Something Good

Tell me something good that happened today.

I have been struggling to pull my thoughts together—to come up with some inspiration for writing. It has been too long. There is so much negative energy in the world these days that finding the positive and the good is often a challenge. The negative has kept my creativity from flowing freely.

But you see, as in the case of a river, the water must flow. It flows around rocks and boulders, carving its own path, sometimes re-routing around barriers in its way. If we build a dam to hold back the flow, the water will find a way. It will collect in a pond or lake, flowing outward. Or it will gather so much power that the dam will break, flooding the towns and villages below and washing away the very people who tried to restrain it.

Creativity is much like a river. It flows regardless of whether it is being restrained or inhibited. It is fluid and sometimes fickle. Lately for me, creativity has come like grains of sand, tiny snippets that capture my attention but evade my grasp. If only I could write about an image or idea that passed through my mind or that story not fully formed in my head. If only….

As I start to write, to flesh out an idea, my mind fills with the negative that inundates us from the daily news. It sneaks in and takes hold, permeating my thoughts and squelching my creative flow. Covid cases are rising. Political unrest is growing. Power hungry political leaders are taking over. Corporate greed. Impending climate disaster. Economic crises—all sensationalized by the news that streams 24/7 from our TVs, our computers, and even our phones. And that’s just the list of global disasters. There is also the national list, the local, the family, the personal.

And so I say, “Tell me something good that happened today.” Because logically, I know there is more good than bad. Good people doing good things are quiet people who don’t get attention because they don’t demand attention. And good news doesn’t translate into corporate revenue. Good things are happening—on a personal level, a family level, a local, national, and global level. Good things are happening, and we need to shift our focus. When we shift, creativity flows. We can see our way out of the situations we have gotten into. We can allow the solutions, consider alternative perspectives, analyze our positions—and those of others. When we shift our focus to the good, we recognize our role as an individual in a greater whole. When we shift our focus, we are more likely to work for the good of all.

So… tell me something good that happened today. Or yesterday. Or this week. Let’s open the floodgates and let the good wash over us.

Tell me something good that happened today.

Go Easy

As you move through your day, ticking off items on your to-do list, go easy on yourself. Do the things you need to do—go to work, pick up your children, make meals, etc.—but prioritize. Many of these items can wait a day… a week… even a year. If you don’t sweep the floor today, the dust will still be there tomorrow.

As you look in the mirror at the end of a long day, go easy on yourself. Every line, every wrinkle, every scar and bit of saggy skin, every gray hair, the eye puffiness… these tell your story. They are parts of the whole picture that is you… that is your life. There is the scar from the time you had stitches or surgery; the crooked where your broken bone healed not-quite-right.  The increasing gray hairs and wrinkles are from the love you poured into worry over a child who is struggling to find his way or an elderly parent who is navigating life alone for the first time. There is the softness of years taking over the activity and fitness of youth. This is your story reflected back from the mirror. You are your story. A story of love, of struggle, and of accomplishments big and small. Honor your struggle and your successes.

Go easy on yourself as you rewind the memories of the past. Perhaps this morning’s meeting or presentation didn’t go as well as you would’ve liked. Now, you are hyper focused on the things you said or didn’t say. You are playing the tape over and over in your mind as 20-second sound bites, each time like the strike of a whip to your soul. Or perhaps it was something you did as a kid that you regret. So many years ago that there is no doubt you are the only one who remembers. Yet it is burned in your brain as a failure. There is no use replaying the past in this way, beating yourself up over something you cannot change. Rewrite the meeting, the memory with how you should’ve handled the situation or what you will do differently next time. Play that script for a while then let it go. Focus on the best way to carry on while releasing the pain or disappointment and move forward. One step at a time. Build a better immediate future through thoughtful reflection, learn from the past, and keep going.

