Sometimes Asking is Giving

The other day I was paddle boarding with a friend on a particularly hot and blustery day, stuck on my knees because the wind and chop were so strong that I risked tumbling into the lake if I stood up. After 20 minutes paddling into the wind, I looked up only to realize that I was a few feet further out from shore but still parallel with the dock. So much effort, so little progress, and, honestly, that relentless wind made me feel vulnerable and exposed even though I could have just let it blow me back to shore and call it a day.

As I dug my paddle deeper into the water to renew my effort to gain some forward momentum, it made me think about the extraordinary headwinds indigenous Guatemalan women deal with every day, and what it would be like to be stuck right where you are from the moment you are born, conscripted to a life of poverty, limited agency, and lack of opportunity. Young women in rural Guatemala face quadruple discrimination from the day they arrive on this Earth: they are poor, they are Mayan, they live in a rural area, and they are female. The MAIA Impact School works to change that by connecting the latent talent that exists in rural Guatemala but has been overlooked for generations with opportunity, starting with access to robust education through high school and aiming for university studies and access to formal work opportunities (as opposed to remaining in the informal economy, which is much more common, precarious, and poorly paid).

Each of MAIA’s Girl Pioneers (or GP’s, so called because they are pioneering a completely new path for themselves, their families, and their communities) trajectories has been astonishing. Though the wind remains incessant, there’s a flotilla of support, guidance, and information available to each of them about how to improve one’s technique, navigate challenges, find balance, and move forward.

In MAIA’s first class of high school graduates, a GP won a 4-year scholarship to college in the United States through She Can, an organization that builds female leadership in post-conflict countries. There are still so many hurdles for her to leap over and hoops to jump through before this opportunity becomes a reality, including the SATs, the bane of most high schoolers’ existences. Imagine being the first person in your family to go to high school, let alone college, and trying to take the SAT not in your first language, nor your second language, but your third language. More headwinds.

Because the US college process is so unique and challenging, with the SATs in one’s third language adding an extra twist, MAIA’s US Executive Director asked the Board if anyone knew someone who provides one-on-one SAT tutoring. I texted my neighbor, who is a college counselor, and he recommended Summit Educational Group. I googled them and cold called them, stumbling over my words as I tried to explain what MAIA is and does succinctly and clearly, who the GPs are, what the need was, all the while dreading the eventual question of cost. I asked not knowing what to expect and feeling like I was asking a lot. I was glad to be on the phone when I said the words “pro bono” because my face burned bright red and my armpits got sweaty. The gall of calling a complete stranger and asking for a favor – and then asking for it for free! Completely brazen.

But then, incredibly, they said YES. Yes, we will offer 22 hours of our time free of charge to provide the tools and resources this extraordinary young woman needs to continue along her path. That yes made my heart sing, astonished that this might actually happen and truly touched to experience the goodness, kindness, and generosity of other humans.

Several weeks ago, two MAIA staff visited the US for a conference. While they were here, we thought it would be good to meet and thank the Summit Education team in person. At our meeting we were able to give them a little more context about MAIA, rural Guatemala, and the GPs. It was the appropriate, polite thing to do in thanks to an organization that gave so selflessly on our student’s behalf.

But the part that struck and surprised me most that has stuck with me was how powerfully resonant and moving this connection to Guatemala was for them. Though they had no prior connection to MAIA or to Guatemala, while I was busy sweating through my shirt feeling awkward and queasy about my bold ask, they weren’t asking themselves if at all, only how. In fact, the response was more like:

“We don’t often get the chance to help a student like this.”

“This whole experience has been the highlight of my time here at Summit.”

It turns out that my ask was a give. Your read that right. By asking, I gave the gift of meaning, joy, and connection. By connecting, we build bridges and forge deeper understanding, expanding our own world and worldview. The wind may not die down, but if we work together we all make more forward progress.

Asking for help is hard. It’s challenging to separate a need from feeling needy. I find it easier to ask on behalf of someone else, certainly on behalf of a cause that’s bigger than me, but it’s still hard. It strikes me now that while it is so hard to ask for assistance in so many aspects of life, sometimes – often? – the asking creates an opportunity to give that is meaningful to the giver. As Lynne Twist writes in her book The Soul of Money, “this unlocking of a vehicle to change circumstances is a gift.” It’s a remarkable, empowering twist and the ultimate oxygen mask moment.

OMM – Snowy’s!

