Monday, March 23, 2020

Coronavirus Makes Me Mad

A corona is typically a pretty thing: a crown, a halo.  Something that confers authority or holiness or innocence.

So the name coronavirus does not seem at all fitting.  This virus is a rampaging predator. Its only function is to take over the cells of its host (meaning us), seize the machinery, and churn out millions of copies of itself, each of which goes on to do the same.

What is the point of this life-form, God, I ask you? Does it do a single good thing?

I'm disgusted with the lack of planning and foresight that went into the evolution of this organism.  Today, God, I don't like you, not at all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Corona: Locked Down and Grieving


What I feel today is not fear, but grief. Grief for the knowledge that this pandemic will not pass quickly. That life as I have known it is gone for who knows how long. That my son will not be able to finish his last semester of high school among his classmates, have a graduation ceremony and party, get his learners permit and license, see his girlfriend (at the tender beginnings of a relationship), take stupid risks with his beloved friends. That he is now exposed so young to the fact that the worst can happen. That living in the U.S. does not confer special exemption to tragedy.

My husband grieves by focusing on work. My son stays cheerful by believing it will all be over in a few weeks. I retreat to my lair upstairs, where I write, pouring out my feelings of loss, hoping that someone will answer back.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Tools for the Pandemic: Nurture Others, Nurture Yourself

Yesterday I felt a squeezing in my chest. I had to get out of the house. I took off for a little patch of woods and fields tucked between suburban developments, not far from where we live. It was disappointing. The trees were bare and the trail was icy and muddy. Plus I got lost. I hung my mittens on a wooden sign while I opened Google maps, trying to figure out where I was. When I took off in a different direction, I left my mittens behind.

I found my way back to my car and then took a hike around Como Lake. Somewhere in the middle of all this my fear started to abate. Just the physical motion helped, and especially nature itself--its order, its acceptance of what is, its silence, speaking of safety and peace.

I realized a few things: one, I had to surround myself with the things that nourish me: nature, meditation, writing, music, family, friends. When I got back home, I put in my earphones and lost myself in the Bach Chaconne and Yo Yo Ma for a while. Then I grooved to two of my favorite pieces of pop: Bruno Mars “Uptown Funk” and Shakira’s “This Time for Africa (Waka Waka).” I ended up dancing around the house while my two guys were out chasing down a pasta machine (another story!).

I felt so much better. And the other thing I realized is that I must turn my focus from myself, ask myself what I can give to my community to help us all through this frightening time. The minute I chose to act as if we were all in this together--all part of a single, loving entity--it felt viscerally true. Even if my physical body died of this terrible virus, I felt, love itself would continue—I would simply merge with what is already at the deepest center of myself.

Today I feel so grateful for the sun outside my window, the sounds of birds, the stillness of the neighborhood. For the presence of all three of my beloveds here at home (I had thought they would drive me crazy). For this chance to stop running and striving and trying to entertain myself with distractions. For this time to remember who we really are.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

O Corona: A Little Argument With Mortality

Here’s what I figured out a few days ago:

There are probably a million things that could potentially kill me: heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer, car crash, terrorist attack, lunatic with a gun, carbon monoxide poisoning, the coronavirus, t flu, ALS, etc. etc.

Only one thing will actually kill me.

That means that 99.9999___ % of things will not kill me. (This alone is strangely comforting.)

Also, I don’t know which thing will kill me, and I can’t protect myself from everything.

Ergo, I might as well relax. I can’t control the method and timing of my death, so I might as well turn it over to God/HP/fate.

When I do turn it over to God, I feel safer. I also feel less alone. I have the sense that love will follow me anywhere, even through the passage we call death.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Stage 4 Cancer: Why I Love My Brother-In-Law

People tell my 67-year-old brother-in-law Joe that he look like Captain Kangaroo, the star of that old kids’ show on TV: Joe has a little white mustache and straight white hair that looks like someone used a bowl to shape it. You can still see the outlines of a solid, stocky body, though his skin hangs more loosely now because of medication he has to take. 

He is in the hospital now with kidney problems, complications of stage 4 cancer.  Will he die soon?  I don’t know.  The complications are becoming intolerable.  Helplessness must be anathema to this man who has stood like a rock at the center of our family.  It’s bad enough to think of those who will mourn him most: his son and daughter, his wife.  Even more so to think of the bewildered grandkids who will lose their beloved Pop-Pop.  Though he doesn’t show it, Joe must be confused and frightened.  He did not expect his world to come crashing down so soon.

I want you to know who Joe is, so I'll tell you some of things he does:

--Dresses up like a pirate to go trick or treating with the grandkids.

--Hangs 100 lottery scratch cards from the ceiling in his heated garage, where we hang out over Christmas. Stuffs the envelopes with ones, fives, twenties, and one $50 bill.  Whoever wins a round of bingo gets to pull one down.  This continues until every single one of them is taken.

