Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Fear and Worry

"Fear does not stop death, it stops life."
- Vi Keeland

"Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained."
-Arthur Sommers Roche

A friend of mine, T, teaches yoga and strength classes at the club where I swim and coach Masters. I taught both of her young kids to swim and worked with T on her own freestyle so that she felt confident enough to swim with Masters on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Last week I joined her virtual yoga class and got a great workout and sense of fellowship from the people on the call. T's been teaching in this virtual community since the club furloughed all of its employees. Her husband is also looking for work, and she just found out - on Saturday - that her health insurance policy would end on April 30.

So T has a number of challenges, though she is strong, capable, beautiful in both body and spirit. She shared the quote about fear in our shavasana today, and mentioned that it was a touchstone for her in these trying times.  She also passed along the quote about worry, which resonated with me, as my genetics lends itself to anxiety.

On our walk this morning William shared that he, too, had been worrying again, after a brief time when being cocooned in our house felt safe and sufficient. Classes, college prep, the resumption of swimming (maybe?) had all started jostling for pole position in his list of concerns. I am going to send him this quote from Arthur Sommers Roche - it paints a picture in which we create our own mental valleys, our own avalanches of spirit. Or, we can avoid them.

A good goal, to recognize fear but not let it steal life, to acknowledge worry but keep it to a trickle. As many parts of the country open up and we try to return to old activities with new uncertainties, these handholds (one for the left and one for the right!) might help me to stay stable - at least for an afternoon.

Stay well and safe.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Finding Campbell and Tolkien

"We must be willing to let go
Of the life we had planned,
So as to have the life
That is waiting for us."
- Joseph Campbell

Frodo: "I wish it need not have happened in my time."
Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times; but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

This week's news has me teetering between hope and fear. Headlines that read, "First Vaccine Starts Human Trials!" or "Vaccine Possible by September!" are followed by, "Virus will rebound by August" or "Virus Compounded by Flu Season Will be Worse." Along with the reported majority of Americans, I want to get back to some degree of normal but I am afraid that my family will get sick.  We are in a prolonged and uncertain period of in-between, what writers call a liminal space.

Google defines a liminal space as a "transitional or transformative space, a waiting area between one point in time and space and the next." What it doesn't say: liminal spaces, while often grounds for creative new solutions, are profoundly uncomfortable. Most people do not like them at all.  When I think about existing in a liminal space from now to 2022 (as some headlines indicate), I falter. My heart rate goes up, my brain starts spinning and projecting odd black-and-white "what-if" scenes against a background of frantic grey matter. My teenagers attending college online at the kitchen table, our swimming pools closed indefinitely, no jobs, oh my!  In response, the small rational part of my brain starts rummaging through old books, movies, poems, and prayers for quotes to throw up against the screen and stop my perseverating.

My prefrontal cortex often finds the Campbell and Tolkien quotes above and hastily inserts them into the reels of my mental movies, stopping their progression like an rod thrown between gears. Some balanced, thoughtful segment of my brain realizes that time is a gift, no  matter how uncertain or unknown.  I have been given this life, these days with my family, to celebrate and work with, and even when things smooth out and regulate I will not get a do-over. Each day is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appreciate existence. It's difficult to let go of hopes and plans that root in the past, and to avoid spinning projections about an unknown future, but the best way through this liminal space is to appreciate the now, the time we have.

Stay safe and well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Between Scylla and Charybdis

"Scylla and Charybdis are two famous monsters from Greek mythology, who worked in tandem on the opposite sides of a narrow strait of water. This strait was navigated by Odysseus in The Odyssey. ... The combination of Scylla and Charybdis gave rise to an old saying of 'between Scylla and Charybdis,' a saying which evolved into the more popular idiom, 'between a rock and a hard place,' both sayings equating to dangers which ever direction was faced."

The masked healthcare workers in green scrubs standing in the crosswalk during Sunday's Denver protest faced down a crowd of screaming hundreds unarmed, speechless and motionless. The photo above has gone viral and the healthcare workers, who did not want to be named, loom even larger in my mind as heroic figures. The photo is hard to look at; it embodies the tensions rising in our country even as we face a historic test, a test which requires unity.  We are not all in the same boat - some people without jobs, without money for groceries, feel like they are in a sinking raft, while others of us can still pay rent or mortgage and afford to feed our children - but our communal health depends on unified action. Like those demanding the right to work and to possibly get sick, we are all between two monsters, bruised on both sides, facing danger in all directions.

For me, the power of the photograph rests with the healthcare workers who have put their lives on the line. They do not have enough supplies, medicine or PPE to guarantee their own wellness, and when they took positions in the crosswalks on Sunday did so only during the red lights, unwilling to risk anyone's health as they bore mute witness to the suffering we can't see in the nation's hospitals. They listened to taunts and threats even as their presence promised the protesters, "We will be here to treat you, even as you get sick from joining this crowd, from ignoring the social distancing orders."

