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Awaiting

Last Monday, Memorial Day, my mind was fixated on the asylum case I would present two days later — my first. It had been a rush of chutzpah three years earlier that brought me to this moment. In the face of the ubiquitous misery at the border in 2018, I had had the urge to do something. I discovered a local non-profit law firm that was training volunteer lawyers to take asylum cases they had vetted but did not have enough staff to handle. Although daunting, I figured that if they believed a lawyer like me, who had never done a trial and knew next to nothing about immigration law was up to the task, who was I to disagree? Their rationale was “it’s better than nothing,” and now the fate of a family was riding on that calculation.

Getting started, we had focused on the tasks at hand. We signed the the forms that said I was their pro bono lawyer, met for interviews, drafted their experiences into declarations fitting the framework of asylum law, and submitted the proper forms, all along squelching my fear and doubt about my ability to ably represent them in court the following summer, and trying to project confidence for their benefit.

Three months before their scheduled court date, it was postponed nearly two years to the spring of 2021. My heart sank — where some might expect them to welcome a delay, they longed for certainty. And we felt they had a winnable case. I consulted with my young mentor, who advised that the law could change in two year’s time, so I should table further work on the case until we were closer to the new hearing date. But the case and the family remained on my mind, my nerves building at low volume.

When it was finally time to resume our preparations, the case was postponed again, but this time only three months, to the summer of 2021. We got to work. I would need to write a brief explaining why their situation merited relief under the law, and prepare them to testify.

The closer we got to the court date, the higher my anxiety. I consulted my ever-patient mentor, now approaching a maternity leave, with frequent questions. As I worked on the brief, which would also be the basis for an appeal if we should lose (no pressure), I woke up every morning thinking about it, consumed with the fear of failing. The only thing that resolved my fretting over the brief was filing it. It was not perfect, but it was out of my hands.

Now it was time to prepare my clients to testify. I recalled that when our foster daughter had been preparing for her asylum case, her lawyers had scheduled several meetings to practice. I decided to do the same, though I was not sure exactly what to do during those meetings. Over zoom or facetime, we reviewed the questions I would ask them in court about the death threats to them and their children, the attacks and ambushes, their terror. I felt a rock in my stomach all day in anticipation of our afternoon and evening calls. Yet my burden was a grain of sand compared to what they carried, having to articulate their harrowing reasons for fleeing home fresh on their lips.

I had harbored a fantasy that when the government lawyer read my brief about their plight they would think, “Wow! Let them in! Request for asylum unopposed!” Of course, when I finally received the government attorney’s reply to my entreaties to discuss the case, her tone told me how naïve my hope had been. There would be a contested trial. I would have to go through with this.

Which brings us back to Memorial Day. The blooming spring and vaccine-engendered freedom inspired us to invite my parents, sister, niece and cousin for a small backyard barbeque. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs and played ping pong, exquisite activities after a year of quiet isolation. It helped to distract me from thinking about the last nervous day of what had become a three-year countdown to the asylum hearing.

I did not sleep well the night before the hearing. I stayed up late preparing, and in the morning my eyes popped open so early that I had time to do yoga breathing to settle myself down before leaving for court.

I checked the traffic app and left in time to arrive thirty minutes early. (To those who have known me long and well, this fact alone says everything about my mental state.) The months of worrying had motivated extreme preparation. I had arranged binders with evidence, briefs, relevant cases, direct testimony questions, and closing argument summary in my briefcase the night before. I had taken my one suit out of the closet and tried on my shoes to make sure everything still fit. I had identified a parking lot by the court and sent its address to my clients. I had transformed as many unknowns into knowns as I could think of.

Driving to the court, I recited aloud every question I wanted to ask my clients. I found a few better ways of asking them. I warmed up my voice and brain. This added to my sense of readiness. The time was here.

In front of the court, I waited for my clients to appear, impossible to imagine the nervousness they must be feeling. The stress of everything riding on this day. I cast my eyes toward the direction of the parking lot and saw a group that could be them, dressed as if for church. The children had to miss school, the parents had to miss work, but today was their moment, their chance to prove to a judge that they deserved the safety of America.

