Author Archives: Nancy Scannell

Still Practicing

Two years ago, I was consumed with writing, revising, rehearsing, and rewriting my TEDx Talk called “The Power of the Pause.” To say that I was obsessed would be an understatement. When I look at my notes from the talk (which is less painful for me than watching it), I’m struck by the simplicity of that fifteen minute synopsis of a very complex concept. The message seems so clear and straightforward: If you want to change, follow these steps: pause, feel what’s happening in your body, check the validity of your narrative, consider alternative interpretations, shift to other options, and choose a desired response. Awareness leads to choice and a decision to change your way of being in the world. Piece of cake.  

Two days before the Feb. 1, 2019 taping, Chicagoland experienced what we refer to as the “Polar Vortex.” Wind chills plummeted to -40 degrees, schools were closed, stores were shuttered, and streets were empty. Little did we know that those two days would be nothing compared to the pandemic. I used these 48 hours to rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse some more. I taped my notes to the kitchen cabinets and practiced walking while delivering my life-defining speech. I posted my outline on a bulletin board in the basement, climbed on our elliptical, and projected my message to the concrete walls. 

I nailed that talk – ten hours before it was filmed. That final rehearsal on the morning of the event left me feeling empowered, knowledgeable, and confident. 

That evening, as I sat and witnessed the other presenters, sick quiverings of self-doubt invaded my gut. I was slated last on the docket, and as each speaker finished, my hands got colder and colder. When I was called backstage, my nerves were shot. I was not prepared for the full-blown panic attack that hijacked my nervous system. I honestly did not expect it. I speak in front of groups all the time.

I did not deliver the best presentation of my life that night, but I would not take back the lessons learned from my experience.

I learned – and continue to learn over and over – that life is humbling. That is a good thing. 

I learned that there is no ready-made formula for presence. I learned that mindfulness is a commitment, not a ticket to transformation. After immersing myself in numerous workshops and courses, dozens of books and lectures, and numerous certifications over the past two years, I now know presence is not something to be studied – it is to be lived.  

Presence is a lifelong journey that takes you to this moment. I’m working on staying here. And when I find myself going elsewhere, like ruminating about past disappointments or fretting a forever uncertain future, I try to bring myself back to now.  

Yesterday, I took a break from reading Caroline Welch’s The Gift of Presence: A Mindfulness Guide for Women to switch a load of laundry to the dryer.  As I pulled out one of Tim’s dri-fit shirts, I was amazed that the shirt could be completely dry after a wash cycle. I thought, Wow, these new synthetic fabrics are amazing! Then I pulled out a pair of bone dry underwear. I had put the dirty load in the dryer instead of the washer – a loud wake-up call from the presence conductor that I had veered off course.  

My instinct was to judge myself for being an idiot, and even worse, for being someone who doesn’t practice what she preaches, someone who just cannot figure out mindfulness. Thankfully, one of the key concepts of meditation is non judgment of thoughts. Non Judgment let  me off my own hook. 

I have also learned that there are ways to calm my nervous system, and I can indeed settle my racing heart and harried breathing. I wish I had known this two years ago when I paced backstage and sought ways to bolt to my car.

I’ve learned about the parasympathetic system, the Polyvagal Theory, the neuroplasticity of the brain, and the emotional, psychological, and physiological benefits of meditation. I have great friends who meet with me on Zoom to discuss the potential, positive impact of brilliant thinkers, writers, and researchers. 

Often, I have no idea how I can help make this world a better place. As I ease into 2021, I pray for a world filled with peace, presence, forgiveness, compassion, gratitude and joy. I’m reminded of the hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth” which concludes – “let it begin with me.” 

Gandhi’s words resonate with all of us – “Be the difference you want to see in the world.” 

What do you want to see?

