good and tired

“Against every new outrage and every fresh horror, we shall put up one more piece of love and goodness….we should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds” Etty Hillesum

It was a long day today. I was up well before dawn and it is not almost 10, and I am just now sitting down here again.

Mostly I spent the day in the kitchen, drying and preparing meal packets. I’d purchased the ingredients some time ago, intending to prep for a dreamed-of 3 week wilderness journey this fall with Don. Whether that can happen now lies within the uncertainty of all of our days.

And it feels so trivial. I found the work today tedious, an unwelcome distraction, where often I have found it filled with creative joy for what it represents. Perhaps those dehydrated meals will be useful in some way if grocery runs become more restricted. However, there have been assurances that the food chain is healthy and intact and that going out for essentials will be allowed no matter. So, the work felt rather meaningless.

The subject of food brings me to the real reason for my fatigue. My daughter took herself to the food pantry this afternoon. It was so difficult for her to do, mostly because a friend shamed her for doing so (I think my daughter had accepted before that phone conversation that her loss of income was through no fault of her own, as businesses are being required to close by the government, and that the offer of food assistance was acceptable and authentic). There is such stigma around receiving help in our culture. It saddens me that giving and receiving compassionate care is considered disgraceful.

And so she cried. And so I held. And so she turned back, afraid. And so I cleared a path. And so I ‘walked’ with her. And so it rained. And so she received. And so she carried a chicken, a cabbage, cans and carrots, the box heavy and damp. And so she locked the door behind her.

And in the scarcity of work, even the yogi’s are competing. Still believing their worth is in capital, that both need and worthiness are scarce. The ‘airwaves’ (is that what you call it?) are overflowing with offerings, some authentic gifts, others screaming, ‘please see me’ (and in truth is that not also an authentic need?)

And she was finally standing on her own feet, ready to take off. Financially stable. Emotionally well. Seeing her life as possibility rather than failure.

She is but one story of heartbreak.

And she will survive.

Today I noticed the way that stress reveals unhealed wounds in human beings. Wounds like unlovability. unworthiness. not-enoughness, and more basic than that – fears of survival. Today I understood why there are wars over resources.

Today, I learned that the young man for whom we all had been praying did not have the virus. We all breathed a sigh of relief because his story had scared us all into thinking our sons and daughters might appear to be fine at lunchtime and on End Of Life care by dinner. As if our compassion was misplaced, I found myself apologizing to those with whom I’d shared the story, for unnecessarily frightening them. As if that was the only reason we all were praying for his recovery, or holding his terrified family, or encircling them in our prayers.

And so, I noticed my own vulnerabilities that were uncovered by the stress of it all, my own fears of being shamed. ( That childhood rhyme about sticks and stones isn’t really true.)

Mayor Cuomo reminded us all today that our greatest vulnerabilities are also our greatest strengths.

Said another way, our wounds are the root of our compassion. Being willing to expose them from time to time perhaps brings healing.

We are good.

And I am still tired.

Good night.

you too will find your way

Inside you are a thousand generations of your ancestors, who learned how to survive difficulties . Do not be afraid. You too will find your way. –

Jack Kornfield

My dear child of my children’s children’s children….

Here I sit again, predawn this time, seeking stillness in the midst of this storm, stillness enough to hear, let alone to jot down my feelings, my thoughts for you.

It is early in the morning, still dark outside my window, the only light coming from the lamp, one casting a soft glow over my shoulder. Music flows from the speaker, Gregorian chants, equally soft and glowing.

I dance around the opening of this doorway, uncertain what it is that holds me back at the threshold, keeping me from fully entering. Is it merely a difficulty in settling my dancing mind, in quieting my spirit, or is there perhaps something that else that holds me back. Certainly permission has been given to be still (‘shelter in place’ are the official words being used by government representatives as they plead with us) Perhaps it is the unknown that keeps my feet planted firmly on this side of that door, cracking it just a bit from time to time to peer into that darkness.

We do not know.

We do not know how long this pandemic will rage through us until it has spent itself. How many it will take into that darkness (or is it light?) with it. We do not know how long it will be that those of us who have not yet been exposed will need to be afraid of exposure, afraid for our own mortality, yes, but also, perhaps moreso, of inadvertently (because this thing is so hidden for so many of us) causing another’s demise. How long we must hold back, like the frightened huddling bird in the old Disney movie, Bambi, whose anxious inability to hold still causes it to fly into the hunter’s aim. How long until the scientific, medical, and govermental agencies can get a handle on this, prepare us for the onslaught of patients who will not be able to breathe. How long until there is a vaccine or a treatment or a cure… or a test available to the masses so that each of us can know whether we have been exposed, and so perhaps carry the antibodies that might be used for healing another, and freedom for ourselves. Freedom to help.

The randomness of this virus- in whom it progresses suddenly into urgent, life-threatening respiratory distress and for whom it is symptomless- adds to the swirling fear, like a hidden stalker. We humans are afraid of what we cannot see. Monsters under the bed loom large, even for adults. We are humbled by it, reminded of our vulnerability, and (blessedly) our humanity.

