beauty

All Matters of Perspective

An email came through this morning from the public library. Like receiving a note from an old friend, I smiled when the familiar subject line showed up in my inbox.

“Reminder from the Poudre River Library District” – the note sat for just a minute and then I sighed. Remember the library? The travel guide book I had checked out at the beginning of March is due tomorrow. I wanted to get tips about traveling to Canada.

I haven’t gone to the library in months. I won’t be going to Canada – not this year. The time has come to return the book filled with notes on wonderful other places to its shelves.

Instead, last night I sat cross-legged with my laptop nestled in the tiny pocket of skin and carpet and scrolled Overdrive for new Kindle picks. Maybe this static place of scenery – aka my living room – will be where I stay to travel to different places as I read from home this year. I picked out three new titles and clicked download.

The reminders of the life we wish we could live tend to linger. Grief taught me this. The moments where the ache of what could have been needs tending. The holes need breathing into.

I remember, a few months after Dad died, I was texting a friend who also lost her dad and I said, “How do you ever get through this?”

“You don’t.” She said. “For awhile, you walk around the gaping hole, present in everything you do. Then, after a bit, a beautiful rug covers the hole, and the gap changes shape and size, and you walk around it more easily. But you know, no matter what covers it, that hole is still there.”

rug

The pandemic is stealing time from us, it’s stealing people and travel, and places we once loved. We need to honor the gaping.

We also need to nestle in and we get to choose how we tend to the holes presented to us.

Last night, on our walk around the neighborhood, we approached the last two houses on the block and was greeted by one of our youngest neighbors. A little boy with floppy brown hair stood up against the white porch railing. Wearing miniature rain boots, he swirled his legs deep in the grass and kept talking to the older gentleman leaning across his porch, leaving six feet of space.

As we got closer, the little boy looked to the street and exclaimed, “John! They have a dog, just like you!”

The old man raised his eyes to us and winked from behind his spectacles.

“Hi!” waved the little boy. “I like your dog!”

“Thanks!” I replied with a smile. “Our dog kinda looks like the dog on your shirt.”

The little boy paused, looked down, and quickly retorted, “Yeah, well that’s not a dog. That’s a tiger.”

“Oh,” I said, still smiling. “He looked like a dog to me.”

Nothing like being corrected by a three year old.

We kept walking and the two kept their conversation going.

Grief and loss.

Hurting and hope.

Wishing and acceptance.

Travel and exploring from home.

Dog and tiger.

All matters of perspective.

Beautiful things to me.

 

Counting by Sevens

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The sun woke me this morning as cool air blew in through the blinds, pushed with a little help from the rotating blades of the plastic window fan working over time as the days grow hotter. From my bedroom window, I first watched our three-year old neighbor helping her father pick up sticks in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume. Mask secured, she bent over and over again to clean the wreckage from the wind storm in her own backyard. Her squeals and kicks and appreciation for a costume warmed my heart.

Our home has been quiet lately – an unsettling calm in a world disrupted by sickness, racism, hatred, and positive action mixed with a crying call to be better.

This introverted writer hasn’t minded the pause – a time to be working from home and relying on comforts to make sense of things going on outside.

Only this week has the silence rippled in uncomfortable patterns in our home and my heart. I miss seeing my friends. I balance wanting to interact with more than just my husband and my parents via FaceTime with uncertainty of a risky world.

I am amazed by the bravery, determination, and willingness of hundreds of thousands of people standing up against injustice. Black lives matter. The work you are doing to change opinions, open eyes, call for action is inspiring me.

Does writing into cyberspace still hold power when my anxiety prohibits me from protesting in the streets?

Typing cautiously, I hold the heavy weight of pain in one palm, and unfurl my gripping fingers of my other hand with a readiness to accept good and beautiful things.

I tentatively wonder how long it will be for the open palm to fill with the same weight of horrific behavior and heinous tweets.

I have to believe it’s not as crappy as CNN chooses to remind me each morning.