A Snowy Owl snuggling in the dunes, an elegant, mysterious, beautiful creature.

There is so much novel and interesting out there in the world, sometimes nestled into a dune on a windy day, sometimes hiding in plain sight on your commute to work. Being aware and alert and curious brings discovery and freshness to all aspects of life.

This has been another edition of Oxygen Mask Moments by Meg

Breathe.

You will be alright.

Training for Life

Have you ever trained for a marathon? I have not (and probably never will). My body starts to hurt around mile 3 and that’s that.

My husband is a marathoner, though, so I have an up-close window into the sport and I’ve learned some important things about life through the lens of marathon training that are relevant even if you aren’t a runner. Even if you’re thinking “marathon shmarathon, running 26 miles is nuts,” keep reading.

To be able to run 26.2 miles takes MONTHS of training, discipline, and dedication. At their peak training, marathoners are running 40, 50, 60 plus miles EACH WEEK. If you happen to live in New England, training for the Boston Marathon, which happens in April, requires running in truly atrocious weather (think freezing cold, ice, and snow).

As fun as that doesn’t sound, for my husband (and clearly thousands of others), the allure of the storied, challenge-of-a- world-class Boston Marathon is like a gravitational pull. He ran it a couple of times in college, but a major injury in his 20s sidelined him from distance running. He has been a reliable fan ever since. When we were still dating, we spent an April afternoon sitting on the curb at the marathon halfway mark eating sub sandwiches and cheering for the runners. That was my first marathon, and every year since we look forward to Marathon Monday.

Because the Boston Marathon is more than a long run. For elite runners, it is a world-class race. For charity runners, who have dedicated months of their lives to raise money for their charity and to train for this superhuman athletic endeavor, it’s the challenge of a lifetime. Many of these runners have compelling, sometimes earth-shattering stories about why they are running or who they are running for. For the locals, it’s a rite of spring, a community-gathering on a massive scale with a festival-like atmosphere. Friends and neighbors emerge from the hibernation of a long winter, joining together along the race course to rally the runners toward the finish line.

Over the almost 20 years that we have been cheering on the sidelines, my husband has mentioned wistfully that he wished he could run Boston again. In late 2019 he decided to give it a shot. He trained as a charity runner, but just before his peak run in March 2020 the COVID-19 lockdowns began. The Boston Marathon was cancelled for the first time in its history. That fall, the Boston Athletic Association offered a “virtual” marathon. So he trained for that, running five 5.24 mile loops around our neighborhood. He finished, and many neighbors and friends came out to cheer (from a distance), but it wasn’t the official course with the Boylston Street finish and, it turns out, it’s not really the same.

So he trained some more. He ran a different marathon in the fall of 2021 to attempt to qualify for Boston, but hit the wall at mile 22 and could not keep his pace. He was determined to run the Boston Marathon in April 2022, though, so he found another charity with marathon bibs and committed to raising money for them.

This time he decided that to avoid hitting the wall, he would train with more miles than ever. He ran over 350 miles by his peak run. He ran in ski goggles in the snow. He ran in small loops near the house in case the weather turned too treacherous to continue. His nutrition was fully dialed in.

And now April 18 is on Monday. There’s a flutter in my chest just thinking about it. We have both dreamed about this day, he to finally cross the finish line on Boylston Street one more time, me to cheer him along the course where we have cheered for so many.

I caught myself a couple months ago projecting narratives about Marathon Monday, from the weather to the crowds to the smile on my husband’s face. I noticed myself weaving this tale of glory and triumph about April 18 and realized what a good fiction writer I could be. I mean, how could I know what the weather in Boston would be like in April!?!? That’s a fools errand within days of the event let alone a month ahead of time. If you want a lesson in things you cannot control, New England weather is a good one.

But Monday is supposed to be a perfect day for marathoning, 55 degrees and partly sunny. It should be perfect.

And I still got the story wrong.

Long story short, after complaining for a couple weeks about his ankle feeling funny, my husband was diagnosed two weeks ago with a large blood clot in his leg. He went from running 50 to 60 miles a week to lying on the couch with his leg propped up on a pillow, sleepy from a high dose of blood thinners. No marathon. (And, no, it’s nothing to do with COVID.)

So this is the lesson, or one of them: the race was always going to end. It’s the culminating achievement of months of training, but there is the day after and the day after that. And ultimately, hopefully, that’s what you are training for – the long game, life.