Before we entered the building, they asked me to take their picture. The kids protested, as kids do, but I agreed with the parents: This could be a day to remember in their family’s history. If everything went well.

Through security, up the elevator together, all with masks on, even the youngest, now five years old. She kept saying she was afraid of getting a vaccine and rubbing her arm; she thought this was a hospital and smiled with relief when I told her there were no doctors here. The eldest daughter would graduate from high school later that week. A party was planned for Friday. We hoped it would be a double celebration.

We were early enough that the courtroom door was locked. We waited. When it opened, I entered the well of the courtroom and took a seat at what I hoped was the correct table for the petitioner’s lawyer. I arranged my notebooks, laptop, and a yellow legal pad on the table within reach. The judge emerged, took her seat, and glanced at us before dialing into a “court call” system on a speaker phone. Here we go. She announced her presence, and asked who else was on the call. The government’s lawyer and the interpreter had both chosen to appear by phone, as Covid rules permitted. We wanted to be there in person. I wanted the judge to see this family. I wanted them to see me, to be able to reassure them as we proceeded. I wanted to be present in case of the unexpected.

I had not noticed two other people seated in the back of the courtroom, another lawyer and immigrant also expecting to present their case. The judge announced that she would proceed with his case first. He had been waiting for thirteen years.

So I piled up my notebooks and computer in one arm, and pulled my briefcase behind me into the hall with the other. My clients followed. Maybe his case would be quick, since it was only one person. Maybe we could start in an hour or two. Maybe we could continue after lunch. I was confident we would proceed.

An hour passed. I reviewed my questions and closing argument. Another hour passed. I gave the youngest child a pen and paper to draw with. One of her older siblings showed me some anime drawings she had done. “You could sell these,” I told her, and showed her Etsy. “I’m bored,” the five-year-old said, then danced down the hall.

At 10:30 a.m., the door to the courtroom opened, and the other lawyer waved to me, and then toward the courtroom. My presence was required.

I pulled my belongings in with me.

“Ms Diamond, we are not going to have time for your clients’ case today.”

The judge’s words hung in the air between us like a mist, despite the clear plastic partition that separated us. I did not speak, as if she might retract them if I did not acknowledge them. The one thing I had not prepared for.

The sinking feeling of not being able to control your destiny. The bargaining began – I asked, what if we stayed until afternoon? There was another case scheduled. What if they do not show up? The judge seemed to entertain this possibility, but the government’s lawyer’s disembodied voice on the speakerphone objected; there was a different government attorney for the afternoon calendar who was not prepared to oppose this case. The judge agreed; we would not proceed today.

The judge was kind, not gruff. She offered us the next closest day, five months away. Thanksgiving. She has another case scheduled that day, but only one, and our case is older so we will have priority. Someone else will be bumped.

I told my clients we would have to wait. Disbelief, then disappointment, then resignation. Making peace with what is. Later that afternoon when I checked in with them, I sensed that their voices were already lighter. Accepting the situation better than I could. Maybe it helped that this delay means there will be fewer unknowns when we return. Now they have seen the judge’s face, and the quality of light inside the courtroom, the placement of the witness chair where they will sit and tell her what happened and what they hope for.

Driving home past the beach, I thought of each wave pulling a billion grains of sand, tossing and displacing and depositing them somewhere new with each pull. The waves have no malice. The grains of sand no resentment. And this family, already displaced from where they had expected their lives to unfold, understands more than I do about adjusting expectations, flowing with the tide. I try to take my cue from them. We mark our calendars and take a breather. My body craves sleep. It will be days before the adrenaline drains from my body, before my breathing resets to normal.

Keepsakes

When a bedroom became my home office, I chose the things I wanted around me. A framed black and white photo of a pier. Books on writing, memoirs, poetry, and journals. A particular copy of The Giving Tree. This book remained precious even after a Women’s Studies classmate destroyed the ending for me (it really is terrible — give your whole self away…and happily!). This Giving Tree represents something else.

At sixteen, I went to a summer high school theater and dance program at Northwestern University for six weeks. Six weeks that felt, at first, like forever. Homesick for my friends and family and California. Exhausted from hours of dancing every day. Not sure how to insert myself into the social life that everyone else seemed to know how to do. Not sure anyone would want me to. One night, pressing back tears, I told a dance teacher that all I wanted to do was sleep, but thought I should go downstairs where everyone else was hanging out. He encouraged the latter instinct. “Yes. Go down there.”