I heard recently a positive thought takes seven times the reinforcement to stick in our brain than a negative thought. Seven times more powerful are the fears, the shames, the things you must protect yourself from.

In my continued silent sanctuary of home, surrounded by privilege- I know, I listen to dogs barking and a neighbor mowing the lawn.

In my aching sense of wondering,  I ponder and ask, “What beautiful things are here in all of this?”

For the world has always been messy – rarely are we all so privy to the pain and suffering we carry on a global scale. A mirror has been raised. The pain in me sees and honors the pain in you.

What would happen to our world if we could whisper those words to one another?

Father’s Day is coming and with it the ads land in my inbox like little paint ball explosions of grief. No one has texted me to see how I’m doing with the approaching marker.

Thousands upon thousands are missing their people.

We’re out of work and afraid to go to the grocery store and wondering when it will be safe to hug our friends.

I start counting and repeating to myself, seven times over.

Classical music plays and children pick up sticks, and protestors flood the streets with messages of peace and justice and the simple desire to be able to continue to breathe.

What privilege it is to start with a fresh, full breath.

You, too, can count and seek beauty. At seven times the rate of the negative we’ve been fed.

Classical music. Children picking up sticks. Cold brew coffee swirling with cream. Instagram messages of solidarity. Protests in the streets. Longing for connection. Feeling unsettled. Searching for someone to see your pain. All beautiful things.

This is it.

I was doing my best to stay back from the people in front of me as my face covering kept slipping. My efforts to create the six-feet distance seemed silly as others swarmed around me in the busy store. Like a salmon unsure of how to swim upstream, I tentatively wrapped my little fins around me wondering if this big ol’ river was safe. As I followed my husband through the aisles, I looked ahead and watched a man pause.

As he stood still, I did too, waiting to move forward as I kept my space.

This man removed his mask, sneezed, and then put the face covering back on.

I was furious.

“You wear the mask to stop the sneeze!” I thought to myself “Ohhhhh my Gosh!”

I wanted to pull my hair, to yell at him, to shriek what the heck he was missing! I felt my muscles tense and my annoyance rise. I’ve never hated being around people more. 

I stood still longer, silently praying thanks for my own face mask and wondering how long it takes for germs to disperse before I walked through his invisible, fearful cloud of possible germs. 

I continued forward and was uncomfortable for the next twenty minutes we spent in Home Depot. Get in, get our supplies, get out.

I know I can’t be the only one worried in public places and at the same time, by the looks of things, there are thousands of people not worrying as much as me.

Our neighbors are gathering and stores are busy and friends are posting pictures of time spent on the lake. I’m still sitting, writing from my couch, wondering what dials will have to turn for me to feel safe again out in the world. I miss my mom and want a hug and wonder when my brother will be able to go back to work. This isn’t fun.

We drove back home and washed our hands and wiped down the cans of paint we purchased with off-brand, lemon-scented cleaner because Clorox wipes are still nowhere to be found.

Later in the evening, I turned on an old favorite movie, About Time. The main character Tim has the gift of being able to travel back in time and can re-live any day he chooses. There are consequences of the re-dos but mostly, his gift gives him the ability to live less anxiously, be more present, and delight in the extraordinary ordinary things around him. The things we worry about are easier to face if we know the outcomes don’t cause us pain.

I kept thinking while watching the movie, if I went back to today two weeks from now and stood in that same concrete, box store would I be kinder to the man who sneezed if I knew I wasn’t infected. I would have gone down a different aisle. I would have pulled Dylan closer and slowed my breathing. Or would I have chosen to avoid that store all together?

What would I do differently if I knew now what I’ll know in two weeks? The exercise is exhausting, isn’t it?

Here’s what I know now.

This is it.

We don’t get a do over. I don’t get to go back.

I may have to spend much of my thirty second year in my house, wondering, waiting, worrying.

When they say it is safe again, I’ll wander out and get emotional about sitting in a public park and plan vacations and toast champagne at weddings and still, new anxieties will present themselves. The world will give me something else to be scared of.

