Hope

Maybe We Need the Moisture

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I’ve never been so excited to click “schedule.”

After fifteen months with only one professional haircut, my locks are unruly. I’ve taken craft scissors to my bangs. After a few uneven attempts, I have succumbed to the pestering process of letting my fringe blend past my face.

Inches of hair fall past my nose. It gets clipped back, and braided into up-dos trying to be fancy. Clips, bows, and barrettes attach, mediocre in their restraint. It’s time for the professionals to take over.

In just a few weeks I’ll be fully vaccinated. The opening world beckons.

I stand in the back doorway looking out on the lawn, noticing how the spring rains turned everything green. This transformation is quick in Colorado. Rarely does the wetness last. Ask anyone in the Front Range about the last few gloomy days and they will tell you, “Well, we need the moisture.”

I’m accustomed to two days of drizzle, with a quick afternoon storm blowing through at two pm. Not weeks and months of dark clouds, soaking our systems with fear and droplets of uncertainty hanging thick in the air.

I recently read an op-ed written in March of 2020 predicting a long, looming winter season. Reading guesses of how the virus would change the world after the fact confirmed what we hoped wouldn’t be true actually was. They said we were not bracing for a blizzard. This storm was not going to blow over. We were going to be in this space for a long, cold, dark winter.

We hunkered down and learned to work on Zoom. I stayed home in the darkness. I felt the mist on my face in my own tears. The lingering remnants of all that we lost collectively smeared into puddles at our feet. There were no splashing boots. Worms piled, freezing as the seasons changed.

It’s trite to say, ‘but look what we’ve grown over the last fifteen months!’ My hair, certainly. A love of sourdough, yes. Purpose in all of this? Not so much. What comes is still unclear.

Maybe this season of fog and mist will seep into our bones and shoot up and out in new ways. The predictions did not explore the renaissance that would come as we go out into the world again.

As I wipe away the droplets, and sweep up piles of murky muck left behind from flowing downspouts, I wonder how have I grown.

How have you?

I spent Saturday weeding until my thumbs blistered, and the blades of grass cut small hatches into my knees from crouching on their itchy carpet. The marks on my legs have yet to heal. But, the mulched beds in the background are brimming with tulips. I’m excited to trim the flowers that have been waiting in last season’s darkness to bloom. I’ll bring them inside and place the gifts in goblets of water.

Maybe we need the moisture. Maybe we can use it to nurture. To sip. To feed. To grow. What a beautiful thing.

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.

Coupon Triggers

After closing the car door this afternoon, I turned over my shoulder to place my bag in the back seat. A crumpled piece of white paper caught my eye. Tucked under the floor mat, a coupon with an April 2020 date waited, forlorn and forgotten in vehicle that spent most of the year in my driveway. In bold, black font, perched next to a spiralized ham, was an expired offer for 10% off a selection of a certain size.

Last year, with an adamance for tradition and a determined clinging to what surely couldn’t be a crisis, I ordered a pre-made Easter dinner. I thought the coupon could be a solution for creating something good out of the crumbling closures and novel uncertainty.

I was terrified I was to leave my house. Curbside pick-up was still new. Sitting in the parking lot, waiting for my meal, I muttered through my mask about the coupon to a sales person on the phone. I had missed something in the fine print. My ham wasn’t big enough. I couldn’t communicate what I needed to the muffled voice on the other end of line. I didn’t receive the discount.

“Good enough and good riddance,” I thought, as they placed the golden wrapped hunks of meat into my trunk.

Later, I wept watching Andrea Bocelli sing on YouTube from Italy, and we dug into a breakfast bread alone in our den. The first holiday alone felt surreal, but manageable. Surely, we wouldn’t be here for long.

This year, I watch the spring-breakers on the news and I think, “We sure didn’t learn much the first time did we?” I don’t have the energy to muster up an Easter. I don’t care about ham and I cringe at all the watercolor graphics on banners outside of the mega-churches we drive by when we venture out.

Will this weekend be another super-spreader event?

Cases are up. Yes, again. Our defenses are worn. We’re tired. And, some of us are already immune.

I’ve always loved the power of Holy Week. Death is overcome. Victory is found. Even in the darkness, crocuses peak through the dirt and Christ is resurrected. But what about the millions of people who won’t be?

