Gratitude

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.

Tis’ the Season

We’ve entered the season of giving with a joyful heart. My inbox is full of reminders of places to give money, gifts to buy, and packages to send. Generosity of spirit and snacks is in the air. I’ve made lists of my own. December is never short on opportunities to spread joy in boxes and bags and envelopes.

I’m great at giving. Sitting in therapy this week, however, I was reminded how hard it is for me to receive.

To be on the one asking for help and having people follow through without a sense of obligation or needing to do anything in return is vulnerable and risky.

One of the shrapnels of grief still stuck in my chest is sharp reminder that grief is ever present. Asking for help often made some people uncomfortable. There was an air of ‘you’re still here, huh?’ when being vulnerable, and while not everyone responded in this way, social stigma and my own shame around my emotions cause me to turn inwards. Unhealthy self-sufficiency only leaves more room for the wounds to seep.

My therapist asked, “How would you like to try to receive differently this season?”

I froze before answering. After a moment or two, I whispered, “I have to believe I’m worthy of being on the receiving end of generosity.”

In big block letters I wrote in my journal, Tis’ the season to PRACTICE RECEIVING.

When I woke this morning, I sent texts to several friends asking for recommendations on products I’m considering. One sent me a laundry list of things to consider, another said flat out, ‘Would you like to have ours?’ I was floored.

In minutes, I was reminded of the many ways people DO like to give, but they can’t know you’re in need unless you ask. Grief, tangled with shame, taught me not to ask.

I’m unwrapping old stories, and laying shredded ribbons of protection at my feet. In this new season, I’m going to need help. I’m going to need to receive. And practicing is a beautiful thing.

When Weeping on Zoom …

I spent the weekend on Zoom for graduation from the Applied Compassion Training that I’ve been a part of since January. In closing ceremonies, we said good byes and cheered in recognition for work we have accomplished. For me, this involved the delivery of a Capstone Project designed to bring compassion to those with grief stories. I’ve found a way to formalize writing workshops to serve those who are hurting and I love the spaces I’ve been able to create for those to be seen.

Each of us graduates were given two minutes to share a few words about our experiences. I said this, “Graduation is always a good time to reflect on what brought us to this place. I want to go way back to the times my dad taught me to see other people. He modeled many ways we can choose to carry our pain. And he taught me that sensitivity and feeling in a callous world are strengths. Turning towards our pain is necessary to live a brave life. This program reminded me that turning towards suffering is always a courageous act. I’m thankful for the people who bravely say yes, rather than turn away. I move forward today, unsure of what’s next, but certain I will continue to say yes. Thank you for reminding me that the world IS good, even today.”

As I sat in my study this afternoon, surrounded by over 120 people dedicated to the pursuit of compassion across industries and around the world, I found myself swallowed by a grief wave. My people showed up on Zoom for the celebration, and as I clicked through the gallery of faces, I couldn’t help but notice who wasn’t there. You’d think I’d be used to his absence by now. But sometimes, the profound punches to the gut come from empty seats and vacant spaces on screen.

Tears filled my eyes and I turned off my camera and wept.

If he were still here, I wouldn’t have done any of this. And yet, I’ve filled the void with my words, with my aches, and I’ve extended the creation of space to explore our experiences using words.

The world is a mess when we focus on the crises. They exist every minute of every day. The fixing demands attention, hope, and possibility. And at the same time, brave, kind, caring humans are choosing to show up and say yes to doing something about our collective suffering.

What is good in your world right now? On my list are a surgeon’s steady hands, deliveries of flowers and meals for those in recovery, those who choose to wear masks to protect others, a refrigerator full of food, and the overflowing ways that my dad continues to influence my choice to look for good. Sensitivity is strength. Searching for good makes life more bearable. Compassion – the choice to act in the face of suffering – for ourselves and others, is a beautiful thing.

You’re Still Here

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.

What 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?

Relying on the 5 Senses

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

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?

I am safe. Life is here.

Relying on the five senses. A beautiful thing.

You know the old saying …

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Does the same hold true … “If you can’t say anything profound, don’t say anything at all?”

The dreary of February has been clouding up my brain and fogging up my windows. Words aren’t flowing with ease.

As the temperature drops, and I drive from here to there, mini snowflakes kiss my windshield.