Moving through things doesn’t erase fears – the process of arriving on the other side means I’ll place my anxious claws into something else. Worrying and wondering just wastes my time today.

This is it.

How can I live differently here in these pandemic days while I wait?

I asked my friend to pray for me – may I have compassion for the people who aren’t taking this as seriously as I am. Compassion for myself and my family. May I be at peace. May I use my creative energy to invest in the things I love to do, even while home. May I honor the outbursts and fits and tears coming from the stress of this global melt down.

Our world is changed and my little world, here on the big blue couch with the sun streaming in, still offers a chance for peace. I may be missing out, but this won’t be forever.

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The sun is up. The garden is being watered. The coffee is hot. Books begging to be read beckon. I’m breathing.

This is my life, here and now.

As Tim says, “We’re all traveling through time together every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.”

What a beautiful thing.

Real

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I sent a text pleading today. Standing on the fading back porch, I typed with tears in my eyes.

“I already lost a parent, I don’t want to lose you too.”

The black letters clicked as my fingers pressed into the digital screen.

My thumbs seemed numb, typing heavily as emotion welled in my chest.

I could have picked up the phone, but hiding behind typing and screens felt safer.

Grief slipped between my sentences as I passed my Covid anxiety from my gut to the pocket where his cell phone lingered.

Crying in the kitchen, Dylan hugged me this afternoon and I whimpered, “I just don’t want to lose anyone else.”

On Instagram, and blogs, and videos across the world grief experts are sharing comfort, perspective, and expertise for those new to loss. Coping mechanisms creep up in posts and in video chats and healthy ways to channel our triggers seem to zip in the spaces connecting us on the internet. As someone who writes extensively about my experience with life after loss, I’ve been wondering and waiting for epiphanies to come.

What wisdom can I share to help the newly bereaved? The same lessons apply to the panicked, the hurting, the newly unemployed? What responsibility do I have as an “influencer” who is using personal pain to help guide others?

I’ve stayed quiet because I don’t have much.

I return to the basics and I encourage myself and others to find comfort.

Soothe yourself with warm blankets and cups of tea. Splurge for the brand-name tissues as you wipe your eyes. Light a candle. Nourish yourself. Take a slow walk around your neighborhood. Wear a mask.

And today, when my own imagined panic crept in like fog moving over the mountains, I let the wave consume me. I felt the overflow of emotion leak up out from my chest and onto the laminate floor.

My grief wounds drip fresh with the fear of loss not yet real.

I imagine thousands around the world are feeling the same.

Rather than whisper antidotes and remedies, tonight I give permission.

I’m not an influencer. I’m a human living an experience of life after loss. I finger my scars and I breathe deeply and remember I am human, prone to loss and intense experiences in an aching world.

I give myself beautiful permission to live in this uncomfortable, seemingly horrible space.

I give you permission to ask for a hug. To send pleading text messages and grace for the tears sure to fall. I welcome the beauty found in the permission to accept a warm embrace, even if the arms wrapped around your shoulders are your own.

Pandemic life is scary and hard. The fog licks our fingers and faces and leaves a chill in our bones.

Give yourself the beautiful permission to feel all of this. To weep in the kitchen. To send the texts and express your love and ask for what you need.

At the end of the day, I only want to influence real.

Real is beautiful.

Day 2 – 52 Good Things

How did today go for you? Something about 5 pm marks another day in the books.

Like when I was in college, I felt better if I made it to 3 pm.

I know you’ve got hours to go and weeks to unfold.

Here are a few more good things. I can’t wait to see what good you’ve got happening in your homes, on your screens, and in your connections. Even STILL.

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

Sending love and light

6. This Guinness ad

7. Free yoga and barre workouts until April 1st with Down Dog

8. Fill up a growler or buy a t-shirt at local breweries (submitted by Katie M)

9. Cancel your personal care appointments and pay the stylist or teachers anyway (submitted by Katie M)

10. These penguins at the Shedd Aquarium

11. Get outside. (Photos submitted by Beth U)

 

52 Good Things

Here we are.

