I am dreaming that someone is driving our RV while we sleep. This concerns me because it isn’t supposed to be driven with beds open. I wake to realize that the sound of the engine… More
I wake up in Rocky Mountain National Park on a queen size bed inside an RV that my family has christened “Big Bessie.” It is an apt name; it feels enormous, as far as things you can drive on a freeway go.
I peer behind the vinyl blind that hangs on the bias over the small rectangle of window. My heart cracks into a smile: trees, mountains, sky. The weather has held. We will hike after all.
Outside of my view but within earshot, a drama plays out in the front of our camper. Unlike our campsite at Zion National Park on night 1, this site at Glacier Basin campground has no electricity hookup to power our appliances — so no A/C, no microwave, no electrical outlets. We have a generator that could power these items, but generators are not permitted in the Glacier Basin campsite.
I, for one, am okay with this enforced quiet.
But for Christopher, who is realizing that he cannot turn on our coffeemaker, this is turning into an apocalyptic moment. He thinks I am still sleeping, and I hear him ask the boys, rhetorically I am sure, “Do you think I should turn on the generator?”
Without having had coffee, there is no saying what his judgment will be. Or, more accurately, there is exactly saying what his judgment will be. From back of the RV I call out, “Do NOT be the asshole who turns on his generator in the National Park!”
“That was a close one!” one of the boys says gleefully. “His finger was right on the button!”
“Everyone would understand if I explained it was for my coffeemaker,” Christopher contends.
“Are you kidding? Look around.” This peaceful campsite mostly comprises families in tents. We are the behemoth on the block. “Do you think they have electric coffeemakers in their tents?” My voice is sharp, to cut through his pre-coffee fog. “Just boil water,” I instruct. (We do have a propane stove that works without electricity) “And pour it over the grounds.”
He listens. The method is a bit messy, but adequately caffeinating, and we avoid being “those people.” Now we can move forward. The morning keeps improving — fresh banana pancakes, and a four-mile hike to Sprague Lake, and Boulder Brook and a loop back to the camp.
Emmett crosses the creek stepping over wet rocks, and Aaron and Christopher follow. I hesitate. As a kid I used to rock-hop with abandon. Being the mom has changed that.
“Today is my favorite day,” I repeat (too often) as we hike. But it is. The clear air. My body moving after days of sitting. The epic views. Aaron and Emmett are good sports, passing the time engaged in a made up game involving the drafting of basketball teams.
Once we are back at the campsite, the kids are ready to leave. Aaron is eager to have dinner with a college friend who lives near Boulder (the reason he agreed to this trip in the first place), and both boys are eager to return to the Xbox. I push back against their pleas; we have time to pause a bit longer in this place of immense beauty before resuming the constant motion. “Don’t rush me.”
I tell them my plan: I will make us lunch, and then I will take another hour to sit in my camp chair to read, and write, and snooze — three must-dos. The boys wonder what there is for them to do here for a whole hour. I generally try not to spend too much time on regret, but in this moment I deeply regret not having taken them camping more when they were little, teaching them how to chill, to enjoy doing nothing.
After we eat, I park myself in that chair with my book, my journal, and a pen. They throw a football in the meadow.
And then, reluctantly, I leave We stop in Boulder and walk on Pearl Street, and over to the University of Colorado. When the rain starts again, my boys tell me to keep going, it’s just a little water — maybe they have learned something about chilling.
Then we drive to a restaurant where Aaron will meet a friend from college, in a mall outside of Boulder — which could be Irvine, or San Mateo, or Van Nuys, or anywhere else in America with a BJ’s Brewhouse. (And this is where I confess that the first restaurant I have patronized for dine-in service since March is BJ’s Brewhouse in Broomfield, Colorado. I never saw that coming.)
After dinner, Aaron and his friend part ways with renewed smiles. This reprieve from so much family time is a down payment on the moment they will return to their college town and resume the life they left before Spring break and stay-home orders.
