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.

The darkest day

Holy Week is usually one of my favorite, most distinctive weeks of the year. I did not grow up going to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services – I’m not sure why that wasn’t part of our faith tradition, but it wasn’t. For a generally cheerful person, I’ve always had a soft spot for candelight and minor keys. And Holy Week is full of contemplative music, hard realities and truths that you don’t really want to hear but desperately need to. In a usual Holy Week, I would have been at church Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday & Good Friday (and probably practiced trumpet for Easter at all of them!)

This year is, of course, different. This year, there was no sitting in a darkening sanctuary listening to the 7 Last Words of Christ and watching the light in the parking lot flicker, as I have every single year for two decades. There were no Taize pleadings to Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. The days and weeks have begun to blur together in a sameness only relieved by the gradual, gorgeous unfolding of spring.

But even in a normal Holy Week, there is always this Saturday. Today was actually bright and fair, with brisk winds and waxing sunlight, budding trees, vibrant forsythia and the burgeoning promise of a world soon to bloom. There was little dark about it, other than the day’s statistics on the number of dead mowed down by this novel virus. But today, in the liturgical calendar, is the worst day. Worse, maybe even than Good Friday. In the Easter story, today is the day after Jesus died, while his body lay unprepared in a tomb that wasn’t his. It was the day when the disciples and the women woke up – if they slept at all that night – to a world where hopes had turned to ashes. This day abounded in the bitterness of betrayal: Judas’s betrayal (another unburied body). The betrayal of all the plans. They MUST have thought on this day that Jesus could not possibly be who they hoped he was. He was dead, and the Messiah had not yet brought liberation to the people of Israel. They must have felt sick – how much of what he had taught was true and reliable? How much of their sacrifice had been worthwhile? Had they thrown their lives away on just another pretender? And … what exactly was going to happen next? Were they going to follow him to a criminal’s execution? Would anyone be left to be the son to Mary?

Of all the many dark days whose story is painted in the Bible, this Sabbath might be the very darkest. Hope was irrevocably lost. The worst had well and truly happened. The body was cold. More was likely on the way.

It feels a bit like that now, in this pandemic time. All through January and February, watching the headlines, I thought that this virus would burn itself out or be contained, just like SARs or MERs were – or stay distantly awful like Ebola. Like the apostles – or even Jesus himself in Gethsemane – I hoped that this would once again pass us by. But here we are, locked in our homes, in fear and in shock that our world can be so abruptly transfigured. Fear crawls on the back of astonishment, worrying us about how much worse this will become. Will it be my parents who die? Or me? Will I still have a job? Will this be the next great depression? Of all the people I know and love, who will die and be counted in the daily statistics tallied at 3 pm by the governor? When will I venture onto Facebook and learn that I will never again see someone? Or worse, when will that phone call come through that isn’t just a “How are you doing?”

We are in the deep darkness of the Saturday after Good Friday, friends.

But. There would be no Christianity and no Christians if the story really ended as badly as it appears to – if there were no chapters after “So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” There was real loss on that Saturday. Judas. Jesus as a living man. Mary never again held her son. The world was never the same again. But in this dark hour, let us remember the Easter story, that out of this darkest of days arose a new hope, so powerful as to reshape the entire world for the next 2000 years. Even death was not the end to this story, as it will not be the end to ours.

Tomorrow, when we rise to pancakes and baskets, we may feel like our cries of “He is Risen” are hollow. Like Easter itself is diminished under our collective grief and fear. But that’s just the thing about Easter, my friends. Without Good Friday and Holy Saturday, it’s just a confection – full of sugar and without sustaining substance. The power comes when we have despaired, and sat with our grief. Then we can truly become part of a world made new, in ways that we could not even imagine possible on Palm Sunday.

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

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

Days when the world changes

Today, I was supposed to be in Washington State with my parents and siblings, remembering a man who meant so very much to me. There were going to be hundreds of scouts – old and young. I was going to play my trumpet. The former governor of Washington was rumored to be planned to attend – he was one of Del’s scouts.

I still dressed up for Pi Day

Instead, I’m in my attic, brushing off a dusty blog. I have not run an errand, bought a taco, or hung out with a neighbor today – and it may be some time before I do. A few weeks ago, my parents were here and we planned to see each other soon. Now, we will not. It’s time for some serious social distancing.

Thursday, I took the day off work and went for a winter hike. The snowpack on the trails was still favorable and firm, but the bright March light and warmer March air made it a pleasure to hike up and down the various mountains. But just as we left cell service, I got a text from my husband. “I kept Thane home from school. He has a fever and cough.”

This art counts as social distancing – there was a bunch of new stuff today

That night, still sore and stinky from the hike, wondering if I should send Grey in for the last half-day of school to pick up their things and his brother’s chromebook, I paged Thane’s pediatrician to see what the recommendation was. Dry cough and fever. Now. Surely there was some list I should add him to, some registration. Maybe testing. His doctor called back right away, sounding deeply unhappy. Did he have contact with someone from Biogen? If not, there is no testing. No lists. No records. Nothing to do but treat symptoms and be smart. So we have no idea if Thane has a cold, or something much more dire. Shortly after the call with the doctor, we learned there was a presumptive positive case for a kid in our town schools. We have to assume the worst, for the sake of everyone. So we’re even more isolated than the standard isolation – wondering if we’re going to get sick next. Two weeks is a very, very long time to wait. THERE IS NO TESTING for people who have all the symptoms and live in a community where the virus is.

This time is giving us a chance to catch up on little chores

So far, Thane is fine. His fever mostly broke last night. The cough is painful, and he has a sore throat, but it hasn’t slowed him down very much. So far, the rest of us are also fine. I went on a great run today. We went for a hike – the Middlesex Fells were PACKED – I’ve never seen so many cars – but there was plenty of room for all of us in the gracious, greening forest.

It’s such an odd thing, to watch the world change in twinkling. I’ve been watching Coronavirus very closely (slightly obsessively) since it escaped from the first rings of quarantine. I actually called the “work from home” instructions to the day – two weeks ago. Just watching the litany of cancellations – one after the other – flooding through my email is astonishing. Our 20th anniversary trip to Italy this April vacation is not happening. Del’s funeral will likely be in the fall (if at all). I had to move Piemas (to the Saturday closest to 6-28, Tau Day!). Church will be empty tomorrow – we will worship digitally. Everything is shutting down, shuttering. But the sidewalks are vibrant with people out and about on a beautiful day, seeing each other from a safe distance, enjoying exercise and health and sunlight from suddenly luxuriously (dauntingly?) empty schedules.

I met this handsome guy on my run today

I’ve now exceeded my prediction powers. School will definitely resume in the fall. But how much of the spring do we lose? The planned 2 weeks? Six, like in Washington State? All to year? College tours are cancelled. Proms are cancelled. We face this long, quiet uncertain period of being only with family, and going only to places disinfected by sunlight. There’s a hope to that – a slowing and quieting that our society is so deficient in. But there is also fear. Am I ready to nurse my family and friends, if needed? Who will nurse me? Just how crazy will we all go locked in a house together? What about those who are locked in much worse situations than we are?

I take comfort in this: we are kinder to each other than anyone expected. We are resourceful, and thoughtful. And we will come through this wiser than we went in. I only hope the wisdom is not too hard-earned.