Coupon Triggers

After closing the car door this afternoon, I turned over my shoulder to place my bag in the back seat. A crumpled piece of white paper caught my eye. Tucked under the floor mat, a coupon with an April 2020 date waited, forlorn and forgotten in vehicle that spent most of the year in my driveway. In bold, black font, perched next to a spiralized ham, was an expired offer for 10% off a selection of a certain size.

Last year, with an adamance for tradition and a determined clinging to what surely couldn’t be a crisis, I ordered a pre-made Easter dinner. I thought the coupon could be a solution for creating something good out of the crumbling closures and novel uncertainty.

I was terrified I was to leave my house. Curbside pick-up was still new. Sitting in the parking lot, waiting for my meal, I muttered through my mask about the coupon to a sales person on the phone. I had missed something in the fine print. My ham wasn’t big enough. I couldn’t communicate what I needed to the muffled voice on the other end of line. I didn’t receive the discount.

“Good enough and good riddance,” I thought, as they placed the golden wrapped hunks of meat into my trunk.

Later, I wept watching Andrea Bocelli sing on YouTube from Italy, and we dug into a breakfast bread alone in our den. The first holiday alone felt surreal, but manageable. Surely, we wouldn’t be here for long.

This year, I watch the spring-breakers on the news and I think, “We sure didn’t learn much the first time did we?” I don’t have the energy to muster up an Easter. I don’t care about ham and I cringe at all the watercolor graphics on banners outside of the mega-churches we drive by when we venture out.

Will this weekend be another super-spreader event?

Cases are up. Yes, again. Our defenses are worn. We’re tired. And, some of us are already immune.

I’ve always loved the power of Holy Week. Death is overcome. Victory is found. Even in the darkness, crocuses peak through the dirt and Christ is resurrected. But what about the millions of people who won’t be?

This morning the Governor of Colorado announced that all Coloradoans over the age of 16 will be eligible for the vaccine starting on Friday. When I read the headline, my body swelled with a mix of relief and continued anxiety. I’m on the lists. Please give me the shots.

I’ve been asked when I’ll be comfortable to return to the office and to consider when travel feels safe. I don’t have answers to those questions. My panic at re-entry can only be calmed one day at a time.

Focusing on numbers and death and fear of illness has deadened something within me. Planning what’s next feels as foggy as the wisps of grief that linger after loss. I’ve been living in a Good Friday world for so long.

And, as the Christians will tell you this week, Sunday is coming. I put my hope here. What a beautiful thing.

I

Our minutes are full of multitudes

I was riding in the front seat to go pick up flowers when the phone rang. A (303) area code caught my attention, but I let the phone ring to exhaustion, and the alert landed in my voicemail.

For some reason, I’m still registered on the safety alerts for the city of Boulder, even though I haven’t lived there for close to ten years.

I pressed play on the message, and was notified that a stay at home order was in place for the area of 17th and Grove – where I lived as a college student.

What unfolded in the coming hours makes a stomach drop.

Shootings are frequent here in America. They happen so often, it’s easy to blur into the conflicting feelings of terror, anger, sadness, rage, and emptiness that these senseless acts of violence bring. There was another, just eight days prior, but it wasn’t in my community. I wasn’t on the receiving line of those notifications.

Thousands of people have visited the gates around the grocery store, leaving bouquets of flowers, and signs, and symbols of peace. I feel empty today, still, wondering about the community where I used to live. I feel desperate for the ten families who have to wake up to fumble around the new, enormous gap left when someone who they love is no longer here. I feel angry about the memes, the lack of inaction, and how callous we’ve become.

When I went to donate money to the victims (which you can do here) I noticed the language of the fund said they are raising money for the next tragedy, too. The next one, because we know it will come.

This is heavy. This is real. And we need to use our words to talk about the sadness and shock. We need to use words of comfort. We need to use words to make sense of things so senseless, or the effects will seep into our bones and stay there.

