Monthly Archives: February 2021

The Other Side

We are almost there. Friends are vaccinated – they got their tickets to freedom. Nursing home residents got their shots, their passports to visitors. Conversations are lighter even as they consist of reports of what has not been done this past year, affirmations of good citizenship and pats on the back for not being superspreaders. Stories of not seeing loved are badges of honor. Tales of garage gatherings, backyard bubbles, and pod participants prevail. We should have invested in portable fire pits, bicycles, and adult snowsuits.

We are almost to the other side. I wonder what will change, how we will be different. I see it in others. My next door neighbor is now a champion sourdough bread baker. His culinary creations marvel any found in San Francisco. My sister Eileen, a Bon Appetit aficionado, has mastered buttery confections worthy of any five star restaurant. My friend Shannon – who in the past could care less about cooking – is now a recipe guru, including holistic, naturalist cures for simple ailments like heartburn and sleep loss. Family members have moved or are moving, concrete evidence of lifestyle shifts.

The pandemic facilitated change. When we’re in the midst of normalcy, autopilot is a mindless, easy course of action. We do what we always do because we’ve always done it. We’ve involuntarily stepped away from the norm, and many of us now we have time to reflect on the way we live, to consider alternative journeys, to shift and intentionally choose a new path, or hobby, or job, or home, or approach to life.

Last month, I opted to have a major surgery done on my right ankle due to posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, a degenerative disorder previously treated with shoe orthotics, creative taping, and loads of Ibuprofen. I wanted to put off the surgery for a year or two when my friend Teresa asked, “Why don’t you do it now? There’s nothing else to do during Covid.” So I did.

I’m four weeks into being cast-bound, surrounded by books on this couch – Ann Lamott’s Stiches, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, Amanda Blake’s Your Body is your Brain, The Arbinger Institute’s The Outward Mindset, Five Minutes with the Word for Lent 2021 (how ironic), The Gospel According to John (my Lenten focus), Northouse’s Leadership, Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, and Winnie the Pooh’s Storybook Collection – in anticipation for Eileen and Charlie’s next visit. I also just unpacked my latest delivery – The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. I’m ready to host! I’m trying to figure out how to hoard all this great stuff into being a better me.

Then I reflect, see a new way, shift, and feel tremendous relief. It’s not about me. Thank goodness. There is collective growth. We are all indeed in this together. 

The mandate of being transformed by a year of lockdown is like a command to be different at Easter. We don’t have to do it. We get to choose. I don’t have to figure this out. I can rest in unknowing and in the moment-by-moment soaking up the insight of great writers, the loving voice on the phone or smiling face on Zoom, the marvel of the white snow chef’s hat on our outdoor grill.

We don’t change because we have to; we change because we want to, because it’s fun and interesting and fascinating and inspiring. And sometimes the personal tweak is so subtle, we can’t articulate it. But we know there has been a softening, an opening. Complacency is like sludge or plaque, flow inhibitors in our hearts, literally and metaphorically. We intentionally strive to move toward a more grateful, creative, loving vision of ourselves and our world. We stumble, we get up, and we keep going. There’s no quitting allowed. 

We are almost there.

In the meantime, we’re here – just where we’re supposed to be. I rejoice in that awareness. I’m not waiting until I’m vaccinated to dance in the joy of being right here – casted during Covid. Viktor Frankl got it right when he said we get to choose our attitude. We may be frustrated by the pace of the vaccine rollout. We may see injustice in the distribution.  But we are not victims. 

Dance. Do it in any way that makes you feel the aliveness of your soul. Friedrich Nietzche wrote, “Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” 

We get to stop, lean in, and listen to the rhythms that set us free.   If you can’t hear the notes, ask a friend for help. Mine help me all the time. 

761 Days

That’s how many days Anne Frank spent hidden from the Nazi’s from 1942-1944 when she was captured, sent to two concentration camps, and died of Typhus. She was given a diary on her 13th birthday, and she filled pages with observations of her 2 years and 46 days in the Secret Annex, her warehouse attic shelter in Amsterdam. I wonder if high schoolers still read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, a collection of haunting reflections of the day-to-day mundacity of being sheltered from an ever-threatening world.

I studied abroad from 1983-1984, and at Christmastime, my friend Martha and I traversed Europe on a Eurail Pass. We traveled from London to Brussels (most noted for the fountain produced by a young boy’s urine) and then to Amsterdam.

Most college kids who’ve been to this amazing city tell drug and Red Light district stories. Not us. We focused on our list of must sees. After staring at Rembrandt’s Nightwatch in the Rijksmuseum, we ventured to the Anne Frank House where I was captivated by the descriptions of the Franks – Anne, Margot, Edith and Otto – and those invited by Otto Frank – Hermann, Auguste, and Peter van Pels along with Fritz Pfeiffer. We learned about those who helped them, those gutsy enough to supply food, toiletries, reading material, and updates on the War. Martha and I spent half a day studying every nook and cranny of the minimalist space as we tried to imagine adolescence in complete confinement with limited connection to the outside world.

