One Awkward Uncomfortable Step By Kevin Hofmann Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion During the pandemic, after we realized we would be sheltered in place for the summer of 2020, my wife and I decided to purchase and install an above-ground pool. We went with the pool with the saltwater filter. The process is an interesting one. When the pool is set up and filled, we add about 240 pounds of salt to the pool. The filter pulls the salt water out of the pool and through a chemical reaction converts it to chlorine and then forces it back into the pool. The water tastes slightly like salt water and is better for your skin and the environment. It also means once the pool is up and running it maintains itself. The work to keep the water clear is minimal. The pool gave us a safe place to relax and it slowed down the world that had been invaded by a virus. We spent hours in the pool sipping on drinks and ignoring the world that seemed more fragile than I had ever experienced. Floating in the pool helped drown out the world that seemed so unpredictable and dangerous. Shortly after we set the pool up our neighbors tried to get the same pool and they couldn’t. It appeared many other people were trying to use aquatic adventures to shut out the world, too. The waiting period for pools was a minimum of six months. We were fortunate that we got in on this way of escape right before the rest of the world went looking for it. In early October we closed the pool for the season. We drained the water just below the filter ports, covered it with two tarps, and said goodnight for seven months. The filter had done its work and I attempted to disconnect it from the pool and move the filter inside for the winter. What I didn’t realize was how heavy the filter was going to be. In the spring I had added 40 pounds of fine glass. It was ground so fine it looked like sand. The glass cleans the water as it passes through and sends it back to the pool. As I attempted to move the filter, I assumed 40 pounds shouldn’t be too hard to move. What I didn’t figure out was that water mixed with the glass and stayed in the filter; now it weighed over 300 pounds and was difficult to move. I figured I had about 100 steps to the house and another 100 steps to the basement where the filter would hibernate until the spring. Initially, I grabbed the top of the filter preparing and expecting to be moving about 40 pounds. As I pulled the filter my hands slipped off and the filter did not move. It felt like someone had secured the filter to the ground with cement. That plan was not going to work. I tried draining the filter of all the water. That helped to a point. Pulling all of the water out of the glass and sand-like mixture was impossible. The material held on to the water and did not want to let go. I managed to siphon away maybe 30 to 40 pounds of water weight. The next plan was to use both hands, lift with my legs and walk slowly toward the back door. I was able to lift the filter and began the slow process to the back door. I concentrated on each step counting them off to distract myself from the difficulty and pain of trying to move this object that was happy to spend the winter next to the pool. “One, two, three, four, five …” Rest. “One, two, three, four, five …” Rest. The back door was getting closer and closer. Slowly, I could see progress and that inspired me to keep going. Each step was monumental and necessary to accomplish this difficult task. I was recently asked about my plans for the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the coming year. I shared some of the things I have planned and some things I would like to implement. I thought about what that really meant. How will we know at the end of 2023 that we were successful? After tossing it around in my head, I decided having a theme or area of concentration for this next year would help us stay focused. I began to knead some ideas in my head. Then I moved to fold them over and over and I like the product that was created. In 2023 I want to concentrate on simply moving information 4.5 to 6.5 feet south. What I find most impressive about working at Adrian Dominican Sisters (ADS) is how educated and committed the Sisters are to social justice. When I first arrived on campus and started studying the work that has been done, I noticed all the current books on racial injustice have been read, all the top articles and Ted Talks on racial inequality have been watched, debated, and digested by many of the Sisters. I’ve noticed complex concepts around race and racism are understood and accepted as fact. Concepts like White Privilege (one of the more difficult topics to discuss with white people) or the need for Affirmative Action are accepted as common knowledge. Intellectually, very few can rival the knowledge base here. Our heads are full of knowledge, so what is next? "And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day." My hope is we can push the knowledge in our heads slightly south, cramming it into our hearts and forcing it to mimic the Grinch’s heart. My hope is by stuffing it and testing the elasticity of our chambered walls that our hearts will expand to accommodate our need for extra space. This year, the hope is that we, too, will gain more compassion for those NOT like us. Once the hypertrophy of our hearts is accomplished, we will move forward, taking the knowledge and increased compassion and driving it further south to our feet where we will walk out what we know and what we feel. If we can move from head to heart to feet, we can create lasting, measurable, significant change. Every step I took to put the filter away was painful. My hands ached, my shoulders were on fire, and I was counting EVERY step. I felt each step throughout my whole central nervous system and I couldn’t wait to be done with this horrible task. I tried every trick I knew to block out the pain and yet I still failed. I invited resignation to sit down with me and I put the filter down. My pride was busy nursing my wounds when I asked my eldest son for help and found a dolly to help us roll the filter toward its final winter home. The steps were impossible when I tried them on my own. The filter outweighed me, and it was winning. The task was too much for me, BUT when I asked for help and used some tools I had on hand I was able to attain my goal. In this next year, we will be reaching out and asking others to share how they experience the world, and we will give them a safe place to do it. In this next year, we will be looking for opportunities to listen and learn from a broader population and looking to lend our knowledge and compassion to create change. It simply starts with one awkward, uncomfortable step.