In my experience with grief and trauma, I’m astounded that one person’s life can shatter so drastically while another is out buying flowers. How many babies were born on Monday afternoon? How many others, dying of COVID across the world? I was just out, picking out orange roses to brighten a day.

Our minutes are full of multitudes.

It breaks my heart that some of those moments meant for picking out eggs turned to last breaths.

None of this feels beautiful.

In recent years, I’ve preached about walking with sorrow in one hand and beauty in the other.

There are days where the weight of the pain takes two hands to carry. The heaviness fills our palms, oozes between fingers, drips down to smear on our jeans.

We must see the pain. Name it. Honor it.

And then, use your words to chip away at the blocks of what remains. Use your words to write in a journal. Use choice words when yelling at the ceiling. Use your words to call a senator. Use your name to sign a petition. Use your words to fill out a donation form.

And in the processing, use your words to let beauty come back into balance again.

Open your palms. What are you carrying today? May allowing the pain be a beautiful thing.

Tremors

The tremor started as I walked up to the counter. I looked up, facing the plexi-glass separating me and the barista. Taped to the barrier were two 8.5 x 11 pieces of paper, with a message to the neighborhood. I read that this Starbucks location is closing on April 4th.

“This is tragic” I blurted to no one.

Catching myself in my ridiculous statement, I blushed under my mask.

Trying to recover, I mumbled to the young woman waiting to take my order. “I’ll survive. But, this is a bummer.”

The closing of a corporate coffee shop is not tragic. A sign on glass is small compared to very real, looming challenges unfolding around the world. This loss of place is not life threatening. We know this.

My strong reaction masked memories and feelings of comfort that bubble up when I walk into rooms with slate floors and walls covered in green and white. The smell of beans, the packages of grounds, sparkling mugs with mermaids and white; all reminders of times before.

I noticed a wave of grief move within me. Not immense sadness. Instead, indicators of change taunting me with the truth of how quickly spaces of life transform into vacancies. Empty buildings. Stacked chairs. Locked doors.

I grabbed our drinks and joined Dylan outside. We began the walk home together.

I’d brought coffee to Dad’s office for years. He’d give me a twenty when I worked there in the summer, and I’d come back with iced lattes for me, and always Pikes Place for him. When we closed his office, removing furniture and files and countless awards, we left a tall cup of black liquid in the corner to cool, closing the doors behind us.

These places become a part of us. When they close, they press into motion seismic waves of memories of what was and murmurs of what will no longer be.

I’ve kept quiet this month, waiting for four years to turn to five in the course of a day. Sometimes, the approaching of the anniversary hurts more than the day itself. Beauty is harder to witness as the clouds come in, knowingly bringing weight and mist to the air. Last weekend the mist turned to blizzard, and two feet of snow fell in my front yard. Rain turns leftover piles to slush, and tonight we’ll have ice clinking to recently broken branches.

These cycles of days turning to years, wet turning into snow, piles turning into melt reveal these patterns have purpose.

When I care for myself, I can see the storm coming, and time has taught me to prepare accordingly.

At the start of the month, I chose a word for myself. Support.

Support. Being open to it. Asking for it. Being surprised by it.

Support looks like many beautiful things.

Friends sent me packages and caring texts. Others delivered donuts to my door. A card from a colleague echoed my questions in ways I didn’t know were living within me, until they showed up in my mail box. Her hand written words mirrored my experience in life-giving ways. The anniversary of the day He died came and went and tears fell. Before I went to bed, big sobs eked out as I held my knees, leaning against walls, wedging my body into the corner to feel support on all sides.

I was surprised by the intensity, and the release. The anticipation of pain left my body in waves.

Coffee shops are closing. Snow is falling. Days turned to years. And the quakes, while present, are smaller. What a beautiful thing.

Does Not Have to Be

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Reminders from Facebook and Google Photos distract me from what I ought to be doing.

With each “On this day last year” alert, I’m jolted back in time. Sometimes one year. Other times four.

My phone told me on this day last year, I was sipping strong coffee out of small cups in Cuba. Warming in the sun, our guides told me to put on sunscreen. My see-through skin (their words, not mine) needed protection.