I have been coughing for almost 2 months now, since long before this virus was supposed to have reached our shores. I was sicker at its onset, with fever and chest tightness, than I have been as an adult. Could I have had it and so be safe now? Safe to help. Or, should I fear, because of the way that possibly lesser virus (flu?) hit me, that being hit with another respiratory virus would be all the more dangerous for me?

How our lives will look when this is over is another unknown. Will it be safe for me to venture into the backcountry again, miles and miles from medical help with a virus circulating that could make me suddenly critically ill without warning, in severe respiratory distress? Everyone has their own version of this – When will we feel safe again?

The desire in me to help is so strong. I have begun a neighborhood chain, so that each of us is not making too many short trips for incidentals forgotten or needed. That feels so small. I want to volunteer in the hospitals in some capacity. I want to help distribute food to persons suddenly in need. But it is one thing to put myself at risk, a choice I feel willing to make for myself, but I do not live alone and I come in contact with others who are vulnerable. The helplessness is insidious. We are being asked to ‘help’ by staying away. To just sit and watch, doing nothing. Tomorrow I will go to donate blood.

And perhaps that is why it has been so exceedlingly difficult to be still. My compassion will not allow it.

I worry about my daughter, isolated and alone in an apartment in Chicago, a large city that is more likely to be hit hard….

Okay, my dear one, it has been over an hour since I wrote that last sentence, because that statement brought me up out of myself and into compassion for her, into wanting to reach out and touch. I have spent the last hour connecting with all of my children, sharing my heart space, checking in on theirs, wanting to hold them, wanting to hold them together.

And that is the way that it goes.

And when fear comes to the door bringing flowers
acting as if it’s a friend,
it’s okay to not want to let it in.
It’s okay to lock the door—
it’ll make you feel as if you’re doing something.
Fear will enter anyway.
At least it won’t expect a hug.
It won’t wash its hands,
not even when you ask nicely.
And it is more contagious than any virus—
spreads without sneezes or coughs.
It won’t leave when you ask, but
there are ways to make it quieter—
like inviting a few others to join you,
preferably gratitude, compassion, love,
kindness, vulnerability. These friends
always come when asked, wearing
the loveliest perfume. They change
the conversation, the way lemon
and honey change the bitter tea.
They remind you who you are,
invite you to look out the window
and see how beautiful the world
when the shadows are long.

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Snippets

I have gleaned some of my texts, emails and posts, in order to capture a glimpse of these days. Each of these paragraphs stands alone, an anthology of sorts, in reverse order. I feel the desire to compile them in one place.

It is curious to watch how difficult it is for me to quiet my mind , like the rest of us I presume. From my vantage point in life, I know we will be changed by all of this. There will be no “getting back to normal”. It will be a new normal.

I pray for no atrocities, and try to hold up the goodness in human beings.

Some of the stories I read keep me awake at night.

My own traumas have informed me during this time . Sometimes triggering, but more often, I hope, giving me wisdom and calm. For many, this is their first feeling of loss — loss of control, loss of niavete, loss of how they imagined their life would unfold, loss of hope, powerlessness to something happening to them they did not choose, fear of the future. It’s like a mass trauma. A saving grace might be the shared nature of it…no shame, no feeling of “why me”.

The trick is to hold the feeling awful (compassion) alongside the wisdom that they will be deepened by this ..carved out, if you will. Of course, we do not wish suffering on anyone even when we have come out the other side and know the gifts it can bless us with, but it can be important to hold that vision for the other.

I have begun reading my way through Etty Hillesum’s diary once again. Her courage, her ability to find beauty, to love humanity and find the face of God in us, as a young Jewish woman in the midst of our atrocity, speak deeply to me at this time. This quote jumped off the page at me this morning, “If you have given sorrow the space its gentle origins demand, then you can truly say: life is beautiful and so rich. so beautiful and rich it makes you want to believe in God”

I am struck at the juxtaposition of the old and the new, by the way we are simultaneously thrust into old, slow ways of doing and being — quarantine as medical intervention, isolated nuclear or extended families relying upon one another, making lists and shopping in bulk rather than making convenience stops, cooking and eating meals at home rather than eating out, a generation of women experiencing being stay-at-home moms — while at the same time relying upon modern technology to do things in new ways- church services streaming, businesses meeting on zoom, social media connecting.

