Honestly, I didn’t think we’d get here. I was kind of starting to despair. The pandemic seemed to stretch on and on, and took so much from so many people.
And then science. (Team Pfizer here!)
While I was socially distancing and working in my little home office, things kind of fell apart. I know it happened for a lot of us. Isolation and grief will take whatever you can give it, be it a minute or a year.
So here we are, here I am, inching my way back into contact. Worshipping with those I love, singing songs with my people, and feeling … connected.
Tonight the priest lit the candle, and the servers lit their candles and they passed it on to the lady in front of me, and the lady beside me…
And just like that the grief of the living room church went away, passing into the haze of memory. And I cannot tell you how grateful I am.
I’ve been learning about connection in new ways over the past few months: between me and my husband, me and my friends, and my family and, most awkwardly, the parts of myself I’ve walled off and packed away.
There has been some amazing, keeping-the-flame-lit help from some pretty amazing people. And I know a lot of you have been doing it for others in a thousand different ways.
Thank you. It would be a really dark place without the light of love.
(Originally posted on my private Facebook page Jan. 10 after the insurrection at the Capitol. I’ve decided to cross post it here as well)
I’ve got a lap full of cattle dog and a glass of a new Irish whiskey I had to try.
One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard was a prior priest at St. Nick’s. He spoke on the importance of symbol, as we understand it in the East. The word “symbol” means to unite, to bring together the spiritual/heavenly with the physical. It connects you to “meaning.” It is the exact opposite of the word “diabolos.” That’s not a word we use much anymore, but it is how we describe the devil’s work.
It is division, and strife.
It is disconnection.
This week was hard for those of us who care about these kinds of things. To say I am sensitive to symbol is to say that the earth revolves around the sun. I’m Eastern Orthodox for heaven’s sake. My walls are adorned with icons. I light candles. I wear a cross. My brain speaks only metaphor. I see symbol everywhere.
If I can find meaning in it, I can deal with it.
But this? What we saw? There is no meaning in that. It is diabolical.
And it was so by design. It was an attack on the most important symbol in the free world: the American Capitol.
Our flags are on our uniforms, but they can be subject to emotion, to misinterpretation or to misappropriation.
The Capitol? It stands alone.
It means what it means.
It means “by the people and for the people.”
It means “peaceful transfer of power.”
It means you, me, we.
As the Twin Towers symbolized American and global financial might, that was their value in the attack. As the Pentagon symbolized our military might? Such was its value. The Capitol was spared that day, by the heroic sacrifice of a plane full of people. But they wanted it. Because symbol matters.
You’re sad for the same reason I’m sad. The symbol was desecrated. That may mean that the value is less, or that the meaning is no more. I believe that that is not true. Though the symbol connects to the meaning, it is not the thing.
We are the thing. Tomorrow is a new day.
Who knows what it will bring. The end is not yet written.
(If you can see this, I’m letting you do so. If you fight with me, I’ll put you on the other list. I’m not arguing over truth.)
(Thank you, Cathy, for the conversation that led to the metaphor that led to the words. Merry Christmas, my friend.)
Twenty-five years ago I fell on my outstretched left arm, shoving my upper arm into the shoulder socket with such force that it shredded the cartilage holding the ball of the joint on the little golf-tee of the rest of it.
No health insurance meant I breathed a sigh of relief when it worked itself back into place and then I babied it for weeks, only to do it again at a slightly different angle, rendering my dominant arm nearly useless for most of my adult life.
I could do the things that seemed normal, but a lot of things I prided myself in: not throwing a ball like a girl, swimming hard, lots of pushups, etc., those things were gone, or a shadow of themselves.
In 2013 I began SAR training, and somewhere soon afterward I realized that working dogs was somewhat dicey. 90-pound German Shepherds yanking on a foot-long tug toy, shaking their heads to “kill it”, well, something had to give.
The biggest offender was Helo, whose stubby height and bouncy personality frequently caught my hand from the underside, throwing my arm back into that shoulder joint in the same angle that instantly slid it out of the socket. Over, and over, and over again.
In December 2015 I tired of it, and got it fixed. After about a year of PT and exercises, I gained most of what I had lost in 1995, though now I have to learn how to do some of those things again (you will forget how to throw a ball…)
The thing with those chronic injuries we deal with as we age is that they’re never really obvious to those around you. Maybe you get out of the chair a little slower as you hit 45, or you aren’t doing cartwheels in the yard, or whatever. But you know. And maybe you miss them. But the cartwheel or initial stiffness isn’t enough of a motivator to get you to the orthopedic specialist to fix the problem.
There were things in my life I thought I had learned to live with, stuff I’d categorized, dusted off or boxed up. I did the therapy. I do the things I need to do to live life.
Then the 45th administration. And the pandemic. And tear gas on the courthouse green…
The angle changed. Daily stuff started coming at me like Helo, impacting me at strange angles and pushing at the points of weakness.
