Saturday, January 30, 2021

Intentions are like Butterflies

For the past month, I have been doing a group meditation with my teacher Astrid. Between 10–15 of us meet on Zoom every morning from 6:15–7 am. We start the practice with an intention. My intentions are always simple — joy, peace, love, compassion. I have been a meditator for twenty years but I often skip days, sometimes even months. I notice a difference when I engage in a more devoted practice. I feel lighter, happier, more connected to myself.

The dictionary says an intention is something you aim or plan for. In meditation, it is also an opportunity to acknowledge what is already there. If my intention for the day is joy, then I call in a memory of joy, a time when I felt it. Then I let it fill me up. The intention to feel joy is possible because I’ve felt that feeling before. It is already in me and so it is possible for it to visit again. 

If my intention is joy, I just need to call joy out, to invite the feeling into my consciousness more deliberately. When the feeling comes, it is like a butterfly has been released, the awareness of being free and alive and beautiful. There’s a lightness in my chest, an ease in my shoulders and jaw, a smile radiating from my heart. In that sacred time of meditation, it is like I am in a little tent, warm and dry, lantern-lit, with my intention like a beautiful butterfly circling me as I sit with the memories, images, and sensations that emerge from the presence of joy.

When my meditation is over I begin my day. I don’t actively think about my intention again but it is with me. The more I invite the intention in through a daily meditation practice, the easier it is to call it out the next time. Over time, after enough invitations, the butterfly that originally stopped by in the tent is so comfortable visiting that she hangs around even when I’m not in the tent of meditation. If I invite her in enough, she becomes so used to being with me that she perches on my headboard at night while I’m sleeping. Eventually, she might even sit on my shoulder keeping me company while I move around, living my life.

When I meditate I am the only one awake in the house. Everything is dark except for the small candle I’ve lit on the table in front of me. My dog Freckles usually sleeps beside me, snoring away, his warm back gently rising and falling against my leg. Every morning my intention is for the day ahead. I meditate on the main floor of the house, my partner Nancy is upstairs, and my daughter Lucia is downstairs.

Once I feel a sense of joy or peace or love, when I’m in the tent with the beautiful butterfly, I imagine two beams of light coming from my body — one going upstairs to Nancy and one downstairs towards Lucia. My tent becomes bigger, filled with butterflies, silently floating above my beloved family as they sleep. 

In those moments I am somewhere else, fully ensconced in an alternate reality. I am splashing in the waves of the feeling I’ve called out, basking in the rays of joy or peace or love. It’s a wonderful, enlivening feeling and I feel happy there. But after a few minutes, or longer if I am lucky, I come out. I come back to earth. I make my oatmeal and let Freckles out. I get ready for work and greet my family. But the butterflies are still with me. They are settling in, inside my body, still there, always there.

Every day is an opportunity to invite in an intention. Sometimes it is the same one as the day before, sometimes it is a new one, something else I need or long for — peace, freedom, love. Whatever it is, it starts with an invitation into what is already there. Through meditation, we are not trying to change ourselves. We are simply exploring what is already within us and gently calling out what we want or need to feel in that moment.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Laura Ingalls Wilder Didn't Get Divorced

The other day my sister Amy said, “If you’re still together in the pandemic, you’re doing great.” Our relationship standards are lower for sure. Hot sex? Probably not. The pandemic isn’t hot. Date night? If you can find the energy to get out of your sweats, maybe. Couples are just getting through this thing. Hopefully, people are also being a little bit more generous and kind with each other knowing that we’re in this for the long haul. But honestly, if couples are still civil with one another, that’s an accomplishment.

Thinking about how couples are fairing these days made me think about pioneer times. I have a small obsession with the pioneers. I love Willa Cather and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I watched Little House on the Prairie religiously. I thought Ma and Pa were the perfect parents and I felt that Laura was a true kindred spirit (it helped that we had the same name.) Life was hard then, but simple. Once the land was settled, they needed to build a temporary structure and barn for the horses to get through the first long winter. When the weather warmed enough, work began to build a real house that everyone could live in. Then it was time to clear the fields for planting. 

Building a permanent barn and fencing for the crops would have to wait until the following spring. Things moved slowly because each little settling family was on their own. They had to make do with what they had. Families were stuck together in pioneer times. Their survival depended on it. Ma and Pa were always loving and supportive of each other, and Mary, Laura, and Carrie helped out as much as they could.

In some ways, we’re like pioneers these days, except we have a lot of technology and creature comforts. We’re little isolated units surviving on our own. We have to depend on the people in our homestead, just like in Little House on the Prairie. Back then, if Ma was tired of Pa complaining about her cooking she’d never ask for a divorce. Where would she go? 

According to one study, divorce rates during the pandemic have actually gone down 34%. Our economy is in the toilet and many people, especially women, have lost their jobs. Looking for a new place to live, much less afford one, when there is a lockdown, is next to impossible. Getting a divorce right now simply isn’t realistic from a practical standpoint. But I wonder if there’s something else happening.

I know a lot of couples who are climbing the walls, some even contemplating divorce, but because splitting up is not easy right now people are trying everything else first. Times were really hard for Laura Ingalls when she first married Almanzo Wilder. They moved around the midwest — South Dakota, Wisconsin, Missouri. Almanzo got diphtheria and became partially paralyzed. They lost a son and both their barn and house burned down. They struggled with issues we cannot imagine in our comfortable, modernized lives. 

For them, staying together was an absolute necessity. I wonder if the same thing is going on for many couples now. Will we see a surge in divorces when the pandemic is over? Or will people have acclimated to this new way of life — — hard, but simple? 

We’re all learning about ourselves during this pandemic. And, if we’re in a cohabitating relationship, we’re learning about that person as well, maybe more than we want. We’re spending a lot of time together, doing our best in our relationships. We’re in our own little version of pioneer times so we’re trying to work it out or doing our best until we can get the heck out. 

I wonder if couples are, out of necessity, just trying a little harder. Perhaps they’re just managing for longer than they thought they could. Maybe we’re all getting a little bit tougher in the pandemic, dealing with things we didn’t know we had the fortitude to deal with before. Only time will tell when we see what happens to our divorce rate in a few years.

And I wonder if there had been less isolation, less dependence on each other in pioneer times if divorce would have been an option. I read a lot about Laura Ingalls Wilder as I was thinking about writing this piece. She was a scrappy, determined woman who lived during a time when surviving meant enduring hardships that many of us would turn away from if we had the choice. 

After many years of struggle, the Wilders finally settled permanently in Missouri. They used all of the skills they’d garnered from settling different terrains over the years and built a successful farm and a ten-room farmhouse. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote throughout her life as much as she could, but her work settling the land and farming came first. It had to. I wonder if Laura Ingalls Wilder was happy. Despite her ultimate success with her husband, did she ever fantasize about living her life differently, away from Almanzo? Did she wish she could spend more time on her writing than on perfecting her poultry and cattle expertise?

