Lessons Learned

Roughly one year ago, Covid 19 managed to turn the world as I knew it upside down.  I remember picking up my grandson at his daycare, which like almost everything else in my area, was temporarily closing.  “See you in two weeks,” his teacher told us as she waved goodbye.  And I’m embarrassed to say that I mostly believed her.   I had no idea just how badly this virus and its restrictions would impact us, or for how long.

It’s been a long twelve months, and in many ways I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  Never again will I just assume that I can buy what I need, when I need it, or take being able to spend time with my friends and family for granted.  I think I’ll always be a little uncomfortable in a crowded room, wondering just what sort of germs I’m being exposed to, and I will probably keep my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer stashed in my purse from now on.  As for toilet paper, my new mantra is “you can’t have too much of a good thing.”

7GPiXSO+Rmj7a9KhzqQBut I think the changes go deeper than that.  Living through such a traumatic year (my family also faced some difficulties that had nothing to do with Covid) has taught me a lot about myself, and I think growing in self-awareness is always a good thing.  I learned that I had the ability to be patient, even when I yearned for quick answers and even quicker action.  And while I’ve never been what could be called the “outdoorsy type,” I learned that the more time I spend outside, the calmer and happier I become.  Nature truly is a great healer, for both the body and the soul.  I also figured out that one way to cope with uncertain times is to get busy working on the things I do have control over, even something as mundane as painting the guest bedroom.

I may be a natural introvert who craves some alone time each and every day, but now I also know how desperately I need to stay connected to other people.  Talking with friends and family reminds me that I don’t have to face problems alone, and there is both strength and comfort in that.  That old saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved” is absolutely correct, and a reminder of just how important it is to support each other in our times of need.  And in the face of so much negativity, conflicting “facts” and general fear-mongering, I’ve learned the importance of thinking for myself, doing research when necessary, and trusting in good old-fashioned common sense as much as possible.

So no, I’m not exactly the same person I was twelve months ago, but that’s okay.  In fact, it’s more than okay, because the lessons I’ve learned from the past year have left me better equipped to face the future with hope and confidence.  And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

This Christmas

ddVckuVpRGyx7hp7gz2TZwEven though I love Christmas, there’s always something about December that makes me feel a little sad.  The shorter days and longer nights we experience this time of year don’t help, but the biggest problem is probably the way I tend to build Christmas up in my head and the fact that the reality of Christmas rarely lives up to my expectations.  (I guess Chuck Griswold and I have something in common besides our love for over-the-top holiday lighting.)

I tend to anticipate the perfect Christmas with a huge assortment of delicious cookies and other fabulous food, a perfectly-decorated tree surrounded by a pile of presents that are “just right” for the person who is going to open them, and most of all, lots of fun and relaxing time with my friends and family.  And while the Christmas I get is always pretty darned good, there are also lots of little snags along the way:  burnt cookies, the arrival of my annual Christmas cold, trying to coordinate a schedule for our get-togethers that works for everyone, and discovering that the perfect present I wanted to buy for someone special is on back-order until Spring.

And that’s the reality of a normal Christmas.  This year, we’ll be celebrating a Covid Christmas, which means I won’t be able to attend my beloved Christmas Eve candlelight service, or host the usual big gatherings of my friends and family.  My in-person Christmas shopping has been minimal, and the delivery of the gifts I ordered online has been spotty, to say the least.  (We opened one box to find only the shredded packaging of the gift we had ordered.  Someone is going to be on Santa’s naughty list for that one!)  All of which is to say that this year, it’s been a little harder than usual to maintain my Christmas cheer.

And yet….Christmas is still my favorite holiday and I have no intention of giving it a miss this year.  Yes, we are still struggling with a pandemic that has dragged on far too long, and we are so very tired of it.  The days are short and cold, and Winter is just beginning.  Celebrating the holiday in many of my favorite ways is out of the question, sadly.  But none of that has managed to stop Christmas from coming, and whether or not I enjoy this Christmas is a decision that is mine alone to make.

