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When Tragedy Hits Just Down the Road

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Numbing seems an appropriate reaction. The news has us believing every day life is full of tragedy on repeat. We turn away, scroll up, click out. Or we gawk and watch from our couches as lives not our own burn on December days.

The past two years have exhausted us, yes. Fear looms ever present and, as the pandemic revealed to all of us, this myth of certaintity is just that, a myth. We like to think we are invincible, until nature and forces greater than ourselves tell us over and over again, we are simply humans.

Just down the road from us a whole community burned in a wildfire in December. Over 600 homes are lost. That’s 600 families who woke up yesterday with plans, and had their lives tipped upside down. The Target where my husband worked in high school is gone. Whole neighborhoods flattened by flames. In December. Global Warming is taking its toll everywhere.

As I scroll this morning, there are hundreds of posts with these common phrases we hear in the face of tragedy:

Let me know how I can help.

Please reach out.

There are no words.

Yes, you mean well. Yes, your sentiments are overflowing with emotion and possibilities. And friends, we can all do so much better.

I’ve coached many people to work on their reframing, because when your life has turned upside down, you don’t have the energy to reach out. You need the people to do the reaching for you.

Make a list of how you like to care for others. Maybe you want to donate money (which you can do here). Maybe you want to bring a meal. Maybe your spare bedroom has clean sheets and is ready for long-term guests. Then offer those direct options up in the chats and in texts. Show up with donations (when organizations are ready). Put on a mask. Serve a meal. Phone a friend. Tell people how you can help, and then follow through.

You might not know what to say, but that doesn’t mean there are NO words. When your home burns, there will be hundreds of words. Tongues freeze for fear of saying the wrong thing. But under the weight of the fear of hurting others, words spew. Words of sadness. Words of anger. Words of hurt and despair. You can bring words of hope.

Try things like:

This sucks.

I know this must be difficult. You don’t have to face this new reality alone.

Want to get a milkshake?

I couldn’t believe as hundreds of families down the proverbial street lost their homes yesterday, I was getting a massage. Privilege, yes, but also a simple reflection that as your world turns, someone else’s may be falling apart. Rather than getting defensive and divisive, every day is an opportunity to turn towards the suffering of others and say, “Do I want to do something about this?”

This is compassion in action. It’s hard work. Messy, full of tears and literal ash. And it often starts with one word.

When tragedy strikes, we have choices. And choosing to turn care into action is a beautiful thing.

Poked in the Heart

My muscles were sore from sitting on the floor balancing a plate of Chinese food in my lap. As I ate soggy noodles, three women, tenured family friends, sat perched above me on our worn, blue couch. As we watched an unremarkable movie, I felt safe in the company of people who knew me. People who knew him. People who carried pieces of my dead dad in their life stories too.

We had lost him a few months prior, and when the evening ended, I closed the front door and told Dylan, “I don’t want to go to bed because I feel so good now. I’ve forgotten how to feel good.”

I hadn’t thought of that night in years.

Seven days ago, Dylan called me upstairs with a somber voice. His delivery of a simple ask, “Katie, can you come here?” made my stomach sink.

After a week of addiction addled toggling between CNN and The New York Times websites, my eyes stuck in the red center of the US map as election results slowly ticked in. As the edges of our country turned blue, my heart beat escalated. Again, I sat on the floor, balancing plates on my knees as I watched The Queens Gambit to distract.

“Who died?” I thought. Unfortunately, still my default question.

“Joe Biden won” he said quietly.

Running up the stairs, I demanded he click over to nytimes. com – the news source I’ve been trusting in a sea of false news and fabricated reports.

I wasn’t convinced. Dylan scrawled out the math on an envelope waiting on the nightstand. Electoral votes and percentages and likelihoods of a secured win. Numbers and stats to help with the hope of certainty.

My heart cracked open with a gasp. I watched thousands of strangers dance in the streets with signs and masks and music from my tiny cell phone screen. We toasted gin and tonics as I don’t keep bubbly in my cupboard.