Waiting for the light to turn from red to green, I watched the magic of water turned to one-of-a-kind crystal fall from the sky. I received my gift, as one mighty flake fell to rest near J-shaped crack of glass needing repair.

Nothing profound to share in dreary February. But we do have snowflakes.

And that is a beautiful thing.

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

In posts and on threads, on work chats and check-ins people continue to share their disappointment at not being able to gather this year for Thanksgiving. When listening, my stomach would twinge and my empathy drained. I couldn’t figure out why I was triggered.

Sacrifice of time together for the hope of remaining alive doesn’t feel like sacrifice to me. At least it didn’t. Not six months ago, when were were just getting started. Not two weeks ago when we were told, again, to stay safer at home. I know, this is exhausting. We are tired and lonely and sad. Food and connection are supposed to comfort, not kill.

Today when another colleague shared their deep sadness about missing family dinners, I felt my muscles tense.

“What gives?” I asked under my breath. “Why is this bothering me so much?”

I clicked over to the New York Times website and read Nora McInerny’s brilliant articles titled You Don’t Have to Fake It Through Thanksgiving. She reminded me it took her six years for the holiday season to feel festive again after her husband died. Six years.

I’m approaching year five.

Since, Thanksgiving has felt hard, sad, and a complex mix of hoping for bliss while clinging to gratitude. Nora’s words took me back to my own first Thanksgiving without Dad. I had gone with my in-laws to New York while my mom and my brother went to Texas. The guilt of being away and feeling normal split me in two. The distance between feeling good for minuscule moments while knowing people I love were hurting across the country ripped a canyon within me.

I remember sneaking away after to dinner to call my mom. I slouched on a velvet green couch in the bedroom above the garage and I dialed to connect us from across the country. Our families gathered around tables beneath us, smearing Karo syrup on warm plates. We wiped snot off of cell phone covers.

I spend the holiday season still split in two. Between longing and acceptance. Between people pleasing and taking care of myself. Between disappointing others and berating my attempts of trying too hard.

My empathy has dried up, perhaps, because I’ve been adapting to a different kind of Thanksgiving for a very long time. I haven’t given that longing the attention it deserves.

I’ve run out of patience for the ones who are acting like they are the only ones here for the first time, managing a less than ideal holiday because of forces outside of their control.

You may have to be on Zoom this year, but what about the festive name plates that could never grace your table again? For me, the risk isn’t worth it.

I know this is hard. I know being away from your people is sad. And I ask you to think about the millions of people who have been carrying this weight for a very long time.

I’ve learned to carry my grief like a backpack. Sometimes it’s heavy and full of old baggage. Sometimes light and open and airy. Other times full of boombox tunes that make me smile of Him.

This year the backpack is full of relief, of sadness, and tiny, fluttering threads of hope. We’re a little tattered. It’s ok. The backpack will continue to fill and empty as we go.

Nora’s words reminded me about the freedom we have to face these days however feels good. We don’t have to do the dinner, the fixings, or the mounds of pie. This year isn’t normal. These celebrations don’t have to be normal either. Grief and crisis won’t allow it. And neither will I.

As if you need my permission to allow anything at all.

Order sushi. Call Pizza Hut. Get on Zoom. Break the rules. Skip the parade. Pick up the phone and call a friend. Cling to gratitude but you don’t have to hope for bliss. For me, that’s too high a bar. Instead, blow a kiss from a screen, donate money, mail a card. Write a list of the good and the ordinary magic getting you by.

Pick up your backpack and fill it full of beautiful things.

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.

Day 67 – 52 Good Things

As states start to open up, my confidence in being in public waivers. I felt brave and brought cookies to a friend. Panicked when someone I know got tested. Went to the hardware store to buy flowers and wanted to yell at those not wearing masks. I wonder if I’m missing out by staying home and still practicing presence by remembering to take things one moment at a time. I’m still home and still counting. Here are a few more good and beautiful things, even during a pandemic.

What’s on your list? Send me an email and we’ll keep counting together.

190. Irises cut fresh from the front yard

191. Plant starters given freely

192. The promise of tomatoes

193. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

194. Ham and cheese and bread

195. Clean water with slices of lemon

195. The Fitzgerald cocktail 

196. Bike Rides through neighborhoods

197. Waiting for Colorado Strong Pale Ale

198. Big, long, snotty cries

199. Puppy snuggles

200.  Warm nights with the windows open