The truth is, the structure and rigor of marathon training kept my husband emotionally and physically fit throughout the rollercoaster ride of these two long pandemic years. It got him out of the office and outside during a time when it was particularly easy to lose track of the days let alone when you last left the couch. The deadline of this particular marathon forced him to figure out what was wrong with his ankle quickly. In another context, it would have been easy to assume it was nothing, which could have been truly catastrophic.

Of course these last two weeks have been a doozy of emotions. That marathoner’s rigor runs hard up against controlling outcomes if you are just disciplined enough. But life has a funny habit of getting in the way of our plans. So we find ourselves holding both grief and gratitude in the palms of our hands. It’s that old tenet of both/and. It’s both extreme gratitude for the clot being found with medication to stabilize it. AND, it’s deep grief and disappointment over getting so close to this marathon yet again, coupled with the worry and processing of the actual diagnosis. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, disappointments and challenges. Ultimately, I guess, what else would we be training for than to have muscles to flex, resiliency ones and physical ones, when we need them most?

Good luck to all the runners on Monday! We will be basking in the vibe of the event and cheering hard at the halfway mark – and likely shedding a couple tears as well. Both.

Breathe.

We will be alright.

Dementia’s Daughters

This past December, I had a wonderful experience of connection that reminded me that only if we are honest about and open with our vulnerabilities will we truly connect.

A woman living on the other side of the world found my blog and my essays about my mom and emailed me to share a little bit of her own story about being in the middle of raising young children and also caring for a parent who is losing their memory. I remember so vividly the loneliness and confusion of those early years that I was touched by the fact that I could offer some brief respite and solace to another daughter of dementia.

The first years leading up to and after my mom’s diagnosis were some of the worst of this Alzheimer’s journey, even though her disease is so much more advanced now. I assume my mom was lonely and confused, too. She knew she was forgetting some things, though she forgot more than she realized. She was aware that things weren’t always adding up, a fact that still takes my breath away imagining how frightening and painful it must be to lose pieces of yourself, to blip in and out of the world making any sense at all. It’s one thing to be lost in your own world, as she is now; it’s quite another to know that something is happening to your mind, your agency and autonomy slipping like water through cupped fingers, unable to hold onto it or to grab it back.

I am a do’er and a fixer by nature, but I didn’t know what to do or even where to start after my mom was diagnosed. She didn’t really want to – and maybe couldn’t really – deal with it. Between her cognitive loss and an instinct to protect herself, projecting toward this difficult future wasn’t going to happen. Those years manifested in a constant, low-grade ache between my diaphragm and stomach, where all my anxiety lives. Alzheimer’s/dementia is a slow-moving crash course in loss.

No Power + Responsibility = Anxiety

Inspired by the solidarity I felt with this stranger from the other side of the world, I looked back at other emails that lovely readers sent to me after my essays about my mom were published. They reminded me that I write both to make sense of my own lived experience and to discover and highlight the myriad facets our common humanity. Personal narrative, as a genre, is inherently personal. The key is for one’s personal story to resonate with others in some universal truth kind of way. The word essay actually derives from the French verb “essayer” which means “to try:” try to create meaning, try to connect through storytelling.

Over the years I have heard others share their opinion that the memory unit is one of the most depressing places in the world. When I am there, though, I feel like I am among family. The caregivers and staff do the hard and sometimes thankless work of caring for the residents 24/7. Their caregiving allows me to reprise my role as a daughter after years overseeing my mom’s daily care. All of the residents are someone’s loved one, their diagnosis another family’s heartbreak, their decline something all of us have or will experience in some way. Those who visit – old friends, children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, siblings, and spouses – all hold stories of who their loved one was, what they loved to do, how deeply they are loved. By sharing the joys as well as the suffering of our similar circumstances we create connection and this connection creates meaning. There is easy companionship in knowing that your suffering is understood implicitly, that your grief is shared, and that you and your loved one are seen and are not alone.

The senselessness of dementia demands a quest for meaning. The connection we share and the ability to hold and share my stories with others of dementia’s daughters gives this decade of my life one answer to the existential question “why?” If I can share my story and offer solace to even just one other person, all that my mom and I have learned and lived will not have been for naught.

The Problem of Alzheimer’s by Jason Karlawish is an excellent recent resource about Alzheimer’s.

Partnering: Forge the Deep Connections that Make Great Things Happen by Jean Oelwang is a wonderful book with resources on how connecting and working in partnership with other people (versus in a hyperindividualistic silo) unlocks manifold rewards.

