Compassion

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?

Spice of Life

They opened up vaccine access to the general public in Colorado on April 2nd. Since then, I’ve been scouring vaccinespotter.org and the County website and I put myself on all the lists. I anxiously waited for the calls to hear, “It’s your turn.” I’ve been nagging my husband to do the same.

I received the email, I made an appointment and on Monday, when it was my turn to go, I started looking at other providers. I spent three hours ruminating in my head about which shot to get and if I could have a quicker recovery time and is a Friday a better day to receive a jab than a workday afternoon?

These questions persist when you live with anxiety. The pandemic pushed my cycling to chronic, and no, my rantings aren’t exactly beautiful. After texting a friend and my mom and cancelling and rescheduling and cancelling again, I decided to push my appointment to a later date. To live in a country where this is possible is privilege.

My momentary freak out was the culmination of thirteen months of fear. The vaccine feels like one more thing I’m clinging to as a possible way for things to go wrong, for the world to fall apart at my feet again. Dramatic, perhaps, but through a different lens, a very real reflection of what living life after loss looks like as I’m told the pandemic is coming to a close.

Still, cases climb. In some ways, I’m doubtful. Loss taught me life is fragile. The pandemic plunged me in to the dark pool again. A year in a home office has added a permanent hunch to my shoulders, forever closer to the computer screens where my interactions seem to live. I’m a part of conversations about re-entry, going back, and creating new ways of working daily. We’re eager for connection, for hugs, for trips to Hawaii. As I clicked “Schedule” to confirm my place in this incredible feat of human history, I felt the panic rising into my tense hips. My breath shortened. Is all of this really going to end?

While I wait for Friday, I look around my home. This space has been the backdrop for the work hours, the projects, the video watching, the dozens of books being read. The walls are a witness to boredom, my office chair a cushion absorbing the constant tension created from fear of losing someone else. White baseboards, now covered with dust, were tacked up with nails and caulk covering seams.

Repetition has seemed to strip the space of beauty. I’m so familiar with the contents of my refrigerator and the covering of dirt on the floor brought in by the dog that my eyes glaze over.

As I open the pantry, I notice I’m down to chili powder and onion powder and sprinkles of oregano ground to dust in the bottom of the jar. Variety, they say, is the spice of life. I feel some mix has been missing for quite some time.

In recent weeks, I started growing plants for the garden. The seedlings are small and sit in toilet paper beds of loose soil under red warming lights. Little green sprouts reach up and leaves are taking shape. In a few months, I’ll have more to work with. More flavor. Greenery. Flowers to place on the table.

For years I’ve wanted a tattoo that says, “This too shall pass.” The irony is clear – permanent ink for the truth that all of this comes to an end eventually. I’ve been craving the day when I can hug my brother or eat in a restaurant and suddenly, the light is streaming in. I’m not ready yet to say we’re past it. I wonder if this will be one of those experiences we carry on forever, marking what’s next a stamp of permanence into whatever waits around the bend.

I’m practicing compassion for the space in between. I honor the suffering for the scared girl inside of me and the hopeful woman dreaming of what could be. I’m turning inside to say to myself, “Yes, this has been scary. Yes, we don’t know. And you’re here. You’re ok. The people you love can be too. And look, the basil is growing.”

What a beautiful thing.

Moves on Zoom

I started a new program this weekend and spent three days on Zoom with strangers. On the first morning, we were given journaling prompts to help us set intentions for our year. I had written show up fully. Do not be afraid of being seen.

I’ve been dancing between wanting to be known and wanting to hide for much of the last few years. I crave acknowledgement of loss, of unsureness, of the very human desire to belong. This very longing to be witnessed led me to sign up for the program. Where can I connect with others who care about compassion, empathy and emotion with the same deep seeking within me?

The desire to hide pulls me inwards. The fear of rejection moves me instead toward words and anonymous posts where I don’t have to see other’s reactions to my experience. Interesting, yes, how for almost a year now, I’ve shrunk to a world behind screens.

The universe laughed as the tension imploded and I found this line item on the agenda:

2:00 – 2:15 – Movement and Dance

In an in-person setting, the idea of dancing with strangers for fifteen minutes is squirm-inducing.

In a virtual environment, the pressure is only alleviated slightly.

I logged back on after lunch with a slight groan and told myself, ‘oh, hell, just go for it.’

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Adjusting my screen up, I stood and I wiggled and I mimicked the moves of my new colleagues across time and space. Sixty five new colleagues from seventeen countries moved tentatively. Some looked unafraid. Others grabbed children and swayed in the light streaming in from open windows.

I miss people so much. The feeling of warmth as we move together. The nod of a head, or a shake of a hip, or even a knowing eye roll as we lean in uncomfortably.

I have no clue if anyone was watching me. It was just fifteen minutes.

I’m getting to the point where I’m living in the ‘Oh, hell’ space. I’m trying to care less if people fear my grief. I’m practicing the hellos, the here I am’s, and trusting that this story of mine helps others.

In my little box on the internet, my smile grew, and I allowed myself to be seen.

What a beautiful thing.

I Counted the TP

anna-franques-3uUPiWkGQ2s-unsplash

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?

 

 

 

May Favorite Things

“April showers bring May flowers,” they say.

Here in Colorado April  brought winds, downed fences and little rain. I’ve got my tomatoes growing in their little plastic cups on my counter and dreams of planting our garden. Never plant a garden until after Mother’s Day here in Colorado. It could snow on Thursday.