When I returned, one week later, I packed up my desk and transformed a bedroom into an office. I haven’t left this space much since. What unraveled has frayed into the thousands of stories we all now carry from living during a pandemic. Instagram is exploding with memes comparing March 2020 to March 2021. Will they be similar? Will the month hold the same amount of uncertainty, trauma, and loss as last year? Few fail to talk publicly about the trauma we are collective digesting right now.

With each announcement of a friend or colleague getting a vaccine, I can feel adrenaline swish within me. Yes, I want to be safe and I know when the people I love get to the front of the line, I’ll weep with relief. What their proclamations fail to hold, however, is the hurt we’ve been carrying and the continued wait so many of us still face.

I want to say, “Congrats. You’re out in the world. I’m not quite there yet. And can you get my mom to the front of the line?”

Sinking back in the black office chair, I meditate myself back to March 2017. I cautiously move back through time, recalling glimpses of how I felt one year after Dad’s passing.

I was intentional about doing everything different, as if the clothes I wore, or the food I ate could prevent a chain reaction leading to another disaster. I remember I was house sitting. My family had decided to spend the day apart. Our collective pain was too much to bear. I think it was grey. I wasn’t sure how to create something new in his absence. Maybe I went for a walk?

Eventually, I ended up at my mom’s house, perched on the wicker bar stool in the kitchen.

Staring at the sink, I coached myself out of a place of hopeful desperation, “March 18th of this year does not have to be March 18th of last year. Does it?”

Anniversaries are important. Marking what you’ve been through is vital to honoring the growth you’ve endured as time passes. The phrase, “does not have to be” frees our spirits from the tethers connecting us to our past traumas.

This March, I find myself triggered as we all reflect on the anniversary of a pandemic year. Whether you mark the start of the shut downs this week, or next, we all have been absorbing the trauma of 2020 for quite some time. Memes and comedians and politicians poke at my fears. Who would ever want to relive a month like that again?

This March does not have to be like last March.

Feel sad. Feel hopeful. Feel envious of those who are vaccinated.

Do not, however, dwell in the impending doom of waiting for last year’s next shoe to drop.

You’ve grown in this darkness. I promise. Even if events unfold in ways you don’t want this March, you are not the same person as you were in March of 2020. This March will not be last March. What a beautiful thing.

A Sunday Without Them

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

One Sunday, I found him standing there in the stacks. His worn denim jeans met the back of his green and black winter coat. I knew it was him because of the cap. Wool, with ear flaps, soft brown, and a tuft of grey curls sticking out of the bottom. I walked across sticky linoleum towards him and tapped a shoulder. He turned, with arms full of books and a smile grew on his face once he realized it was me.

How unsurprising that we would both be drawn to the library on a sunny Saturday afternoon. He checked out his books, and I checked out mine, and we went out to meet the winter blue skies, saying our see-you laters. He turned right and I turned left – back to our separate houses and evening routines.

Dad believed Sunday afternoons were for libraries. Safe places full of words and comfortable couches, and shelves to get lost in. Quiet rooms filled with stories are solace for an always-thinking mind. Even as I became a self-sufficient adult, somehow, we continued to find each other there.

Libraries have re-opened now, but fear of germs has tampered my courage to peruse the stacks. Instead, I search using keywords behind screens and use recommendations from blogs and other reader friends to pick my next read. I call when I’m turning the corner into the parking lot, knowing a brave essential worker is pulling my titles from the shelves. Curb-side pick up extends to the library, too.

This Sunday afternoon, I gathered last week’s titles and sat in the car as Dylan drove me to our first errand. I wasn’t thinking of Dad. Instead, I was feeling the sun on my face and moving my toes in tight shoes I haven’t worn for days. As he pulled to the curb, I placed my mask behind my ears, ready to approach the familiar brick building. Fifty yards to the drop box feels safe.