Go easy on yourself if you are not getting out in the world in the way you would like. If you say “no” to outings with friends when you really want to go out more, consider why. Maybe you’re more of a homebody. If you don’t jump at opportunities to push yourself, don’t fret. We all have a preference for what is comfortable. We choose to stay home and stream Netflix rather than meet up with new people or climb a mountain that might challenge our body and soul. Set a new goal—that you will do one thing each month that challenges you. Once you are comfortable with that one challenge, think about whether you want to increase the goal to twice a month. Or once a week. Pretty soon, you will have greater confidence—whether in doing new things or knowing you’re fine as you are. You will stretch your knowledge of yourself and grow in new directions.

Go easy on yourself and take your time. It does not matter what other people can do faster or better or stronger or more efficiently. What matters is what you can do. Your talents, your skill, your way of doing things—these matter. Your perspective and your opinions are part of a greater whole—they add to the big picture. Maybe someone read the book faster than you, but you came away with the one sentence or idea that will make a difference… for you, for the world, or for that one person who needs help.

Go easy on yourself. If we take our time and stay true to ourselves, we can gain from our experiences what we most need so we can offer those skills and talents to others later. Trust in the process. Know you are doing fine, and you are making a difference. Give yourself a break. Go easy and rest.

#GoEasy #Rest #Reflect

Step Away

I have taken some time to step away… step away and observe the world around me, the people, and the ways we interact. The way we are right now? I am not impressed.

I believe social media—for all its ability to keep us connected—is pushing us apart. We focus too much on what others are doing and saying. We don’t think we measure up. We think we have to have what everyone else has, do what everyone else does, and be like everyone else. Social media has taken the idea of “Keeping up with the Joneses” to a whole new level.

Social media, at its worst, makes people envious and angry, boastful and proud. Social media allows people a forum to lash out, to vent their own insecurities to some unsuspecting victim because they need to lash out. And let’s be real—nobody on social media should be unsuspecting.

But I’m curious about this “keeping up with the Joneses” thing.  Why is it we feel we need what other people have—things that are likely not even the best for us?

What if you found out that what the Joneses have has come at a price, and that price has been steep. Come to find out, Mr. Jones has a drinking problem, and Mrs. Jones has turned to other outlets to fulfill her emotional needs. They no longer have a connection, and their marriage is unraveling from the inside out. These details… they are conveniently left off of social media. Because these details are not flashy and sexy. These details don’t make the Joneses look good. Not at all.

But these details are there. Behind everyone’s social media front, there are the down and dirty details they don’t want their friends to know. An everyday “normal” they don’t want their followers to see.

So I would say this. Step away from social media for a while. Take some time to think about all the things you have. Consider your blessings. If you need to, sit down and write out a list. Having a physical, tangible list of your blessings will allow you to recognize all that you have. It will allow you to regularly review your blessings just by rereading the list. And it might just begin to shift your mindset from envious and longing to grateful and fulfilled.

This is your journey, not that of the Joneses or your friend or your neighbor. It is up to you to set goals that fit into your life. It is up to you to consider and recognize the next best move to make, the next best step to take. It is up to you to recognize all that you have and all that you are. It is up to you to be happy.

Make the move you need to make for happiness to begin to bloom. That might be something as simple as being thankful, making a list of your blessings, or talking to someone about something that has been bothering you. Keep a gratitude journal. Whatever you need to do, go out and start now. Don’t sit around and wait for happiness to come to you. Take action. I guarantee you, happiness—true happiness—will not be found on social media.

I remember…

…when I first learned how to read. I was sitting on a bench by the door in my kindergarten classroom. It was warm outside—fall or spring, I’m not sure which. The door to the playground was open because it may or may not have been recess time, and the sunlight streamed in. My feet couldn’t reach the floor, so they were swinging—no doubt with a little help from me, the constant fidgeter.

I had a Dick and Jane book open on my lap. It was the green book, and Dick, Jane, and Spot were running across the cover, but I could be making up the color and picture from books I’ve seen since that day.

