beautiful things

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

In posts and on threads, on work chats and check-ins people continue to share their disappointment at not being able to gather this year for Thanksgiving. When listening, my stomach would twinge and my empathy drained. I couldn’t figure out why I was triggered.

Sacrifice of time together for the hope of remaining alive doesn’t feel like sacrifice to me. At least it didn’t. Not six months ago, when were were just getting started. Not two weeks ago when we were told, again, to stay safer at home. I know, this is exhausting. We are tired and lonely and sad. Food and connection are supposed to comfort, not kill.

Today when another colleague shared their deep sadness about missing family dinners, I felt my muscles tense.

“What gives?” I asked under my breath. “Why is this bothering me so much?”

I clicked over to the New York Times website and read Nora McInerny’s brilliant articles titled You Don’t Have to Fake It Through Thanksgiving. She reminded me it took her six years for the holiday season to feel festive again after her husband died. Six years.

I’m approaching year five.

Since, Thanksgiving has felt hard, sad, and a complex mix of hoping for bliss while clinging to gratitude. Nora’s words took me back to my own first Thanksgiving without Dad. I had gone with my in-laws to New York while my mom and my brother went to Texas. The guilt of being away and feeling normal split me in two. The distance between feeling good for minuscule moments while knowing people I love were hurting across the country ripped a canyon within me.

I remember sneaking away after to dinner to call my mom. I slouched on a velvet green couch in the bedroom above the garage and I dialed to connect us from across the country. Our families gathered around tables beneath us, smearing Karo syrup on warm plates. We wiped snot off of cell phone covers.

I spend the holiday season still split in two. Between longing and acceptance. Between people pleasing and taking care of myself. Between disappointing others and berating my attempts of trying too hard.

My empathy has dried up, perhaps, because I’ve been adapting to a different kind of Thanksgiving for a very long time. I haven’t given that longing the attention it deserves.

I’ve run out of patience for the ones who are acting like they are the only ones here for the first time, managing a less than ideal holiday because of forces outside of their control.

You may have to be on Zoom this year, but what about the festive name plates that could never grace your table again? For me, the risk isn’t worth it.

I know this is hard. I know being away from your people is sad. And I ask you to think about the millions of people who have been carrying this weight for a very long time.

I’ve learned to carry my grief like a backpack. Sometimes it’s heavy and full of old baggage. Sometimes light and open and airy. Other times full of boombox tunes that make me smile of Him.

This year the backpack is full of relief, of sadness, and tiny, fluttering threads of hope. We’re a little tattered. It’s ok. The backpack will continue to fill and empty as we go.

Nora’s words reminded me about the freedom we have to face these days however feels good. We don’t have to do the dinner, the fixings, or the mounds of pie. This year isn’t normal. These celebrations don’t have to be normal either. Grief and crisis won’t allow it. And neither will I.

As if you need my permission to allow anything at all.

Order sushi. Call Pizza Hut. Get on Zoom. Break the rules. Skip the parade. Pick up the phone and call a friend. Cling to gratitude but you don’t have to hope for bliss. For me, that’s too high a bar. Instead, blow a kiss from a screen, donate money, mail a card. Write a list of the good and the ordinary magic getting you by.

Pick up your backpack and fill it full of beautiful things.

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.

As The Darkness Descends

I now obsessively click on inciweb, checking the status of evacuations and wind patterns and burn scars up the canyons close by.

With the fires mere miles away from my home, I spent the weekend nervous and wondering. I signed up for text alerts and began making lists of items we would take should we get a call that could change our life.

My prayers centered on surrender and asking for protection. While I prayed, people in my community lost their homes. Whole lives burned up as bricks stood witness to the incineration.

New fires sparked further down the Front Range cooridor and I ask, “Is being witness enough?”

And if my witnessing is filtered through a screen, liberal media outlets, and through the stories on my social media feeds? Does this count as standing witness to pain?

I know what it’s like to get a phone call that can change your life. I also know what it’s like to hunker down and wait, with bated breath, for the wind to shift.

I’m trying to balance panic with presence. Reframe what could be to what is. Taking moments to identify the gifts residing in this natural disaster space.

