A cup of kindness for Auld Ang Syne
One of the many challenges of 2020 is to look back upon it with love and gratitude, but to be fair to the year behind me, that’s what I experienced. I did not expect the year that it was, but I appreciate all that it brought forward.
In the beginning of the year when Corona Virus was rumored to be but a possible flu outbreak, Australia was burning to a crisp, California was on fire, and an earthquake happened in North Carolina, I decided to up my environmental conservancy efforts and work on creating a sustainable yard. That didn’t go so well. But what did go well was that whenever I ate a plant, I re-planted its seeds and grew more plants. Some things bloomed and others went haywire(everyone on my block got tomatoes), and most was eaten by the vast number of deer who took over the neighborhood. I was so proud of the one raspberry that appeared on the vine.
Interest rates dropped and for the first time in my life, I refinanced a home…My home. It felt very grown up—a feeling that typically brings out my inner adolescent, ironically. But not this time. It just felt good.
I bought a new-to-me car. That felt good, too.
Then all hell broke loose with this thing that wasn’t a flu and, as we all know, shit hit the fan. I still don’t understand the run on toilet paper, but it did inspire me to order my tp via the mail (by an environmentally and socially conscious company, of course!). Since I was going so green, I opted to renew any soaps with solid soaps and reduce my plastic usage as much as possible. Another soft-fuzzy in the feel-good corner of life.
And just as the memes started coming in about fire tornados and space aliens, Covid-19 reached a category ‘pandemic’ and the folks who hoarded tp began wishing they’d stocked up on soup and canned meat, too.
The company I work for closed its doors, like so many others, as we (by we, I mean they) figured out the logistics of going virtual. It took three weeks, and in that time, my neighbors and I all pitched in together and collectively re-landscaped all of our yards. Our block is currently gorgeous, and the lot of us went from just neighbors to being friends. One friend even took me to my colonoscopy appointment and waited there for the hour in order to bring me home again. That’s the kind of friends we’ve all become, and I can honestly thank 2020 for that.
Working virtually wasn’t so bad, either. What made it even better was that the company continued our wages as if we were actually pulling the same hours as before the pandemic. My gratitude for the continuance of pay runs deeper than I can express in part because I know that so many people simply lost their jobs. I feel blessed. I also feel guilt because I practiced my cello while on the dole. I also baked a lot of bread and took naps. It felt like living a more balanced life but really I think it was just trying to play catch up for being so very out of balance for so long. The naps were glorious. The cello vacillates between whale sounds or mosquitos. The learning curve is steep.
As social beings by design, the pandemic really threw a wrench at mental health as we stepped into uncertainty, solitude, lack of physical contact and the like. The unbearable lonliness and lack of someone to hug & hold led me to seek companionship where I could.
I adopted a dog…and discovered that I seemed to have actually adopted myself. We share many of the same issues, including a bit of thickness around the area where our waists used to be. She has since dropped her weight and I seemed to have picked it right up. We are addressing some of our issues as best we can.
I completed the seventh edition of my first manuscript for a book which now lives in the hands of an agent. Yes—I have an agent. Whatever happens after this will simply be the cherry on top of the fact that I get to say, “I have an agent.” I also get to say things like, “have your people call my people” and “I’m sorry but you’ll need to go through my agent for that.” May next year bring me the wonderful pressure of also having a publisher. I am looking forward to what I get to say next.
Work resumed and shortly thereafter, I was paid a visit by Second Lady, Mrs. Pence. Politics aside, she visited the work place to talk mental health; to promote art therapy as a legitimate field and to talk about how the creative therapies save lives. The high honor of a white house visit was whispered behind a hand with a side-eyed glance because of the politics involved. It was a pickle to be in and I don’t quite know what to do with the bracelet she gave me. Our platforms for our practices couldn’t be more opposed but it landed me some white house bling and a photo op.
Speaking of politics, never have I ever known so much about the who’s who of the government. Never have I been more involved and feeling like I was in the know than this year. The feelings of helplessness that have pervaded this year, politically and otherwise, were quelled just a little bit with a vote. I vow to stay more involved.
I also have a great appreciation for the civil unrest around race. Like so many other white, middle-aged women, I joined a book club and am doing a lot of reading about my own tacit biases. This doesn’t take away systemic racism, but it opens my eyes to what I haven’t seen before and gives me a bit more voice in bringing about change. Like the cello, the learning curve is steep but I’m certainly grateful to have values that line up with justice and equality. When this knowledge is coupled with politics, I feel that change is possible and is happening. As hard as it is to hold up the mirror, it is good to know more about the person looking back at me and see how I can do better.
