2021

Old Linoleum

I received a text with the words “Here we go!” yesterday morning. The photo attached caused my heart to dip.

My mom’s having the downstairs bathroom remodeled in the house I grew up in. Gone are the blue vanity and wood-rimmed mirror I stood at each morning, curling my hair to get ready for high school. The traces of eye glitter from middle school swept away into a dumpster I imagined a contractor put in the driveway.

In the dip, I had the irrational thought, “Hey, Dad used that toilet! Now it’s gone!” Grief, ever present, is a constant saying of good-byes. Even to toilets.

While I wallowed the minimal loss linked to a bathroom remodel, threads started binding together from several recent conversations I’ve had with friends. One is contemplating a job change. The other, preparing to say good-bye to a co-worker who taught them valuable lessons about themselves. In both conversations, we came to a point of agreement – knowing familiar chaos is less scary than saying hello to something new and the accompanied uncertainties. We can handle the worn and tolerate the sloping floors. We’ve learned where to step so the boards don’t squeak and how to jiggle the faucet to make sure the drips stop.

As I look at the aged, patterned linoleum in the photo above, I’m reminded how we hang on to the old and grimy, for fear of what saying good-bye could cause us to feel.

When the pandemic started, I tried encouraging people to share their beautiful experiences with me each day. I probably made it 30 days in a row before the search got repetitive. Motivation to participate waned. Now, here we are, approaching year three, and many of us have been forced to say so many good-byes. To routines, to feelings of comfort, to jobs, and to people we love. But what of the good-byes we have a say in?

Where are you holding on to the grime, the grit, and bits of life that are ready for a refresh? What are you holding onto for fear of what unknowns could come next?

I remind myself, again, to let go of the idea that we have to keep everything, simply because someone we love used to use that toilet.

At the end of the day, Mom sent another photo of orange sub-floor going in. Whether the contractor ripped up the linoleum, or instead covered the old floor, the stage is set for shiny new tile to take its place. Memories of linoleum are better than the real thing.

Sometimes, beauty comes in the removal, the tossing into dumpsters, and the saying good-bye to worn familiarity no longer serving us. And sometimes, beauty comes in the hello; the brave choice to keep moving forward, one design choice at a time.

Tis’ the Season

We’ve entered the season of giving with a joyful heart. My inbox is full of reminders of places to give money, gifts to buy, and packages to send. Generosity of spirit and snacks is in the air. I’ve made lists of my own. December is never short on opportunities to spread joy in boxes and bags and envelopes.

I’m great at giving. Sitting in therapy this week, however, I was reminded how hard it is for me to receive.

To be on the one asking for help and having people follow through without a sense of obligation or needing to do anything in return is vulnerable and risky.

One of the shrapnels of grief still stuck in my chest is sharp reminder that grief is ever present. Asking for help often made some people uncomfortable. There was an air of ‘you’re still here, huh?’ when being vulnerable, and while not everyone responded in this way, social stigma and my own shame around my emotions cause me to turn inwards. Unhealthy self-sufficiency only leaves more room for the wounds to seep.

My therapist asked, “How would you like to try to receive differently this season?”

I froze before answering. After a moment or two, I whispered, “I have to believe I’m worthy of being on the receiving end of generosity.”

In big block letters I wrote in my journal, Tis’ the season to PRACTICE RECEIVING.

When I woke this morning, I sent texts to several friends asking for recommendations on products I’m considering. One sent me a laundry list of things to consider, another said flat out, ‘Would you like to have ours?’ I was floored.

In minutes, I was reminded of the many ways people DO like to give, but they can’t know you’re in need unless you ask. Grief, tangled with shame, taught me not to ask.

I’m unwrapping old stories, and laying shredded ribbons of protection at my feet. In this new season, I’m going to need help. I’m going to need to receive. And practicing is a beautiful thing.