But that moment, I remember it like it was yesterday. There was a bit of chaos in the classroom as children came and went through the open door. The teacher was standing there coordinating the chaos. But I was focused on the book. It was as if suddenly, the work I had been doing to learn the letters and decipher written language suddenly all came together and there they were—words on the page! Meaning in the squiggles. I could read! Spot and Dick and Jane, they were playing and having fun right here inside my book. The puzzle had been solved. Suddenly, the rest of my life opened up before me like the book on my lap.

These Days

These days, I don’t always know whether I am coming or going—a feeling that is, no doubt, a result of having my schedule ripped away and cast to the wind. It’s a disorienting feeling—the pieces don’t fit together as seamlessly as they once did. The pieces of daily life feel loose and rattly, like a few screws need to be tightened in order to set the world back on its right trajectory. I am doing my best to stay grounded.

These days, I look for reassurance and grounding in the little things—tangible evidence that I have completed a task, continued to move forward, that I am surviving (though maybe not thriving) in a challenging world. Colorful dishes full of leftovers in the fridge indicate that I made dinner last night, that it wasn’t just a dream. And they provide information on what I made so I don’t have a repeat performance tonight. I never used to rely on the visual because I always had a plan. Now, it seems, most of the things I do are on a wing and a prayer. Everything seems to be holding together so far….

These days, pandemic life has created a certain degree of turmoil through which I stumble without feeling. My awareness, once fairly acute, fails me on a daily basis. I am forgetful and unfocused as I attempt to remain on track to check items off my to-do list.

These days, I cannot make it through without a daily check list. I complete one item, and I move on to the next. Check—done! Next? I would not remember all I have to do if I didn’t write it down when I think of it. Am I suffering from the effects of age or the pandemic? Write it down, cross it off. I move down the list with a robotic accuracy, writing and crossing off, lest anything be forgotten.

These days have been difficult. We don’t have the consistency of the schedule we have followed for years and years without interruption. My work-life is built around the school year—the same schedule I’ve followed since I was five or maybe younger—but this year, it is different. We are creatures of habit and routine and orderliness. Our schedules have been ripped from us—along with our plans, our projects, our dreams, etc.—and held in suspension just a little too high for us to grasp. When we are finally able to regain all that we have lost, we know life will no longer be the same.

These days are hard, but they will pass. One day, this will all be a distant memory, and our grandchildren will look at us with fascination as we tell them about the COVID pandemic of 2020. In the meantime, I am trying hard to tap into my patience, my persistence, and a little bit of resilience. These are the tools that are going to be most useful in getting through these days.

Photo by Jared Murray on Unsplash

When we are together…

When we are able to be together again—whether post-pandemic or as the waves recede for now—I am going to smile my warmest, unmasked smile in your direction, and I’ll greet you with a hug so tight, it might feel like I’ll never let go. I really miss hugs. And smiles. I so miss seeing people smile.

When we are together again mid- or post-pandemic, I will stand close to you while we talk—close enough that I will feel your warmth. I will watch your mouth move in familiar patterns as you shape the words you speak. I will nod in agreement, and I might reach out and touch your arm while we joke about one thing or another.

When we are together again, we will sit side-by-side on a bench or across a small table from one another. We might sip coffee or tea or maybe an adult beverage. We will talk and laugh and snack on finger foods we share from a plate that rests between us.

When we are together again, we will have much to catch up on. I will ask how your life is going and how it has changed in recent months. I will ask you about your work, your home improvement projects, your crafts and reading, your mindfulness and reflecting, and how you spent your time in lockdown and in the months since. I will ask you about the ways you’ve found to cope in these most unusual times.