Community members rally together to raise funds for those who have lost livelihoods.

Voters wait for hours to fill in bubbles with black ink.

The laundry is done and the sourdough is active.

I use my words to meditate – sending hope and love and peace to myself and others.

As I become accustomed to skies darkening with smoke, I slice oranges and lemons and toss them into a pot with cinnamon and cloves. Cool water covers the mixture and simmers slightly on my stove, trying to reclaim the air with fresh scents.

Ash rains down, falling in thin layers on my back patio, reminding me an essential part of my human experience is surrender.

I can click refresh but I can’t change the outcome. I can sweep away the mess, but things have still burned. The remnants smear black on concrete.

So much has turned to ash this year. Plans and dreams. Jobs and homes. Trust and a sense of safety. Community. Connection. A sense of time.

The other day I was checking the status of an online order we placed in August. The stressed customer service agent shared plans for the item to ship on October 20th. I texted Dylan, “Think we’ll get it before Christmas?”

His response?

“Christmas is really not that far away.”

I suppose he’s not wrong.

I’d forgotten it WAS October 20th. My brain is still stuck in April. Or September. I did grow a garden, right? Who knows if we’ll holiday, or give thanks over cardboard takeout containers. Wouldn’t it be alright to take a pass on tradition this year? Nothing else has been conventional. I’m not willing to risk a life for a turkey dinner.

The days are growing shorter and the nights are now long. I’m working on turning off my screens and taming my clicking finger’s tick to satisfy the need to know more of the madness we’re witnessing.

I’ll be here, turning on warm lights inside as the darkness descends. May that be a beautiful thing.

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?

Five Ways to Survive Election Season as a Sensitive Person in a Pandemic World

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

“I think you may be acting out of your anxiety,” someone gently said to me.

“It will be ok” says my husband on repeat.

Hugging myself, I try to create a semi-circle of grace to combat the feelings of self-loathing because yes, these past few weeks, my anxiety seems to be winning.

Being a sensitive person during a contentious election season is hard. Smack on the truth that 900 people are dying EACH day from a virus the government shushes and I want to scream, “How are the rest of you NOT anxious?”

Perhaps you aren’t. Lucky you.

I am anxious. Those three words make me sad.

We’ve got three weeks to go until Election Day. Another friend reminded me, perhaps, it’s time to tune out.

I wobble between wanting to be informed and being disgusted. I laugh at the memes of flies and dip into a place of disgust for sold out fly swatters and pictures of poop on white bread. The flags waving on my street spout hatred. The very hanging feels like a violent act.

How can I continue to contribute to the discourse when we’ve stooped on both sides? Is calling someone a piece of shit acceptable if it’s true?

In an attempt to self-soothe and whisper again to turn back to hope, I made a list of and the coping mechanisms keeping me grounded.

Here are five ways to survive as a sensitive person during election season in a pandemic world.

  1. Do Something

Figure out how you want to contribute to the cause. I wrote to a senator for the first time this month. I chose to disregard the canned response I received in my inbox full of reasons why that senator would act differently. Man-splained once again. I signed up to send 400 postcards to voters in areas likely to experience voter suppression. I bought a coffee mug. I’m done arguing on social media. But I’ll keep giving my dollars to campaigns and keeping my fingers crossed.

2. Remember I can’t control much

Even people closest to me think I’m overreacting. My cautiousness at entering hair salons and the short outburts reminding people to use hand sanitizer mask the underlying narrative I’ve got playing in my head. Soap and masks are good and necessary. But the air is tainted too?

I can’t control other people and their perceived ok-ness. I want to stop judging the kids at soccer practice and the parents who put them there. I want to be free of fear knowing people I love are forced to go back to work in rooms with little ventilation.

I can work on improving my own sense of grounding.

3. Schedule time to process

Whether I’m writing in a journal, or talking to a friend on the phone, or watching a video sure to make me cry, I have to find a place to press the pressure valve button. No one is experiencing this too-much-ness like I am. I need a place to own my own story. Blow off the steam. Dance in the living room. Scream. Let the tears fall.