When Weeping on Zoom …

I spent the weekend on Zoom for graduation from the Applied Compassion Training that I’ve been a part of since January. In closing ceremonies, we said good byes and cheered in recognition for work we have accomplished. For me, this involved the delivery of a Capstone Project designed to bring compassion to those with grief stories. I’ve found a way to formalize writing workshops to serve those who are hurting and I love the spaces I’ve been able to create for those to be seen.

Each of us graduates were given two minutes to share a few words about our experiences. I said this, “Graduation is always a good time to reflect on what brought us to this place. I want to go way back to the times my dad taught me to see other people. He modeled many ways we can choose to carry our pain. And he taught me that sensitivity and feeling in a callous world are strengths. Turning towards our pain is necessary to live a brave life. This program reminded me that turning towards suffering is always a courageous act. I’m thankful for the people who bravely say yes, rather than turn away. I move forward today, unsure of what’s next, but certain I will continue to say yes. Thank you for reminding me that the world IS good, even today.”

As I sat in my study this afternoon, surrounded by over 120 people dedicated to the pursuit of compassion across industries and around the world, I found myself swallowed by a grief wave. My people showed up on Zoom for the celebration, and as I clicked through the gallery of faces, I couldn’t help but notice who wasn’t there. You’d think I’d be used to his absence by now. But sometimes, the profound punches to the gut come from empty seats and vacant spaces on screen.

Tears filled my eyes and I turned off my camera and wept.

If he were still here, I wouldn’t have done any of this. And yet, I’ve filled the void with my words, with my aches, and I’ve extended the creation of space to explore our experiences using words.

The world is a mess when we focus on the crises. They exist every minute of every day. The fixing demands attention, hope, and possibility. And at the same time, brave, kind, caring humans are choosing to show up and say yes to doing something about our collective suffering.

What is good in your world right now? On my list are a surgeon’s steady hands, deliveries of flowers and meals for those in recovery, those who choose to wear masks to protect others, a refrigerator full of food, and the overflowing ways that my dad continues to influence my choice to look for good. Sensitivity is strength. Searching for good makes life more bearable. Compassion – the choice to act in the face of suffering – for ourselves and others, is a beautiful thing.

White Walls

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I recently participated in an online collective care workshop run by Becca Bernstein. Over two months, fifteen of us joined as strangers on Zoom to tap into possibilities of what it means to show up as fully human while tending to our needs, wants, and desires. How do we come together to help our healing?

This work, designed to nurture the human heart, lit a fire of hope within me. There are people craving connection, combatting loneliness, and equipping individuals to be an world in a more compassionate way. I get to be one of these beautiful humans, longing for different ways of being in the world.

Last night, in our closing session, one of the fellow participants shared how what she needs now is completely different than what she needed when we started gathering at the beginning of September.

Are needs allowed to fluctuate as such? Are humans allowed to adapt and evolve, constantly reassessing what we need at any given moment?

The myths of linear living I was fed as a student and young professional suggested otherwise. Figure out what you want to DO and all of your needs will be taken care of, right?

Wrong.

Whether we’re slowly chiseling away at the notion of arrival, or our clear roads have crumbled to dust as a result, of well, life, of course, our needs, wants, and desires have permission to change. They ought to.

Who wants to be the same person you were two months ago? Or even five years ago.

In April of 2016, Dylan and I stood in our tiny bathroom upstairs with paint rollers in our hands and a can of Monterey White at our feet. It was a Saturday a few weeks after we lost Dad, and I remember thinking we needed to do something. This was the first room we were going to tackle, covering up old paint in an effort to make our house our own. I stood with baref eet on cold tile, looked at Dylan and said, “I miss my dad.”

“I know” he said.

The missing, of course has grown, and shifted and changed and with the passing of time. So have my wants, and needs, and desires. Of course they have.

This weekend, Dylan again stood in the tiny bathroom, with a roller in hand and a can of White Veil paint at his feet. This time, instead of helping, I’m supervising.

While we’ve painted every room in the house since that year of loss, this return to the upstairs bathroom is different. This painting is a cleansing of sorts, but not of pain. It’s a scrubbing of old stains, and an attempt at refreshing for what’s coming next. Sprucing up in the spirit of improvement and possibility weighs differently than the covering of trauma and triggers.

