A farewell to 2020

In the gap between Christmas and New Years, I had planned on finding the words – an angle – from which to reflect on the remarkable year that has just passed. At the center of it, regardless of angle, stands the spikey ball image which has become so familiar to us of a virus, crowned in thorns, which has transformed our lives, our deaths, our relationships and even our wardrobes. It has come as a destructive force, wreaking havoc, loss of life and health, creation of fear, division of peoples, cessation of normal living and so much more. But as with all destructions, it has also created space for new things, previously unimaginable amidst the crowded ecosystem of our lives. A tree has crashed in the forest of our days, destroying all it hit, but opening a light in the canopy for a new thing to grow, too.

To focus solely on either side feels wrong, and dishonest. We risk despair if all we see is what has been lost, damaged, destroyed. It seems ungrateful to the small gifts of the year, suddenly so precious, to cast them aside against the greater weight of tragedy. But to talk about the gifts of such a disruption, without also sitting with the grieving and unemployed, seems like a wicked use of good luck and privilege.

By any measure, 2020 was the hardest and most difficult year of my life. I am an extroverted adventurer, who revels in novelty and people and treasures relationships above all. I bounce between the desire to be with people and doing things to the need to be quietly alone with myself. I have held on to as much as I can, but there are friends whose silence fills my heart. There are the people I did not meet this year, and have not come to know. And while there are no gatherings, there is also no solitude. This would have made me cranky if it were my only trial, but that is hardly the case.

I have also had an extremely serious, extraordinarily time consuming, heart-hurting challenge within my family this summer. It’s not for speaking of in a forum that is Google-searchable, but many of you know (and if you’re dying to, drop me a note and I’ll tell you). For the vast part of this year, desperate fear has overshadowed any chance of peace or joy. At times, I could not even see hope from where I stood. It felt like the air I was breathing was increasingly stale, and as though I might at some point run out of oxygen and smother altogether. I am very happy to report that from the depths of that fear, we have gotten a breath of fresh air. Hope has returned, even amidst the hours a week we need to spend doing hard work to nurture and sustain it. I hold my hope and joy lightly – knowing that it is fragile – and treasure the lightness of my heart in this moment.

These twin challenges: the darkness in my life, and the crushing weight of pandemic, have been so much. But they are not all the sorrows. Starting with November of 2019, it has been a season of loss for me. My godfather died. My cousin died. My friend’s son was paralyzed, and in hospital for six months. My friend BJ died. I broke up with my church. At work, I worked crazy hours under crazy pressures to launch three medical devices in a matter of months (and am still working under intense pressure). My plum tree died. My uncle died. And on New Year’s night, just as the year turned, a mother of a friend of mine – a woman I know and will miss – died of COVID. It has been a year of aching.

But that is not all the story. The bleakness above would be unsurvivable. But in the midst of it all, there have been consolations great and small. My loving husband has brought me breakfast in bed every morning of this pandemic. I am so fortunate in the company with which I have been trapped!! Our cats have draped themselves over us as loving scarves – Data is sitting on my knees at this very moment. We have been keen participants in the changing of the season, with no blossom or scarlet leaf escaping our rapt notice. There has been less hiking and camping than I would wish (almost all my camping trips got messed up this summer), but still I have seen the summits of: Field, Tom, Moosilauke, the Tripyramids, Chocorua, the Moats, Owl’s Head, Flume, Liberty, Willey and Moriah. I ran and hiked and walked closer to home, in the familiar paths of the Fells and streets of Stoneham. The Greenway for which we fought so hard is filled with families and art.

All summer, Adam and I would share a fresh and crisp salad under the shade of my dying plum tree at lunch, watching the rabbit we dubbed “Hawk Food” menace our plantings. We gardened and mulched and trimmed. I took up, for the first time in my life, the pencil and brush and learned the very basics of drawing and watercolors, giving my mind some new ways of thinking and new thoughts for having. The art has been a great consolation to me, not because it is good but because it is both new and deeply satisfying. We have baked and cooked through over a hundred pounds of flour, with bread and cinnamon rolls and pies and cakes and all manner of delicious recipes not possible to pull off while you’re commuting. We hung out as a family in the attic on Saturday mornings, playing Breath of the Wild on our Switches as the snow fell. We replaced all our windows, built new bookshelves, renovated our living room and took long baths in the bathtub. We bought a new car, had it be a lemon, and replaced it. (Ok, that might belong in the “bad things” list.)