Laura Ingalls Wilder eventually partnered with her daughter Rose to write and publish the prolific body of work we now know so well. Rose moved to San Francisco, got married, had a baby. And got divorced. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Schadenfreude: FOMO meets Fairness

When I hear about people going to parties or I see photos on Facebook of friends with their arms around each other I get mad. I saw Alicia Keye’s birthday party on Instagram and I felt filled with judgemental rage. Am I experiencing FOMO or am I angry that these people are not as rigid in their rule-following as I am? How can that person be inside that other person’s house?! Without a mask?! The truth is that I don’t know anyone’s story. I don’t know who is in a pod or who has been vaccinated or who has had COVID recently and has a magic three-month immunity window. I feel more in control if I think I know things. Then I can properly judge those people and feel better about myself.

When I experience FOMO, my missing out hackles rise up and my justice tentacles wave madly. I want to drive around in my car with a megaphone and call out the unfairness of it all. I am missing out even though I am doing it by choice. I could do those things, but I don’t because I don’t want to risk getting COVID. I don’t want to spread COVID. Those people who are making those choices are assessing their own risks. And hopefully, in their risk assessment, they have a plan for not spreading the virus.

There are FOMO opportunities all over the place. Sometimes I’m missing out and sometimes I’m getting the perks. I can go to the bookstore near my house and look for a book (20-minute limit) but my sister in Chicago, an avid reader, can’t go into her local bookstore. My sixteen-year-old niece in New Orleans goes to parties and sleepovers but my daughter Lucia hasn’t had a social life in almost a year.

It’s not fair! I want everyone to play by the same rules, to get the same number of Red Vines, to have the same amount of time in the beanbag chair. It’s old stuff, this sense of fairness and it comes out big time with COVID. In response to my big feelings about not getting what others are getting, I find a hard-backed chair in the corner of the room to sit in, cross my arms and look down at them in judgment — those losers, eating their stupid Red Vines, sitting in that dumb beanbag chair.

I don’t like sitting in that hard-backed chair of judgment. Honestly, it’s kind of lonely and depressing. But I find myself there time and time again because I want the world to be fair. I want the white supremacist terrorists to be treated like the Black Lives Matter protesters. I want the COVID deniers to get COVID instead of the COVID rule abiders. The fact that some people still get to have a semi-normal life and not get COVID brings out my very worst. If life were fair the people who play by the rules would have all the Red Vines and get to nap in the bean bag chair.

The unsavory mix of FOMO and fairness is schadenfreude. Schadenfreude is to experience joy or delight over someone else’s misfortune. Schadenfreude is the leprosy of emotions. It is truly undesirable.

The feeling of schadenfreude, for me, comes from sitting in that chair of judgment for too long, from not appreciating the very simple fact that life isn’t fair. It just isn’t. Experiencing schadenfreude is an embarrassing admission. I’m not proud of it and I’d like to get rid of it.

As I watched the imbeciles destroying our nation’s Capitol on January 6th, I was secretly hoping that they would learn something. That, in acting so repugnantly, they would all get COVID and understand how justice really works. And when they were struck down by the virus I would feel vindicated, elated with my righteousness.

But instead, my local congresswoman, a COVID rule-follower, locked in a room with a hundred other congresswomen and men got COVID because some dingbat congressmen in the room refused to wear masks. No justice there. Not fair. 

FOMO is real. We all feel it in different ways. Some people wish they had a big family that made life interesting. Others wish they could escape from their families and just have a week alone in their house. Some people wish they lived in the sun and others wished they could ski every weekend. But FOMO is also pointless because it is just an invitation to suffering. Choosing to wish we were somewhere that we aren’t or to have something that we don’t is part of what creates schadenfreude.

And fairness? It’s not real. Growing up, one of my mom’s mantras with my two sisters and me was, “Life isn’t fair.” I hated that saying and I never say it to my own daughter. But I know it. I believe it. Fairness isn’t possible because people live their lives according to their life circumstances and values and none of us can know what those are for anyone but ourselves. The more energy I put towards trying to find fairness, the more my schadenfreude bubbles up inside. 

I don’t want schadenfreude in my life. Yuck. To rid myself of this odious sentiment, I must remind myself to acknowledge the ever-presence of FOMO — to see it for what it is and let it go. And I must internalize my mother’s mantra, the simple truth that life isn’t fair. It just isn’t. There’s no debate. Sometimes you get some Red Vines, and sometimes you don’t. But being pissed at the guy sitting in the bean bag chair isn’t going to make you feel better. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Angels Among Us

 At Joe Biden’s inauguration, he used the phrase “our better angels [of our nature]”. His exact quote was,

“Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our ‘better angels’ have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward.”

The first time I remember hearing that phrase was about a year ago when I was walking around Seward Park, an old-growth forest near my house. I was listening to a podcast when I heard the phrase “the better angels of our nature.” It made me think about what my better angels are. I always connect with people at the park — I say hi, wave, smile, share appreciation for a heron or an eagle. I love the park and the people there. I love the trees and the birds and the turtles. But I was aware that day how, though I did smile (we weren’t yet wearing masks outside), nod or wave to different people, there was also a pallor of despair, like a persistent grey cloud, stalking me. It was the beginning of the pandemic and everyone was on high alert. 



I remember the feeling I had so clearly that day. As I walked around the park, prone to constant sniffles, I pulled out my hanky to blow my nose and a man walking towards me quickly made a b-line to the other side of the path. He wasn’t trying to be rude or unkind. I didn’t blame him. All of us were just starting to adapt to this new way of life. But I felt a sting, a little pang of rejection.

We are now deeply into this sustained change of life. And we are changed. The four years of living in a country run by a man who disregards our environment and humanity in so many ways has taken a toll on me. COVID-19 may have tipped me over the edge. I worry about people I love. I worry about the people living in tents all over our city. I worry about my old parents and your old parents and my friends who have auto-immune diseases. I worry about my daughter and my nephews and nieces and all the young people who are struggling.

I worry that living so isolated from each other over the last several months has muted our better angels. At the park, when the man crossed away from me on the path, I totally understood why he did that, but as I look back on it now, I can see that it was the beginning of several months of micro-actions like these that have been happening for almost a year. We have all been doing them. The news is telling us to steer clear of each other, to stay home, to worry. 

When I got home that day almost a year ago, I looked up “the better angels of our nature” and learned that this phrase was used by Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address. Psychologist Steven Pinker wrote a book with the same title and uses the phrase as a metaphor for four human motivations — empathy, self-control, the “moral sense,” and reason. (1) We tend to lose focus, especially in times like these, of the innate goodness of ourselves and each other. And when you look at all the little distancing micro-actions we’re all making, how could we not? 

What I needed then and what I need now is to feel calm and at ease. I want to come back to connecting to other people with empathy, self-control, moral sense, and reason. Where do we turn when the majority of people in our midst are suffering from the same anxieties and fears that we are? 

