Wits’ End

Hey you!

Yes… you.

How are you doing? I don’t ask that question in a quick greeting-in-passing kind of way. How are you really doing? Are you hanging in there or hanging by a thread? Are things under control or are you so out of sorts that you can’t tell if you are coming or going? Are you questioning anything? Everything? Have you been able to remain organized or do you wish the world would just pause so you can take a breath and pull yourself back together? Are you at your wits’ end?

Wits’ end, as scary and frustrating as it can be, is often a good place to start anew. It is a place where we are forced to take a look around and survey the landscape, size up the current situation, and create a plan for the future. Wits’ end is generally a turning point that can move us in a new direction.

Daily life has become exhausting and fragmented like a jigsaw puzzle that won’t quite fit together the way it’s supposed to, the way it used to, or the way we think it should. Troubles mount and the consequences of coronavirus continue to challenge us, and it is tempting to lash out in frustration. Or dissolve into a puddle of tears. And it just drags on.

These tough times require patience, resilience, and an ability to dig deep and lean in. We are navigating challenges on a scale no one has seen in a very long time, and the ability to dig deep will determine how effectively we move forward.

The challenges, the loss, the grief, the instability… they just keep coming. But you are not alone. You have friends and family and neighbors and community members who care about you. We are all navigating the pandemic—and its consequences—in tandem. We are all trying to envision how the various fragmented pieces of present day life will fit into the big picture of the future as we create a post-pandemic world that will likely look much different than our current and previous life.

Life is uncertain and this year has been a living illustration of that fact. We cannot imagine how things will look in another month or two or ten. However, if we let go of our expectations and recognize that this pandemic is changing us and will continue to change us, we can build a future that is better and brighter than before. If we harness all of our kindness, patience, love, and support and channel it into our work together, we can create an amazing future.

It’s going to take time. We are deep in the throes of what this year has brought us, and there is no magical switch that comes when one year changes to the next. But there is hope.

So when you are feeling weak or lost or hopeless, lean on those around you. Ask for help. Recognize that you are stronger and wiser than you were last November. Give yourself a pat on the back for all you have endured over the last few months. Before you take to social media to lash out at the world, remember… we are all human in an unpredictable world. Be kind. Be patient. Be forgiving. With others and with yourself. We are all—every single one of us—at wits’ end. But we are all doing the best we can to grow and change and become stronger under the circumstances.

{Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash}

Wonderings

I wonder what would happen if I climbed one of the amazing trees on the grounds of the Country Club where I walk on my lunch break. They are old-growth trees—mostly maples—and their branches are just low enough to reach from the ground or from the slight hill near where they are situated. I could climb up as high as I dare, take a seat, and observe the world. No matter that I’m in my office work clothes. I wonder how long it would be before someone tells me to get down.

I wonder what would happen if parents were willing to give their teenage children the freedom to develop themselves into the young adults they are capable of being. Often, we place restrictions on our children for our own peace of mind. We give them parameters of behavior—do this, not that—that [we believe] restrict them from making mistakes and recognizing their own limits. We do things for them rather than giving them an increasing amount of responsibility over their own lives. And nowadays, more and more parents use tracking apps on their children’s phones to keep track of them. While we believe these things are keeping our children safe, we are actually letting them know, loud and clear, that we don’t trust them… that they are not capable. I wonder what would happen if we eased up a bit, offered guidance when necessary, and showed our children that we trust them to develop their own interests and find their own way.

I wonder what would happen if I spent more time talking to my neighbors. Over the past year, some long-time neighbors have moved away, and several new neighbors have moved in. I haven’t spent the time to get to know them. I haven’t gone out of my way and broken with my routine to talk to them and learn about them. I have no idea about their struggles and their triumphs. I have not offered them a helping hand. In fact, I haven’t really been as “neighborly” as I could be. I wonder if it’s too late.

I wonder what would happen if we took the time to admire each other’s work. When I was walking one over the summer, I passed by a crew of landscapers who are working the bare dry dirt around a newly constructed building. They were shaping the land, smoothing it, and planting grass and plants and mulching around them. They took what was bare and plain and made it beautiful—stunning, really. And they worked long hours in the sun and heat of mid-summer. I stopped. “This looks fantastic!” I said to a worker leaning on his rake while he waited for his crewmates to come back from lunch.