IMG_7285So I’m choosing to enjoy it.  I’m choosing to give the people I love my imperfect gifts, and just have those gift receipts handy if they need to exchange them.  I’m choosing to spend my dark December evenings basking in the glow of my Christmas tree, or when it’s warm enough, sitting outside enjoying the colored lights we strung around our patio.  I’m baking extra cookies this year and plan to leave them on the porches of the neighbors and friends I can’t invite over.  I’ve discovered that a local church is having an outside (socially distanced and masked) Christmas Eve candlelight service that I might attend if I decide to brave the predicted cold temperatures.  And if not, there are plenty of services I can view online.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it.  And to absolutely everyone:  wishing you much joy, peace and happiness, now and in the year ahead.

Enough

fullsizeoutput_5d20It’s finally feeling like Autumn, with cooler temperatures, gorgeous foliage and pumpkins galore.  There’s something about Autumn that makes me want to “hunker” down” in my warm house, cooking substantial meals and making sure my cupboards are well-stocked with supplies.  But this year, I have to admit my urge to stock up has gotten just a teeny bit out of hand.

I’ve never understood what motivates hoarders. My theory has always been, “why have two of something when one will do?” But then the pandemic hit, and in the early stages that sometimes meant empty grocery shelves, making it hard to find basic necessities. And although I can almost always find what I need these days, those memories seem to have stuck with me. Because now I find myself wanting to stock up supplies like a frantic squirrel storing nuts in anticipation of a really, really, bad Winter.

My usual minimalist tendencies have disappeared. Now I wander the aisles of the grocery store, tossing things into my cart whether I need them or not. My kitchen cupboards are full, and so is the cabinet in the basement I use to store extra groceries and paper goods. I have a small bin full of cleaning supplies, disinfectants and face masks. And yet sometimes I still wonder, “do I have enough?”

The problem with always wanting more is that nothing ever seems to be enough, and that’s a horrible way to live. I know that my desire to keep adding to my stash is a reaction to the uncertainty of the times we’re living in, but I hate feeling that I’m somehow dropping the ball if I don’t have enough supplies in my house to see me through at least 2022. It’s time for me to stop the madness.

It’s true that no one knows when, or how, this pandemic will end. It’s also true that there may still be shortages, and I can’t always count on running to the grocery store to pick up something I need. But I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather risk doing without something for a little while, because that’s preferable to constantly worrying about whether I have “enough.” And I think I’d rather trust that friends and family would step forward to share what they have if necessary, just as I would gladly share my supplies with anyone who needed them. And I know this is true, because they have shared, and so have I.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing how I want to live. Do I want to live in an “everyone for himself” world, or do I want to keep a little faith in the people around me? Do I want to be a person who compulsively buys things out of fear of the future, or do I want to once again be happy with a reasonable amount of supplies in my house?

This pandemic has changed many things in my life, and in many cases there’s just not much I can do about it. But I’ve decided that it is a not going to turn me into a hoarder, and that’s something I can control.

A Helping Hand

I always hoped I’d be the sort of person who could greet any sort of hardship with a cheerful smile and a “can do” attitude, rolling up my sleeves to get to work on solving whatever problem I happen to be facing. I wanted to automatically count my blessings each morning when I woke up, no matter what the day had in store. I wanted to be the person who feels, deep down in her heart, that no matter how long a difficult situation lasts, I’m absolutely certain I last even longer.

And some days, I am exactly that sort of person. I’m genuinely thankful for what I have, and I absolutely feel strong enough to deal with whatever trouble comes my way. But the problem is that I also have other days, when I’m impatient, annoyed, discouraged, and above all, just plain crabby.