It is time to move on to where we will sleep tonight, a KOA (Kampground of America) in eastern Colorado. As we head east and the land gets flatter and the landscape becomes rural, we drive under an overpass where Trump 2020 signs hold sway. Ahead of us, the sky is washed in ominous gray; maybe more rain will come. We find the KOA and, under cover of night, we take our place between RVs parked row after row, in earshot of the highway. We feel like conspicuous outsiders who anyone could peg for city slickers. This place has all the “amenities” — electricity, a hookup to the city water line, and places to dump what you’ve been carrying and no longer need. As Christopher plugs us into the grid and I scratch my head at why people choose this KOA over the national park nearby, I know at least that there will be unfettered coffee-making come morning. And maybe that answers my question.
As we make our way from Utah to Colorado, we stop at a “View Site” — our bow to sight-seeing on an otherwise forward-motion-progress type of journey. (There is always enough tie to take a photo staged to make a grandmother nervous.)
We have a little more than an hour to go before we arrive at our cousins’ townhouse in Avon, Colorado. They won’t be there, but they’ve allowed us to take refuge there on this, our second night. This may turn out to be a strategic mistake; we may never leave.
The Colorado River glides beside us, going the opposite direction. An idle train adorns the hillside. I am reading The Liar’s Club in the passenger seat while Christopher does the bulk of the eight hour drive today, our longest day. I look down at a section of river that is brown and looks almost still.
“I’m so happy there’s basketball,” Aaron says from the back, looking up from his computer screen with a look of relief and joy. He is watching the third NBA game of the day, on the first day of NBA basketball since it ran off a cliff in March.
As we approach Avon, we call a local restaurant to order takeout, then pick it up (with masks and gloves and six-feet distance). We eat, shower, and get into real beds, and before I fall asleep I say a prayer of petition: Please God don’t let our RV tip over.
The next morning, the RV is still upright, despite the angle of the ground it is parked on. Such relief. Emmett is lying on the long soft cozy couch in the living room wearing clean clothes and feeling reborn after a shower, sunken into it like he will never leave. He is looking at his phone. “I’m just saying, if we move to Pennsylvania, with a permit we could legally own a kangaroo.”
“I’m not hating it as much as I thought,” Aaron says to a friend on the phone. “My parents are sitting up front so I don’t have to listen to what they are saying, and Emmett and I are playing Xbox for hours.” I’m happy he’s enjoying himself.
When it is time to leave, I get on the listing RV and let Christopher and the boys direct me to safety, with only the necessary amount of stressed shouting. Then we manage up passes and down again, cresting at 10,000 feet. The evergreen coated peaks are like Titans commanding the world below.
And then the downpour begins. It does not look like it will let up. We worry that Siri is pranking us with every new turn, that makes this drive longer than expected. I am building up a head of sorrow over the fact that we are still driving, curving, meandering, ascending, going out of our way to get to Rocky Mountain National Park, only to get rained out. “I am not used to feeling disappointed,” I say. “I don’t like it.” I am willing to sound spoiled or petulant because I’m confessing this to Christopher and he already knows this about me.
The rain is still coming down when we arrive. Christopher sets up the blue canopy we brought to protect us from too much sun, and our camp chairs underneath. We gather and sit and wait as rain falls around us. I hear a child at a nearby campsite shout, “There’s a double rainbow!” I can’t see it from where I am. I have to get up and move. And there it is.
The rain runs its course. In front of us is a vast meadow, clear across to the mountains. With the COVID restrictions on reservations, there are few other campers in our view. The mountains are dwarfed by thick white-gray clouds, with a few small blue spots of sky piercing it, like tiny jigsaw pieces of cloud are missing. The mountain breeze is steady and gentle, like a grandma’s kiss goodnight.
It is too late for a hike; that will be tomorrow morning. We make dinner and eat as the sun sets.
After dinner, Christopher teaches the boys how to build a fire, we roast marshmallows and make s’mores, and only now do I feel that we have officially begun.
I now have the peace of mind of knowing that driving the RV is not the scariest thing I’ve ever done. (What is the scariest thing? That is a solid writing prompt for another time.)
Pulling away from home was scary. I sat in the passenger seat and trusted Christopher to drive. (Even as I write these sentences I am aware that they are offering me metaphors rich enough to explore on their own.) Life is a highway. (Okay, that one was on purpose.)