“We’re trying,” he replied as a smile softened his weary expression.

“Well, it looks great! What an improvement just since last week!”

“Thank you,” he replied with a small wave as I resumed my walk. Why don’t we compliment each other more often?

I wonder what would happen if I got rid of all the things in my house that I no longer use. I could put them out for a Yard Sale, but instead of a sale, I could have a big “Yard Free.” People could come and take the things they want. This Yard Free would be mutually beneficial; I would get rid of the stuff that’s cluttering up my house, and others would be able to take the things they need and would use. All of my cast-offs would be put to use and not end up in the landfill. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the months of being at home, it’s that I don’t need nearly as much “stuff” as I own.

I wonder what would happen if we approached the world with love rather than hate. Hate is like Velcro. It has hooks that grab you, dig in, and cling. If you let hate take hold, it can be very difficult to disentangle yourself. Your emotions cloud over, and your physical body becomes a time bomb just waiting for the right moment to set it off. Hate is debilitating. Love can unwind us, help us to breathe more freely, and give us a sense of peace—with ourselves and each other. Love can help us live more freely and make better choices. Love allows us to see the humanity in everyone we meet.

I wonder what would happen if I started to live the life I want to live. How might my creativity and new outlook on life change those around me? I would stop filling my days with the constant work of multiple jobs and, instead, work to develop the endless possibilities that come with making different choices. I would climb more trees and take more risks. I would write more stories and spend time with people who inspire me and make me better. I would make more friends and broaden my perspectives. I would reach out to others and approach all people with love.

Curiosity keeps us moving forward. It helps us to imagine the possibilities of our lives and change the things that are not working. And now that I’ve put these wonderings in writing, I think I’m going to make some changes. I’m going to approach my life with a spirit of courage and adventure. What about you? What are some of your wonderings and how might they change your approach to life?

{Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash}

Rock Bottom

On the way to Rock Bottom, we encounter a number of valuable lessons that we will need for our long journey back. It is our job to notice these lessons and put them into practice. We need only look around, pay attention, and engage in self-examination and examination of society to find them.

On the way to Rock Bottom, we are given glimpses of who we are and of what we have become. We have ample opportunity to see our failings—one after the other—as they pass us by on our journey. We see flashes of indiscretion, indecency, and arrogance that have seeped into our everyday lives. Most importantly, the hatred that has tainted the edges of our lives rears its ugly head in a way that is no longer deniable. The hatred will launch us farther and faster toward Rock Bottom than we ever knew possible.

On the way to Rock Bottom, there is injustice, violence, and fear. If we are not strong and brave, these things will render us incapable of moving and of turning around. They will paralyze us, and we will continue our descent rather than stand up and fight our way back upward and away from Rock Bottom.

On the way to Rock Bottom, we are offered innumerable ways (and means) to fix what is broken. We are able to stand up for what we believe in. We are offered opportunities to be kind. We are confronted with situations where we can respect others. We are expected to be humble and listen and share in the experiences of others—experiences we can’t possibly know because they are not our experiences. On the way to Rock Bottom, humanity is exposed, rough and ragged and raw.

On the way to Rock Bottom, there are many diverging paths that will allow us to stray from the unpleasant and undesirable destination. We can open our eyes wide enough to see that Rock Bottom is where we are headed, but not where we want to go. We can open our hearts to show love to others. We can open our minds to reach out, lend a hand, and stand up for someone who is not able to stand up for themselves.

The closer we get to Rock Bottom, the harder it is to see the light. But the good news is that on the way to Rock Bottom, we can step up and do the important work we need to do to prevent us from reaching the uncomfortable destination. This will save us work in the long run. When we step up, we will have no choice but to rebuild, but we will have something left. We will need to rework what we thought we had and who we thought we were, but we are reworking with some pieces still intact.

On the way to Rock Bottom, look for the signs—they are all around you. Let go of the hate—it has taken hold in society. See the humanity—it is everywhere—and act on it. Dig deep. Protect other humans as if they are your own children, your family, because in many ways, they are. We are one big family. And we must act now before we hit Rock Bottom.

The good news (if there is good news on the way to Rock Bottom) is that if we actually reach Rock Bottom, the only way to look is UP!

{Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos on Unsplash}

Clearing Out

Throughout my life, I have spent a good deal of time quieting the voices of others that ring through my head. These are the voices that have attempted to direct my life, to make me someone other than who I am, to make me listen and behave.

These are voices that, at one point or another, I have taken on and considered part of me, and yet, these voices are not me and do not reflect my reality. These voices reflect who I am or was in the reality of the speaker. But these voices—these words—were designed to make the speaker of the words feel better in his or her own life.

Over the years, the messages have been many:

You are not good enough.
You are not strong enough.
You are too negative
You are not smart enough.
You are selfish.
You are too sassy.
You are not pretty enough.
You are weak.
You are not feminine enough.
You are not…. You are not…. You are not….

But I am not these things that others have projected on me. Admittedly, I am broken. We are all broken.  And the only way I’m able to address my brokenness is to grab hold of the fact that life is short (and it feels even shorter while a pandemic is raging). The time to be fully me is now. The time to work on becoming whole is now. Time is running out.

If not now, when?

My life is shifting. I am shedding the me others think I should be. I am clearing out their voices from my head. My thoughts are mine, and that is enough. I will respect who I am and who I want to be, and that is enough. I will shed the ideas of others, letting them slip to the floor before sweeping them up and tossing them away.

I am making a shift in my life, respecting my thoughts, my ideas, and my wishes. I will not entertain others’ perceptions of who or what I should be as my own reality. I will be me—more me than I have ever been. And every day, I will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am enough.

{Photo by David Clarke on Unsplash}

A Million Moving Parts

Recently, one of our country’s leaders stood in front of an audience of many (including the television audience) and proclaimed his wife to be an expert at reopening schools in the face of a deadly pandemic. His wife had been a school-teacher for 25 years. A national leader actually said that a school teacher is “the best expert he knows” in this field.

Now, I have been a teacher for a very long time. Longer, in fact, than this spouse-proclaimed “expert,” and all I can say is there are no experts in what we have to do. And, in fact, this politician’s statement backs up that fact. If his spouse is “the best expert he knows,” he is clearly admitting there are no experts in reopening schools in the face of a deadly pandemic.

Meanwhile, school administrators started the discussion of reopening in the fall months ago—when they first decided they needed to remain closed for the spring. The farther we get into the summer, the more pressing our discussions become on how and when schools can open safely, keeping in mind the U.S., sans any credible and unified leadership on the pandemic, is facing an out-of-control spike in virus cases.

Let’s take a step back and take a breath. We need to examine this very challenging situation and approach it with the humility it deserves as well as a desire to learn and grow. Let’s work to create a plan that future generations of this country will thank us for because they will be able to learn from what we do and adapt it to their own situation when the time comes.

There are a million moving and constantly changing parts involved in reopening schools in a pandemic. Health needs to be top priority—health of students, teachers, and staff and of all individuals in the building. Some of those individuals will be immunocompromised, and plans need to in place to consider the most vulnerable individuals. There is the need and ability for social distance, and there are mask requirements. There is P.E. and lunch and classes and passing in the hallways. There are games on the playground, playground equipment and toys, the nurse’s office, and the buses. There is story time in the library, art class, and computer education and shared computers. There is a teacher’s need to comfort crying children. There are daily health screenings and temperature checks. And there is the mental strain that all of this will take on the entire population of the building, the school district, and the community. And there is the constant reality that one case of COVID in a school building could throw the entire system completely off track.

The people who are making the decisions on reopening—these are people at the school district level who truly care about children. They are not making these decisions lightly. They are agonizing over how to do this and do it right, and we need to support them. We need to know that if they don’t feel it can be done safely, it probably can’t be. Even they are not experts. There are no experts. But they know their schools, they know the guidelines and restrictions, and they know what might be a workable way to reopen, even partially. We need to accept their expertise and acknowledge that our school administrators are incredibly brave pioneers. No doubt, plans will include flexibility for online education should we choose to keep our children home.

What we need right now is patience and understanding. What we need right now are leaders and leadership. We don’t need a federal government that is threatening to strip funding from schools that don’t reopen on schedule. We need regional think-tank groups made up of school administrators and staff who can brainstorm, throw out issues others may not have thought of, and work together to contribute to plans that are flexible and fluid and consider as many of the million moving parts as possible. Though knowing school personnel and how they work together in the best of times, I am sure those already exist in an informal way.

