Hollowing

My grief gremlin lives in my heart pocket. If you’ve read my words for awhile, you might have heard me mention her. A tiny little creature, she has dark navy feathers and big, pleading eyes. She gnaws on tendrils of memories, connections, and fibers that once connected me to other people, places, and things. She nestles, tucking tiny wings in towards her body and pops up on anniversaries, on birthdays, and trips to the grocery store. She seems to have flourished during the pandemic, reminding me of her presence on ordinary days, and in the boring spans of hours filled with background noise and scrolling thumbs.

Today, she introduced me to a new friend.

One growing alongside her, in the cramped space of a worn pocket lined with soft flecks of lint.

She told me she’s cautious to name this new wonder growing, because it’s miniature size still needs nurturing. She’s dabbling with the name Hope. Or purpose. But naming feels scary because naming is claiming the reality that there’s space for anything else to take up residence in a sacred space that has been filled with prickles and dark for so long.

In a miraculous thread of connections, I found myself on a Zoom call with a woman from New York this morning. We are discussing a new project (stay tuned for more details) and as she shared her experience with me, in her pause, this sentence stuck with me.

It was a dark point in my life. I was hollowing out and letting go to make room for new things to rush in.

I nodded deeply to her wisdom.

How long have I been hollowing? The scooping and digging and scraping and saying good bye seems to be incessant.

What this woman’s story gave me, though, was the reminder of the spacious space inside me that has been emptied. I’ve been clinging desparately, pulling at torn edges, to bring the tapestry back together with the remnants of what was.

What is is no longer. Has the pandemic revealed anything clearer?

In my incessant thinking, and all the time alone in my study, I’ve forgotten how to welcome the rushing. I needed time to finger the losses, to wallow, to wait. I’ve accepted the pain and for fear of more, I’ve forgotten how to welcome.

My gremlin, in her nesting, has done a fabulous job of hollowing. Now she’s ready to welcome more into the space.

What will come rushing remains to be seen. Welcoming. What a beautiful thing.

To Want to Return

We inched slowly towards the ranger stand, waiting for our turn to be let in. After rolling down the window, we were asked if we had a reservation.

“We only want to head home on Trail Ridge Road,” Dylan explained.

The kind woman explained our options, having had missed the memo that we now needed a time slot to get into the national park thirty minutes from home.

We turned around again, driving back into the small mountain town to wait until they opened the road for the general public who forgot to reserve access.

The delay was an inconvenience, but survivable.

We drove to the nearby lodge, and passed the time on a deck overlooking a lake to the right. Behind us, whole valleys were scorched by the fires from last summer. Remnants of magnificent trees stood stabbing their charred limbs into blue skies. Pine trees turned burnt orange from heat clung to crisped aspens, bending from sheer desperation. I could imagine them gasping for air as flames licked up their homes, their friends, their communities.

I was witness to the damage we have done to the earth, even while sitting in my gas guzzling SUV. There’s something unsettling to see climate change in action. To know that the trees of my youth have burned and my someday children will come see scorched matriarchs nurturing tiny seedlings instead is heartbreaking.

Jaw dropping. Gasp worthy. We took in all that has been taken from us, from the earth, from our stories.

I’ve been in the holy space of standing on ash before. When what was crumbles and what will be remains smudged. Familiar paths now blocked, mixed with melted wires and wood wrecked and warbled from heat.

Eventually, the world calls us to stand, wipe the smears on our pants, and move on.

Our world is at an important crossroads right now. We’re getting on planes and hugging our friends and returning to offices. In other countries, the virus continues to ravage and take, burning connections and ripping up roots as it moves from host to host.

There’s a temptation to push what’s happened into the past. We’ve dealt with our smears. We’ve washed our hands of all of this. What grief has taught me, however, is no matter how far you go, your landscapes stay altered.

We can turn our attention to the saplings and new growth, and say, look at the greens poking through the char. But we must tend to the ache and say, ‘but please, please, remember all that has burned’.