My podcast interview Every Path Has a Puddle or Two has some pretty decent Alzheimer’s and life advice, too, if I don’t say so myself. My momma would be proud. I learned from the best.

This poem from Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer really resonated with me.

On Pause

It’s been a while. It appears that I needed a break.

I’ll be honest: I’ve been stuck. Stuck in ALL. THE. WAYS. Overthinking. Underthinking. Autopilot. Inertia. Consumed by busyness. Servant to my “to do” list. Distracted by news headlines (I rarely sit still long enough to read the whole article). The general volume of inputs is overwhelming, luring me in until I squander my limited down time (one quick check of my phone or email and a wormhole opens up and consumes me – SO. MANY. SHINY. OBJECTS).

Also, my old friend self-doubt has been visiting. Literally the only visitors not disallowed during these social distance months have been the gremlins of my mind – clearly a mistake! I recently learned that self-doubt, apathy (depression), and anxiety (not good enough) are well-known for causing creative slumps, like writer’s block. When those more negative mindsets take over, a whole lot of nothing happens. Call it what you will, I can assure you that a whole lot of nothing has definitely been happening.

Inertia + depression + shiny objects(distractions) + life responsibilities (the true, legit stuff that needs attention) = stuck.

During this fallow period, I haven’t been fighting it (much). Typically I beat myself up for lacking productivity, wonder what is wrong with me, what I have to complain about, what my contribution to the world is. My inner voice is JUDG-Y. Like majorly judgy. And also a bit dramatic and prone to catastrophizing: “You Could Feel Like This FOREVER;” “Woman Retreats to Home in March 2020, Never Emerges;” “Why Does Everyone Else Handle It Better? You Aren’t Even Trying. You Have Made Nothing of Yourself. No One Wants to Hear What You Have to Say Anyway. Indulgent. Worthless.” You get the idea. Super not helpful.

This time, especially during the depression phase, I simply let go. Simply may not be quite the right word for it – listlessly is probably more accurate. I totally lost the plot there for a little bit. I had truly (and mercifully) forgotten how debilitating depression is. But, thanks to COVID Christmas round 2 (is it really just 2?), I now remember. I don’t want to talk about COVID anything so just trust me when I say that that little Omicron-wrapped holiday care package did my head in.

So how did I get unstuck? It was a splash of honoring it and allowing myself to wallow coupled with knowing what it takes to get myself going again (and time). I implemented all the tools in my anxiety/depression toolbox – get outside, get exercise, feel the feels, take time for myself, breathe (often and deeply), try not prognosticate or narrate my very sad story, connect with sympathetic and wise friends, recognize what is and is not in my control, and try to tame that judgy ass inner voice. At first, the sadness still crashed over my head and (briefly) swept me away. If you too were like, “well, crap, here we go again” for most of December, I hear you. I’ve had to work extra hard to put my oxygen mask on these last several months, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

Fresh air + exercise + deep breathing + being heard + space + time = unstuck

The empowering part of this episode of reality is that, bit by bit, I clawed my way back. Every path has a puddle or two, and I army crawled right on through the mud (after a good wallow).

By the time late January/early February rolled around, I was starting to feel more grounded. I kept finding nuggets of hope and slowly they grew bigger. A friend proposed the notion of a new year filled with “renewal and reanimation of abiding commitments.” She suggested that I write for 30 minutes a day, a goal that seemed entirely doable. Stephen King once said something along the lines of, “if you show up to write every day, when inspiration comes it will know where to find you.” And so I await inspiration’s arrival.

Today is day 11 of my new/old effort to carve out time for myself before the day gets away from me. Every day I set aside 45 minutes with no distractions: 15 minutes of yoga and 30 minutes of writing. The first few writing sessions produced complete garbage – totally aimless, useless nothings. I thought I was probably permanently broken (inner voice still judgy). I also noticed as soon as I sat still for two seconds how much of my time I allow to be buried under busy (and headlines and other distractions).