This morning the Governor of Colorado announced that all Coloradoans over the age of 16 will be eligible for the vaccine starting on Friday. When I read the headline, my body swelled with a mix of relief and continued anxiety. I’m on the lists. Please give me the shots.

I’ve been asked when I’ll be comfortable to return to the office and to consider when travel feels safe. I don’t have answers to those questions. My panic at re-entry can only be calmed one day at a time.

Focusing on numbers and death and fear of illness has deadened something within me. Planning what’s next feels as foggy as the wisps of grief that linger after loss. I’ve been living in a Good Friday world for so long.

And, as the Christians will tell you this week, Sunday is coming. I put my hope here. What a beautiful thing.

I

A Sunday Without Them

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

One Sunday, I found him standing there in the stacks. His worn denim jeans met the back of his green and black winter coat. I knew it was him because of the cap. Wool, with ear flaps, soft brown, and a tuft of grey curls sticking out of the bottom. I walked across sticky linoleum towards him and tapped a shoulder. He turned, with arms full of books and a smile grew on his face once he realized it was me.

How unsurprising that we would both be drawn to the library on a sunny Saturday afternoon. He checked out his books, and I checked out mine, and we went out to meet the winter blue skies, saying our see-you laters. He turned right and I turned left – back to our separate houses and evening routines.

Dad believed Sunday afternoons were for libraries. Safe places full of words and comfortable couches, and shelves to get lost in. Quiet rooms filled with stories are solace for an always-thinking mind. Even as I became a self-sufficient adult, somehow, we continued to find each other there.

Libraries have re-opened now, but fear of germs has tampered my courage to peruse the stacks. Instead, I search using keywords behind screens and use recommendations from blogs and other reader friends to pick my next read. I call when I’m turning the corner into the parking lot, knowing a brave essential worker is pulling my titles from the shelves. Curb-side pick up extends to the library, too.

This Sunday afternoon, I gathered last week’s titles and sat in the car as Dylan drove me to our first errand. I wasn’t thinking of Dad. Instead, I was feeling the sun on my face and moving my toes in tight shoes I haven’t worn for days. As he pulled to the curb, I placed my mask behind my ears, ready to approach the familiar brick building. Fifty yards to the drop box feels safe.

As I walked up to the door, I watched a man and his daughter exit into the winter sun. He wore worn denim jeans, and a puffy winter coat, and the girl trailed behind him. There were curls of hair sticking out of a hat, but the cap was all wrong. The girl too young, the coat blue, not forest green like before. The scene not quite right. I was just witness.

Anchoring myself to the earth, I opened the metal handle, and let my books drop down, the metal basket clanking as I released. Grief clanked down in my chest, lodging like those books, in cold plastic bins, waiting to be seen by a caretaker. How I crave other souls willing to read my words and re-shelve my grief story that looks different every single Sunday afternoon.

Turning on a heel, I walked back to the car, opened the door, and removed my mask. We moved on to other items on our to-do list.

The U.S. is approaching a horrible milestone of 500,000 lives taken by COVID. I hurt and wonder about all of those people and their loved ones, having a Sunday without them. The New York Times is doing interviews and publishing quotes, capturing stories, and doing expose’s about what could have been different. Politicians are flying to Mexico and trying to escape cold nipping at our systems. Very few want to carry the weight of frozen pipes and the crash of broken hearts. Most are unsure how to be witness to the healing.

There is no solution. No action to take. Instead, an invitation to be one who sees.

I’m not broken, tonight, but I am sad. I wish, with much of my heart, that libraries would be open and I’d find my dad standing, once again in the stacks. Instead, I place books back to be discovered by others. I feel the sun on my face. And I raise my hand to an aching heart, noticing again and again, all the places he’s missing. I’m learning, the noticing, is a beautiful thing.

Vitamin C

Did a new year turn over?

While a fresh start is tempting, it feels more like 2020 is still bleeding onto our blank slates. I’m not willing to throw in the towel just eight days in.

One of my goals for this year is to check the news less. I’ve already failed.

My twitching fingers keep clicking refresh. As texts buzz in and news alerts ping loudly, I can’t help myself.

