2020

Was It Risky? Yes.

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Anxiety seems to be a best friend to me these days. I’m swatting at my fears while sipping on homemade coffee, still here, working from home.

The glow of the computer screen fails to make up for my missing companionship, as I haven’t seen friends in close to 100 days. Almost a third of the year.

I don’t know how long we’ll be here, nor, I realize, do I have much control over the comings and goings of others who want to be out buying coffee from shops and swallowing down cocktails on outdoor patios.

The anxious ones are hurting here in this pandemic space.

This weekend, we drove down to spend time with my in-laws, a few of the people we’ve marked allowable in our pods of hopefully healthy people we love.

We have to have some connection. Father’s Day had arrived and while I woke with sadness in my chest, I needed to get my blood moving in different ways. Mix up the places we sit, the sidewalks we walk on, the conversations we’re having – variety is a great distractor.

Dylan locked our bikes to the roof of the car and the dog jumped in the back, panting heavily, as she always does when we transport her from here to there.

I’ve felt heavy for months. Laying on the ground helps. So do fresh flowers, and sourdough cookies, and sticking my hands in the dirt. I was hoping a drive may lighten the weight I seem to take on from the perceived painful energy of others.

As we drove, I looked west to the mountains and counted the snow capped peaks. Counted the cars in line for drive-up Covid tests. Counted the number of deep breaths I could take to let the grief and fear move through my tired body.

As the hour passed, we pulled up to the familiar intersection near the house, and a man about my brother’s age sat resting at the stop light. His back was arched, his face down, and he held a sign that said, “Can’t you just spare a dollar?” This man was someones loved one at some point. How long has he sat, ignored, unseen, unsure?

I pulled out my wallet and counted again, pulling crumpled bills from my purse that hasn’t been properly used in months.

I handed the cash to Dylan and said, “If you’re willing to risk it, we should give this guy cash. You can wash your hands when we get there.”

He rolled down the window, and we handed the man a few bucks. I didn’t make eye contact. I just wanted to help.

If I feel heavy, he may too.

We drove another block and scrubbed our hands clean, right after walking in the door.

It’s risky out there. Being human just is. One risk after the other.

Loving one another. Witnessing pain. Having hard conversations. Going grocery shopping. Driving in cars. Breathing in air of joggers who we don’t know if they are healthy. Facing the truth.

It’s all so risky.

And if we can choose to show up, over and over again, with our aching backs and light in our eyes, and hope in just a few dollars, our fears can be alleviated by miniature efforts to step into the truth.

It’s risky, yes. And beautiful too.

So we’re washing hands and weeping and hoping and praying and pleading. And still driving, and counting, and wondering how to apply the balm we all need to our wondering and waiting hearts. How can we find beauty in this risky space, too?

 

I Lost Track

Back in March, I thought I’d start a little list of beautiful things to get us through whatever this weird COVID thing was. In May, we topped 150.

I was counting days at home and wondering when we’d be ok again. That was over 80 days ago.

Seems much of the country thinks we’re fine now anyway. I’m not convinced.

And I’m not telling you what to do.

Except maybe wash your hands and wear an f’in mask.

Keep counting the good.

This list today is just for me. No numbers. Gratitude instead. Simple things when its so scary out there.

Ice cream in tiny pints

Support calls

A hand on the heart

Mystery

Hope

Puppy snuggles

Old connections

Friends planning weddings

Doctors, nurses, care providers

Vitamins

White daisies

Clean sheets

In-laws

Cheeseburgers

Fruit

Sweeping change

May peace dwell in our bones, anxiety dispel, hearts change.

Counting by Sevens

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The sun woke me this morning as cool air blew in through the blinds, pushed with a little help from the rotating blades of the plastic window fan working over time as the days grow hotter. From my bedroom window, I first watched our three-year old neighbor helping her father pick up sticks in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume. Mask secured, she bent over and over again to clean the wreckage from the wind storm in her own backyard. Her squeals and kicks and appreciation for a costume warmed my heart.

Our home has been quiet lately – an unsettling calm in a world disrupted by sickness, racism, hatred, and positive action mixed with a crying call to be better.

This introverted writer hasn’t minded the pause – a time to be working from home and relying on comforts to make sense of things going on outside.

Only this week has the silence rippled in uncomfortable patterns in our home and my heart. I miss seeing my friends. I balance wanting to interact with more than just my husband and my parents via FaceTime with uncertainty of a risky world.

I am amazed by the bravery, determination, and willingness of hundreds of thousands of people standing up against injustice. Black lives matter. The work you are doing to change opinions, open eyes, call for action is inspiring me.

Does writing into cyberspace still hold power when my anxiety prohibits me from protesting in the streets?

