Dots… and Everything Else

Life is a process of connecting the dots. When we are young, our lives are full of dots that have little connection. We live life one day at a time with few plans. We play with this friend, that toy, and we work to discover our talents. As children, we live moment to moment, figuring things out as we go.

When we grow, we take all the things we have experimented with in our “play” and in our growing up, and we examine them, figure out which things we want to keep, and which things we really don’t enjoy or prefer not to pursue.

Now, here’s where the tricky part comes. In order to connect the dots and begin to fashion a life that has meaning and purpose, we have to determine how our “dots” fit into the bigger context of the world around us. We have to figure out what we bring to the world, and how that talent or  interest meets a need that the world has. That is where meaning, purpose, and passion come together.

One of the things I do in the real world is ask college freshmen to begin connecting their dots. What did you LOVE to do when you were nine or ten? What is something from your childhood you wish you hadn’t given up when you transitioned to adulthood? What are you doing when you are most likely to lose track of time? If you were asked to work alone in isolation every day, would you be able to do it, or do you need to be with people?

That was the dot that got me back when I was graduating from college. I had planned a desk job for my life, working in a cubicle in an office building. But a teaching internship slammed on the brakes, showing me I was on the wrong path. I had forgotten to consider the dot that needed dynamic, face-to-face interaction with people. [Now, of course, here I am in Corona Isolation, craving dynamic, face-to-face interaction, but this is a temporary story.]

If you haven’t yet taken the time to examine your dots and figure out how they connect, now is a perfect time to start thinking about that. Are you doing what you love? Are you fulfilling a need in the world? Are you happy? And more than that, do you experience regular moments of joy?

Not only is now a great time to begin to connect any dots you haven’t yet connected, it is also a good time to begin to examine Everything Else. What is it that makes you fully you? Are you in the best job for you? Do you have enough time for family? Is there something else you need to be doing? How can you put steps in place to get where you belong?

Here in this down time, take a moment or two to examine the Everything Else that makes up your life; if you are not on the right track, create a plan to get back on track.

This time—this quiet time when we have opportunity for greater reflection and focus, when we can look deeply inside ourselves and see who we really are and what we really want for our lives—this is a gift.  Don’t let it slip away without at least taking some time to think. Your dots deserve to be connected, and you are the only one who can do that.

{Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash}

Change (and a bit of Creative Reframing)

This morning, I woke up with Billy Joel’s “I’ve loved these days” stuck in my head. Why this song? I have not heard this song in years, and yet, there it was, going round and round in my head. So… I started to think about it.

Now, there are a lot of things that I don’t like about these days: the loneliness, the fact that I can’t see my students, the monotony of the same few rooms that keep me confined. But truth be told, it’s comfortable here, and if I look at things in the right light, there are blessings in this situation.

Since I’ve been working from home, I am not up at 5:30 in the morning to see my son out the door. Nope. These days, I’m often up at 7:00, but I can get up as late as 8:30 and slide into work with slightly damp hair—coffee in one hand and toast in the other—by a 9:00 meeting. I can wear jeans and slippers and wrap in a blanket when I am cold. Better yet, if my “office” is cold, I can bake a batch of muffins to warm things up a bit. When I need to clear my head, I step out into the fresh air and go for a walk. I don’t have to plan ahead if I want lunch.

When I am outside, I see more families spending time together. Because the weather is beginning to warm up, children are out riding bikes, and parents often accompany them, either on bikes or maybe walking the dog.

In the space of only three weeks, there have so been many changes, but they haven’t all been bad. Our space may have grown smaller, but the pace of life is noticeably slower. People are more patient and understanding. “Oh, it’s fine that you didn’t get that done. We are all trying to figure this out.” And despite our distance, people are coming together more. They are organizing drives to help others, checking on their neighbors, and offering a helping hand.

When things eventually go back to “normal,” I will try to remember what I’ve loved about these days. I really hope some of these changes stick around. The challenges of a global emergency might just make us better people.

{Photo by Kylo on Unsplash}

Brave…

Beautiful. We are all living in this beautiful, bumbling mess that is humanity. We are all figuring things out as we go. We are boosting each other up. We are booing the forces that break us down. We are believers—bold and brave in the face of the unknown. We are beautiful.

Bright. We are bright lights to those around us. Those who are searching for hope or for peace or for somewhere to land. We buck up in the toughest of times and forge ahead, blazing a trail for those who need a leader. We are the brightest light for those in the darkness.

Blessed. As each day begins and ends, I list my blessings. It’s a way to maintain focus and a positive attitude. Even in tough times, it’s a question of balance. If you can look beyond the bad or the negative and find the silver lining, that mindset, in and of itself, is a blessing.