There’s a thick, bold line between being informed and being consumed. My consumption has reached unhealthy levels. The images of rioters and men barging through spaces seem burned into my consciousness. Anger seeps through screens as we create memes and scroll through poignant personal truths on Twitter, and confusion on CNN.

January typically is full of commitments to better. To healthy lifestyles, to new and improved selves, to less butter, or caffeine. Sugar is damned.

With the hemorrhaging of 2020 continuing, I ask, “What does it mean to be healthy, now?”

We thought cases were soaring in summer. Now spikes seem like mountains. These steep slopes lead to lack of oxygen. No blue skies or crispness in the air.

Searching for beauty from the home office is limited. My surroundings remain the same.

This week, I ordered groceries online and unpacked packages crinkling in cellophane. Butter and sugar are staples for survival. Improvement takes a back seat.

As plastic bags emptied, I turned to the pile on the counter. Five round Cara cara oranges winked hello from their caged netting.

Using a blunt scissor blade, I tore through the mesh to place a globe in my palm. As I dug my thumb nail into the flesh, I was squirted with small gems of juice. Licking my wrist, I kept at the process of ripping peel from fruit. I sank my teeth into the wedges and slurped on repeat.

I can watch, with eyes wide and stomach churning, the constant flow of bad news creep into my brain. Or I can put down my phone, walk away from the screens, and sink into sustenance instead.

Beauty in flesh, in juice, in slurping. In staying away from the news.

Be safe. Be well. Eat an orange. We need the vitamin C.

Hey, They Still Taste Good

Our tree is up and the twinkle from the white lights beckon me out from my home office each night. I’ve learned if I plug in the tree before 4:30 pm, I can walk upstairs to some light at the end of the day.

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Although, every time the fireplace is turned on, I remind Dylan to remove the giant, red knit socks from their hooks. The polyester will melt from the heat.

Gifts ordered online sit on the kitchen table, waiting for wrapping, ribbons and string. When discussing our small family’s Christmas plans Dylan winked at me and said, “Let’s honor the environment this year and not wrap our gifts for each other.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I think the environment will benefit from our holiday laziness.” At least in the case of the two gifts we plan to exchange with each other.

I’ll try to make the others beautiful, wrestling tubes of paper left sitting in the corner closet, waiting for their turn since last year.

Christmases after Dad died have been a gradual undoing of all the things this month is supposed to be. The first year I clung to tradition, trying hard to recreate what we used to do in my own tiny living room. Despite the cheese plate breakfast, and matching pajamas, most of the day was spent in a painful fog trying to tend to the tears that just kept coming. Our sink broke. We washed dishes in the bathtub.

I have to search deeper into my memory to recall details as year one became year three. There was a viewing of Die Hard and attempts at new traditions – a family night out at the local theatre to watch It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas. The pressure to feel the good spirits of the season blurred like the white lights on the fence of the highway as we drove home from church on Christmas Eve. I wrote of splitting in two.

There are so many splits in grief.

Before and after.

Pre and post death.

Sorrow and joy.

Gratitude and gut-wrenching pain.

Dad picking up paper as presents get unwrapped and the piles of holiday detritus crinkling on the floor.

Last year, at this time, I wrote of the ‘enoughness’ of attempts at ‘doing’ Christmas. I said no to baking, yes to shopping, and hosted large gatherings with aunts perched on piano benches and grandmas squeezed into chairs at our kitchen table.

And here I sit, at the end of a pandemic year, where I’ve spent most days at home. Our plans, thus far, include Zoom Christmas morning and porch drop offs. I rest in the split between freedom from haunting traditions and the desire to be together, smushed on the couch, in matching pajamas once again.

This weekend, I got out the metal mixing bowl to bake. Mixing molasses and flour and spice, I spent hours shaping stubborn dough into snowflakes. Turns out the piping bags and decorating tips were left at Mom’s house. Instead, I filled a Ziploc bag with frosting and snipped off the tip. The result were less than perfect. Thick lines of frosting oozed from the edges onto the counter below.

When I finished decorating the cookies Dylan said, “Hey, they still taste good.”

That’s where I sit this Christmas season. In the metaphorical, ‘still tastes good’ space.

This season is far from perfect. And yet …

The decorations are bringing me joy. The lights, comfort. Attempts at tradition remain good enough. Opportunities to give back are endless.