After a couple of days of yoga and undistracted writing/sitting/pondering, ideas started to form, and then sentences, and then full paragraphs (not Pulitzer-worthy, but also not utter crap). This subtle but real shift in my daily life helped me reclaim headspace. When I feel frenzied and uncertain, caught up in “doing” mode, I approach life more defensively and am more timid and reactive, like an anchorless ship being batted around by the waves. By carving out distraction-free time for myself, I feel more grounded, content, and sharp, which in turn is empowering and leads to more proactive, purpose- and passion-driven choices. Doom scrolling: not an effective use of my time. Connecting with friends, thinking about big issues, walking peacefully in the woods: really inspiring. More than just the acts of stretching and writing, I have been reminded that creativity and inspiration take root when we slow down and allow curiosity and wonder, passion and purpose, to lead the way, even just for 30 minutes.

Words that got me through it:

The Comfort Book by Matt Haig

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

Untethered Soul by Michael Singer

Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel

On Writing by Stephen King

In Our Care and Attention is Our Continuity by Sonnet Coggins

And, let’s be real: I did not magically find more time in the day. There is only a finite amount of time in a day and my life responsibilities haven’t changed. I carve me time out of sleep. Coffee is also a passion, though, so I guess it’s a win-win? Feels like it for now.

One day at a time.

From the New York Times The Morning: Why We Travel

If you’ve made it this far, don’t forget to check out my * Podcasts, Articles, Books, & Websites page for more good stuff!

It’s A Dog’s Life: Lessons From My Dog Part VI (Don’t Look Back)

Sometimes you just need to get started.

That’s where I find myself these days: broken-brained, busy, and spinning in my tracks. I have all sorts of great ideas peppering my little brain at inconvenient times like halfway through a swim or as I am careening down the highway. As soon as I stop swimming or driving, the flash of brilliance has been overtaken by whatever it is I can’t forget to do or a child with a story to tell or a phone call or text message interrupting my attempt to hold onto my thoughts. Needless to say, I am really, truly brilliant, but you’ll have to just trust me because I can’t remember why.

Ah, life….you prankster.

Today I am stopping the whir for just a minute and compelling myself to slow down, sit in a chair, and show up. To the practice quiet. To calm the frenzied busy-ness in my head. To pause, clear the cobwebs, and set aside the do list. To breathe, long and deep. To finally stop dancing around my laptop as it sits folded closed on my desk and to write no matter how it turns out. To just get started.

Pause. Breathe. Come back to the present.

It can be so hard to stay in the present. We tend to project to the future (planning or looking forward to or setting expectations of what will be) or perseverate backward (replaying past events and conversations, comparing what is with what was (or what we thought it would be)). Both directions can provide useful intel, but dwelling there in the land of should, should have and could have isn’t healthy or productive. This type of thinking tends to be laden with judgy reproach and expectations. Meanwhile, while we are consumed sitting there thinking about it, actual life is passing us on by.

Dogs are masters of living in the moment. Generally speaking, they are known to live in the here and now; they are loyal and honest; they don’t hold grudges; and they love with reckless abandon. Of course, I am chuckling to myself as I write this, because my dog is all of those things except that he has serious FOMO. He looks over his shoulder at what we just passed and I egg him along to join me in the present where, I remind him, walking is a forward motion. He is a miniature reminder and example of what it looks like to live looking over your shoulder and attempting to backtrack: to the dog you just passed but didn’t sniff, or the acorn you wish you had picked up; to live consumed by the narrative of the things you wish you had said, ruminating about how life would be different if only X, projecting forward into the notion that once you get that raise or promotion or title or vacation then you will be happy.

Maybe.

But chasing extraordinary moments in pursuit of happiness is exhausting and often leaves you empty. The extraordinary is this life, right as it is happening now, in tiny little daily moments where you notice. Like when you notice your dog’s imperfections (and your own) and it makes you smile. Not because it’s extraordinary or exceptional – in fact it’s probably the exact opposite – but just because this is it folks. This is all we got.

Don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely forgettable moments. My days are not filled with perpetual delirious happiness, positivity, gratitude and good vibes. Some days I choose to be miffed at the world and some days the world seems to be miffed at me. But often neither lasts too long. I tend to find joy in the mundane, whether by disposition or conscious practice I am not sure. But I know for a fact that there is almost always some miracle of living out there to delight, typically forcing a deep breath and opening up a new perspective.

Dr. Edith Eva Eger, a Holocaust survivor, writes in her profound and moving memoir The Choice: Embrace the Possible, “Many of us experience feeling trapped in our minds. Our thoughts and beliefs determine, and often limit, how we feel, what we do and what we think is possible. I am here to tell you that the worst prison is not the one the Nazis put me in. The worst prison is the one I built for myself.” How can this be, I wonder? She lived through hell, horror and suffering beyond comprehension. She talks about living after with survivor’s guilt and how for a long time she turned her back from her past and (understandably) ran from it.

