We’ve arrived at the U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday once again, and what a year it’s been. While it seems like only yesterday my colleagues Alyssa Bovell, Jared Odiambo, and I welcomed my Yale Divinity School students on an early January Immersion Experience to Kenya, I am well aware of how much the world has changed since then.
As we traversed Kenya—and our colleagues Adela Zayas & Victoria Jimenez welcomed a delegation from Holy Cross to Colombia—we had no idea what the months ahead would hold. And, when my family and I travelled to the March Memorial for my late Father-in-law in Texas, we had only begun to suspect where the newest Novel virus would lead. Our last in-person Immersion Experience was here in Maine with the Wabanaki Peoples as two new colleagues — Vicky and Enyeda Ramos — found themselves left behind in the Dominican Republic as the first Immersion Experience was postponed. Soon thereafter, travel to Italy for a Global Citizenship Conference and Immersions to El Salvador, India, and Kenya were put off. Ilze and all of us knew it was time to buckle-down and reinvent.
Words cannot express how proud I am for what my colleagues and our Board have accomplished in the midst of a still peeking pandemic. No tears will ever be enough for the pain our Project Partners have shared in the intimate moments we have been forced to spend over WhatsApp and Zoom. Their remarkable commitment lightens my soul in the midst of the death of loved ones and the lingering illness of so many dear friends. Perhaps more than any other year in my tenure with IPM, I’ve learned so much more than I can ever hope to give.
Like so many of our Project & Community Partners, IPM is not “out of the woods” yet. One can’t simply replace the loss of our signature Immersion Experience Program, no matter how thrilled I am with what we have been able to create and deliver virtually in the time since we first heard the words COVID-19. No matter how much I’ve enjoyed the extended time at home with our “little” ones, nothing can replace the early morning coffee and late night reflections with friends and loved ones worldwide. A virtual International Executive Board Meeting from India—thank you Mahesh, Himat, & Bindiya!—while wonderful, can never replace being there hand-in-hand.
If you know me well, you’re well aware that I’m always conflicted about the myth behind Thanksgiving. Last year, IPM’s Fulbright Scholar Fatima Pacas, my son JJ, our pup Dozzi, and I took advantage of a Thanksgiving morning to wander the Cleveland Metroparks’ North Chagrin Reservation to recluse ourselves, even briefly, from the hypocrisy of the holiday. This year there won’t be a hike or run with family & friends in Northeast Ohio, nor a series of in-person year-end meetings with IPM’s dearest donor-friends in my hometown. The turkey will be served at distance and the cranberry will remind me of the bitterness that absence brings.
But this year I’m perhaps more thankful than ever. For gardens that still leave much to harvest. For food pantries full of the love we share with neighbors. For a dear friend, Grace Weber, who confidently left a transformative Estate gift in IPM’s hands.
Thankful not for conquest or false narratives, but for the promise of partnership and the myriad of opportunities presented for each of us to begin again.
May the Peace that Passes all Understanding hold you tight in these tumultuous times.
Joseph F. Cistone
IPM Chief Executive Officer
November 25, 2020