But some of the best things that have happened this past year have taken two forms: one is in the form of epiphanies. Not the Holy kind. No one is having a miracle baby. My epiphanies were the insightful kind that only happen with too much alone time and a mind trying to entertain itself. I learned a lot about stuff I thought I had already sorted through. Turns out, I hadn’t…but maybe now I have. The other best thing has been the closeness I actually feel to people who are anywhere from an arm’s length away to infinity. There haven’t been too many conversations between friends and family where the phrase “I love you” hasn’t been said. I hear it and say it now more than I ever have and I truly believe it’s because we have all seen how precious and sacred life actually is. Truth be told, we are all scared shitless and are loving each other like shipwreck survivors to dry land. It’s just a theory but it seems to fit.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my fabulous and brilliant daughter graduated with two master’s degrees in 2020 AND is working full-time as a head librarian! Sure, she had been furloughed before her job even began but it began eventually. Maybe the celebratory cake ended up in New Jersey instead of Brooklyn and we didn’t get to woohoo in person, but we managed to celebrate all the same and dote on her with lots of love. Life is solidly good for her. I can’t ask for much more.
I know that 2020 has been hard on almost every fiber of our beings, but it has also been very good. We try harder to connect. We make eye-contact. We love more openly. We look out for each other.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, politics, racial injustice, a global pandemic, and the repercussions of it all have me counting my blessings. There are so many. It has certainly been a year of change and of personal growth; of trying to break through the compost of life so we can see the sun again; to bloom.
2021 holds the promise of what we have worked so hard to rise above in 2020. I feel like the past year has prepared me in ways that I have yet to unfold for the beauty, glory, and abundance of the new year ahead. I feel ready for it.
Thank you 2020. I learned so much and I am now ready to apply what I’ve learned to 2021.
Happy New Year.
I love you.
It’s the end of December and I’m finally getting around to raking my lawn. This is how December goes in the South. I see green. Weeds are still trying to dominate my efforts in the gardens and leaves are still clogging my gutters and occupying space reserved for grass.
I moved to the South six years ago from Wisconsin and never imagined raking leaves in December or needing to wear a sweater because the temperature was in the mid-50’s. What was once considered summer weather now gives me chills. Where I’m from, this time of year frost gathers on eyelashes while taking the brisk walk from the office to the car. Local Parks in the North intentionally flood the low spots for outdoor ice-skating rinks, and everyone owns their own ice skates.
Where I’m from, a toboggan is a sled with rudders. Here, it’s a hat. Imagine the conversation I had with a new friend from the South who got an unwanted toboggan for the holidays. My first question was, “where do you even use it?” and she said, “outside.” “Clearly,” I said. I wanted to know if there was snow enough to use it and she assured me that it gets cold here. It took us a long time to understand why I was so baffled by the concept of a toboggan in the South. When we finally did figure it out, my following question was, “what do you call a scarf?”
As nostalgic as I might be for snow and snowy type activities like making snowmen, shoveling, sliding down the driveway on my ass, and using the cold as an excuse to day drink hot whiskey drinks, raking leaves this time of year has its upsides too. For starters, I can recognize my neighbors because they aren’t disguised as the Michelin man for a jaunt outside. I also see neighbors because being outside in December in the South is lovely. Southerners have no reason to hibernate or send smoke signals from the fireplace. This is bonfire and marshmallow weather here.
This year, raking leaves had me waxing retrospectively about snow, snakes and personal growth.
The first year I owned my home here, I had raked the leaves into a pile, just like we did when I was a kid up North with a goal of romping, kicking, and scattering the leaves in a hey of wild abandon. I had big plans that included friends, puppies, and cider drinks.
As I prepped the pile, an old neighbor stopped by and poked the leaves with his cane. He said I 'ought come over to him for a spell.' The rasp of his deep drawl sounded out a warning that snakes like leaf piles in these parts and that “y’all (meaning me) might ought be more careful.”
Sure enough, I re-spread the leaves on the lawn and uncovered a small den.
Just to be clear, this was not a calm or collected event. I threw down my rake, swearing f*cks and Mother’s of God and more f*cks as I leapt a gate onto the patio, threw open my back door while simultaneously throwing my gloves out of the door, and skivvied in my kitchen while still dropping more f-bombs. Neighbors within ear shot were certain that a spawn of the devil had moved in next door the way I cursed and used God's name with the same mouth. They were probably as frightened of me than I was of the snakes.
It took me days to pick the rake back up. It had been contaminated with snake. The leaves were bagged one at a time and touched as if they were toxic. Each one lifted had the potential to uncover another snake. It was a very long raking season.
The following year, I found a class on snakes in the South and learned that I really only had one reason to be afraid out of dozens: the copperhead. The snakes in my leaf pile were a harmless garden variety that liked to eat grubs and I had a lot of those.
I also learned that snakes like wood piles. Frogs like clogged gutters. Skinks like compost piles and little green geckos love to sneak into my house and surprise me when I water my plants.
The steep learning curve keeps me swearing a lot but I’m learning to swear less…or at least to keep God out of the explicative mix. I’ve picked up the language of the South much in the same manner that I’ve grown accustomed to the heat and the lack of true cold. Sometimes I think I miss snow…but I’ve learned that I can throw my back out just as good with a rake as I can with a shovel.