I take out my notebook and pen and take notes of the dialogue, centered on getting used to the whole concept of an RV.
“Do you think this thing is actually going to brake going downhill?”
“Oh shit, I spilled.”
“This will be the best day of the trip, so have a good attitude.”
“Look kids, it’s the ocean!”
We slog through California’s freeways, waiting for America’s beauty to reveal itself. We have time.
I take notes on the scenery as we ascend the 15 toward Adelanto, recalling the first time I went to the ICE Detention Center. Christopher and I start a conceptual discussion of our next big idea, scheming to make the world in the image we would like it to be, where everyone has a fair chance. A billboard for “California’s Largest Gas Station!” captures our eyes with an image of a giant ice cream sundae. We see a confederate flag sticker on a pickup truck north of Vegas, and will later see a Black Lives Matters sign on a front yard tree in the town leading into Zion.
In Nevada, we stop to make sandwiches in the confines of our rolling home — sourdough toasted over the gas burner, with turkey, salami, cheese. I have forgotten the mayo, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem; Emmett asks if he can have the exact same sandwich tomorrow.
We switch drivers after Las Vegas (look out, America, I’m in charge now). The sky transforms from the color of cement to blue dotted with clouds, until finally, into the northwest corner of Arizona, the rocks start revealing their blush.
And then it’s as if all the beauty has been saving itself up for these hours, to drench the landscape in latent colors all at once — red rocks striped with charcoal layers and dotted with green trees rise up on either side of us, as we follow the path a river has cut into southern Utah.
And, voila! All the planning, the perusing of online black and white maps of campsites, the hoping the one-day drive here will be reasonable, leads us to the real life version of that map, our spot of earth for this night next to the burbling Virgin River, to Zion.
A snack, a walk (boys separate from parents — their choice), and then dinner. A moment to pat myself on the back for obsessing about what we will eat on this journey. I prepare plates of flatbread, butter lettuce, and microwave-warmed chicken shawarma I cooked last Saturday night, with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and yogurt sauce with fresh lime juice. (Reality check: by night 2 we order takeout.)
I take my stab at deep conversation, ready for eye rolls or grunts, and am met with contemplation and sharing of something deeper than our typical everyday chatter. This is everything. This is worth the price of admission.
There is a mild amount of shouting and groaning about how difficult it is to make an RV bed. There is bumping into each other and getting annoyed. And there is a knock on our door. A fellow camper letting us know that there is a rattlesnake outside our camp. “Don’t worry,” she says, and reports that they have taken matters into their hands and run over it with a car three times to kill it. It’s still alive, but one more roll ought to end things. WTF? We go outside to bear witness to the death throes of the poor reptile. And learn a serious lesson: Do not mess with RV’ers.
The boys go inside to play 2K (#roughingit), and Christopher and I take two camp chairs out to look at the stars (scanning first for avenging snakes). We forget that NEOWISE is in the sky, but see a couple of shooting stars, slap at a couple of flying ants, and take in the fact that we are actually here.
In the morning, after breakfast, we clean up, walk on a trail, let the kids have one more ride on the electric scooters the RV guy threw in, and resume our odyssey for what we hope will be our longest day behind the wheel. On to Colorado.
During a pandemic, what is the best way to visit your family across the country?
If it were just the two of you who are rolling up on 22 years of marriage, driving across the country with a tent could be sort of romantic. But it is also your sons — the one who had to finish his freshman year of college with you as his housemates and who blows a gasket at the suggestion of being trapped in a small car with you for a week; and your 16-year-old who thinks an RV sounds cool. And there is your own childhood RV fantasy that has never been quenched, and the undeniable tendency that you and your husband have to let big fantastical ideas bleed into magical thinking, and — lo and behold, abracadabra alakazam! — you are on the 15 freeway heading north through Barstow, with the Pacific Ocean a hundred miles behind you and 2600 more to go.
But back up to the preliminary question: During a pandemic, why would you visit your family across the country?
