beautiful things

Was It Risky? Yes.

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Anxiety seems to be a best friend to me these days. I’m swatting at my fears while sipping on homemade coffee, still here, working from home.

The glow of the computer screen fails to make up for my missing companionship, as I haven’t seen friends in close to 100 days. Almost a third of the year.

I don’t know how long we’ll be here, nor, I realize, do I have much control over the comings and goings of others who want to be out buying coffee from shops and swallowing down cocktails on outdoor patios.

The anxious ones are hurting here in this pandemic space.

This weekend, we drove down to spend time with my in-laws, a few of the people we’ve marked allowable in our pods of hopefully healthy people we love.

We have to have some connection. Father’s Day had arrived and while I woke with sadness in my chest, I needed to get my blood moving in different ways. Mix up the places we sit, the sidewalks we walk on, the conversations we’re having – variety is a great distractor.

Dylan locked our bikes to the roof of the car and the dog jumped in the back, panting heavily, as she always does when we transport her from here to there.

I’ve felt heavy for months. Laying on the ground helps. So do fresh flowers, and sourdough cookies, and sticking my hands in the dirt. I was hoping a drive may lighten the weight I seem to take on from the perceived painful energy of others.

As we drove, I looked west to the mountains and counted the snow capped peaks. Counted the cars in line for drive-up Covid tests. Counted the number of deep breaths I could take to let the grief and fear move through my tired body.

As the hour passed, we pulled up to the familiar intersection near the house, and a man about my brother’s age sat resting at the stop light. His back was arched, his face down, and he held a sign that said, “Can’t you just spare a dollar?” This man was someones loved one at some point. How long has he sat, ignored, unseen, unsure?

I pulled out my wallet and counted again, pulling crumpled bills from my purse that hasn’t been properly used in months.

I handed the cash to Dylan and said, “If you’re willing to risk it, we should give this guy cash. You can wash your hands when we get there.”

He rolled down the window, and we handed the man a few bucks. I didn’t make eye contact. I just wanted to help.

If I feel heavy, he may too.

We drove another block and scrubbed our hands clean, right after walking in the door.

It’s risky out there. Being human just is. One risk after the other.

Loving one another. Witnessing pain. Having hard conversations. Going grocery shopping. Driving in cars. Breathing in air of joggers who we don’t know if they are healthy. Facing the truth.

It’s all so risky.

And if we can choose to show up, over and over again, with our aching backs and light in our eyes, and hope in just a few dollars, our fears can be alleviated by miniature efforts to step into the truth.

It’s risky, yes. And beautiful too.

So we’re washing hands and weeping and hoping and praying and pleading. And still driving, and counting, and wondering how to apply the balm we all need to our wondering and waiting hearts. How can we find beauty in this risky space, too?

 

Day 51 – 52 Good Things

So close to 52. I didn’t think we’d get here and I’m rather surprised the amount of energy it takes to make a mental list of good things still surrounding us. But I continue searching and invite you to join me as we stay home and stay safe.

I’m called again, in whispers, to remember the choices we make when things seem the bleakest are opportunities for our wondering souls. What we focus on, while not ignoring painful realities, makes or breaks our spirits.

In conversations with friends and co-workers and texts and Instagram conversations, I’m reminded to look for the good.

181. Seeds for plant starts

182. Fingernails covered in dirt

183. An evening breeze through an open window

184. Aleve for back pain

185. Grocery delivery

185. Peanut M&Ms

186. Cacio e Pepe

187. Signs of support (contributed by Christine C)

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188. WhatsApp

189. Letters to children read via Instagram

What good and beautiful things are you seeing in your life these days? Please send them to me at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com

 

Day 44 – 52 Good Things

Still here. Still counting good things.

What’s good and beautiful in your life right now? What are you thankful for? My list continues here.

