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.

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Man, what an emotion ladened weekend!  I have been weepy, tears just behind the eyes, catch ready to happen in my throat for two days.  Yesterday, some of that was relieved by a walk around Walden Pond.  

Walden Pond

It was an incredibly beautiful fall day, a bit warm for my still Wisconsin standards, but delightful to walk.  I was looking for a contemplative walk in the woods, a la Henry David Thoreau.  Instead, the biggish beach and the tiny beaches all around the pond had families, picnickers, swimmers and kayakers chattering and enjoying the day.  And the path around the pond has a layer of small stones and our shoes made noise as we moved along.  Julia didn’t mind at all and I had to smile that I actually expected a quiet, mystical stroll. There were a few moments, a few feet of the path every so often, where there were no small stones and where we were not close to those playing in the water.  And for those few moments, it was blessedly quiet—once I turned around to make sure Julia was still in back of me.  And the quiet captured some of what was in my heart.

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summer profile

Facebook  memories pop up:  3 years ago today, we were at Coogee Beach in Australia; 4 years ago we were cruising in Alaska; 5 years ago we were in the lovely town of Orta San Giulio in Italy and 6 years ago, we were with Julia’s China Sisters in Ohio.  We are going to Ohio tomorrow and I hope for some fun.  But today I gather my thoughts to write where Julia is these days and ask for help.

This morning I arrived at sudden clarity after months of confusion and muddle, and maybe a little hope that some of my greatest concerns could work themselves out. Nothing has worked out “by itself.” There are no answers this morning, but I can see where we are with Julia’s life, the little that is going well and all the rest.  

This was excruciating to write; however, necessary.  The four weeks of ESY (Extended School Year) have not gone well.  Every week Julia has had some days of refusing to do the work of the day, threatening self-harm at school and having rough mornings or evenings at home. Nothing I have done at home in previous years is working.  Before the school year and the new transition program begins, I need to work out some things that help  Julia.  She is NOT going to blend in and get adjusted by herself.  She is NOT going to transition without effort.  She is still on high alert and on the brink of meltdown every day.  She is as hypervigilent and affected by trauma as she was 12 years ago. 

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pomp and circumstance

Last Wednesday, the 9th of June, Julia finished high school.  It was a great day.  Julia was excited.  It didn’t rain.  The day was so hot that I pitied those poor graduates sitting in the middle of the football field with black robes on.  I pitied their teachers and administrators more because their black robes were made of heavier material.  Spectators were also melting in the 90+ degree weather but. we all survived, a bit damp and frazzled but very happy.

A few days before graduation, the principal emailed that the graduation was going to happen on Wednesday no matter what the weather was.  Some showers were predicted at the time.  He wrote that if there was rain, the ceremony would hold off until the shower passed, but the class of 2021 would graduate on Wednesday.

Now, I may be remembering his email worded a bit stronger than bit actually was.  In my imagination, he was putting his foot down, wresting control of just this one day from the vagaries of the past year, the past 15 months.  The principal is calm and appears laid back and incredibly capable, so, I could be merely projecting my need to gain some control over life and completely wrong about his needs.

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It was winter and we weren’t going anywhere much that wasn’t absolutely necessary when we found Julia’s prom dress.  The Lord & Taylor’s in a nearby mall was closing.  We were cutting through that store from our parking space to the Apple store because my laptop was ready to die. My laptop is necessary. Rushing through the store, a short dress with a sequined bodice caught Julia’s eye and she pointed it out as we passed.  I agreed it was pretty and then proceeded at due speed to the Apple store. 

On the way back to our parking space darting through L&T again, I noticed the dress and this time I asked Julia if she wanted to look at it for prom.  At that point we had no idea if and when a prom would happen. I thought in that instant that buying a prom dress would be absolutely aspirational.  She still liked the dress and was eager to try it on.  It fit and looked very cute (it was also marked down to a very appealing price).  It was a promise dress, a hope dress.  I couldn’t promise that there would be a prom, we could hope for a prom.  And I promised myself that I would find some event sooner or later for which pink sequin would be appropriate.

It has hung on the back of her bedroom door since then.  Now and again, I thought it was haunting me.  Us.  But now, it is just a prom dress.

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Every day for a year, I have checked the new reported cases chart in the NYTimes.  I wanted to will a change, make the numbers come down when so many times, for so many months, the counts only went up.  Yesterday, the shape of the chart resembled the Little Prince’s a boa constrictor who has swallowed an elephant. And I almost smiled.  One corner of the horror melted away.  Truthfully, the chart doesn’t really look like Santoine de Saint Exupery’s drawing but . . . it was a playful imagining that I’ve have far too few of during the year.  

Can I sigh with relief now?  

I do want to sigh with relief.  But South America, Mongolia, India and France still struggle. We are in this together.  No, real sighing until we are all safe, until we are all vaccinated and I can feel the mist in front of Iguazu Falls and the silence in the Amarbayasgalant Monastery, stand at the tip of the reflective pool of the Taj Mahal and watch the repairs being done on Notre Dame. Then, a big sigh, many sighs will be in order.