At some point she realized, though, that no matter how much time she spent beating herself up about the past, about what could have been different if only and why, it would never change.

[I have the choice] “to accept myself as I am: human, imperfect. To be responsible for my own happiness. To forgive my flaws and reclaim my innocence. To finally stop running from the past and do everything possible in my power to redeem it and then let it go. I can make the choice all of us can make. There is a life I can save: it is mine. The one I am living right now, this precious moment.”

Everything is temporary: pain, pleasure; past, future. But, the present, well, you’re always in it.

I’ve asked it before, thanks to poet Mary Oliver, and I’ll ask it again: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Go forth, Warriors. Go forth and breathe into the life you’ve got.

For more from Dr. Eger, check out her podcast with Brene Brown on my * Podcasts, Articles, Books, & Websites page.

I Can’t Breathe.

To breathe.

It’s the most fundamental aspect of what it means to be alive. In fact, if you google “to breathe” the definition runs from “to draw air into and expel it from the lungs” to “to live” to “to feel free of restraint.” That’s pretty poignant in the context of recent events.

I can’t breathe.

As someone who runs a website called Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First, who encourages myself and others to take as many big, deep breaths as they possibly can every hour of the day (because I tend to forget – not completely, obviously – but enough that it doesn’t do me any favors), I can’t help but reflect on how powerfully the inability to draw breath has affected our world these last several months.

Oxygen mask. Ventilator. ICU. George Floyd. Death. Tragedy. False Accusation. Grief. Fear. Protest. Anger.

I can’t breathe.

I continue to try to put my attention towards where I can find hope. Without hope, it feels that we are irrevocably broken and that all is lost. When hopelessness takes over, there is no sense in going on.

I can’t breathe.

But on we must go, deep into the the discomfort and uncertainty. And thus we must, daily, find reasons for hope. If you focus on the thousands of peaceful protestors that have turned out nation-wide and not the looters and property destruction, you start to see the threads of hope and where we are headed. There is a united and diverse coalition actively exercising their democratic rights to confront police brutality and the social inequities that plague this country.

I don’t pretend to have answers. I don’t pretend to get it right every time, and I know that I have work to do to be a more conscious and conscientious ally. I look to my friends of color to understand their daily experience more deeply and to have that guide my actions. I always have, but I am doubling down on that now. I know I can galvanize my privilege and will continue to advocate for the voiceless and vulnerable. I am committed to asking the questions, learning more, and participating in forging a better, safer, more equitable future.

Stand together.

Lift up your voice.

Breathe.What if 2020 isn't cancelledAnd don’t forget – please – that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Social distancing, masks, and hand washing still matter tremendously. So do police – good police. Both/and. Life is complicated and shades of gray, ironically, not black and white. Let’s not lose track of what the story is about. It’s about greater equality for people of all colors – and that includes access to health care, education, safe living environments, opportunity. It’s about systemic racism that disadvantages some while privileging others. It’s about reforming bad policing. It’s about caring for our neighbors as ourselves, against injustice, violence and virus.

Check out my Resources page for reading and other information on #BlackLivesMatter and being anti-racist.

To do list

 

 

 

 

Local Love

Let’s zip up across the border to the United States now and do a deep dive on how things are faring there. There’s a lot of good stuff and a lot of questionable stuff happening, both in terms of policies and initiatives as well as my state of mind. For reference (and a splash of color!), here it is:

Map of US

Personally, I have begun to notice that I hit a WALL around 3pm. And that’s when all the positivity and good cheer and we-got-this come crashing down. I have been observing this disaster-in-the-making for the past couple of days. And I think I have the data I need to try something new. Before I get all hyperventilated and claustrophobic and panicky and irritable I am attempting to catch myself spiraling down the wormhole and NO I am not going to stop myself or judge myself or tell myself I am a bad person or that I need to be tougher and just stick it out. Nope. I am going to call a Mommy time out and catch my breath. Alone in my room. For as long as I need. So far, I really only need 5 or 10 minutes. But the critical part is knowing you need to exit stage left, how to excuse yourself, and how far gone you are by the time you do so. That’s where I need practice.