In times unprecedented, checking our phones, our screens, the constant news streams.

I know it’s scary right now. Uncertain. Unclear.

I’ve been holding tight and sitting on my fingertips for fear of typing something ignorant. I don’t know how the details of this pandemic are affecting the multitudes of us working from couches, those not working, those wondering how this will rip everything apart.

I do not want to trigger, or isolate, or add to the hurt.

I’ve got my Christian memorization ringing through my ears and think, rather begrudgingly, on Psalm 118:24: This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

How can we be rejoicing when things seem to be locking down at each moment?

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.

For the foreseeable future, I’ll be sharing roundups of encouragement, joy, connection, and heartwarming examples of the human spirit. I’m also asking you to pay-it-forward. Please send me an email at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com and I’ll share your examples here too. Let’s start something big – a record of kindness – an inventory of good in these next few weeks. Let’s see how many lists of 52 Good Things we can come up with.

52 Good things

Here are my ideas today:

  1. Write a card to a nurse in your life. Say thank you for their service and sacrifice.

2. Buy an online gift card from a small business. Use it later this summer.

3. This guy is encouraging folks to log on and learn how to Doodle at 1 pm every day.

4.This woman is giving away eggs to those who need it.

5. Share a roll of toilet paper. Throw it over your neighbor’s fence. Make sure to tape the end first.

Whatcha got?

 

I Counted the TP

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Photo by Anna Franques on Unsplash

I just counted our toilet paper rolls.

I never have done that. I always assumed I could hop on out to the store and purchase more.

Or get on Amazon and the delivery gods would bring me whatever I wanted.

Out of curiosity, I went to Big Lots, and Target, and Trader Joes tonight.

All fresh out of toilet paper.

I stared at rows and rows of Bounty paper towels and heard a man come up behind me, swearing under his breath.

“I don’t want to STOCK UP” he said to me. “I just need the stuff.”

And when I typed “T” into Amazon, TP was the first to come up.

All normal brands are out of stock.

You can buy generic, or perhaps this novelty roll that has cartoons having sex on the sheets. Entertainment for while you wipe. Or maybe unicorns are more your style.

Why does toilet paper make us feel safe right now?

This month, I spent seven days in Cuba and during my time there, I got a tiny glimpse of what it feels like to not have everything at my finger tips. I paid to use the bathroom, and crumpled up flimsy squares of recycled paper used when nature calls. I tucked wads in my backpack and was annoyed when public facilities lacked what I considered to be the basics.

And today, under threat of public health concerns, my fellow Americans are stockpiling the rolls. I sit in my well lit kitchen and scroll on an expensive computer about the novelty choices left in stock. Apparently pictures of presidents and rolls of printed dollar bills are still available.

I could also spend over $100 to buy over 50 rolls that could last my small family of two for months.

I fell prey to the fear and I wandered the aisles at the grocery store. I picked frozen veggies left in the cold, white, wire bins. Broccoli seems to be a coveted item and cauliflower was gone. No one wants to eat frozen asparagus.

As if a full freezer will protect me from the unseen virus lurking on airplanes and sneezes and hellos from strangers. I wish I could tell you I wasn’t a little scared.

I am. I counted my toilet paper.

As of right now, I have seven rolls.

Before I left to travel abroad, I received lots of comments about the risks I was taking getting on a plane and going to another country.

I wrote in my journal, I cried, and I created anxiety coping plans with people who loved me.

I chose to get on the plane anyway.

I was met with a richness found in kindness. Open doors and flowing cocktails. Dark coffee, syrupy in strength, served in tiny cups. I wandered dirty streets and got seconds on strawberry soft serve, and looked up to the lights people strung across worn alleys and dark doorways. These people didn’t have toilet paper and they were doing the best they can with what they’ve got.

Their stories, their art work, their hospitality were all immensely beautiful.

I’ll be processing for awhile.