As Dylan painted, I felt my grief gremlin climb out of my heart pocket to watch our original efforts get rolled over. She nibbled gently on the edges of worn fabric, wondering what was going to happen next.

“I miss my dad” I said to Dylan.

“I know” he said.

The missing hasn’t changed. The paint is one shade brighter. And what will come next remains to be unseen.

But the spirit in which we paint has changed and transformed. What I need is different. And that’s a beautiful thing.

You’re Still Here

I looked up from my computer as I perched against my tall office chair. As the sun dipped into the trees, I smiled as the delivery man approached.

He opened the door, and interrupted a conversation with co-workers with a cheer.

“You’re all still here!” he said. “Happy post-COVID, or wherever we are.”

We laughed together and I said, “I’m so glad you’re still our guy.”

It was a brief interaction – three minutes or less. With the opening of an office door, and a delivery of a package, I was overwhelmed by the sense of community that has been missing in remote offices and isolating fear-spirals.

Yes, we were all wearing masks and trying to stand further apart than we would have before, but with a simple delivery, I was reminded of just how much we need each other.

The arrival of a delayed package, the missing remote for the speakers, the hum of a coffee machine left on overnight, spider webs collecting in places gone untouched for months. Ordinary, beautiful things, often seen as annoyances, that blur into the background of a normal life.

But things haven’t been normal.

Today, I saw my friend Jesse, our UPS man. You’re all still here.

What a beautiful thing.

Making Way

Standing at the back door, with a bit of wind blowing on my face, I turned to Dylan to say, “It’s happening!”

Seemingly overnight the trees in our backyard have begun to change colors. The tree with the little leaves always goes gold first, scattering quarter inch crunchies across the deck. The remnants track into the house with the dog, tuck themselves into outdoor couch cushions, and find themselves carried into the living room on stocking feet. The tiny ones are always the first to fall.

I asked Dylan when we went to Europe the other day. Three years ago this weekend we were in Paris, and I remember wishing, just slightly, that I wouldn’t miss our larger tree turning red in the backyard. The views of Parisian rooftops surely surpassed those in my backyard, but the nostalgia for the changing of the seasons lingered within me.

This is the second fall where we haven’t traveled. Our sources of excitement and stimulation have slowed to glacial pace, and I find myself staring out the back door, again waiting for magic to happen. We don’t have red leaves yet, but they are coming.

It’s easy to feel nostalgic as September turns to October. There are quotes and memes about letting the dead things go as our flowers wilt and sources of shade crisp and crunch. I’ve been talking to mentors and friends about the pruning in their own lives. Many feel purpose wilting, unsure of what will happen in the next season of hibernation. We thought we’d be over this by now, right?

I’ve spent the last five years writing about death and grief and loss. In these reflections, lessons of hope and wondering and recovery have unfolded, giving me, and hopefully others, comfort. As the days grow shorter, and I put my face upon cool glass.

Will this be another dark hole of a pandemic winter? Will looking for the light feel as difficult as it did last year?

In the pruning back, the raking up, and the setting to bed of our gardens, we get to choose what we will prepare to grow. Ann Voskamp once shared how she plants bulbs with her family this time of year, intentionally tucking something hopeful into the dirt to arrive in the spring.

I can relate to that wanting. To believe that good things will come, even as the dark days descend.

So for now, yes, enjoy the gold and the red and the mystical light reflecting off of trees and blue skies. Find your sweaters. Make a cup of tea. Rake and sift and shift the soil, knowing the work you are doing is sacred. Tuck a bulb in the dirt and wait. The preparation and making way, perhaps, are beautiful things.

Eight Potatoes

Heading out to harvest is a romantic notion. Successful gardner’s pictures of full of baskets with bountiful produce, overflowing bunches of kale, and counters with little space entice and tempt me into trying year after year.