--Set up his own kitchen in what used to be an attached garage, complete with large warming trays, griddles, and multiple crockpots.  Cooks Christmas dinner. Makes breakfast for out-of-towners like us, whatever you want: pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs.  Has the coffee brewing long before we get up.  We call it Joe's Cafe.

--Calmly wraps up his hand after a machine cuts off his thumb.  Says, “I guess I better go to the hospital.” Does the same thing later when another machine slices off the tips of four fingers.  Never blames the guys who hit the wrong buttons.

--On New Years Eve, show up at the neighbors in diapers and a sash. Period.

--Builds an apartment over a second, detached garage.  Leaves it unlocked and tells the neighborhood kids they can go up there if they’re locked out of their homes.

--Tells on occasional off-color joke that make me blush.

--Pushes a $100 bill into my hand just before I head into the airport.

--Plays jokes on the doctors and nurses.  Hold up his left hand, which is missing a thumb and the tips of four fingers.  It’s covered in ketchup.  Laughs at their alarm.  Plays this trick on new hires at the machine shop as well. One of them faints.

--Complains that his elderly mother-in-law pounces on him with a to-do list whenever he walks in the door; but keeps going over once a week to do whatever needs doing.  

--Has learned to anticipate my sister’s immediate reaction to any proposed change: “Absolutely not.” (I’m the same way.)  It used to drive him crazy but now he just chuckles about it.

--Wins damn near every card or board game we ever play.

--Goes to work every day no matter how bad the cancer makes him feel.  Falls asleep at his desk.  His sister is the boss and loves him too much to kick him out.  The guys he supervises do too.

--As the oldest child in his family of origin, took care of his six brothers and sisters.  Instinctively handles kids with firmness and respect.

--Never reads, is horrible at spelling.  Not educated beyond high school.  Voted for Trump.  Dislikes immigrants because a family of them trashed the apartment he rents out.  Would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it.

--Married my sister when she was 19 and weighed about 95 pounds.  When they danced the jitterbug, he’d throw her up in the air and swing her down between his legs. 

--When I first met him, I was the classic over-achieving, straight-A student and thought he wasn’t very smart.  Now I see how incredibly smart and talented he is.  He can build anything, fix anything, cook anything, out-play everyone at any game. 

--Puts bottled water and oranges in the fridge when we stay in the apartment over the garage.  Turns the heat up before we get there. Buys our favorite pretzels. 

--Opens his home to me and my family after I had been estranged from the family for 15 years.  Helps me open my wounded heart.  I thank him for the fact that I’ve come to love him.  

Joe, even when you're gone, our hearts will be full of you.  We’ll keep the lines from heaven open, in case you ever need to talk.

Choosing Faith

When I left the community college and started writing this memoir, my attention turned inward. I stayed at home most of the time, reading, writing, and lying around. I seldom exercised or saw friends. But just a week or so ago it was as if someone hit the On switch. As if I suddenly poked my head out of a hole (much like Punxatawny Phil) and looked around. I felt a need to move back into the world. Signed up for fitness classes at the Y and contemplated tutoring a kid or two.

I also started talking to God again. This long hibernation and inward search had brought me back to what I needed most—to feel reassured of something beyond the whirling turmoil of Trump, mass shootings, the climate crisis, wildfires, and now the global pandemic. I feel I must choose now at a deeper level, whether I will believe in the world that appears so cruel, so dangerous, so pointless—or one permeated with love, beauty, and meaning, offering a loving presence that can be trusted to accompany me through the severest troubles.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Happy to Be Himself (or, Letting Go a Little Bit More)

It was 39 degrees, sunny and warm for Minnesota in early March.  Max and I were meeting with the director of disability services at Augsburg University to discuss what the college could and couldn’t offer him.  Katy asked Max to share his understanding of his disability and what help he thought he would need. 

I had learned to hold back, having been burned once before at a high school IEP conference.  I’d jumped in right away with the questions I’d listed on a sheet of paper.  But Max interrupted: I’m leading this meeting, he said, glaring at me.

Now he talked about his ADHD, how he processed things more slowly than other kids, how reading was slow and hard and he did better with audio, how he used to be ashamed to ask for help but isn’t anymore, how he does better with tests if he can be in a room by himself … .  Katy sat back, her eyebrows raised: You know a lot more about what you need than most of the students who come in here. 

He was sitting up straight and looking her in the eye.  He spoke with a low, slow, drawl I only saw in meetings: However …, he was saying, and, Therefore …. . 

Featured Post

Forging the Second Self: A memoir in progress.

Forging the Second Self: Post-Teaching, Post-Mothering, Post-Midlife: Who Will I Be Now? Part I.: Who Am I Now? When I see myself a...