So while I wait to plant actual plants, and Dylan works with the neighbor to fix our fence, I read and write and dream of summer.

Here’s what’s making the list of favorite things this month:

  1. Friends who write books!

Congratulations to Joyce Dickens who just published her book titled The Exotic and the Mundane – One couple, a bold decision, and the life-changing adventure that followed about her year of travel around the world! I was honored with the gift of being a beta reader and I know this newly published account will delight and inspire you to get out there!

2. Compassion

The world aches for it. For kindness, empathy, understanding. For us to slow down and realize all of us are humans along a path towards something. I went to a presentation at Colorado State University and my heart pounded as I listened to Dr. Leah Weiss talk about compassion in the workplace. Her new book, How We Work: Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind is now on my must read list. Inspired from her talk, I walked away thinking ‘Yes! Perhaps there is a place for sensitive folks like me in the daily grind.’ I’m thankful compassion is becoming part of our cultural narrative and thank Dr. Weiss for sharing this idea with students and communities across the country.

3. Joy

We just read The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World  for our book group. As someone who questions suffering and struggles to embrace joy, this book sparked opportunities for self-reflection and personal connection with broader humanity. I especially like the joy practices at the end of the book.

4. Pizza on the Grill

Step 1 – buy this cookbook. It will tell you everything you need to know.

Step 2. Buy some pizza dough from Trader Joe’s. I like the herbed flavor. Ain’t nobody got time to make pizza dough. Or maybe you do – in that case. Make your dough. Move on to step 3.

Step 3. Invite your friends over and have a make your own pizza night.

We tried pizza on the grill for the first time a few summers ago and it is one of my absolute favorite dinners. The crust gets bubbly, crispy and delicious. Everyone loves making personal pizzas.

5. Old School Polaroid Like Pics – Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Instant Camera

I threw a good friend a baby shower and my planning partner in crime brought this instant camera like a genius! Nothing like pressing the shutter button and seeing your picture five minutes later. Trust me, this is cooler than the iPhone Portrait mode. Going retro while celebrating new babies – priceless.

Thank you to everyone who has sent me a haiku over the last month! There are still eleven days of the challenge left, so it’s not to late! Not sure what I’m talking about, click here.

Heart Balm

Have you read the book “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd? You should. They recently made it into a movie, maybe a few years ago, but as always, the book is better.

The_Secret_Life_of_BeesIn the book there is a character that is so compassionate she is haunted by the suffering of others. Her sisters have found a solution, and built her her own version of the biblical “wailing wall” in which this character writes down things she is distraught over. She spends a large amount of time processing and tucks the slips of papers into the little cracks to give them up to God, to the universe, to release herself from the incomprehensible amounts of pain that are in this world. Read the book to learn more about how her character copes with those questions we all brush over on a daily basis.

Sometimes, I can relate to that character. I’ve always had an emotional heart – a compassionate one that tugs and pulls and is pierced by things that don’t seem to bother others. I get frustrated at inequality, mad at injustice, and throw up huge, fist wailing questions to God and grapple with why such suffering is permissible. This questioning suffering, expansive compassion, and intuitiveness brings me closer to my creator – especially at times that don’t make sense. It’s led me to where I am in work, in relationship, and in life.

My heart, my friends, is an immense blessing, and an at times a curse as well. I am growing to nurture it, this hurting heart, to learn to apply metaphorical healing ointment, and expand my awareness to send light and love to those who are in pain at the moment. But today, I feel just like that character in the book. I found out someone I know – an acquaintance of someone I work with – lost their daughter this weekend, as she took her own life. Too, our neighbor lost his wife in one week, when a returning cervical cancer ravaged her body and took her home to heaven in seven days. It was a sad morning, and my heart hurts, and I don’t even know these people.

We think we are invincible, and at times we may be protected by shells of our own happiness, or carry a shield of “thank goodness that’s not my life.” But what happens when it does become you – when the phone rings, and you are the one scared, and you hurt, a little bit more than you imagine? I hope you turn to God, and start applying that heart salve.

Here are some things that I apply when my heart is hurting. Beauty among the mist, protection and soothing in confusion.

  • Coffee and biscotti – it fixes a lot of things – who doesn’t love a good cup of coffee. This, I think, goes back to my days of living in Tacoma, WA when the rain and the distance from home led me into a bit of a depression. But I lived for Biscotti day at the college cafe. It got me through. photo
  • Laughter – sometimes it feels unimaginable to turn that frown upside down, like it just isn’t possible. But turn on Jimmy Fallon, or watch Marcel the Shell, or find things that tickle your heart into a smile. Marcel always works for me.

  • Baby animals – humans included. The world seems pretty frustrating a lot of times,  but there is something about a fresh start that just is refreshing. All of that unblemished potential. Don’t let pain make you hard, let it soften your heart to the potential in others, the potential in healing. My brother got a puppy this week. Seriously some heart salve in puppies. Just don’t let them bite your fingers.

photo-2

 

They say there are lessons to be taught in suffering, and I believe in that truth. I’m working on releasing others to let them live their journey, live the lessons that God intended for them, and to come to a place that makes sense for them. I don’t like it, and it isn’t fair, and I’m going to spend my life doing what I can to alleviate that pain in tiny ways for my friends, my family, humanity, in itty bitty ways that I can. That’s what today is for me, and heck, that’s what this blog is about.

How do you soothe your heart?