A year of the pandemic in your words

I put 12 questions for our 12 months of pandemic life to you last week. And, oh my goodness, did you deliver. I sat at my computer weeping as I read over your words. It was very hard to cut this down (there were over 10 pages of gorgeous reflections), but this is my best attempt. What shit you’ve been through! What stunning humanity you’ve emerged with! Read it and weep (and LOL) along with me…

What small, weird project has given your life meaning this year?

I started a flock of backyard chickens in July. I visit with them every day in between zoom meetings as a way to get outside, move, and enjoy the company of my charming ladies.

The building of a tiny house in the barn meant to someday house people who make their way here to be bathed in the love I've been storing up for a year.

I started learning Italian on Duolingo. It's great for my brain, AND is a reminder that some day I will hopefully be visiting Italy again. It's a fun carrot....er....carota :)

As a lover of country-western music and a big fan of Dolly Parton, I went searching for music that fit my mood during this shut down of the world. Country music has a way of taking everyday experiences and putting music to them. The pandemic was no exception. I found at least nine songs that addressed the pandemic specifically. Once I chose the music, I created a podcast for family and friends called TEAR IN YOUR BEER, The Saddest Songs of Country Music. 

What have you fallen in love with?

The racial and disability justice revolutionaries among whom I've found fellowship.

This sprawling family of rocks on my desk, some of them now balanced on one another, stacking and spiraling and reassuring me of each moment's endlessness, the sudden forever.

We have had the good fortune of spending weeks on end playing with and falling more deeply in love with a granddaughter, who is almost 2.

Myself. I turned 50 during this year and for the first time in my life, I can say I am truly in love with me. My flaws, my mistakes, my individuality, my too muchness, my everything.  I am a beautiful being.  With this love for me and to better meet what my heart needed; I made some major changes. I moved to another state to be closer to my family, started a new job that increased my salary and one I am passionate about doing each day, I welcomed my first grandchild, and I started a new romantic relationship.

My husband and I feel in love with our 75-year-old neighbor, Cheryl, after meeting her dog and walking together almost daily for four years. In June of 2020, Cheryl went to the doctor because she had been feeling nauseous. After a few weeks of tests, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Cheryl came home from the hospital to our home for 10 days through the Christmas holiday. I told her that we had fallen in love with her. I wanted her to hear that from me. After two more months, her life was cut short because the cancer was aggressive. Cheryl passed away on Feb. 12. We’re heartbroken yet we would do this again in a nano second.

Weirdly, I fell in love with Twitter. While many others saw it evil because of the way it was used by malevolent power, for me it was a quiet saving grace. I followed sane, passionate, caring, morally grounded people. I got blessings of humor and wit from the Duchess Goldblatt, Leslie Jorden, Randy Rainbow, and Anne Lammott. I had fears calmed by selective news passed on from people I respected.

What small corner of your home or neighborhood have you learned to see anew this year?

One of my early days at home with my two young daughters last March, we discovered a trail overlooking the river not far from our house. Upon entering the trail, as we stopped to rest in the sunlight, a handful of marmots began to peek out of and crawl around an abandoned concrete structure, sunning alongside us. A bit further along, we found a secluded spot where my three year old dipped her toes in and tried to balance on a rock. On our way out of the river valley, I spotted a blue and white, long-tailed bird that I now know is a magpie.

I have lived in my house for 12 years and had never set foot on a creek just two doors down. I have now been there countless times with my kids and dog. I am amazed how I've made up for lost time.

What grief has threatened to sweep you away? How have you stayed here?

Grief sweeps in at the oddest moments - like right now when I feel the sadness creeping in because I have never lived in "this" world before. I have never lived in this world where my only interactions with my darling 3-year-old granddaughter are by video chat from 2000 kms away, and for which she often has very limited patience…What keeps me from being swept away? Sometimes it's just getting out of bed and making toast and coffee. Some days it's walking across a frozen river to the French bakery on the other side…As long dark cold winter days stretch into longer sunny days, and temperatures sometimes hover near the thaw point, I find myself dreaming about another world.

I can hope that heaven has a deck that my husband with a vodka tonic in his hand, watches over me. I can hope that my sweet parents are out in the garden that they loved working together. And truthfully, through all that life throws at us, in the end, all that remains is hope that one day we will walk together, garden together and continue to love together.

I have felt a deep darkness I have only experienced once before in my life, when chronically sleep deprived after my second child was born and wouldn't sleep through the night for a year and a half. This time the darkness feels to have come over me though the felt loneliness and isolation of bringing up my children without a proper village, of feeling that I don't have the emotional bandwidth to help them with their own emotions. I am not sure what has kept me here, but I am grateful that I am still here. Maybe it's that I can still feel that gratitude. 

What do you need to never forget?

How amazing it was to hike with my kids almost everyday. And how they love the woods now and are damn strong.

I need to remember how, in those early moments of loss and paranoia, it was so clear that the only thing I was longing for was other people. I didn't want a world without challenges. I just didn't want to navigate them alone.

I hope that I never go back to hurrying everywhere.

So much of my life has been wrapped up in achievement and measuring up, without creating the time or space to reflect and process emotion. At the beginning of the pandemic, in unexpected and unpredictable ways, I felt that I was re-learning ways to feel compassion, empathy, and solidarity with other humans.

I must never forget the way to connect with others: through gentle, loving exploration of the ordinary acts of living, and then be quiet and listen.

And this…

I don't have an answer to any of these questions yet, but I want to thank you for them.

I am a Palliative Care Chaplain, working in the inpatient setting in Austin, Texas. I am also a single mother to 3 children who are still learning remotely, though they are older than your children, so they can be home when I am at the hospital. 

I have spent much of my year in the COVID ICU, facilitating Zoom interactions for family members of patients, because we can't have visitors. My work for years has included daily encounters with death and dying, daily encounters with grief, and I have practices that enable me to do the work I love and feel called to do. 

And yet nothing could have prepared me for the weight of the last year. My team and I huddled this morning at the hospital, and every single person expressed their concern that “we can’t do another surge” after hearing the Governor's announcement yesterday that Texas will no longer have a mask mandate, and that businesses will open 100%.  We are all struggling, and not sure if we are angry, or sad, or if we feel that our work isn’t valued as much as the quest for someone's “piece of the pie.” We are struggling, and I felt it when I left our morning huddle.

When I opened your e-mail and read the questions, it helped me shift from the fear and dread my team talked about this morning. That shift will make me more open hearted and present today, and I am grateful for it.

Maybe we don’t need any answers. Just gratitude. Thank you thank you thank you. You’ll be hearing more from the chaplain in our midst next week.