The picture rouses so much emotion that I am left without argument, only questions. I wonder what we will think when we look back at this picture in six months or a year?  Will this photo be in our grandchildren's history books? What will the caption say?

Our country is poised between Scylla and Charybdis. Pray that we move forward carefully, navigating dangers on all sides. We may not all be on the same boat but our flotilla is connected, and we need to get everyone safe across.

Stay safe and well.

Saturday, April 18, 2020


When Rob first started to work from our home office, I hesitated to make loud noises during his conference calls. When it came time to make a lunch-time smoothie, I would wait until he was off the call, or write him a note asking if it was OK to run the Vitamix, to which he would usually give the thumb's up.  Now that all three kids are home and the Vitamix experiences high demand throughout the day, we have given up coordinating our timing with Rob's calls, and he sometimes stalks to the opposite end of the house despite wearing noise-canceling headphones.

The five of us are a team, specifically a "quaranteam." That's a brand-new word to explain how folks who usually live alone are banding together to ride out this time of social isolation together, an oxymoron normalized by the current strangeness. Though we're extremely lucky to have space and technology at home with which to maintain jobs and schools, we often find ourselves jostling each other in the small kitchen or running up or downstairs to investigate (and yell about) the source of pounding bass drops or howls of frustration.

We have to coordinate our TV-watching in the evening (the only time we use TV, since phones and computers are ubiquitous). I watch something light and harmless like a singing competition or baking show (or re-runs from the Rio Olympics) and then give way to Rob and William watching their dark, apocalyptic series. I can't watch these, finding them too close to real life. I can barely fall asleep above the TV room listening to the harsh minor chords and pounding beats that indicate dreadful turns of events.

The refrigerator and pantry are also sources of inquiry and often, discontent. As my friend described it, the boys frequently visit the refrigerator and stand in front of an open door, checking to see if anything new has "grown there" in the past twenty minutes. Between Instacart and Amazon Fresh orders, we do have groceries arriving every few days, but the pace is outstripped by the rampant eating of my teenagers.

Despite these minor frustrations, I enjoy quaranteaming with my family. My father always told me and my four siblings that family is bedrock, the people you can count on when you're down and out. I can't help but feel that living together through these challenging times will make a mark on my children, that despite their issues and frustrations with one another, they will realize the strength in their unity.  And one of the blessings of this time is that I can say goodnight to all of them in one place and wake up to see them all safe in the morning.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Resilient by Nature

"Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color."
- W.S. Merwin, "Separation"

The temperature on my rose - gold Apple watch bumped 30 degrees F at 10am yesterday morning and I flew out of the house in a bizarre sort of reverse yard-sale*, pulling on jacket, gloves, face mask, hat and sun glasses as I set my face toward the mountains and my back to cleaning and cooking. While counting myself among the luckiest people in the world, to be well and to have the Rockies as the backdrop to my outdoor walk, I still breathed a sigh of relief to be out of the house.

One of the double-edged swords that accompanies life in Denver is that the weather can be 71 degrees on Saturday afternoon and 21 degrees on Sunday morning. We had record lows on Monday and Tuesday mornings, too, and no one left the house for several days. That's true for a great many millions on earth at the moment, and it's hard. We miss our friends, our families, the ease of work and commerce. We pray for the ones who are sick and for the families who mourn. Our continued isolation and the burden of not having an endpoint start to weigh heavy.  The things we miss color our days, like Merwin's thread of absence penetrating his every act.

I keep telling myself to be resilient, like the birds who survived our cold spell by fluffing up into puffer-versions of themselves and camping out consistently in our bird feeders. I was eager to see how the crocuses and young tulips fared under the 3 inches of snow and freezing cold temperatures, and as I half-ran through the neighborhood, feeling my breathe crystallize on my face mask, I could see they were barely bothered. Short spring flowers shrugged their green shoulders and turned their tightly-budded faces to the sun. By the time I came back, an hour or so later, even the long-stemmed daffodils had straightened and risen above the shrinking snowbank.

"Nature is so resilient," I thought, and then caught myself. We are also Nature, not apart from but one with. If the spring greens and young things can survive a few snowfalls and record, bitter cold, so can we pass through this time of quarantine and societal change. We might get some frostbite, some stunted social growth, but we can also push through the trouble and turn our faces to the warmth. As Rihanna says "Turn your face towards the sun / Let the shadows fall behind you."  (Towards the Sun, "Home").

