I looked up from my computer as I perched against my tall office chair. As the sun dipped into the trees, I smiled as the delivery man approached.
He opened the door, and interrupted a conversation with co-workers with a cheer.
“You’re all still here!” he said. “Happy post-COVID, or wherever we are.”
We laughed together and I said, “I’m so glad you’re still our guy.”
It was a brief interaction – three minutes or less. With the opening of an office door, and a delivery of a package, I was overwhelmed by the sense of community that has been missing in remote offices and isolating fear-spirals.
Yes, we were all wearing masks and trying to stand further apart than we would have before, but with a simple delivery, I was reminded of just how much we need each other.
The arrival of a delayed package, the missing remote for the speakers, the hum of a coffee machine left on overnight, spider webs collecting in places gone untouched for months. Ordinary, beautiful things, often seen as annoyances, that blur into the background of a normal life.
But things haven’t been normal.
Today, I saw my friend Jesse, our UPS man. You’re all still here.
Standing at the back door, with a bit of wind blowing on my face, I turned to Dylan to say, “It’s happening!”
Seemingly overnight the trees in our backyard have begun to change colors. The tree with the little leaves always goes gold first, scattering quarter inch crunchies across the deck. The remnants track into the house with the dog, tuck themselves into outdoor couch cushions, and find themselves carried into the living room on stocking feet. The tiny ones are always the first to fall.
I asked Dylan when we went to Europe the other day. Three years ago this weekend we were in Paris, and I remember wishing, just slightly, that I wouldn’t miss our larger tree turning red in the backyard. The views of Parisian rooftops surely surpassed those in my backyard, but the nostalgia for the changing of the seasons lingered within me.
This is the second fall where we haven’t traveled. Our sources of excitement and stimulation have slowed to glacial pace, and I find myself staring out the back door, again waiting for magic to happen. We don’t have red leaves yet, but they are coming.
It’s easy to feel nostalgic as September turns to October. There are quotes and memes about letting the dead things go as our flowers wilt and sources of shade crisp and crunch. I’ve been talking to mentors and friends about the pruning in their own lives. Many feel purpose wilting, unsure of what will happen in the next season of hibernation. We thought we’d be over this by now, right?
I’ve spent the last five years writing about death and grief and loss. In these reflections, lessons of hope and wondering and recovery have unfolded, giving me, and hopefully others, comfort. As the days grow shorter, and I put my face upon cool glass.
Will this be another dark hole of a pandemic winter? Will looking for the light feel as difficult as it did last year?
In the pruning back, the raking up, and the setting to bed of our gardens, we get to choose what we will prepare to grow. Ann Voskamp once shared how she plants bulbs with her family this time of year, intentionally tucking something hopeful into the dirt to arrive in the spring.
I can relate to that wanting. To believe that good things will come, even as the dark days descend.
So for now, yes, enjoy the gold and the red and the mystical light reflecting off of trees and blue skies. Find your sweaters. Make a cup of tea. Rake and sift and shift the soil, knowing the work you are doing is sacred. Tuck a bulb in the dirt and wait. The preparation and making way, perhaps, are beautiful things.
Heading out to harvest is a romantic notion. Successful gardner’s pictures of full of baskets with bountiful produce, overflowing bunches of kale, and counters with little space entice and tempt me into trying year after year.
For me, gardening is an ever hopeful experience. We rotate our crops, water, and wait for months to yield something delicious. Last year, there was a bounty of cucumbers. We were swimming in pickles and sauces with dill and giving away extras to the neighbors.
This year, grasshopers munched on my beans, kale turned bitter, and while the basil was plentiful, our tomatoes gifted us with one globe a day, maybe three on a good day. Instead, I turned to the overflow of my in-laws gardens for enough fruit for bruschetta or pasta sauce. Sharing abundance is a beautiful thing.
It’s easy to stand on my stoop, overlooking our small patch of vegetables, and think we failed. When I do price comparisons, the four zucchini we grew probably rang in at over twenty dollars each. But if I focus on output, I miss the magic that grew in our small rectangle of dirt. We grew two handfuls of fairytale eggplant and roasted them up with olive oil. I experienced the joy of popping cherry tomatoes right off the vine and into our mouths. Ate some salads of lettuce before the bugs got to it. Kale chips were toasted once or twice in the air fryer. Two red bell peppers made a nice dinner with hummus and cheese.
On Sunday, I stood in the dirt and moved away the piles we had pulled together in an attempt to protect and nurture potatoes. Using shovels and trowels, I worked to these red potatoes, some as big as tennis balls. I felt like a little kid playing archeologist, wiping dirt on my pants and smooshing grime under my fingernails in pursuit of a starchy treat.
If we were dependent on my garden for sustenance through the winter, we’d be doomed.
Instead, I taught Dylan how to make mirepoix (with store bought carrots and onions) and tossed in our potatoes for stew.
If I was focusing on all we didn’t grow, I’d miss out on the joy of what was in my metaphorical, medium-size basket designed to harvest.