Finally, in many ways we have been so very lucky. None of us in my family – immediate or extended or pod – has gotten COVID or even been all that close to it. For all the people who have died, so many have remained safe and well. Adam and I have kept our jobs, and have been able to safely work from home since March – with no pressure to return to an office until summer or fall. Our children are of an age where they can handle most of the remote schooling without detailed hourly supervision from us, and we can work as we need. Our home is safe and comfortable and our wifi is very good. We have been lucky to be in a pod with dear friends with similar risk tolerances, kids the same age, and enjoyable company. We have enough rooms in our house that all of us can be on virtual meetings and close a door and not be crammed together.

And this to me has been 2020: sorrow, fear, joy, wonder, fortune, misfortune, loss, gains – all together under the broad shock of great disruption. It has both been the sameness of the days, melding undifferentiated into each other, and the vast changes which have gone from inconceivable to normal to inevitable as the long weeks have turned into months.

I do not know what 2021 will bring. There is ahead of us possibly the most dire 6 – 8 weeks of the whole pandemic, where disease and death are rolling across our country unbridled. The first symptoms from Christmas exposures are showing now for those who will be dead by Valentine’s Day. But racing towards us like a rescuing angel is the work of exhausted but dedicated scientists, medical professionals, lab workers, project managers, FDA regulators (absolute heroes – you have no idea how much work they have had to do this year), pharmacists, doctors, nurses and other nameless but hard working folks who have spent this year of their lives to buy us a way out of this. We have three vaccines at maturity and more on the way. Behind them are antivirals and therapeutic treatments, to rescue those who fall ill. I have hope that by spring we may start to see the tide turn, that this summer outside may be close to normal, and that by fall we will all be finding our places back in a world remade, but ready for the next chapter.

However, if 2021 has taught us anything, it is that we simply do not know. We must stand ready with hands to help and hearts open. We must look to protect the most vulnerable among us, whose list of blessings is so short and list of trials is so long. We must treasure those things which are good, and support the fight against the things which cause harm. And if on the way we can climb mountains and paint pictures, then so much the better.

Mocksgiving 2020

I print photo calendars as Christmas presents for family, helpfully including birthday, anniversaries, and holidays. So it is that I know roughly a year in advance exactly when Mocksgiving and Piemas will fall, since I actually print them on the calendar. I used to have friends pinging me in July to check the dates and get the early bird fares.

So it is that I know with great certainty that in any other circumstance, today would be Mocksgiving. It’s 1:15 as I write, so at this moment the house should be filled with the aroma of a slow-cooking turkey, the remnants of glorious stuffing smell. I’d have the pots of potatoes and butternut squash prepped and on the stove. The porch would have five pies and five loaves of bread, and Adam would be setting up the bar. Half the furniture in the house would be moved and every one of the many table settings and chairs I have in the basement would be up and dusted. Often BJ would be at the table, talking to me while I cooked.

But it’s 2020. We’re moving furniture, but only as we put the house back together after our big window/living room project. The only people dining here tonight are the four of us Flynns (granted, with two of them being adolescent boys, the amount of appetite is like six, but still). There is no gathering, or feeding, or drinking, or board games, or catching up with people you see every year, but only once or twice. I knew today would be a hard day for me – harder than Thanksgiving – when it started becoming clear that there was no gathering small enough to be safe in the current environment.

So I decided to replace my love of feeding people with my love of sending people letters. I worked with Fealty Design (who designed our family crest) to put together a package of recipe cards from my little Mocksgiving cheat sheet document plus pictures of some of the 20 Mocksgiving celebrations I’ve hosted. And I sent most of them out late last week (although it took me a while to track down some addresses, and some I’m still missing).

The cards, front and back

I miss you guys so much. I miss writing a “live blog” of the prep, either for real, or only in my head. I miss gathering and hugging and the heat of many people and the sounds of laughter drifting up and down floors. I miss the 20 minutes after I’m done cooking and before the guests come where I transform from dumpy cook to glamorous hostess. We’ve all been alone so long, I find myself not really believing such days will ever come again, although with the recent vaccine news next Mocksgiving is not a Fool’s Hope. (Next Piemas probably is.)

Anyway, assuming you miss these things too, I have a few things for you. First, here’s a downloadable PDF of the recipe/picture cards. They’re designed to be printed on 5×7 cards, in case you want them. (If you don’t know how to reach me, just add a comment and I’ll reach out to you!) I also have quite a few extras – send me your address and I’d be happy to share!