I didn’t want to go to bed last Saturday. I’d forgotten what happy felt like. I’ve been living with dread instead. Grief taught me feelings of elation can pop. Hope dissipates into the sheets as we sleep. It’s likely I’ll wake with big feelings in the morning.

As another week passed, COVID cases jump at alarming rates. People I know receive positive test results and I feel my fingers curling closed in fear. I’ve lectured my mom, and doubled up doses of vitamin D and zinc. Daily, I swallow down words I want to say to people who keep doing whatever the heck they want to do in the name of carpe diem.

As the artist PINK says, “It’s gonna be a long way to happy.”

Last night, with another plate balanced on my knees, we watched the movie 13 Going on 30. After the credits rolled, we turned to YouTube to watch Pat Benatar’s music video for Love is a Battlefield. For thirty minutes, my years of dance classes paid off. I wiggled and pointed my toes and matched the movements of the rock stars with big hair on tv. Dylan laughed and my dog barked. I felt happy. I didn’t want to go to bed.

This year has been scary for all of us. Whether you’re aware of your fears, or are stuffing them down into the fibers of your muscles where your subconscious lives, the reality of living in constant threat is not normal.

Like the first months of grief, I wonder if these intense circumstances will ever pass us by.

But there are moments, in balancing plates, and states turning blue, and dance parties in living rooms, where I am poked in the heart to remember again what it’s like to feel good. What a beautiful thing.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Great news! My friend Annie Herzig designed a sticker for the blog so we can remember to keep searching for beautiful things.

You can get one by choosing your own adventure below:

1) Donate to a nonprofit of your choices that serves children, grief groups, or the arts community. Share proof of your donation with me. You pick the amount that feels good to you.

2) Stick some money in the tip jar. All money raised goes towards paying an editor for the book in progress.

3) If money is tight, commit a random act of kindness and find a way to share your story with me.

Get a sticker. Keep up the search. Forward this to a friend. https://52beautifulthings.com/tip-jar/

Keep on Bouncing

I saw a meme on Instagram.

Using triggered fingertips I typed, “Unfortunately this is not true for everyone. I want it to be true but it’s not that simple.”

I clicked the send button and waited for the blue dots to pop up. I got scared, in the waiting, because Instagram DMs create a vacuum of silence.

Had I ruined the rapport we had built? If we were sorted by past voting records, I’m pretty sure we’d sit on opposite sides of the aisle.

My friend responded, “Is it not true that we can be happy and love others regardless of who wins tomorrow?”

She stopped me in my own defensiveness. My puffed up chest let out a little of the air I had been holding in my lungs.

I was spinning on who determines who gets to love whom, and the individuals lying alone in hospital beds, and systemic oppression and pepper spray flying. Continuing injustices matter to me.

Haven’t we been working on this since a bunch of white guys wrote down the possibility that we could pursue our own happiness? I’m pretty sure there were no women or people of color in that room. Who gets to determine happiness while others continue to suffer?

At the same time, her response hit a nerve, perhaps in a good way.

Of COURSE I should go on loving others and pursuing happiness regardless of who wins this week.

Remember that Power of Ten video we had to watch in middle school? It starts small and as the focus keeps widening, we get further and further out into the universe.

My friend just brought me back to a smaller power of ten. A place where I have more control. How am I treating the people I love? How much am I giving my energy, my fears, my anxiety, to systems that aren’t serving me and definitely leaving out others?

Friends, I have strong opinions about who should be in office next. I am fearful for this week, and what will unfold in the future. It’s hard to find common ground.

And, I do agree! How absurd it is to think we would allow some orange-tinged force, spewing hatred, to stop me in my search for goodness.

Too far? Perhaps I took it too far.

Or to place all of my power in the opposite outcome? How are our forces of ten coming in to play?

