A Socially Distant Social Club

A Socially Distant Social Club

Many things have changed throughout 2020. My children’s Happy New Years’ card mocks me lovingly from a corner of our kitchen. Happy 2020 it says! With smiles all around. Who would have ever thought? 

And isn’t that the thing? Just when we thought we had challenges, we thought battles were worth fighting for in 2019 or before, perhaps we have realized that we had been stressing out about relatively small things.   

In October 2020, you’re now a rebel if you give a friend a hug.  The American Women’s Club celebrated our 91st anniversary in February and at one point in the festive event, our VP of Membership asked everyone in the room to give each other a big hug. Women smiled, laughed, and embraced each other with overflowing happiness and carefree abandon.  It was my favorite moment of the event. It is sad that I now cringe at the beautiful moment? 

One might think that being President of a social club during a time in which social distancing is mandatory is an impossible task. But together, as a board and as a membership, we have proven the good ol’ American mantra: When there’s a will, there’s a way! The following is my most recent Letter to the Membership, dated October 20th, 2020. In response to rising corona-virus cases, the Belgian government had recently decided to shutter all bars and restaurants again for a month, thus prompting us to reconsider our social activities once again. 

“Dear Membership,

As always, I hope this letter receives you in good health. It’s been a wild ride these past few days – with news broadcasts and information darting around the globe.

I received a voice message from one of my dearest friends, my “big brother”, from Waco this afternoon.  A grin as wide as the Texas sky crossed my face while his drawl dripped words into my ear . . . “Hey Darlin’. I’m just sittin’ here thinkin’ about you. I’m here listin’ to N-P-R and they’re talkin’ about Belgium on this here radio. Sounds pretty bad. I hope y’all are takin’ care of yourselves and stay safe, sweetheart.”

At Ninfa’s in Waco with Michael, 2016

As always, his Texas country accent is like my grandmother’s quilts – thick, heavy, and wraps me in comfort.

With a smile and a shrug, I wrote him back, “Well, thanks for the message, Michael. I must say – I’ve been watching Good Morning America videos on YouTube and things aren’t looking too great in your neck of the woods, either. Seems to me that we’re both on opposite sides of the ocean wondering who has it better off 😉” I lobbed the ball back in his court with a playful bounce. But I assured him that we were taking precautions – the country shut down its bars and restaurants, and that all of our American Women’s Club activities had moved online.

Sigh. Ladies, I must confess. I was sad yesterday. Perhaps, maybe for the first time since this whole thing started, I was heartbroken. I mean, I understood that the club-wide events needed to move on-line. The numbers are just too big for us all to meet for a monthly meeting in a closed location. I had accepted that. But honestly, I was really hoping that the smaller groups such as tours and newcomers’, would still be able to meet in person. Unfortunately, for this month at least, it is not the case.

 I also know how hard all of us have worked on a personal level for the past seven months – wearing masks, social distancing, homeschooling our kids, being cautious when if/when we take public transportation, not seeing our families, not traveling, and thinking about all the hundreds of other concerns that plague us women every day – for our loved ones’ safety, our loved ones’ loneliness, and while putting on our best smile and shouting our relentless charge into battle – it’s going to be okay!

I know. So many of us were looking forward to the tour on Thursday. So many of us thought the Trick or Treat Newcomers’ event was a fantastic and creative idea to get us out and moving and connected to our newest members. Such a bummer.

It’s okay to feel the feels. It’s okay to be sad. But I must remind myself . . . that we are a club that has been around for almost 92 years. Most of us have a few years behind us as well. This isn’t our first rodeo, and this isn’t the end. It’s a small glitch in the long timeline of our club and our lives.

Perfect Autumn Day in Antwerp

On a positive note, my perspective has shifted, as I am sure it has for you all too. Every day my children are in school is a blessing. The Fall in Love Event newcomers’ event & the tour to Ostende was a gift. The board meeting that we held in July (with potluck lunch!) was the best and most festive meal and gathering I have experienced all year. Every unmasked smile through a windshield, every cuddle with my children and dog, every facetime call, zoom meeting, or voice message from a friend here in Europe or from the other side of the ocean, all those connections, all those moments, are never, ever taken for granted.  

In the meantime, your health and safety as individuals and a club are our primary concerns and your board is working harder than ever to ensure that we remain connected through this time. So many creative ideas are flowing from these women and we’ve put all the information out there to keep you aware. Check your calendar, email, Facebook, and Instagram for upcoming events. We’ve scheduled expat coaches, international cooking, book club discussions, and there are more events in the works!

Just for perspective (it was a hot topic of debate last summer) and many American Women’s Clubs around the world began charging small fees for their online sessions. But here in Antwerp, we were persistent. No, we thought. Connecting to our membership was more important than using on-line events as an avenue for fundraising. (And I’m so happy we made that choice – between cherries, masks, and now walnuts and the fantastic women who harvested, sewed, and delivered each of these projects – we have done very well raising money for all of our charities and will continue to do so.)  Through our free online activities, our efforts for connecting with the membership were fruitful. Like the blossoms outside our locked-down windows, those of us who participated grew last spring and summer during yoga, inspirational talks, aerobics, fashion consulting, and other events. Thank you for your past and your future participation.

Today, with the current frustrations, fears, and restrictions that still plague us due to the coronavirus, it might feel for all of us (on a personal and club level) as if we’ve moved two steps forward and one step back, but we’re moving.  Determined, passionate, and as committed as ever. We are all here to support each other. (And in the meantime, let’s add Thankful for the Internet to our Daily Gratitude Journal).

Again, hope you all are doing well. I know everyone misses everyone and I am looking forward to the day we can meet again. What an event that will be! We’ll all have smiles as enchanting as a Texas sky at that rodeo. In the meantime, (in my best Texas accent) y’all take care of yourselves, ya hear?”

– Celeste Bennekers AWCAntwerp President 2019-2021

West Texas Skyline

About Celeste Bennekers

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