For me, gardening is an ever hopeful experience. We rotate our crops, water, and wait for months to yield something delicious. Last year, there was a bounty of cucumbers. We were swimming in pickles and sauces with dill and giving away extras to the neighbors.

This year, grasshopers munched on my beans, kale turned bitter, and while the basil was plentiful, our tomatoes gifted us with one globe a day, maybe three on a good day. Instead, I turned to the overflow of my in-laws gardens for enough fruit for bruschetta or pasta sauce. Sharing abundance is a beautiful thing.

It’s easy to stand on my stoop, overlooking our small patch of vegetables, and think we failed. When I do price comparisons, the four zucchini we grew probably rang in at over twenty dollars each. But if I focus on output, I miss the magic that grew in our small rectangle of dirt. We grew two handfuls of fairytale eggplant and roasted them up with olive oil. I experienced the joy of popping cherry tomatoes right off the vine and into our mouths. Ate some salads of lettuce before the bugs got to it. Kale chips were toasted once or twice in the air fryer. Two red bell peppers made a nice dinner with hummus and cheese.

On Sunday, I stood in the dirt and moved away the piles we had pulled together in an attempt to protect and nurture potatoes. Using shovels and trowels, I worked to these red potatoes, some as big as tennis balls. I felt like a little kid playing archeologist, wiping dirt on my pants and smooshing grime under my fingernails in pursuit of a starchy treat.

If we were dependent on my garden for sustenance through the winter, we’d be doomed.

Instead, I taught Dylan how to make mirepoix (with store bought carrots and onions) and tossed in our potatoes for stew.

If I was focusing on all we didn’t grow, I’d miss out on the joy of what was in my metaphorical, medium-size basket designed to harvest.

Life still feels like a bit of a waiting game. You know the numbers, the disconnect and the divide we are living through. And still, my garden produced just enough to instill a sense of delight. When supplemented with the gifts and bounty of other’s work, our joy expanded.

This is a lonely, confusing time to be a human. We’re working on screens, and wondering if it is safe to send our kids to school, or go to a baseball game, or even shake a strangers hands. It’s easy to look out and think, wow, what a failure. And when we do, we miss what’s happening under the dirt. No matter our yield, our attempt to grow is a beautiful thing.

In the Rush

Sitting down to my grandmother’s kitchen table for dinner always started the same way. We’d hold hands, bow our heads, and someone would start to pray.

“In the rush of a busy day, oh Lord, we pause to give you thanks. For food, for family ….”

There’s a third for something that’s escaping me now. I haven’t sat at her kitchen table for awhile.

This time warp of Covid and constant vigilance has me dancing between a frantic feeling of trying to pack summer and outdoor safety into a container before the weather again gets cold.

It’s time, again, to pause.

I bow my head. I say a prayer of thanks for these beautiful things.

Slices of melted mozarella cheese squished between fresh pesto and late summer peaches.

A friend who picks up the phone after I text, “Can I call you tonight?”

Tomatoes so juicy their insides drip down your chin, begging to be sopped up with fresh bread.

A persistent daisy poking its way through the soil, against the odds, timelines of shoulds forgotten.

Pink nail polish on tanned toes.

I’ve only got five items today – pushing for more feels like squeezing a tube of toothpaste that’s been clogged for awhile. I’m out of practice. What’s happening in the world right now is overwhelming, perplexing and sad.

If you squeeze your container a little harder in an attempt to extrude the good, what beautiful blobs would emerge?

Trying to Be Brave

First day of school pictures are filling up threads. I’m learning what my friend’s children want to be when they grow up and which acquaintences are sending their kiddos to private school. I’m wondering which schools are requiring masks and if it’s safe for me to be around people who have children under twelve.

In a recent Instagram post, Grace Cho wrote about how she cried when sending her kids back to school. I don’t know her personally, and appreciate her candor and appreciation for the ordinary good. She ended her caption with the words, “Nothing is the same. We’re all just trying to be brave.”