The Thrill of Hope

“O Holy Night” is my favorite Christmas carol. I used to play it over and over again on my parents’ living room console while I wrapped endless gifts for my mom. She would bring streams of white boxes out of her bedroom with names written in the corner in her perfect nun-like penmanship – Maureen, Tim, Sue, Mike, Therese, Frankie, Bobby, Eileen, Nancy and Danny. I never opened a box because I wanted to be in on the surprises. I can’t remember anything that was inside, but I remember the warmth and peace of the simple task of wrapping. My sister Therese was a wrapper at Marshall Fields when she was in high school, so I was taught by a pro. I loved the rhythm and the privilege of being in the dining room, a room reserved for special occasions. And I had a perfect view of the Christmas tree in the living room window while I cut, folded and taped.

Christmastime is the only time that I remember music being played in our house. It was magical to me. I’d lift the lid of the clunky stereo and repeatedly replace the needle on the ridge before “O Holy Night.” I willed the praise and glory to soak into my soul as I tried again and again (very quietly, mostly to myself) to reach the high notes. I think it was my first shot at Karaoke.

My daughter Katie knows I love “O Holy Night,” and although Mariah Carey, Carrie Underwood, and Celine Dion have made big hits out of the hymn, I have no idea who sang the version on my mom’s Christmas album. It didn’t matter.

The only singers we paid attention to in our house at Christmastime were Perry Como, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. I was good with that. My dad loved music, and December was the only time he took a break to listen. He’d call us into the tv room to watch the Perry Como Christmas Special, and his whole being would exude joy from his dominion in his La-Z-Boy recliner, a wacky name for a chair for a man without a lazy bone in his body,

Katie gave a canvas print of the lyrics to me for Christmas in 2019. The lyrics have never held more meaning as we move into 2021:

Mind Your Moods

28 Dec. 2020

Today has been a rough day – not because I have a lot to do or I’m stressed or I’m riddled with deadlines. In fact, I’m home alone and have had an empty calendar all day. I’m used to having scheduled meetings, and today my husband Tim returned to his 12-hour work days after the long Christmas weekend, and my sons returned to their homes in LA and Chicago. I woke up feeling . . . off.

Tim and I were up by 5:00am, and as he made his coffee, he asked about my plans for today.  I said nothing except to write. Then I reminded myself that writing is something and that writing is hard and that writing takes discipline. But I had no plan in my writing, so I struggled with the point. This is a huge problem. Without purpose, why bother? 

So I ordered New Year’s cards and deliberated about the wording in the message. The pursuit of perfection in phrasing is a curse. The words would not flow. How do you write a chipper happy 2021 card after 2020?

My attempts at creativity fell flat. There’s nothing funny about not being about to visit your 93-year-old mom in the nursing home or having had a child in a psychiatric hospital for over ten weeks only to be told there is no relationship with us. There’s nothing cute about the illness, death, isolation, loneliness, and loss of employment caused by the Coronavirus.

And there was nothing exceptionally wonderful about a Zoom-filled holiday. We were troopers, and troopers we will always be. It’s in our blood. And we laughed, chatted, played games, and opened gifts via the screen. We made the best of it, but nothing replaces real-life bear hugs, shared kitchen blunders, and being together. I’m so glad that the boys came home, and I realize now that it’s not fair for me to burden my kids with my happiness. Christmas joy is always there – in each of us, not in co-dependency.

I decided to be honest in the New Year’s card and write about cultivating awe, generosity, gratitude and growth in 2021. I believe that inspiration is everywhere and can be experienced through paying attention to goodness and beauty and through bearing witness to the examples set by small children. Reading, listening, learning, and great movies help, too.

I ordered the cards, did laundry and avoided the keyboard. I washed sheets, towels, and Christmas placemats. I packed away Christmas dishes and probably would have taken the tree down, but Tim hates when I do that too early. The looming Peloton enticed me aboard. For the first time, I wanted the instructor to stop talking. I just wanted to hear the music. I was seeking something unknown, and I’m still not sure what.  

I finished the ride and took a bath. Who takes a bath in the middle of the day? That’s when I realized that I was in trouble. I meditated on what I was feeling and did not like it one bit. I felt lost, untethered. So I toweled off, cleaned the bathroom and reached for a small booklet published in 2017 by the Harvard Business Review entitled Emotional Intelligence: Resilience. You’d think I was a business owner or CEO or military leader with my enthusiasm for the topic.   