I’ll come back to the park to watch it recover. I’ll stand among pines and listen to water gush and gurggle into streams. I’ll watch the elk and the deer find their sustenance in meadows another valley over. And putting a hand to my heart, I’ll remember picnics and meanders on paths, and all the places he had seen, now too, morphed by the natural cycles of loss.

To stand in a place that has been forever changed and want to return is resilience. What a beautiful thing.

A Sore Tenderness

I went to get a massage yesterday to alleviate the developing hunch in my shoulders. When I walked in the door, the first thing the therapist asked after my name was, “Are you fully vaccinated?”

How bold to put the question I’ve been wondering about others out in front – a precursor to connection, a permission to proceed.

She welcomed me in to the space and I was met with the automated sounds of waves crashing on a noise machine. I completed the paperwork and she asked me what brought me in. What I was hoping to achieve?

I responded to all of the normal questions when one goes to see a new provider.

When asked, “Do you have any traumas?” I paused.

“You want me to list them here? I thought to myself. “Um, how far back do you want me to go? Are there folks who can answer no?”

I’ve met this question before and I’ve learned to be wary of how my answers are received. What does one need to know? When are folks simply curious?

To answer, I narrowed my scope. I ticked off the bus accident I was in in high school, a chronic crunch from hot days on tennis courts, an over heavy backpack from years as an academic overachiever. I spoke of my grief experience and that I carry anxiety in my hips.

She nodded, prodding no further with words. Instead, she turned to her hands to dig in to the story only a tense body can tell.

As I lay on a table covered in cool blue sheets, my masked face fought fabric and layers of protection to breathe. Skilled hands addressed deeply what I’ve been carrying from this pandemic and beyond.

I went home feeling relief.

People keep telling me to read the book “The Body Keeps the Score.” I’m afraid to pick up the title. Afraid of what may be revealed on those pages. That trauma and its adverse affects may be living in me.

You, too, have lived through a very traumatic time in our collective history. This pandemic isn’t over yet. The death rates may be slowing, and our bodies will be learning how to carry this experience for a beyond just a bit.

This morning, hoping for magic, I moved through a series of stretches. Where the therapist had focused her healing left a responsive ache in my muscles. I’ve been adjusted. I’m not free from pain.

Standing in my kitchen, waiting for water to boil, I watched a shimmering spider web descend from the trees out my front window. The strand was waving in the wind, arching from a leafy branch to settle on to the patio furniture waiting to be warmed by the sun. Do the spiders sense this global shift? Or are they simply doing what they know how to do? Reaching out. Webbing a place of belonging. Creating connections to ground oneself in the spaces in between.

Healing work takes practice. Kneading of muscles admits the nature of needing others to help us realign. In the reaching lies a sore tenderness and hope that we will once again connect from here to there. What a beautiful thing.

Relying on the 5 Senses

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A therapist once taught me a grounding exercise. When overwhelm wraps its scratchy arms around me, I have to start to count the things I notice. The practitioner told me to pay attention to my senses.

What’s something you see? What do you smell? What do you taste? What’s within reach that you can run your palms across? What noises can you hear? As you make note, repeat the phrase, “I am safe” to yourself in a whisper.

Repeat the process until the anxiety subsides.

I had an epiphany last week while staring at pictures of others gathering with friends and family. If others can gather safely without health consequences, perhaps I am entitled to the same experiences. I tiptoed into my closet to pick out an outfit made of fibers other than spandex and cotton. I used mascara. I blow-dried my hair.

I had a coffee date with a new connection. I flicked through clothing racks at T.J. Maxx. When I hugged my friend, seven months pregnant, for the first time since the first lockdown, I cried. Emotions bubbled up, surprising me as I embarked on the everyday, ordinary routines that I’d skipped for the sake of safety.

All the while I kept whispering to myself, “I am safe” on repeat.

In seasons of darkness, we’re told to look for light. I find myself squinting from the flares of light others have been basking in for awhile longer than me. I’m moving into the world stepping cautiously into ordinary spaces.

