A friend has become a grandmother for the first time, but because of the pandemic, she cannot hold the baby. This inspired me to write the following letter:
Welcome, new one,
Many, many people on this wide and wondrous planet are so very glad that you are here. We aren’t able to be with you right now, to cradle you next to our hearts, to coo over your beautiful eyelashes, to count your precious fingers and toes, but our arms are aching to surround you with love. You see, you’ve come at a strange time.
Each of the billions of people who live on this one round ball we call Earth, is a separate, unique individual. Just like you, we all have strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges. Some of us love onions and others can’t stand rock and roll (truly). People communicate with each other in hundreds of different languages and sometimes we even understand each other. We wear different clothes and tell different stories about how the world came to be. We create miraculous things: music that makes people cry; films that make people laugh; machines that allow people to fly; medicine that helps people heal; rituals that bring people together; weapons that tear people apart; words that give people hope; even food that makes people feel loved. We feed one another when we understand there is plenty and, sadly, we fight one another when we think there is not enough. We have been trying, for a very long time, to make this place a paradise where everyone has what they need and can share the joy and beauty, but we haven’t succeeded yet. We know, in our hearts, that no one person can fix the world by herself and that each of us plays a necessary role. Including you.
But right now, the many complicated feelings that humans experience—that you will come to recognize and feel yourself—are overshadowed by a single big fear. We are all afraid of getting sick, and we fear making others sick. We know that we will all die one day, that we aren’t brought here to live on this planet, in this reality, forever. But we hope that when we leave, we will do so with the people we love standing watch and without a lot of pain to distract us from saying goodbye. The sickness we are afraid of doesn’t allow that kind of dying. So we are afraid and strangely, our love for one another is keeping us apart. We know that if we come together and laugh together, dance together, hug each other, kiss, we can give the illness a chance to get into our bodies. It is a cruel disease because it makes us lonely.
We want to be with you right now, but the disease won’t let us. So, I’m writing you this letter and hoping that one day my words will act a little like a lullaby that makes you feel loved.
Welcome to our world, little one. There are miracles ahead and there is beauty.
Back on March 17 I started a practice of writing a brief statement of gratitude for something in my life that, under what we used to think of as ‘normal circumstances,’ I would have taken for granted or even possibly resented. For a few weeks I posted one of these mini-essays every morning and I found the process calming to my own sense of anxiety. I got a lot of feedback from those who read them telling me they felt calmed as well. At some point in this long strange slog I began spreading out the posts; I’d skip a day here and there when something in my life snuck up on me and stole my morning attention. Eventually I found myself working on other projects, writing other things, even teaching a writing class. I’d been feeling guilty about letting my practice lapse until this morning when something dawned on me: I’m back in the flow. After writing 30 gratitude posts, it’s not that I’ve run out of things that I am grateful for—in fact, every day I am aware of more and more aspects of life I appreciate and am blessed by. No, what’s happened is that the practice of writing daily gratitudes accomplished exactly what I’d intended it to do: it steered me away from the brink of fear and out of the swirling eddy of anxiety and headed me right back into the flow of life. I will continue to post observations and appreciations on my blog, but it won’t happen on a daily basis. My life, my writing life especially, has started to bubble with new projects and head in new directions, and for that, my gratitude is immense. The truth is I am a relatively slow writer, and this crisis has made me more aware than ever of the limited time I have to get words on paper. I am grateful to all of you for reading and responding to what I’ve posted. I am honored to know that some of my words have enhanced a place of calm in you. I look forward to hearing from you all as our world blooms into whatever new form it will take. And I am hopeful that that new form will be tempered with gratitude
I took my ebike out for a ride this morning and saw a few neighbors who were walking their dogs or pulling weeds in their gardens. Not about to pass up the treat of interacting with people in person, I stopped my bike to chat, all of us maintaining a safe distance from one another. It’s been a long, strange period and like me, you may well be getting tired of isolating from one another. I felt this fatigue acutely this past week when a friend died, not from coronavirus and not unexpectedly (she’d been fighting cancer for a long time), but dealing with the loss while socially distancing was particularly hard. As I yearned for a break from this necessary separation so that her community could grieve together, I realized that life in all its stages has not stopped during this time; people are dying of all sorts of causes and babies are being born. Couples are marrying, albeit without the fanfare of a well-attended wedding, and I’m certain others are divorcing. Many of us have discovered new pleasures and others have grown weary of old habits. As our hair has grown long, kids have learned to read and babies have learned to walk. Some of us, like my friend in Mexico, have heard the cicadas sing for the first time. Others walk empty streets and hear their own footsteps. Some are learning to bake bread and play the guitar. And some are watching a lot of movies and reading some great books. Life is happening. What we are missing are those opportunities we took for granted—the multiple times a day we were witness to others’ successes and stumbles, and the frequent, random interactions we shared. Being surrounded by other people going about their lives gives us a perspective on our own lives. Social media, Zoom, FaceTime and other technological threads are valuable channels for following one another’s lives. I’m thankful to be able to read about the changes happening in my friends’ lives and to see one another’s faces on screen and even talk in real time. But as life goes on, I surely do relish the randomness of a chance meeting with my neighbors.
When officials here in Washington State first suggested we 'elderly' stay at home during this time of pandemic, I began a new practice to keep my mind from going into areas where anxiety reigns. Every day I try to focus gratitude on something I usually ignore or even resent.