This was to be the week that we traveled to the San Juan Islands for Christopher’s mom’s big birthday. But his father passed away in February, and the world as we knew it ended. In March the whole world stopped, as if in tandem with our family’s personal pain, and like so many other families during this time, separated by a continent and a virus, we have not yet mourned together. Grief needs company.
And this is how you decide to haul yourselves and your necessities across the country.
Before the trip, you worry, you prepare, you set your intention for it to be good, and then forget that thought, and then remember again, and forget again. You predict that it will be total shit at times. You keep reminding yourself about bonus family time and starry nights.
Your husband drags from the garage the sleeping bags that have not been used since Mother’s Day 2015, and shakes them out to be purified in the sunlight. Your living room transforms. The tiles in front of the fireplace are covered by a growing pile that collects as you think of things. The kitchen items go in a bin — plates, forks, knives (the spoons must wait, because you don’t have enough to put four out of commission for a week); a table cloth for icky picnic tables; a mixing bowl; a spatula missing half its handle; a cracked plastic colander. The things you could live without if you have to ditch the whole enterprise by the side of the road. Another plastic container with paper towels, aluminum foil, ziplock bags, toilet paper. Benadryl, Neosporin, Bandaids, Tylenol, migraine medicine. A sealed wicker basket obscures marshmallows and three kinds of chocolate for taste testing s’mores. (That is your mother-in-law’s influence.) Granola bars and nuts. (That is your mother’s influence). Microwave popcorn and instant oatmeal. Five gallon jugs of water for backup. Diet coke for sleepy afternoons.
We have our sheets, our pillows, our blankets. We have the comet at night, and we have the highways in the day. We have each other.
And all the planning and worrying takes my mind off one certain moment: We will walk into the house at the end of the long driveway in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania; we will hear two dogs barking; and we will be greeted by Christopher’s mother and sister, but not Peter.
My husband and sons will not be wrapped in his arms. I will not feel his heartfelt hug, which always cut through the chasm of our politics, my left and his right, the hug that said ‘I see you for who you are and how deeply you love.’
We have a long way to go to cross the vastness of our country, its massive beauty and pain and contradictions and promise. I set the bar low: expect bumps and rattling noises and foul smells and white knuckle moments. And I set other bars high: stay curious, listen well, learn more of who my boys are becoming, stay present in the journey.
Here we go.
The current stop-the-world era prompts a lot of big feelings. Anxiety. Generosity. Even creativity. This is a time I do not wish to look back upon and regret spending too much time freaking out (a certain amount of freaking is required), and too little time creating and giving. It’s the latter two that have prompted the renewal of the “Writer’s Life” feature, to help readers and writers find each other.
What better time to introduce author Cathy Zane, whose generosity comes across in her tweets, and whose novel, Better Than This, will be featured for 99 cents on BookBub this week, beginning April 14. Meet Cathy:
1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?
As a parent, I learned to provide structure and discipline, but also to “go with the flow” and be flexible – and I think both of these apply to writing. “Seat in chair” is the structure for me – but I also pay attention to when I need to take a break, put the writing project on the shelf and come back to it later.
2. Where do you write? What do you love (or hate) about it?
I have two places that I write. The first is a small library/office that looks out on a wooded hill. It’s great when I feel like being “cocooned.” But when I need to feel more spaciousness, I write at my glass topped dining room table.
3. If you had a motto, what would it be?
Kindness first – or as I held it in my head as a child – “follow the Golden Rule.”
4. Who inspires you?
Nearly everyone – from great leaders to everyday people. I think it would be easier to answer what inspires me – and that would be acts of kindness, compassion and generosity.
5. Is there a charity or community service are you passionate about?
Literacy – the desire for everyone to have the opportunity to learn to read and have access to books and other reading materials.
6. What are you reading now?
Reading is my favorite thing to do – so the answer to this question changes nearly daily! I typically read at least a couple books a week, often in tandem. I just finished The Dali Lama’s Cat by David Michie (very relaxing and comforting book in these current challenging times!) and I’m nearly through The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle.