Life still feels like a bit of a waiting game. You know the numbers, the disconnect and the divide we are living through. And still, my garden produced just enough to instill a sense of delight. When supplemented with the gifts and bounty of other’s work, our joy expanded.
This is a lonely, confusing time to be a human. We’re working on screens, and wondering if it is safe to send our kids to school, or go to a baseball game, or even shake a strangers hands. It’s easy to look out and think, wow, what a failure. And when we do, we miss what’s happening under the dirt. No matter our yield, our attempt to grow is a beautiful thing.
First day of school pictures are filling up threads. I’m learning what my friend’s children want to be when they grow up and which acquaintences are sending their kiddos to private school. I’m wondering which schools are requiring masks and if it’s safe for me to be around people who have children under twelve.
In a recent Instagram post, Grace Cho wrote about how she cried when sending her kids back to school. I don’t know her personally, and appreciate her candor and appreciation for the ordinary good. She ended her caption with the words, “Nothing is the same. We’re all just trying to be brave.”
The world continues to be pummled with catastrophe, consequences and fears. For the ones paying attention, the darkness seems to be swirling in again, the temperature dropping for fears of our souls being sucked out as the dementors approach. Global pain flashes on screens, in story highlights, and rolls off our tongues in team updates. A friend lost her father. Another received the diagnosis she had been dreading.
Chocolate. That’s the remedy right? When things are overwhelming, and we feel as if we may faint, wizards nibble on a piece of chocolate.
This is such a bizarre time to be alive.
Years ago I quoted Sheryl Sandberg in a Christmas letter, using her words to reminding myself and others that when plan A doesn’t work, we can ‘kick the shit out of option B.’ It seems the companies I work with and my friends and family are on option E. Changing over to option F or G continues to be exhausting.
And still we wait.
I wonder if mask mandates will return, or the events we hoped for will be cancelled again. I wonder if those who I love will change their minds. And I wonder, how do we carry on through all of this?
We’re all just trying to be brave.
While we’re taught bravery is the courage of a lion, roaring loudly, making air move with our forceful breaths, I choose instead to tip toe into the field and lie down. Have you considered bravado isn’t the same for everyone? For rest is brave too.
Walking into office spaces as asked is brave. Changing jobs is brave. Admitting this isn’t working is brave. Wearing a mask so immunocompromised people can be safe is a super heroic act. Sometimes, even hard-to-understand defiance and adamance are brave attempts at protecting our wounded childhood selves.
Nibbling a bit of chocolate to overcome the waves of impending doom, maybe that’s brave too.
Anger and rage rarely change hearts. Rest and a bunch of daisies might. Where are you scared tonight? What letter back up plan are you analyzing? How are you carrying on?
,We’re all just trying to be brave. And, I hope that’s a beautiful thing.
PS – there are still spots for the As We Carry On writing workshops that will be offered August 21st and 24th. Learn more and save your spot here.
“We humans need beauty as much as air. Without it we exist only to survive and procreate (our genes, or our ideas, or our beliefs, or our portfolios). In a world driven to mere efficiency, we are in grave danger of forgetting this. We see the results of our forgetfulness at every turn: addictive behaviors, massive greed, devastating cruelty—the symptoms of soul death.” – James Flaherty
Needing beauty is a novel idea. For so many of us, beauty feels a luxury, with its many definitions and assumed price tags. When I read James’ words I found so much purpose in this every day pursuit.
How rebellious it is to sit and type, reflecting on the good when we should be out there producing, consuming, or creating opportunities.
What if this effort of looking for good, for holy, for beautiful things could help heal us?
My thesis stands.
And still, I struggle to focus on what could be good rather than be sucked in by what isn’t going great.
I sat in an office with a stranger yesterday, after nervously shaking a new connection’s hand. Is it rude to whip out hand-sanitizer after first greeting someone? Probably. How long will I be anxious from simply sharing air?
As our conversation shifted away from real estate and towards the olympics, my new friend paused, with tears in her eyes, and recounted the stories of kindness, empathy, and connection from athletes over the last two weeks. “People don’t really hate each other as much we are led to believe,” she said.
I vascilate between despair and hope on a daily basis. Photos of children wearing water wings and playing on beaches in front of skies brown with smoke from fires sear their images into my eyeballs. We’ve got work to do.
And then, I read reminders like Mr. Flaherty’s and remember, if we don’t look for beauty, surely we will forget.
The sun came up today and worms wriggled in the puddles on my porch.
Tiny bubbles burst in glasses of carbonated water.
Children visiting our offices stop and stare, in wonder, at the stylized super hero posters hanging on the wall.
The call for compassion is ever present.
We can give money, ride a bike, or call a friend.
All quiet. Not as insistent as the updates on my phone, breaking news, or climbing numbers of cases.
When trying to find a photo of air, I came up short. But its presence is all around us, sustaining life.
Perhaps the same is true of beauty. May its presence be as natural as your body’s next inhale.
Connection and appreciation can be found when we create it. What a beautiful thing.
If you’re needing some support in looking for the good, consider this aesthetic invitation to wonder and awe from The Mindful Leader.