In the first chapter “How Resilience Works,” Diane Coutu argues that resilient people are realists who find meaning in what’s happening and then improvise solutions. Many say the pandemic has helped us determine what really matters in life. Zoom and other technologies have been much-needed innovations to help me cope. I now even resort to actual phone calls once in awhile. Deep down, I know I need to find deeper meaning in terms of my vocational calling, but I’m saving that for another day.  

In “Resilience for the Rest of Us,” Daniel Goleman argues that mindfulness is the key to resilience. Like other advocates of meditation, he recommends pausing, breathing, and letting thoughts go. I did this today in the tub until the water got cold. It worked to a certain extent. 

Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone write in “Find the Coaching in Criticism” that when faced with unwelcome commentary or negative evaluations from others, we should see the input as opportunities for growth. They also recommend taking what we can learn, experimenting with small changes, and being aware of the personal choice to embrace or disregard the suggestions. They say resilience is boosted when requesting one single recommendation from others. An onslaught of ideas is overwhelming. Believe me, I get this. I have lists upon lists of things to do better, things to change, courses to take, etc.  

Jeffrey Sonnefeld and Andrew Ward’s article “Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound after Career Disasters” is incredibly inspiring. They list CEO’s from Ford, Bank One, Coca-Cola, Citicorp, Home Depot, and Apple (guess who?) as leaders who do not blame themselves for the past but look to the future. I’m no CEO, but I did raise five children, and Sonnefeld and Ward’s advice applies. I cannot look back, nor can I turn back time. I can look to the bright future including 2021 and pray like crazy that my kids share their gifts with the world, a simple key to happiness in my own book of resilience. 

The last chapter “Resilience is How you Recharge, Not How you Endure” by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielen assured me that my mid-day retreat today does indeed add value. Never again will I tease Tim about his Sunday naps. We all need to refresh, rest, relax, and unplug to generate creativity and spaciousness. We also need those breaks to foster presence and happiness. 

And here I am inspired – butt back in chair – giving this writing thing another go. I’ve not spoken to a soul in over ten hours – not my norm, thank goodness – but an invaluable small experiment in pausing to ponder. Perhaps that will be my innovative 2021 resolution. It beats the usual lose five pounds.  

Covid Christmas

In today’s Action and Contemplation post, Richard Rhor asks what we need to liberate ourselves from and what we need to liberate ourselves for in order to best serve the world. As a mother of five and champion Christmastime Marshall’s, Costco, and Outlet Mall shopper, I am free from that craziness this year. I do not think this is what Richard Rhor had in mind when he wrote his beautiful, insightful blog, but it struck me today that I have spent forty years consumed with selecting gifts, switching items from pile to pile, wrapping, card sending, decorating, thanking, recipe searching, lunching, partying, cooking, and trying to bake (that slipped by the wayside during particularly crazy years).

Nine years ago, one of my kids told me that I make Christmas about me. This dagger of truth struck like no other. I proudly watched each Christmas morning as my children came down the stairs to piles of brightly wrapped presents. Each Christmas Eve, I created a scavenger hunt for each child to find a gift, and I gloated at my creativity and wit as they read the clues. They loved the game until the revelation hit one of the kids that I was indeed full of myself as I witnessed the fun.

This post is not about self-flaggelation, remorse, or regret. It’s about self-awareness, and sometimes it is exremely painful when someone sheds light where I have been blinded by ego. Usually when I learn something new, I’m fascinated, grateful, and energized. Not so in the case of revealing an ugly aspect of myself. Yet that is exactly where growth occurs.

This Christmas is different – for all of us. I’m liberated from seeking out the perfect stocking stuffers, the just-right gift for a loved one, the ultimate Christmas playlist on Spotify. I’m free from driving from mailbox to mailbox behind the mail carrier as I deliver Christmas cards addressed too late to make it on time via the post office. I’m free from hours of wrapping, worrying about equal piles, and trying to make this Christmas extra-special just because it is this year.