7. What is the most satisfying part about being an author? What do you least enjoy about being an author?
I love the process of writing – I lose time when I’m in that flow and it’s exciting to see where the characters will take me and where the story will go. I also feel gratified when readers express that my writing has been comforting or supportive to them in some way. The least enjoyable aspect for me is the marketing and self-promotion – which I know is common answer for many writers!
8. If you weren’t an author, what would you be?
Well, I’ve been a nurse and a therapist, but if I missed any “calling” in life, it would have been to be a teacher. I think teaching and guiding and supporting others has always been my core sense of purpose in life.
Cathy Zane is a former nurse and psychotherapist who draws on experience in both her careers, as well as in her own life, to create narratives of growth, healing, and empowerment. A lifelong reader, she believes in the power of fiction to comfort, inspire, and connect us to our shared humanity. Her award-winning novel, Better Than This, will be BookBub’s Featured eBook deal for $0.99 on April 14. Visit her at www.cathyzane.com
Well, 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 one 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 immune-compromised population.
Let’s move on to the bright spots. And do please continue to the end.
1. Exercise with my kids. I credit Boredom for two milestone events: First, Aaron said yes to a sunset walk with me yesterday, just us. Second, this morning, Emmett joined me for a 20 minute yoga video. (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.)
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. (Will share when that link goes live, my dears.)
3. Play. My friend created an obstacle course in her backyard. We went to the beach with a football (only among family!) and will steal that obstacle course idea.
4. Connect. Zoomed coffee with friends. Zoomed with a gaggle of cousins (and learned we need a moderator for such a large group.)
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.
And, now, your payoff: my most Zen moment of the week: Watching my friend feed his baby on Facebook Live.
Be well and love the ones you’re with.
Toilet paper rolls in the hall used as buffers against the rolling ping pong ball that is coming down the pike, aimed at the dominoes set up to fall. Toilet paper?! They are using toilet paper?!?! But I don’t get mad, because they are playing and laughing and together and happy for now, when what they really want is to be outside, or with friends. (And because these will be their rolls when they’re done.)
This is who we are now. “Five, four, three, two, one!” comes the countdown, and the ping pong ball comes sliding down the tape-measure-slide from the top of the stairs, and bouncing just shy of the dominoes again. “Nooo! Okay, Five, four, three, two, one.” Again. We’ve got nothing but time to get this right.
Is this for real? Are we doing this? I have to ask myself every time I remember why we are here.
I’m in the other room doing a yoga video on YouTube, Yoga with Adrienne. It’s only my second time doing this. She’s outside by a lake, and I’m on a mat in the living room, taking advantage of the dogs being out on a walk and not licking my face when I’m in downward dog, and I’m breathing, trying to breathe, trying to stretch and feel.
And trying not to feel — anxious and cooped up. Trying not to feel afraid. Also trying to feel afraid enough, because nothing looks different and yet we have to act as though everything is different.
I thought I had coronavirus the other day. I sneezed twice in the morning, and felt tired enough to stay home from the trip to the airport to pick up Aaron from college. “Better play it safe,” Christopher agreed. Be cautious, heed the advice, “if you’re not sure, stay home, stay home, stay home.” In bed in my bathrobe, under the blankets, maybe feeling a tad warm, but maybe that was from the blankets and the bathrobe? I coughed twice, and it was dry, and my worry deepened, but I applauded my decision to stay in bed. Aaron came home, and I heard his voice, “DOGGIES!” call out like a little boy, heard the dogs scramble to the front door, their nails sliding on the wood floors. This was the longest he’d ever been away from home, two months. Longer than the fall quarter, with its Parents Weekend and Thanksgiving break. I was afraid to hug him. Afraid that if I was sick, I would give it to him. I did not hug my son who came home from college. “Let’s just wait until tomorrow,” I said, “I’m sorry. I want to see if I’m sick. I don’t know.”
I don’t know. No one knows anything. “Asymptomatic” is our new vocabulary word – maybe you’re walking around with this disease, and maybe you’re not. Will I kill my parents just by looking at them?