I did, certain it would be horrible. That no one would say hello. That all friendships had been formed. I knew how this worked; there would be cool kids and outsiders, and I was never in the cool kid group. Down the stairwell of Allison Hall, unairconditioned in the Midwest humidity, I could hear the hubbub and laughter and energy of the theater kids splayed out all over each other on the lounge sofas. I pictured entering and no head turning. Or worse, heads turning, and then turning back. I walked through the wide opening to this lounge, and stood still. Then I heard my name called from someone sitting in the middle of everything. There was room.

Every day we had “movement for actors,” where we learned to salute the sun and mean it. We felt a connection to something bigger, something remembered and still reachable from childhood. We could be open and unafraid and unembarrassed and unencumbered. One morning, our teacher turned on the Talking Heads at high volume and let us go, and we danced like wild things, playful and with abandon. That album still opens that space in me.

The day before we were to go home, our teachers woke us early and told us to come downstairs, no questions. This was a time before cell phones (let us recall with gratitude), and a space of trust and connection had been built. We moved down the stairwells and followed them to a green space. In groups of ten or so, we stood in circles centered around a sapling and a shovel. We shared how we had grown over these six weeks, then planted our tree and blessed it with our intentions.

Then, we each received The Giving Tree, personalized and signed by every adult who had nurtured and watered us over these weeks. They had stayed up all night signing every book. They told a 16-year-old girl who was not the best dancer in her group — not by far — what made me special, that I gave my heart when I danced and that it had moved them. One signature stayed with me most, a blessing and an admonition from the same dance teacher who had nudged me to go downstairs that night: “Your artistry shone brightly here. Don’t ever hide it.”

I pick up this book every few years, read what my teachers wrote and wonder if I am living up to it. Some years more than others, they have reminded me that I am more than the family grocery-shopper and appointment maker. I am that sixteen year old who felt the sun on her face and stretched her arms out wide without a sense of cynicism or shame, and danced in a space free of judging myself or others. It reminds me of the power of rituals and words, and the way a few generous words can send a young person into a future with a sense of their power, the impact they have on others, and what they can aspire to. That the right words can remain a touchstone decades into the future. We all have an artistry — whether it is dancing, or writing, or making someone laugh, or baking a cake, or tucking in a child, or caring for a parent. Whatever yours is, may my teacher’s words be my gift to you today: Your artistry shines brightly. Don’t ever hide it.

Confidence

“Confidence is so overrated.”

I am on a zoom gathering of women writers that a guardian angel put in my path in late December or January. The group had been showing up daily since the second week of the pandemic shutdown last March. The idea was to begin their workday with camaraderie and accountability, to counter the isolation of the shutdown, to say “This is what I am working on today” and regroup a couple hours later to report on their progress (even if what is reported is a nap, a walk, a kid’s orthodontist appointment). They welcomed me — a stranger — with astonishingly seamless grace.

I come back week after week because writing takes cheerleaders. And mentors. And role models. I come back week after week to speak into existence a book that has been in process for years, and may be unseen for many more, if not forever. To make it real, like an imaginary friend they can see, too. When I feel stuck or dejected, there are voices saying, “we get it,” “this too shall pass,” and “try this.”

During one check-in, a discussion of “confidence” bubbles up. It can be elusive when what you are working on is so speculative. When thousands of hours could come to nothing tangible.

“Confidence isn’t the driver for me,” one says. “The driver for me is I have to tell this story. It’s passion.”

“Passion beats confidence every time,” another agrees.

Another says, “I don’t think I’ve ever really had confidence, but more a feeling of faithfully knowing I was meant to do something…most of the time I had no idea what would happen at the end.”

Faithfully knowing. This rings some internal bell. Faithfully knowing is stronger than intuition or a hunch, which are sometimes all you get and good enough. It is what guides us as we create — whether an essay, a painting, a meal, a relationship, or a life.