While my eyes adjust, I’m also practicing looking for signs of life.

Andy Rooney once said, “For most of life, nothing wonderful happens. If you don’t enjoy getting up and working and finishing your work and sitting down to a meal with family or friends, then the chances are that you’re not going to be very happy. If someone bases his happiness or unhappiness on major events like a great new job, huge amounts of money, a flawlessly happy marriage or a trip to Paris, that person isn’t going to be happy much of the time. If, on the other hand, happiness depends on a good breakfast, flowers in the yard, a drink or a nap, then we are more likely to live with quite a bit of happiness.”

Curating happiness in a post-pandemic world requires much of the same skills we learned in our hibernation.

What are your senses revealing?

Potatoes are poking their way through the dirt and I witness tiny tomato seedlings in their determination to become something of substance.

Neighbors up and down the street create a symphony of mowers releasing plumes of green grass thanks to all of the rain.

I’ve watched the irises grow their cellulose stalks and unfurl their blousy arms with flare. Bringing the blooms inside, I stuck my nose near the center and inhaled.

I dipped corn chips into hot cheese tasting flavors only a restaurant can concoct.

My clothes are clean. Leggings are worn soft. My toes can be free in flip flops once again.

A cousin said hello to their new baby girl.

When is the last time something wonderful happened to you?

I am safe. Life is here.

Relying on the five senses. A beautiful thing.

Divine We

After a recent Facebook binge, ie. doomscrolling session, my thumbs came to a rest. Traci Blackmon, a minister at the United Church of Christ, had posted this:

“Friends. As we ponder the validity of the CDC’s most recent announcement while the US remains at a 35% immunization rate and new cases and deaths, although significantly decreased, continue. As we reflect upon the surge of mutations that has now brought India to a full stop. Might I suggest the voice of individualism will tell us to count it a victory if I am ok, while the voice of the Divine would ask: What about others? History has proven we don’t ever go far when we go alone. WE are not yet well. “💞

Deep breath words. Ones that make me nod and want to weep, to swallow down a gulp in just a brief, overpowering moment.

Perhaps what Blackmon so eloquently captures in a paragraph is what I’ve spent fifteen months grappling with. The “me” mentality overpowers the “we” so often in our culture. I swim in ‘yeah buts’ and sentiments laced with, ‘well, that doesn’t affect me.’ The air is so thick, so humid, with these ideas that to those who won’t listen, my choice to stay home is conservative at best and just plain scared at worst.

I have been scared. You haven’t?

As mask mandates end and we go back to offices, I find myself clicking over to dashboards and charts in liberal media just as I have every single day since lock down number one. Yes, numbers are falling. Yes, vaccinations are happening. And yes, still cases climb, and people are dying and sigh, I could go on and on.

“What will it take for you to feel safe, Katie?” they ask me. I don’t have an answer yet.

Maybe the Divine is whispering to me, in my wonderings of what remains to be seen? How come our desire for connection and travel and a full plate of brunch still leaves those preparing your food vulnerable behind stoves full of simmering sauces?

I’m so good at asking, What about them? What do they need? What will I sacrifice in the name of safety or in the pursuit of kindness?

In a quick moment of rest, I heard another whisper.

Don’t forget, Ms. Katie, that ‘we’ includes you.

And I asked myself, What do I need?

I needed my mom to drive me from nursery to nursery in pursuit of plant starts and floral blooms. I needed a tiny cup of foaming milk, swirling espresso, and precisely six grams of vanilla syrup. I needed to sit in the dirt, to plunge shovels into loam, and to mix rich compost in with airy soil to create a place for something to grow. I needed a tiny cupcake to remember him by.

I need you to remember, we may be able to remove our masks now, but thousands are still scared and hurting and unsafe. We’re all going to carry on with remnants of this time like sand we took home from a trip to the ocean. We’ll find the grains in pockets of jeans, and at the bottoms of backpacks and work bags we left in the closet.

Where we walk next will be led by the foot steps we took last year, pacing in circles wearing carpet thin.