I share this because I spend a lot of time looking on the bright side and trying to find the silver lining in everything. But I’d never want anyone to think that I don’t have a deep well of vulnerability and moments of hopelessness or anxiety or grief, too. We are all going through those moments now, probably more regularly than usual. The trick is to catch it and notice it and figure out how to take care of yourself amidst all of this, too.

For me, I have to laugh because I can hear in my mind my mom and my aunt telling me one of their favorite stories about me as a little girl. They would say, smiles on both of their faces, “It was Thanksgiving and we were all together in the house on Rural Lane. When you were a little girl, maybe 5 years old, you were sent to your room for something or other. About 20 minutes later you brought yourself back downstairs and announced, “I feel much better now.'” They would laugh and look at each other with dancing eyes, remembering what a precocious (and surely adorable and maybe nearly perfect – ha!) child I was and that moment together as they shared it with me.

What I recognize from that story is that I am the SAME EXACT PERSON now. I often don’t even need 20 minutes, but I DO need time just to myself and I always have. So, if no one is going to send me to my room, I am going to have to do it myself! And that knowledge of self and honoring it, my friends, is what will help us get through this with our sanity and relationships not only intact, but quite probably stronger. This is such good and important information about who we are and how we work.

TS Eliot quote 2
From Quote Fancy – https://quotefancy.com/

So that’s the state of my mind here. But you should also know about some really cool and beautiful projects happening in these parts:

Have you heard of the #frontstepsproject yet? Area photographers are going out into the world and capturing families (from 10 feet away) on their front porches. In exchange for the quick but professional family photo, the participants are encouraged to make a donation to their local food pantry. Not only does this mean that my Instagram and FB feeds are filling up with smiling family portraits – teenagers and all! – but it’s breaking down that sensation of isolation. Read more here!

Another really great initiative that was started in my neighborhood are Window Walks. Kids create artwork along a certain theme – last week was rainbows, this week hearts, and next week bears. As families take their daily walks to get some fresh air, this turns into a community scavenger hunt of sorts as kids delight in counting how many rainbows (hearts, or bears) they can find.

And how about WBUR’s Kind World newsletters? Or the effort to sew home-made face masks? And/or collect and deliver needed medical equipment (check out #getusPPE). Or about the letters children have written to elders confined to their assisted living homes at this time? Have you heard about that? What a wonderfully touching and human way to reach out to people who are the most vulnerable, most likely to be alone, and almost completely isolated.

Letter to elders

Once again, I implore you, to breathe. And wash your hands. And try to stick to a routine. And, if you have kids at home, talk to them about this experience, because we are ALL living it and wrestling with it in our own ways. Let their creativity lead your days. Sometimes.

Kindness and hope. Each gesture matters.

You will be all right. WE will be all right.

Stay well, stay home.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
-Emily Dickenson
Fear

Stealing the Show – in Spain

My son tells me that people usually stay two days on average in places they visit, that that’s a fact. I don’t know where he gets his info, but he’s a tween and he seems to know everything these days so I’ll go with it. Based on this sage advice, but erring on the side of that-seems-really-ambitious-because-no-one-will-be-fed-in-that-case, I will post a new location in our journey every three days until I run out of ideas or run out of steam. Follow my blog to have these little visits arrive directly into your email box.

I’ll warn you, fellow travelers, that when I travel I want to see it ALL (except if it involves a museum, in which I case I’ll wait for you outside unless it’s raining). I also do not travel in a linear fashion (that quote “all who wander are not lost” may or may not have been about me).

So, yep, while I excel at being efficient and organized, I also tend to be driven by my passion (and the cheapest plane fare). I can assure you that there are just a few places between Maui and Spain that require a stopover, but, for now, we just have to go to Spain because I have stories to share from there that just can’t wait. Everyone in between, if you have an empowering story that needs to be shared here, email it to me at misste259@gmail.com!

I have two stories from Spain and both fall into the category of “things are not always what they seem.” Such simple and beautiful displays of humanity.

First stop, Vigo, the largest fishing port in Europe and an industrial mainstay in the Spanish economy. It’s a city that’s a funny mix of industrial meets Roman architecture meets the seaside on the northwestern coast of Spain just north of Portugal.

An 80-something man named Hermann lives in Vigo. Here here is playing his harmonica from the window of his apartment. In the background you can hear voracious clapping. Is it for his music? I don’t want to spoil it. Watch and then read on…

Quarantined in their homes, everywhere across Spain, every night at a designated time, people come to their windows or balconies and clap for the medical staff.