The challenge is to get quiet enough to hear that inner knowledge, and have the faith in ourselves to follow it. Voices shout over it and block it out. Fear. Anxiety. Self-doubt. They are all my voice, saying “Get real” and “Who do I think I’m fooling?” I turn up the volume on my computer and listen to these writers share what they are working on, and get back to work.

Guardian angels

We spent the weekend visiting our son in Eugene, Oregon, who had invited us to get a glimpse of his college life and spend time with him and his friends. Although I am not a jewelry person, on a whim I put a bracelet on before we left for the airport.

The only other jewelry I wear are my wedding and engagement rings, and a necklace that was a college graduation gift from my grandparents, a simple gold chain with a heart. I did not wear it much when it was first given to me; it was too “little girly” and too showy at the same time. But years later, I wore it at our wedding, which was one day after my grandparents’ 61st anniversary. Their heart over my heart felt just right for that day, then back into the jewelry box.

But eighteen years later, when my grandmother was diagnosed with a tumor in her jaw, I put the necklace back on. It was a reflex, like it could protect me from the coming loss as I began to understand that soon she would not be at the other end of my phone call or sitting on her sofa when I entered her apartment. I kept it on after she died and have worn it almost every day these three and a half years later. When I do take it off, it goes in a particular place of safekeeping.

My grandmother, Lilli, kept a few guardian angel pins in a little wooden box on her coffee table. They had been gifts from my aunt, a nod to Lilli’s oft-proclaimed belief that she had a guardian angel watching over her, who made sure everything always worked out. She did not wear these pins, but to me they represented her magic, a reminder of her world view. After she died, I asked if I could keep them, and they stayed together in their box on a table in my house.

I decided to pin one to my sweater when I accompanied my sister, mom and niece to help my niece move into her dorm room for her first year of college in St. Louis a few years ago. It was an emotional and busy weekend, and when it was time to leave, I put on the sweater with the guardian angel, but it was not there. Had it fallen off? I looked for it everywhere. In every drawer, behind and under the furniture until there was no more time to look. We had a plane to catch. I asked the staff if they would be on the lookout for it. I left my phone number with the hotel management but knew that I would not get a call.

As we pulled away in the taxi for the St. Louis airport, I berated myself for my carelessness. But soon I felt a sudden shift, as if my own guardian angel had whispered to me, and I realized that I was leaving behind a totem to watch over my niece, as if it had hidden itself from me on purpose.

Guardian angels cannot be seen or touched. They cannot be pinned to cloth or kept in a box. They are a belief system. A choice to assign meaning to luck. A way of feeling less alone, less vulnerable.

Yesterday, an hour into our flight home from Eugene, having spent some meaningful time with our son and seeing his world, I realized that my wrist was naked. The bracelet I had put on at the last minute had gotten tight in the night. I would call the hotel when we got home, but in my heart I said goodbye to that delicate chain. The things that count are not things.

And maybe that little bracelet is another piece of me left behind, a totem of love that charges the northwest air just enough to send sustenance to my son when he needs a vibration of home, something he cannot touch but might sense.

This is what I will remember.

(Or maybe, someone will find it and at least put my absent-mindedness to good use. May they wear it in good health.)

Permission

I was admiring my friend’s paintings, beautiful watercolors and abstract oils, when I said that I like painting but they always look like a pre-schooler made them.

“Permission to suck!” she clapped, like a ship captain bestowing a freedom. In three words, she gave me the mantra I needed, one I wished I’d had when my kids were little and did not want to try some new sport, or skill, or fill-in-the-blank, because they weren’t any good at it.

It seems that it was not only my children who needed “Permission to Suck”– the freedom to be a rookie, a beginner, to find joy in something even if I am no good at it.

So in the spirit of this permission, here are more permissions I grant myself:

Permission to say what I think.

Permission to succeed according to my own definition.

Permission to be small, a drop in the ocean, a glint of sun. Permission to be vast.

Permission to feel sad, confused and adrift, and to take time to find my bearings.

Permission to lapse from confidence to self-doubt, and to remember that these are stages of the human and artistic process. Permission to take all the time it takes.

Permission to be contented in a world with so much pain, as long as I am not content with there being so much pain. Permission to skip reading, watching, or listening to the news as many days as I want.

