Thursday, August 20, 2020

Hope Lives in Our Memories

A few nights ago Nancy and I were sitting on our porch. We were looking down the hill at the lake and in the far distance, past the I-90 bridge, we could see the peaks of Mount Baker. I was sitting on our comfy outdoor couch and our view was beautiful and expansive, but I felt out of body, uncomfortable. I told Nancy that I feel, almost all the time, like I am on a long plane ride in a very uncomfortable middle seat. If I move I can feel comfortable, but the feeling lasts only for a moment and then I'm back in the squished, contorted position, unable to recline, unable to relax. For brief moments I can find peace and joy and relief, but before too long I go back to despair and worry and longing.

Before this pandemic I worried, but not constantly. Though I might not have been able to recognize it, I felt a general sense of peace. This feeling of imminent fear, of hyper-vigilance that I have now, was not with me all the time. I could recline. I could relax. I wasn't waiting for an unexpected surge or siege to hit at any moment. The very acknowledgment of this loss of peace fills me with grief. I don't want this feeling, this interminable cramped plane trip feeling. 

As I contemplated the feeling of emotional discomfort that I (and so many people I know) am experiencing right now, I became aware of my very black and white thinking with regard to this pandemic-- if the pandemic is over I will be comfortable; if the pandemic is here I will be in distress. I have no frame of reference for a reality such as we are living in right now.  

There are places in the world where the daily struggle is so much more profound than I could ever imagine. Thinking about this helps me. This perpetual dis-ease so many of us are experiencing right now is not new for millions of people. People in war-torn countries or extreme poverty or exploitive or abusive situations experience this feeling every day. What do they do? They find ways to get through it, one day at a time. They live with the struggle because they have to. Right now we are riding a wave that we, as individuals cannot stop. I cannot change the course of this pandemic. No matter how hard I work, I cannot change it. This helplessness is where my greatest discomfort lives. 

I began to think about other times in my life that I've been uncomfortable or in distress. Recently I was on a very long, arduous hike. The way up was exhausting and scary and the way down was jarring and practically wrecked my knees. At the end of that hike I was so happy! The struggle was over and I could sit in the car and drink long gulps of water. I could sink into a feeling of accomplishment and relief. There would be no more hiking that day and I could rest.

Or when I gave birth and was in labor for close to two days. When my midwife forbade me from getting horizontal and made me walk the stairs and the streets to get the baby moving. When she had me doing triangle pose to open my hips at the thirty-sixth hour of my endless labor. At the end of it all Lucia was born. The struggle was over and I was filled with lightness and joy.

But this pandemic is long and it is universal. It's not about me climbing a mountain or moving through the stages of childbirth. It's about billions of people working together to contain this virus. It's about leaders supporting communities and businesses and people to have enough food and housing and money to do the right thing. The little drops in the bucket that I add to the cause-- wearing a mask, social distancing, limiting contacts, not flying, even my work as a contact tracer-- feel meaningless in the face of this vastly expansive virus. So I sit in the middle ground, helpless, comfortable and safe for moments on my porch, but filled with fear and doubt when I think about the hugeness of this pandemic for even two minutes.

This is uncomfortable. This is insane. I want out. I want off this plane. But I don't get to choose that option. None of us does. So what is the answer? What is my answer? I once heard someone say, "hope lives in our memories." I've found this to be true. I think about what I know from the much smaller struggles in my life. When I look back at these painful, uncomfortable times to recall what got me through, here's what I remember: I had faith that the experience (the mountain, the labor, the breakup....) would end eventually;  I trusted my own strength and ability to endure the pain and discomfort. Remembering connects me to my resilience and gives me hope that this pandemic won't last forever. We really will get off this plane one day.

Friday, August 7, 2020

A World of Service

I regularly walk along a narrow path next to Lake Washington. It is a well-traveled path for both runners and walkers. With Coronavirus there is an unspoken agreement among most of us to step off of the path when walking towards an oncoming walker or runner. Usually there is some eye-contact and one person steps up the hill so there is the requisite six-feet of space. 

A few weeks ago I was walking with my earbuds in. I was talking to my friend Jenna and I was on a very narrow stretch of path when I heard a loud "GOOOO!" at the back of my head. It was a woman running, fast, shouting at me to get out of her way. I was shocked, jolted, and afraid. I decompressed with Jenna who'd heard the woman's insane yelling but the experience stuck with me. The unnecessary act of aggression revisited me several times like a flashback.

Then last week I was walking my dog on Lake Washington Boulevard, a popularly traveled street that is now temporarily closed to cars. There are tons of bikers, walkers, skaters, scooters and strollers on Lake Washington Boulevard these days; it feels like some kind of exotic boardwalk and I love it. On this particular day a little boy was riding his bike onto Lake Washington Boulevard from a side street when a super speedy bike racer was approaching this boy's entrance point. The speed biker had to move out of the boy's path, reducing his speed quite a bit. As the speed biker passed the boy, he yelled, "MORON!" 

"What the hell?!!!" I thought to myself and impulsively yelled to the boy, "You're not a moron. He's a moron?" I didn't want that poor kid to think that there was anything normal about what that grown man-baby had done. 

These experiences are so upsetting because they are micro-reminders of the selfishness and individualistic nature that has pervaded our nation. We need a complete overhaul, some way to step back and reinvest in community, in collective consciousness and kindness. As I contemplate the absence of goodness in my city and country, I am also preparing to send my fifteen-year-old back to school--to a system that will be thrown together online, a system that may or may not teach the kids anything, to a system that I fear will suck the passion for learning right out of their spongey, curious brains.

What if, instead of throwing our kids into a pieced together online system that sets everyone up for failure--kids, teachers, administrators and parents-- we did something totally different? What if we deemed the 2020-21 school year "The Year of Service?" It could be like Roosevelt's New Deal-- we'd enlist all of our kids, from elementary through college in service projects. Instead of going through the motions of learning something half-way, we would, as a society, teach all of our students the value of community,  contribution, and service.

The elementary school kids could write letters to isolated elderly people and plant community gardens. The middle and high school kids could clean the streets and pull invasive species from our parks, work at the food banks, tutor younger kids and build tiny houses. Kids of driving age could deliver meals to people and shuttle supplies to different projects. College-aged kids could help with all of that and take this project to the next level--documenting it, analyzing data, writing reports. Teachers would be the coordinators of the projects. Parents with time could assist. And at the end of the school year everyone will have learned something new. Everyone will have had the experience of helping, contributing, being a part of something amazing. Doesn't that sound better than a year of half-assing school?

I know it's just a fantasy, but what if we could make it happen? If you share this dream, if you want to make it happen too, spread the word. Share the idea. Let's do something different. Let's bring back kindness and community. Let's teach it in school and see what happens.

LJs Free Online Shopping

A few weeks ago I started adding the phrase, "with Corona on top" when talking about hard things. Anything challenging--- sickness...