pandemic

As The Darkness Descends

I now obsessively click on inciweb, checking the status of evacuations and wind patterns and burn scars up the canyons close by.

With the fires mere miles away from my home, I spent the weekend nervous and wondering. I signed up for text alerts and began making lists of items we would take should we get a call that could change our life.

My prayers centered on surrender and asking for protection. While I prayed, people in my community lost their homes. Whole lives burned up as bricks stood witness to the incineration.

New fires sparked further down the Front Range cooridor and I ask, “Is being witness enough?”

And if my witnessing is filtered through a screen, liberal media outlets, and through the stories on my social media feeds? Does this count as standing witness to pain?

I know what it’s like to get a phone call that can change your life. I also know what it’s like to hunker down and wait, with bated breath, for the wind to shift.

I’m trying to balance panic with presence. Reframe what could be to what is. Taking moments to identify the gifts residing in this natural disaster space.

Community members rally together to raise funds for those who have lost livelihoods.

Voters wait for hours to fill in bubbles with black ink.

The laundry is done and the sourdough is active.

I use my words to meditate – sending hope and love and peace to myself and others.

As I become accustomed to skies darkening with smoke, I slice oranges and lemons and toss them into a pot with cinnamon and cloves. Cool water covers the mixture and simmers slightly on my stove, trying to reclaim the air with fresh scents.

Ash rains down, falling in thin layers on my back patio, reminding me an essential part of my human experience is surrender.

I can click refresh but I can’t change the outcome. I can sweep away the mess, but things have still burned. The remnants smear black on concrete.

So much has turned to ash this year. Plans and dreams. Jobs and homes. Trust and a sense of safety. Community. Connection. A sense of time.

The other day I was checking the status of an online order we placed in August. The stressed customer service agent shared plans for the item to ship on October 20th. I texted Dylan, “Think we’ll get it before Christmas?”

His response?

“Christmas is really not that far away.”

I suppose he’s not wrong.

I’d forgotten it WAS October 20th. My brain is still stuck in April. Or September. I did grow a garden, right? Who knows if we’ll holiday, or give thanks over cardboard takeout containers. Wouldn’t it be alright to take a pass on tradition this year? Nothing else has been conventional. I’m not willing to risk a life for a turkey dinner.

The days are growing shorter and the nights are now long. I’m working on turning off my screens and taming my clicking finger’s tick to satisfy the need to know more of the madness we’re witnessing.

I’ll be here, turning on warm lights inside as the darkness descends. May that be a beautiful thing.

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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Someone complimented my shoes.

We aren’t back to normal. We must continue to be cautious and perhaps, we’ve adjusted.

I packed my red Timbuktu work bag this morning to come to the office for the first time in five months. I needed a wet rag to wipe off the dust that had accumulated as it sat in the corner waiting to be carried again.

As I drove to the office, I noticed a mom and a toddler watching big, construction orange diggers in the new housing development nearby. Music played on the car radio. I haven’t heard new tunes because my commute went from thirty minutes north to four stairs descending into a room where the light shines through basement windows.

While waiting for my turn at a stop sign, and noticed a shaggy golden retriever sticking it’s head out the window of a yellow Volkswagon beetle.

Turning in to the parking lot, vacancies beckoned. Once difficult to find a place to leave my car, I scooted in to an open spot with no trouble at all.

Putting on my mask, I juggled a work bag and a floral lunch box I purchased in March, and keyed in the code to our office. It feels good to be back.

And still, I sit in the conference room by myself, co-workers still at their homes. The silence no longer bothers me. Clicking of keys keep me company.

Crossing the courtyard, I went to purchase an iced coffee. As I waited in line, a kind man standing six feet behind me complimented my shoes.

“I like the snake skin,” he said grinning.

“Thanks,” I replied. ” I haven’t worked outside of my house for seven months. It was time to bring out the fancy shoes.”

I know people are living their lives to various degrees. Some are traveling, going back to offices, and trying to adapt as safely as possible. Others are home and waiting and wondering, or perhaps turning more content to the slower rhythms of corona life. Parents are teaching, teachers are parenting, and we’re all doing the best we can.

This morning I noticed the ordinary. A toddler in awe, a dog breathing in the Colorado air tainted with smoke. Someone complimented my shoes. I haven’t worn shoes with a heel in months.

Life is still here. It just looks a little bit different. Receiving compliments from strangers is a beautiful thing.

In the Unfolding Future

For the first time in over a year, I spent a full day in the home I grew up in. There have been multiple reasons for my absence. Changes in caregivers and in family situations. I’m trying to negotiate being an adult woman with a house of my own. A pandemic lurks, placing tentacles of fear and suckers of joy on the cracked cement steps.

