Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, April 29, 2021

More Light

 "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being."  - Carl Jung

"To love beauty is to see light." - Victor Hugo

"There's more light out there, go find it!" - Kendall Toole

William and I watched the first part of My Octopus Teacher last night. The beautiful documentary about a filmmaker, producer Craig Foster, and an octopus that he befriends in the frigid Atlantic waters off the coast of South Africa brought me to near-tears with its beauty. The bright colors of the corals became the bright colors of the octopus, and the sunlight shone through translucent jelly fish and other creatures in the kelp forest. Just watching the first half-hour reminded me of all the beauty, all the light that exists in the world, and how much I want to go find it after this terrible year.

The whole country staggers to its feet now that the vaccine has arrived and COVID infections are mostly down, but headlines from India and Brazil continue to buffet our awareness and mass shootings have once again surfaced as daily occurrences. Most of us have learned to ration our news intake, to distance ourselves from tragedy just to preserve our sanity, but I forgot to seek out sources of beauty and light.

Withdrawing into my hole of unconsciousness, like the octopus hiding in its rocky den, doesn't spark my joy. The Oscar-winning documentary about an unlikely friendship between a man and animal reminded me of the mystery, the miracle-filled nature of our world. William and I spoke at the same time last night as we watched Craig Foster free dive in the kelp: "I really want to do that!" There's nothing stopping us from planning that trip. We'll soon be able to explore again, to recognize how much light is out there and how much we need to find it.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Enough Love to Get Our Hands Dirty

"Do you have enough love in your heart
To go and get your hands dirty?
It isn't that much, but it's a good start
So go and get your hands dirty.
Do you love your neighbor?
Is it in your nature?
Do you love a sunset?
Aren't you fed up yet?
Do you have enough love in your heart
To go and get your hands dirty?"
-Lyrics to "Dirty" by Grandson

When we had finished our Earth Day service project, new cottonwood trees and drought-resistant shrubs dotted the high prairie landscape. Socially distanced volunteers spread out across the suburban parkland, carrying buckets of mulch from the truck to new plantings, exchanging overjoyed hellos when they passed a masked friend they hadn't seen in fifteen months. A warm sun broke through the chilly inversion layer, and curious red-winged blackbirds screeched at us when we passed by their cattail marsh.

Our Indivisible volunteers joined with a group from the office of U.S. Representative Jason Crow to put young trees and shrubs into the ground (conveniently pre-augured by the South Suburban Parks team).  We celebrated both Earth Day and the many positive actions taken by Congressman Crow to protect the environment. What a relief to have a champion in government who wants to increase protection for public lands, sponsor energy innovation, examine carbon fees and promote dividends that go back to the people. His young family joined him on site, getting their hands dirty to help protect and rebuild the landscape.

When I stood up from my own Charlie Brown-esque baby pine, I scanned the families working together and thought about last week's blog on Radical Hope, the idea that having young children provides extra motivation to address the climate crisis. That outlook felt myopic as a wider gaze took in the range of volunteers, those who came solo, couples without kids or with grown children, and I thought of the lyrics of the song "Dirty": Do you love your neighbor? Is it in your nature? Do you love a sunset? Do you have enough love in your heart to get your hands dirty?

We don't have to have children, young or old, to work for change, we just need to have enough love for something. A nesting robin, a hawk circling overhead, a family of foxes hiding in the greenbelt, spring tulips, a sunset. The love can come from any source, be directed literally anywhere on earth. If we have enough love in our hearts to get our hands dirty, we have motivation to fight, to protect the Earth and every living thing who shares it with us.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Not the Worst

 "COVID 19 in Colorado: Wave is not the worst in U.S." - Denver Post, p1, April 20, 2021

What to  make of a headline that states, "we're not the worst?"  Is that good news, bad news, or purposefully blurred news? We're getting worse, but other states have bigger problems - is that supposed to reassure me?

Today feels like a "not the worst" kind of day. The high school quarantined my senior because of "close contact," and he now awaits the results of his PCR test from his bedroom. As a result, I had to drive my freshman to school through icy, slushy streets. It took over 30 minutes to drop him off (usually a 12-minute drive) and then another 30 to get to Trader Joe's for the weekly grocery shopping. Driving west toward snow-covered mountains and blue sky, I tried to bathe in appreciation but descended into cursing the slow traffic and smut-spattered windshield.