Typing cautiously, I hold the heavy weight of pain in one palm, and unfurl my gripping fingers of my other hand with a readiness to accept good and beautiful things.

I tentatively wonder how long it will be for the open palm to fill with the same weight of horrific behavior and heinous tweets.

I have to believe it’s not as crappy as CNN chooses to remind me each morning.

I heard recently a positive thought takes seven times the reinforcement to stick in our brain than a negative thought. Seven times more powerful are the fears, the shames, the things you must protect yourself from.

In my continued silent sanctuary of home, surrounded by privilege- I know, I listen to dogs barking and a neighbor mowing the lawn.

In my aching sense of wondering,  I ponder and ask, “What beautiful things are here in all of this?”

For the world has always been messy – rarely are we all so privy to the pain and suffering we carry on a global scale. A mirror has been raised. The pain in me sees and honors the pain in you.

What would happen to our world if we could whisper those words to one another?

Father’s Day is coming and with it the ads land in my inbox like little paint ball explosions of grief. No one has texted me to see how I’m doing with the approaching marker.

Thousands upon thousands are missing their people.

We’re out of work and afraid to go to the grocery store and wondering when it will be safe to hug our friends.

I start counting and repeating to myself, seven times over.

Classical music plays and children pick up sticks, and protestors flood the streets with messages of peace and justice and the simple desire to be able to continue to breathe.

What privilege it is to start with a fresh, full breath.

You, too, can count and seek beauty. At seven times the rate of the negative we’ve been fed.

Classical music. Children picking up sticks. Cold brew coffee swirling with cream. Instagram messages of solidarity. Protests in the streets. Longing for connection. Feeling unsettled. Searching for someone to see your pain. All beautiful things.

The Two Least Helpful Things

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In my experience with personal pain, the two things I found least helpful were this …

  1. When people said “There are no words.”
  2. When people asked me, “How can I help?”

I’ve sat and watched, while taking sipping breaths, my country erupt with all kinds of emotions this weekend and with each repeat of a horrific video, at each angry response or defensive, violent reaction, or attempt at peaceful protest and I’ve wondered.

How do we continue to hold space for the pain each of us carry?

I don’t know what to say, or how to help, but I also know my lack of trying adds force to the complex dominos falling around us.

I’m a writer. I coach people to put words to their experiences and have found healing in putting words to my own.  I am tongue-tied and paralyzed and my fear of saying the wrong thing does nothing for marginalized communities and people of color.

When I feel stuck or others stumble, I remind them to just start with one.

Start with one word.

See what flows from there.

Unjust. Angry. Desire. Frustration. Ally. Sick. Tired. Sad. Rage. Friend. Understandable.

We live in a complicated world with painful histories designed by humans to hurt some and benefit others. I benefit. I hurt. So do you.

When fires are set and people seek to be seen or heard or simply touched, I wonder and whisper, ‘How can we be better?’

If you feel the same and choose to yell, please, yes, use your voice.

I use my words to say, “I’m sorry for what brought you here. I’ll never fully understand. I can only listen and seek and carve space for your pain to be seen. Searching for good and holy and beautiful things may help. But what the hell do I know?”

How can we care for our friends, the strangers, the people whose lives and whose pain never has to impact mine?

I don’t have an answer. I know I may never know your experience just as you won’t fully know mine.

But we have the beautiful opportunity to try.

I’m using my words to grapple, to wonder, to sit and to hold space, to ponder, to ask, to try to see.

I’m also reminded when the words need to stop. Sometimes words needs to be replaced with listening. Creating collaborative solutions requires us to listen to stories not our own.

I strongly believe healing can be found in the pursuit of beautiful things. The match I light in the darkness is the choice to hold the good and the bad in cupped palms. An offering to the broken in all of us, in our country, in our world. The chance to say yes to the hurt and pain and marvel at the tears and spark the choice we have to hope and turn towards the good.

Horrific things are happening. Behavior must be changed.

And still, people are using their voices, holding hands, and taking a stand. They are staring down cops and holding hands with armed guards, hurting people are encouraging outsiders to walk together in the streets, allies and leaders and neighbors are kneeling for justice and taking action.

We’re using our words and fumbling to try to make sense of what’s next and what’s right and what individual roles can be in this moment.

For every person reading, wondering, seeking, searching, and opening their eyes – there will be that many unique ways of moving forward.

Stop waiting for people to answer your cry of “How can I help?”

How do you want to help? Do that.

Use your words. Start with one.

And see what flows from there.

 

This is it.

I was doing my best to stay back from the people in front of me as my face covering kept slipping. My efforts to create the six-feet distance seemed silly as others swarmed around me in the busy store. Like a salmon unsure of how to swim upstream, I tentatively wrapped my little fins around me wondering if this big ol’ river was safe. As I followed my husband through the aisles, I looked ahead and watched a man pause.