Second, I put together an album of Mocksgivings through the years (although I haven’t gotten around to scanning the first two years yet). I’d love additions from attendees who might have taken pictures!

Here’s looking forward to next year, when we can turkey together once more!

Be a sheep

My tiny, rural home county of Lewis County (approx the size of Connecticut with approx the population of Somerville MA) made the national news this week. The Governor of Washington has made masks mandatory to attempt to slow or stop the crashing wave of Coronavirus infections. In response to this legal edict, the Sheriff (you know, the hand of the law) for the county got on a bullhorn (maskless) and advised people that the choice of whether to follow the law was theirs. His exact words, repeated more than once, were “Don’t be a sheep”.

Not a shepherd

As someone who loves people in Lewis County, and worries about their safety and well being, I have a lot of thoughts about this medically, socially etc. But the thing that really struck me was how profoundly un-Christian this advice is.

You see, throughout the Bible – and especially Jesus’ words – he over and over again talks about his people as sheep. There are incredibly clear stories that came immediately to mind, putting God’s beloved in the role of sheep. The first is, of course, the parable of the Wandering Sheep (Matthew 18:10-14) “If a man owns a hundred sheep … In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

Of course, we have Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10) “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. … Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. … I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

If you’re Catholic, you should care a lot about being a sheep, because of John 21:15 when Jesus, THREE TIMES, asks Peter for one thing, “Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me? He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” This is part of the story that establishes Peter (Simon = Peter if you’re confused) as the Pope. The Pope to this day carries a stylized shepherd’s crook.

The last story comes as a warning (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus has just explained that in the end, we will be judged on whether we have fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger and visited the prisoner. (I often wonder why religious rights folks haven’t been fighting restrictions against prison visits harder – or at all – for infringing their religious duties). But the end is an apocalyptic scene, where at the judgement day …

“All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. … Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

So take a longer thought. If you are a Christian, should you want to be a sheep? Or should you fight against being a sheep? Will you be led, and guided, by the law, medicine and the need to care for others? Or would you rather be an individualistic goat, wandering in your own free, will not caring who you harm? And if the latter – how do you square that with being a Christian?

Be a sheep. Wear a mask.

Baaaa!

Good fences

Back in February, in another age of this world, a bunch of boys were playing in the back yard on an unseasonably warm day when “a strong wind” knocked a segment of our 12 year old crappy vinyl fence out, snapping the connectors and boards both. After a conversation on how I don’t mind accidents but I object to lies, I actually felt a flush of relief. The vinyl fence was of the kind that looks good juuuuuust long enough to sell the house, and not a second longer. There were many broken boards. The whole thing was dingy with mildew and mold. And I’ve always hated it. So this was an excellent opportunity to replace it with something I would like better.

I called a fence company, who said they could get it up in two weeks.

Then the world fell apart. They actually did the estimate that first week we were home, and I thought how convenient it was to be here for the appointment. Granted, it was at 7:30 am so it was actually Adam who was awake for it, but usually he’d be on his way to work by then. In the suddenly collapsed world of the stay-at-home order, I spotted an opportunity to let Grey stretch his wings a bit. “Go ahead and practice your graffiti* on the fence!” I blithely invited. “They’re coming to take it down next week. But remember to keep it appropriate!”

You are all smarter than I am. You all see where this is going.

I actually got annoyed enough to scrub a good portion of the graffiti off

So for the last two months (which were, lest I need to remind you, approximately 5 years a piece) every time I sat in my back yard or looked out my window I was greeted by orange and black graffiti spelling out things that were juuuuuust this side of the “mom is going to make you repaint the fence line” and only if you accept the explanations for what that _really_ spells/means mom. This has been a thorn in my side, a pebble in my shoe and a hair shirt for me ever since.

Not Restful

To my great joy and after only about a thousand urgent texts following up on the status of my fence, whatever unexpected supply chain backup was holding my fence hostage was resolved. And through the beautiful middle days of this week, the old graffiti fence came down and strong men with post hole diggers and cement bags put a new one in for me. And so I woke up on the gorgeous May morning with a backyard ready to be made into a summer escape.

