beautiful things

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.

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

Tremors

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

“This is tragic” I blurted to no one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support looks like many beautiful things.

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

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

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

You know the old saying …

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is a beautiful thing.

Moves on Zoom

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

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

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

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

2:00 – 2:15 – Movement and Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a beautiful thing.

Rising to the Surface

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a beautiful thing.

Many Mirco-Accomplishments

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

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

Nothing grand. No big adventures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge of ClayMarkus Zusak

Little WomenLouisa May Alcott

Red at the BoneJacqueline Woodson

Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty

There, There Tommy Orange

Dumplin’Julie Murphy

Counting by 7’sHolly Goldberg Sloan

Still MeJoJo Moyes

Little House on the PrairieLaura Ingalls Wilder

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

Turtles All the way DownJohn Greene

In PiecesSally Field

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

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

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

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity & LoveDani Shapiro

Such a Fun AgeKiley Reid

A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith

The CactusSarah Haywood

Little WierdsJenny Slate

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

Magic HourKristen Hannah

The Hypnotist’s Love StoryLiane Moriarty

The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion

The Scent KeeperErica Bauermeister

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

The Secrets We KeptLara Prescott

The Night Tiger Yangsze Choo

RedwallBrian Jacques

Mountains Beyond MountainsTracy Kidder

The Library Book Susan Orlean

The Alice NetworkKate Quinn

The Light We LostJill Santopolo

NeverwhereNeil Gaiman

The Henna ArtistAlka Joshi

The Velveteen RabbitMargery Williams

More Than Words Jill Santopolo

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

Fortune’s Rocks – Anita Shreve

The Vanishing HalfBrit Bennett

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

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueV.E. Schwab

The Practice: Shipping Creative Work Seth Godin

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

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

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

Angel FallsKristen Hannah

The Family Fang Kevin Wilson

Bel CantoAnn Patchett

Tomorrow Will Be Better Betty Smith