Growing up in a town of 500 people, Ethan experienced a tight-knit family and community. In his words, his no-stoplight town, Pateros, WA, “revolved around sports.”
“My basketball team was like one of the things that brought a lot of people together, because we were pretty dang good.”
In Ethan’s freshman year of high school, his basketball team was headed to regionals, when he contracted pneumonia and a lung infection that caused him to be bedridden for 23 days.
“I ended up not being able to play. I was averaging about like 15 points that year. And then my team ended up losing by six [points] in this regional championship that would’ve pushed us through to state.”
As Ethan was recovering, he realized that his closest friends weren’t reaching out to check on him. At first, he chalked it up to basketball season and preparing for the championship game. After the season was over, Ethan says “I was expecting them to make some more efforts after that. And then just radio silence; nothing.”
“My mom ended up getting pretty frustrated because these are the guys that she had fed and had over to the house for dinner… She came in my room one day and then we timed how long it took to send a text message, just reaching out, asking how somebody was doing. And it took seven seconds.”
Ethan says this time of isolation “definitely sent me in like a downward spiral of believing a lot of lies. Like they don’t care about me. Thoughts like that started filling my head and I ended up spiraling into a pretty deep depression and dealing with a lot of worth and value issues.”
I think the misconception is that a lot of people think that the act of reaching out has to be associated with.. an action following it, like bringing over food or writing a letter or something like that. When in reality, that first act of reaching out and starting an intentional conversation with somebody, just making sure that somebody’s doing okay… that can mean just as much as an actual act of service.”
“Looking back to where I was at then, it would’ve had such a profound impact on my mindset. and it would’ve helped me snap back to the reality of like, these guys do care about me. But…. they’re just not thinking about reaching out.”
Reaching out to your community when you’re experiencing loneliness can open doors for more conversations and allow others to do the same, he says.
“It’s about setting an example in that and being the one to take that first step when I’m not doing well… Taking that seven seconds to reach out and ask for somebody’s help can be just as valuable also as expecting them to reach out to you.”
In 2020, Ethan left for college at Northwest University in Kirkland, WA to study worship and music studies. Attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic brought it’s own unique challenges regarding isolation.
“It was one of those things where we had to be really, really intentional throughout this time of COVID because I think a lot of people in college, especially ones who are doing more general ed classes.. get the opportunity to make connections and friendships when they’re in the classroom sitting next to new people or getting to know the person in the seat next to them or things like that.”
“But when you’re on Zoom and the person above you has their camera off the entire class when you’re in a 9:00 AM class, you’re not making that intentional of a connection because, I think I can speak for most college students who did Zoom this year, it was really, really difficult or this past year it really difficult to engage.”
“I had to go and like, actually, physically knock on people’s doors sometimes, like going and striking up conversations where there weren’t any. And getting to know the guy who lived to the door right next to me.”
Ethan also made connections through music. He was on the worship team, played piano for a 130-person gospel choir, and a college band. “I ended up learning every single person’s name in the choir, which was kind of wild…. A lot of little efforts end up adding up to make a profound impact on somebody’s life, regardless of whether it seems like a big deal at the time or not.”
For those who want to grow in courage to connect with your community, Ethan recommends starting small. “Place yourself in positions where a conversation could be struck up with you. Like, join a choir or something like that… Odds are you’re gonna get to know the person on your right or on your left, or the person down in front of you, or the piano player. You’re gonna end up forming connections just by taking that first step, even if it’s a little outside your comfort zone…”
Ethan has now graduated from Northwest University and is pursuing his master’s degree while working as a graduate assistant in student development. at the university.
Watch: Ethan’s Story on short video | Listen: Ethan’s Story on the podcast | Access: Resources
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