The only thing that makes sense to me is to turn outwards instead of inwards — to look towards those people, even if they are turning away. We can still stay safe. We can still follow the CDC recommendations, but we can find ways to connect. Share food with your neighbors. Don’t buy all the toilet paper. Check-in on your friends who live alone. Tell your kids to be kind to their classmates in the chat rooms at school.

And helping actually helps. For the past several months, every Friday, my partner Nancy and I have volunteered at the senior center near our house. A handful of us prepare hot lunches for close to two hundred homebound seniors. It is one of the highlights of my week. A few weeks ago the director of the senior center gave the volunteers letters to take to a local hospital to get vaccinated. Originally Nancy rejected the letter, “Can’t someone else use this more than us?” she asked.

“You are working in close contact with others doing this work and we want you to be safe. Get vaccinated,” she told us. 

Yesterday we took our letters and went to get vaccinated. As we waited in line, standing on blue dots six feet away from each other, holding our important clipboards, wearing our numbered stickers indicating what group we were in, I felt so grateful to be there. I felt like the seniors must feel every day when the volunteer knocks on their door with a hot lunch. I was being given a gift and it made me feel safe and loved.

When it was finally our turn in line I went to one vaccination station and Nancy to the other. We each got our shots, mine in my left arm and her in her right, and then they ushered us into an auditorium to wait fifteen minutes for any side effects.

As we waited, again in chairs spaced six-feet apart from each other, I said to Nancy, “This feels surprisingly calm and easy.” It wasn’t what I was expecting. I had imagined desperate people clawing their way to the front of the line, pushing ahead of old women in wheelchairs, conning the staff into giving them a shot. But there was none of that. It was serene, calm, and everyone was kind.

The nurses ushering us through the line were helpful. They assisted people in filling out their forms, they leaned in to hear the quiet voices of the elders, they smiled and gently laid a hand on backs or waists or arms to guide us to our destination. 

When I finally sat down across from the nurse who would vaccinate me, she was so happy, even joyful to be giving me the vaccine. Yes, she and her colleagues did hundreds of shots each day, arm after arm, weighed down in their PPE gear. But they weren’t burdened. They were activating their better angels and connecting with all of these grateful people. When Nancy told her nurse to “hang in there,” her nurse replied, “Oh, thanks, but I’m good. I love this. I really love it.” 

On the drive home from getting vaccinated Nancy thanked me for getting her involved at the senior center. It is one of her great joys in life, she told me. Mine too, I told her back. Just like the nurses giving the vaccines, to be able to connect with people by giving, by helping, enables the giver to feel a sense of hope and joy. It’s so simple. That giving connection feeds the heart and soul of both the giver and the receiver. It’s a win-win.

The despair is real these days. There is pain and stress and grief everywhere we look, but there is also generosity and love and hope. It doesn’t come by sitting and waiting for change to come. It comes when we activate our better angels. And, just like Joe Biden said almost two weeks ago, if enough of us come together, activating our better angels, it will carry all of us forward. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Morning Writing-- Like Helium in a Balloon



I look forward to going to bed every night. I am a deep sleeper and I love the process of falling asleep, feeling myself slowly let go of the day and sinking into the night. My natural clock has always told me to wake up early and, besides the early parenting years when I was nursing or doing some other care for my daughter, the early hours have always been my own. For the past several years this first part of my day has started with writing. 

I write to clear my thoughts, to get myself emotionally organized. As a non-linear, disorganized, multi-tasker, my brain is almost never quiet. Writing helps me feel grounded in some way before I begin my day. So, every morning before I do anything else, I write. Before I speak to anyone or look at my email or phone, I write. This is when I have a clear channel to my truest thoughts.

I always write first, consult later.  If I have an idea, I know not to speak it out loud to another person before I write it on my own. If I share it first, more often than not, I lose my inspiration to write about it. Once I share it, my inner idea feels tainted, weighed down by another perspective. My morning writing hours are like time in a helium balloon. As long as the thoughts or ideas are still in my head, there is a feeling of floating and weightlessness. The voices and perspectives in my mind are ever-changing. It is as if reality is suspended and I am somewhere else entirely. I am on a mental adventure, my mind floating above the earth, noting the details of the world around me. And then, when what I've written I feels complete, when my thoughts are clear, I am ready to come down. 

I've tried to write at other times of the day but it doesn't work. For me, the flow comes in the very early morning. Early morning is the space between asleep and awake. It is the time between night and day, the last few hours between dark and light. It is the neutral ground where the unconscious and the conscious greet each other and come together to create a magnificent blend of truth.

In the neverland between sleeping and fulling waking, my mind is neither one nor the other. The gift is in the quiet reverberations from the night before and the comforting awareness that the day ahead is coming soon. There is energy and creativity in the space between the two worlds. I always begin writing by listening to the voices of the night. I might not remember my dreams, but I have a sense of where I've been in the hours behind me. I write what I feel in each moment. Like a sunrise, the ideas, images, details, rise up out of the darkness into the light, making their way onto the page in the form of words and phrases.  

For me there is a limit to my time writing and so it is sacred. Many days it is my morning meditation. And when I skip my writing time there is a feeling throughout the day that something is missing. I long for it throughout the day. I miss the floating, the freedom that comes from lingering in the middle ground for that short time every morning. 

But then, faithfully, the night comes again. The sun sets, the day winds down and it is time again for bed. And I know, as I tuck myself into the familiar cocoon of sheets and blankets and my favorite pillow, that sleep will come soon. In the morning, I'll have another chance to step into the early morning darkness and write. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Need a Tow Truck?

You've driven into a muddy ditch in a big, heavy pick-up truck. It's raining a little bit and you think you'll be able to get out. It's just the right rear tire that's stuck. You take a deep breath, turn the wheels toward the road and push hard on the gas. The wheels spin and you move a few inches, but as soon as you take your foot off the gas, you feel the truck settle back. 

Now both rear tires are inches deep in the mud. It's raining harder and you begin to wonder if you will be able to get out of this ditch before nightfall. You find some cardboard in the back of the cab and quickly tear it into two pieces, putting one under each rear tire, hoping this will help get past the mud. Once more you gun the engine but make little headway. As soon as you take your foot off the gas, you sink again into the mud.

By this time you've given up the idea that you'll make it home by dinner. Your shoes are caked with mud, your hair is wet, and you're cold. This isn't working, you think to yourself, I can't do this alone. So you pull out the insurance card from your glove box and call the emergency roadside assistance. They ask what the problem is and what is your location. They tell you they will get there as soon as possible. You get back in the truck, text your partner or mother or friend, or none of them or all of them, and tell them your situation. And then you wait. There is nothing more you can do on your own to get out of the ditch. 

The grooves your tires have made, the grooves all four wheels are spinning in helplessly, are like the emotional patterns we form in our lives. I am stubborn. I hate asking for help. I feel like a loser if I need to ask for advice or support. In my life I've suffered unnecessarily by insisting that I had no weaknesses. And I've hurt other people too, by denying their help and support, by rejecting their efforts to be loving and kind.

