Silver linings

I’ve written about some heavy stuff lately, and I need a breather. The past few months have been rough for almost everyone. Still, I can find bright spots and I’m grateful for them.

Today I’ve decided to share some of the silver linings I’ve discovered in my quarantine world. I don’t always see them unless I take the time to look for them, and today I feel the need to flesh them out. I’ll be honest; I have no idea how this list will look, but here goes.

  1. Writing letters. I went old school a few months ago and started writing real pen-and-paper letters to people with whom I’d lost touch or wanted to get to know better. And they’ve responded! I love finding these treats in my mailbox, and the process of organizing my thoughts without the benefit of the backspace key has been wildly helpful to my mental processing ability.
  2. Patience and kindness. Even though I’ve run into some short fuses, I’ve more often experienced people exercising more patience for others these days. I know I have, anyway (mostly). When I’m putting six feet of distance between me and the next person, I become less focused on getting ahead. I’m learning to wait, which doesn’t come naturally to me. I also see people volunteering to help others: offering to pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor, sharing books, running errands, providing a meal. One day a friend dropped off a big bag of cheesy popcorn on my front stoop. It was totally random, totally unnecessary, and totally appreciated.
  3. My dog! Those of you non-pet owners may not understand this, but I’ve been able to enjoy the benefits of his companionship 24/7. He’s a faithful friend who loves me unconditionally (and even more when I have treats), senses my moods, offers comfort when I need it, and always acts happy to see me. Who wouldn’t love that?
  4. Having a job. As I watch so many people around me struggle with not having enough, I become ever more grateful that I not only have a job in these trying times, but also one that is flexible enough to let me work from home. I am more conscious of what I have and try to share as much as I can.
  5. Bonus time with my adult-ish kids. Living together as adults hasn’t always been easy–and if you know me personally you know how fully I embrace empty nesting–but this has been a time of growth for us as a family. We’re not perfect, but I’m glad we have each other. They’ve now gone back to their academic domains, and I’m thankful for that, too.
  6. Slowing down. I’m learning a lot about myself and have a long way to go, but reducing the noise around me certainly helps my focus. I don’t always like what I see, but now I can recognize it and work on the things that need to change.
  7. Noticing the small stuff. Slowing down helps me notice the small stuff, too. Enough said.
  8. Going for walks. For a while, it seemed as if the whole world was out walking, and I loved it. I know I’ve strapped on my tennies to walk more times in the last week than I did all of last year, maybe even the last couple of years. I’ve loved exploring the neighborhoods around me and connecting in a much more sensory way than a drive-by offers.
  9. Watching the world get creative. This might be my very favorite thing. I love, Love, LOVE seeing people find creative ways to navigate this new normal. Some of my faves include a Facebook group to identify which restaurants offer delivery/are open/need help (2GoFW), cottage businesses popping up as people search for new sources of income and finally have time to pursue their passions (Tameka’s Cakes–so fun and delicious), and companies that shift their resources to help make PPE (e.g. Design Collaborative, a local architecture firm, used its 3D printer to make face shields). My kids have tackled some challenging recipes to hone their cooking skills (48-hour sous vide short ribs, turmeric cauliflower steaks, homemade hamburger buns? yes please!). Families who barely used smart phones now enjoy regular video visits. For a time, my brother and I even shared virtual cocktail hour each week. We’re all getting better at this.

Hey! That’s not a bad list. Sometimes I surprise myself.

Finding the silver linings helps me remember that obstacles can also be used as stepping stones. I’d love for you to share some of yours in the comments.

Never forget

Humankind-Be-Both-Button-(0127)Yesterday I left my family’s Thanksgiving festivities feeling full, not only of food, but also–and especially–of love and warmth and goodwill. Compared to most of the world, I have a lot. My modest house might need a good cleaning, but it keeps me safe from the elements and has more than enough room for my kids, my dog and me. I live on a budget like everyone else, but my family has never lacked food or clothing or health care. I’ve gotten to see much of the world, Most importantly, I have a big, quirky, loving family with open hearts.

All those things were in my psyche, if not my consciousness, yesterday when I saw a woman standing on a corner not two blocks from the feast I had just left, tapping her wrist questioningly in the universal symbol of “What time is it?” I slowed to a stop, rolled down the passenger window, and leaned across my daughter to tell the woman it was close to 5pm.

