being human in times of chaos

Whew!  Yes, I’ve gotten this far.  This far into this year and this far into life.  But I’ve been wasting more than my usual share of days dithering.  I wonder if I am alone in this?  Courtney Martin, whose, newsletter I subscribe to, called this a “liminal pandemic moment.” 

“We’re opening back up. We’re not opening back up. We want to open back up. We sort of actually don’t. We forgot how to socialize with a wide variety of people or in larger groups, so it all feels heightened—like waking up from a nap and being violently thrust into a brightly lit room of smiling, chatty people.”

Well, I am not intending to burst into any rooms of chatting people in actuality or even figuratively.  Still, I feel the liminality of the moment. We are gathering tomorrow with our ‘pod’ from the last two years—Cheshire and Justin, his parents, Julia and I–which is quite comfortable. There remains, however, the rest of life–transitions, community, and what the future holds.

As for moving further into community which I still so desperately want to do, it is still mostly at church.  I find that during coffee hour or during choir free time before services, I have lost any hint of sparkling conversation if sparkling conversation was ever my gift!  I realize I’ve sent out this groan before.  My conversational abilities may not have gotten any worse than they were or rather, no one would notice if I had gotten worse.

“Fine” or “Basically okay” are my standard answer to ‘how are you.’  Both are true and not true.  I cannot wait to turn the question around, but when I am not willing or able to summon up more than a “fine,” what is the incentive for the conversation partner to say more?  

When asked further, I call these ‘challenging times’ but I’ve been using that explanation/excuse/reason now for two years and a few months.  It was transition from Madison, feeling lost in MA, transition to lock down and then out of lock down, transition to Julia’s wonky senior year and then transition to Julia’s post-high school life, transition to the transition program, and I’m sure as more in-person activities for me open up, it will be transition to that.

Oh, the Chinese curse! May you live in interesting times! Which these definitely are.  Which is actually not a Chinese curse. The closest Chinese expression translates to “Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos.” I have chosen to a great extent the being human in times of chaos. And then, have moaned and groaned about being that human!

And it is me that plunged us into the chaos of moving.  Granted I did not expect a pandemic to complicate settling Julia and finding community, but when you jump in a murky, deep end who knows what will come up from the bottom of the pool?

I think I have been presented with this lesson before.  Perhaps I’ve finally learned something from it?

And so, what have I been doing this fall? Well, I cleaned up the garden, rehung most of the pictures that fell down in the heat of last summer (unsolicited advice: Don’t use Command velcro strips on anything!). I’ve helped to facilitate a weekly Zoom meditation hour at church and currently, helping with our anti-racism course. Julia and I went to the church retreat this fall at Ferry Beach in Maine and had a quiet, good time. 

I’ve taken many, many calls and answered emails regarding Julia’s rough days at the transition program. Primarily, she did not want to go out in to the community with the rest of her group. She had lots of anxiety and she let it all out for her teachers and aides, including a few days of hitting and threatening to hit, and a few times of banging her head against the wall and threatening to harm herself.  With a sigh of some relief, I can see that her days are getting better. She is going out of the program building more often and she is showing some interest in buy things at stores. She even helped hand out lunch bags with the Grab and Go food program.

At HILR, I had a theater class that was great fun and a class on Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist who became a lawyer, women’s rights activist, author, and later in life, an Episcopal priest.  We are reading a great biography, Jane Crow, and Netflix is featuring a documentary about her. Knowing about her humbles me—her perseverance and resilience inspire me.  And she was so smart!

And then, I am taking the memoir writing class again and have pulled together another ten pieces based on what I’ve written in this blog. Saying it that way, it doesn’t sound like much but it has taken up a lot of my time. 

As I look back on the year with a view towards getting holiday cards together, I see I did not take many pictures without masks—putting pictures with masks on holiday cards just feels sad—and that for so much of the year, I’ve been waiting for circumstances and community to just get better. And they are better, but slowly and by very tiny steps.  Circumstances and community have a long way to go before I can truly breath out in relief and draw a breath in with anticipated joy. And I have to admit to fumbling into a great pit of despair sometimes with the gut feeling that the present is as good as it it going to get. 

I began writing this in such a complaining mood—life still sucks and I see no way out of it.  And tomorrow, we are celebrating one of our favorite holidays in a way very different from the way we used to do it.  I miss the old way and that still makes me sad.  However, after this mucky, wallow time, I can feel some thankfulness bubble up to break the surface.

I am thankful for every good day that Julia has out in the community, cooking in her program or helping with some larger task.  I am thankful that I am beginning to build friendships both at church and at HILR.  I am grateful to be singing with the choir, facilitating a bit and even sharing a meal with FUUSN friends.  I am grateful to find people who love the theater, want to perform Shakespeare and read (and seem to enjoy) what I write. I am thankful that Cheshire and Justin are settled in their house and taking on more challenges.  I am thankful that I have such a pleasant apartment to live in, one that is made to decorate for the winter holidays. I am grateful that the Chanukah candles arrived in the mail today! And that the ginger snaps baked for tomorrow came out okay.  And even though, no one, not Cheshire nor I, wanted to build completely new transitions around the Thanksgiving holiday, I am grateful to be doing the building with loving people and good food.  We have people to hug and drink pumpkin martinis with and sit down with for a grand turkey feast.  

Twice in my life I have had the opportunity to mindfully look back on some terrible years, and both times I discovered how important patience was.  Patience with time, with circumstances and places, with life, with myself and the people I loved. Both times, when I looked back, I wanted to tell the person I was five or seven years before, that I had gotten to a much different and, dare I say, better place than I had been during the terrible times. I carry that lesson and that wish with me this year.  It may be a liminal pandemic moment but may we all eventually step through the threshold into the light.

Some pictures from our Maine weekend:

Unified basketball with North Newton High School and in-person cello lessons!

Halloween and the traditional Newton smashing pumpkins day:

The immersive VanGogh exhibit:

And our first, first, first theater experience of the year!!

3 thoughts on “being human in times of chaos

  1. Thank you, Suzanne. I have eased into spending much more time alone than people I know seem to, and do love it. I sometimes worry a little bit about losing friends and so try to keep in touch, organize a coffee date, plan a museum visit. While we can. Still. Again. I wish you mindful and guilt-free dithering. Love, Janet

  2. Thanks for sharing the “liminals”. I can relate. I’m not a big socializer anyway but do miss large family events. We are just having Thanksgiving with our smaller immediate families. I am reticent e even at church. Even masked. I’m a hugger by nature and pick and choose who I hug. I avoid hugging anyone without a mask or unknown vaccine status. People get mad. Relatives get mad. Too bad. Put your mask on please. It’s a pandemic. The people who get mad are the socializers without a mask.
    At church, I rush outside after our shortened service. Any socializing for me is gonna be done outside, in the open air with a mask. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos. Happy Thanksgiving.

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