We will only have one or two of our five children home this year. It has been many years since we have been all together for Christmas. I got over the debilitating vision of the perfect family snuggling around the tree ten years ago. Love prevails through distance, estrangement, mental illness, and loss. I’m free to really contemplate that love this year.

I’m also free to focus on gratitude – for my husband, my family, my friends, my faith, my home, my history, and my hope-filled future. But mostly, I am learning to focus on the present – not the kind wrapped in paper in bows – but the gift of being where I am and with whomever I’m blessed to spend time with this Christmas season. Our pod is small, but mighty powerful in love, laughter, understanding and joy.

And our FaceTime with our grandchildren and children across the miles is precious. I long physically and emotionally to hug them, and I believe by giving the beautiful gift of attention through the screen, they feel it. I am liberated to go beyond acceptance of what is to embracing the present with thankfulness and joy.

I can curse this Covid Christmas, or I can accept the lessons it brings.

Judgment vs. Curiosity

Disdain. It is rearing its ugly head everywhere – in families, in communities, in organizations, in grocery stores, and emphatically in social media. 

Disdain is the feeling that someone is completely unworthy of respect. In essence, it is the enemy of humanity, the antithesis of compassion and understanding, and the destroyer of relationships. 

We have three basic needs as humans: safety, belonging, and dignity. When you communicate disdain, you trash your companion’s humanity. And when you feel someone else’s disdain, you may want to bolt from the relationship. You may also have to work on patching your quilt of self-worth.   

Or maybe you have so many defense mechanisms that you don’t care. Apathy is a scary coping mechanism for pain. 

Or maybe you think up crappy, painful things you want to say to your attacker. I’ve done this. I want to retaliate, “Oh, yeah! You did this and that!” I know how to combat disdain with more of it. I’ve done it in my head, and it makes me feel rotten. Negative rumination is such a waste of energy and creativity. 

There is another way. I’m sure of it. 

One of the most frightening things about Covid (besides death, illness, poverty, unemployment, isolation, and the plummeting global economy – to name of few) is the perpetuation of ego-centric perspectives. People are not spending time with people who think differently from themselves.  Our secure pods are typically filled with trusted people who think like ourselves – unless you have teenagers or adult children. (I am not going there now.)

What will the ramifications be of this Covid-controlled close-mindedness? 

Even on Zoom meetings, when you disagree, your Brady Bunch box can remain quiet. You can seeth inwardly and clandestinely. Unlike in a face-to-face conversation where another’s humanness softens hard hearts, the screen does not necessarily warrant the same empathy. There is no touch, no hand on the shoulder, no compromising hug with a loved one when you agree to disagree. We can click the red rectangle to leave the meeting, sit at our desks and judge.  

But we don’t have to choose that path. We have a choice in how we respond. Yes, we have knee-jerk reactions, but they do not control us. We all have conditioned tendencies that have somehow served us in our quests to discover safety, belonging, and dignity. But these habits may no longer serve us and need not prevail. We can change. It starts with awareness and desire. Ask yourself what is happening. Sit with it and sort through it. Reflection, like negative rumination, takes time, but practicing self-awareness in light of a desire to show up differently often leads to peace and greater understanding. Hate-filled loops do not.  

Emotions are contagious. It is a neurological fact. We mirror the emotions of others because we feel them. What do you want others to see in your mirror? What do you want to see in others? What energy to do want to contribute to your environment? What do you want your presence to bring to others?

Does it bug me to see a shopper without a mask? Yes. Do I steer clear of the person? Yes. Do I internally view the person with disdain? No, because I get to choose. 

I have no idea what baggage people are carrying around. I don’t know if the person left the mask in the car or is oblivious. Does the person suffer from dementia? Did the elastic break, or does the customer have COPD and can’t breath behind a mask? Does he think Covid is a big farce or simply not that big of a deal? I can create all kinds of explanations in my head. None of it matters. It’s all in my head. But if I treat him with disdain or even radiate a lack of respect, it is out there, and I am adding to the suffering in the world. A scoff hurts – big time, especially when people are going through a rough time. Aren’t we all struggling with something? 