On our walk this weekend, we came across two kids who scribbled out a wobbly hopscotch board on the sidewalk. Standing far apart, we asked the small humans if we could hop through their game. They were wearing masks, so I couldn’t tell for sure, but tiny eyes lit up, making me think they were smiling.

I bounced on one foot, hopping back and forth, from one to ten.

Wobble on through. Don’t let them stop you from loving others. Find your sidewalk chalk. It’s not a clear path from one to ten. Keep on bouncing.

Oh, Louis.

This song imprinted on me when I was in first grade. Standing in an upper balcony in a dimly lit church, I was joined by dozens of elementary school kids who received the honor of singing this song at my principal’s wedding.

This song was written in 1967. I sang it in the 90’s and it became an anthem of my childhood.

Perhaps you’re having trouble remembering the wonderful. The simple lyrics help me remember.

Mondays can be challenging. I don’t have the Sunday night blues, persay, but I dread sitting down in my office chair to work away another week with limited interaction on Monday mornings.

And yet, the sky is blue. The clouds are white.

The trees are green, turning red, floating to the earth waiting to ground our feet into shifting dirt.

We’re not shaking hands. Remember, I – love – you.

The bright blessed day.

These dark, sacred nights.

What if this time is sacred?

What if we still, have a wonderful world? What simple, beautiful things, would you put on your list this week?

Which one is louder and why?

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I’ve been wondering the same of joy lately. If we take a moment to see the good, and no one is here to nod along, does the bubble burst unnoticed?

So much of this year has been spent in isolation. From behind our screens and windows, from six feet away, many sit longing. Others deny and bravely threaten others with careless acts in the name of freedom.

Can we cultivate joy if we are the only ones to recognize the burbles?

A life-long fan of Winnie the Pooh, I nodded at this quippy meme after clicking send in a private message to another who would surely nod too.

Image may contain: text that says 'Pooh? Yeah Piglet? I'm tired of all this. I am too Piglet. I am too.'

Then I caught myself, gnawing at the chords of dark humor binding my wrists into inaction. I am SO sick of all of this. Of living in a world where humans hurt and politicians lie and I fight with friends on Instagram, triggered by words of others I don’t even know. Shame crept up in the spaces where our values divide us. Maybe it’s always been this way?

I sink my teeth into the quickly tightening reeds of disbelief. I have to keep cutting through the growing thickets to create my own light.

The days are growing shorter, streaming orange beams of afternoon sun onto my kitchen floor.

Sourdough starter still bubbles up, even when recipes are misread and overnight rises become day time activities.

Grey strips grow into place as hair cuts beckon.

Chocolate bars crunch as almonds splinter.

Memories woosh through cyberspace and land with a buzz onto a cell phone screen.

A friend sent me a picture of my senior photo, snapped from a yearbook in halls where she works and I no longer walk.

A girl fills the left of a frame at eighteen with dark, shoulder length hair parted right down the middle. Big eyes surrounded with too much eyeliner, looked up as she fingered the small cross around her neck. In cursive font, was my chosen senior quote.

“When you stand in the present moment, you are timeless.”

Heady right?

I’ve outgrown Abercrombie long-sleeves, and knowing it all and yet, I haven’t outgrown my aching for transcendence.

I’m here – in this pandemic moment – knowing so many are struggling. I’m sick of politics, and fight my addiction to the ticking death toll on the New York Times website.

Does good beget good and light spark more light?

Trees are falling. Beauty is burbling. Do they make a sound? Which one is louder and why?

You can answer. What does beauty sound like to you? I’m here. I’m listening.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

World’s On Fire

The spruce trees sheltering my childhood camping outings burn up into plumes, wandering far from their roots.

Pine needles turn white. Ashes fall.

Landing lightly, the burned remnants smear black, dirty, and dark on parking lots full of cars with nowhere to go.

Hours later wind blows and temperatures drop. Snow falls. Wet, slushy sleet sent to sizzle the flames.