Permission to take five deep breaths, and to let them out slowly, whenever I need. Permission not to argue.

Permission to enjoy chocolate and wine and my perfectly soft belly.

I give myself permission to follow many interests, even in a society that wants us to plant a flag and say “this is who I am” (meaning “this is what I do“), a culture that is uncomfortable with blurry lines and multiple pursuits.

May you give yourself permission to walk an untrod path, push back the overgrowth, get scratched, double back and try another way, using whatever tools are at hand, sometimes only faith that there will be a place to step.

Making a new path, circa 2010.

What have you done because you gave yourself permission to suck? What might you try if you did? What other permission do you give yourself and others?

Dangerous

I feel most alive when I’m doing something dangerous.

These words, spoken by my then-ten-year-old son, gave me pause. What dangerous feat did he have in mind? We were in the car on our way to Hebrew school, pretty much the antithesis of “thrill.” Maybe it was this juxtaposition that drew the thought from his mind to his breath. I believed him. In the time it took for the traffic light to change from red to green, I played out his future as a spy or sky-diver. I said a Mother’s Prayer to keep him safe.

Not me. I do not do something every day that scares me (no matter who may have said that is a goal to live by). I do things for pleasure. For obligation. And out of habit. But not to scare myself. Not even rollercoasters.

But today I am scared. I am on the precipice of my first asylum hearing as a pro bono lawyer, five weeks away. And I’m sweating.

How did I get here? Three years ago, in a fit of manic chutzpah, I volunteered to do this. What was I thinking? I had no experience in immigration law! No trial experience at all! But the country was in the thick of families being separated at the border – remember? – and I had to do something. I went to protests. I visited immigrant detention centers to do “chaplaincy visits” with women who had broken no laws but were locked up, mothers who had lost children and teenage girls who had fled abuse. It was rough, but I don’t know if we accomplished anything by sitting for an hour, talking or listening.

One young mom, Carolina from the Dominican Republic, had been locked up there for 14 months, her children home with her mother, and she needed a lawyer. That night, I told my family about her. My son (the thrill seeker) asked in genuine confusion, Aren’t you a lawyer? I said Not that kind, and thought of all the things I didn’t know about immigration and asylum law. But you ARE one, he persisted. It was so simple.

His plain observation got stuck in my head. So, just to see what was out there, I Googled “volunteer immigration lawyer.” Most non-profit law firms wisely took only experienced immigration attorneys, because it is a complicated field. But I discovered Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, which trains lawyers from other fields to do asylum and other immigration cases. The need for lawyers was too great to limit the pool, they reasoned; any lawyer was better than none. They trained me. They assigned me a case. I met my clients: mom, dad, and four sweet daughters from El Salvador. He had been a police officer; his and his family’s lives had been threatened. Shit got real.

After only a few months, the case got postponed for two years. It felt like a reprieve. While it lay fallow, I stuffed down the fear of knowing this family was in my inexperienced hands.

No more waiting now. Briefs are due this week. I wake up thinking about it, worried that I will miss something important. But their fears are bigger than mine, so I put on a face of confidence to reassure them. I work hard. I ask my mentors for help. I close my eyes and picture us rejoicing in victory in in the courtroom.

Why do we do scary things for thrills? Why do we seek out adrenaline rush as entertainment? And what did my ten-year-old know of this? Maybe we scare ourselves to test our own courage, to build the muscles we need for facing the un-fun fears of life: The uncomfortable but necessary conversation. The honest self-reflection. The mid-life career change. The possibly unrequited proclamation of love. The possibility of falling on your face in public. The not knowing what comes next.

“Manifest,” some would say, so here goes: In five weeks, may the relief of winning asylum be so great that this family finds a measure of healing, and so thrilling that I want to do it again.

Weeds

Weeds push out between the stones lining the path to our front door. When they reach a critical mass, so shabby and untidy that even my eyes cannot pretend not to notice, I renew my campaign to eradicate them. I sit on the path cross-legged and armed with a screwdriver, podcasts and overheard conversations of passersby for company. One hour at a time, day after day, I chip away at the task from sidewalk to door. Oh, the satisfaction of seeing measurable results.