As I stood at the front door this weekend, I realized my key no longer has a place to work. The lock had been replaced with an electronic key pad. I rang the bell, and the big dog began to bark. Upon answering the door, my mom repeated the numeric code I needed to get access. It’s not as if I was kept out intentionally. I thought I put the pattern in my phone. Apparently not.

We had spent thirty dollars to stand in a field under a blue sky made silver with smoke. Returning again to the community farm, we took scissors to stems and snipped bloom after bloom, placing our finds in a large, round bucket.

We had gathered armfuls of greens, daisies, dahlias, and delicate flowers to collect into vases and mason jars. We returned home to do our work, walking through the front room on worn wooden floors to approach the table that sustained me. While we shredded leaves and clustered our collections, my mom and I caught up on stalled-life and our slow summers.

It has been almost five years since I sat in the same place, in the tall oak chair frame my dad built in the garage, disassembling arrangements sent for his funeral. The scratchy chair pad nibbled the backs of my thighs saying, ‘I may be worn, but I’m still here, too.’

Some heart ache challenges simply must be tended to from the kitchen tables of our youth.

I’ve healed, wept, and morphed over the last few years. I suppose, if we’re paying attention, we all do. What I hadn’t realized before this weekend was, just as every day is given a new, so too is my grief.

Dad isn’t here for this moment. Or the one that just passed. Nor will he be here for the ones unfolding as this sentence continues. I didn’t realize I will continue to grieve in the unfolding future. The every day ache is not debilitating, but it demands attention. When grief gets neglected, my soul gets hard.

I moved from the kitchen table, to the arm chair in the study, and still our conversation continued.

As noon turned into early evening, I kept wishing Dad would walk through the garage door. Couldn’t he be home from work or an outing at the hardware store? Perhaps he would have brought us a treat.

The door never opened. Instead, I walked out through the front.

I brought the bouquets to my new home. As I placed one vase after the other in rooms where I sit these days, I wondered if flowers can be seen as friends. I’m working from home without companionship now, as my husband returned to a socially distanced office armed with hand-sanitizer and a closing glass door.

The flowers keep me company. I’ve surrounding myself with beauty and scent and bursts of color to bolster me while he’s away. The refrigerator hums and my fingers click on the keyboard. I play classical music to keep my anxiety at bay.

For Dad’s not here now, in the next moment, or at the end of this sentence. I’ve learned I get to miss Him still, as the adult I’m becoming in my own home. I draw up familiar lessons of comfort. Memories of past greetings from the wide-open garage door nibble into me like bites left from worn, knitted, chair cushions.

Now, instead, I wait for my husband to return from his office to walk in our blue front door and I miss Him. And that, is a beautiful thing.


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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Turned Inside Out

After six months at home with limited social interactions, I didn’t think I could look much further inward.

Inward is where I’ve been living – perhaps for the last four years. Grief turned me so inward, I turned inside out.  Insides exposed – skin raw, even still. Prickling with the constant bombardment of suffering, of loss, of what it means to have tugging skin as your wounds heal and re-arrange. After four years, I was ready to get out into the world again. And then a pandemic hit.

With news cycles imploding on the hour, and violence bursting across our country, I’m tempted to turn off my phone and close my eyes.

Tuning out is privilege. Turning things off is a choice.

I thought about changing my Facebook cover photo to this Fauci quote earlier this week.

care

I stopped myself because I don’t feel social media is the place to change minds. Perhaps blogs posts aren’t either. We’re pretty set in our ways and discourse fails in comment threads, when we can’t make eye contact, or place a warm hand of understanding on the fingers of someone we disagree with. Most of the time, our friends nod in agreement when we share our thoughts on how the world could be and for whom.

But, as I continually click reload on news browsers and watch brave protestors, athletes, artists, and individuals address the hurt and pain of others across the nation, Fauci’s quote keeps giving me pause.

How do we knock on closed-off hearts? How do we whisper to those living in extremism? How do we share kindness to people who are different than us?

I have a hard time feeling angry with wealthy people who choose not to share their resources. I live in a working class neighborhood. With every Trump flag popping up on lawns across the street, I hesitate to display my proudly purchased Biden-Kamala sticker. My Christian roots bristle at Evangelical narratives,  withdrawing to find different sources of spiritual thirst quenching. I struggle to embrace the differing opinions of relatives spread across the country.

I said I wouldn’t get political and well, here we are. Everything feels political. Our clashing values create rifts like canyons – pulling us apart from where we used to stand in agreement.

We’re living in fear of those who are different than us. Fear of those who think or look or value different things. Fear of expressing what we really think. Fear of having something taken, or distributed differently, fear of lack of control. Fear of, once again, being unseen.

And somehow, we’ve gotten so sidetracked, that caring for a human life feels radical.