As I've gotten older this trait has softened. But over the course of my life, this stubborn independence got me into a lot of trouble. I was the person who would sit in the truck, waiting out the cold and rain for days, hoping the rain would stop and the earth would harden so that I could get out of the ditch myself. There are those who are very much the opposite. They give up before trying-- victim to whatever afflicts them. Before even trying to get out of the ditch they call for help, dismissing their own abilities before exploring what they might be.

There is a middle ground though, a space between stubborn and passive, between hardass and victim. This is the place of acceptance. Accepting that you need help, but only after tapping into your own strength first. It is a beautiful place, a place of self-agency and inter-connection. In the height of my need to do everything on my own, when I rejected all help, all love, I was alone. Rejecting support deepened that feeling of aloneness, dug deeper grooves, muddier trenches. 

For those at the other end of the spectrum,  those who experience life more passively, there is a void too. It's lonely there. In that place, of sitting in wait, longing for someone else to take responsibility, make a move, create an action, there is no power. And in each moment of denying one's own abilities, giving it over to someone else, the loneliness grows, the truck wheels sink a little deeper, and getting out feels impossible. 

People like me need to accept their limits, open up to help and support and love. It is through this new path that we make our way out of the mud. Those who believe that strength and power live outside of themselves need to go inside, experiment with their personal strength and power first. They might have an idea about how to position the wheels of the truck or how to use the cardboard. They might not need to call the tow truck. 

We're all somewhere on the path to this middle ground, this place of accepting a way of being that is other than what we think we are. For me it's asking for help, letting go of the control. For you it might be taking the reins, having more agency over your life and your decisions. We're all learning something that will free us from the muddy trenches. And each time we try a different way, the less familiar way, we create different grooves, a way out of the mud. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Box of Enough

I have a friend who's ex is planning a trip to Hawaii with their kids. My friend is furious. The travel plans to Hawaii are totally against their state's travel restrictions and it's not a necessary trip. My friend is furious. It puts her and the whole family at risk. I am, of course on the side of my friend, not just because she is my friend, but because I am a rule abider. I believe that, if we all followed the COVID rules, we'd be a lot further into healing this country of the virus. 

My friend's conflict with her ex has got me thinking about how differently people are handling the restrictions in this pandemic. In seventh grade I learned that World War Two lasted six years and that Anne Frank hid in a tiny hidden room for more than 700 days. I remember thinking how impossible that would be-- to endure that kind of extreme hardship for so long. 

But I have endured. We have endured. We are still enduring. We are not in a war or hiding from the Nazis, but our lives have radically changed. We cannot travel where we want, we cannot see our friends or family, our children cannot go to school, we cannot go out in the world and feel safe from the virus. If someone told me ten years ago that this is what my life would look like one day, I would have thought the same thing I did in seventh grade, that it would be impossible to endure.

But almost a year in, I am okay. My family is okay. What we have is enough. We have enough food, money, clothes, heat, space.  Our little world, the walls of our house, have become enough. It's as if we've grown inward, creating ways to evolve within the confinement instead of looking beyond the walls in search of something more. In the absence of this possibility, we do with what we have and it becomes enough.

It isn't easy, but it's possible. Right now my partner Nancy is doing a twenty-eight day strength-training class. My daughter Lucia is going through her closet and selling clothes on Depop. I do water colors and jump in the lake every day. We eat dinner together every night and sometimes we play Scrabble. Every few weeks or months one of us comes up with a new passion or goal or idea. We are all discovering ways to create and recreate ourselves in the confinement of our home.

Our home has become our little box of everything. And as I think of my friend's ex, taking the kids to Hawaii to get a break from the confinement of the pandemic, the confinement that we are all living in, I think I understand what motivates her. Her box is not enough. She has not settled into it. She is fighting to get out of the box instead of figuring out how to live within it. 

I'm not glad to be in a pandemic. It's scary and lonely and boring. But I can see now that it's possible to find a sense of peace and equanimity within it.  I understand that by accepting reality as it is right now, by breathing what life we can into our little box, that it becomes enough. Instead of living in panic, desperate to escape the box, we inhabit it.  We occupy all the different rooms, turn on all of the lights, open all of the closets and drawers, and use all of the appliances. We find all of the hidden spaces and discover books we haven't read and recipes we've never cooked.

 It would be a lie if I said I didn't miss my family, my friends, the adventures I used to have outside of this little box. I miss all of that and hope that one day I'll travel and hug my mom and share meals with my friends. But to hope for that, to wish for something different when we are in a pandemic will only bring me suffering. It will make me claustrophobic and maniacal. I'll want to break every window in my house and run screaming through the streets without a mask. So I settle into my box, look around and see that, though it's not everything I want, for now what's in this box is enough.  


Monday, January 18, 2021

When Joy Visits

Last night joy visited my house. First it showed up while learning TickTock dances with my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia. The absurdity of doing the dances invoked radical freedom and playfulness. A sense of letting go that comes only when all the players are aligned, when the moment is just right. Then it reappeared when my partner Nancy brought a New Yorker to the dinner table to get help understanding a cartoon. That led to all of us trying to come up with clever captions for other cartoons in the magazine which led to eating ice cream out of the cartons and stuffing chocolate popcorn by the handful into our mouths. We laughed and laughed-- at ourselves, at each other. 

Joy is the opposite of a bag or heavy rocks on your back. Joy is that moment in the movie theater, at the end of the best movie you've ever seen, the perfect classical music playing as the credits roll. Popcorn smell in the air. Eyes fixed on the screen, shadows of other theater-goers beginning to move, the sounds of wrappers crunching, whispers as people slip their arms into their coats. And you, in stillness, experiencing all of it, while relishing in the afterglow of that perfect movie. Waiting for the moment when you're saturated in it, ready to put your own coat on, crunch up your popcorn bag, and head outside.

Joy is warm wind, a gentle tornado that smells like fresh baked bread softly swirling around you. Carrying you through life's moments, light, free, alive. Where does joy come from? It lives inside of us but gets silenced by the weight of the world. Like a grouchy first grader, pouting in the corner for reasons unknown until there is the moment when you look over at them, stick out your tongue and make your eyes big and silly. And they smile back, then laugh a little bit, they run over and wrap their little arms around your big legs. And there, in that split second, is an explosion of lightness, a moment of rapture.

When joy comes, it is all-encompassing and we can't feel anything else. The bag of rocks becomes weightless, as if the wind from the warm tornado is carrying their burden. Joy comes from within each of us but is expanded by the energy from those around us. We are the warm wind to each other. Yesterday Nancy and I walked to the grocery store. We had only one bag and it was heavy with a huge jar of coconut oil and a big bag of onions. Eventually we each took a one handle and walked home sharing the load. Each of our loads was lighter and the walk home was much more pleasant.

