, when the butterfly is ready to come out of the cocoon, it has to struggle before it can mount up on its own wings and fly.

My Fiddle Leaf Fig tree after it was pronounced DOA.

I know there are a lot of metaphors here, but sometimes we do the same thing that I was doing with my fig tree, smothering it until it becomes toxic to us. We all needed time to recharge our batteries and to really reflect on what was important to us in this world. We are all wrapped up in self-care, self-love, and while those things are important, sometimes we miss the point. It’s not just a fad, a thing to do on a Friday night when you have nothing better to do–or all the bars are closed, and you can’t go anywhere to drown out the pain with random people in a tiny room.

Some of us have been so wrapped up in our own grief that we are unable to think beyond our own needs. We have truly lost ourselves and let our passions and compassion shrivel up into a toxic wasteland masked by the newest, latest and greatest of masks–be it designer or a chopped up old t-shirt.

We are all seeking love and security. We all want to be seen and to be noticed. There are people literally screaming in the streets to be heard, to have someone say, “You are seen. You are noticed. You are heard.” We talk about having tough conversations with people about things that bother us or that need to be addressed. And it is not lost on me that there are a lot of painful things that need to be addressed in this country. The year 2020 did many things and one thing was to point out a lot of pain and strife in the hearts of the people living in this great country we call “‘Merica”.

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But the problem isn’t just in Washington, D.C., Hollywood, Facebook, Twitter, Politics, Religions, or anything else. While we don’t always wage wars in our streets with guns and bloodshed, many times we sit right in our comfortable houses and wage war with our keyboards. We cancel what offends and embrace radical ideas that match our most toxic ideals. We don’t need cancel culture, no one needs to cancel anything. We need to remember that we are all on the same team. We are all Americans at the end of the day.

The main problem in this country is that “We the people” have forgotten how to look within ourselves, at our own lives and extend the love, grace, attention, and gratitude that we are demanding, like an outrageous Karen when asked to mask up in a grocery store, from other people when it’s not their job to give it to us.

Sometimes we spend our lives waiting for someone to come and grant us forgiveness for some wrong that has been committed against us, but we will not extend that same energy to ourselves. Sometimes that apology that we are waiting on, needs to come from us, to us.

America will heal itself and truly be great once again, when we can sit across the table from people who do not share our beliefs (be it religious or political), our values, our skin color, our sexual orientation, our gender identity and we are truly able to see them as a person–not the label they choose to affix to their shirt.

When that happens, when we have learned the hard lessons, then and only then will we walk forward into a new country, founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all. We all need to stop smothering the politicians, the police, the communities of color, the white people, the celebrities, the homeless, the prisoners; we need to dip up a big ole glass of compassion and extend it to ourselves so we can grow beyond the same fights we’ve been having since the dawn of time.

So, wherever you are and whatever grievance for which you are seeking justice, remember those around you are seeking the same. So, before you rush to send those harsh words online think about the person who will receive them. They are just as broken as you. And if you just read that and laughed–you are broken, too, embrace the broken parts.

Barbara Bloom once said, “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”

So, lean into those broken places, fill them with the gold of your own love and acknowledge the lessons learned from being broken and vulnerable. Take this as it resonates and practice grace with someone you know–I’m sure they will appreciate it.