A tall latte lifted my spirits briefly, though they crashed when I realized that the yogurt and eggs on my shopping list had never made it into my cart. The steaming beverage and bright sun brought on a hot flash which required the rolling down of windows, despite an outside temperature of 24 degrees. My uncombed hair fluttered strangely in the breeze, like the wings of a injured bird.

I had to shovel my way to the door with four heavy grocery bags, and when I was done unloading, I felt like going back to bed. The substitution of a quick blog will hopefully re-set the morning and my view on the day's chores, which include two more trips to the high school and a dentist appointment. Cheers to a day that's not the worst!

Friday, April 16, 2021

Act of Radical Hope

 "In a time of Covid-19, climate change and catastrophe, having a baby is an act of radical hope." - Tom Whyman, "Why, Despite Everything, You Should Have Kids (if You Want Them)", New York Times, April 13, 2021

I work with a lovely young woman who has two young girls, one only four months old. We met yesterday to discuss changes in the onboarding process, and she confessed that though she knew the world was a mess, she couldn't look at the news. My co-worker's biggest goal is to get her baby to transition from breastfeeding to a bottle before she can come back to work full-time.  Having faced this same issue with my oldest (twenty years ago), I could sympathize. What are headlines when your child won't eat?

In a rare moment of frustration she asked, "What are we even doing, having children, when the world is like this?" A profound question, not only in the time of COVID. Those of us in mid-life who were following the climate crisis twenty or thirty years ago asked the same question before we had our children, and the situation has not gotten better.

In 2000, before we conceived our oldest child, I asked my mentor in Environmental Studies if I should follow the dictates of my biological clock (loudly ticking), given what we knew then about global warming and its devastating potential effects.  He pondered the question, a single man with a step-daughter whom he loved. I'll never forget what Frank told me: "It's an act of hope, it forces you to work hard for a better society, a better world. When you have children, you have skin in the game."

Parents do have skin in the game, as we fight for a more just society, a functioning democracy, an environment that will continue to support life in future generations. I only have twenty-five or thirty years left on the planet if I'm lucky, and I confess that if I didn't have children, I might be tempted to give up the fight. Certainly I would have spent a lot more time in bed during the past pandemic year. 

This mindset, a personal failing, not a global truth, helps me to understand Tom Whyman's position that having a baby continues to be an act of radical hope. It's not for everyone and I applaud those who can fight for a more just world on the basis of their own moral imperatives. Personally, the three young faces at my kitchen table provide deep motivation for my work on climate change, for our personal choices in terms of solar panels and food, and for getting up out of bed each day with a positive attitude. We do not know the future, and something - someone - great may lead us into a better place that, for now, we can't yet see. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Next Stop: CU Boulder

My senior has committed to attend CU Boulder in the fall. This involves the completion of forms, including a housing application, and payment of (large sums of) money. Less formally, it includes changing his Instagram bio to read CU '25 and telling his circle of friends where he will be come August. He's excited to take classes in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, though he's never been inside it or in one of the dorm rooms on the Engineering Quad.

William told me this morning that his decision felt anticlimactic. Boulder is not an exotic out-of-state location, far away from parents (it's only forty minutes from our house), and his sister will be a junior on the same campus. I think the real difficulty in embracing the future comes not from these variables but from the strange pandemic year which prevented us from doing a tour with William, from meeting professors and potential advisors, and from seeing the University through his eyes, instead of the eyes of his older sister.

How to embrace future possibilities when you have not seen them? It brings to mind my small black cat, Jack, trying to bait his bigger "older brother," Rex. Jack sat on my desk just now, waving his dark paw at Rex's big tawny side, swiping at the air with misguided determination until he finally connected with fur. Jack got bare teeth and a hiss for his efforts, which must have been the goal. Many college seniors have felt they were 'swiping at the air' with applications this year, and were unsure of the reaction when their applications did connect with admissions staff.