“Satisfaction of seeing measurable results” is the antithesis of my writing of late – and by “writing” I mean revising. Where Elmore Leonard claimed to have “just left the boring parts out,” I struggle to identify which passages need elimination.

If only the weed-words in my manuscript called attention to themselves the way these weeds stand out against the stones. I need only look for green and pull — the editing equivalent of deleting adverbs. (Or, as Mark Twain advised, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”)

I have avoided the more challenging weeds in my backyard, the ones that bloom alongside the roots of lavender and lilies, and braid with their stems. It takes patience, and digging beneath the soil, twisting them around my dirty fingers, to pull them out by their roots. I never get them all, and I pull out parts of the plant, too.

As I pinch and extract small shoots with roots as fine as baby hair, I find myself hoping that by some magic these hours will transform into an ability to do the same with words: to recognize what does not serve the story and will suffocate its beauty if left there, and to have the confidence to yank it out, no mercy.

As the pace of our lives Before Pandemic begins to bloom again, before extraneous pastimes take root, we can ask, does it bring meaning and serve beauty?, and landing on an answer, confidently weed away.

Integrity

It’s in my arm! My second shot! You will forgive me if I write nothing today, and I will forgive you for thinking that maybe I should have written nothing today.

I wonder if I’m feeling vaccine-hazy, or just plain lazy. I wonder if my body aches because it is building immunity or because I’ve been lying in bed without moving for so long. I wonder if that slight wooziness that made me bend my head to my knees to keep from fainting earlier this morning were the antibodies at work or because we were talking about needles.

Needles! My childhood nemesis. After years of the pediatrician having to chase me around the exam room to vaccinate me, my mom made an appointment with a hypnotherapist to help me get over my fear. When I described to him that it was the idea of a sharp, metal, foreign object penetrating beneath my skin that gave me the willies, he gave that feeling a name: “Body integrity.” He said that I had an underlying sense that everything was where it was supposed to be and should not be messed with. My skin had a job to do — keep the inside stuff on the inside, and the outside stuff on the outside. Luckily, he succeeded in making me more comfortable with those intrusive jabs that would preserve the integrity of the rest of me.

Just getting some reassurance that it will be over quickly!

What of the other kinds of integrity? Maria Shriver, in her “Sunday Paper” newsletter yesterday, speaks of living from a place of integrity.

“Integrity is a deeply powerful concept….[B]eing intact: to be one thing whole and undivided. Who doesn’t want to live from that whole place? If you make choices and decisions from that place, you might find yourself on a path you never imagined. You might find yourself in a place you never dreamed of. If you keep making small choices from that place, it will lead you to dreams you never envisioned and places you never anticipated.”

Living with that kind of intention can bring us to push outside of the labels we choose to define ourselves. She writes, “I’ve come to learn that labels limit us. They keep our lives narrow and contained. It’s hard to be a multitude of things when the world seems to be demanding that you describe yourself as only one thing and then do just that one thing. I urge you to not allow that box to contain you, because if you lose that job, that role, or that label, you will find yourself not just wondering who you are, but what you are capable of being.”

I recognize myself in those words, and maybe you do, too? As hard as the journey to redefine yourself can be, the first job is realizing that you have endless possibilities.

As for me, my authentic choice right now is to fluff my pillows and watch something binge-worthy.

To your health, happiness, and wholeness.

The post-birthday, post-vaccination kit gift — Tylenol, extra band-aid, plain crackers, lozenges, and the extra mask and hand sanitizer, because you can’t be too careful!

More Pandemic Life, and Light, One Year Later

Last Passover I thought the Jews might break the internet. I did not yet know that this “Zoom” thing could handle our bandwidth. Miraculously, it could and did. Some fifty relatives waved at each other from our own homes, believing surely we would be together this year.

That was not to pass. Rather than resume our pre-pandemic mass gathering, our familial organism divided into smaller cells spread across counties and states. Even so, I felt a real liberation from the narrow places of last year: for the first time in a year I was sitting with my parents inside their house, eating at their dining room table, maskless, and vaccinated. We chose to open a laptop to Zoom as our rabbi led a Seder from her home and we joined a congregational family of hundreds. She closed the Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem,” and we affirmed, “next year in Tarzana.” Even this felt like a step forward.

