Monday, March 30, 2020

Turning 49

It's a bit of an anticlimactic birthday, turning 49, just one year away from a big milestone, celebrating via text, Facebook and Zoom. Yet I've never been more grateful to see another day, let alone another year. My gratitude multiplies with the well-wishes of family and friends who are themselves well, who are trying to help health care workers by staying home with good grace and positive attitudes.

Seven or eight years ago I fell ill with strange autoimmune issues that went undiagnosed for a long time. Emerging from the pain and fear of that illness, I resolved to rest in gratitude and remember that health and well-being - for myself and my extended family and friends - were truly the golden ring. For the most part I retained that life lesson, but should I ever forget, the experience with COVID-19 has for sure highlighted and underlined the gift of health, the gift of life.

What a gift to see crow's eyes form and grey hairs sprout, to feel new aches when I climb of bed but to stretch and exercise until they (temporarily) go away. I'm also grateful to be quarantined in a tree-filled suburban neighborhood where we have room to walk six feet apart, work in the garden and watch birds and squirrels through our kitchen windows. Space that gives rise to the far-fetched notions of cultivating chickens (not allowed by the HOA), planting a victory garden (in clay soil that desperately needs amendment), and re-landscaping the front yard (obvious physical limitations).

Putting aside dreams of living off the suburban land, my real birthday wish is for everyone to prioritize their health and wellness and that our country prioritizes the health of all its people, especially the health care workers who are risking their lives for us all every day.

Stay safe and well.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Pet Therapy

In a strange yet lovely sign of the times, the city of New York is running out of dogs and cats to adopt. Shelters in the city have reported a 10-fold increase on adoption in the past two weeks (Newest shortage).  When humans are cut off from other humans and our social, pack-animal needs can't be met in the usual way we are trying to make the best of a bad thing by doing a good thing.

I wrote earlier in the week about the solace provided - at least to the humans - by our birds at the window birdfeeders. Our cats also provide unlimited humor and comfort as they alternately growl at the finches, shadow box with one another, and come clamoring for pets at our ankles throughout the day. Our animal friends are so focused on the moment and their immediate needs that they cannot help but practice mindfulness 100% of the time.

So focused on the here and now that worry doesn't enter their headspace, so content with the little things - food in the bowl, water from the faucet, a warm bed in front of the fire - that their satisfaction spreads to us. Allison Glock writes for CNN (Grandparents - Glock):

"We will need to find our purpose in the minor things, I tell my daughter. The moments. Moment by moment. We will need to become more like dogs, giddily hopping into the car when we have no idea where it's heading. And in those long, vacant hours, free of clutter and busyness and traditional validation, we will have to learn how to sit with ourselves and discover the glory and meaning in that stillness."

We need a contagion of satisfaction, of joy in the little things, to battle the contagion of fear that spreads in advance of this illness. It seems that New York, and many other cities like it, have discovered that pets can transform some of our quiet moments into joyous ones. If there are no pets at your place, a walk outdoors can reveal the unchanged patterns of birds and squirrels. They are still free and serve as reminders that - at some point in the future - freedom will also be ours.

Stay well and safe.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Birthdays in Quarantine

My nephew turned 10 on Tuesday and our extended family gathered via Zoom to sing to him and extend our wishes. Earlier that day, his Massachusetts extended family had driven by in an impromptu parade, holding signs out the car windows to say happy birthday. He had a cake and presents, a wisely-chosen Harry Potter Lego set that had already been constructed by late afternoon.

Today we host the next birthday as Daniel turns 14. I texted my siblings and their families asking them to text Daniel their birthday wishes in lieu of another Zoom meeting. They complied readily and my son's face lit up with joy when he saw the list of unread birthday wishes on his phone. His brother and sister had written their wishes into his birthday card last night, more lovingly than usual, and Daniel's face and glasses were streaked with tears when he lifted his head from that card this morning.

Joy and love exist in quarantine, birthdays and other milestones still occur.  In keeping with this love and positivity, I want to share a short list of good things happening around the country. It's copied from an anonymous Facebook post and verified by news sources. Lots of love motivating generous acts  in the country and around the world, let's make them multiply.