As I walked up to the door, I watched a man and his daughter exit into the winter sun. He wore worn denim jeans, and a puffy winter coat, and the girl trailed behind him. There were curls of hair sticking out of a hat, but the cap was all wrong. The girl too young, the coat blue, not forest green like before. The scene not quite right. I was just witness.

Anchoring myself to the earth, I opened the metal handle, and let my books drop down, the metal basket clanking as I released. Grief clanked down in my chest, lodging like those books, in cold plastic bins, waiting to be seen by a caretaker. How I crave other souls willing to read my words and re-shelve my grief story that looks different every single Sunday afternoon.

Turning on a heel, I walked back to the car, opened the door, and removed my mask. We moved on to other items on our to-do list.

The U.S. is approaching a horrible milestone of 500,000 lives taken by COVID. I hurt and wonder about all of those people and their loved ones, having a Sunday without them. The New York Times is doing interviews and publishing quotes, capturing stories, and doing expose’s about what could have been different. Politicians are flying to Mexico and trying to escape cold nipping at our systems. Very few want to carry the weight of frozen pipes and the crash of broken hearts. Most are unsure how to be witness to the healing.

There is no solution. No action to take. Instead, an invitation to be one who sees.

I’m not broken, tonight, but I am sad. I wish, with much of my heart, that libraries would be open and I’d find my dad standing, once again in the stacks. Instead, I place books back to be discovered by others. I feel the sun on my face. And I raise my hand to an aching heart, noticing again and again, all the places he’s missing. I’m learning, the noticing, is a beautiful thing.

You know the old saying …

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Does the same hold true … “If you can’t say anything profound, don’t say anything at all?”

The dreary of February has been clouding up my brain and fogging up my windows. Words aren’t flowing with ease.

As the temperature drops, and I drive from here to there, mini snowflakes kiss my windshield.

Waiting for the light to turn from red to green, I watched the magic of water turned to one-of-a-kind crystal fall from the sky. I received my gift, as one mighty flake fell to rest near J-shaped crack of glass needing repair.

Nothing profound to share in dreary February. But we do have snowflakes.

And that is a beautiful thing.

Moves on Zoom

I started a new program this weekend and spent three days on Zoom with strangers. On the first morning, we were given journaling prompts to help us set intentions for our year. I had written show up fully. Do not be afraid of being seen.

I’ve been dancing between wanting to be known and wanting to hide for much of the last few years. I crave acknowledgement of loss, of unsureness, of the very human desire to belong. This very longing to be witnessed led me to sign up for the program. Where can I connect with others who care about compassion, empathy and emotion with the same deep seeking within me?

The desire to hide pulls me inwards. The fear of rejection moves me instead toward words and anonymous posts where I don’t have to see other’s reactions to my experience. Interesting, yes, how for almost a year now, I’ve shrunk to a world behind screens.

The universe laughed as the tension imploded and I found this line item on the agenda:

2:00 – 2:15 – Movement and Dance

In an in-person setting, the idea of dancing with strangers for fifteen minutes is squirm-inducing.

In a virtual environment, the pressure is only alleviated slightly.

I logged back on after lunch with a slight groan and told myself, ‘oh, hell, just go for it.’

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Adjusting my screen up, I stood and I wiggled and I mimicked the moves of my new colleagues across time and space. Sixty five new colleagues from seventeen countries moved tentatively. Some looked unafraid. Others grabbed children and swayed in the light streaming in from open windows.

I miss people so much. The feeling of warmth as we move together. The nod of a head, or a shake of a hip, or even a knowing eye roll as we lean in uncomfortably.

I have no clue if anyone was watching me. It was just fifteen minutes.

I’m getting to the point where I’m living in the ‘Oh, hell’ space. I’m trying to care less if people fear my grief. I’m practicing the hellos, the here I am’s, and trusting that this story of mine helps others.

In my little box on the internet, my smile grew, and I allowed myself to be seen.

What a beautiful thing.

