If you have ever watched a spider in the process of weaving, it’s a masterclass in design and art.
It’s the constant making of decisions, alterations. It’s cutting off pathways, reinforcing others, creating new ones. It’s both creative and destructive.
I was thinking of that this week when my husband and I wondered aloud how we got to … here. This moment in our lives.
I got here because when I was 25 years old I met a new coworker named Kate who had joined a walk/run program to train for an upcoming 5k. The program met for morning runs on the lakefront path in Chicago. Although she tried to make it sound like a fun social experience, I was pretty certain she just needed a friend to meet there for motivation.
Problem was, I was not a runner. Nor was I particularly active at that point in my life, save the occasional sprint down the law firm hallways in high heels to get the brief in on time.
And I did not know Kate particularly well.
She seemed nice, but as a young lawyer I was often up late in the evenings for work, so getting up extra early wasn’t all that appetizing, to be honest.
There wasn’t much reason for me to decide to join her in that run/walk program.
But, surprising even myself, I did.
Kate hated it.
I, on the other hand, absolutely loved it.
The lakefront path was a mere 1/4 mile from my condo but I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been there before starting that running program. I had had no idea what I was missing.
The lake has moods, and I got to see them all on those mornings – every day a new fresh scene.
Kate stopped running after the 5k that came and went.
I just logged more miles, and looked for people to run with.
I was tentatively, delicately, testing this path for myself – deciding whether to reinforce this pathway or pull it up altogether. Is this the right direction?
I found an online Yahoo Meetup Group (back when those were still a thing) that catered to relatively new runners and set my alarm to meet them at a huge totem pole on the lakefront path. It’s a landmark that’s hard to miss.
When I set off that Saturday morning to meet these potential new friends, I was excited. And a little nervous. Like the first day of school.
I got there on time and waited. And waited. And … waited.
It was getting cold, just standing there. I could see my breath.
A midsize group ran by. Are you the Yahoo Meetup Group? I shouted as they passed.
They shook their heads, shrugged, and continued running on – their cadences expertly matched through years of running together, chatting amongst themselves.
Another lanky and lean group of about ten (that looked way too fast for my taste) ran by. I think I got out Are You the Yahoo Mee…? before they were already too far out of earshot.
And in the crisp of that Chicago morning, I could feel myself justifying why I should just forget about this silly idea. They’re a half hour late. This is stupid. You’re not a runner. Who are you kidding? Go home. It’s cold.
I began turning toward home. And as I did, I was mentally dismantling the idea of Michele The Runner.
But just as I was pulling up and tearing down that section of the web of my life…
A big group of about 20 people – maybe more – came running by.
You could hear them before you could see them, because they were all talking and laughing and yelling around to one another. They were all out of step and doing their own thing in two and threes. There were old people, young people, skinny people and not-so-skinny people. Equal match of men and women.
They looked … a little goofy. They made me smile.
Are you the Yahoo Meetup Group? I yelled.
What? No! What’s that? But come on! Come with us! What are you waiting for? Hurry up!
Fifteen years later I don’t remember their exact words. But I still remember their faces. I remember the intention in their eyes, the welcoming waves.
I had a split second to decide.
I decided to run.
Bob, the Mayor of the Lakefront Path and one of the most wonderful, enchanting people I’ve ever met, slowed his pace that day (and many runs thereafter) to learn everything about me, to tell me everything about The Clocktower Runners, and to welcome me.
During that 30 or 40 minute run on a brisk Saturday morning in Chicago, a group of a few dozen runners changed the life of a woman they didn’t even know – just by encouraging her to join them.
Weeks later, the man who would become my husband came to a Saturday run because his coworker dragged him along. He was certain he would hate it. (He hates the cold and he hates early mornings.) I’m glad she convinced him.
Weeks after that, one of the patriarchs of the running group, who was the General Counsel for the State Treasurer, asked if I knew any lawyers who would be interested in going in-house at the Treasurer’s Office (then led by now-Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias). As it turns out, I was interested.
And so a few weeks later, I had a new job with the potential to change – really change – the world. That was also my entrance into politics, and how I met some of the people I hold most dear.
Even now that we live hundreds of miles away, watching the sun rising over lake Michigan on Chicago’s lakefront path remains etched in my mind. Some of my favorite personal moments, professional moments, are wrapped up in the rise and fall of those waves matched with the soft patting of feet and warm chatter of friends.
But I’ve always been so struck by how close it all came to not happening at all.
Had Kate not needed moral support for her 5k training.
Had she not decided to ask me – of all people – to join her.
Had I not said yes to Kate (when I had no real reason to do so).
Had I left that Totem Pole before seeing the Clocktower Runners.
Had Bob and the rest not egged me on to join them on their run. Had he not slowed his sub-8 pace to talk to me during that first run (and many after).
Had Paul not mentioned the Treasurer’s Office needing a litigator to join their in-house team.
Had John not accepted his coworker’s invitation to a running group that met three hours earlier than he’d wake up on a weekend (and in the winter, no less).