She needed a ride to the next bus stop, she said. She wanted to take the city bus downtown to the Greyhound station, where she would catch a ride to Wisconsin and her grandmother’s funeral. She was sad and she needed help.

As my so-called street smarts kicked in and an invisible voice told me “Drive away, Tammy, this is a bad idea,” I heard myself telling my son to make room for the woman in the back seat. I’ll spare you the details, but the ride to the bus stop turned into tears and a donation of $40 for the ticket. By the time I let the woman out of the car to make her way to Greyhound, I felt more than a little uneasy and wondered if I had been the one who had just been taken for a ride. I’m doubtful that the woman actually took that bus trip.

I had helped someone in need, but I felt bad. It bothered me all night long and into today, until I recounted the scenario to my brother.

My big-hearted bro had no words for me but my own. He reminded me that over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve taken offense to the knee jerk reaction of many to recent acts of terrorism, I’ve staunchly supported continuing to help Syrian refugees. All refugees, really. I rarely get into political discussions, but this one is more human than political to me. My deep-seated belief is this:

We can’t sacrifice our humanity for the sake of our existence.

We have to keep helping people, even when there may be danger involved, simply because it is the right thing to do. It sickens me when others use a cry of Never forget! in response to acts of violence or terrorism, not to make the world a better place, but to justify their own prejudices.

And yet I still felt silly for having tried to help that woman. I wondered if I had put my children in danger, if she was really who she said she was, where that money was really going to be spent.

With a gentle nudge, my brother told me, “Anything we do that opens our hearts is not a wasted effort. You cannot control what happens in someone else’s heart, only that you yourself were kind. Why should you ever feel ashamed or foolish for having human empathy and caring for the suffering of others?”

Then I remembered something I had posted on my Facebook page just last week.

To the people who cite our nation’s hungry and homeless population as a reason to close our borders, please tell me what YOU’RE doing to help the people you call “ours.” If you’re just spouting statistics that you found on the internet from the comfort of your warm house with a full belly, I’m not listening.

And if you want to do something about it but don’t know how to help, contact Donnie/Kelly Foster (MISFITS), Street Reach for the Homeless, Samaritan Homeless Clinic (Dayton), or just head downtown with blankets and food.

If you really care that much, let’s do something about it.

You know what? I DID something about it. I don’t know how it turned out, but that’s not mine to judge. I walked my talk, and today I feel good about that. This year, more than anything, I’m thankful for a heart that sometimes has to guide my mind when I try to think too much, and for a brother who keeps me pointed in the right direction.

The next time you hear the words Never forget! be sure that what you’re remembering is how to be a better person and how NOT to let the actions of a few justify anger and hatred, no matter how scared you are.

Never forget that preserving our existence is not worth the sacrifice of our humanity.

Talking turkey

Scarcely an American household has escaped the Thanksgiving tradition of polling the room to encourage everyone to share her most thankful thoughts. The question What are you thankful for? must be individually addressed before the bird may be released into the waiting bellies of friends and family. If you wanna eat, you gotta talk turkey.

I shared some of my list here last year, so I thought I’d do it again and call it tradition. In no particular order or sentence structure:

  • I love being able to share humor, insight, and goofy tidbits with my son on an adult level. He’s growing up fast, and those secret smiles when he “gets it” mean the world to me.
  • I swoon over my daughter’s gregariousness. She lights up everything around her.
  • I am overwhelmingly humbled by my kids’ capacity to forgive my quirks and parental failures. I wish I didn’t have to accept that gift so often.
  • I have a house that’s warm, a car that works, a closetful of clothes, food in my cupboards, and the ability to share my fortune with others. How often I take these cornerstones of my life for granted!
  • Witty rhymes and practical jokes–I love them.
  • Black licorice. Even the smell sends me to a happy place.
  • Really good books.
  • Pancetta. It goes with everything.
  • A hot shower after a hard run.
  • One particular shoulder to cry on, no matter what the topic.
  • The respect of others.
  • My relationship with each of my parents is often complex and certainly not storybook, but I am who I am because of their (often divergent!) influence. And even though I’m a highly independent, middle-aged woman, they still help me out A LOT.
  • The smell of fallen leaves.
  • My own personal cheerleader.
  • A good glass of prosecco. Or two.

I was in a crappy mood when I started making my list and wasn’t sure what I would be able to squeeze out. Once I got rolling, I found it hard to stop; I’m still adding to the list in my head. Crappy mood or no, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for–and I’m not just talking turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.