The next morning, I woke up. Still alive, not sneezing, not coughing. I went downstairs in my warm bathrobe. The coffee was made and I poured myself a mug, thought about wiping down the carafe afterward, just in case. Aaron came downstairs in his pajama pants and a sweatshirt that said Humble. I smiled at him, said “I don’t have coronavirus,” and I wrapped my arms around his waist. He let me squeeze him tight. I squeezed the air right out of him.
The kids have taken a break from the dominoes project, and we all tiptoe around it in the hall. Even the dogs haven’t knocked it down. As I write, I can hear the voices of my family doing their activities. Maria is on her computer, saying “Wow” to one of her pre-school students. Emmett has his earbuds in, talking to a friend between online classes. Aaron is making the best of his Spring break, toggling between group chats with his college friends and an online game against his best friend, who is also locked in only a couple of miles away.
I feel sad for the kids with milestone years, the seniors in high school and in college — the athletes not getting to play their last seasons, the actors not getting to do their last musicals. In this stage of my life there is less loss. I work from home, I get to have the company of my kids, who are old enough to handle online school on their own (so feeling for this mom). I worry more than normal, but not more than the new normal.
Nothing is normal now. Maybe we’ll all become new people when this is done. Maybe my dad will take up skydiving. Maybe my mom will learn to knit. Maybe I will shave my head. I scoffed when I first read that Spain let the hair salons stay open, but now I get it. I see the grays increasing, not just roots, but everywhere, exponential, like the virus.
My parents ask who will drive the other crazy first. “Help, she’s keeping me hostage” my dad jokes, “call the police.” It takes us all a long time to compute that stay home means stay home. I hadn’t realized what pack animals we humans are. The sheer volume of things to cancel! Not just sports and concerts, but the meetings, the book clubs, the writing groups, the dance classes and walks and drinks and goings for coffee, the shiva. Our Cantor FaceTimes us to say Kaddish, and even in that setting, we cry.
We did Torah study online today. All of us, mostly older folks, figured out how to use computers to hear and see each other and our Rabbi. And what was today’s parshah about? Building sacred community, by bringing forth gifts from the heart. Exactly what we are figuring out to do now. Artists and musicians and dancers and yoga instructors and regular people giving from their hearts, posting music and jokes and even lunch with their baby. My friend Mary said it in my favorite way so far, and so I’ll leave you with this:
Nature is not canceled. Laughter is not canceled. Singing is not canceled. Writing is not canceled. Relationships are not canceled.
I add to that, building dominoes is not canceled. Fighting with your brother and wrestling and calling him “dumb@%%” is not canceled.
And dancing is not canceled. Virtual dance party anyone? Let me know. I’ll send the invitations. Black tie quite optional.
Well, hello, it’s been a while. How’s by you?
Helluva month it’s been. And by “month” I mean two days. Over the weekend, little by little, the dawning realization struck me — “social distancing” is a polite but ineffective way of saying “STAY THE F- AWAY.” It’s simple math, right? The chance of passing or catching a virus is zero if you have zero contact with other people. The more contacts, the higher the chance of contagion. Forget limiting gatherings to 250, or 50, or 10. “Approaching zero” finally has real life meaning.
Like many of us, I’ve been slow to catch on. We sent the kids to school last week, now they’re home; we allowed a couple friends to come over during the weekend, now we’re locked down, as these conversations from this morning illustrate:
“Can I go to Chick-Fil-A?” “No.”
“Can I go to Sammy’s house?” “No.”
“Can he come here?” “No.”
“Can I—?” “Can you vacuum? Why, yes you can!”
We have silver linings: Our pantry has never been more full! We have ice cream in the freezer! Two kinds! We read more, watch movies more, talk more, and cook more (all that food I bought before it goes bad). Chicken soup and turkey chili and teriyaki bowls, and other meals combining chicken and broth and rice and leftover chili (put it on chips, throw some cheese on it and it’s nachos!). Maybe, just maybe, if this lasts long enough, there will be arts and crafts.
We are lucky. For Christopher and me, who already work from home, little has changed, other than more time with our kids and a lot more hand washing. We walk the dogs, walk to the bluffs and look out at the ocean, and wave to neighbors (who now cross the street to avoid us). I work on writing projects and he learns code.