What we need right now are leaders who are willing to recognize there are no experts, step down from the podium, take off their jackets, roll up their sleeves and say, “How can I help?”

Noise

Society has been so very noisy lately. The news media presents constant, overblown and loaded stories every two minutes. And if you pay attention, the discussions around those stories can be heated and hateful. To lessen the noise, I try to spend some time in silence every day. I take some time to process. Some time to think. Apart from the noise.

Back when I was a kid, we read the news in the evening paper. The “news” was a bit dated in today’s terms, as it was sometimes nearly a day old. However, it was WAY ahead of the news in the days of the Pony Express. We watched the local news at 6:00 and the world news at 6:30. Then the news went off, and we were done with the barrage of horrible events and scandalous activities of people who would never be held up as role models. Today, with the news rolling in at warp speed and the constant repetition of all the bad things that are happening, we don’t have the advantage of 20+ hours a day of news-free moments.

But here’s what I want to remind you. We create the life we want through our actions. Let me repeat that: We create the life we want through our actions. This fact is very important as so few people realize the power they have in their own lives.

We have created this noisy world. We have created an increasingly divided, contentious, hateful society by propagating division, contention, and hate. Indeed, we have allowed events to simmer and bubble and boil over by continuously poking at the edges—at the two extremes—rather than coming to the middle to have a civil discussion.

At the same time, we have paid too much attention to the media. Our attention has allowed media outlets to present stories that are overblown and increasingly biased. Through our attention, the media persists and morphs and develops and increasingly slants to one side or the other until we all slide off, scrambling to get back to a humane and compassionate position. If we pay attention to the loaded tweets and social media posts of a family member, a celebrity, or a world leader, those tweets and posts will grow and morph and go viral, pulling in more and more people who are up for a fight.

However, if these posts and the ballooning media fail to get our attention, the originators of these posts and stories will have to change. The media will have to become more factual. The bias will need to diminish. The outlets we pay attention to will have to become more responsible in their presentation. And our friends, family, and celebrities who are posting irresponsible facts will not have the following they have become accustomed to. If we stop focusing our attention on these things, these things will have to fundamentally change.

I’ve been thinking about silence a lot lately. If we pay attention to silence, to our breathing, to relaxation, to family and the things that matter to us, those things will grow in importance in our lives.

We create the reality we want through our actions. Choose wisely.

{Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash}

Kaleidoscope

        

Have you ever looked into a kaleidoscope and seen the beautiful patterns that emerge when you hold it up to the light? With only a slight twist of the lens, you can change the pattern to something completely different but just as beautiful.  A slight twist, and the shapes and colors shift and move and fit themselves into spaces that other pieces have vacated, providing a new and differently beautiful vision to the viewer.

Life is like this. There is a constantly shifting balance that rises and falls as life is maintained and the various pieces work together to create a whole and beautiful picture. Over time, some elements move from our lives while others fill in the spaces that have been left behind. There is a tremendous beauty in the constant motion and workings of this rhythm.

Just when we think we have things figured out, they change. We shake our heads to clear out the cobwebs that settled there in our complacency. And at first, we might think, No! I liked things the way they were! Because they were comfortable and familiar. We get so used to our environment—as it is right now—that we stop taking risks and making changes. And, in fact, we stop seeing the beauty as we settle into the safety of the mundane.

But life… it’s dynamic and constantly changing. We have to change with it, or eventually, we will be dragged along, kicking and screaming, headlong into the changes.

This is where we are now. We are being dragged headlong into a change over which we have very little control. But if we are among the lucky, if we are among the thoughtful, if we are among the introspective, if we are among the creative… we can make the most of this change. The people, the businesses, the services that are thriving right now are the ones that have been able to see our new circumstances, examine them from all angles, and see a new perspective. They are the ones that have noticed what the world needs,  taken a risk, and attempted change what they deliver to fill that need.

Maybe it wasn’t comfortable. Maybe it wasn’t what they wanted. Maybe it wasn’t even cost effective. But it was something. And from that something, they can continue to grow. From that something, they can fit themselves back into the whole in a way that makes sense—in a way that will contribute to the shifting beauty.