Our blessings—they are what help us to remain brave in the face of adversity. Our families, our pets, our hobbies, our work, our faith. These are the things that give us strength to carry on, to stand up and fight and keep fighting. Our blessings give us the brilliant bravery we need to keep moving forward, step by step. Day by day. To keep moving through even the toughest of times. And when we get to the other side, we will see that we were and we are…

Bold. Brave. And Blessed.

{Photo by Joyce McCown on Unsplash}

All of Us

April first. Spring is arriving to my yard with bulbs sprouting into crocuses and hyacinths, dotting the fading winter browns with color. Lying in bed this morning as consciousness began to awaken, I breathed in the depths of April. The difficulties of April. The heaviness and huge expanse of April that stretches out in front of us.

This afternoon, I went out for a walk. My afternoon walks keep me sane and give me time to reflect. There were lots of people outside. Some were walking their dogs. Others, like me, were just walking themselves. In the woods, I saw two teenage girls sitting together on a rock, shoulder to shoulder, bent over the same phone. Up the road a piece, in a cul-de-sac, a group of children played together as if it were any normal nice day. They huddled in groups discussing the game they would play.

It seems that many people are missing the social distancing point. Playing with friends—even outside—is not social distancing. Sitting with your friend on a rock or walking side-by-side with your friend is not social distancing. Hanging out with friends does not create the necessary distance.

The toll this virus is taking is already staggering. If we are going to beat it and “flatten the curve,” we have to be vigilant. We have to take on a new mindset. We have to assume everyone we see has the virus, and when we go out of our houses, we have to act like we have it. We have to stay away from people, and we have to protect ourselves and others. This is our main job right now—to stem the deadly tide of this enemy.

One of the reasons this virus spreads so fast is because it hides in people with no symptoms. It spreads through undetected infections and asymptomatic carriers. Look at the choir rehearsal in Washington state back in mid-March. None of the people in attendance had symptoms and yet the virus spread through 45 people in that group. No one knows for sure whether they are infected or not. We can’t take chances unless we are willing to risk our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

All of us, Friends. It’s going to take all of us to get through this virus and to beat it. Don’t hang out with friends. Don’t meet up with a group in a parking lot and stand six feet apart. Don’t drive with a carload of friends to a state park to hike. Don’t go to a store that’s open because it’s an essential business just to get something to keep you busy. Just don’t.

Do your part. Stay home and stay away from others. Do your part for all of us.

The View from Here

The view from here is very different than it was a couple weeks ago. We have now been in social distance mode for just under two weeks—far less time than most of the world. We knew it was coming—we watched it sweep slowly across the globe on its way.

That doesn’t make the view from here any brighter. We are broken people in a society that is also severely broken. In our attempts to deal with this global pandemic, we need to come together—work together and protect one another. But we can’t.

Because the view from here looks out over a broad chasm that has been growing and deepening and pushing us farther apart. We have forgotten that we are one humanity in a global environment, and we are stronger when we band together and create a united front. We will always be stronger together.

We have forgotten that life is not about all the things we want in this life and how we will get them, no matter the cost. We have forgotten that most of the “things” we possess don’t matter, especially when weighed against human health and life itself. Even in our isolation, we continue to buy and buy and buy to the point of hoarding because “enough” is a concept our society ignores as it pushes spending and materialism and greed as a way to promote a “healthy” economy.

We have filled our lives with material things. We have been so conditioned to look outward for happiness and acceptance and validation that we have lost sight of the most important element—what we are feeling on the inside. Who we are. The very traits that make us special and unique and individual—these have been cast aside for too long. They have been stomped down and buried deep inside ourselves as we live a life that is filled to the brim with a busy-ness dictated by society. Most of us—we aren’t even truly happy anymore.

The view from here is not in touch with the things that matter. It is weighed down by all the lies society has been telling us for decades. The expectations we are supposed to live up to. We are tired and weary. The burden weighs on us, and we are struggling to break free.

But the view from here—it is quiet and lonely. We are in a period of grieving all that we have lost or perceive we have lost. We are grieving what we may lose. And we are grieving all the changes our society will face—changes that we just can’t fathom from this particular vantage point. But if we take the time to really look and examine our lives, the view from here may be (dare I say) just a little peaceful.

While we may be feeling overwhelmingly burdened by our current situation, the view from here may shift, giving us a glimpse of elements of peace, simplicity, and kindness. It is quite possible that with a bit of time and a new perspective, the view from here might just be the soil in which we begin to change and blossom.

