What a wild trip around the sun this year has been (and continues to be). I know I have not posted here in many many months. But I have written in my head and in my heart, in my mind and memory, thoughts, feelings and experiences seared into my psyche by unapologetic trauma.
But before I get to that… in addition to the months-long and on-going pandemic, my cycle around the sun this year has brought me squarely, though not at all sure-footedly, to the age of 55. The age my father was when he died. For those of you who have not had to confront this plot line development in your own story, you may wish to pause here and offer up a brief prayer of gratitude for this particular bullet dodged. And I don’t think it’s “just me” on this, in all my quirky mental peculiarities. I’ve spoken with several people and this really is a thing. And I can tell you that I approached this birthday with no small amount of trepidation bordering on dread. How could I possibly live longer in years than my father? My father, that bastion of strength, stalwart of safety and bulwark of experience and expertise?! There whenever I needed him to proffer a tool or trick or share with me (endlessly) his opinions and advice on just about anything, including many things I didn’t even ask for. I knew my father wasn’t old when he died. But I had no real idea (do we ever?) of just how young he was. I thought, at the veteran age of 55, there was very little my father did not know, having learned from the experience of a life well lived. How idiotic was I?! And so here I am, in my insubstantial 55 years on this earth, knowing I don’t know shit. And wondering if he felt that way too. And wondering how I could not have know that.
Unlike most people, who have had to hunker down at home this year, I was deemed “essential” by the powers that be, and so I went to work. The terrible things about Covid-19 we know: the pain and suffering, the loneliness and death. I got to see all of that and then some, up close and personal. Wrapped head to toe in multiple layers of disposable (but not recyclable or breathable) plastic – from which our planet may never heal (plastic straws being very nearly literal spit in the ocean in comparison), I did my best to minister to people who were sick, dying, alone and afraid and their grieving families who were barred from being physically present. No small feat, in every respect, I assure you. The excruciating anguish permeated my pores, my heart, my soul. I could certainly go on and on, writing at length and in gory technicolor detail, about those long Covid months. It would be relatively easy, the memories pouring out like bile. But to what end?
I won’t say there was an “up-side” to the pandemic. That would be bordering on blasphemy (though I think I actually look better with a mask on and that has been an up-side of sorts). But I will say, that my appreciation grew exponentially for those things that were not horrific in these months. The camaraderie that greeted me each and every one of those 12 hour days at work, the friendships and support and love and laughter that were shared generously and graciously, nourished and sustained me. I have always had a healthy respect for the nurses and aides who do the lion’s share of the work in hospital settings. In addition to the skyrocketing of my respect for them, I added love and real and deep connection and friendship. Out of sheer necessity, we each walked many miles in one another’s shoes. I was humbled by the unselfishness and strength of the people I work with. And grateful beyond measure.
As someone who struggles (mightily I might add) with anxiety, I have been watching people all over the world come to some understanding of what people like me deal with all the time. Yes Karen, the world can be a scary place and that shit is totally out of your control. And as those around me have been brought to their knees in fear, I have been able to stand a little taller in understanding and compassion. It feels good to be the strong one for a change. I considered writing up the imaginary game of “anxiety bingo” I play so often in my head to share with others. Just for shits and giggles.
Not that I would go so far as to say I’m agoraphobic, but I do admit that the “stay at home” orders practically made me dance a jig, I was giddy with relief. Not being able to go away, travel anywhere, go or be outside my comfort zone, be in large gatherings, felt as freeing to me as not having to choose my clothing each day and instead wear gender-neutral scrubs (as I have been doing throughout the pandemic). Not having to come up with viable excuses for not wanting to go out or socialize freed up more of my mental time and energy than ever I could have imagined. Seriously.
I loved having to be at home when not at work. I loved cozying in and hunkering down. I baked. I played with, expanded and honed my baking skills, developing a whole new product line of babka – including a s’mores babka that is out of this world delicious. I even found a soft spot for the new pandemic bakers joining ranks with the rest of us home bakers (even though I couldn’t find flour so easily). I read. Though my attention span was definitely put to the test with work grief and loss, I found myself reading books outside my typical genre. I went as far as to read some pop-culture novels and didn’t hate them. I talked, laughed and played games with my children. And I reveled in yard work done well. I even watched a Netflix series or two. I relaxed as much as I am ever able to. I found that much external pressure in my life was lessened even while there was exponentially more pain and difficulty. Strange dichotomy that. But I did deeply appreciate the centering home-focus, the slowing down, the drawing inward. In all, there have been many reasons for gratitude during this time.
I find I am more like my father every day (though tremulously and thankfully not dead). Like him, I keep my circle small and close, and I like to keep myself busy taking care of my family and home. Like my father, I am drawn to offering whatever small gesture or token of kindness to others I can. For him that was running errands or delivering groceries. For me that is generally in the form of bread. I am a simple person with simple needs and desires, as was my dad, and I am better when I remember that. One thing my dad absolutely knew, gratitude is a powerful thing.