We are all part of the kaleidoscope. Take the time to step back and take in the bigger picture. The togetherness. The introspection. The opportunity to reevaluate and reset. The family time. The slower pace. Take a moment to figure out how you can take your talents and fit them into the direction the world is going. It may not be comfortable at first (taking a risk never is), but it will give you a glimmer of control over the direction you may go when this is over. Look around you. Find the pieces that work—the building blocks of the beauty that is emerging. And fit them back into the life that you want.

Moment by moment… recognize the beauty that is this kaleidoscope we call life.

Humor, Hope, and Haircuts

My heart is heavy today. I have heard from several students who are in healthcare situations working with COVID patients. These are young adults facing the unthinkable—dire situations that career-long doctors and nurses have never before experienced. I am afraid for them. My heart is breaking for them.

My heart is also breaking for all the people who have tested positive for the virus or who are suffering with it. This morning, I received word that the wife of one of my students has contracted the virus through her daily routine as a medical worker. She is in isolation in a room in their house while he has moved to the basement with their two little girls to keep them safe. I have offered a hand in the form of front door grocery drop-off. It’s all I have to give.

After a month of social distancing, there are hints of hope in discussions about returning to normal. That is one moment of the day. The next moment is heartache in knowing that we are not there yet. In fact, we may be a long way off from “there.” We are HERE, and for now, here has to be enough. Here and hope. Because without hope, what do we have?

HERE, we get through every day with humor. Hope and humor go hand in hand. Jokes and one-liners and pranks. Everyday, there is something to keep me on my toes. We laugh our way through the long, lonely days of house arrest. Because without humor, we would have a boring, socially distanced monotony for a month or two or ten.

And every now and then, something comes up to shake up the routine. Today, I gave my son a haircut. I used to give my boys haircuts back in the early days of single motherhood to save a few dollars. When he started complaining about his hair last week, I checked the bottom drawer of the bathroom vanity, and sure enough, we still had our hair clipper. Today, I gathered all the necessary tools, and I cut his hair. Is it even? Most likely not. Is it shorter? You bet! Will he need another haircut next week? Absolutely. I didn’t want to risk cutting too much off. As I told him, you can always cut more off, but you can’t glue it back on.

For today, something as minor as a haircut improved our mood, gave us hope, and eased the heartache for just a moment. Tomorrow is a new day—a new day for jokes and humor. And a new day for hope. We are HERE, and hope will prevail.

{Photo by Marcelo Silva on Unsplash}

Goodness as a Gift

This morning, as the sun came up bright on the new day, I realized that even in these trying times—through any trials we face—goodness is all around us. Right now, despite the difficulties we are facing in our global society, goodness shines through like a gift just waiting to be discovered. Just outside my window, flowers are blooming in my garden, and the plants my kids and I put in at the end of last season are beginning to poke through the dirt, reminding me of the weekend we spent cleaning up the garden.

Today was a quiet Easter day. We could not go to church. We could not have people over to share in some rowdy dinner conversation. Regardless, the weather was gorgeous. I ventured out for a walk with only a sweater rather than the jacket I have been wearing until now. Several small children, out on walks in the neighborhood with their families, stopped in front of my house to look for my cat and play with him. My cat has been dubbed a “neighborhood celebrity” because he is overly friendly and just confident enough to appear more human than feline in his interactions with passersby.

Out further in the world, where I prefer not to venture these days, our essential workers are fighting the battles we cannot fight. They are stocking the ever-emptying food shelves while sanitizing between customers, hauling our garbage away and cleaning even at the town dump, filling prescriptions for medications to keep people healthy, caring for the sick, and comforting the dying. They are tending to the emotional needs of those who are struggling in this strange new world, and they are keeping our utilities up and running. Our teachers have not only transitioned their entire jobs online, but they are digging deep to make it look easy so they can smooth the same transition for their entire student population.

The goodness is always there—not just now, but always. If we take the time to look for the it and recognize its presence in our lives as a gift, the goodness will grow. Our attitudes will shift. We will more readily see the goodness, have a positive attitude, and be the goodness for someone else. We will begin to influence others, and soon, goodness will displace negativity. We will begin to see that we all want the same things, and we will begin to work together for the good of us all. Positivity begets positivity. Take the time to look for the goodness and highlight the goodness because goodness will grow. And once it starts, there’s no telling what could happen.

See the goodness. Be the goodness. You are a gift.

{Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash}

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}