Upon my return in a grand 747 flying metal bird , I saw mansions from the air, scrubbed my hands in airport bathrooms and sank into the abundance the USA has in our aisles and our homes and the stores on the streets.

I kept thinking of the woman farmer we met who is teaching people how to cook and prepare vegetables. Her father’s dream was access to Home Depot.

With the threat of quarantine, fear of germs, and pending isolation, I hope we can learn from the millions of others who live life without toilet paper and so much more every single freaking day.

It’s not about wiping our tushies or stocking our fridges or making our own hand sanitizer.

Can we open our hearts, sit down for a bit, remember to breathe, and still take care of one another?

I’m not the only one worried.

Of course, use common sense, access medical care, and seek expertise if you need it.

For those of us wondering and stocking up, what if it could be different?

What if, instead of isolating ourselves, we tuned in to the strength in shared experience and sent a text or note to those we loved. What if we picked up the phone? What if we donated to causes bigger than ourselves in our worry and panic?

What if you donated just $5 you would have allocated for toilet paper?

Wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?

 

 

 

Pivot Forward

Yesterday, I was every bit of a capitalist consumer. I spent the afternoon searching for  key pieces for an upcoming trip and bopped into a few shops, heading straight for the sale rack towards the back of the stores.

Each time I checked out, the cashiers I interacted with said something along the lines of, “Enjoy the sun while it lasts. Snow is coming tomorrow.”

I was ready for big flakes, fluffy blankets, and savory food warming in the oven.

When I checked the weather before bed last night, I was disappointed. Our anticipated snow day had gone from a sure thing to a 30% chance of flurries for just a few hours. When I woke this morning, no snow had fallen. The ground was dry. The light was grey.

In Colorado, this change of weather and threatening inconsistency is nothing new. I’m used to being told to wear layers to prepare for multiple scenarios.

I have been trained to prepare to be flexible.

Like a toddler pushing the limits, I frequently go in to work on blue sky mornings wearing polka-dot flats only to come outside at five wishing I had worn socks as sharp little ice drops bite at the tops of my feet. If I’m going to get cold, I’ll do so on my own terms.

We wounded wonderers are masters at pivoting.

Turn for the needs of others. Turn for the wallops of pain. Turn for the things we didn’t see coming. I’m used to pivoting to protect myself, to mask disappointment, and to forge forward telling my spirit, “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok.” when really, the situations are anything but.

Yes, the soft landings of snow flakes are missing today. In the grey sky surrounds I sit and I wonder, “How can I teach myself to pivot differently? What if I moved, not away-from but towards the things I want? Can preservation be channeled into motivation instead?”

This week I walked into the gym and climbed onto the elliptical stationed in front of the big t.v. showing the Food Network. The absurdity of watching Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives while attempting to burn off calories does not escape me. The choice, however, was better than the ever-present terror unfolding on CNN, NBC, and ABC after work hours.

I spent thirty minutes pedaling backward and the lights on the whirring machine began to flash.

Pedal forward. Pedal forward. Pedal forward. 

The green words blinked at me across the digital keypad.

It was time, again to pivot. To change my legs and my weight and move forward with my movements even though I was going nowhere at all.

March is coming and with it birthdays and anniversaries of death. In my head I’m pivoting between how it was then and where I am now and what it feels like to sit in the grey.  Four years have passed and I’ve found myself forgetting the electricity of shocking loss in my veins. The memories are softer now, still cold and wet and powerful in congregation with their fellow flakes.

I want snow and protection and warm food and calories to cushion me.

Machines are beeping, I am weeping, and conversations with encouraging strangers are telling me, “Now. It’s time. Pedal forward. Pivot towards the places you want to be. Create your work – the world needs you just as you are. ”

March is coming. Maybe this year, pivoting forward can be a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Caught an Edge

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Photo by Emma Paillex on Unsplash

“It’s happening!” I heard my brain say to my left leg as it lifted from the slush and jolted painfully, pulling me up and then down.