I walked through the front door and looked straight through the house to see Dylan wearing gloves in the backyard. A baby squirrel, so small its eyes were unopened, had fallen out of the nest in the tree shading our deck. He gently scooped up the creature and wrapped it in a towel.
We stared at each other, wondering what we should do as it whimpered quietly.
We called animal control and waited for the inevitable.
The morning came, and with it, a blessing of release for the creature who couldn’t make it through the night. The tiny body seared itself into my memory, for when I was brave enough to see, vulnerability, potential, and hope were revealed. We are all so very fragile.
Yes, it’s the circle of life, and the realities of survival of the fittest, but in a baby squirrel I saw so much more about what alive means. Those explanations never fill the gaps or provide solace for the being experiencing pain.
The weight of our fragility has been bringing me to tears these days. That we live to take a breath, in and out again, is miraculous enough to make me weep.
I’m tired of living afraid.
What now seemed safe perhaps isn’t, and the conflicting messages on masks and numbers has heightened my nervous system once again.
I find myself in a torn place – between wanting to consume everything I can about grief and our realities of sorrow, and also wanting to avoid all pain. I envy those who easily move on towards living.
Perhaps the balance is in the in-between.
I’m moved by ordinary things, both magical and mad.
Perhaps living fully is being scooped up after our falls, waiting to recover in piles of dirt or the garage towels.
Perhaps living fully is dirty work.
I know, with certainty, that living fully means allowing my tenderness to be witnessed.
And maybe, living fully is the opposite of waiting for the inevitable.
Maybe living fully is eating funfetti cake waiting six months for a half-birthday celebration and licking frosting laced with freezer burn from cold fingers.
Maybe living fully is calling a therapist and saying I need some help again.
Maybe living fully is hugs in the kitchen and snot smears on t-shirts.
Maybe living fully is showing up scared.
Maybe living fully is masks in the workplace, and the grocery store, and the crowded hallways.
Maybe living fully is the honoring of the in-between.
What a beautiful thing.
May your days be spent not waiting for the inevitable, but instead focused on tending the fragile and the beautiful and caring for others with gentle hands. And cake. I hope there is lot’s of beautiful cake.
I had taken a seat in the plastic-moulded chair, waiting for the meeting to begin. In the center of a room was a circular table covered in grey. In the center of a circle, a candle burned, again surrounded in a small circle of smooth river rocks. Whether they were collected from nearby stream beds, or manufactured and sold on the shelves of craft stores, I was unsure. I simply noticed their existence.
‘Welcome to bereavement for beginners’, the young facilitator said, jumping me out of my wondering.
Curious how the passing of time morphs a memory. I can’t recall the exact name of the support group. I do remember how shocking it felt to belong to a group of people titled ‘bereaved’.
After introductions, and open sharing, we were led through an exercise. I followed directions having been told to choose a small river rock of my own. We were to create a totem of support for when emotions felt too large. I selected my stone and, using a white paint pen, wrote the word hope across its surface. I circled the word and tucked the rock in my pocket. When I left the class, I sat in the parking lot and sobbed.
I left the stone in the center console of my car for years. It’s collected dust and become friends with pens lacking ink and a melted chapstick or two. Its presence serves as a reminder to generate hope as I’ve driven from place to place, moving further away from my early days of grief.
This week, I started a Grief Educator Certificate program with David Kessler. In the first teaching I learned a new label for my bereaved status. He says the term for the grief we experience after the two year mark is ‘mature grief’. I snickered to myself when I heard that name.
Mature? Grief? Wasn’t mature something to aspire to as a young child?
Mature people have it all together. They have arrived. Even the dictionary uses the auspicious claim of being ‘fully developed.’ My grief does not feel complete.
My grief has, however, become a source of motivation to seek wisdom and share what I’ve learned. My longing has brought me to classrooms and support groups I never could have imagined before. Old skins have shed, leaving new layers, still tender to the touch as I figure out what to do with this gift of darkness.
Over the weekend, we drove up the canyon nearby with the goal of simply sitting by the river. I needed to hear the woosh of water colliding with rocks as it carries on to what’s next.
Under hazy skies, I made my way down steep stairs to the riverbed. Stepping over small stones, I placed my toes into the icy water and took a seat.
Fingering the rocks, I made a pile of smooth ones, perfect for skipping.
I placed three in my pocket for keeping. Perhaps I’ll carry this selection forward as I move about, from here to there.
In Colorado, the ripple metaphor is common. Throw a stone, see how far your impact can reach. I hadn’t thought of the stone from my first beginner grief group in quite awhile. The word hope was an anchor that got me from there to here.
And now, as my grief matures, I’ve found a new collection of stones to toss into the flow. I’m learning how to serve others in their pain. I’m applying radical self-compassion to my own wounds and connecting with others who believe the answers to our hurts are found in first saying, “Wow. This is unbearable.”
I’m standing in rivers, with toes icy and lungs full, using what I’ve learned to make new ripples. What a beautiful thing.
PS. There are still spaces open for the July Writing Workshops – As We Carry On: Using Words to Explore Your Grief with a Compassionate Lense. Register here.
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.
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.
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?