I am trying to be curious and kind. If someone cuts me off on 80/94, I can wonder and then let it go. Maybe the driver is late for a critical appointment. I can hope she gets there safely. Maybe she’s had a rough day. I hope it gets better. With loved ones with differing political, faith and fundamental values, I can choose to be open and respond, “Tell me more.” I can choose to learn. I can choose to love those who disagree with me. It’s called unconditional love, and we need more of it. 

My friend Maria recommended that we watch Ted Lasso on Apple TV. She said she needed some feel-good programming and sensed that I did, too. There’s a great scene where Ted does a monologue about judgment vs. curiosity. It sticks with me. I’ve needed Ted in my life – his optimism, his goodness, and his humor. 

We’re lucky to have so much choice in what we read and watch. To quote my friend Kathy,  “Garbage in – garbage out.” We get to choose what permeates our souls – our thinking and  feeling – and our presence radiates that choice.  

People sense disdain, the great destroyer of feelings of worthiness in human beings. It’s considered one of the seven universally interpreted emotions. In light of the current societal polarities, maybe it’s a good thing that we’re wearing masks. 

We take them off at home, and our loved ones get to really see us. What do you want them to see? How do you want to show up in the world? You get to choose. Imagine if we all chose to  live with such positive intentionality.  This is not some Pollyanna placebo. It’s a decision to contribute authentically and wholly without fear. That takes guts.  

December 1, 2020

It’s a new month, and many of us wait until the new year to create resolutions – essentially commitments to a new way of living. If you’re like me, you commit each Jan. 1st to drink less, eat less, and lose weight. I usually spend the holidays gathering with lots of people – our children, grandchildren, Chicago southsiders, twenty-year book club friends, neighbors, brothers, sisters, in-laws, dozens of nieces and nephews, co-workers, running friends, fun couples, new acquantances – all bearing bottles of wine, delicious dips, fresh-baked goodies, and delectable appetizers. Hence, my annual new year’s resolution is to take off 5-8 holiday pounds and be healthy.

None of that is happening this year.

So I opted for a December 1st resolution this year. It’s the third day of Advent, and I opened a tiny little book – Sacred Space – written by the Irish Jesuits. The book is designed to lead readers through reflections for Advent 2020. The passages started two days ago, but I was not on top of my December One game on Sunday. I was obsessed with rearranging furniture in an effort to create a new life.

Today, my plan is develop a habit of beginning my day with inspirational reading. There’s no time limit or end goal other than to deepen my relationship with God and the world. I don’t know about you, but this Covid thing has left me lost, confused, uncertain, and unsure of myself. When I’m invited somewhere, The Clash lyrics “Should I Stay or Should I Go” play in my head. I’m not sure what I’m doing or if what I’m doing is something I should be doing. I know I’m safe and keeping others safe by my actions. I wear a mask, and I carry it when I walk outside and cross the street to avoid being within six feet of others, but there is always a hint of doubt. Should I have used that bathroom at the Dunes?

In seeking groundedness, I opened Sacred Space and got a glimpse of it. The passages are super short – perfect for people on the go. I’m not on the go, but I used to be. As I settled in with my coffee and warm blanket, I was struck by the few paragraphs committed to Nov. 29th, so I flipped to Nov. 30 and today – Dec. 1. Like a good student, I am caught up.

Being caught up does not mean transformed. I struggle with the simple ponderings in the text. For example, the readings are followed by a section called “Conversation” which challenge me to imagine Jesus sitting next to me. What would I say to him? So I turned to the chair next to me (bear with me here), and I pretended he was a patient, listening friend. I was completely tongue-tied. This does not happen to me very often. Believe me. My synapses fire pretty quickly, and for three years, I’ve been practicing pausing before I speak. (I need more practice.)

My gut instinct was to feel completely unworthy of having the Lord in my living room. (I really got into this exercise.) I was in awe of Him and could not speak.