As he stood still, I did too, waiting to move forward as I kept my space.

This man removed his mask, sneezed, and then put the face covering back on.

I was furious.

“You wear the mask to stop the sneeze!” I thought to myself “Ohhhhh my Gosh!”

I wanted to pull my hair, to yell at him, to shriek what the heck he was missing! I felt my muscles tense and my annoyance rise. I’ve never hated being around people more. 

I stood still longer, silently praying thanks for my own face mask and wondering how long it takes for germs to disperse before I walked through his invisible, fearful cloud of possible germs. 

I continued forward and was uncomfortable for the next twenty minutes we spent in Home Depot. Get in, get our supplies, get out.

I know I can’t be the only one worried in public places and at the same time, by the looks of things, there are thousands of people not worrying as much as me.

Our neighbors are gathering and stores are busy and friends are posting pictures of time spent on the lake. I’m still sitting, writing from my couch, wondering what dials will have to turn for me to feel safe again out in the world. I miss my mom and want a hug and wonder when my brother will be able to go back to work. This isn’t fun.

We drove back home and washed our hands and wiped down the cans of paint we purchased with off-brand, lemon-scented cleaner because Clorox wipes are still nowhere to be found.

Later in the evening, I turned on an old favorite movie, About Time. The main character Tim has the gift of being able to travel back in time and can re-live any day he chooses. There are consequences of the re-dos but mostly, his gift gives him the ability to live less anxiously, be more present, and delight in the extraordinary ordinary things around him. The things we worry about are easier to face if we know the outcomes don’t cause us pain.

I kept thinking while watching the movie, if I went back to today two weeks from now and stood in that same concrete, box store would I be kinder to the man who sneezed if I knew I wasn’t infected. I would have gone down a different aisle. I would have pulled Dylan closer and slowed my breathing. Or would I have chosen to avoid that store all together?

What would I do differently if I knew now what I’ll know in two weeks? The exercise is exhausting, isn’t it?

Here’s what I know now.

This is it.

We don’t get a do over. I don’t get to go back.

I may have to spend much of my thirty second year in my house, wondering, waiting, worrying.

When they say it is safe again, I’ll wander out and get emotional about sitting in a public park and plan vacations and toast champagne at weddings and still, new anxieties will present themselves. The world will give me something else to be scared of.

Moving through things doesn’t erase fears – the process of arriving on the other side means I’ll place my anxious claws into something else. Worrying and wondering just wastes my time today.

This is it.

How can I live differently here in these pandemic days while I wait?

I asked my friend to pray for me – may I have compassion for the people who aren’t taking this as seriously as I am. Compassion for myself and my family. May I be at peace. May I use my creative energy to invest in the things I love to do, even while home. May I honor the outbursts and fits and tears coming from the stress of this global melt down.

Our world is changed and my little world, here on the big blue couch with the sun streaming in, still offers a chance for peace. I may be missing out, but this won’t be forever.

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The sun is up. The garden is being watered. The coffee is hot. Books begging to be read beckon. I’m breathing.

This is my life, here and now.

As Tim says, “We’re all traveling through time together every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.”

What a beautiful thing.

Day 67 – 52 Good Things

As states start to open up, my confidence in being in public waivers. I felt brave and brought cookies to a friend. Panicked when someone I know got tested. Went to the hardware store to buy flowers and wanted to yell at those not wearing masks. I wonder if I’m missing out by staying home and still practicing presence by remembering to take things one moment at a time. I’m still home and still counting. Here are a few more good and beautiful things, even during a pandemic.

What’s on your list? Send me an email and we’ll keep counting together.

190. Irises cut fresh from the front yard

191. Plant starters given freely

192. The promise of tomatoes

193. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

194. Ham and cheese and bread

195. Clean water with slices of lemon

195. The Fitzgerald cocktail 

196. Bike Rides through neighborhoods

197. Waiting for Colorado Strong Pale Ale

198. Big, long, snotty cries

199. Puppy snuggles

200.  Warm nights with the windows open

 

 

In All the Rooms of My House

I grabbed the blue handle and tucked the blades into the red, re-usable grocery bag.

“I’m going to go try” I told Dylan as I put on my sandals.

“Ok, good luck” he shouted up from the basement.

I’d spent the last hour psyching myself up for the task. I was going to do something I’d been thinking about for the five years we’ve lived here.

At the corner of a busy intersection where you can turn into our neighborhood sit three large lilac bushes. Each year they bloom and the blossoms sit and open their fragrance to the cars driving by. Without attention, the plants flicker and fade.

Technically, the bushes sit on public property tucked behind cement sidewalk and rest along a worn wooden fence to the west.