4. Stop scrolling

Perhaps tears are good reminders I’ve been scrolling too much. No one is forcing me to open Instagram or the front page of the virtual New York Times. My wanting to be informed is hurting my spirits. Give my thumbs something else to do. Go on a walk. Pick up the ukulele. Write more postcards. Stop scrolling.

5. Count the beautiful things

The sun is up and the smoke has shifted. New playlists exist on Spotify. Wrap your hair around an iron to create the perfect curl. Milk still swirls in coffee and yellow leaves crunch at my feet. Candle light warms and ink spills onto paper. People are activating, donating, scrubbing, and sanitizing. Prayers are whispered. Grief is becoming a part of the national conversation. Red toe nail polish. Creativity whistles bringing good ideas and hilarity to our homes. Season six of Schitt’s Creek is now available on Netflix …

I don’t know what will happen in November. Maybe today’s death count will drop. Perhaps one more person will pick up a mask. Saying hello to the anxiety deflates its looming presence.

I’m here, as a sensitive person, reminding myself and others that even in the madness, beauty abounds. Help me remember to focus here instead.

Someone complimented my shoes.

We aren’t back to normal. We must continue to be cautious and perhaps, we’ve adjusted.

I packed my red Timbuktu work bag this morning to come to the office for the first time in five months. I needed a wet rag to wipe off the dust that had accumulated as it sat in the corner waiting to be carried again.

As I drove to the office, I noticed a mom and a toddler watching big, construction orange diggers in the new housing development nearby. Music played on the car radio. I haven’t heard new tunes because my commute went from thirty minutes north to four stairs descending into a room where the light shines through basement windows.

While waiting for my turn at a stop sign, and noticed a shaggy golden retriever sticking it’s head out the window of a yellow Volkswagon beetle.

Turning in to the parking lot, vacancies beckoned. Once difficult to find a place to leave my car, I scooted in to an open spot with no trouble at all.

Putting on my mask, I juggled a work bag and a floral lunch box I purchased in March, and keyed in the code to our office. It feels good to be back.

And still, I sit in the conference room by myself, co-workers still at their homes. The silence no longer bothers me. Clicking of keys keep me company.

Crossing the courtyard, I went to purchase an iced coffee. As I waited in line, a kind man standing six feet behind me complimented my shoes.

“I like the snake skin,” he said grinning.

“Thanks,” I replied. ” I haven’t worked outside of my house for seven months. It was time to bring out the fancy shoes.”

I know people are living their lives to various degrees. Some are traveling, going back to offices, and trying to adapt as safely as possible. Others are home and waiting and wondering, or perhaps turning more content to the slower rhythms of corona life. Parents are teaching, teachers are parenting, and we’re all doing the best we can.

This morning I noticed the ordinary. A toddler in awe, a dog breathing in the Colorado air tainted with smoke. Someone complimented my shoes. I haven’t worn shoes with a heel in months.

Life is still here. It just looks a little bit different. Receiving compliments from strangers is a beautiful thing.

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.

Ease?

“Let it be easy.

Let it be easy.

Let it be easy.

Whatever it is.

Try that on in your spirit.

Get curious about it. “

Tara-Nicholle Nelson

We’re struggling on a collective level right now, yes. But what if it could be different? What if it could be easy? Tara-Nicholle’s blog post has been fuel for me this week. A refreshing reminder. Not every decision must make our stomachs church. If we change our energy and our expectations for ourselves, can we live with more ease?

Ease in standing at the cold counter, pressing the metal spoon into the warm red cherries, bursting with juice as their pits are removed.

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Ease in sitting outside sipping on sparkling water in the heat.

Ease in the wondering how long this will last.

Ease in watching hoards of grasshoppers invade my garden.

Ease in flipping pages of yet another book to be read.

Ease in accepting the unraveling, noting the pile of yarn of what we thought this year would look like pooling at my feet.

I’m not getting anywhere by forcing things nor by clenching nor holding my breath under my mask, afraid to be in public.

What if ease is our beautiful thing?

Read Tara Nicholle Nelson’s full blog post here.