Imagine that. At the same time, all across the country, doctors and nurses are given a standing ovation. As they should be.

But where does Hermann fit in this? Hermann has Alzheimer’s, but has not forgotten how to play his harmonica. His caregiver says to him, “What a concert, Hermann! You got nervous. Such a big audience. I understand.”

Look at the delight on his face. I mean, what else is there to say? There is such beauty and love captured in this moment, both as we share this man’s wonder in his moment of stardom as well as the love of his caregiver, while on a national level we witness citizens come out in unison to honor the medical community. It leaves me speechless.

But, wait, that’s not all! We aren’t done here in Spain yet! Let’s jet way on over to the other side, sliding right off the eastern coast for a brief dip in the Mediterranean before we reach the island of Mallorca. The land here is mountainous, rocky, sandy, salty, and also stunningly beautiful. Plants and trees – and people – find ways to grow and thrive in the most surprising and challenging of places – and times. Olive groves abound. In the air is the faint smell of orange and lemon trees warming in the sun. Almonds are in bloom at this time of year, white flowers blossoming as far as the eye can see.

And on the streets, during this time of quarantine, the police are keeping an eye on things and making sure that everyone is safe and well:

In this case, the police came to entertain the children and cheer them up. That was not what I expected. And it warmed my heart.

This is a good time to remember how we sooth children when they have nightmares. We do not google the symptoms or entertain all the “what if” scenarios and fan the flames. Instead, we calm, we console, we give hugs, we reassure. That’s what we need to do for ourselves right now. All of us. Collectively. A big, compassionate hug. Because when you aren’t living a nightmare and stressing out completely, you can be strong and resilient, committed and compassionate. And that’s what we all need right now.

You will be all right. WE will be all right.

For books on or in Spain, you can always pick up Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Sun Also Rises. Based on some of my Facebook feeds, I wonder if I would do well to recommend regional wines as well ;-).

See you next time…off to another Spanish-speaking country next, but this one a former colony. Hasta luego! Stay well, stay home.Bilingual versus an idiot

 

 

IN COMING – first stop, Maui!

Feel the warm sun on your face, a gentle, tropical breeze fanning your cheeks, playing with loose tendrils of your hair. Hear the ocean waves crashing against the shore, the tropical birds singing their exuberant songs. See the palm tree leaves slowly dancing in the breeze. Welcome to the Rainbow state. Life goes on in the natural world, unfazed. Take a big deep breath. Smell the salt air. Ahhh. AND – bonus -no jetlag! 

We find ourselves today at the Merwin Conservancy, a palm forest in Haiku, Maui. The forest is the embodiment of hope in the face if futility and death. In the late 1970’s, William S. Merwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. Poet Laureate, came across a parcel of agricultural wasteland in the small valley of Pe‘ahi Stream. The soil here was decimated and eroded by a failed pineapple plantation. Merwin and his wife, Paula, set about a nearly 40-year journey to give back to the land, cultivating seedling-by-seedling and tree-by-tree a lush botanical garden, transforming a once-barren space into one of the largest and most extensive private collections of palm trees in the entire world (adapted from the Merwin Conservancy website).

The Conservancy’s Executive Director, Sonnet Coggins, wrote last week that “We are in the garden this morning, finding and keeping stillness as turmoil swirls around the globe. I am coming to understand our current moment of uncertainty and isolation as an invitation. We are lifted out of our daily routines, maybe our ruts, and invited into a place where imaginations awaken. It brings me to a deeper understanding of the way William lived his life—always fully awake to the world around him, honoring its possibilities through daily actions and practices.

Today we will read, walk, and remember William and Paula among the palms, and will imagine that many of you are doing the same, in places that are dear to you.”

In order to fully immerse yourself in this place, watch the one-minute video of Merwin reading his poem Rain Light in his Maui garden. “my mother said I am going now, when you are alone you will be alright…even though the whole world is burning” 

You will be alright.

Find your stillness. Dive into simplicity and quiet. Read and walk among the natural spaces in your area, and really notice what’s going on around you. Make space for yourself, for all of your feelings, and honor them. Turn this moment over, slowly, in your mind. Consider it fully from all sides, and see what it may have to teach. It is through silence, reflection, and adversity that we learn the greatest lessons. It is our time to rise up; it is our time to stay home. This is where we must be and what we must do for now.

Be strong, be resourceful, be wise, be resilient. You will be alright.