Living with the fear of Covid isn’t easy when you have seasonal allergies, especially since the list of possible Covid symptoms has expanded to include almost every symptom that my allergies cause. I used to get a sore throat and think, “Darn, the pollen counts are high again.” Now I think, “OMG, do I have Covid????” I worry that my husband’s cancer treatments will be derailed by either a positive Covid test or that hospitals will once again halt most surgeries and procedures that aren’t Covid-related. And sometimes, I just plain get tired of the difficulties in doing every day things, like grocery shopping, going to the dentist, or getting a leaking basement pipe repaired.

I miss going to church on Sunday mornings, and eating out with friends. I used to worry if I left the house without my cell phone, but now I panic if I reach in my purse and can’t find my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer. I miss being able to drop in at my mother’s apartment to check that she’s really okay.

I know these are all minor complaints and that many people are in MUCH worse situations. Believe me, I get that. But as the weeks stretch into months and the months threaten to stretch into years, there are times when reminding myself that I’m better off than many others just doesn’t help much.

But the one thing that never fails to help is when another person reaches out in kindness and concern. Never have I appreciated what a gift that is more than I do now.

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On the day before my husband’s first chemo treatment, my daughter dropped off a “care basket” full of supplies to help him cope. Friends and family have called, sent cards, and just plain listened without judgement when I needed to vent. Neighbors have invited us over to sit on their patio for an evening of wine and good conversation. A family friend has reached out regularly to my mother, knowing that she needs extra contact to combat the loneliness the Covid restrictions have caused her and most other senior citizens.

The truth is, life is rather challenging for all of us these days, to various degrees and for a variety of reasons. But if we can all remember to reach out to someone else with an encouraging word, a sympathetic ear, or even just the gift of our (socially distanced) presence, life will be a bit easier for everyone. And if that isn’t worth the effort, then I don’t know what is.

The Company You Keep

No doubt about it, 2020 hasn’t exactly turned out to be a banner year.  Aside from the birth of our new granddaughter (which was a wonderful gift), it has mostly been a series of hardships that had to be both accepted and endured.  From learning that our dog tested positive for heart worm in February, to the arrival of the Covid virus in Spring and the subsequent lock-downs which resulted in the cancellation of every single event and gathering we had been looking forward to, to the worry of our granddaughter’s premature birth, followed closely by my husband’s cancer diagnosis, I feel as if I’ve hardly had a chance to draw a breath, much less process it all.

But like everyone else whose world has been turn upside down in the past few months, I don’t really have a choice other than to do my best to cope with this new reality.  And so I do what I can to adapt and learn new coping strategies.  It helps to do the small things that cheer me up, like buying fresh flowers for our house or making sure I always have a stack of new books to read when I can find the time.  I’ve learned the importance of self-care, and am getting much better at saying “no” to obligations that  threaten to overwhelm me.  If nothing else, I’ve  come to accept my limitations, and that’s a good thing.

I’ve also discovered the importance of discernment.  There are days when I take a break from the news, knowing that all the craziness and conflict will still be there when I actually feel strong enough to hear it.  I hit the “unfollow” button on Facebook in order to keep my newsfeed free from the petty bickering and tribal chest-thumping that many feel obligated to post on a daily basis.  Sometimes I let my phone go directly to voice mail, particularly when it rings just as I am sitting down to a hot meal or settling into a comfortable chair with a good book.   It took a while, but I’ve finally learned not to feel guilty about that.

More importantly, I’ve learned to be a bit more particular about the people I talk to on a regular basis.  I’ve always believed in accepting others for exactly who they are, and that is still the case.  But now that I find myself living almost constantly on the fine line between coping and feeling completely overwhelmed, I realize that I need to spend most of my time only with those who have the ability to cheer me up and keep me hopeful. One good thing about hard times is that you discover some of the people you know are really, really, good at being supportive.  They’re the ones who listen to you without judgement, who assure you that things really will get better, and who know how to make you laugh when all you thought you could do was cry.

IMG_6698I still love all my friends and family, and value my relationship with each and every one of them.  But right now, in this particular situation, I’m gravitating toward those who are helping me cope.  And that’s okay, I think.  If nothing else, they’re showing me exactly what I need to do when it’s my turn to “pay it forward” and help someone else who is in need.  Because the one thing I know about dealing with hardships is that it’s so much easier when you don’t have to face them alone.