My life has always been one of liberty. My parents were strict, but I could come and go – as long as I was home for dinner by 5:30. Today, with below zero temperatres and a casted ankle, I read what I want, sing my heart out, noisily wheel around from room to room, and hoist my cast upon ottomans strategically placed for elevation and icing. All just for me. I do not share a rigid bathroom schedule with seven other people. My days of living with six other people are over. My kids are grown. Through large windows, I revere daily sunrises and sunsets – very confident that I’ll be around for the view tomorrow. I’m visited by our usual critters – turkeys, raccoons, possums, deer, and other unidentifiable four-footed friends.

Anne Frank had no such visitors and no glimpse of the subtly delightful shifts of nature and weather. Technology consisted of hushed, crackly radio broadcasts. Silence-filled hours tolled the passage of the day. She wrote that she longed to be outside, to be free from the entrapment of the attic, to scream, to talk loudly, to tell her mother what she really thnks, to fall in love.

I think about the last 335 days – give or take a few days – of the pandemic, and I wonder what Anne Frank would say about Covid-19. Would she write about her desire to get back to school? To be with her classmates? Would she note the rhythms of the seasons and the infected number count, the pulse of the newsfeeds, the bravery of frontline workers, the perseverence of the vaccine researchers? Would she see this as a chance to deepen relationships that matter most? Would she consider this a time of deep reflection, a time of hope for what unfolds, a time for societal change? What would she document?

I suspect she would speak her truth. What is yours? Do you have the courage to share it like she did?

And I wonder what advice Anne Frank would give us from the grave.

Ankle Lockdown

Nine days ago – Jan. 27th – I had ankle surgery. I have not stepped outside since. I witness the weather through the window as emerging orange sherbet clouds slowly light up the world. Normally, my friends Maggie, Teresa, or Molly and I would be running and navigating our route for the best view of this spectacular sunrise. 

Instead, I zip around the main level of our home on my borrowed knee scooter, I hop to my yoga mat, stretch, kick my legs, and try to find the familiar peace of flow from all limbs in motion. 

I rediscover Broadway through Spotify – Godspell, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the Phantom, Beautiful!, Jesus Chris Superstar, and now Les Mis. I relive the moments, the people I was with, the weather that day, the energy of the bustle of Chicago. I scooter dance, sing, weep (yep), and rejoice. I take on the characters’ personas – Master of the House! And I want my grandchildren to know every lyric. 

I go nowhere. I have no commute except the scoot to the bathroom. Loved ones have prepared amazing meals, soup, stew, sausage and peppers, sourdough bread. The refrigerator is stocked. My day stretches ahead of me with terrifying freedom. I feel like a cat curling into niches depending on the warmth of the sun. Yes, I have Zoom meetings, enrichment workshops, classes, but my life lacks the normalcy of accountability.

I think of my mom turning 94 in a few weeks who has not seen the sky in many months. Her heavily blinded window blocks the light, and she assures me that she is “a good sleeper.” This fiercely strong mother of ten lost her husband when she was 61, and she carries on with humor and grace. Life simply unfolds in moments because that’s all she has. No technology – no cellphone, no laptop, no internet, no Broadway tunes. The television remote is too complicated. Her joy comes from her caregivers’ kindness. She glows in the photos they send. She doesn’t want to cause any trouble, doesn’t want to be a bother. She doesn’t understand why we don’t visit. “There’s a terrible virus, Mom.” She can’t grasp it. I don’t blame her.

Oh boy. As I type, here it is – “I Dreamed a Dream.” I sob for my mom and force myself to sit with this compassion. My mom dreamed a dream that she would be with my dad, and that they would spend retirement together in Long Beach, Indiana. It didn’t happen, and she persevered, traveled, maintained great friendships, and enjoyed visits with her children and grandchildren. After the passing of two sons, she slipped into a grief we could not reach. She just wanted to be alone with her own thoughts, or with a son or daughter or her sister Mary Agnes. No more crowds. She is done with that. Now she has cheerful Annie and Mary Kate at Mercy Circle to check in on her. I hope she feels their love. As always, she accepts her lot in life. 

I relive the dramas on my wifi speakers. I pray for friends who are sick, a friend who died of Covid yesterday, parents of friends who have passed, our country, frontline workers. I read, write, seek inspiration, contemplate my faith, listen to TED Talks, create assignments, grade papers, talk to friends, look at flights to anywhere, plan trips that may or may not happen, write thank-you notes from the depth of my heart, crawl up the stairs to do laundry, crawl back down, and scoot to my laptop. I research the opening of theaters. I dream of taking Eileen and Charlie to see a play or twirling them to Donny Osmond’s rendition of “Any Dream will Do.”

Yes, any dream will do. That works for me, and I’m filled with gratitude.