Intermittent Connectivity

This may be the story of my life. Technology is fantastic until it isn’t. I am currently on a trip to Grand Rapids, MI, as we continue the process of programming the space within Cornerstone. I came up early with our architect and project manager in order to visit someone we met shortly the last time we were here. The first evening, we wanted to watch a documentary about Julius Shulman and we kept getting the message from the streaming site that we were experiencing “intermittent connectivity” and therefore could not support streaming the video. We didn’t have the bandwidth for the transfer of the content we wanted to experience. We eventually prevailed, but it got me thinking.

Zeeland, MI is one of the most connected places I’ve ever been. We came to Zeeland to visit Sally Gruppen. I first met Sally on a previous trip to Michigan when we visited Herman Miller. Sally has worked there for over 40 years. Her current role is to be a “water carrier”, which means she has accepted the responsibility of introducing new team members and visitors to their company history and narrative. Sally should be granted a PhD in human connection.

Sally invited us, strangers, into her home. She met us once when she welcomed us to the Herman Miller company. When we found out we were coming back, we called her to ask if we could come see her collection of vintage furniture and she enthusiastically said yes. We showed up in the cold and snow on a Sunday afternoon and were welcomed as if we had been friends for years. Sally loves to be with people. In addition to Sally, we got to meet Bill, her husband, and Luke, her grandson. She had set out some light snacks and offered us a beverage before we sat down in her living room (on vintage system furniture from the 50’s and 60’s to the present.)

Then Sally opened the door into her life and career. She would be a great commercial for her company and the leadership, but she is not trying to sell anything. Sally is describing her years of experience connecting to the people she does life with. I could listen to Sally talk for days. She told us stories about serving the now very famous designers who came to work on furniture designs. She talked about several different leaders and their styles. She talked about her community where she grew up, participated and contributed for her whole life. She talked about church and family and community. She was talking about life and you could hardly tell where work left off and family started, or where family blended into faith. She has led a seamless life. She has led a connected life.

At one point I asked her grandson, Luke, to tell me something that would be “on brand” for their family. Luke barely had to think about it before he told me, “family, faith, and furniture.” Luke had come over to shovel the sidewalk and drive for his grandparents and then chose to stay to meet these people from Oklahoma. Luke is a junior in high school. I was impressed. Luke told us what it was like to grow up in a small community where your family was connected. Not wealthy, not powerful, just engaged. He described it as a responsibility but also a gift. Amazing.

Sally was the first woman elected to the city council. She labored for years (successfully) to get a new library built. They attend one of the 14 churches in a community that is only 4 square miles and home to about 6000 people, but which supports industry that employs 14,000 people from the surrounding community. Bill, Sally’s husband, also worked for Herman Miller until his retirement, but also was a volunteer firefighter and left that avocation as Fire Chief. Bill is also an artist. Sally is currently instrumental in the project to restore the Eames house in Zeeland and when she took us to see the house (still under renovation) you could feel her passion for the history and the possibility the house has to draw people to Zeeland and showcase the amazing history of design that has been going on there for over 100 years.

By the end of the day when we had to leave Sally and Bill, not because we or they wanted, but because we had to rejoin the team, I truly felt like I had been adopted. Bill is giving us a piece of art that really spoke to me while I was there. Sally wants to read my book, and both of them want to come to Oklahoma when we open Cornerstone.

Why am I telling you all this?

I realized part way through the day that I was experiencing the connection that occurs when people are open and genuine. Sally saw and experienced many things in her career, not all of them great, but she never said an unkind word as she related the stories. In every instance she had found value in the interaction with the people she came in contact with. I began to see that the connection I so easily felt with Sally was because I knew very soon after meeting her that she would extend that same grace to me. Sally was excited to get to know me because she believed she would be better for the connection.

What would the world be like if every person approached every other person from that viewpoint? What if everyone was excited to connect with the next person because they wanted to be impacted and changed through the interaction? Maybe then our connections wouldn’t be so intermittent. Maybe then we would be able to truly stream the most valuable part of community. Maybe then we would have all the bandwidth we would ever need.

For a day, Zeeland felt like home. Sally and Bill are family now. That’s the kind of family I want Kimray to be. That’s the kind of community I want Kimray to be. A place where people belong and are adopted into the family. A place that feels like home.