When Lucia was five years old, we took her to New Orleans. We were standing on a big open veranda in the French Quarter surrounded by my mother and two close friends. We had beautiful pastries and good coffee sitting on the table and the sun was bright. As we sat and visited,  no place to go, no need to rush, a warm wind began to blow. Lucia, a child of the Pacific Northwest, accustomed to always wearing a fleece, even in the summer, closed her eyes and felt the warm wind on her skin. When she opened her eyes she said, "I love the warm wind."

I will never forget that moment. It was so pure and perfect. That moment, like the newest addition to my library of joy memories added last night, is a touchstone back to what many of us need right now. It can feel counterintuitive for me to feel joy when there is so much pain and devastation around us. But joy is the sustenance of the soul,  just like food is the nourishment of our bodies.

When we have moments, like I had with my family last night, that is an opportunity to capture the experience like a photograph or a video, like the perfect movie. As I sit here and write this I can feel the joy from last night. It takes me right back to the laughter and delight I shared with Lucia and Nancy. I feel a rush of love for my family and genuine hope for the future. Joy is always inside of us, but these days it might feel more hidden. Once in a while, there are those wonderful, magical moments when joy is set free. Keep yourself open for these moments. They will help you carry your bag of rocks, at least for a little while. 



Sunday, January 17, 2021

A Dying Dream

Four years ago, after the presidential election, my then 12-year-old daughter Lucia and I wrote thank you letters to Hillary Clinton. When Clinton lost the presidential race, writing to Hillary was my first instinct. I needed to tell her what her running for president had meant to me. I also needed to find a way for my 12-year-old daughter to process her grief about the loss. I didn’t know four years ago what a profound, devastating experience Hillary Clinton’s loss would be, not just for me and Lucia, but for our entire country, for the world. 

When Hillary Clinton ran for president, a new level of hope and excitement unfurled for me. I was raised by feminist parents. My father, even back then, was the Board President of Planned Parenthood in Northwest Indiana. He taught my sisters and me to play football and encouraged us to start a team at our school. My mother worked tirelessly for accessible health services for low-income women and helped us write letters of concern and complaint about nuclear arms to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

Even with these activist, feminist roots, I never believed, could never imagine that a woman could be president. Sure, I fantasized, I hoped, but I didn’t really believe it. A woman would make so much difference. A woman would truly would change the world. But actually having a woman as President of the United States felt like a pipe dream. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton looked like she was getting close. I let myself believe. The unimaginable became thinkable. My daughter was my proxy. I shadowed her enthusiasm, tentatively watching her true belief, trying to actually experience it for myself. So many years of doubt had left me standing on the sidelines of really buying into the idea that a woman could be our nation’s commander in chief. But for those few weeks before the election I stepped over the line to stand with my daughter in the land of believing.

And then Hillary Clinton lost. The electoral college declared Voldemort our leader, and my heart broke. The night of the elections, after gearing up for a thrilling victory, my partner Nancy and I watched Lucia sob over the horrific results. We helplessly watched her cry teenage tears of disillusionment and disappointment. And my heart broke a little bit more. The next morning when the dust had settled a little bit, I told my family that I was going to write to Hillary and tell her what her running for president had meant to me. I invited Lucia to do the same. It took weeks to get the letters done. They were difficult to write because the blow of the loss had been so painful. Writing the disappointment was almost too much to bear.

And now here we are, a few days before Voldemort, the little shell of a man who’s selfishly wreaked havoc across our country finally leaves the White House. For four years, he has carried the torch of destruction, like a toxic Olympic flame, across this land, tainting it, state by state, with his narcissistic interests along with a deadly virus, to this final point where we are now — -engulfed in flames of violence, destruction, and despair.

Looking back on these last four years, I feel affirmed. I feel righteous. Hillary Clinton was the right choice. And I feel angry. What if Hillary Clinton had been the one leading this country over the last four years? Would unemployment and hunger be ravaging our country? Would Celebrity Wheel of Fortune have Drew Carey playing for the food bank in Cleveland? Would people be hoarding toilet paper and chastising each other for wearing or not wearing masks? 

The possibility for healing this country with a new administration, one that includes a WOMAN, leaves my heart racing with excitement and joy. But I’m not all in. I’ve dropped back into the shadows, not sure this dream can come true. And this time I fear Lucia is lurking in the shadows with me. In the last four years I fear that she has lost the vision, the dream, the pureness of believing in something impossible becoming possible.

For the next four years, we will have a new administration. We will have a woman in the White House. Kamala Harris. A powerful, intelligent, confident woman. In the rubble of this destruction that Mr. Man-baby, Temper-tantrum, Spoiled-brat Donald Trump has left us, we need a woman. I find myself tentatively hopeful, like I was that night four years ago when I dipped my toes into the pool of believing that America could support a woman for president. But my hope is tainted. It’s damaged by thousands of tiny blows from the last four years.

Those of us who wanted to believe in possibilities four years ago are shattered. During Trump’s presidency, we’ve travelled so far away from our vision of goodness, of greatness, of true change, that we need to start from scratch. We’re too exhausted to fantasize, to dream, even to truly hope. We simply want safety. The bigger things — equality, equity, empathy — still seem far away. 

My heart breaks again for my daughter, for all the young women and girls who dreamed the dream of Hillary Clinton four years ago. What they’ve learned in these last four years is that their dream isn’t possible. My hope is that maybe, little by slowly, day by day, one small repair at a time, Vice President Kamala Harris can help rebuild the dream of possibility for so many of us.


Friday, January 15, 2021

The Wood Wide Web


Since my daughter Lucia was an infant I have worried about screen time. She didn't get any until she was two-years-old. I've carried a screen time worry around with me for her sixteen years of life like a satchel of rocks on my back. As a mother of teenager in Corona I have had to loosen the reigns more than ever before. I can see that her phone is her primary way to stay connected to the outside world, and to herself.

In the absence of the physical presence of her peers, her phone-- FaceTime, SnapChat, Instagram are all she has to actually feel connected to her people. But the worry is always there for me. It's like a pilot light in my chest, just a slight flutter of panic, ready to ignite at any moment. Nothing significant with Lucia and her phone needs to happen. She doesn't have to be cyber-bullied or be caught sexting. Just thinking about how her relationship with her phone might be hindering or degrading her cognitive and emotional development can ignite my little pilot light into a mini bonfire in my chest, engulfing my entire torso. As the inferno blazes, all rational thought stops and I become desperate to save her. I feel compelled to make a new rule or give a compelling lecture or share a fear inducing real-life story about cell phone addiction and college drop out rates.

Sometimes I follow the panic and subject Lucia to a verbal tirade, but lately I've been able to hold my tongue. I've thought about how right now her phone is her survival tool. It is helping her communicate with her friends, with the world that is important to her-- TickTock, fashion, recipes, make up. She can see what her friends are doing and she can share pieces of herself, pieces that need to be seen for her to feel alive, connected, and nourished as a teenager.