Fewer cars are driving by these days and I wanted to give the blossoms a home. My home.

Technically, it’s stealing right? Cutting blooms off of a plant not my own?

Hence the apprehension and covert attempt at covering my scissors in a silly grocery bag. I don’t like breaking rules, getting yelled at, or being conspicuous.

I slammed the door behind me and breathed in purpose. I walked the winding streets and approached the intersection. The only car near me was driven by a teenage boy clearly not paying attention to the woman dressed in unassuming athletic shorts and Saturday gray t-shirt.

I once again grabbed the blue handles, opened the blade, and snipped, snipped, snipped. I wasn’t greedy and took only three bundles of blooms, tucking them into the bottom of my bag.

I sighed and walked back home. No one said a thing.

Opening the cupboard, I found jam jars, and mason jars, and a wine glass and filled the vessels with cool water. I pulled off the green leaves and snipped branches again to make mini bouquets of flowers knowing their essence will only last so long.

I placed the jars in all the rooms of my house.

And the fragrance of lilac slept next to my pillow, reminding me of the good and simple beauty on my nightstand while I breathed in dreams.

The little blooms are fading today, trying to hold on to their strength when they were removed from their source to live out their own purpose.

The sight of light purple, the smell of spring, small rebellions and gratitude for public plants doing their thing. All beautiful things.

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Because of you.

Yesterday I woke and wept. Just a little bit. I miss him.

I made his favorite coffee and shuffled down the five steps into my ground level office to work. I wondered if others would think of him and tried to remember the way he started his birthdays.

Quiet. Like most mornings.

So I started that way too.

Through out the day these acts of kindness buzzed into my phone and I’m forever grateful for the people who did something kind in remembrance of Roy. There’s still time.

Because of you, the following energy and acts of goodness entered the world.

#1. A donation was made in his name to the Rhett Syndrome Foundation

#2. A neighbor was brought fresh scones

#3. Another family was given hand-me down clothes

#4. A woman left a Starbucks gift card on a car parked in spot # 63

#5. A friend received potted flowers in a homemade arrangement

#6. A friend who just lost his dad to COVID received zucchini muffins and a listening ear

#7. Two kids were read to online

#8. A teacher stayed online just a bit longer because she could tell he needed to chat

#9. A friend was gifted a t-shirt

#10. Coffee and doughnuts were delivered to two Bay area hospitals. Special request for Pikes Place

#11. Cheerios and bagels were brought to the Food Bank in Milliken

#12. A neighbor’s sprinkler was fixed

#13. A brother brought the Corvette into the garage

#14. A friend downloaded and made pretty an online planner for a surprise gift

#15. Cupcakes were brought to a boyfriend’s best friend’s wife

#16. Fresh cookies were given to the delivery guy

#17. A friend gave out snacks and water to a homeless person

#18. Cookies were dropped on an aunt’s porch

Thank you for helping me remember. Thank you for being kind. If you feel inspired, keep up the random acts of kindness and send them my way.

63 Random Acts

63 random acts

It’s his birthday tomorrow. It bothers me that I have to sit down and do the math to remember the number of years he would have acquired. The days don’t matter so much, but the forever stuck at 58 continues to be odd to me.

We would have gone to a baseball game, a new tradition started by the survivors three years ago. Except the MLB is on pause and hot dogs don’t taste as good when you aren’t in the stands.

We would have eaten a burger joint and let grease down our hands as we sipped beers in frosty mugs or dipped fries in milkshakes.

We would have licked on cones of cinnamon ice cream or made fun of him how he ate his ice cream from a cup with a spoon.

He would have eaten pizza with a fork.

He would have splurged on a tall cup of Pikes Place coffee and let it beep in the microwave all day long.

He would have steak and salad for dinner.

We would have done all sorts of things.

Grief throws a wrench in things. Add on a pandemic and anniversaries and birthdays and milestones seem to melt into something murky and weird with a few sprinkles thrown in.

63.

He would have been 63.

So this year, I’m hoping to inspire another sort of list and hoping you can help. I am wondering how many random acts of kindness we can accomplish in honor of Roy on May 15th, 2020.

Drop some cookies at a neighbors. Pay for the people behind you in the drive-thru line. Bring flowers to a friend. Draw some chalk on a driveway. Send a love note. Tip a delivery driver more than you usually would. Donate to a charity.

I want to get a list of 63 ways to care for the world in honor of my dad tomorrow. Send me a pic or a note of your random act, and I’ll see how many we can get. Gestures don’t have to be big to make a difference.

Join me in remembering and celebrating my dad. In helping others. In celebrating while we are far away and from behind screens and windows and walls.

Let’s get to 63. You can start today.