171. Sourdough cheese crackers

172. Clean sheets

173. Being vulnerable

174. Canned soup

175. Waiting for lilacs

176. Choosing how we want to “commute” to work

177. Orange nail polish

178. Hair ribbons

179. Plush carpet

180. Virtual Writing Workshops – there are still spots available for the Thursday evening session. Will I see you there?

What good and beautiful things are you seeing in your life these days? Please send them to me at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com

Day 40 – 52 Good Things

Quarantine has roots of the 40 days it takes for plague to pass. I’m at day 40. I know we will be here longer and that’s ok. I want people to be safe. Stay home. Still. Please.

Here are a few good and beautiful things from my week. Let’s keep counting.

160. Attempts at making powdered sugar – fine dust coating counters

161. Chocolate buttercream

162. Leslie Knope is coming back

163. Birthday celebrations from curbs with cupcakes

164. We sent FatHeads of ourselves to my in-laws. This is making me laugh EVERY TIME I see our picture.

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165. Time to write

166. Sharing eggs

167. Dinner prayers

168. Flowers blooming

169. Still sourdough

170. Virtual Writing Workshops – there are still spots available for tomorrow’s session. Will I see you there?

 

Day 37 – 52 Good Things

This morning Dylan and I pretended to commute to our jobs via Subway. Why not?

We turned on this soundtrack(154) and imagined we lived in a metro area and sent solidarity to New York. And laughed.

There are still good things. Even still.

155. This Praise Song for the Pandemic

156. Corn chips dipped in pub cheese

157. Recipe exchanges via email

158. Waking up to curl your hair

159. Virtual Writing workshops – Don’t forget there’s still time to register for this one!

using your words

 

Day 31 – 52 Good Things

I’m back. My spirits are lifted a bit and I’m encouraged by the neat things people are still doing. Yesterday I was sad. Today, I asked a friend to pray for me as I stood in line to get into the grocery store. And then, I snapped out of it when sitting waiting for a Zoom meeting I heard something familiar.

136. Children laughing in the backyard next to ours

There are still good things. I needed to remember to look. Maybe you do too right now. We’re still here. We can still breathe deep and tell people we’re loved.

Here are a few more.

137. Cocoa puffs and cereal milk

138. Second City is hosting free improv shows 

139. Pink tulips in vases of fresh water

140. Belly laughs

What good and beautiful things are you seeing in your life these days? Please send them to me at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com

 

This is not ok.

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Photo by Katsia Jazwinska on Unsplash

I remember standing at the high kitchen counter. My back was facing the big sliding door as the sun started to set and I was leaning against the worn wicker chair. My tear streamed face was turned down and I was looking at my fingers. 

“It’s going to be ok,” I kept saying to no one in particular.

My dad had died earlier that day and we had gathered in the kitchen as family started to show up.

“It’s going to be ok.”

At the time, my brain was spouting words of comfort while stuck in a spinning cycle of thoughts. I hadn’t gotten to the What-the-actual-F*** part yet. I was just trying to soothe the immediate blow.

There have been millions of posts about the world right now. Memes swish in cyberspace and hearts are broken on Facebook and with every It’s-going-to-be-ok sentiment exists a person leaning against chairs in the midst of confusion and swirling thoughts.

If you’re paying attention, your brain and your body are trying to self-soothe.

I don’t remember anyone responding to my five word phrase that day. No one was acknowledging my need to make things ok.

This was not ok. Someone I loved had died.

All over the world, people have died and their losses are broadcast on the news, turned into cautionary tales, used to make other folks terrified. Shame creeps in as the media lurks and warns and flashes as we silently pray, “Please not my people.”

In his book, Joe Biden estimates that for every person we lose, six people are intimately grieving that loss. The US lost over 20,000 people this month. Multiply that by six and realize the number of folks now plunged into grief. Add on the ones who already lost someone and the number of those impacted grows substantially. We’re triggered, we’re sad, we’re wondering and I’m hoping, staying the heck home.

This is not ok.

I’ve been at home for a month now. I know people who have gotten sick and my heart aches when I see posts of people who have died. No one is untouched by this experience.