But the cats are peacefully watching me now, united in their hope for an early lunch, and I hope our high school senior will move smoothly into his new role of young adult on campus, embracing the new possibilities  and realizing this new dream is even bigger and more beautiful than the last.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

No Return to Normal

Easter surprised me this year with it's sudden arrival. Coming close on the heels of my trip to Montana, I was completely unprepared. The winter wreaths were still on the doors when I came home, the Easter baskets buried under layers of gift bags in the storage room. I scrambled to do the minimum of decorating (change wreaths to spring / Easter egg theme) and purchased candy for Rob and the kids.

On Easter morning I got up at 5:15 am to drive Daniel to the youth sunrise service. He and I were tired and grouchy afterward, as I made coffee cake and prepped bacon for brunch. The older kids arrived at 9am, Aden from Boulder and William from bed, where he had only had a few hours of sleep. So much for excited kids searching for the Easter bunny's hidden eggs! No one really likes hard-boiled eggs, so I skipped them.

William and Daniel both fell asleep as we watched the 9am service online, and I jumped up to start the eggs after the sermon. A convenient service, but lacking the emotion of the soaring sopranos and horns that always move me to tears when we are in-person.

After brunch, Aden and I chatted while the boys dispersed to batting cages or bed, and I quickly cleaned up the Easter baskets so the cat wouldn't eat the green plastic "grass." The briefest Easter basket appearance in the history of our family, cut short because we didn't want to kill our cat!

Nothing is the same, do you feel that? Not only because the kids are growing up but because we have all changed, are still changing. My trip to Montana was a giant step toward joy, but not really toward normal. As my sister says, "there is no more normal. We never have any idea what the next day will hold, we just meet it as best we can." True, and disorienting.

Rex, the same cat who would binge on a diet of plastic grass if we let him, escaped last night when Daniel was taking out the trash. Of course we didn't realize it until three hours later, when I noticed his absence from the couch in our TV room, where he always dozes at night. We combed the house, and the boys hit the streets near us, shouting his name and waving flashlights. Daniel found Rex crouched in the bushes of our neighbor two doors down, and chased him back up the street and right through our front door.

The cat was spooked by his adventure, his eyes the size of dessert plates and his fur puffed out to five times it's normal volume. He immediately ran upstairs to hide under our bed, only to emerge some time later to drink as if he hadn't seen water in years.  Which reminded me of me, as I now venture back out into the world of in-person work and travel, letting my boys go back to school five days per week.  My eyes wide and my metaphysical fur on fire, excited for old routines but tearing back into the house later as if I hadn't sought refuge in years. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Laugh Until You Cry

My brother introduced us to pickleball while we were in Montana. Pickleball, a cross between ping-pong and tennis, involves hard plastic balls that take weird spins and hard paddles too short to actually reach the hard plastic balls. I only played after stipulating that I would not run to the ball or move laterally in either direction. So Karen and I were a team and John played solo. John and I shuffle when we run, and I staggered when reaching low for the ball, which spun out of reach before my bifocally befuddled eyes. Karen had a wicked backhand and moved more elegantly.

That is, she moved more elegantly until she decided to imitate my stagger, shrieking with laughter as she stumbled forward, blindly stabbing her paddle into the air in front of her knees. I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants, illustrating a different mode of cross-legged stagger as I clutched my stomach. Mom joined our laughter from the sidelines, her gleeful chuckles punctuating our game. John shouted, too, as he "ran" to pick up the loose balls.

It's been fifteen months since I laughed that hard, smiled until my cheeks hurt, wiped laughing tears from my eyes. Over a year of seriousness, of trying to smile and brace my family but struggling to find bottomless joy. My friends and I would chuckle ironically or throat-laugh at memes, but we all need to laugh until we cry, to be doubled by merriment. That pickleball game erased part of the traumatic COVID  year from my psyche.

A good thing I found my laughter, since I came home to a doctor's text asking me to schedule my first colonoscopy. That text is the strangest happy birthday message I've ever received. And on the counter with my mail, a registration form courtesy of the AARP, listing the many benefits of membership. If those include uproarious laughter, I'm all in.