Rising to the Surface

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Sitting in the worn arm chair, I snapped the hard cover book closed. Finishing my fourth book of the year, I reminded myself, reading is better than scrolling. The tension found in the stories crafted by others is made up. Not so true of the drama unfolding every day in our exhausted world. Rather than the muddied truths unfolding on media, I’m choosing to pick up something other than a screen in the evenings. Drawing from history, Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach kept me engaged for days.

The story follows Anna, a woman coming of age as the remnants of great depression followed families to World War II. Her family loses status and connection. To survive, her father turns to crafty and questionable ways of earning a living. Eventually, he leaves.

In the leaving, Anna is forced to confront questions of who she is in a world where her father isn’t. Her trials and errors are mingled with wonderings of how she can contribute.

She becomes a diver in the Navy ship yards – almost unheard of during the 1940s. Drawing internal strength, she puts on the weighted suit, over 200 pounds of ancient equipment designed to help her breathe. Going under, she learns to walk the shifting floor of the bay in darkness. She has lifelines, yes, and a few tenders watching her steps. But mostly, she’s trusting her instincts to wander alone, using clutched hands to make an impact. Water continues to whoosh around her with little concern for what she’s working to accomplish.

Eventually, the knots untie, the parts are installed, and the lost items found. When her tasks are complete, she can’t rise too quickly. Pressure must release slowly as she returns to the water’s surface. A little more air, bursts at a time, bring her back to the top where the light is no longer murky. She still swims among the slimy kelp, but knows her time underneath went to a cause bigger than herself.

Today is the last day of a political administration that made me weep. In two days, I turn another year older. In eight weeks, I’ll face five years of learning how to walk in a world where my father isn’t. It’s felt muddy and murky, and some days, the pressure felt so intense I was knocked from my anchors. I had equipment and tenders, and mostly, I had myself.

I didn’t ask to go diving into darkness. We rarely ever do. But what I’ve found amongst the currents is the knowing that I, too, can do the work when the light refuses to penetrate through.

The pressure will lighten, bit by bit, as I let the air in, small sips at a time.

We’re rising to the surface today. I wonder what we will see when we climb, with heavy boots and protective gear, up the ladder.

What a beautiful thing.

Vitamin C

Did a new year turn over?

While a fresh start is tempting, it feels more like 2020 is still bleeding onto our blank slates. I’m not willing to throw in the towel just eight days in.

One of my goals for this year is to check the news less. I’ve already failed.

My twitching fingers keep clicking refresh. As texts buzz in and news alerts ping loudly, I can’t help myself.

There’s a thick, bold line between being informed and being consumed. My consumption has reached unhealthy levels. The images of rioters and men barging through spaces seem burned into my consciousness. Anger seeps through screens as we create memes and scroll through poignant personal truths on Twitter, and confusion on CNN.

January typically is full of commitments to better. To healthy lifestyles, to new and improved selves, to less butter, or caffeine. Sugar is damned.

With the hemorrhaging of 2020 continuing, I ask, “What does it mean to be healthy, now?”

We thought cases were soaring in summer. Now spikes seem like mountains. These steep slopes lead to lack of oxygen. No blue skies or crispness in the air.

Searching for beauty from the home office is limited. My surroundings remain the same.

This week, I ordered groceries online and unpacked packages crinkling in cellophane. Butter and sugar are staples for survival. Improvement takes a back seat.

As plastic bags emptied, I turned to the pile on the counter. Five round Cara cara oranges winked hello from their caged netting.

Using a blunt scissor blade, I tore through the mesh to place a globe in my palm. As I dug my thumb nail into the flesh, I was squirted with small gems of juice. Licking my wrist, I kept at the process of ripping peel from fruit. I sank my teeth into the wedges and slurped on repeat.

I can watch, with eyes wide and stomach churning, the constant flow of bad news creep into my brain. Or I can put down my phone, walk away from the screens, and sink into sustenance instead.

Beauty in flesh, in juice, in slurping. In staying away from the news.

Be safe. Be well. Eat an orange. We need the vitamin C.