I flashback to the kitchen and the white wicker bar stool and I whisper to my younger self, “No, this isn’t ok.”

I wish someone had said that to me.

This isn’t ok.

I’ve learned, in the last four years, when we call out the truth of our horrible experiences they lose the tight grips on our hearts and our worried brains.

There’s no going back.

I’m more compassionate to myself. I’m less tolerant of the things our world tells us are important. My molecules have rearranged and my perspectives have softened. I’m quicker to anger at injustice and ache for connection. Scars of loneliness get special attention and I type into the void with calm fingers wishing people could listen – all of our not-ok-ness is valid. We deserve a place to put our not ok stories.

This is not ok.

Let us weep and rest and extend grace to others as we make new choices from what remains. We will stand and move out of the rubble of the worlds we once knew. Donate money. Throw things safely.

Call out the not-ok-ness. I promise these four words are beautiful things.

 

 

 

What My Grief Gremlin Taught Me About Pandemics

 

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Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

March may be the worst. Historically, the turning pages of the longest month ever continue to bring bad news to my doorstep. Four years ago, we lost my dad unexpectedly smack dab in the middle of the month. On that day, a grief gremlin took up permanent residence in my front pocket. She waves her ugly wings and tattered feathers on anniversaries, the start of football season, or when I see a man over 60 in Starbucks. She also flaps and flitters in the middle of a pandemic.

Bad news comes in threes, they say, and in 2016, our three rounded out with two more job losses before April.

All of our supposed-to-be doings came to a screeching halt. To cope, we gathered around the worn kitchen table in the home I grew up in and stared. Our eyes glazed over at blank walls then would drift to the floor. I’d make note of the raspberry color of my shoes and watch the puddles of tears dribbling onto the mesh just below my ankles. I’d lift my head and smear the remainder of tears on my t-shirt sleeves.

Grief is a powerful force – she takes what you once knew and shreds what was to bits.

Two weeks ago, life all around the United States came to the same screeching halt. We packed up our desks and set up spaces at home. We went to work remotely and just when the desk was looking beautiful, we found out the dream job we just landed crumbled into dust.

People are dying and communities are slowing. All of our supposed-to-be doings have come to a halt. It’s March and people are hurting again.

In our homes and at hospitals, we sit staring at walls. At screens. At puddles of tears dribbling down our faces and onto tile floors. Tears smear on sleeves. We can’t gather around the kitchen table because we aren’t allowed to be together. We can’t hug or touch or greet.

The pain is broadcast on the news, captured in memes, and thrown angrily at others in tweets and mad dashes to grab the last package of toilet paper off the shelves.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from the loss of a parent and how, if I let them, the lessons grief continues to massage into my heart can serve me during a global pandemic.

Writing to you from the same basement where I heard the news my dad had left us, I hug myself and realize grief can be a teacher in times of duress. My gremlin has taught me how to cope with the squeezing, the panic, the uncertainty, and the pain.

Here are her three lessons that prepared me for a pandemic:

1. I was never in control – I’m not now. I can choose my responses. 

Elizabeth Gilbert recently posted on her Instagram this quote, “You are afraid of surrender because you don’t want to lose control. You never had control, all you had was anxiety.”

After experiencing unexpected loss, my anxiety came into sharp focus. It hasn’t eased in four years. I’ve accepted the anxious little bug living – roommates with gremlin – in my front pocket as she accompanies me everywhere I go. I worry about getting texts, not getting texts, and the ten pm phone calls. I worry about hospitals, and diagnoses, and imagined accidents.

I worry about who will go next, and where I will be, and if I said I love you enough because you just never know.

This week, we’ve all been reminded we just never know. With all that never knowing comes immense anxiety. Bank accounts are examined. Rice is rationed. YouTube distracts.

As humans, we think we have a say in how things are going to work. I realized in my mid-twenties, this is a lie. We have influence. We have preference. We have choice. We don’t have much control.