Even here, coming back to what was normal, what will be normal is a slow slide, no giant leaps.

The three-day Memorial Day weekend was cold and wet.  Heat clicked back on and outdoor plans were quashed—Julia refuses to enjoy the rain. We went to a first movie, played indoor miniature golf and shopped for graduation shoes.  We had a weekend guest. I noticed how often we wore our masks making our way in the world.  And although, I felt incredibly daring going to a movie, ordering and eating popcorn without a mask (taking the mask off only once we sat down), there were only about a dozen movie goers in a big theater and social distancing was not a problem.  I did not need to test any daring tendencies after the decision was made.  

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Last year everything shut down, quickly in a single week.  It was a dizzying time of cancellations and closings.  During the last two weeks, we are in the middle of openings.  I remind myself repeatedly not to forget—not forget how closed we were and how hard that was, not forget how slowly we opened and what an unusual challenge re-opening has presented to us.

I appreciate that Massachusetts is opening slowly with much deliberations.  Probably not perfectly, but what has been perfect about this time?  The mask mandate expires on the weekend and I am grateful that Governor Baker announced the end of the mandate two weeks before it was to happen.  Although very happy to imagine being maskless, I find I have reservations about completely abandoning our facial protections.  Is it really that I cannot trust two shots and two weeks?  Or is it that I cannot trust that those who will walk around maskless on Saturday are vaccinated? As of today 50% of Massachusetts are fully vaccinated; 69% have had at least one dose.  The percentages are higher in Newton. During the weeks between announcement and maskless days, it has been comforting to be in stores and garden centers and see everyone masked.  A year of protecting myself, protecting Julia, has left its mark.

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This I believe

On Sunday, March 14th, I delivered my This I believe to the congregation of FUUSN (First Unitarian Universalist Society in Newton). Had it been ordinary times, I would have done it standing the the pulpit looking over the congregation. I don’t know whether that would have have been more or less intimidating. As it was, I was safe in my little zoom box sitting in my study seemingly talking to myself. If you’ve read anything on this blog before, you will recognize ideas and passages. I am grateful that Erin asked me to do this and grateful that I was daring enough to say, ‘yes.’

Good morning.

I hesitated when Erin [Erin Splaine is FUUSN’s minister] asked me to speak today.  After all, I still count my FUUSN membership in months, and I’ve gotten to know so many of you, not in person, but in these little zoom boxes. That could make me just a bit shy about sharing my heart today. And then, I write all the time about what I do and think, but I don’t think I have many conclusions. “This I believe” sounds, at least to me, like the speaker has come to a few conclusions.  Of course, we ask our COA teens to take up this task and they always do it brilliantly. But it seems to me that the older I get the fewer conclusions I have.

There is a line from my husband, David’s last play, the play that was performed a few months after his death. The line goes like this:

Just suppose you are now doing and have been doing for quite awhile exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing.

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almost spring

“March went out like a lion
Awakin’ up the water in the bay . . . “
~Carousel, Rodgers and Hammerstein, “June is Busting Out All Over”

Funny, I remember this line and sing it in my head as “March came in like a lion” every year this time of year.  So, according to my lyrics, March came in as described.  We have had warm hatless days and the snow is disappearing—we are not in Wisconsin anymore! When there is sunshine, the sky is a shade deeper than pale blue and we are searching for the first signs of spring breaking through the earth. I have to go on neighborhood walks to find those signs of spring instead of my own garden. Still missing my own little plot.  I need to ask my landlords if I can use their side garden for vegetables and a few annuals again.  I have another month or so to ask.

Signs of spring — tulips and eggs and pasanky dye

The lay of the land, so to speak, has been more interesting in the last few weeks than in many months, although there have been bumps.

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ending the plague

Today, I am infused with the first bit of hope that I have felt since March 10, 2020.  That was 3 days before school was shut down and a handful of days before everything in Newton was closed down.  That Tuesday before the schools shut down, I felt the snowball pick speed down the hill.  It didn’t take any great precognition to read the Times and hear what was happening in Italy and know what was going to happen here.  I felt chilled to the bone and, imagination running wild, I thought I knew how bad it was going to be. And in many ways, my imagination didn’t do 2020 justice.  I didn’t imagine how long and how wide the pandemic was going to be.  In the past, I’ve imagined myself catastrophizing when bad things happened.  About Covid 19, I was an optimistic minimalist. 

Anyway, yesterday I got an email from our healthcare provider yesterday right after I dropped Julia off.  I was told to log onto their website and there I was told to call the Covid hotline if I wanted to schedule a vaccine.  I did not hesitate to call although I doubted that I was eligible for the vaccine yet.  The state is still working on 75+ and there is a group of essential workers who also stood before me in line.  

I called and the nurse told me they were vaccinating anyone over 65 and would I like to schedule.  I asked when; she said tomorrow.  I mumbled an “excuse me, tomorrow?”  What I meant to say was, “tomorrow, tomorrow?”  Or something equally as foolish.  

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