More signs of light? For my 2020 birthday, one month into the shutdown, my friend left a very special gift on my porch, rang the doorbell, then hightailed it to the safety of her car.

My birthday month has come around again, and last night we walked to this friend’s house, rang her doorbell and did not back up but stayed on her welcome mat. Five of us went up to the roof in time to see the sunset, and toast how far we have come; the world isn’t talking about where to source toilet paper, but vaccines! Earlier in the day, I had told my son that I sensed a light coming — though I hedged, acknowledging that my feelings could change in a day or an hour. Last night on that roof, with darkness settling over us, Christopher summarized the sentiment of the moment, saying, “I don’t know what comes next.”

We have never known what comes next. The last year has taught us that. I hold at bay the knowledge that anything could happen still, a fourth wave might crash over us and wipe out plans for summer or even fall. And it might not. I focus on the light streaming through my window right this moment, as real as anything.

Pandemic Life – One Year Later

A year and a week ago, when I wrote the post below, I thought the quarantine would last four weeks — six tops. All we needed was for everyone to stay home and the virus would extinguish itself. Easy peasy.

Maybe that naivete explains my irritating cheeriness — Kids home! Creativity! Bright spots! Where in this post is my terror at going to the market? Where is me spreading newspaper on the table before putting the grocery bags down, wiping down the milk cartons, soaping up my apples, and yelling at my family for not being as stressed out as me? I pinballed between every emotion — maybe these conscious efforts at gratitude were simply to quell the fear.

A year has passed. The world has suffered. We have collectively lost so much. Also, we have adapted. We have gained perspective, and down time, and (need I say it) some weight. But even as vaccines are being administered, my fear has grown like a callus; it will be a challenge to exfoliate. I may never completely excise it.

Now, for nostagia’s sake, I give you a slice of life from the beginning of the pandemic, with my annotations and apologies.


Hello friends,

I am one week into my hardcore understanding that “social distance” means do not breathe on anyone with whom I do not live. Maybe you’ve just arrived at that understanding right this second, or maybe you’ve been there longer. For me, it’s about a week, the same week since our freshman came home from college, and our 9th grader’s school closed its doors. My kids do miss their friends. But they love their grandparents, so they get the point and (mostly) do not complain about these extreme measures. To paraphrase my friend Monica, it’s only extreme if you’re willing to cull the elderly and the immune-compromised population.

Let’s move on to the bright spots.

1. Exercise with my kids. I credit my kids’ boredom for two milestone events: (1) Aaron said yes to a sunset walk with me yesterday, and (2) Emmett joined me for a 20 minute yoga video this morning. (We did Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube, it’s free. Adrienne is calming, not “precious,” and can start very slowly for beginners. Or try your local yoga studio and pay them so they can pay their teachers.)

  • 3/29/21 Annotation: That was before everyone else also did Yoga with Adrienne. It was also the last time Emmett joined me for yoga.

2. Create. Writing to you now. Working on my work in progress. Planning a virtual book club for our community for Palisades Reads 2020. And made a dance video for pre-schoolers.

  • 3/29/21 Annotation: I’m still working on my work in progress. And I’m still wondering if it will ever see the light of day. I repeat Mary Oliver’s poetry for comfort: “Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.

3. Connect. Zoomed coffee with friends. Zoomed with a gaggle of cousins.

Am hoping for a Zoom dance party, game night and, of course, a Zoom Seder. Will teach my mom to Zoom today. And I old-school called my cousin I haven’t seen in too long.

  • 3/29/21 Annotations: I tried Zoom dance and it made me cry, how it paled compared to the real thing.
  • I would have throttled you with my bare hands if you’d told me last year that we’d be celebrating a second Zoom Passover.
  • At least, as my cousin Greg pointed out, this year’s Zoom Seder didn’t require thirty minutes to get everyone logged in.

4. My Zen moment of the week: Watching my friend feed his baby on Facebook Live.

  • 3/29/21 Annotation: This video holds up without any commentary.

May you continue to be well, to love the ones you’re with, and to love the whole wide world. If there is anything we have been reminded of this year is that we are all connected, and that our choices have ripple effects around the world.