*A yard-sale, for those who don't ski or snowboard, occurs when you wipe out going downhill and lose all of your gear and outer clothing in the process of tumbling down a mountain.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

In the Middle of a Resurrection

Aden and I went for a walk yesterday in the 70-degree weather and passed a yard overcome with a creeping vine. Though it was probably a weed, it was full of starry purple flowers, scattered throughout the young green grass. "I'm sure they're not supposed to be there," said my daughter, "but they are really pretty."

So many things are not supposed to be where they are on this Easter day, as we hunt for signs of life and beauty like the kids used to hunt for candied eggs. We celebrated Easter service this morning with online church, our choir connected via Zoom meeting from many different homes, beautiful yet sad as we watched the screen fill with familiar faces that seem far away.

On this Easter day it's 20 degrees and snowing, a sharp turnaround from yesterday's balmy spring, another neck-spraining, whipsaw change. We watched snow fall past the office window as we listened to Rev Mark preach on  John's gospel, relaying how Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on a bleak Sunday morning. While the other disciples were locked in a room, tossing and turning, fearful of arrest, planning how to get back to their old lives, their old normal, Mary went out in search of Jesus. Rev Mark stressed that it was still dark when Mary went to the tomb, still hopeless when God was staging a miracle. The message: if we have faith, if we pursue God / love / hope while it is still dark, we will wake one day in the middle of a resurrection.

It's important for me to think about our resurrection - as a country - as a world - as a movement forward to a new normal. We can't go back to the way things were. Before the virus many people were lonely, many were sick and uninsured, were hungry and living paycheck to paycheck. We never saw our neighbors, spent less time with our families.  Let's not go back to the way things were; when we find ourselves, God willing, in the midst of the resurrection, let's make things better.

When Mary found Jesus in the garden, she didn't recognize him. He had to help her understand the miracle that had occurred, and then he warned her not to cling to him. In the midst of the joyful reunion, Jesus was already telling his followers that his presence wasn't permanent. He would not be the great human leader they followed into Jerusalem, he would not bring back their old dreams, the old normal. Instead, his followers would turn into leaders themselves, prophets of a new Christianity. They would spread out across the world with a deeper and more profound belief than before.

That must have been scary. In the midst of a resurrection with flowering joy and astonishment, there must still have been fear. We humans don't immediately love what's new, but we can adjust - look how the world adjusted to our at-home orders - many sociologists find our collective adaptations miraculous, and the worst-case scenarios have diminished accordingly.

 In the Christian churches we greet each other on Easter morning with the words "He is risen!"  I wonder, can we rise? Will our grandkids look back at this time and see that we rose to the occasion, that we persisted with hope while it was dark and created a new normal out of the ashes of the old?  When we find ourselves in the middle of a resurrection, let's become the leaders we wanted to follow, let's make it so.

Happy Easter, stay safe and well.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Haircuts and Howls

"Strange things are afoot at the Circle K."
- Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, 1989

Rob purchased clippers and scissors last week when it became obvious that barber visits had no place on our calendar for the foreseeable future. He tested the clippers on himself with some success and has been threatening the boys with buzz cuts. Daniel shrieks in futile denial when the subject comes up but William, with a shaggy mane of black hair, agreed to succumb to the scissors last night after dinner.

With hair wet from the shower, William perched on a stool in the backyard and clutched a towel around his bare neck and chest. Thus prepared, our sixteen-year-old micromanaged his coiffure as Rob and I circled him in focused tandem, Rob with the clippers and I with black comb in hand.

"More here," said William as he lifted his top-heavy forelock. "Not too much, watch the comb, Mom. Now move my ear out of the way to get the sides."

"Sit up straight," said Rob to William as clumps of black hair fell to the grass, tufts sticking out amid the new green shoots. Then to me, "Stop pulling the comb away! You have to hold still."

Both William and I froze obediently, and somehow, in a strange sort of hairdresser dance, we managed a cut that met with the teenager's approval. A victorious baptism for the clippers, a huge relief for the parents blinking against the setting sun as we cleaned up and high-fived.

Later in the evening, as I watched Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn shepherd a new field of designers toward money and fame on "The Cut," Aden burst into the room saying, "It's time for the howl, do you hear it?"

Pressing mute on the remote and focusing on the open window, we could indeed hear many people howling in solidarity, in rebellion, in support of medical professionals. Denver's answer to Italy's communal singing, New York's nightly applause for health care workers, Chicago's city song, the 8:00 howl has started to catch on.  Even in our suburban neighborhood, howls continued to rise from various directions as Aden and I crossed the street in our pajamas and bare feet to take in the supermoon. The random howling seemed more appropriate as the huge moon rose above our pine tree, not pink as promised, but certainly huge and glowing.

On our way back into the house, Aden said, "Strange things are afoot...." and in this time of odd firsts and random victories, nothing could be more true.