The image of trees in a forest comes to me. They are rooted in place, yet they communicate through mushrooms-- called the mycorrhizal network. The trees share water and nutrients through the roots of mushrooms. The saplings, unable to reach the sun, benefit from the older, taller, more well-established trees who share their bounty with the little ones. These older trees, called Mother Trees, have deeper roots and the strongest fungal connections. They use these connections to sense distress in the saplings and help send water and other nutrients when they are in need. It's even been discovered that Mother Trees can detect the roots of their relatives and direct nutrients specifically to them.

Scientist Peter Wohlleben coined this network of mushroom roots the wood wide web. Trees depend on this web of information to survive. Right now, we are depending on our electronic devices to connect, to survive. My entire household uses the screen to work, do school, talk to family and friends, do exercise classes, have social gatherings. Lucia and I are not that different. She is surviving. Just like me, just like my partner Nancy. Just like all of my family and friends. 

Her network, her wood wide web, looks different from mine. She has social media and a focus on things that are relevant to a sixteen-year-old. I have work and writing and keeping up with my mother and siblings. We are each surviving in our way, using the network to serve us. And I am the Mother Tree. If I listen, I can sense when she is in distress and give her nutrients. For sixteen years my worry bag of rocks, the little pilot light in my chest, has told me to clamp down, do something, control it. 

But my Mother Tree instincts, my deeper roots, tell me that this isn't what will nourish Lucia right now. What she needs is sunlight, connection. Just like me, just like all of us. When I think about what the opposite of worry is for me, the feeling that snuffs out the pilot light, it is celebration. Instead of stewing in worry I can find ways to celebrate Lucia-- for the creative cooking ideas she gets from her magic phone, for the new clothing styles she comes up with and puts together, for her interest in getting a job, for figuring out how the hell to do school through a laptop day after day.

I don't know if replacing worry with celebration will extinguish my internal pilot light completely, but I know it will help. When I close my eyes and imagine myself as a Mother Tree, crown rising up into the sky, roots spreading out and down, syncing up with a mysterious mycorrhizal network, I feel a sense of calm, power, and connection. 

I ache to change the isolation we are all experiencing, especially for my little sapling Lucia. But I don't want my pilot light of worry to engulf her. That would make her life more difficult and isolated than it already is. 

Lucia and all of her friends are like trees in the forest, standing alone, unable to come together. They are  building their wood wide web, establishing roots to connect to their growing mycorrhizal networks. Lucia is surviving with her phone, her laptop, her apps, connecting in ways that nourish and sustain her. And I, as the Mother Tree, am soaking up what sunlight is available, tapping into my deep roots, and listening for signs of distress. As the stronger, older, more deeply rooted and connected tree, my job is to listen to Lucia's signals and nourish her with what she needs until she can survive on her own. 


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Donald Trump's Next Life.....



Watching the impeachment hearings yesterday I was struck (again) by how extremely divided our country is in both perspective and fundamental belief systems. I know there were also politics, financial, and personal interests at play yesterday, but looking beyond the hearings, at the past few decades in our country (the time in my life when I've been actively involved in voting and caring), I can clearly see the ebbs and flows of progressive and conservative. We go from one to the other, back and forth, like boxers, trying to knock each other out. It's exhausting and confusing. For me the only answer here is to draw on my faith. I believe in a collective consciousness. I believe that we are all connected. Our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, actions, all affect all of us. I believe that the universe is a good place, filled with light and love, that the universe has our backs, and we're going to be okay.

Yesterday when my partner Nancy was sharing her deep sadness about the execution of Lisa Montgomery, I felt a surge of anger and hate towards Donald Trump. Donald Trump resurrected federal executions at the end of his term. We haven't had a federal execution in the United States since 2003, yet in 2020, we executed seventeen federal prisoners. Seventeen human beings. Lisa Montgomery was the first woman to be executed in seventy years. Last month, Brandon Bernard, just forty years old, was executed. Why would Trump want to bring back federal executions? What is wrong with him and others who support this barbaric practice? The anger and rage I felt didn't help me and it didn't comfort Nancy in her grief. It just swirled around in me like dirty water. 

As I meditated this morning, focusing on healing and patience, I found myself thinking that, in another life, I might love Donald Trump. To be so vile and venomous in this life, Donald Trump will likely be profoundly kind, gentle and benevolent in his next life because he will have so much bad karma to work out. He might be the antithesis of who is now-- Barak Obama or Ruth Bader Ginsberg. 

Last night before dinner, we said a prayer for healing for two people close in our lives who have COVID. One is very high risk and now in the hospital. Yesterday in the car my daughter Lucia said, "Mom, it feels like the virus is closing in on us." She's right. It is. We are in profoundly scary moment. It is easy to lose faith. 

I have so much resentment and anger towards Donald Trump for setting a confusing, divisive precedent about masking, social distancing, and even believing in the Coronavirus. Our friends who are sick, so many people in this country who've become sick and died, could be okay right now. But Donald Trump is a deeply troubled man, poisoned from the inside out, a river of a toxic waste rushing through his veins. He's disconnected from humanity, from the collective consciousness, and so he continues to act in the ways he does, desperately trying to fill his hard, hollow heart.

But in the impeachment hearings yesterday, the overarching message I got was not vile, hateful, Trumpian rhetoric. It was grace in action. The voice of our collective consciousness flowed through. The innate goodness of the universe was present there. I wonder why the bad has to come with the good. I wonder why, if the universe is ultimately a good place, we have so much oppression and violence. I'm still contemplating that, trying to figure that out. 

There is no simple answer to why we are where we are right now. But this morning, as I imagined truly loving Donald Trump in his next life, I had a glimmer of understanding that we are not that different from each other, all of us humans divided. We're all part of a much bigger picture, a picture as vast as the universe. Some of us are in sync with universal goodness and grace, and some of us are out of step right now. No matter how divided we are in this moment, what side of the boxing ring we are standing in, we are in this together. It's easy to get sucked into anger and grief, but I have faith that someday even Donald Trump will find his way into the light.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Lost in the Woods


The thing about this pandemic is that it keeps on going. Every time there is a little breather, something else happens, like insane, ill-informed, white people storming our nation's Capital. As the COVID numbers soar and restrictions tighten again, I take another deep breath and tell myself that this is possible. We can do this. We have adapted thus far and we will keep going.

This time in my life feels like being lost in the woods for an indeterminate length of time. Eventually, lost in the woods, I would figure some things out. I'd figure out how to eat leaves and berries. I'd watch the birds and the beavers build their homes and figure out a way to construct some kind of shelter for myself. I'd get used to the perils of the forest and I'd adapt. My hair would grow long, offering me protection from the cold. My GI system would toughen up and I'd be able to drink water from the creeks and streams. I'd make friends with the animals. I'd learn how to dress wounds with moss from the trees and make a blouse from the pulp of a nurse log. 