But. This is weird. And. It will not last forever (though some hours it may feel like it.) It can be lonely, especially if you do not have a house full of young adults. If the hermetic life does not suit you, or if you are going crazy being locked up with too many near and dear ones, reach out. Phone a friend. Connect over group chats, and WhatsApp, and Zoom. Try a yoga video (or see if your local yoga studio is livestreaming classes so they can pay their teachers) like these livestreamed dance classes. If you have K-6 kids, Scholastic offers this homeschool help for you.
And let’s aim to keep our patience, our kindness, and our sense of humor. To that end, here are two jokes from Laughfactory.com/jokes, one G-rated and one a little spicier:
“My friend thinks he is so smart. He told me an onion is the only food that makes you cry. So I threw a coconut at his face.” [that slays me!]
PG-rated (for language, or perhaps violence, if you are a member of PETA):
“A man kills a deer and takes it home to cook for dinner. Both he and his wife decide that they won’t tell the kids what kind of meat it is, but will give them a clue and let them guess. The dad said, ‘Well it’s what Mommy calls me sometimes.’ The little girl screamed to her brother, ‘Don’t eat it. Its an asshole!'”
Stay safe out there, people.
On the last day of the year, I sit to think about the gifts of the previous 365 days. Late December always lulls me into a sense of slowing toward closure, but then January appears with the same speedy progression as every other day, and I feel like I’m behind before things even get started.
This year I’m trying to be ready for January’s pace: I’ve got goals – finish a book by February (at least a solid second draft). Toggle back to law. You know, small things. I’m also reminding myself that it’s okay for plans not to work out on schedule.
And now, to the recap.
2019 held major milestones for our family.
- Two graduations – middle and high school. Two freshman – Pali High (Go Dolphins!) and U of Oregon (‘Sko Ducks!). Both boys are taller than us. They make me laugh, and they make me proud – in the way they encounter new people with kindness, and new ideas with curiosity. They love to watch and play and talk a lot about basketball and football. They sometimes play Sunday morning football with my dad, and have recruited friends to the game. Emmett started Junior Lifeguards this summer, and continues Jiu Jitsu. Aaron coached kids’ basketball teams at the park, coached basketball all summer at sleepaway camp, and coaches at the Eugene, Oregon YMCA. I still can not pay either of them enough to go to a museum.
- In a week we will mark five years since Maria moved in with our family. This year she completed her first year as a pre-school teacher, and began her second. She is beloved by every child who has had the pleasure of being in her class, and has fielded at least one marriage proposal from a four-year-old. She is a modern Mary Poppins. After teaching all day, she goes to college to work toward her degree.
- Christopher, in addition to brilliantly steering his educational software company into its second decade, is both the light and the rock of our whole family. He is the person called upon to fix all technical and mechanical issues (equally handy with a hard drive and a plunger), and who keeps everyone laughing and moving. In 2019, he hiked the Grand Canyon from north rim to south, with my cousin Mitch. This year they’re going to do it again, doubled.
- As for my 2019 highlights: I signed with my first literary agent, who sold the audiobook for my novel Shelter Us, which was the inaugural “Palisades Reads” selection. Wearing my lawyer hat, I represented young immigrants in their path to legal status in the U.S. and worked on a team enforcing a consent decree protecting detained immigrant youth. In the early morning of the day my son graduated from high school, I secured the release of a grieving mom from immigrant detention. That was a very good day. In September, I left my job to concentrate on completing a book, and to spend more time with my boys as they transitioned to new stages. I’m considering how to make the world better in 2020. Voting rights, immigrant rights…ideas welcome.
Our family started the year with a beautiful trip to Costa Rica with the Heisens, and in summer had an awesome vacation in Wyoming with the Diamonds (where we took the photos below). We close the year with the Heisens in Washington Crossing (where we do not discuss politics, no matter how our boys try to goad us).
Tomorrow, on the first day of 2020, we will watch the sun rise in the East, through the plexiglass window of a NJ Transit train bound for Newark Airport. We will fly ahead of the sun, arriving in time to watch the Oregon Ducks play in the Rose Bowl, and will watch the day melt into the Pacific from the bluffs where I have been watching sunsets all my life. An auspicious start to any year.