I understand why the previous owners put up a privacy fence on top of the nearly 12 foot wall they installed to keep the house from sliding down the hill. The wall cost over $100k and was the motivation for them to sell the barely occupied house. But they were private people, with heavy blinds on every window. So a privacy fence on the tiny plot of land – no bigger than a squash court – kept wind and prying eyes both out. But behind our house is a glorious series of unbuildable back yards with lovely trees and grasses and wildlife. Part of what I love about this house is this borrowed view.

Shown with May snow

And I decided on a fence that would keep us from falling off the wall, but allow us to gaze out at the small piece of nature available to us. And I love it. I have big plans for what to do next: with all the extra light now available, I spent today planting lilacs as a hedge against our neighbor. Maybe I’ll put a fruiting bush in on the other side. I’ve already gotten citronella torches ready against in the fence for fiery nights. I found a great new spot for the chairs and table. There will be bulbs and phlox and clemantis – a riot of color and fragrance and peace waiting for me whenever the weather is fine.

New lilac hedge for privacy and fragrance

This time spent at home – always at home – has amplified everything about all the places we live. Was it small before? Now you feel the smallness every day, ten times a day. Was the view lovely? Now you cling to that view with the ardent gaze of a lover on a honeymoon marking every small shift in aspect or trick of light. Our lot of land is small, our view is beautiful. I am grateful because small is so so so much more than none.

The new position of table and chairs

Last night I sat in the warmth of the night before the storm, gazing out at the view through my new fence. For a minute, it almost felt like camping. From where I sat, I could see six different groups out enjoying the fine evening. The intermix of not-quite-intelligible conversations felt so much like what it’s like at a campground in the evening. And I have noticed that everyone in my safe suburban neighborhood is also tending to their homes. Sheds have been installed, mulch delivered, garden boxes constructed, yards mowed, trees planted.

I know that this time is not like this for everyone. There are many people working long hours and living in cramped and unsafe conditions. But from my borrowed view, I can see everyone settling into what it is they have, and taking the gift of time to pour themselves into their homes in a touchback to another time. People are baking, and sewing for need. They are gardening. They are sitting in back yards they have manicured themselves and watching the breezes sweep away the warmth and herald the lightening. And we are all in awe of how much more we can see now that we’re standing still.

This was quite a cloudburst. I think we would have normally missed it.

*Stoneham is home to a fantastic graffiti tunnel, with exceptional and high quality art work. Grey admires this and wishes to emulate it – not to vandalize stuff.

Recent art work by my favorite artist

Do not tax yourself with forethought of grief

The world has been different now for about 7 weeks. I remember clearly that last pizza and beer I had, after climbing off a mountain with a friend, as the last day of the world as it was. The next day, with school cancelled, was he first day of the world as it currently is. I read online a statement that Coronavirus completely destroys some folks, while leaving others almost completely unscathed. I am so aware that I am in that latter category. My job remains secure (if requiring plenty of time from me). My home is full of food. My children are well (if at risk of becoming inert elements in front of their computers). My family is all still healthy. So far, I’ve escaped even serious inconvenience.

But even so, the days have been hard. I find that every Monday is worse than the last, attempting to marshall my resources to teach my children, do my job, keep the house, cook the dinner, maintain my relationships. I almost didn’t make it through last Monday, and I am staring at dread with tomorrow morning. (I have a plan. It includes wearing a dress and makeup, in a desperate attempt to channel my inner professional.) A walk in the forest involves people edging to the side of the path, as though you might be carrying some awful, transmissible disease. The main street is full of signs either optimistically promising better days to come, or saying “Temporaly closed” (sic) – a sign becoming faded in the strengthening sunlight. Life is feeling harder every day, as supplies of TP and flour dwindle, and the walls of my home crush me.

Still, there is the great blessing of New England. This has been a long, cold, rainy spring. It seems like those are particularly common after mild winters. We’ve had our fair share of spring snow and rain and sleet and misery. We’ve had weeks where it didn’t break 50. It’s been a great boon to our amphibian population, as every creek and rill and vernal pool is full to the brim of cold water.

Bleeding heart

But this weekend, oh!! This weekend was the glorious weekend of spring that doesn’t come just once a year in New England, it comes perhaps once a decade. The skies were blue, the sun was strong. The colors were all new-formed, as though God himself had just dreampt them up. Every color imaginable is suddenly bursting forth into joyous profusion, looking new washed and newly painted on the world. We are at just the tipping point between daffodil and forsythia, into tulip and, well, everything. Even the houses look jollier in the bright sun, which portends warmth and freedom and backyards in a way that is utterly and inescapably charming to all those of us who have been practically housebound since October. There seem to be few consolations in this newly-isolate world, but oh. Spring in New England is still one of them.

Confession: this man has brought me breakfast in bed nearly every day for those 6 weeks

Not being a fool, I early resolved that my plan for this weekend was to spend as much of it as was humanly possible outdoors. Given that it’s nearly 11 and I’m still by a backyard fire, I declare said plan fulsomely accomplished. Usually weekends like this would be subject to the whim of the calendar: had I already committed myself? Was it to something outdoorsy? But yesterday I woke to a clean slate of a plan, and (after the delicious breakfast prepared for my by my incredibly loving husband) I started with a five mile run along the bike way that I played a small part in ensuring was here for us, now, when we need it most. The Aberjona and Sweetwater were both running high along their banks, and the trail was crowded with folks enjoying the finest weather we’ve seen in six months. Most of them, including me, were wearing masks.

In glorious fashion, the day unfolded with sleepy hammock naps, letters to friends, and meals shared with my beloved family. I have always said that I cannot relax at home, because there is too much to do. But honestly, most of it has now been done so for the first time in ever so long, I find myself able to just … be. Here. In this 10th of an acre that is my homestead. I spent the whole day happy. I definitely interrogated myself several times over this. The world is in tumult. So many have died. So many have suffered. There is more to come. How dare, HOW DARE I be happy? It isn’t fair that I be happy when so many are caught in sorrow, grief, fear and distress. That is all, unarguably, true. But the thing I’ve wanted to tell you, across many failed blog posts, is that your suffering does not reduce the suffering of others. So if you have a choice between suffering and not suffering, do not suffer.

I have been struck by the poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” since it arrived as the answer to an advent Google search I initiated looking for poems of peace. It is strong enough that many of the lines can speak to you. But the ones that have slayed me – stopped me in my tracks – during this pandemic period are:

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.

Resident baby bunny

On this most beautiful day of spring, I find myself challenged by the question: will I tax this day to neutrality by forethought of grief (or by focus on the unfairness of my joy?)? Or will I let go. Will I come into the peace of the wild things and take this moment as it is, built on a complex scaffold but for a moment, full of joy? I think of the baby bunny who has taken residence under my porch, and who nibbles on dandylions in my back yard. Do I see that creature as a pestilence-spreading eater of bulbs, destined to destroy gardens before falling prey to the hawks and foxes that prowl my suburban neighborhood? Or do I just enjoy the meek cuteness of its ears, now, when it is a baby and before its destiny is fulfilled for food or procreation? Do I look towards all the consequences of rabbit-incarnate, or do I just smile across baby-bunny.

For the bunny, my decision does not matter (assuming I am unwilling to poison his bulb-eating self). This Coney will live to be a great big jackrabbit, or it will fall food to yet wilder animals. It is not in my power to control. But what I can control is my joy of it, in this moment. I can choose to sit in companionable silence with my little Lagomorpha. Or I can choose to tax my life with the forethought of grief.

Communion under a dying plum

So I decided, in this one shining weekend, to enjoy it. To nap in a hammock tied to my dying plum tree, and not look at the blight. To build a fire of the wood I have and not consider the shortage at the hardware store. To serve communion to my husband from the glasses my father brought from Ethiopia more than fifty years ago, and not wonder when I would sit in a pew again to receive communion in a sanctuary. To look at bleeding heart with a full and joyful heart, and not wonder how soon it will be before my heart bleeds. To meet with my friends through the miracle of technology, and not wait until we can be together again in truth.

What would you do differently, if you chose not to tax your heart in forethought of grief? What joy is there for you in the time, in this moment? In an era of grief, doubt, uncertainty and loss, where is it possible for you to find peace?

Guest Post: Dustbowl Dance, COVID19 version

My 14 year old son Grey was given an assignment to write a song about a disaster. He picked the Mumford and Sons Dustbowl Dance for music, and the current pandemic. For those not up on the latest meme culture, here’s some background on his use of “Karen,” as a generic type of person and not an individual. – Brenda

A young lad sits inside of his room
He lies on his floor, attends a class in a Zoom
There’s no one outside and no one to play
He eats food and he sleeps, that’s all of his day

I have been stuck in my house since Winter’s last breath
And my sleep schedule makes me feel like death
I have read and ran and writhed in fatigue
Played so many games, I’m the best in my league
So hurry and quicken o’ science worldwide
Corona’s the thing you need to confront, not hide

Steal my parties and steal my time!
I’m going insane from staying inside
Please I ask all y’all far and wide
Quarantine, then we can shift the tide

Karens, you idiots, look at this place!
America now reeks of fear and disgrace
So everyone quarantines and anti-vaxxers do not!
How can you claim y’all are safe when you got
A disease and then said essential oils could heal?
Are you sure that the reality you live in is real?
You’ll live in your stupor and die with a flu
Corona has more letters than your IQ!

Steal my parties and steal my time!
I’m going insane from staying inside
Please I ask all y’all far and wide
Quarantine, then we can shift the tide

Steal my parties and steal my time!
I’m going insane from staying inside
Please I ask all y’all far and wide
Quarantine, then we can shift the tide

Yes Doctor, yes, Karen died of COVID 19
There were many more things in life she coulda’ seen
But she brushed off reports of the deathly disease
And now her body rots with fleas.

Antepandemian Days

Before the flood
There’s an old word, much beloved of the sort of 19th century poets and authors who took great delight in antiquated, obscure vocabulary, that has been much on my mind lately. The word is “antediluvian“. It refers to a time “before the flood” – it speaks to an ancient period both innocent and evil, of near mythical antiquity. HP Lovecraft was a huge fan of the word, and tossed it in like raisins to his descriptions:

All at once I came upon a place where the bed-rock rose stark through the sand and formed a low cliff; and here I saw with joy what seemed to promise further traces of the antediluvian people. – “>The Nameless City by HP Lovecraft

It is hard to know, right now and right here, just how much of an apocalypse this virus truly is. We have certainly, as humans, seen worse. When smallpox ran like a wildfire ahead of European explorers, it wiped out as much as 90% of those who had lived in the place I now call home. The Black Death killed millions. There is no doubt in my mind that we – humans – will be as triumphant long term over this stark moment as we have been over every other difficult and challenging time in our history. And there have been so many – more than even I know.

Still, it’s strange to be in that moment. It’s strange to have been a full adult in both the ante and the post of our pandemiun moment. I already felt like a part of a liminal generation. Born in 1978, I was one of the last to be trained on the prior generation of skills: typing on a typewriter, repairing a lawn mower engine, formatting a memo, writing a letter. I lived and loved in an era before the internet. But I also got my first computer at four, my first internet connection at sixteen, and one of my first jobs was digital. I have driven cross country before GPS, and can navigate with a map. I also love APIs and have written HTML for nearly as long as “markup languages” have existed.

And now I am at the full flower of my prime right at the moment where the world looks to reshape itself. There is a clear before, and there is a developing hereafter. The day of demarcation is bright in my mind. To me, the world pivoted as fast as it has ever done on March 12. I took a day that was intended to be Del’s funeral and spending it instead hiking in the White Mountains (a choice I think he would have fully approved of). When I left that morning, the stock market was strong, nothing was closed, and even our decision to cancel the funeral was just because it was being held in a “hot spot”. When we emerged off that mountain, self-consciously mindful of keeping our distance from other hikers, the stock market had the first of a historically awful series of days. My son had stayed home sick (with a bug he would share with me – still not sure if that was Coronavirus or not). And there would be no more days of school this winter. All employees in both my and my husband’s company were to work from home – indefinitely as it turns out. That drive home, we had pizza in a trattoria buried in the mountains and I noted it as an excellent find for later. Now I wonder if it will still be there when later comes.

As one of Generation X, I got to set my expectations for what the world was during the most boring decade in history: the 90s. (If you’re wondering, it definitely FELT like the most boring decade in history.) It was an era after war between nation-states had become irrelevant (or fast and bloodless, if required). Vice Presidentials scuppered promising careers with an inability to correctly spell root vegetables. We were all rudely corrected about how safe, how boring, how predictable the world was on September 11th, 2001 (the day the 90s truly ended).

Since that pizza coming off that hike, I’ve had this passage from Matthew (which I just read this winter) rolling through my mind, about that antediluvian era (although I know of no Biblical translation so obscure as to use the word itself):

As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. And they were oblivious, until the flood came and swept them all away. – Matthew 24:38-39

We have been swept away. Where we will land, on what shore and in what condition, I do not know. I do know that we will continue, and find new ways of being. We will create a postpandemiun society. And it depends on the choices we all make in these days and hours as to whether that society is a joyful one, or one built on fear. Hold on to hope, my friends. There will be a day – sooner than you can believe – where this is all a tale to tell children.

Abundance & Want

This strange time in the life of the world is giving all of us room, space and perspective to see the world through unfamiliar lenses. It’s remarkable what doesn’t change (not enough hours in the day!) and what is fundamentally shifted and may never come back the way it was (tbd). We are all spending way more time with some people, and way less time with others. Our habits are changed – die-hard grocery delivery shoppers like me can’t get a slot while others try it for the first time. Few of us are commuting, and the commute is changed for everyone. We are cooking more and eating more takeout, but it seems like a long time since we sat with friends in a bar, or a movie theater or… anywhere.

This time has also created different senses of lack or insufficiency. Many, many, many people are now encountering true want. Millions have been laid off. Many are in quarantine and struggling to make sure they have enough of the basics. But almost no one can find toilet paper in the stores. With just a small number of hoarders and a small increase in the amount we all picked up for our homes, our incredibly finely tuned system, designed to produce precisely the right amount of TP and not a roll more, is struggling to keep up.

When I was growing up, grocery shopping was a once a month thing. We’d get fill-in milk, eggs and bread, but my mom did one big shopping trip to the base (my father was military retired) about once a month or two. When we lived in Northern Idaho, it was like a 3 hour drive – each way. And that’s how we shopped: buy absolutely everything you might need as though you live in a logging town in the woods 20 miles from the nearest podunk grocery store with five aisles – and absolutely no restaurants. This never seemed particularly hard. By my parents standards, this was the height of accessible food!

6 months of supplies in Africa

This is my parent’s supply drop when they were in Africa. According to my sister this represents 6 months of food. The massive amount of soda here cracks me up – my parents made many sacrifices, but not the sodapop! Of course, this was supplemented with bananas from the garden, eggs, chicken and local foods – which were neither plentiful nor varied. (For the record, I’m the waif in the lower right.) The picture on the wall still hangs in my parents house.

Anyway, this is how I learned to shop, and this attitude remains true, even though we live a quarter of a mile from a (usually) well stocked grocery store. So we were well prepared for a 2 week “eat what you have” plan. But into our idyllic backlog of Costco whole wheat pasta, there came the voice of want. Here I was, watching the Great British Bakeshow with dreams of dinner rolls, pies, cakes and donuts dancing through my head. And Adam makes bread for our family every week – and usually a few loaves to share. But then we did a grocery store run – and there was no flour to be had. We checked the pantry – and the flour supplies were paltry. We looked online, and they’re scalping flour. Peapod was out. Amazon was delivery 25 pound bags only …. in mid April. Costco was out. Target was out.

We began to feel the scarcity. Ah! To be in a well stocked house with plenty of time for yeast breads… and no flour!!! Adam got particularly obsessed. He starting calling Stop and Shop every morning. He went on grocery runs which were ill-disguised flour runs. He got anxious. And then, finally, we found flour at the local teeny Target. Enough flour. We left with 25 pounds of flour (which was our desired amount). And somehow this anxiety we’d been experiencing, this sense of shortage, eased. We had enough. Adam says it was fascinating to watch his own mind, which had been dwelling on wondering what shortages we’ll experience, how our supply chain will hold up, what the uncertain future holds. But somehow, with enough flour laid by, he is more sanguine that this world will work out ok in the end.

This time we will be confronted with unusual and unexpected wants. We are short of toilet paper, socialization, and time alone. But there are also moments of plenty, if we look for them. Did we lay aside enough Coke to get us through six months, like my folks did? Is there an abundance where there is usually scarcity somewhere for you? Maybe a little more time? Maybe more connection with your family? More phone calls? More patiently watching out your window as spring takes over from winter? More yeast breads? Where are you abundantly filled?

Abundance

Seemingly months later…

A week ago today, I was commuting into work. I was irritated by it – it was already clear that this was going to be a problem and we shouldn’t be packing together on public transit to go into our 3 foot cubicles. But my work was still requiring folks to come in person. That seems like an altogether distant era – a time out of remembrance. But when I packed up that afternoon, in an increasingly quiet office, I took a long moment to look around. I work on the 25th floor with spectacular views from the heart of Boston. From one side, I can look up the Charles to the rising monuments of Kendall Square, and into New England’s soul as marked by the Citco sign. On the other side, punctuated by a steady stream of massive airliners, are the Harbor Islands and placid waters of Boston Harbor. The other two sides are mostly traffic, gazing down to the Blue Hills and up to the Fells.