Eventually I might even forget what my life before looked like. Cell phones and grocery stores would become a distant memory and I'd learn to be comfortable singing to myself and spending long hours watching chipmunks gather nuts. I'd transform into a different species, evolved from where I am now. If I had to return to my old life, I'd seem wild, feral.

What will we become when this is over? And what does "over" really mean? I don't think there's a going back to where we were. And personally, I don't want to go back there. This extreme challenge in our humanity has forced so many sensations, thoughts and feelings to the surface. Did I ever really like drinking red wine at a crowded bar? Not really. Do I miss being away from my home for 8-10 hours a day for work? No. In adapting through this period in history, we have each evolved into a new incarnation of ourselves. Like being lost in the woods, we've figured out how to eat dinner outside in the cold, go for weeks without being in the physical presence of anyone other than our household people or pets and the grocery store clerk. We've evolved into learning how to manage deep grief and intense fear. 

So what does it mean to go back to "how things were?" When we try to go back to the way things used to be will we appear savage and untamed? It might not be quite that extreme, but I think we'll notice. I think we might be socially awkward, tentative, unsure and on edge when the world starts to transition back. When I think about being lost in the woods it feels scary, but also kind of thrilling, even romantic, to be able to learn all of those new skills, to commune with nature in a wholly new way. I feel that now as well,  in the life changes I've made in the pandemic. It's more work, coordination, and organization to have dinner with a friend outside, but it's kind of exciting too. And it feels like a major accomplishment when I can pull it off. 

Yes, life is really hard right now. We're lost in the woods. We're learning new skills to survive in this different habitat. We're figuring things out, adjusting to the elements, the diversity of wildlife, and the dangerous predators in our midst. But little by slowly we are figuring it out. We've survived in the woods this long and I have faith that we can keep going. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Feeling from the Inside Out

There's a Korean Women's Spa about forty-five minutes away from where I live. Most of my women friends have gone there for massages, scrubs, and just to soak in the pools, cook in the steam room, and lounge in the variety of relaxation rooms. One of my favorite parts of the spa is a little section along the edge of the pools. It's a white-tiled area with benches along two walls, forming an L-shape. Along the walls of the L are spigots with big plastic white bowls underneath. The idea is to fill the large plastic bowl with warm water and wash yourself after a steam or scrub, before entering the tubs. One could also shower, but the bowls of warm water feel so much better.

The feeling of the warm water flowing from the top of the head down the shoulders, over the chest and back, then pooling at the base of the spine offers the sensation of comfort, warmth and bliss. I remember at the last stage of labor with my daughter, going into the warm bathtub. Immersing myself in the warm water offered a similar (yet momentary) ease in my body.

For the last forty days I have been going into the cold lake near my house. I've become addicted to this daily ritual, primarily for the after-effect. The sensation of coming out of the water and the body working to recalibrate towards equilibrium is like nothing else. Yesterday the air outside was 34 degrees Fahrenheit and it was hard to get into the water. After submerging and getting back to the shore, I stood very still and felt my body working to recover from the cold water. It was like the warm water from the spa, but from the inside instead of the outside. Like thousands of tiny trees with plentiful branches and leaves blowing in the wind, my skin was being tickled from the inside out. The heat came from within my body and gave me a similar, yet very distinct feeling of warmth, comfort and bliss that I've experienced with a flooding of warm water on my skin from the outside.

For me, paying attention to physical sensations is one of my tools for staying connected to my interiority. Like a lot of people, I struggle to keep my perspective, to hold onto my feelings or opinions once they enter the outside world. I can feel very clear, very certain of an emotion I am having or a belief I hold, until my thoughts are mixed with someone else's and then it all becomes murky. I suppose that is the very nature of one's interiority-- it belongs only to you. It is sacred and known only to you. Too often I forget to connect back to my inner voice. I get lost in someone else's voice or social media or the news. I have to take a step back, a deep breath and a pause and come back inside myself to remember my interiority. But physical sensations-- like feeling warm water being poured over one's body or the post-cold-water-plunge experience-- are not subject to any external influence. They just are. They are pure. I don't have to try to step back inside myself. I am wholly experiencing the sensations exactly as they are. There is no external influence that can change the feelings in my body.

Recently my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia started the process of looking for a job. She applied to restaurants and retail stores around town without any prompting. When I asked her what inspired her, she told me that she wanted to make more money so that when she got her license she could afford gas and insurance. I told her I was proud of her for taking that initiative. Lucia then said to me, in a very clear, seemingly planned statement, "Mom, do you notice how I do things when you don't nag me to do them? Remember how you used to try to get me to take walks all the time? Since you stopped bugging me to do that I take a walk every day. It's the same with looking for a job. I did that because I wanted to."

Interiority- Inner life or substance*. The actions Lucia took in her own life came from her interiority, her inner life. And they were pure and free of interference from the outside world (me). She could feel them and respond to them purely, from her inner life. Interiority--inner character or nature* -- is what makes each of us who we are. Connecting with that, listening to it, and acting from that pure internal nature, feels different from doing something (like going for a walk or looking for a job) because someone tells you to do it. 

We live among other people. Being completely free of influence from those around us is impossible. But connecting to one's inner character or nature is where we each find that magical feeling of truth, the feeling that we are doing the right thing, on the right path. It is where we ultimately find happiness. I'm reminded each time I come out of the cold lake that this purity of feeling exists. There is no doubt that I am feeling the sensations blossoming from the inside of my body. I feel happy and sure of myself. I alone feel these thousands of prickles warming my skin from the inside. It is a feeling of aliveness and clarity. Lucia found her interiority the other day. And it made her feel inspired, alive, and motivated. Physical sensations are a reminder of how energizing and connecting it is to really feel what is present. This reminder is an invitation to check back in with ourselves and discover the same sense of presence mentally and emotionally. You don't need to jump into a freezing cold lake to be reminded, but it might help. 



Thursday, January 7, 2021

Isolation within Isolation


I'm shut down. This happens to me when I need to retreat in the midst of too many emotions, too much stress, or chaos. It's like a fuse has blown. Like the whole electrical panel has sparked out. Every light in my internal house is turned off and I can't see anything in any of the rooms. I'm still functional-- working, writing, parenting, exercising-- but there's a roadblock to my feelings. 

I know I have feelings-- fear, happiness, sadness, and loneliness-- but I can't feel those feelings beyond an intellectual understanding that they are there. It's a strange experience, like being a lone coconut on a long-lost little island. I'm just plopped there, all dried up and waiting for something to change.

We're all isolated, waiting out this eternal storm, staying in our little bunkers as much as we can. Right now it feels deeper--like I'm isolating within the isolation. I'm like the tiniest Matroyshka doll-- the one in the very center that is too small to have another hidden doll. There's nothing inside, nothing to discover or explore. Just plain wood; no light, no air. 