Worth Waiting For

When our grandson was born two years ago, my husband and I were at the hospital and were able to both see and hold him within hours of his birth.  In the weeks that followed, I often stopped by my daughter’s house to help out so she and her husband could run an errand or take a much-needed nap.  I quickly learned just how strong the bond between a grandparent and grandchild can be, and what a gift that relationship was.

So when I heard that happy news that my son and daughter-in-law were expecting a child in June, I believed that I knew exactly what to expect. I thought that I’d get to meet my new granddaughter at the hospital, and had already told her parents that I’d be more than happy to help out when they brought their new baby home.  Truth be told, I was really looking forward to it.

But then a sneaky little virus wormed it’s way into our lives, and I knew that I wouldn’t be meeting our new granddaughter at the hospital.   When we got the call that she was coming six weeks early, all we could do was pray for a safe delivery and a healthy baby.  She spent her first two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, and when she finally came home, we counted ourselves lucky to see her for the first time outside and from a distance.

The weeks went by and she grew bigger and stronger, and our son and daughter-in-law were very good about letting us visit whenever we asked, even allowing us to hold her.  But something still felt just a little bit “off.”  I loved my new granddaughter, but I didn’t feel as if I actually knew her.  The fact that she was a preemie, born during a pandemic, created some barriers, at least in my mind.  And while I knew it was for the best, it still made me sad.

y5kJkKr%RmG1zaP4cziDcgThat all changed last Saturday, when I had the privilege of babysitting for her for the day.  It was my first time alone with her, and the first time caring for her.  You learn something about a baby when you rock her to sleep, feed her, change her diaper, and sing a silly song to keep her entertained.  And when she (almost) smiles at you, and you feel the unmistakable bond between a grandparent and a grandchild, your heart just sings.  This was exactly what I had been longing for, I finally realized.  I wanted the chance to really know my granddaughter, and to connect with her.

Sometimes we just need to be patient in this life, especially when we’re living through such unsettled times.  I may have had to wait until it was safe, but the time did come when I was able to interact with my granddaughter in all the ways I had envisioned when I first heard my daughter-in-law was pregnant.  And you know what?  She was absolutely worth the wait.

Making Do

Like so many things this year, the big party we were planning to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday was cancelled.  Turning ninety is sort of a big deal, so we had hoped to rent a venue and invite extended family and all of Mom’s friends to stop by for cake, drinks and snacks.  Initially, Mom had told us there was no need to make such a fuss, but as the lock-down wore on and we had to cancel family gathering after family gathering, she began to really look forward to her big party.  It was going to be her chance to finally see everyone again, altogether in the same place.

When it became apparent that the virus wasn’t going to cooperate with our original plans, we told Mom that we were going to have to put off the big party for a while longer, but that we would have a small dinner gathering for our immediate family instead.  Since some of our immediate family lives out-of-state, my sister volunteered to host it in her yard so we could all stay outside and socially distance.  Everything was fine until we saw the weather forecast for the day of the party:  98 degrees with a heat index of  at least 105.  We waited as long as possible, hoping that the forecast would change, but it didn’t.  And since there is no way it would be safe for Mom to be out in that kind of heat for any length of time, we had to cancel again.

My Mom told us she understood, and I knew that she did.  But I also knew how deeply disappointed she was, and I didn’t blame her one bit.  So my husband and I talked it over and came up with an alternative plan:  we would have Mom over to our yard early in the morning for breakfast and include only our kids and grandchildren.  It wasn’t anywhere close to the celebration we had promised her, but it was the best we could do in the circumstances.  I only hoped it would be enough.