"In the UK, nearly 5,000 people volunteered to help the most vulnerable. In NY, 1,000 people offered to come out of retirement to help health care workers - in the first 24 hours of the request. People are stocking grocery shelves all night and letting old people shop first. Carnival Cruise line aid “We can match those big Navy Hospital ships with some fully staffed cruise ships” GM, Ford and Tesla said "hold our cars and watch this; we can make those ventilators where we were making cars." Restaurants and schools said, "We’ve got kitchens and staff; we can feed kids.” Churches are holding on-line services and taking care of their members and community. NBA basketball players said, “Hold our basketballs while we write checks to pay the arena staff.” Construction companies said, “Here are some masks for the medical staff and doctors”. Breweries are making sanitizer out of left-over ingredients."

Stay safe and well and take heart.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Kyrie Eleison

Did you know that you can text someone a Spotify playlist? I didn't, and I feel like a big goof for texting my siblings to have them find me on Spotify and then look for a certain playlist to download. Now I can just send it!

This discovery came courtesy of a swim friend from my Masters team. He sent out an 80's playlist and I listened to it during my long walk today. The sun shone on the last of the snow and the creeks were full of the snowmelt, chickadees and hatches chirped like crazy, except when one of our local hawks flew overhead. In my south suburban snowglobe it's a paradisiacal day, one where the only signs of strangeness are the number of people on the trails on a random Tuesday morning and the way those people carefully avoid one another by providing six feet of space upon passing.

As I walked west toward the snow-capped Rockies, one of my old favorites came through my headphones. I was 14 years old when "Kyrie Eleison" was released and, like many songs that first hit us during our teen years, it brought back vivid memories. Driving to swim meets, hanging out with friends, long afternoons holed up in my room, these memories flashed through my consciousness. Then the meaning of the words came through on the song's persistent chorus:

"Kyrie Eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie Eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie Eleison, where I'm going, will you follow?
Kyrie Eleison, on a highway in the light."
- From "Kyrie Eleison" by Mister, Mister

Kyrie Eleison means "Lord, have mercy." I grew up using this phrase every Sunday during Catholic mass. The words are appropriate now for all of us, for our country and for the world. Lord, please have mercy on us down this road that we are traveling, this highway that seems dark and not light.

Of course, I cried again (only my second time today, though) before switching over to different thoughts and a bubble-gum pop tune from the same era. But if you want to check Spotify for Mister, Mister's song, it's a good one for now. I can even text it to you.

Stay well and safe,

Monday, March 23, 2020

One Tribe, Music Monday

"One tribe, one tribe
One tribe, one time, one planet, one (race)
Race, one love, one people, one (and)
Too many things that's causing one (to)
Forget about the main cause
Connecting, uniting"
- Black Eyed Peas, "One Tribe"

Listening to this song on my walk yesterday, I felt my heart beat heavier against my rib cage. How true this is now,  the differences between people are dwarfed by COVID-19. The disease only emphasizes how similar we are and how the survival of one depends on the survival of all. (If you want to listen and watch Black Eyed Peas, go here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5E_yFyGDjM.)

Music surfaces all over my Facebook page and William's Reddit as groups of people around the world unite in song from their socially distanced positions. We've heard Italians singing and playing instruments in their windows and on their balconies, Spaniards singing for health care workers, students in Boston chanting "Lean on Me," citizens of Chicago belting out "Living on a Prayer" (OK, that was just my sister-in-law in my niece, but full points for trying), children's choirs harmonize virtually in a performance that moved from in-person to online. Amazing.

On this sunny Monday morning in Colorado I am grateful for my family bonding time, grateful that our family game of Hearts ended in laughter and not tears (a first), thankful for Rob and William's long walk together yesterday, for doing yoga with Aden and for Daniel's virtual bonding with friends in their communal Minecraft game. I want to add music to our personal daily mix, both to join the global chorus and to get lost from the thoughts in my own head. 

Wishing you a Musical Monday. Stay safe and well,

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Darkness is Inevitable, Despair is Optional

Rob, Aden, Daniel and I just "went to church" via live stream and I discovered - when too choked up to say the Lord's Prayer - that I cry just as easily at online church as I do in the building. As I ran to get a box of Kleenex I cursed my easy-cry gene while blessing the technology that brings so much life into our homes. Rev Mark's message focused on Psalm 23, amazingly apt though he planned this sermon series last summer. He distilled the psalmist's words into two focal points: darkness is inevitable but despair is optional; and, don't let the darkness obscure what God has shown you in the light.