As skies turn from purple haze to a pre-mature, wintery, orange reflection of light, so does my anxious spirit waiting to be extinguished. The world seems aflame.

Embers and ice crystals.

Both exist.

Both forces can’t act alone. When one ember sparks into two, then four, then thousands, destruction magnifies. Same is true of heavy snow.

What will you spark? Will your power magnify to destroy or bring solace? Will you roar loudly or float, spit, or soak, calming and cooling our furious hearts? What can you extinguish to make the world a more beautiful place?

You have a choice. A beautiful thing.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

A Little Bit on Numbers

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Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

*Trigger warning* – Mentions sexual assault

I remember the first time the connection between the numbers in my text books fused with the actual people generating the data in my brain.

I was a senior in college waiting for my friend from Sociology class to come over to work on a group project. She was late. Her text buzzed in, letting me know she wasn’t going to be able to come over. She’d fill me in when we could be together again, in person.

I don’t remember when she showed up at my door – maybe later in the evening – maybe a few days later. I do remember the tears in her eyes, and the way the gray carpet blurred when she told me why she missed our meeting.

I remember walking to campus and holding her hand. I remember sitting in straight-backed oak chairs with the kind professor who listened, and gasped as she accepted my friend’s truth. My friend was raped the weekend before.

Our connection doesn’t go much past this recollection. I wish I could say I did more. I didn’t follow up after graduation. I held a small portion of the truth for her and created space.  I know her experience became a police report and she became a number in a file of sexual assaults on young females in 2011.

This is not the place to blame, or shame, or dissect cause and effect. I share this story because it helped me realize for every single model and number on a page exists a real human.

I am not comparing number of incidents of rape to the numbers of people being infected by the coronavirus. Rather, this is a reminder to think of the reports and predictions informing decisions during this pandemic. I’m not an expert and I know we all are doing the best we can.

But please remember, for each number, statistic, risk factor and odds exists these:

Loved ones.

College prospects.

Best friends.

Scared teachers.

Caregivers.

Cancer patients.

Pro-athletes.

Grandparents.

Elementary-school children.

These numbers will be in text books.

So, please, the next time you spout numbers or note previous studies, or look at models and statistics predicting human behavior and future loss of life, remember this: for each number exists a human.

For each number exists a story.

For each number exists a future.

We’ve got to fuse connections between our individual choices and the patterns our children will study in print or whatever futuristic ink they’ll read.

You are a number.

We can’t escape risk and we can choose love. We can choose to protect and pivot and wait. We can choose to care and give money and wear masks.

I tire of filling my glass half full. It’s not always rosy. Stop spouting statistics as excuses. What if those numbers were your people? Maybe they already are.

Can we be more compassionate to all of us, living through history now?

You get to use your number well.  I hope that’s a beautiful thing.

 

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.

Buy Me a Coffee

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Thank you for reading 52 Beautiful Things!

I strive to whisper to the hurting, search for the good, and giggle in delight at things like bubbles, sprinkles, and coffee beans.

If you’ve ever read along and thought, boy I wish I could buy that gal a cup of coffee, now you can!

I’ve been blogging since 2013 about my pursuit of beautiful things in a hurting world. Since I started I got married, have had 9 jobs, bought a house and lost a parent. I’ve consumed an absurd amount of vanilla lattes and perhaps, most importantly, I’ve grown up.

I’ve been writing for 5 years without financial support and have decided to ask for help with my next goal – turning this blog into a book! I invite you to join me on this imperfect search for beautiful things and thank you in advance for your financial support.

I’m coming to realize my purpose in writing is I want to help. Help myself heal, love this magnificent, magical world, build gratitude, dream bigger, and experience new things.

My hope this blog strikes a chord in you, lifts you up in a dreary world, and whispers tendrils of hope straight to your heart.

Your support will help me turn this blog into a book! Or fuel another post with liquid gold, vanilla nectar of the Gods. Or Both.

Every cup of coffee consumed will fuel this dream.

Cheers!

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