IMG_6723And you know what?  It was enough.  We loaded the patio table with breakfast food and drinks, hooked up some fans to keep it as cool as possible, and filled the wading pool for our grandson to play in.  Our newborn granddaughter even joined us outside for a little while before going into back into air-conditioned house for her morning nap.  Mom opened her gifts, we all enjoyed each other’s company, and we finished before the temperature became unbearably hot.

fullsizeoutput_5bb8Someday, we will throw Mom the big birthday celebration we had originally planned, even if it ends up being for her 91st birthday instead.  But I’m so glad that we had our small get-together in honor of her 90th birthday, and that Mom got to celebrate with at least some of her family.  In these times when so many plans have been cancelled, I think it’s important to be as flexible as we possibly can and to adapt our plans to fit the circumstances.  As my grandmother used to tell me, “Sometimes it’s best to just make do with what you have, and be grateful for it.”  Wise words for sure….

Do No Harm

The first lesson I learned from this pandemic was the importance of self-care.  Adding a bouquet of flowers to my cart when I’m grocery shopping, taking the time to re-read a favorite book, or just putting on make-up even when I know no one is going to see it underneath my face mask, can work wonders on my spirit.   Keeping as many of my normal routines as possible and indulging in the little things that bring me joy are great coping mechanisms that make this whole situation so much more bearable.

But while the benefits of self-care may have been the first lesson I learned, it isn’t the most important one.  Yes, taking care of myself as best I can, both emotionally and physically, is a very good thing.  But what’s even more important right now is remembering to also take care of other people–those who are close to me and even the people I don’t know at all.  Because the truth is we’re all feeling very stressed these days, so anything and everything we can do to help each other isn’t just appreciated, it’s also necessary.

Sadly, many people seem to be taking their anger and frustration out on each other, in either direct or indirect ways.  Memes on social media that ridicule or chastise people we disagree with are becoming more common and more vicious.  I see examples of selfish driving (blowing through red lights, cutting off other drivers, etc.) and sometimes even road rage almost every time I’m in my car.  Those of us who still read newspapers can’t help but notice that the letters to the editor almost all seem angry and full of accusations, but very short on actual solutions.

All this is doing is making a bad situation even worse.  Now is not the time to pour gasoline on the burning fires of our collective frazzled nerves.  Now is the time to offer the cooling waters of patience, wisdom, and most of all, compassion.  And no gesture is too small to make a difference.  We never know what’s going to turn the tide for someone else and make them feel a little less stressed or a little less alone.  It can be as simple as a smile from a stranger, or an offer to let someone with only a few items go ahead of you in the check out line.  These days, people need to see evidence of the positive side of human nature as often as they can.

DSC01258And the best part is, when we make the decision to try to help someone else cope with these crazy times, we discover that we’re also helping ourselves.  Doing even a small act of kindness makes us feel less powerless and more hopeful because it reminds us that we have the ability to make a positive impact on others.

Hard times have always brought out both the worst and the best in people.  But I believe that when we are intentional about being our best selves, we usually find that the times don’t seem quite so hard.

Here and Now

There’s an old saying I’ve always liked that says, “Always remember:  wherever you go, there you are!”  When I first heard it, I appreciated the humor of a saying that doesn’t seem to have much of a message at all.  But the more I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t quite true.  Because let’s face it,  there are times in our lives when we find ourselves in a situation that we didn’t plan for or in a place where we never intended to be.  And worst of all, we have no idea of just exactly how we’re supposed to respond to it.

When I first heard about this pandemic, I naively thought that it would be a rather short-term thing, which made it so much easier to cope with.  But as time wore on, I found myself truly grieving for the life that I had before the nasty little virus showed up turned everything upside down.  I missed the little things, like going out to dinner with my husband after a long day, or browsing through my favorite antique shop.  I wanted to be able to buy groceries without needing a face mask, disinfecting cloths, hand sanitizer, and a whole lot of patience.

One by one, trips and events that I had been looking forward to were cancelled:  three weddings, a family reunion, and a week on the beaches of our beloved Sanibel Island.  Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Father’s Day all had to be celebrated without our traditional family gatherings.  I hated explaining to my mother that the big 90th birthday party she had been looking forward to so much was going to have to be put off indefinitely.  Worst of all was being afraid to hold my newborn granddaughter because it might not be safe for her.