I felt a sense of relief with a second jab to the arm and this weekend for three days in a row, I hugged someone not my husband. Arms. Warm bodies. Your heartbeat in a chest next to mine. Beautiful, soul filling things.

Maybe We Need the Moisture

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I’ve never been so excited to click “schedule.”

After fifteen months with only one professional haircut, my locks are unruly. I’ve taken craft scissors to my bangs. After a few uneven attempts, I have succumbed to the pestering process of letting my fringe blend past my face.

Inches of hair fall past my nose. It gets clipped back, and braided into up-dos trying to be fancy. Clips, bows, and barrettes attach, mediocre in their restraint. It’s time for the professionals to take over.

In just a few weeks I’ll be fully vaccinated. The opening world beckons.

I stand in the back doorway looking out on the lawn, noticing how the spring rains turned everything green. This transformation is quick in Colorado. Rarely does the wetness last. Ask anyone in the Front Range about the last few gloomy days and they will tell you, “Well, we need the moisture.”

I’m accustomed to two days of drizzle, with a quick afternoon storm blowing through at two pm. Not weeks and months of dark clouds, soaking our systems with fear and droplets of uncertainty hanging thick in the air.

I recently read an op-ed written in March of 2020 predicting a long, looming winter season. Reading guesses of how the virus would change the world after the fact confirmed what we hoped wouldn’t be true actually was. They said we were not bracing for a blizzard. This storm was not going to blow over. We were going to be in this space for a long, cold, dark winter.

We hunkered down and learned to work on Zoom. I stayed home in the darkness. I felt the mist on my face in my own tears. The lingering remnants of all that we lost collectively smeared into puddles at our feet. There were no splashing boots. Worms piled, freezing as the seasons changed.

It’s trite to say, ‘but look what we’ve grown over the last fifteen months!’ My hair, certainly. A love of sourdough, yes. Purpose in all of this? Not so much. What comes is still unclear.

Maybe this season of fog and mist will seep into our bones and shoot up and out in new ways. The predictions did not explore the renaissance that would come as we go out into the world again.

As I wipe away the droplets, and sweep up piles of murky muck left behind from flowing downspouts, I wonder how have I grown.

How have you?

I spent Saturday weeding until my thumbs blistered, and the blades of grass cut small hatches into my knees from crouching on their itchy carpet. The marks on my legs have yet to heal. But, the mulched beds in the background are brimming with tulips. I’m excited to trim the flowers that have been waiting in last season’s darkness to bloom. I’ll bring them inside and place the gifts in goblets of water.

Maybe we need the moisture. Maybe we can use it to nurture. To sip. To feed. To grow. What a beautiful thing.

Mush

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The green orbs sat patiently on my counter over the weekend. As the sun set towards seven, I sank a blade deep into the flesh of the avocado. Pivoting my palm, I split the fruit in two and plunged a spoon next to the pit. With a quick flick, the little nut popped out onto cutting board leaving smooth spittle as it rolled to a stop.

I scooped out the creamy flesh into the bowl, leaving the halves to be mashed and mixed into something delicious.

With the first shot in my arm, I’ve noticed I’m starting to feel like the shell, rather raw and scooped out.

I’m trying to reconnect with those who I haven’t seen in over fourteen months. Funny how we count the passing of time like the aging of a toddler. Only when we pass into the twenty-four month will we round up to years.

I hope we don’t pass that milestone. No one wants the terrible twos of this pandemic.

In cutting my re-entry teeth, I picked up the phone to a friend who I went to kindergarden with. She’s been back for awhile now and when I asked her what was new, she said, ‘Actually, a lot. I’m moving to Seattle next week.”

My stomach dropped and plopped into a bowl, turning to mush. I took a breath and smiled through the phone and said congratulations.

Another long-timer pair is selling their home and moving to California. A best friend is expecting a baby in July. With each update, I try to be thrilled for the change. New places to visit. New adventures to toast with champagne.

But mostly, I just feel scooped out.