This truth has allowed me to live more deeply and experience the ordinary in a richer way. Seizing the day doesn’t take away the anxiety. Believing I have a choice in how to respond to the things outside of my control changes my perspective. I don’t have control of global markets, government relief, or the small company I wanted my husband to work at indefinitely. I do get to choose to stay home, to connect with loved ones, and to weep in the basement.

2. Find Comfort

The best advice I got when I lost my dad was, “Find comfort.” Surround yourself with things that bring delight, warmth, light, and tenderness into your space. Make a list of at least five things you can draw upon when the unknown feels too much. My pile has ground coffee beans, a white blanket, my mom’s number on speed dial, knowing where my dog is, and sweatshirt of my husband’s.

What’s in your pile?

Be careful of what you consume. You know yourself. Moderate unhealthy substances and be wary of who and what messaging you are letting into your space. Now is the time to be diligent about boundaries, turning off the news, and asking for help.

Self-medication isn’t always negative. What positive things can you allow to bring you comfort right now?

3. It’s going to be ok. 

I share those five words with immense empathy. It never feels ok when we lose something or someone we love. My life will never be capital O-K, because my dad will not be a part of it in the way I had hoped. But my family is doing ok in the way we’ve adapted. We hurt, relationships are still strained, things are far from perfect. And yet, we’re still here.

When we come out of this pandemic, which I believe will happen, things will not be capital O-K. Lives are being drastically altered. Grief is seeping in and taking up residence in thousands of heart pockets. Our hopes have changed permanent shape. We will have to adapt. Our resilient spirits will get to choose to lift their chins and answer the question, “How can I make what I have lowercase o-k enough?” You need not push the gremlin away.

Weep, release the tension in your hands, stare at walls. Yes.

And wait and see what is yet to unfold.

What we make with the things that remain can be beautiful.

Day 13 & 14 – 52 Good Things

I skipped yesterday so here we are – day 14.

How did today go for you?

Here are a few more good things – even still.

87. People taking the llamas for a walk (submitted by Cathy H)

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88. Homemade hamburger buns

89. Bike rides

90. Cutting up old t-shirts for crafts

91. Cubes of ice dancing in gin

92. Recipes on the internet

93. Support from family members

94. A full bottle of ketchup

95. Sleeping in

What simple, beautiful things did you encounter? Let’s keep this list going for as long as we need to.

As a reminder, send me a note with the good in your world at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or a DM on Instagram. Keep em’ comin.

Day 11 – 52 Good Things

I know how hard it is to stay grounded in a chaotic world. For over six years, I’ve written about my search for beautiful things in a world that aches and groans. Hundreds of readers have trusted my posts to whisper into their hurts, search for the good, and find simple things to delight in when things aren’t going as perfectly as they could.

We live in the challenging dichotomy of good and bad. Of catastrophe and regrowth. Of pain and beauty.

Babies are born, flowers bloom, and magic exists in a bowl of pasta. People die, jobs are lost, families are estranged.

In my writing, I honor the mystery that God allows both the dark and the light to exist.

This week, we got news Dylan lost his job. We know we are privileged and we have back ups. Not everyone does. We know we have family. Not everyone does.

There are hundreds of worthy causes to donate to right now and asking for help is hard. If you have read my blog over the years, gotten encouragement from my words, or want to support a friend, please consider throwing a few dollars in the new tip jar available on here.

Stay safe. Stay searching for the good. We’re going to get through this by looking for beautiful things.

And now on to continue the list:

68.  This video – even when she smells the lilies (submitted by Christine C.)

 

69. This artist who is designing hugs you can send in the mail

70. People who offer to grow you plants

71. Prayers

72. Sleeping until 8

73. Positive attitudes

74. Teriyaki marinade

75.  Seeing a hawk in my backyard

76. This blog post on purpose during a pandemic by Zach Mercurio

As a reminder, send me a note with the good in your world at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or a DM on Instagram. Keep em’ comin.