If any of those decisions, by any of those people, had been any different, I may not be sitting here today writing these words.
I see how the whole path of my life changed because of a dozen split-second decisions made within that span of a few months. It’s a dramatic view because it’s so obvious and the implications are so profound.
But every day – every single day – there are opportunities to change someone’s path.
Just last week I got a call from a phone banker for a local candidate. Immediately I could tell she was weary from the phones…
Caller: Hello, did you know that there is an Aldermanic election on March 7?
Caller: You did? Great! I’m calling on behalf of Alisha Sonnier, who is…
Me: Oh you don’t need to introduce me to Alisha. She’s lovely and she has my vote.
Caller: Really? Oh that’s great! [Audible relief.] That’s so great to hear.
Me: Yep. Put me down as a strong supporter and tell her Michele says hi.
Caller: Oh great I will.
And then, before I hung up, I thought to say:
Hey, I know that these calls aren’t always easy, but it’s really important and I’m glad you’re doing them. She’s lucky to have you on her team.
I don’t remember how we closed the conversation, but her voice was more chipper.
Was she able to take that interaction and energy to the next call? Maybe make 5 more than she otherwise would have that night?
Would one of those people decide the election? And would the election determine the path of the city? (Which it will, as a matter of fact.)
Or would that conversation inspire that phonebanker personally – and help her encourage other people who might be considering phone banking?
Maybe my comment didn’t matter one little bit. But maybe it did matter. Maybe it mattered a lot.
That’s the funny thing. We’ll never know.
But if we all looked at our lives – our interactions and our everyday day-to-days – as potential moments to inspire and engage, wouldn’t we be in a better place?
I like to think so.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of March 7, 2023
By now you’ve probably heard that Walgreens decided to cave to Republican pressure and refuse to dispense medication abortion in those states where they are getting pushback. Not where it’s illegal – but where they are getting flack from Republicans.
Time to change your prescriptions.
With a hearty hat tip, a big hug and a thank you to Jessica Craven of Chop Wood Carry Water, you can send an email to Walgreens leadership. Per Jessica:
(If you don’t yet know about this outrage please read Alan Unell’s excellent piece about it, or Judd Legum’s.)
In short, Walgreens has decided to collude with politicians who want to decree what a woman can and can’t do with her own care. They want to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. And I’m angry about it, too!
So let’s call the office of the Walgreens CEO to protest the new policy and to inform Walgreens that we will cease shopping in their stores until the policy is repealed.
You can contact Walgreens corporate offices at 847-315-2500; ask for the operator, and have him/her transfer you to customer relations. Once there, you can leave a message for management.
You can also send an email to the two Walgreen’s executives below. (I’ve made a click-to-send if that’s easier. Access it at tinyurl.com/boowalgreens )
Primary Contact Rick Gates – Senior Vice President, Pharmacy and Healthcare, email@example.com
Secondary Contact Lisa Badgley, Senior Vice President, Operations, firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: WALGREENS REFUSAL TO SELL ABORTION MEDICATION
Mr. Gates and Ms. Badgley,
I am appalled that Walgreens has chosen to stop selling abortion medication in 24 states. Some of those states, like Alaska, Kansas, Iowa and Montana, still have legal abortion. This decision to put your corporation’s benefit above the health and well-being of your customers is cowardly and appalling. Women will be placed in horrible and even dangerous situations because you choose not to help when you could.
Until you reverse this shameful decision I will not shop at your stores and I will encourage others to do the same.
Please personalize, and please make sure you sign it. Ideally you will both send the email and call.
How to Help Ukraine Now
The war in Ukraine has been going on for over a year, now.
Yale professor and expert on authoritarianism (and Ukraine) Timothy Snyder has shared another list of Ukrainian organizations to support. You can see his list here.
In particular, for us in the United States, he highlighted “a very effective NGO devoted to all forms of assistance to Ukraine … Razom. They have excellent connections to local Ukrainian NGOs. Incidentally, wherever you might give, please give priority to organizations with such direct contacts (or simply give to the Ukrainians themselves). The record of local civil society in this war is impressive, the record of the big international organizations less so. Razom is a 501(c)3. If you are in the New York area, or even if you are not, you might also consider volunteering your time to Razom.”
Postcards to Voters: Wisconsin!
I got not one but TWO emails from Postcards to Voters about this particular campaign – so there’s real need to get postcards out for this Wisconsin Supreme Court race.
“Our current campaign is for Judge Janet Protasiewicz running to become Wisconsin’s next Supreme Court Justice. We have assigned 41,809 addresses to 1,461 of you! You have plenty of time to buy stamps from USPS.com, postcards from our Etsy shop, or Wisconsin-themed cards from our print partner.
Abby the Address Bot for writing instructions and voters’ addresses:Text HELLO to (484) 275-2229 orCLICK HERE for SLACK to message Abby on Slack Messenger or CLICK HERE for EMAIL to Request@AbbyAddresses.org
WHEW! GO, YOU!
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.
P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.
P.P.S: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.