The pandemic has carved from me the time and space I had hoped to fill with friendship. In our social distance, we’ve made choices and changed our shapes. My fear of being left behind kicks into overdrive.

Maybe this is where the metaphor fails and sadness takes over. I’m sad what was will no longer be. I recall our core group of family dinner crew and wonder who will fill the seats on our back patio whenever our little bistro backyard re-opens.

They talk about metamorphosis being a magical process. Transformation undergone in cocoons. What really happens in there, though, is an undoing. An unraveling. A mushing effect.

I’ve been cocooned for quite awhile. I’m not sure what will emerge. But in the scooping, I create space for what can be. I’m open to what will fill this next chapter.

And the mush? It waits, knowing life can transform into the delicious with a quick dash of salt. What a beautiful thing.

Spice of Life

They opened up vaccine access to the general public in Colorado on April 2nd. Since then, I’ve been scouring vaccinespotter.org and the County website and I put myself on all the lists. I anxiously waited for the calls to hear, “It’s your turn.” I’ve been nagging my husband to do the same.

I received the email, I made an appointment and on Monday, when it was my turn to go, I started looking at other providers. I spent three hours ruminating in my head about which shot to get and if I could have a quicker recovery time and is a Friday a better day to receive a jab than a workday afternoon?

These questions persist when you live with anxiety. The pandemic pushed my cycling to chronic, and no, my rantings aren’t exactly beautiful. After texting a friend and my mom and cancelling and rescheduling and cancelling again, I decided to push my appointment to a later date. To live in a country where this is possible is privilege.

My momentary freak out was the culmination of thirteen months of fear. The vaccine feels like one more thing I’m clinging to as a possible way for things to go wrong, for the world to fall apart at my feet again. Dramatic, perhaps, but through a different lens, a very real reflection of what living life after loss looks like as I’m told the pandemic is coming to a close.

Still, cases climb. In some ways, I’m doubtful. Loss taught me life is fragile. The pandemic plunged me in to the dark pool again. A year in a home office has added a permanent hunch to my shoulders, forever closer to the computer screens where my interactions seem to live. I’m a part of conversations about re-entry, going back, and creating new ways of working daily. We’re eager for connection, for hugs, for trips to Hawaii. As I clicked “Schedule” to confirm my place in this incredible feat of human history, I felt the panic rising into my tense hips. My breath shortened. Is all of this really going to end?

While I wait for Friday, I look around my home. This space has been the backdrop for the work hours, the projects, the video watching, the dozens of books being read. The walls are a witness to boredom, my office chair a cushion absorbing the constant tension created from fear of losing someone else. White baseboards, now covered with dust, were tacked up with nails and caulk covering seams.

Repetition has seemed to strip the space of beauty. I’m so familiar with the contents of my refrigerator and the covering of dirt on the floor brought in by the dog that my eyes glaze over.

As I open the pantry, I notice I’m down to chili powder and onion powder and sprinkles of oregano ground to dust in the bottom of the jar. Variety, they say, is the spice of life. I feel some mix has been missing for quite some time.

In recent weeks, I started growing plants for the garden. The seedlings are small and sit in toilet paper beds of loose soil under red warming lights. Little green sprouts reach up and leaves are taking shape. In a few months, I’ll have more to work with. More flavor. Greenery. Flowers to place on the table.

For years I’ve wanted a tattoo that says, “This too shall pass.” The irony is clear – permanent ink for the truth that all of this comes to an end eventually. I’ve been craving the day when I can hug my brother or eat in a restaurant and suddenly, the light is streaming in. I’m not ready yet to say we’re past it. I wonder if this will be one of those experiences we carry on forever, marking what’s next a stamp of permanence into whatever waits around the bend.

I’m practicing compassion for the space in between. I honor the suffering for the scared girl inside of me and the hopeful woman dreaming of what could be. I’m turning inside to say to myself, “Yes, this has been scary. Yes, we don’t know. And you’re here. You’re ok. The people you love can be too. And look, the basil is growing.”

What a beautiful thing.

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