And I hold space in the split – for what won’t be, can’t be, shouldn’t be present this season.

Watching the news this morning, I saw a brave 91-year old woman receive the first COVID vaccine in the world. I wept thinking of all the work that interaction took. How exhausted must be the scientists, the health care workers, the teachers and grocers, the delivery drivers who make my life work. Of all the hope the single dose brought, and all the sacrifice it took to get to this point.

I’m not sure what will happen next, but today, sitting near the twinkling white lights, I encourage you to honor the sacrifice. We’ve lost a lot this year.

What still tastes good?

Your answers may be beautiful things.

Poked in the Heart

My muscles were sore from sitting on the floor balancing a plate of Chinese food in my lap. As I ate soggy noodles, three women, tenured family friends, sat perched above me on our worn, blue couch. As we watched an unremarkable movie, I felt safe in the company of people who knew me. People who knew him. People who carried pieces of my dead dad in their life stories too.

We had lost him a few months prior, and when the evening ended, I closed the front door and told Dylan, “I don’t want to go to bed because I feel so good now. I’ve forgotten how to feel good.”

I hadn’t thought of that night in years.

Seven days ago, Dylan called me upstairs with a somber voice. His delivery of a simple ask, “Katie, can you come here?” made my stomach sink.

After a week of addiction addled toggling between CNN and The New York Times websites, my eyes stuck in the red center of the US map as election results slowly ticked in. As the edges of our country turned blue, my heart beat escalated. Again, I sat on the floor, balancing plates on my knees as I watched The Queens Gambit to distract.

“Who died?” I thought. Unfortunately, still my default question.

“Joe Biden won” he said quietly.

Running up the stairs, I demanded he click over to nytimes. com – the news source I’ve been trusting in a sea of false news and fabricated reports.

I wasn’t convinced. Dylan scrawled out the math on an envelope waiting on the nightstand. Electoral votes and percentages and likelihoods of a secured win. Numbers and stats to help with the hope of certainty.

My heart cracked open with a gasp. I watched thousands of strangers dance in the streets with signs and masks and music from my tiny cell phone screen. We toasted gin and tonics as I don’t keep bubbly in my cupboard.

I didn’t want to go to bed last Saturday. I’d forgotten what happy felt like. I’ve been living with dread instead. Grief taught me feelings of elation can pop. Hope dissipates into the sheets as we sleep. It’s likely I’ll wake with big feelings in the morning.

As another week passed, COVID cases jump at alarming rates. People I know receive positive test results and I feel my fingers curling closed in fear. I’ve lectured my mom, and doubled up doses of vitamin D and zinc. Daily, I swallow down words I want to say to people who keep doing whatever the heck they want to do in the name of carpe diem.

As the artist PINK says, “It’s gonna be a long way to happy.”

Last night, with another plate balanced on my knees, we watched the movie 13 Going on 30. After the credits rolled, we turned to YouTube to watch Pat Benatar’s music video for Love is a Battlefield. For thirty minutes, my years of dance classes paid off. I wiggled and pointed my toes and matched the movements of the rock stars with big hair on tv. Dylan laughed and my dog barked. I felt happy. I didn’t want to go to bed.

This year has been scary for all of us. Whether you’re aware of your fears, or are stuffing them down into the fibers of your muscles where your subconscious lives, the reality of living in constant threat is not normal.

Like the first months of grief, I wonder if these intense circumstances will ever pass us by.

But there are moments, in balancing plates, and states turning blue, and dance parties in living rooms, where I am poked in the heart to remember again what it’s like to feel good. What a beautiful thing.

Keep on Bouncing

I saw a meme on Instagram.

Using triggered fingertips I typed, “Unfortunately this is not true for everyone. I want it to be true but it’s not that simple.”

I clicked the send button and waited for the blue dots to pop up. I got scared, in the waiting, because Instagram DMs create a vacuum of silence.

Had I ruined the rapport we had built? If we were sorted by past voting records, I’m pretty sure we’d sit on opposite sides of the aisle.

My friend responded, “Is it not true that we can be happy and love others regardless of who wins tomorrow?”

She stopped me in my own defensiveness. My puffed up chest let out a little of the air I had been holding in my lungs.

I was spinning on who determines who gets to love whom, and the individuals lying alone in hospital beds, and systemic oppression and pepper spray flying. Continuing injustices matter to me.