So, I pick up a pen and write postcards to old friends. I text the people who seem to have forgotten me in the course of loss. I go to my garden and I water the plants growing in my tiny patch of dirt. I give money. I pray. I set down the phone. I circle back to my tiny sphere and I keep at the searching for good. I cheer for the protestors. I buy local and support small business owners. I wear a mask. I get ready to vote. I stay home and I keep looking inward.

Maybe, as a nation, we’re getting turned inside out?

How do we remind each other we need to care? Do you care deeply about our impact on the planet, our country, our neighborhood, our streets, on the children who look different than you? What about those who have lived and lost and are hurting? What about those without support networks? What about those whose kids are in literal cages? What about those innocent ones getting shot in the street?

We need to care. And that’s a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

Groan Tubes

Remember? About twelve inches long, cylindrical, brightly colored. You’d find them on the shelves in toy shops and as prizes when playing carnival games. I remember exchanging tickets for the annoying noise makers later left behind in back seats.

 

I relate to the little weight, pulled down into a groan by gravity.

The rollercoaster of pandemic emotions pulls me down from the crest, and as I descend down the tracks, I realized I’ve forgotten to raise my hands. We aren’t screaming in excitement.

It takes more energy and focus to live in joy right now. I have to be intentional in saying yes to following what I want to safely participate in.

On Saturday, our Colorado blue skies were peppered with plumes of smoke from the forest fires near by. I woke early, determined to follow through on a reservation I made to go pick strawberries at a local farm.

Standing out in a field, far from others, I picked ripening berries, and snipped stems to fill my bucket with sweet smelling fruit.

“This is so fun!” I said to Dylan, realizing it was the first time we’d been around others for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

An outdoor activity had turned my tube upside down, groans going up into smiles. We came home and I arranged flowers and popped fresh fruit right into my mouth.

We’ve kept our windows shut this week. Smoke is heavy and the AC is on, and fresh air is tainted with the knowledge that the mountains I grew up in are burning.

I woke this morning – sadness touching my heart with soft fingertips. It’s my husband’s birthday. We don’t have plans. I’m trying to prepare a special dinner and I know, another meal, just the two of us, will unfold without much to say because we only interact with each other.

The weight slides back down.

I have to honor the tender spaces created by the wishing what is, isn’t.

Tonight, we’ll make cannoli and watch a favorite show. We’ll celebrate another year here on earth and toast to what’s next. And we’ll miss those who aren’t around the table. We’ll keep the windows closed.

We’re taking things moment by moment here.

Honoring the missing. Wondering and waiting and remembering that at some point, we’ve got to tilt the silly stick back, right side up. Perhaps that’s a beautiful thing.


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.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

Ease?

“Let it be easy.

Let it be easy.

Let it be easy.

Whatever it is.

Try that on in your spirit.

Get curious about it. “

Tara-Nicholle Nelson

We’re struggling on a collective level right now, yes. But what if it could be different? What if it could be easy? Tara-Nicholle’s blog post has been fuel for me this week. A refreshing reminder. Not every decision must make our stomachs church. If we change our energy and our expectations for ourselves, can we live with more ease?

Ease in standing at the cold counter, pressing the metal spoon into the warm red cherries, bursting with juice as their pits are removed.

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Ease in sitting outside sipping on sparkling water in the heat.

Ease in the wondering how long this will last.

Ease in watching hoards of grasshoppers invade my garden.

Ease in flipping pages of yet another book to be read.

Ease in accepting the unraveling, noting the pile of yarn of what we thought this year would look like pooling at my feet.

I’m not getting anywhere by forcing things nor by clenching nor holding my breath under my mask, afraid to be in public.

What if ease is our beautiful thing?

Read Tara Nicholle Nelson’s full blog post here. 

Not Much to Report

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Photo courtesy of Unsplash

By the end of the week, it’s easy to ignore the nudging whisper my creative spirit sends to my fingers. “You haven’t used your powers,” she echoes, “to use your words for something other than emails.”

My energy gets absorbed into the little keys for things demanding attention all week long. Any extra, left-over effort wonders how to type or draft or craft to contribute during this time.  Many attempts to focus on the good feel aimless – like little helicopters that fall from maple leaves in autumn. I keep throwing the whirls into the air and they spin and spin. No matter how many times I throw them up, they fall and continue to land at my feet, just like last time.

Will the cadence of my pushing fingers stringing words together echo out beyond this tiny home office? Will one whirly-gig plant catch wind and travel beyond my back yard?

I didn’t write last week because I felt I had nothing much to report.

Writer Mari Andrew reminded me, in an Instagram featured interview, how lucky I am for this statement to be true. Nothing to report means my people are healthy, we’re employed, we’re spending our days on Zoom meetings and wondering when we can venture out.

Nothing to report means we’re a little bored.

What a privilege it is to be a little bored.

I take a deep breath and lion’s breath away the urge to type CNN.com into my browser because I know the world isn’t in such a state.

There’s too much to report.

Brave journalists continue to unpack the truth and challenge the lies or contradictions we’re being fed. Asinine politicians keep making horrific decisions leaving us every-day contributors in a constant state of worry.

Once again it feels a bit self-indulgent to be focusing on the small things, when the big things the world reports are so-damn-heavy.

With nothing to report here and lots to report out there, I wonder what chemical reaction can occur when we mix ordinary gratitude with catastrophic loss and the magnitude of complex decision making.

How will the flakes of salt I’ve sprinkled on home-grown tomatoes influence the healing of the sick, or change minds of stubborn folks stuck in their individualistic, out-dated methodologies? I’m not sure.

Can the aromatics of fresh pizza dough encourage billionaires to use their resources to alleviate suffering? Unlikely.

I do believe, however, when we choose to seek the beautiful, we raise the energy within our little spaces. When we lift the watering can once more or lick the chocolate from the spoon, we challenge the darkness with just a little bit of light.

Every decision we make has the ability to influence another; yes, even in this Groundhog Day like existence.

While the essential workers scrub and treat and heal and feed, I’ll muster a bit of battery juice into my tired fingers. We must remember to report the good.

The smell of crisp edges of a homemade waffle.

The crunch of hiking boots on a sandy mountain trail.

The smears of tears left on cheeks when it all feels like too much. THIS IS TOO MUCH.

A handprint left behind on a window wave.

A sunset captured in a smart phone camera.

Episodes of Downton Abbey previously unwatched.

Pages of cookbooks splattered with oil.

Laughter at inside jokes.

If we don’t report the good stuff, the bad stuff wins. If the extraordinary boring things go unnoticed, we give too much weight to the dark.

Go on … start a chemical reaction. Make some wind. Blow your good whirly-gig seeds all over the place.


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.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

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.

 

Was It Risky? Yes.

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Anxiety seems to be a best friend to me these days. I’m swatting at my fears while sipping on homemade coffee, still here, working from home.

The glow of the computer screen fails to make up for my missing companionship, as I haven’t seen friends in close to 100 days. Almost a third of the year.

I don’t know how long we’ll be here, nor, I realize, do I have much control over the comings and goings of others who want to be out buying coffee from shops and swallowing down cocktails on outdoor patios.

The anxious ones are hurting here in this pandemic space.

This weekend, we drove down to spend time with my in-laws, a few of the people we’ve marked allowable in our pods of hopefully healthy people we love.

We have to have some connection. Father’s Day had arrived and while I woke with sadness in my chest, I needed to get my blood moving in different ways. Mix up the places we sit, the sidewalks we walk on, the conversations we’re having – variety is a great distractor.

Dylan locked our bikes to the roof of the car and the dog jumped in the back, panting heavily, as she always does when we transport her from here to there.

I’ve felt heavy for months. Laying on the ground helps. So do fresh flowers, and sourdough cookies, and sticking my hands in the dirt. I was hoping a drive may lighten the weight I seem to take on from the perceived painful energy of others.

As we drove, I looked west to the mountains and counted the snow capped peaks. Counted the cars in line for drive-up Covid tests. Counted the number of deep breaths I could take to let the grief and fear move through my tired body.

As the hour passed, we pulled up to the familiar intersection near the house, and a man about my brother’s age sat resting at the stop light. His back was arched, his face down, and he held a sign that said, “Can’t you just spare a dollar?” This man was someones loved one at some point. How long has he sat, ignored, unseen, unsure?

I pulled out my wallet and counted again, pulling crumpled bills from my purse that hasn’t been properly used in months.

I handed the cash to Dylan and said, “If you’re willing to risk it, we should give this guy cash. You can wash your hands when we get there.”

He rolled down the window, and we handed the man a few bucks. I didn’t make eye contact. I just wanted to help.

If I feel heavy, he may too.

We drove another block and scrubbed our hands clean, right after walking in the door.

It’s risky out there. Being human just is. One risk after the other.

Loving one another. Witnessing pain. Having hard conversations. Going grocery shopping. Driving in cars. Breathing in air of joggers who we don’t know if they are healthy. Facing the truth.

It’s all so risky.

And if we can choose to show up, over and over again, with our aching backs and light in our eyes, and hope in just a few dollars, our fears can be alleviated by miniature efforts to step into the truth.

It’s risky, yes. And beautiful too.

So we’re washing hands and weeping and hoping and praying and pleading. And still driving, and counting, and wondering how to apply the balm we all need to our wondering and waiting hearts. How can we find beauty in this risky space, too?