Vulnerable

The other day, I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store watching people freak out about what they don’t have in their homes, and stuffing as much toilet paper as they possibly could into their grocery carts and cars. Truthfully, I was a bit shocked by the behavior I was witnessing. For whatever reason, people are panicking and stocking up on items like it’s the end of the world (in which case, they won’t need all this stuff, by the way…). This country has become so self-focused that “every man for himself” is the obvious motto people live by. In an emergency, grab everything you can! Don’t leave anything for anyone else! This mindset is both destructive and detrimental to any sense of community.

As I gathered my courage to enter the noise and complete chaos in the store for my weekly grocery run, I looked to my left at the car that was parked next to me. There, I saw a sad and curious sight. The car was packed full of stuff. Aside from the microwave sitting on the front passenger seat, the rest appeared, on first glance, to be garbage, in part because it was thrown in every which way, as if it had been carelessly tossed aside. There were open boxes of tissues and hangers and clothing. Small white paper bags that looked like they were discarded fast food bags and large plastic bags that appeared to be trash bags. A rolled up sleeping bag. Some socks and a shirt. The car was stuffed. Full of garbage and so much more.

There was a woman sitting in the car, and I was trying not to stare, but curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to study the contents of the car further, figure out what she was doing there.  She was parked in the handicapped space near the front of the store, and it appeared that she was eating a sandwich in the little space she had that was not taken up by stuff. She presented a stark contrast to the activity around her.

Homeless, I realized. She was likely homeless and living out of her car. I had a vague recollection of seeing this car, in this disorderly state, in this parking lot before—the tissue boxes sparking the memory. There was not much space for this woman to move about and get comfortable since so much of the car was taken up by her stuff. And yet, here she sat, alone and eating dinner in the silence and isolation of her car. Just outside her car, so many people bustled in and out of the store, stocking up on items to keep them fed and occupied and happy in the comfort and warmth of their homes while they wait out the coronavirus pandemic.

This, friends, is the reason that our panic and our focus on ourselves is not productive. We need to be mindful of the more vulnerable among us—the sick, the lonely, the homeless, the destitute. In times like this, we need to come together to look in on our neighbors. Make a phone call or check in with a quick knock on the door (keeping a safe distance from the individual who answers). Be willing to ask the question, I have to go pick up a few groceries. Do you need anything?

This is a challenging time for all of us, but for some more than others. Let’s come together and show the world who we really are.

{Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash}

Broken Zippers

We have reached a critical point in our school career, my youngest and I. With just over three months to go in his entire school career, the lunch bag he has been using since eighth grade (maybe seventh) has sprung a broken zipper. We have been able to limp through this crisis so far, but we are reaching the end of the bag’s utility faster than we are reaching graduation.

The zipper has two pulls that meet in the middle. One of the zippers has come off its track and hangs useless and rattling at one end. While that might seem workable, what with the second pull and all, the zipper has a section of broken and missing teeth, and the other end only zips halfway, leaving the bag gaping and in danger of dumping its contents—literally “losing its lunch,” if you will.

But as I mentioned, we have only three months left of school. In our entire career. It’s not like a new lunch bag can be passed down to a younger sibling or cousin or neighbor. In three months, we’ll be DONE, and there is no one younger to use a crummy lunch bag.

But I know better than to think three months of paper lunch bags would be a good idea. Number one, the environment doesn’t need to give up any more trees. And number two, paper doesn’t keep the lunch cold and the weather will be warming soon.

But here’s the kicker. I knew we had another black lunch box in our house somewhere… or at least we used to. We definitely have a green one, and I know exactly where that one is. But there was a black one… now where did we put that?

Then one day last week, I was carrying the laundry to the basement, and I spotted the lunch bag. It was covered in a layer of dust, hanging on a hook behind my older son’s quiver of flu-flu arrows. (Those suckers haven’t been moved since he was in high school, and he’s graduating from college this year…). So, I took it down and tossed it in the laundry room to wash over break.

A couple days later, when I went to throw it in the wash, I realized it wasn’t empty. You know that feeling of dread you get when you have no idea what you’re about to see, but you know it can’t be good? As I reached for the zipper, I prepared both my eyes and my stomach for whatever four-plus year-old food I was about to uncover. I closed my eyes and unzipped the bag.

I opened one eye and peeked in. A sandwich bag full of goldfish—still orange (though pale) and smiling—stared back at me. A smaller bag held $1.25 in quarters—milk money. I breathed a sigh of relief as I peeled the sticky goldfish bag from the bottom of the container. The oils from the crackers and the years in the bag had made the plastic sticky. I chucked the bag in the trash, scrubbed the residue from the container, and tossed it in the washing machine. Now, we have a nearly new lunch bag to end out the waning school year!

But an important lesson can be learned from this story: Check your lunch bags at the door. You may thank me someday.