When we are together again, I will tell you about the projects I worked on while I was home, the ones I started and the ones I completed. I will tell you how a project of scanning childhood photos turned into a soul-searching rediscovery of a girl long ago forgotten. And how I reclaimed some of her traits and pulled them back into my now-life. I might even tell you that I’m not sure it was the photo-scanning that prompted the reclaiming, but perhaps the time alone and long moments of reflection served to ground me back into myself. I had pulled apart a bit over the years—my soul tearing from my physical being just enough that the disconnection was real, but not detectable through the hustle and busyness of normal life. I am working to carefully stitch those parts back together so as to avoid a recurrence of this detachment in the future.

When we are together, I will try to explain how very much I needed to be a “helper” when the waves of covid were rolling in. But I felt helpless. I will tell you how that feeling made me dig through my drawers of old fabric and begin making face masks to distribute to family. I will tell you this was a project that lasted through a shortage of elastic and snail-speed shipping on supplies and stretched on for months—even into 2021. Every time I felt like I needed to be more helpful, I would sit down at my sewing machine and stitch face masks. A few hundred face masks later, I have begun to slow my pace—not because I don’t think they will be useful, but because I want to tackle other sewing projects and finally use some of the fabric I bought years ago. It’s part of my intentional recovery and reconstruction.

When we are together, I will tell you about the rethinking I did about my life—about the fact that I am transitioning from being Mom, in an all-the-time kind of way, to mom-to-grown-adults. While I am still mom to three kids, my day-to-day life is no longer defined by my role as somebody’s mom, and that is a difficult but necessary change to navigate. The quiet time of the pandemic has given me an opportunity to think about who I am now that I am not who I was. I will tell you that this time, in many ways, has prepared me for that transition. I will also say that the pang of grief of this transition wound its way through and around the Covid stress-grief and these two feelings became nearly inextricable.

I will tell you that I had many projects I could have done around the house and in the garden, but lockdown meant I was working. Harder than usual. And I took on my second job since life was restricted, and food became (and remains) ridiculously expensive. I will tell you that money was a worry, but that I am fortunate that I have been able to maintain my work thus far. I will tell you that worry is part of my DNA, and I have always worried. A lot. About stupid things. I will tell you I need to let go and let God deal with my stress… and the things I have no control over. Because amazing things happen when you let go of what you cannot control and fully embrace the knowledge that God’s got you.

When we meet again on the other side of the pandemic, I will tell you that it’s good to see you. To be with you, and to talk and to sit in silence. I will tell you that I know the pandemic is not over, but I will enjoy our time together. When we are separated again, I will have these moments to hold onto, to dig into, and to help me realize that I am strong, resilient, and able to find all of the necessary resources when required to do so. I will let you know it’s good to be back. It’s good to be together. But the changes we experienced in the past year? They were good, too. We are stronger now. We are better now. And I hope these changes will stick and weave their way into our new existence, whatever that may eventually look like.

Potential

This year, for whatever reason, I have been noticing pinecones—perhaps because they have been quite numerous, and perhaps because I am drawn in by their regular patterns and varied textures—the orderliness with which they present themselves to the world. They are all different—in size, texture, make up. Some are smooth and hold themselves together tightly while others are rough and open. Some have many small, flimsy seeds while others have fewer thick seeds. One day this past fall, I reached up to pull a pinecone off a tree, and it was so sharp and prickly, it dug into the skin of my palm. I pulled my hand away, imagining I might be bleeding—though I was not.

This morning, as I was out walking, enjoying some quiet time in the rather brisk air, I spotted a tiny pinecone, much smaller than most I see on my daily walks. It was about the size of the top portion of my little finger. If I hadn’t been paying attention, I might have missed it as I passed by.

But as I marveled at its size, I also considered its incredible potential. It may be small, but there could likely be a forest in this pinecone. If properly nurtured, its seeds could create several trees, and those trees could create many more seeds, and this would continue for generations of trees.

A tiny pinecone, the size of the tip of my little finger has the potential to become a forest. If this pinecone has that kind of potential, what might you become? And how might you harness your unlimited potential to create a lasting legacy?