For 2020 I resolve:
To take a few deep breaths every morning, giving thanks for the day to come.
To give thanks every night, as I close my eyes, for everything I can possibly think of to be thankful for.
To remember that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Wishing peace and abundance of love to all of you.
I’m no wiser than the next person, but maybe this how the healing happens: town by town, in library community rooms, chairs filled by neighbors, caring people who gather to listen to each other, to inspire each other to bold acts of kindness, to step up and participate.
This week, as part of Palisades Reads, five people who have stepped up boldly, shared their thoughts on a fundamental question asked in the novel Shelter Us:
- The depth of the need
- An internal moral compass pointing at compassion
- The relatability of the suffering, whether from experience (“I have been there, too”) or imagination (“there but for the grace of God go I”)
- The urgent desire to make something beautiful from tragedy
- The Golden Rule
But how do we overcome a sense of helplessness, or not knowing where to start, to activate these ideals?
One common answer united our disparate group of panelists:
Fearless people run headlong into challenges that make others cower. They are willing to try something they’ve never done before. They do not need a recipe, a checklist, or a role model. Fearless people give themselves permission to try something new.
- Fearlessness allowed husband and wife volunteers to welcome homeless youth to live in their home, get to know them as real people, and treat them like family.
- Fearlessness allowed a grieving mother to create a comprehensive resource with worldwide reach for people grieving loss of a loved one.
- Fearlessness allowed a community member to join with his neighbors to take concrete steps to help over 100 homeless individuals actually become housed.
- Fearlessness allowed a woman who was shocked the first time she saw so many homeless kids on Venice Beach, to start taking care of them, doing what was needed — first handing out hygiene kits, now running a vibrant non-profit with massive community support that is helping these kids create their futures.
Where does fearlessness come from?
Some people are born with it, though I think they are the exceptions.
Sometimes fearlessness comes from circumstance. Take Susan Whitmore, founder of griefHaven.org. Before the death of her only child, she was a spreadsheet-driven, meticulous, thriving-on-order law firm administrator. After tragedy knocked her to her knees, a middle-of-the-night epiphany that others were suffering like she was, transformed her. The urgent determination to create griefHaven had no room for fear.
Fearlessness finds us when we become passionately committed to any goal. When we get excited about something — usually bigger than ourselves — we make things happen. We get others involved. We live bigger and change the world.
Working with such vulnerable people, I imagine that you may sometimes feel despair. How do you deal with the heaviness of what you do?
Rachel Stich, Deputy Director of Safe Place for Youth, challenged the premise of my question, flipping it on its head. For her, being involved with an organization like Safe Place for Youth, where so many people united to help kids, was uplifting and filled her with hope.
But what about when the situation feels hopeless? Volunteer Marlene Rapkin described her mindset as a CASA volunteer for kids in foster care. “I don’t focus on the outcome. I focus on being with them in that moment, letting them know that someone really cares about them.”
Sometimes all you can offer is companionship. To someone who feels alone, that can feel like the whole world.
The closing question came as an eloquent lamentation about the times in which we live: How does anything get better in the midst of complacency?
Who am I to say? I have had this same lament. I feel helpless and hopeless at times. And we are no different than our ancestors. So I turned back to the theme of the night, borrowed from Talmud and other traditions: when you save one life, it is as if you have saved the whole world.
We are each just one person. We do not need to set out to solve all the world’s problems. We can do what is in right front of us.
But first we must see what is right in front of us.
We cannot succumb to the temptation to close off, to retreat to the safety of our creature comforts, to let the scope of problems callous the surface of our hearts, though it hurts to be open to the pain in the world. Only with an open heart will we see what — or who — is right in front of us, will we see the person on the sidewalk as someone’s child, not something to step over or hurry past, averting our eyes.
It is enough to save one life.
And…you never know which act of kindness might be the one that sparks a conflagration. Just ask Rosa Parks, or young Greta Thunberg.
#saveonelifesavetheworld #everydayheroes #kindness #kindnessmatters