This isn’t at all where I wanted to be, and yet here I am.  And the only choice I have is how I’m going to react to it.

I’d love to lie and say that I’ve handled it with real maturity and grace.  (This is a social media, where we all put our best, and often false, face on for everyone to see.)  But the truth is that the constant stream of bad news and challenges can wear me out.  Sometimes I find myself just wanting to retreat from it all, effectively putting my life on hold until things are better.

Luckily, I know that’s not really the choice I want to make.  And I know that because whenever I push myself to “get back out there” and live my life just as fully as I safely can, I immediately feel better.  Grocery shopping these days can feel surreal, but when I discover they’ve finally restocked my favorite frozen pizza, the trip to the store seems so worth it.  While I can’t gather with my friends and family in large groups anymore, when we invite another couple over for drinks on our patio, I still have a good time.  And when I watch my son feed his new daughter, I feel nothing but happiness.

I’ve always had a nasty habit of waiting for my problems to go away so that I can begin to enjoy myself.  But the problems this pandemic has brought aren’t going away any time soon, nor are some very real personal issues my family is facing right now.  So I have to keep reminding myself that this is my life now, and that in spite of the challenges, there is still so very much to be treasured and enjoyed.  Because life is always for living, right here and right now.

Taking Control

I’m not the sort of person who courts controversy.  In fact, it’s usually something that I avoid at all costs.  No one can run away from an argument quicker than I can, and I  usually read people well enough to know what they do and do not want to hear me say.  Yes, there are times when I slip up and blurt out something that gives great offense.  But that’s usually when I’m talking to my husband or my kids, and can’t resist the urge to offer a bit of motherly or wifely advice that is most certainly not wanted.  In general, I’ve always had great confidence in my ability to avoid offending people or starting an unwanted argument.

Until recently, that is.

I first noticed the change when the Covid-19 virus showed up, followed by the shelter at home orders.  I quickly realized that sharing my opinion on the subject was a risky thing to do, even when I intended my words to be comforting or reassuring.  I also realized that there were times when my own nerves were so raw that I wasn’t willing or even able to silence my true opinion and offer up the words that someone else wanted to hear.  The time had come, it seemed, when sometimes silence was the best response I could give.

And when parts of our country began a gradual lifting of the quarantine restrictions, the situation only became worse.  People had very strong opinions on the subject, and understandably so.  What was harder to understand was the absolute intolerance that many people had for anyone who didn’t absolutely share their opinion.  Once again, silence seemed to be the safe response.

Then came the murder of George Floyd, which triggered the nation-wide protests that have been going on for the past couple of weeks.  The news and social media is full of images of peaceful protests, both large and small, as well as images of mob violence.  And of course everyone has an opinion about it all, which is normal.  Sadly, many people are also convinced that their own opinion and is the only proper one and that anyone who thinks differently deserves to be treated like garbage.

I’m not sure how we have come to this, but I am sure I don’t like it.  Our country is dealing with some very real and very hard issues right now, at a time when most everyone’s nerves are basically shot from being quarantined for weeks.  I get that it’s much easier to lash out at someone that to try, even for a second, to see things from someone else’s point of view.  But I also know that there’s only so much hate and nastiness that the world can take.

I don’t want to live in a world where I have to be afraid of people who are different from me.  I don’t want to hesitate before I push the “like” button on a Facebook post because I’m afraid someone who disagrees with that post might be upset.  I want to be considerate of other people’s feelings, but I don’t want to remain silent solely out of fear of the response I’ll get if I dare to say what I really think.

Which means I have, basically, two choices.  I can live in fear of offending people who are all too ready to be offended,  or I can find the courage to be my genuine self and risk being attacked for it.  And I’ve decided to go with the second choice.  Because if I want to live in a world where people really are allowed to be true to themselves, then I have to be willing to be true to myself first.