Stay safe and well.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

An Oddly Familiar Holy Week

It's the beginning of another new and different week in our world. I'm struck by how different Palm Sunday and Easter look to all of us this year, especially to the children. Thinking of our previous neighborhood egg hunts,  I made a wreath out of our old plastic eggs and hung it near the garage so all of the local littles can see it on their walks, bikes and big wheel rides. 

But at times I am more struck by the differences than I am by what can be created new. I dwell on what used to pass as normal and now seems far away. I miss Easter lilies and green palms, miss the choir and trumpets at church. My Sunday School students are sheltering in place with their families, missing their friends and the 6am youth Easter service.

Last week, at one of these lower points, I received my regular "Eco-Justice Notes" email from Rev. Peter Sawtell (Peter's website is here: Eco-Justice). The following quote from last week's "Notes" just reached out and grabbed my attention, turning my ruminative thoughts in a new direction:

"For Easter, too, the pews will not be packed. How do we make sense of the greatest festival of the church year when we cannot gather together? The Episcopal bishop of Colorado wrote to her diocese, "I am reminded that when the first Easter happened, the disciples were holed up, hiding in fear for their lives and Resurrection happened!" We share in a different kind of Easter experience when we're alone and afraid."

How affirming that we're one with the first Christians during this strange time, possibly more aligned with Holy Week than we've ever been before. In a lonely and strange period when we're afraid, we are in precisely the time when Jesus says to his disciples, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." Hoping we can all realize that we're not alone, that we can get through the tough days ahead, and find the new life that awaits on the other side.

Stay well and safe.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Just Hope and a Vision

Well, it's Friday, if you're keeping track, and despite rays of light and moments of hope, it's been a tough week for the world. I've been stumbling about online trying to find inspiration for a blog post that would "deepen the argument for being alive" (2020/02/deepen-argument) and bumped into a post from the Harvard Radcliffe College Class of 93 page that might fit the bill.*

The post consists of a black and white photo of Nelson Mandela, clothed in a white prisoner's uniform and staring out between the bars of his prison-room window. The expression on his face is somber, his unused smile lines sinking down toward his low jaw.  The words below the photo, only this:

"In isolation for 27 years. No family, luxuries, phone. Just hope and a vision. We can do this."

Can we hold fast to the tightrope of hope and build a vision for a better world? Mandela did both for 27 years of imprisonment, a mortal who transcended human needs and limits to emerge as a brilliant light, his glow not dimmed but refined by his time of waiting.  Just hope and a vision. We can do this.

* Thanks to Damon K. Roberts for the post and inspiration.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Donating Blood

Nurse Sandy reclined my chair so that I stared up at the white tile ceiling, clenching a squeeze ball every five seconds and praying that my puny veins would continue to yield blood. She turned to William, about six feet away from me, and began the process with him. "You didn't get your veins from your Mom, that's for sure! You'll probably be done before her."

"Yes, he beats me at everything," I said, reflecting on my inadequate veins and low hemoglobin count, which barely met the threshold for blood donors. My faint concern was multiplied by leaving home quarantine. It felt odd to be in a room with so many people unrelated to me and to let the nurse within my new preferred personal perimeter of 6 feet.

"Thanks for coming out today," she said to both of us kindly, as William's blood raced down the tube and my monitor beeped in alarm at my diminished blood flow.

"We wanted to help," I said, "and it's the only thing we can do to support our healthcare providers."

She adjusted the needle in my arm and increased the pressure on the blood pressure cuff. "I think you're going to make it, Laura. I was worried, but I think we'll get there.  You know, it's funny, we've been packed the past two weeks - so many donors that we don't know what to do! I'm not sure if it's the same with other states, but folks here in Colorado really come out to help."

Though super-grateful to live in a state with so many helpful humans, I did feel somewhat deflated (literally and figuratively). We had been nervous to venture out from home, to enter the big room with  6 nurses and 6 - 8 donors spread out around the perimeter. Though hand sanitizer and clean gloves were everywhere, and I watched Sandy clean my chair before I sat in it, it still felt foreign and perhaps even foolhardy to be there. Was it an empty gesture?

But then I finished, and William started feeling faint. Sandy rushed over some ice and cool cloths and gave him some apple juice as he finished donating his pint. Worry overtook my selfish concerns and I sat near him and ate Cheetos while he slowly recovered. The nurses said, "Next time, eat more. It' a cheat day when you donate because we're taking 700 - 800 calories from you."

Wow! For me that's a great reason to follow their instructions not to workout, and for William that's a head's up that he needs far more calories before giving blood. When I asked him why he refused to stop, he said, "Because no matter how bad I was feeling, the people out there who need this blood are feeling way worse."

And just like that, my worries (temporarily) slipped away.
Stay well and safe.