beauty

Waiting in Doorways

The night before I left for college, I sat in my parent’s basement and cried. I had said my good-byes to high school friends and found myself in the dark weeping. The next morning, while excited, I stuffed my belongings into the trunk and cried half-way across the country as my parents drove us through Idaho and Montana and into a small town in Washington where I thought my dreams would come true. I didn’t stop crying for four months.

Fast-forward to after college graduation. I was packing again to move out of my childhood bedroom and into a two-bedroom appointment with a boy I loved, but wasn’t yet ready to marry. I cried as I packed boxes and my mom sat on the floor with me while an eager young partner waited in the doorway to load my clothes up in his trunk, driving us an hour away.

When Dylan asked me to marry him, after saying yes, I was quiet for an hour. Not quite stunned. Perhaps unsure of what I committed to, ready to take steps forward and I buoyed myself in silence. Introspection suits me.

Tears tend to accompany transition. Grief of what was lingers in the shadows as I’ve walked through doors into each chapter of new unknowns. For years I beat myself up about those tears. I compared myself to the others who bounded into dorm rooms with confidence, or those who said yes to moving across the country without hesitation. I was enamored by young women ready to fully embrace walking down the aisle without a smidge of doubt.

Today, I’m 38 weeks pregnant. I question the women fully ready to embrace motherhood without fear of what they’d be giving up along the way. I’ve kept this change, this growing of life, quiet here. In transition, I tend to go inwards. What compassion training has taught me however, is that any gap between what we wish things to be and what is is a space for loving kindness to ourselves and others.

And I as I look around, at one of the deepest seasons of anticipation in my life so far, I’m realizing it’s ok to expect the tears. I’ll likely sit on floors and weep. I know I have people here to help me stand – trust me, hoisting a pregnant belly off the floor requires lots of grunting these days.

I’m not devastated. I’m overwhelmed in the goodness of all that will come.

I nod to the young woman who packed boxes in silence as people who love her watched and waited, perhaps already having stepped through the doorway a few steps ahead of her. I, however, get to do the work of bringing this baby into the world.

Grief taught me to be wary. At times, standing in doorways, clinging to what was, is a response of fear and self-preservation. I know what this room looks like, with its familiar carpet and the window that squeaks when you open the latch. Now there sits a bassinet, a rocking chair, and blankets, waiting to welcome a little soul with tiny toes and the power to expand our hearts in ways I’m sure I can’t quite yet understand.

Two weeks to go and I’m getting quiet. Our baby classes are done. We’ve made the lists, been gifted the things, created our birth preferences. I’m winding down at work. The to-do’s have been checked. And now, I wait. I’m wondering who I will become in this transition, and when baby will arrive. I’m saying hello to the tears and the fears, knowing they don’t get to drive.

I can’t control much. But, I can look back, embracing the woman who has learned how to sit, allowing emotion and wondering to wash over her. This time, I’m not pushing away the tears. Instead, I’m lingering in doorways, waiting for baby to pull me forward into motherhood. Anticipation can be a beautiful thing.

Wake and Witness

I woke up early this morning to do some extra work before logging on to Zoom. Padding downstairs in the dark, I chose to leave the lights off and pull up the blinds, hoping to watch as darkness turned to light. As I sat with a laptop perched on my thighs, I finished my work and turned toward my regular click-through rotation. Email. New York Times. Facebook.

When I got to Facebook’s homepage, I paused, noticing the light against the wall turning pink. Rather than reflexively log in, I shut my computer and looked out the window instead. Streaks of pink and orange brushed against blue. Winter light reflected off snow yet to melt.

In this stage of the Pandemic it’s really easy to feel exhausted. With constant risk assessment, and chronic fear of the air we breathe, I find myself again hunkering down at home. Computer mornings turn into computer days turn into computer evenings. I miss restaurants, coffee dates, and not wondering how much possible exposure I might have at the grocery store versus the post office, or the library.

Here I sit again, laptop perched on my lap, lights waiting to be turned on. I haven’t been writing much, not because there aren’t beautiful things to see, but rather because I fear I’ve said it all before. Two years of appreciating beauty from my house feels a little repetitive.

Regardless, this morning I woke early, padded downstairs, and chose to watch the sunrise instead. I fear this is going to be another long winter with COVID darkness and continued uncertainty. And still, the sun greets us each day with a paintbrush of color. I have to ask myself, “Are you ready to wake and witness?”

Today, I said yes. And that’s a beautiful thing.

When Tragedy Hits Just Down the Road

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Numbing seems an appropriate reaction. The news has us believing every day life is full of tragedy on repeat. We turn away, scroll up, click out. Or we gawk and watch from our couches as lives not our own burn on December days.

The past two years have exhausted us, yes. Fear looms ever present and, as the pandemic revealed to all of us, this myth of certaintity is just that, a myth. We like to think we are invincible, until nature and forces greater than ourselves tell us over and over again, we are simply humans.

Just down the road from us a whole community burned in a wildfire in December. Over 600 homes are lost. That’s 600 families who woke up yesterday with plans, and had their lives tipped upside down. The Target where my husband worked in high school is gone. Whole neighborhoods flattened by flames. In December. Global Warming is taking its toll everywhere.

As I scroll this morning, there are hundreds of posts with these common phrases we hear in the face of tragedy:

Let me know how I can help.

Please reach out.

There are no words.

Yes, you mean well. Yes, your sentiments are overflowing with emotion and possibilities. And friends, we can all do so much better.

I’ve coached many people to work on their reframing, because when your life has turned upside down, you don’t have the energy to reach out. You need the people to do the reaching for you.

Make a list of how you like to care for others. Maybe you want to donate money (which you can do here). Maybe you want to bring a meal. Maybe your spare bedroom has clean sheets and is ready for long-term guests. Then offer those direct options up in the chats and in texts. Show up with donations (when organizations are ready). Put on a mask. Serve a meal. Phone a friend. Tell people how you can help, and then follow through.

You might not know what to say, but that doesn’t mean there are NO words. When your home burns, there will be hundreds of words. Tongues freeze for fear of saying the wrong thing. But under the weight of the fear of hurting others, words spew. Words of sadness. Words of anger. Words of hurt and despair. You can bring words of hope.

Try things like:

This sucks.

I know this must be difficult. You don’t have to face this new reality alone.

Want to get a milkshake?

I couldn’t believe as hundreds of families down the proverbial street lost their homes yesterday, I was getting a massage. Privilege, yes, but also a simple reflection that as your world turns, someone else’s may be falling apart. Rather than getting defensive and divisive, every day is an opportunity to turn towards the suffering of others and say, “Do I want to do something about this?”

This is compassion in action. It’s hard work. Messy, full of tears and literal ash. And it often starts with one word.

When tragedy strikes, we have choices. And choosing to turn care into action is a beautiful thing.

White Walls

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I recently participated in an online collective care workshop run by Becca Bernstein. Over two months, fifteen of us joined as strangers on Zoom to tap into possibilities of what it means to show up as fully human while tending to our needs, wants, and desires. How do we come together to help our healing?

This work, designed to nurture the human heart, lit a fire of hope within me. There are people craving connection, combatting loneliness, and equipping individuals to be an world in a more compassionate way. I get to be one of these beautiful humans, longing for different ways of being in the world.

Last night, in our closing session, one of the fellow participants shared how what she needs now is completely different than what she needed when we started gathering at the beginning of September.

Are needs allowed to fluctuate as such? Are humans allowed to adapt and evolve, constantly reassessing what we need at any given moment?

The myths of linear living I was fed as a student and young professional suggested otherwise. Figure out what you want to DO and all of your needs will be taken care of, right?

Wrong.

Whether we’re slowly chiseling away at the notion of arrival, or our clear roads have crumbled to dust as a result, of well, life, of course, our needs, wants, and desires have permission to change. They ought to.

Who wants to be the same person you were two months ago? Or even five years ago.

In April of 2016, Dylan and I stood in our tiny bathroom upstairs with paint rollers in our hands and a can of Monterey White at our feet. It was a Saturday a few weeks after we lost Dad, and I remember thinking we needed to do something. This was the first room we were going to tackle, covering up old paint in an effort to make our house our own. I stood with baref eet on cold tile, looked at Dylan and said, “I miss my dad.”

“I know” he said.

The missing, of course has grown, and shifted and changed and with the passing of time. So have my wants, and needs, and desires. Of course they have.

This weekend, Dylan again stood in the tiny bathroom, with a roller in hand and a can of White Veil paint at his feet. This time, instead of helping, I’m supervising.

While we’ve painted every room in the house since that year of loss, this return to the upstairs bathroom is different. This painting is a cleansing of sorts, but not of pain. It’s a scrubbing of old stains, and an attempt at refreshing for what’s coming next. Sprucing up in the spirit of improvement and possibility weighs differently than the covering of trauma and triggers.

As Dylan painted, I felt my grief gremlin climb out of my heart pocket to watch our original efforts get rolled over. She nibbled gently on the edges of worn fabric, wondering what was going to happen next.

“I miss my dad” I said to Dylan.

“I know” he said.

The missing hasn’t changed. The paint is one shade brighter. And what will come next remains to be unseen.

But the spirit in which we paint has changed and transformed. What I need is different. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Eight Potatoes

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.

In the Rush

Sitting down to my grandmother’s kitchen table for dinner always started the same way. We’d hold hands, bow our heads, and someone would start to pray.

“In the rush of a busy day, oh Lord, we pause to give you thanks. For food, for family ….”

There’s a third for something that’s escaping me now. I haven’t sat at her kitchen table for awhile.

This time warp of Covid and constant vigilance has me dancing between a frantic feeling of trying to pack summer and outdoor safety into a container before the weather again gets cold.

It’s time, again, to pause.

I bow my head. I say a prayer of thanks for these beautiful things.

Slices of melted mozarella cheese squished between fresh pesto and late summer peaches.

A friend who picks up the phone after I text, “Can I call you tonight?”

Tomatoes so juicy their insides drip down your chin, begging to be sopped up with fresh bread.

A persistent daisy poking its way through the soil, against the odds, timelines of shoulds forgotten.

Pink nail polish on tanned toes.

I’ve only got five items today – pushing for more feels like squeezing a tube of toothpaste that’s been clogged for awhile. I’m out of practice. What’s happening in the world right now is overwhelming, perplexing and sad.

If you squeeze your container a little harder in an attempt to extrude the good, what beautiful blobs would emerge?

As Much as Air

“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.

To Toss Into the Flow

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.

To Want to Return

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

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

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

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

The delay was an inconvenience, but survivable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sore Tenderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I went home feeling relief.

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

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

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

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

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