A story of a young man being struck suddenly and severely with the disease, one hour talking with his grandmother (a friend of mine) over lunch the next unresponsive and on life support has struck me deeply. It speaks to the randomness, the frailty of human life, the preciousness of a moment. The sharing of her story has redeemed social media connections, which some see only as shallow. Her words were “Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your loving presence via this. For us who are quarantined at home it is a huge gift to have this feeling of interconnectedness with all of you. Quite frankly, It is priceless”

This young man’s case also makes an important point about looking at numbers. The good news is that it appears the young man is rebounding from what the medical staff at first deemed “End of Life”. He will show up on data as part of the 20% hospitalized, and of them the ones requiring ICU . But he will likely not die. As a younger person he is more able to withstand the assault, which an older person wouldn’t. But stats don’t reveal how very serious it was for him and his family. Stats only show that old/vulnerable people are the ones who are dying (as if that is ok??) not necessarily the suffering that many (1000’s?) of others go through.
Stories like this give human flesh to statistical figures that say ‘x’ number of people will require ventilators. It’s not just machines. It’s human beings

” We can live out of love or we can act out of fear. We can anchor our response to the happenings around us in tenderness and hope, or we can live in a more hollow and grasping place of negativity and anger” – Claudia Cummins

“We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, and flowers from the same garden.” Roman philosopher, Seneca, posted on crateloads of masks shipped from China to Italy

‘Touch’ one person today with Compassion. It will spread exponentially

Perhaps this phenomena is something like the rush on toilet paper, except it is happening now in virtual space. We really don’t need that much after all, but there is something in us that grasps onto anything in times of uncertainty and becomes obsessed with it. Try not to add just one more, out of despair. The energy will settle here too…and we will be able to see what is truly needed, to choose only what is vital
There is the story of Indra’s net that always brings me home. In it, each of us imagined to be a jewel, called to hold our own place in the net. If we don’t do so, the whole thing comes unraveled. I think of that jewel, holding the threads that spire outward from it, as having maybe 6 strands. My job is to hold onto just those… and you to hold onto yours. That’s the way we hold onto one another. One by one. To try to grasp the entire mind-boggling vastness of that web would be an exercise in futility and exhaustion for me.
So thank you for all that you offer and hold. I trust that each of us, and all of us together, holding one onto the other will hold this fragile web together.
Find one thing you can do. One person you can attend to. One loving word , or prayer you can share. One moment of quiet. Small things. Great love

The same as I can’t control what is happening in the world with this epidemic, I also cannot control how others will feel or respond to it. I thought I was okay with the first one (even feeling a bit haughty about surrendering to that powerlessness) but I see now that I was not ok with the second — the inability to control the feelings, responses and actions of others.
That’s a completely different invitation to letting go.. Not everyone has to feel or act the way that I do. I’ll begin practicing that today.

Yes, you can

It seems to me that a midwife/doula is what we all need. Someone to remind us that we can get through this time of transition and confinement. In our culture, we’re not used to things happening to us, out of our power to stop, forcing our lives to change all at once…except, as women, we are.

This baby (new life, new way of living) is coming, no matter. That pain of transition is necessary. That adjustment to the new normal, the loss of social connection, (once upon a time post-partum days were literally ones of “confinement”), loss of our previous ways of life, loss of identity, loss of freedom, with no option to escape or to say ‘I won’t do this”, was reality

Just as in the transition stage of birth, we’re not used to pushing through difficult spaces. We want an easy way out, but life itself emerges from that discomfort.

And we did it. We stayed with the discomfort because we had no choice, until it passed into a new life. Until the new way of being felt both normal and blessed. Until we were transformed into someone new.

It feels hard, reality-altering, impossible at first..oh, those first weeks… but after the transition, life shifts. We think in our heads that it’s too hard, but living through it in our bodies, day to day, week by week, rather than escaping the discomfort of the moment into something we think feels easier, reveals unexpected, unthinkable, previously unknowable blessing.

Even if there is trauma, even if the birth ends in NICU babies requiring months if life support,, or special needs infants, or even tragedy, we rise, we are transformed.

We thrive. We become

It’s coming, it’s here, no matter what. Now push through.
Yes, you can

Awakened by the steady percussion of rain on the porch roof outside my window, early birds singing in concert, I was reminded that spring had dawned.
Later this gray day, Don and I walked about 5 miles on the trails behind our house. We were utterly alone out there We felt so grateful for our fortune, living where we do, having each other. The Earth was so mucky, fecund, we were also grateful for boots!!
The understory is aflush with greening buds, twigs are flushing red. Our mental health was given a breath of fresh air..

We want to know , always, but the truth is we never really do. Letting go into the unknown and living into our own humility really can lead to Peace, my friends. Stay out of the chaos. Choose Love.

“I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up.
Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now.’ -Danusha Lameris

Sometimes, humility is in order. Perhaps the time is now to practice deferring to experts, such as epidemiologists, who have years of education and experience, and authorities (local, state, federal, secretaries of health, healthcare institutions, medical professionals, CDC, Dept of State etc) who are being guided by that expertise, rather than blindly hanging on to our own biases and good opinions of ourselves. Sometimes it’s ok to realize and to say, “I don’t know” and to let go of that fearful conceit into something bigger than yourself.
I realize that trust has been broken in our society, and that its also hard to know what is true in this age of mass “information” overload, but fierce reliance upon your own opinion and your own self interest (I will only get a cold) in this case could put the lives of many at risk.
Greater good, folks. We need to watch out for one another.
And so what if we err on the side of caution. We can risk foolishness for the sake of another.

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