 

Year One: #PandemicLife Lessons

As we run headlong into year two of this crazy pandemic life, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on where we’ve been. I thought it would be worthwhile to acknowledge the efforts and experiences we’ve lived since last year at this time. We’ve come a long way in our acceptance of our current reality, so it’s a good time to reflect on what we have learned thus far. Some of the lessons of the past year have been re-learned from childhood, but others have been a bit tougher to swallow… and to maintain. Here are some of the big ones:

Personal space: This year, we learned personal space is an actual thing. In the past, it wasn’t always respected, and people sometimes got too close. They might accidentally bump into you when they were reaching over you at the grocery store. Or you might sit three people across in a space made for one-and-a-half on an airplane. But personal space is important, and now we have come to see that more space is better! Now, when someone who doesn’t need quite as much personal space as you gets just a little too close, you can politely take a step (or five) backwards—while they are advancing—without offending them. Just claim Covid and social distance.

Cover your mouth: Whenever you cough or sneeze (or breathe, for that matter) cover your mouth (and nose, friends). This pandemic has really driven home the point that exposing others to your germy droplets can be downright dangerous. Of course, when you do cough or sneeze, make sure you do it into your elbow, so you don’t go spreading those germs around when you then touch something. This elbow-thing has been tough for me (decades of using my hand to cover my mouth is a hard habit to break), but I think I’ve finally adjusted, and I am willing to admit not coughing/sneezing into your hand makes great sense when you stop to think about it.

Be patient: This is one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic. We have no idea how long it will be before we can reclaim our “normal,” so we have to be patient. Now, there are many people who have had enough and are not waiting. They are reclaiming their “normal” now. Personally, I don’t recommend this. I was exposed to Covid and spent 10 days waiting it out; I believe erring on the side of caution is preferable to too many more periods of quarantine. So I am being patient and gathering some projects that I’ve been meaning to work on: knitting, painting, reading, walking, praying, and making exercise a habit. That last one is a struggle… but there are some great videos on YouTube. By the time we come out of this cautionary period of social distancing, I will (at the very least) have compiled a library of good workout videos with which I will (someday) make exercise a daily habit.

Inner reflection: Sometimes, in times of quiet loneliness, we are forced into some inner reflection. In fact, that is actually a good thing. I would argue that in our society, we don’t do enough reflection and personal work on figuring out who we are as individuals. Instead, we keep ourselves busy with activities and friends and events. We have appointments and meetings and conferences, and we fill our calendars as full as we can. But not since last year. If you are looking to grow and evolve into a better person, you have to start with yourself—you have to look in rather than out. What we often fail to realize is that what we want is not out there. It is inside us. What better time for inner reflection than now, when there’s not a lot else to keep us busy?

As cliché as it may sound, history repeats itself. One thing we’ve learned this year is that people don’t want to listen to what worked 100 years ago because much has changed in the last century. What has really become evident this year is that lessons from history are lost once the people who learned them are no longer with us. Therefore, history repeats again, and again, and again until we not only learn the lessons we need to learn, we internalize them and they become part of who we are as a society. I heard about the Spanish flu when I was growing up from my grandpa. He was in France in World War I, and he had lived through the epidemic. He had lost many men in his division to the flu. We used to speculate that his penchant for raw onion sandwiches at lunchtime kept him healthy. True or not, we’ll never know, but there’s no doubt he would have had much to say about our current pandemic based on his past. But we’ll never know that, either.

It’s been a long year bursting with lessons, and the lessons will continue this year and into next. Hopefully, not much longer because I, for one, am ready for the lessons to become lessons of beating a pandemic and moving forward into a new “normal.” Let’s hope the lessons learned this time will inform society and help them deal more efficiently with whatever the future may hold.

Here’s hoping.

{Photo by Pepe Reyes on Unsplash}

Crazy, Magical Life

Welcome, friends, to this grand adventure we call “life.” Come as you are—we are not formal here, at least not much of the time.