There was a loud crack and a solid thwack as my back met the iced-over ski slope. I don’t know if my turquoise helmet hit first, or my shoulder, but I was dazed.

I’d caught an edge and ate it. Hard.

I stared up at the blue sky for a moment or two.

Or seven.

I knew I had to sit up. Wincing, I raised my upper body to vertical.

“Skis still on?” I asked myself. Yes, the bindings did their job.

Poles were close by.

I tried to breath deeply and a kind woman stopped and asked if I wanted help standing.

“Yes please,” I said as I tried to make eye contact. “It’s been years since I’ve fallen on skis.”

I haven’t fallen because I haven’t been on skis in years. I haven’t fallen because I’m cautious. I take calculated risks. May I be one with the slope, not one laying on the slope.

As the stranger reached for my arm, she reminded me to turn my skis parallel from where I sat, rather than pointing my tips straight down the hill. If I could lean my body weight into the mountain, I could stand again.

I had to push into the very thing that hurt me.

I stood and eventually swooshed the two hundred yards to where Dylan was waiting for me.

“I hit my head.” I said, “Hard.”

My ski afternoon came to an end after a medical check from Ski Patrol and a gondola ride back down to base.

As the incident replays in my brain this week, I’ve been wondering what it means to be brave. We tell ourselves to muster up the courage and to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Being brave can be an active choice, yes, but what about when we are attempting to enjoy life and plans go otherwise? When our instincts kick in and the hard things require actions we feel we must do – not the ones we are brave enough to do?

This weekend, I didn’t cry when I fell. I said yes to help from a stranger, asked Dylan for water, and thought it would be smart to get more medical help. I chose the safe route down the hill rather than pushing myself to move on two sticks of waxed wood. I wobbled in ski boots and found my mom who was waiting and sat quietly in the car, imagining all the things that could have gone wrong. I didn’t feel brave.

Grief looks very much the same.

I didn’t feel brave when I wrote my dad’s obituary or called the organization in charge of his pension. I wasn’t brave when we spread his ashes or gave away his golf clubs, or each week when I choose to share my experience here. I wasn’t being brave.

I was surviving.

Are they the same, beautiful thing?

Life gives us edges to catch, limbs to flail, and places to fall. We’re lucky if we remember to wear our helmets and rely upon the little, beautiful buffers to help us feel a smidge safer in a scary world. We spread out, stunned, staring at the sky, trying to catch our breath as people swish by. And we remind ourselves to sit up again.

In order to do so, you must lean into the mountain. The majestic destination, the reason we are there out under big blue skies seeking solace and cold crisp air.

Lean into mysterious source of the beauty, of pines, jagged rocks, crisp, hard, sometimes powdery snow, and possible pain.

What a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

 

February Favorite Things – 2020

It’s snowing again. While February is the shortest month, it’s often a long haul. Here are a few favorites to delight you while the weather is cold and gray and the promise of Spring is still tucked around the corner.

  1. The BFG by Roald Dahl

I’m sure I’m late to the party, and the movie version of Roald Dahl’s classic book warmed my heart. We all need to believe in magic just a teeny bit more.

2. Snake Skin boots

Because we all want to feel sassy. I’ve been told that trend was ‘So last summer’ so if you want to be on the forward edge, I guess leopard print is in.

3. Surface Dry Shampoo

Again, late to the party, but here I am. Perfect that tousled look and avoid wet hair for another day or two more.

4. Salt Lamp Tea Lights

They tell me the benefits of Himalayan Sea Salt are endless. So we put the lamps by our electronics and I light candles at my desk. Warm glows of healing rays. Perfect for gray days.

5. Winter bouquets

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Surround yourself with bright berries, and blue thistles, and tiny, delicate blooms of chamomile. Add some color to your space while we wait for things to think about preparing to bloom. You can buy online, or Trader Joes does a great job with flowers for cheap, cheap, cheap. This florist does floral subscriptions! Get fresh flowers delivered to you once a month.

What do you do to get through the long month of February?