The world continues to be pummled with catastrophe, consequences and fears. For the ones paying attention, the darkness seems to be swirling in again, the temperature dropping for fears of our souls being sucked out as the dementors approach. Global pain flashes on screens, in story highlights, and rolls off our tongues in team updates. A friend lost her father. Another received the diagnosis she had been dreading.

Chocolate. That’s the remedy right? When things are overwhelming, and we feel as if we may faint, wizards nibble on a piece of chocolate.

This is such a bizarre time to be alive.

Years ago I quoted Sheryl Sandberg in a Christmas letter, using her words to reminding myself and others that when plan A doesn’t work, we can ‘kick the shit out of option B.’ It seems the companies I work with and my friends and family are on option E. Changing over to option F or G continues to be exhausting.

And still we wait.

I wonder if mask mandates will return, or the events we hoped for will be cancelled again. I wonder if those who I love will change their minds. And I wonder, how do we carry on through all of this?

We’re all just trying to be brave.

While we’re taught bravery is the courage of a lion, roaring loudly, making air move with our forceful breaths, I choose instead to tip toe into the field and lie down. Have you considered bravado isn’t the same for everyone? For rest is brave too.

Walking into office spaces as asked is brave. Changing jobs is brave. Admitting this isn’t working is brave. Wearing a mask so immunocompromised people can be safe is a super heroic act. Sometimes, even hard-to-understand defiance and adamance are brave attempts at protecting our wounded childhood selves.

Nibbling a bit of chocolate to overcome the waves of impending doom, maybe that’s brave too.

Anger and rage rarely change hearts. Rest and a bunch of daisies might. Where are you scared tonight? What letter back up plan are you analyzing? How are you carrying on?

,We’re all just trying to be brave. And, I hope that’s a beautiful thing.


PS – there are still spots for the As We Carry On writing workshops that will be offered August 21st and 24th. Learn more and save your spot here.

As Much as Air

“We humans need beauty as much as air. Without it we exist only to survive and procreate (our genes, or our ideas, or our beliefs, or our portfolios). In a world driven to mere efficiency, we are in grave danger of forgetting this. We see the results of our forgetfulness at every turn: addictive behaviors, massive greed, devastating cruelty—the symptoms of soul death.”  – James Flaherty

Needing beauty is a novel idea. For so many of us, beauty feels a luxury, with its many definitions and assumed price tags. When I read James’ words I found so much purpose in this every day pursuit.

How rebellious it is to sit and type, reflecting on the good when we should be out there producing, consuming, or creating opportunities.

What if this effort of looking for good, for holy, for beautiful things could help heal us?

My thesis stands.

And still, I struggle to focus on what could be good rather than be sucked in by what isn’t going great.

I sat in an office with a stranger yesterday, after nervously shaking a new connection’s hand. Is it rude to whip out hand-sanitizer after first greeting someone? Probably. How long will I be anxious from simply sharing air?

As our conversation shifted away from real estate and towards the olympics, my new friend paused, with tears in her eyes, and recounted the stories of kindness, empathy, and connection from athletes over the last two weeks. “People don’t really hate each other as much we are led to believe,” she said.

I vascilate between despair and hope on a daily basis. Photos of children wearing water wings and playing on beaches in front of skies brown with smoke from fires sear their images into my eyeballs. We’ve got work to do.

And then, I read reminders like Mr. Flaherty’s and remember, if we don’t look for beauty, surely we will forget.

The sun came up today and worms wriggled in the puddles on my porch.

Tiny bubbles burst in glasses of carbonated water.

Children visiting our offices stop and stare, in wonder, at the stylized super hero posters hanging on the wall.

The call for compassion is ever present.

We can give money, ride a bike, or call a friend.

All quiet. Not as insistent as the updates on my phone, breaking news, or climbing numbers of cases.

When trying to find a photo of air, I came up short. But its presence is all around us, sustaining life.

Perhaps the same is true of beauty. May its presence be as natural as your body’s next inhale.

Connection and appreciation can be found when we create it. What a beautiful thing.

If you’re needing some support in looking for the good, consider this aesthetic invitation to wonder and awe from The Mindful Leader.