Here in life, you may be anything you wish to be—within reason, of course. You cannot be a unicorn for the simple reason that unicorns don’t exist within the realm of real. Also, you cannot be younger, though I haven’t quite figured out why on that one. Younger exists in reality, though I suppose that negates the statement, “Come as you are,” so perhaps that has something to do with it.

You can be a dreamer. An innovator. A creative. In fact, those types of individuals thrive around here, especially in pandemic life when we’re kinda making things up as we go. The innovators will discover ways to keep busy in the most challenging times. If you would like to be a plumber, you can do that. A teacher is a noble choice. A philanthropist, an accountant, a millionaire… all are within your grasp. If you put your mind to it, and you are willing to do the necessary hard work and persevere through the tough times and the setbacks, you truly can be anything you want to be (well… except for a unicorn).

You will have adventures here in life. Some may be amazing, planned adventures based in travel or exploring or taking risks. Other adventures may be unexpected and threaten to derail you from the path you are traveling. Each of these adventures has many lessons to teach if you are open to learning. Life’s lessons can be hard but internalizing them will allow you to move forward freely and more informed for the next adventure. Or mis-adventure, as the case may be. Always keep in mind that difficult roads often lead to beautiful places.

Welcome to this crazy world where things seldom go as planned—sometimes for long stretches at a time. But there are always other people here to share your experiences and help you through. To celebrate your joys, and to help you bear your heartache.

So come as you are to this crazy world. The people make it all worthwhile. The love, the joy, the laughter, and even the tears. These things are precious. And even if there are no unicorns, life can still be magical beyond measure.

{Photo by Pierre Châtel-Innocenti on Unsplash}

Understanding

Understanding. I am trying to approach everyone I meet with understanding as I contemplate their unique perspective on the world and their individually challenging situation.

A bit before class last week, one of my students emailed me. “I’ll be on Zoom today. I have to babysit.”

Normally, babysitting is not an excuse to be out of class. Class is important, and if you’ve ever taken the time to figure out the price (per class) of a college course, it’s fairly expensive, as well. So no, I do not condone skipping class.

But this is not a normal year. In fact, there is little that even faintly resembles “normal.” Excuses abound in Covid time. “I have a doctor’s appointment.” How can I argue that? “My mom’s car broke down, and she took mine.” Yep, Mom has to get to work so she can make money. “It’s snowing and I have to get home to help out with my little brother.” “I was exposed to Covid, and now I am in quarantine.” Ugh. So many excuses.

I am a proponent of attendance in class, but I also try to be flexible. In the past, I would have asked for a doctor’s note, a court summons, or whatever. Documentation can excuse you from class.

But this year is different. This year has been tough. Everyone has a different situation. I don’t know who has younger siblings that might need supervision. I don’t know whose family is struggling and whose parents have lost jobs. I don’t know which of my students has taken on a job (or two) to help with the bills. I don’t know unless they tell me. And some students aren’t ready to be that vulnerable.

But I do know that people are struggling. I know that my students are struggling. The world, as they knew it, disappeared just as they were preparing to graduate from high school and move out in the world and work on their independence. It has been almost a year since that time. We are all tired of this. We all have pandemic fatigue. We all want to see a relative or friend, go to a concert, attend a wedding, have dinner out with non housemates…. There is so much we are missing about our former lives.

So I take a step back and I ask myself, is it my position to question this student’s situation, or is it simply my position to express understanding? I am not going to judge anyone in a year like this.

Like everything else this year, I am exercising flexibility. If you tell me you have to Zoom into class because you have to babysit, I am not going to ask. I’m going to send you the Zoom link and see you, virtually at least, in class.

Everyone is struggling. Not necessarily in the same way. In fact, not likely in the same way. Understanding is what we need. From where I sit, understanding is the best path forward.

{Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash}