pandemic

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.

Making Way

Standing at the back door, with a bit of wind blowing on my face, I turned to Dylan to say, “It’s happening!”

Seemingly overnight the trees in our backyard have begun to change colors. The tree with the little leaves always goes gold first, scattering quarter inch crunchies across the deck. The remnants track into the house with the dog, tuck themselves into outdoor couch cushions, and find themselves carried into the living room on stocking feet. The tiny ones are always the first to fall.

I asked Dylan when we went to Europe the other day. Three years ago this weekend we were in Paris, and I remember wishing, just slightly, that I wouldn’t miss our larger tree turning red in the backyard. The views of Parisian rooftops surely surpassed those in my backyard, but the nostalgia for the changing of the seasons lingered within me.

This is the second fall where we haven’t traveled. Our sources of excitement and stimulation have slowed to glacial pace, and I find myself staring out the back door, again waiting for magic to happen. We don’t have red leaves yet, but they are coming.

It’s easy to feel nostalgic as September turns to October. There are quotes and memes about letting the dead things go as our flowers wilt and sources of shade crisp and crunch. I’ve been talking to mentors and friends about the pruning in their own lives. Many feel purpose wilting, unsure of what will happen in the next season of hibernation. We thought we’d be over this by now, right?

I’ve spent the last five years writing about death and grief and loss. In these reflections, lessons of hope and wondering and recovery have unfolded, giving me, and hopefully others, comfort. As the days grow shorter, and I put my face upon cool glass.

Will this be another dark hole of a pandemic winter? Will looking for the light feel as difficult as it did last year?

In the pruning back, the raking up, and the setting to bed of our gardens, we get to choose what we will prepare to grow. Ann Voskamp once shared how she plants bulbs with her family this time of year, intentionally tucking something hopeful into the dirt to arrive in the spring.

I can relate to that wanting. To believe that good things will come, even as the dark days descend.

So for now, yes, enjoy the gold and the red and the mystical light reflecting off of trees and blue skies. Find your sweaters. Make a cup of tea. Rake and sift and shift the soil, knowing the work you are doing is sacred. Tuck a bulb in the dirt and wait. The preparation and making way, perhaps, are beautiful things.

Trying to Be Brave

First day of school pictures are filling up threads. I’m learning what my friend’s children want to be when they grow up and which acquaintences are sending their kiddos to private school. I’m wondering which schools are requiring masks and if it’s safe for me to be around people who have children under twelve.

In a recent Instagram post, Grace Cho wrote about how she cried when sending her kids back to school. I don’t know her personally, and appreciate her candor and appreciation for the ordinary good. She ended her caption with the words, “Nothing is the same. We’re all just trying to be brave.”

The world continues to be pummled with catastrophe, consequences and fears. For the ones paying attention, the darkness seems to be swirling in again, the temperature dropping for fears of our souls being sucked out as the dementors approach. Global pain flashes on screens, in story highlights, and rolls off our tongues in team updates. A friend lost her father. Another received the diagnosis she had been dreading.

Chocolate. That’s the remedy right? When things are overwhelming, and we feel as if we may faint, wizards nibble on a piece of chocolate.

This is such a bizarre time to be alive.

Years ago I quoted Sheryl Sandberg in a Christmas letter, using her words to reminding myself and others that when plan A doesn’t work, we can ‘kick the shit out of option B.’ It seems the companies I work with and my friends and family are on option E. Changing over to option F or G continues to be exhausting.

And still we wait.

I wonder if mask mandates will return, or the events we hoped for will be cancelled again. I wonder if those who I love will change their minds. And I wonder, how do we carry on through all of this?

We’re all just trying to be brave.

While we’re taught bravery is the courage of a lion, roaring loudly, making air move with our forceful breaths, I choose instead to tip toe into the field and lie down. Have you considered bravado isn’t the same for everyone? For rest is brave too.

Walking into office spaces as asked is brave. Changing jobs is brave. Admitting this isn’t working is brave. Wearing a mask so immunocompromised people can be safe is a super heroic act. Sometimes, even hard-to-understand defiance and adamance are brave attempts at protecting our wounded childhood selves.

Nibbling a bit of chocolate to overcome the waves of impending doom, maybe that’s brave too.

Anger and rage rarely change hearts. Rest and a bunch of daisies might. Where are you scared tonight? What letter back up plan are you analyzing? How are you carrying on?

,We’re all just trying to be brave. And, I hope that’s a beautiful thing.


PS – there are still spots for the As We Carry On writing workshops that will be offered August 21st and 24th. Learn more and save your spot here.

Maybe Living Fully

I walked through the front door and looked straight through the house to see Dylan wearing gloves in the backyard. A baby squirrel, so small its eyes were unopened, had fallen out of the nest in the tree shading our deck. He gently scooped up the creature and wrapped it in a towel.

We stared at each other, wondering what we should do as it whimpered quietly.

We called animal control and waited for the inevitable.

The morning came, and with it, a blessing of release for the creature who couldn’t make it through the night. The tiny body seared itself into my memory, for when I was brave enough to see, vulnerability, potential, and hope were revealed. We are all so very fragile.

Yes, it’s the circle of life, and the realities of survival of the fittest, but in a baby squirrel I saw so much more about what alive means. Those explanations never fill the gaps or provide solace for the being experiencing pain.

The weight of our fragility has been bringing me to tears these days. That we live to take a breath, in and out again, is miraculous enough to make me weep.

I’m tired of living afraid.

What now seemed safe perhaps isn’t, and the conflicting messages on masks and numbers has heightened my nervous system once again.

I find myself in a torn place – between wanting to consume everything I can about grief and our realities of sorrow, and also wanting to avoid all pain. I envy those who easily move on towards living.

Perhaps the balance is in the in-between.

I’m moved by ordinary things, both magical and mad.

Perhaps living fully is being scooped up after our falls, waiting to recover in piles of dirt or the garage towels.

Perhaps living fully is dirty work.

I know, with certainty, that living fully means allowing my tenderness to be witnessed.

And maybe, living fully is the opposite of waiting for the inevitable.

Maybe living fully is eating funfetti cake waiting six months for a half-birthday celebration and licking frosting laced with freezer burn from cold fingers.

Maybe living fully is calling a therapist and saying I need some help again.

Maybe living fully is hugs in the kitchen and snot smears on t-shirts.

Maybe living fully is showing up scared.

Maybe living fully is masks in the workplace, and the grocery store, and the crowded hallways.

Maybe living fully is the honoring of the in-between.

What a beautiful thing.

May your days be spent not waiting for the inevitable, but instead focused on tending the fragile and the beautiful and caring for others with gentle hands. And cake. I hope there is lot’s of beautiful cake.

Hollowing

My grief gremlin lives in my heart pocket. If you’ve read my words for awhile, you might have heard me mention her. A tiny little creature, she has dark navy feathers and big, pleading eyes. She gnaws on tendrils of memories, connections, and fibers that once connected me to other people, places, and things. She nestles, tucking tiny wings in towards her body and pops up on anniversaries, on birthdays, and trips to the grocery store. She seems to have flourished during the pandemic, reminding me of her presence on ordinary days, and in the boring spans of hours filled with background noise and scrolling thumbs.

Today, she introduced me to a new friend.

One growing alongside her, in the cramped space of a worn pocket lined with soft flecks of lint.

She told me she’s cautious to name this new wonder growing, because it’s miniature size still needs nurturing. She’s dabbling with the name Hope. Or purpose. But naming feels scary because naming is claiming the reality that there’s space for anything else to take up residence in a sacred space that has been filled with prickles and dark for so long.

In a miraculous thread of connections, I found myself on a Zoom call with a woman from New York this morning. We are discussing a new project (stay tuned for more details) and as she shared her experience with me, in her pause, this sentence stuck with me.

It was a dark point in my life. I was hollowing out and letting go to make room for new things to rush in.

I nodded deeply to her wisdom.

How long have I been hollowing? The scooping and digging and scraping and saying good bye seems to be incessant.

What this woman’s story gave me, though, was the reminder of the spacious space inside me that has been emptied. I’ve been clinging desparately, pulling at torn edges, to bring the tapestry back together with the remnants of what was.

What is is no longer. Has the pandemic revealed anything clearer?

In my incessant thinking, and all the time alone in my study, I’ve forgotten how to welcome the rushing. I needed time to finger the losses, to wallow, to wait. I’ve accepted the pain and for fear of more, I’ve forgotten how to welcome.

My gremlin, in her nesting, has done a fabulous job of hollowing. Now she’s ready to welcome more into the space.

What will come rushing remains to be seen. Welcoming. What a beautiful thing.

A Sore Tenderness

I went to get a massage yesterday to alleviate the developing hunch in my shoulders. When I walked in the door, the first thing the therapist asked after my name was, “Are you fully vaccinated?”

How bold to put the question I’ve been wondering about others out in front – a precursor to connection, a permission to proceed.

She welcomed me in to the space and I was met with the automated sounds of waves crashing on a noise machine. I completed the paperwork and she asked me what brought me in. What I was hoping to achieve?

I responded to all of the normal questions when one goes to see a new provider.

When asked, “Do you have any traumas?” I paused.

“You want me to list them here? I thought to myself. “Um, how far back do you want me to go? Are there folks who can answer no?”

I’ve met this question before and I’ve learned to be wary of how my answers are received. What does one need to know? When are folks simply curious?

To answer, I narrowed my scope. I ticked off the bus accident I was in in high school, a chronic crunch from hot days on tennis courts, an over heavy backpack from years as an academic overachiever. I spoke of my grief experience and that I carry anxiety in my hips.

She nodded, prodding no further with words. Instead, she turned to her hands to dig in to the story only a tense body can tell.

As I lay on a table covered in cool blue sheets, my masked face fought fabric and layers of protection to breathe. Skilled hands addressed deeply what I’ve been carrying from this pandemic and beyond.

I went home feeling relief.

People keep telling me to read the book “The Body Keeps the Score.” I’m afraid to pick up the title. Afraid of what may be revealed on those pages. That trauma and its adverse affects may be living in me.

You, too, have lived through a very traumatic time in our collective history. This pandemic isn’t over yet. The death rates may be slowing, and our bodies will be learning how to carry this experience for a beyond just a bit.

This morning, hoping for magic, I moved through a series of stretches. Where the therapist had focused her healing left a responsive ache in my muscles. I’ve been adjusted. I’m not free from pain.

Standing in my kitchen, waiting for water to boil, I watched a shimmering spider web descend from the trees out my front window. The strand was waving in the wind, arching from a leafy branch to settle on to the patio furniture waiting to be warmed by the sun. Do the spiders sense this global shift? Or are they simply doing what they know how to do? Reaching out. Webbing a place of belonging. Creating connections to ground oneself in the spaces in between.

Healing work takes practice. Kneading of muscles admits the nature of needing others to help us realign. In the reaching lies a sore tenderness and hope that we will once again connect from here to there. What a beautiful thing.

Divine We

After a recent Facebook binge, ie. doomscrolling session, my thumbs came to a rest. Traci Blackmon, a minister at the United Church of Christ, had posted this:

“Friends. As we ponder the validity of the CDC’s most recent announcement while the US remains at a 35% immunization rate and new cases and deaths, although significantly decreased, continue. As we reflect upon the surge of mutations that has now brought India to a full stop. Might I suggest the voice of individualism will tell us to count it a victory if I am ok, while the voice of the Divine would ask: What about others? History has proven we don’t ever go far when we go alone. WE are not yet well. “💞

Deep breath words. Ones that make me nod and want to weep, to swallow down a gulp in just a brief, overpowering moment.

Perhaps what Blackmon so eloquently captures in a paragraph is what I’ve spent fifteen months grappling with. The “me” mentality overpowers the “we” so often in our culture. I swim in ‘yeah buts’ and sentiments laced with, ‘well, that doesn’t affect me.’ The air is so thick, so humid, with these ideas that to those who won’t listen, my choice to stay home is conservative at best and just plain scared at worst.

I have been scared. You haven’t?

As mask mandates end and we go back to offices, I find myself clicking over to dashboards and charts in liberal media just as I have every single day since lock down number one. Yes, numbers are falling. Yes, vaccinations are happening. And yes, still cases climb, and people are dying and sigh, I could go on and on.

“What will it take for you to feel safe, Katie?” they ask me. I don’t have an answer yet.

Maybe the Divine is whispering to me, in my wonderings of what remains to be seen? How come our desire for connection and travel and a full plate of brunch still leaves those preparing your food vulnerable behind stoves full of simmering sauces?

I’m so good at asking, What about them? What do they need? What will I sacrifice in the name of safety or in the pursuit of kindness?

In a quick moment of rest, I heard another whisper.

Don’t forget, Ms. Katie, that ‘we’ includes you.

And I asked myself, What do I need?

I needed my mom to drive me from nursery to nursery in pursuit of plant starts and floral blooms. I needed a tiny cup of foaming milk, swirling espresso, and precisely six grams of vanilla syrup. I needed to sit in the dirt, to plunge shovels into loam, and to mix rich compost in with airy soil to create a place for something to grow. I needed a tiny cupcake to remember him by.

I need you to remember, we may be able to remove our masks now, but thousands are still scared and hurting and unsafe. We’re all going to carry on with remnants of this time like sand we took home from a trip to the ocean. We’ll find the grains in pockets of jeans, and at the bottoms of backpacks and work bags we left in the closet.

Where we walk next will be led by the foot steps we took last year, pacing in circles wearing carpet thin.

I felt a sense of relief with a second jab to the arm and this weekend for three days in a row, I hugged someone not my husband. Arms. Warm bodies. Your heartbeat in a chest next to mine. Beautiful, soul filling things.

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.

Mush

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

The green orbs sat patiently on my counter over the weekend. As the sun set towards seven, I sank a blade deep into the flesh of the avocado. Pivoting my palm, I split the fruit in two and plunged a spoon next to the pit. With a quick flick, the little nut popped out onto cutting board leaving smooth spittle as it rolled to a stop.

I scooped out the creamy flesh into the bowl, leaving the halves to be mashed and mixed into something delicious.

With the first shot in my arm, I’ve noticed I’m starting to feel like the shell, rather raw and scooped out.

I’m trying to reconnect with those who I haven’t seen in over fourteen months. Funny how we count the passing of time like the aging of a toddler. Only when we pass into the twenty-four month will we round up to years.

I hope we don’t pass that milestone. No one wants the terrible twos of this pandemic.

In cutting my re-entry teeth, I picked up the phone to a friend who I went to kindergarden with. She’s been back for awhile now and when I asked her what was new, she said, ‘Actually, a lot. I’m moving to Seattle next week.”

My stomach dropped and plopped into a bowl, turning to mush. I took a breath and smiled through the phone and said congratulations.

Another long-timer pair is selling their home and moving to California. A best friend is expecting a baby in July. With each update, I try to be thrilled for the change. New places to visit. New adventures to toast with champagne.

But mostly, I just feel scooped out.

The pandemic has carved from me the time and space I had hoped to fill with friendship. In our social distance, we’ve made choices and changed our shapes. My fear of being left behind kicks into overdrive.

Maybe this is where the metaphor fails and sadness takes over. I’m sad what was will no longer be. I recall our core group of family dinner crew and wonder who will fill the seats on our back patio whenever our little bistro backyard re-opens.

They talk about metamorphosis being a magical process. Transformation undergone in cocoons. What really happens in there, though, is an undoing. An unraveling. A mushing effect.

I’ve been cocooned for quite awhile. I’m not sure what will emerge. But in the scooping, I create space for what can be. I’m open to what will fill this next chapter.

And the mush? It waits, knowing life can transform into the delicious with a quick dash of salt. 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.