The Harbor Islands view

I looked at my desk – my hundreds of colored pens, my pictures of my kids, my hilarious and ironic set of “awards” from my coworkers. And I wondered when I would see any of it again. It felt like goodbye. That night I learned the earliest likely date would be April 11th – almost a full month. We will see.

The world has radically changed in the week since that moment. Our kids are home from school. Public places are shuttered. Stores and restaurants are shifting how and when they serve various customers. Every ticket you have to every event is now a broken promise. Hiking trails are packed with people staying six feet apart. All of us are leaning on the internet as a critical lifeline to friends, family and a world outside the shrinking walls of our homes. And we know that for some, this catastrophe is truly catastrophic early. Not just for those who have fallen ill, or who will be soon. But for the economically precarious – suddenly laid off. For the abused trapped now with abusers who are themselves frightened, angry and lashing out. It can feel irresponsible to look for silver linings, especially when the path in front of us is dark and unknown.

But there are silver linings. I will never again get as much quality time with my family as I am getting now. For a month, I will be spending hours of focused, quality time with my teen and tween and husband every day. This was a gift that could not have been purchased in an era where teenage friends were waiting just there. (We also have a functionally infinite supply of board games, which is nice!) The flowering of creativity as people try to figure out how to do the things that are important to them in this era is a joy. I see online concerts, art activities, educational classes and free curriculums sprouting up all over the place. People are experimenting with hundreds of different ways of being together, apart. All of us are learning new tools and new techniques. How may of you have installed a new app, or tried new software, or interacted with something in a new way this last week? I have.

I’ve also seen people really reaching out and caring for others. Packages of chicken soup have been left on my porch. Offerings of errands from people have poured in. Texts and phone calls to see if I’m ok. Prayers. People are really, generally, pretty decent to each other. It’s just that the exceptions get the news coverage.

As we watch the forsythia bloom this strangest of springs, I have hope that we will become our best selves.


I am happy to report that my health is improving. I’m still not 100% (and I’m trying to take it easy), but I seem to be on the way up instead of the way down. Last night, I rested by binge-watching The Great British Bakeoff. I highly recommend this choice. Nothing like the bright colors, the high standards and low stakes, and the delicious looking baking you actually DO have time to attempt to emulate right now as an anodyne for the soul.

The kids are doing pretty well. Thane is dedicating nearly 100% of his learning time to German on DuoLingo. I’m avoiding pointing out that a binging strategy isn’t as effective in language learning. Grey is doing creative writing, and reading “The Stand”. I got some nice company from him when he read a section about a mom dying and then wanted to hang out with me, so that’s nice. We’re pretty glad we got a treadmill a few years ago for winter exercise, especially today which is rather crummy out. And I’m awfully glad to be working at a company doing something to help, even if I’m not on that particular project.

How are things with you?

The first Monday

It’s a bright sunny day here in New England, on this strangely askew morning. The usual stream of cars cutting through our street is stilled. Last night, we sat down with our boys to talk through how life would be in this new era, at least for now. We all need structure, sunlight, exercise, good food, and some sort of meaningful work in our lives to stay mentally healthy. Here’s what’s happening in our family.

8 am – everyone up (including mom)
10 pm – in bed, screens off (can read)

Before Noon: (minimum)
1/2 hour exercise
2 hours learning

Before 6 pm:
1 hr outside/daylight
1/2 hr exercise (1 hr. total)
1 hr. chores (or parent approval) – we set up lists on Google Keep for this
2 hrs learning (4 hrs total)

Here’s the list of things that count as learning for your inspiration!


Adam and I are working full days, of course. Unfortunately, I woke up this morning with a pretty righteous cough. I keep checking to see if I also have shortness of breath. I have a very, very mildly elevated temperature (eg. 99.7). I called the office where I had a PCP, and she has left the office and they were deeply unhelpful “You need to pick a PCP.” “OK, who are my options?” “You can Google it online.” So I also don’t have a PCP. On the plus side, this is an opportunity for me to find a better practice. (They were also pretty unhelpful in non-pandemic times.) On the minus, there is still no testing.

I’m trying to focus on what people would need to know about my work, in case I worsen or need to stop working and, ya know, rest.

On the plus side, Thane is working on his German and Grey completed an essay this morning! Both are now exercising – bike riding and basketball playing! (Thump thump cough shoot).

Learning German on Duolingo