So I got up, emptied the dishwasher, made my bed, sorted a load of laundry, and thought about the conversation that did not happen. Then it hit me. He’s always there – always. And I bet it bums him out that I feel so unworthy. I had twelve years of Catholic education in the late sixties and thoughout the seventies, and we were taught that Jesus is our friend. How did that not sink in? I think I just doubted it because there is no way this guy who gave up his life would want to hang around me.

I have always turned to my family and friends for support, understanding, guidance, and love. They have kept me from being untethered. This year, we don’t get to spend much time with our loved ones, but they are always there for us. Many of us have a deeper understanding of the value of connection during this time of Covid. The Jesuits write that one definition of spirituality is “the art of making connections” (Sacred Space).

I’m striving to connect to what matters most – my faith along with my family, friends, nature and the beauty and needs of humanity. I’m hoping I can do that more through my December 1st resolution and through you. Like the Little Drummer Boy, I genuinely feel like I have nothing to offer. I’m not a great, profound writer, but for some reason, it fills my cup, at least temporarily while I’m in the Zen zone, a state of mind that is most often fleeting.

I’ve been awol for months, and I’m not sure where I’ve been. I’d like to emerge from 2020 feeling closer to God and to my vocation, my purpose for being here.

Coffee?

“Want to go for a bike ride for coffee?” I ask.

“Sure.”

I put on my gloves and helmet and wait for my son Brendan to join me in the garage. A long bike ride is now part of my daily routine, and I love it when there is an actual destination instead of a loop. And I’m thrilled that Brendan is visiting from LA.

Brendan climbs on Tim’s bike and follows me down Lake Shore Drive along Lake Michigan through Duneland Beach, Shoreland Hills, Long Beach and Sheridan Beach. When we reach Washington Park, Brendan shouts from behind, “Mom, where are we going?”

“For coffee,” I yell back.

I park my bike at the picnic tables outside of Base Camp, a little shack designed to provide sandwiches, sunscreen and treats for the Michigan City Harbor boaters.

Brendan pulls up and exclaims, “How far did we ride?!”

“About six miles.”

“What?! Six miles!” I just nod and think what’s the big deal, and he says, “I’ll have an espresso.”

“They don’t have espresso.”

“What do you mean they don’t have espresso?! I thought you said we were riding to a coffee shop.”

“I never said we were riding to a coffee shop. I said we were riding to get coffee.”

His look is indescribable.

I ask, “Do you take cream?”

“No.”

I put on my mask, go inside, get two coffees from the pump canteen, and exit merrily. It is a beautiful day. 

I hand the basic, no-frills coffee to Brendan. He says, “We rode six miles to get plain coffee? Twelve miles round trip?”

I nod. I marvel at how differently we live, and I take in the beautiful view. I say, “I love it here. It reminds me of Dingle in County Kerry, Ireland.”

He glances over my shoulder at a monolithic coal power plant and gives me a worried look.

“You can keep Santa Monica, Brendan. I think this is the best.”

Later, I tell my son Kevin this story. Kevin asks, “Don’t you have coffee at the house?”

We are Leaders of Peace

Where are our Nelson Mandela’s, Desmond Tutu’s, and Martin Luther King, Jr’s? Where are their voices? Where is peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness in our country and in our families? Our brilliant church leaders – those who truly inspire – are limited in their ability to gather communities because of social distancing. Uncertainty prevails in almost every aspect of our lives. 

Our nation is experiencing a great divide. Brothers and sisters warn that politics are not welcome at the Thanksgiving table or the Christmas gathering. This has been going on for years in the United States. Don’t talk about things that matter, so we don’t have to discuss our differences. Instead, let’s talk recipes, sports (in the good old days), traffic and weather. That way, we won’t have to worry about a brawl at the kitchen table or a door slamming exit.  

Then COVID-19 hits, and families reconnect to check on loved ones. Are you safe? Do you have what you need? Are you able to get groceries and toilet paper? We had six weeks of checking in, and we became restless. The economy suffers, unemployment skyrockets, businesses close, restaurants struggle to survive with curb-side pick-up. People request cocktail take-outs. Liquor store sales sour, and bicycle shops sell out. 