Many Mirco-Accomplishments

“Never underestimate the power of a girl with a book.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I pulled out my journal this morning to try and recount what exactly we did this year where many days felt the same. I surprised myself, sitting in the sun, as I scrawled twenty pages of reflection on what we did accomplish.

Nothing grand. No big adventures.

Instead, many micro-accomplishments. Harvests of cucumbers. Tiny reaches out of our comfort zones. A new job. Adjusting again to forces outside of ourselves. A basil plant taking in sun from cold winter windows. Witnessing pain. A new vitamin regimen. Striving for beauty. Ten gallons of paint.

2020 wasn’t a grand year. We were alone. Connected through screens, we grew closer to one another in ways I likely won’t understand for awhile. Isn’t it amazing how every human on earth now has this pandemic in common? How many other life experiences will stitch us together like this? The individual living of this year is different in kaleidoscope ways, yes. The tube, the crystals, the spinning disorientation – all the same.

I wonder how long it will take for the scapegoat disaster of 2020 to be reclaimed with something different. The ticking of time tonight can not erase what still lurks. 2021 may hold better. It may hold different. I know it will require processing, patience, and tending to pain.

Back in January I wrote I wasn’t going to be so bold to predict what would unfold on this year’s pages. I couldn’t have fathomed what actually was written in ink. I feel much the same about tomorrow. A new January. A new calendar. Pages to be ripped and discarded from organizational systems and goals to be scratched onto chalkboards in white. How many will be smeared in waiting in June?

This year, I read. A lot. On the floor, in the corner, tucked into my bed with cold bowls of vanilla ice cream. I got new glasses and my squinching face relaxed just a tiny bit as I escaped into story. Words comforted me. Challenged me. Seemed to be a constant companion.

As they lay Ruth Bader Ginsburg to rest, I welcomed with appreciation, all the work she accomplished to make the world a better place for my mother, for me, for women around the world longing for something different.

Never underestimate the power of words. How we absorb them, shape them, use them to search for beautiful things.

On this, the last day of a year we will never forget, I leave the list of books I read with you.

Bridge of ClayMarkus Zusak

Little WomenLouisa May Alcott

Red at the BoneJacqueline Woodson

Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty

There, There Tommy Orange

Dumplin’Julie Murphy

Counting by 7’sHolly Goldberg Sloan

Still MeJoJo Moyes

Little House on the PrairieLaura Ingalls Wilder

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and FoodAnn Hood

Turtles All the way DownJohn Greene

In PiecesSally Field

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country Helen Russell

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s StoneJ.K. Rowling

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away my Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a StoreCait Flanders

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity & LoveDani Shapiro

Such a Fun AgeKiley Reid

A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith

The CactusSarah Haywood

Little WierdsJenny Slate

Wine Girl: The Trials and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier Victoria James
The GownJennifer Robson

Magic HourKristen Hannah

The Hypnotist’s Love StoryLiane Moriarty

The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion

The Scent KeeperErica Bauermeister

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to SurviveStephanie Land

The Secrets We KeptLara Prescott

The Night Tiger Yangsze Choo

RedwallBrian Jacques

Mountains Beyond MountainsTracy Kidder

The Library Book Susan Orlean

The Alice NetworkKate Quinn

The Light We LostJill Santopolo

NeverwhereNeil Gaiman

The Henna ArtistAlka Joshi

The Velveteen RabbitMargery Williams

More Than Words Jill Santopolo

When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War IIMolly Guptill Manning

Fortune’s Rocks – Anita Shreve

The Vanishing HalfBrit Bennett

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Ordinary LifeTish Harrison Warren

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueV.E. Schwab

The Practice: Shipping Creative Work Seth Godin

The AfterGrief: Finding Your Way Along the Long Arc of LossHope Edelman

Finding Freedom: Harry & Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal FamilyOmid Scobie & Carolyn Durand

Goodbye to All That – Writers on Loving & Leaving New YorkEdited by Sari Botton

Angel FallsKristen Hannah

The Family Fang Kevin Wilson

Bel CantoAnn Patchett

Tomorrow Will Be Better Betty Smith