My isolation is an adaptation to the despair in the world we are living in now, and I've only begun to process the happenings of yesterday and the two weeks to come. It's been a slogging, slow build to get where I am emotionally and I've no idea how long it will be before my long-lost feelings return. I keep on plugging away every day, hoping, knowing, that one day I'll wake up and something will spark. Maybe I'll cry or laugh really hard. I'll reconnect when I have enough reserves to manage it all. 

Since the pandemic started, I've worn essentially the same thing every day. I have four pairs of overalls and a few shirts (short-sleeved in summer, long-sleeved in winter) that I rotate. Sometimes I look at my dresser with nine drawers, all filled with clothes I used to wear-- different patterned sweaters, my favorite jeans, long lost t-shirts with slogans. I rarely open my closet filled with skirts and blouses and dresses and so many shoes. Every morning I just put on one version or another of my uniform. Safely armed in my familiar, comfortable garb, I go through my day-- isolated within isolation. 

Emotionally, I'm like that dresser right now. All of my emotional goodies are tucked away. The shirts and sweaters and pants all rolled up and neatly filed, Marie Kondo style. The clothes, like my long lost emotions, are waiting to be used again. Waiting, like me, for a time when there is cause to dress up, dress differently, maybe for a coffee date with a friend or a dinner date with my beloved. Or a choir recital at the high school where I'd get to see my daughter and her friends together, singing their hearts out. 

I know this will pass because I've been here before-- both during the pandemic and before. It helps to imagine that even though I feel flat, deflated, disconnected, the feelings are still there. They are waiting, folded neat, and tidy in the drawers. Eventually, I'll get tired of these overalls and I'll open up my pants drawer and pull out something new. Maybe I'll even open the closet and try on a dress. But for now, I'll just take comfort in knowing that all my clothes are still there, waiting.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Waking in the Darkness: An Invitation into the Light

The darkness in Seattle is a real thing. In the winter it is dark until 8am and dark again by 4pm. I have to strategize, between the rain and the dark, how and when to take my rain-averse dog Freckles out to go poo.

I love the darkness of the morning. It is like a warm blanket of stillness that keeps me warm until the sky lightens. Though there must be people all over the city who, like me, are awake, quietly enjoying these early morning hours, it feels like I am alone in my own tiny universe. My mind is quiet because the world is quiet. There is no news. No footsteps in the house. No delivery trucks outside. The loudest thing is my fingers typing and Freckles breathing.

I remember when I was a girl I used to lock my door, hide away to get quiet from my big, loud family. I didn’t know about the early morning back then. My teenage hormones begged me to sleep longer, getting up much later than the sun’s rise and going to sleep way after its set. Had I known about the magic of the hours before daylight, I might have used those to find the quiet I craved.

We learn that darkness is scary, that ominous things happen in dark hallways and alleys. Growing up in Chicago I learned to fear the darkness of the streets, especially under the viaducts I had to pass through to get to the bus stop and to the train that took me to my dad’s house. I remember the way my heart would race, how I’d hold my breath through the dark until I could reach the light again. Once through the viaduct, in the light of the elevated train platform, I’d feel calm again, like the danger was gone.

The darkness of the morning is different. It is a beginning, an invitation to the light that is coming soon. The darkness of night is a long haul. There’s an eternity of darkness ahead. But the morning darkness is limited. The black sky turns midnight blue, then cobalt blue, then sky blue (or, in Seattle, light gray). And when the light finally comes, so does the awakening around me. Slowly I am joined by my family. I can hear the footsteps of joggers running by my house down to the lake and car doors slamming, answering the calls of the day. The world has arisen to take part in the daylight hours ahead.

Every morning, for the past thirty-five days, my friend Genessa and I have gone swimming in Lake Washington at dawn. The temperature in the air has been between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the water is somewhere between 40–50. It is always cold and sometimes raining, but the combination of the dawn and the submersion into the cold water is profoundly invigorating. We dunk at the tail end of the darkness, emerging out of the frigid lake with a gasp, heart racing, skin tingling, into the light of a new day. 



Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Resilience

Lately my daughter Lucia has been doing a lot of creative baking. She's made vegan peanut butter cookies, gluten-free brownie bites, dairy-free snickerdoodles. She's also started taking long walks to the coffee shop, always by herself. Lucia is sixteen and every ounce of her being wants to bust out and be free, but she's trapped in the house with her parents, almost all the time. These culinary experiments and long meandering excursions to get coffee are adaptations she's created to meet her need for independence and autonomy.

One of the most common statements one hears as a parent is "kids are resilient." They can handle most things-- divorce, death, a pandemic. But I wonder what we really mean by that. What does resilience truly mean? Kids adapt, just like adults do, because there is no other choice. When our resilience dries up, we are in crisis. We can no longer function. So amazingly, we continue to conjure tools, internal resources, and boundless creativity to muddle through.

In the last month or so I've been thinking a lot about Lucia's adaptive behaviors. As a curious teenager, ready to break free of her parents, Lucia has figured out a way to listen to herself, to tend to her own internal sparks in this constricted and confined time in her development. Even if what her parents have to say is wildly interesting and exciting, Lucia isn't interested because now is the time for her to not be interested in us.  Lucia does not want to bake any of our old family recipes or go for a walk with her parents. Her natural place right now is listening to herself, making her own creations, being solo in the world, seeing with her own eyes.

I can't remember being sixteen in great detail. And, while I don't remember many specific experiences, I can recall the general feeling I had. I wanted to escape. I longed to be free of the gaze of my parents. I wanted my voice, my thoughts, to be heard, and not necessarily by them. I retreated, closed myself off from my parents, became excessively private to keep my independence. I wouldn't tell them about my classes, my boyfriend, even where I was applying for college.

Being a teenager in COVID is something I cannot begin to imagine. The inability to curate a private life in which to retreat from one's parents must feel like a version of insanity. But, as we like to say, kids are resilient. They figure out a way to create a world where they can survive. And like so many of us in COVID, the building blocks of our resilience must now come from an internal source instead of from the world at large. During COVID, I can't go to a yoga class and be with fellow students, sharing and absorbing the energy that is so healing for me and others. And Lucia can't go out to a party on Friday night and do the secret, hidden things that teenagers are meant to do. 

We both, we all, have to turn our lens inside to find tools to shepherd us through whatever stage we are in, be in adolescence, a mid-life professional crisis, or retirement. It's inspiring to watch Lucia listening to herself, finding little ways to attend to her needs for independence and autonomy. I suggest things all the time-- different programs or activities that I think she might like-- and she politely (and sometimes not-so-politely) rejects my suggestion and goes out for.a two mile walk to get coffee or buy ingredients for a new concoction. She's listening to her internal voice instead of my external one. And that's a good thing. That's the right thing for her right now. That's resilience. 


Goodbye Old Friend

“I always thought you were a bitch.” I’ve heard that statement from several of my closest friends. I used to be very shy and through my twen...