Haven’t we been working on this since a bunch of white guys wrote down the possibility that we could pursue our own happiness? I’m pretty sure there were no women or people of color in that room. Who gets to determine happiness while others continue to suffer?

At the same time, her response hit a nerve, perhaps in a good way.

Of COURSE I should go on loving others and pursuing happiness regardless of who wins this week.

Remember that Power of Ten video we had to watch in middle school? It starts small and as the focus keeps widening, we get further and further out into the universe.

My friend just brought me back to a smaller power of ten. A place where I have more control. How am I treating the people I love? How much am I giving my energy, my fears, my anxiety, to systems that aren’t serving me and definitely leaving out others?

Friends, I have strong opinions about who should be in office next. I am fearful for this week, and what will unfold in the future. It’s hard to find common ground.

And, I do agree! How absurd it is to think we would allow some orange-tinged force, spewing hatred, to stop me in my search for goodness.

Too far? Perhaps I took it too far.

Or to place all of my power in the opposite outcome? How are our forces of ten coming in to play?

On our walk this weekend, we came across two kids who scribbled out a wobbly hopscotch board on the sidewalk. Standing far apart, we asked the small humans if we could hop through their game. They were wearing masks, so I couldn’t tell for sure, but tiny eyes lit up, making me think they were smiling.

I bounced on one foot, hopping back and forth, from one to ten.

Wobble on through. Don’t let them stop you from loving others. Find your sidewalk chalk. It’s not a clear path from one to ten. Keep on bouncing.

Which one is louder and why?

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I’ve been wondering the same of joy lately. If we take a moment to see the good, and no one is here to nod along, does the bubble burst unnoticed?

So much of this year has been spent in isolation. From behind our screens and windows, from six feet away, many sit longing. Others deny and bravely threaten others with careless acts in the name of freedom.

Can we cultivate joy if we are the only ones to recognize the burbles?

A life-long fan of Winnie the Pooh, I nodded at this quippy meme after clicking send in a private message to another who would surely nod too.

Image may contain: text that says 'Pooh? Yeah Piglet? I'm tired of all this. I am too Piglet. I am too.'

Then I caught myself, gnawing at the chords of dark humor binding my wrists into inaction. I am SO sick of all of this. Of living in a world where humans hurt and politicians lie and I fight with friends on Instagram, triggered by words of others I don’t even know. Shame crept up in the spaces where our values divide us. Maybe it’s always been this way?

I sink my teeth into the quickly tightening reeds of disbelief. I have to keep cutting through the growing thickets to create my own light.

The days are growing shorter, streaming orange beams of afternoon sun onto my kitchen floor.

Sourdough starter still bubbles up, even when recipes are misread and overnight rises become day time activities.

Grey strips grow into place as hair cuts beckon.

Chocolate bars crunch as almonds splinter.

Memories woosh through cyberspace and land with a buzz onto a cell phone screen.

A friend sent me a picture of my senior photo, snapped from a yearbook in halls where she works and I no longer walk.

A girl fills the left of a frame at eighteen with dark, shoulder length hair parted right down the middle. Big eyes surrounded with too much eyeliner, looked up as she fingered the small cross around her neck. In cursive font, was my chosen senior quote.

“When you stand in the present moment, you are timeless.”

Heady right?

I’ve outgrown Abercrombie long-sleeves, and knowing it all and yet, I haven’t outgrown my aching for transcendence.

I’m here – in this pandemic moment – knowing so many are struggling. I’m sick of politics, and fight my addiction to the ticking death toll on the New York Times website.

Does good beget good and light spark more light?

Trees are falling. Beauty is burbling. Do they make a sound? Which one is louder and why?

You can answer. What does beauty sound like to you? I’m here. I’m listening.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

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Excavating

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Tearing the pages feels wrong. Marking others words with ink to communicate new things, a little risky yes? But what beauty can be found in the excavating. Not only the job of the editor. After receiving an excess of old books for my little library, I’ve decided to reclaim messages of hope and restoration in the words of others. Send me a page number and I’ll send you a poem from that page in the mail. Send me an email at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or DM on Instagram.

Together, we can help the post office and find some beauty in old stories and traditions.

Donations accepted here.