A new gap slips in – to wear a mask or not wear a mask. Families check on each other to see where they have been. You traveled? Did you quarantine for fourteen days? You went to a retail store? Did you really need that item? It becomes a badge of honor if you don’t go out. I brag that I have not been to a grocery store in over ten weeks. Are you proud of me? Am I a good American? But I share a bed with someone who goes to work. I slip in esteem. 

Next, George Floyd’s death deepens wounds and ignites unrest exacerbated by the Coronavirus. Now the disparity between families is about to protest or not protest, to argue about looters vs peaceful protesters, to disagree about the value of the local police force, to fight about inequality, racial disparity, and gun control, to quote statistics that support one-sided arguments – whatever side you’re on. Your selected media will support whatever you believe and convince you that the opposition is dead wrong. 

I’m worried. I’m worried about how lost we are in disagreement, separation, racism, and fear. We need to talk about our disagreements in order to grow in understanding each others’ perspectives. We listen, and we can agree to disagree. Vehement arguing and harboring the “you’re dead to me” mentality is destructive. It can be nearly as painful as death. Believe me, I know. 

The Prayer of St. Francis is all about praying to be instruments of peace. We all have that capacity. We all have the ability to act with kindness, to listen, to heal each other. We need dialogue, and we need safe places to have it. It starts in our homes and ripples outward. In order to feel safe, we have to trust that we are loved – unconditionally. 

I ask where are the peaceful leaders? They are right within us along with the goodness of God. The world may seem to dwell in darkness right now, but we as individuals can help shed Light.  Reconciliation starts in our hearts and is fueled by love. Dialogue is needed for peace. Please listen to each other. Please don’t shut each other out. Please do what you can in your piece of this beautiful universe to make a difference in the lives of those you are blessed to touch. 

Anticipation

Remember that feeling? Anticipation. Remember the 1971 Carly Simon song? “Anticipation. Anticipa-a-tion is makin’ me late is keepin’ me wai-ai-ai-ai -aiting.” 

Remember the Heinz ketchup commercial? 

My calendar is empty, except for some virtual meetings and walks with friends here and there. I hurt my ankle – again – and even those scheduled strolls are on hold. 

I’m on hold, but I’m not on hold. I witness the brightening of this amazingly green morning in the misty rain. After the rain, I anticipate the sun. Yesterday, buds opened right before my eyes. I wonder if this is how it will be with the calendar – slowly things will appear. Slowly life will be in full bloom again. 

But life is in full bloom right now. There is no waiting for life. 

People say 

  • I can’t wait til I can go to a restaurant again.
  • I can’t wait till I can go to a ballgame – any type of ballgame.
  • I can’t wait til I can hear a band play.
  • I can’t wait to go to a bar. 
  • I can’t wait to dance at a party. (I miss dancing!)

Anticipation. With the ketchup bottle, you can see the red paste making its way to the plate. I can’t see anything making its way to my calendar. 

My friend Ann now lives in Arizona, and today she emailed that she doesn’t know when she will be home again. 

My mom lives in a nursing home. She is 93, and I don’t know when I will see her again.

My grandchildren live in Milwaukee, and I don’t know when I will hug them again. 

We wait. But where is the excitement of anticipation? We have two friends whose daughters are getting married this summer. Will they happen? I’m not frustrated with not knowing – I’m just waiting.  

When things are cancelled, I am fine. I accept. I’m not mad or angry – just meekly disappointed. We expect to celebrate benchmarks. Where did these expectations come from?

I think about the desolate, yet spectacular, Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland, where three of Tim and my grandparents are from. Or the west coasts of County Clare and Mayo where the other five were born. What was life like for them only a few generations ago? I don’t think they hosted big shindigs to celebrate birthdays, weddings, retirement and anniversaries. Entire towns had less people that a few city blocks in Chicago. 