Technology also enabled a visual check of one big blessing- our extended family - last night. My mom, siblings and their families all connected with us via Zoom "happy hour." What a relief to see everyone smiling and healthy despite the dire headlines, and what a great escape to laugh at my brothers' bad jokes and with the toddlers and young children who ran through the screens. We could hear parents admonishing their little ones off camera to "take your hands off his neck" and see toddler tears erupt over a dropped popsicle in the background. Older cousins explained what their online school looked like and how they were connecting with friends in our new reality. We all thought about how we had probably had had too many children.

My brother, James, recommended investing in live chickens to ensure a steady egg supply. We mused from separate time zones over the probability of Amazon delivering live chickens. James then canceled the whole idea, realizing that four adults, three children, three dogs already composed a group of 10 and the state of California wouldn't allow a bigger gathering.

I thought, why have we never done this before? The kids get to see their cousins and my whole family can connect in one virtual place... amazing. And then remembered, we have always been far too busy to make this work. Social and athletic commitments would have never allowed for a weekend "Zoom date," and what a strange gift to be able to prioritize it now.  We even sang "Happy Birthday" to all the March birthdays before promising to reconnect next week.

I don't know about you, but I am weirdly emotional now, and cry easily not only at online church and Zoom happy hours but throughout the day. Headlines like "One thousand retired medical workers volunteer to come back and help in New York" start the fountain, and the caremongering and random acts of kindness sprouting up all over the world do the same. What can I do today that shines light into somebody's darkness?

Something to think about as I head out on a walk. I'll never match my brother John's 30 - 40,000 steps each quarantine day but I can clear my head and keep moving forward.

Stay safe and well,

Friday, March 20, 2020

Groceries in a Time of Pandemic

Grocery shopping has never deprived me of sleep before, and I have never considered grocery store employees to be heroic, but both mental shifts occurred in the past twelve hours. I was up at 3:00, 4:00, and 5:00am worrying about the grocery run and my last nightmare left me with the image of an empty shopping cart and one small bag of limp carrots in hand.

I decided to shop last night when I realized that we were running low on eggs and bananas and considered the thought that Colorado's governor might follow California's example and put the entire state in quarantine. We can still grocery shop in quarantine, of course, but I wanted to get it over with. I planned to be at our local grocery store (King Soopers - Kroger to the rest of the country) by the opening time of 7am today, and even persuaded my sixteen-year-old, William, to be my wingman.

At 6:45am I roused William with the novel phrase, "Get up, it's time to go grocery shopping." He mumbled something about never having heard that before and then we ventured forth in Rob's 4-wheel-drive vehicle since the driveway and local roads are iced and rutted with yesterday's 8 inches of snow Upon our 7:02 arrival, we joined a line of 10 - 15 people being held at bay by a cheery store manager who said she had worked ten days straight.

Standing in the chilly air, our frozen breath filled the gap between us and the next person in line. The mood was somber until a gentleman strode up alongside (but not too close) and asked what was happening. We explained that only groups of 3 - 4 people could go in at once - unless you were over 60, in which case you could go right in - and he chuckled and said that he was 63 but no one would believe it because he looked so young.  William and I reassured him that he certainly did look too young but we wouldn't begrudge him an early start, so he chortled a bit more and headed up to get his eggs.

When we entered after  twenty minutes in line, we were reassured to see produce on the shelves and flowers and Easter decorations in their usual spot. We bypassed these for the paper product / cleaning aisle, aisle 11, which had its very own guard and blockade. The petite employee standing guard allowed one or two shoppers at a time and people very civilly waited to procure their one Lysol wipe container, one paper towel, one package of toilet paper and so on. Prior to the pandemic I would never have thought that aisle 11 would contain the most prized objects - maybe the ice cream and frozen pizza in aisle 15 but never aisle 11.

Before we left the store, the Lysol wipes and rubbing alcohol were both gone, but we felt somewhat reassured that more would follow. All of the shoppers seemed similarly calm and thanked the cashiers and long-suffering store manager profusely for their help.

Then we cruised the rest of the store, William hooking some chips and frozen fruit for smoothies while I grabbed meat for dinners and even probiotics - on sale! When checking out we bagged our groceries in the reusable bags we brought since employees are no longer allowed to touch those. We both wore gloves that we threw in the wash at home, but otherwise things seemed almost normal - like last week, before Tom Hanks tweeted and the NBA canceled.

I am grateful to everyone working in the stores, including cashiers, managers and cleaners, and to the truck drivers and warehouse managers and everyone on the resupply lines. I will continue to value them long into the future, into a new normal that we cannot yet envision.

Stay well and safe,