I’ve missed so many funerals. Yesterday, I mailed four sympathy cards. Misericordia in Chicago is hearing a lot from me lately as I request prayers for friends’ loved ones. I’ve participated in two funeral masses via lifestream. Churches are sparsely populated. Have we simply returned to what was?

Today Tim’s coworker emailed and apologized that he and his fiance must limit their June wedding guest list to close family. How awkward for this wonderful, young man to have to uninvite us. His love for his fiance is all that matters. We will toast him from our home on June 13th, and that is enough. We will celebrate their commitment in our hearts – without the hoopla. 

Have we – in our quest to create lasting memories – embellished miracles like lifelong commitments and life everlasting into major events and somehow muffled the beautiful essence of what is? Love. 

As a lover of hoopla, it is strange how I accept cancellations. I understand. And I wait. And in the meantime, I do my best to bloom. 

Where are you – really?

This COVID-19 journey has been quite a ride. I’ve ventured into unchartered territory as I explore new ways of being, feeling fulfilled, observing, learning, and connecting. Even the way I navigate through the internet has changed as I seek reliable, unbiased sources of information and updates on the virus. I’m wondering how I can serve this world from my place of social distancing. I’m feeling inadequate as I isolate myself, yet I know this is what I need to do. 

Throughout it all, I pray. And sometimes my prayers ring true, deep, intense. Sometimes they are pretty shallow – just rote words instead of authentic conversations with God.

Similarly, sometimes I experience real connection through virtual meetings, and sometimes I feel like others aren’t really there. I see their eyes wandering on their screens, or I hear their fingers on the keyboard exposing the pretense of listening. I’ve seen meeting chat boxes on fire with comments, questions, jokes, and asides. I wonder how people type and pay attention. I see people reading the chat and laughing. How does that work if you are really present for the meeting?

Then I think, maybe I’m like that with God. I’ll say some prayers while I’m doing something else. The prayers help pass the time or strangely, give me something else to do. I’m not sure if I’m really communicating or just rattling off a bunch of Our Fathers or Hail Mary’s.  

I have a dear friend who recently shared that she counts steps when she climbs stairs. I marveled because I thought it was just me. I figured it originated with my efforts to teach my kids to count. I’d hold a toddler’s hand and count one, two, three, four. Maybe having five kids solidified this habit, but I know how many steps there are to my office. I count them all the time, and I count them when I climb two at a time. I count to get the steps over with, but I don’t know where I am when I am counting. It is almost like I am in some sort of limbo, a place between.   

Stay with me here. I think sometimes I pray rote prayers to pass time – almost like a mantra to tick away minutes – like when I’m sorting laundry, pulling weeds, and back in the day, running long miles. I know that during the last miles of a marathon, those were real prayers: Please God, get me to the water stop. Please God, get me past the finish line. Please God, don’t let me sign up for another one of these things. 

I’m just wondering where I really am when I’m praying sometimes. Just like I wonder where people are who are on virtual meetings without the video on. Are they cooking dinner? Are they like me – sneaking in a quick ab workout and trying to get a double whammy out of being productive? 

I wonder if God looks at me and thinks she’s not really paying attention to what she’s praying. I’d like to think that God gives me the benefit of the doubt, that I’m not judged by God. And so I’ve decided to do the same for others. If they don’t seem to be all-in, I figure they are doing the best they can. Maybe they, too, are inbetween until they find their grounding.

“Be where you are: otherwise you will miss your life” (Buddha). This is another version of Notre Dame’s “Play like a champion today.” Both remind us to be all-in, to be our best . . . every day.  To be our best, we have to be where we are. 

We don’t know when this virus will be eradicated. As I try to envision living with a perpetual sense of awareness of  COVID-19, I know I have to be right here now. I have to feel like this is enough. I am not a healthcare worker on the frontlines, and I can do what I can to be philanthropic, creative, consciencious and loving. I look out the window and see new life in trees, grass, blooms. We are all coming into a new sense of being, living, growing, connecting. Our collective sense of unity prevails even in social distancing. We have to trust that we are where we need to be. 

I find solace in the Prayer of St. Therese:

“May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born in faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that is given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”