I don’t know who needs to read this right now. I don’t know if the events of the past year or two or whatever has put you in a position where you might feel like you need to do something different. Maybe I’m just writing this for me.
But if this is for you, find a way to fix it. Tell someone you are going to do so. Go, get the mental surgery. Do the therapy and recover the range of motion.
I’ve been training with kettlebells for about 18 months now, captivated by the focus they require as you fling a 20-pound ball of iron above your head. I love the strength they’ve given me, the correctives to my posture and my waistline. I was fortunate to have amassed a collection of them prior to the Pandemic, giving me an edge on everyone else when the gyms closed.
Prior to kettlebells, I was using old fashioned barbells at the gym, doing the Big 3 lifts–squats, presses and deadlifts.
Throw in the kettlebells and my hands were getting pretty tough. Rough, tall callouses across the palm at the base of my fingers.
In August, I was doing a high-volume snatch routine with my kettlebell, and somewhere around the 80th rep of about 100, one of those callouses ripped, badly. The torque, the speed, and the force of that particular lift is known to do to that, but so far I had been immune. I thought my hands were tough enough to deal with it.
Here’s the trick, as a Facebook friend, rightly pointed out. You actually don’t want thick callouses. They get in the way. You want to sand those suckers off, moisturize, pumice, shave, whatever you need to do to minimize their height. It keeps them from ripping.
It’s been a dark year. I’ve written in this space before about how those skills we have amassed, those of us who have had to hustle and scrap to get where we are, who may be good at stuffing emotion, or, more usefully, channeling it to motivating anger, how all that experience was giving us some tools to get us through all of this shit.
I stand by that.
I’ve torn some callouses in recent weeks. Some stuff I thought worked for me, adding protection, broke down. Some stuff that actually is necessary and useful got worn down and failed to work.
It sucks. Like the days after the kettlebell tore up my hand, I’ve had to take some time, cover the injury and try to work around it. I have some wonderful relationships with some really amazing old friends who remember how I’m put together and are willing to help me ease the pain and carry the load for me for a bit. (and therapists…everyone should have one or three)
On this Thanksgiving Eve, amid this endless isolation and dark autumn stretching into a darker winter, I am thankful for them. I am thankful for all of you who are helping to lighten the load for others. I am thankful for those of you who have already carried a lot, and I hope you know you can set it aside for a second, even if just to have someone acknowledge the absolute madness of all of this.
My hands are better now. Proper maintenance has left the callouses tough where they need to be, and soft enough to be safer.
I read something today, this umpteeth day of social distancing and conducting multiple meetings via Zoom.
Planning for the future is a luxury of the privileged.
It appeared in an article about the upending of family life due to the coronavirus pandemic, and how this mom had just wiped clean the family calendar because nothing was happening. Nothing that mattered before mattered in the same way now.
And it made me think, about my own upbringing, about financial instability and relational instability in our home and volatility and how I knew if I was smart I wouldn’t dare to dream or to plan.
Nothing was within my control.
This whole experience has felt strangely familiar in a lot of ways, similar to when I found myself kicked out of college because my dad gambled my academic and financial future on his plan to sell a lot of Amway detergent (read: didn’t want to pay his taxes, a requirement for the financial aid form).
It was the best year of my college life. I had a leadership position on campus, a job at the local newspaper, and tons of friends (hard for me). And then I got the letter from the registrar, and the bursar and all the people saying I had to leave. Long story short, I conned another couple months out of them and finished the semester, but the debt I took home with me from that one semester (he’d made not one payment, and I had exhausted my contribution from summer factory work) would keep me out of school for the next five years.
Anyway, when I was driving home from the office on that last day in our life “before all of this”, I thought of that. How this felt like that. And how I was disappointed and worried, but I knew that things will be how they are, maybe even how they should be. That things would be hard, and there would be loss, but I would find meaning, and growth and I would do what I could do to help my friends and families find the same.
Then today I saw that phrase: Planning is a luxury for the privileged. I realized how lucky I had been, how blessed my family has become. And I realized how there was still, deep in the recesses of my brain, that understanding that nothing is permanent, and how loosely I still hold on to a lot of things. Hubby and I are trying to build a new house, a project started “before all of this” and it’s getting complicated, more so because of this. And I know that if it doesn’t happen, we will survive. I hope we can, but if we can’t, we’ll survive. I love my job. But if it went away, I would figure it out.
Again, the words of Jesus in the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
I want to write this tonight as some encouragement, to my scrappy, hustling brothers and sisters who know disappointment, that deep disappointment that comes with grief, from the loss of a thing that was actually yours.
You have special skills to use at this time. You know how to do this. You know that smart people always used pencil on the calendars anyway. You know that there will be an illness, an accident, a job loss, a divorce, a something. It will get in the way.
The Russian Orthodox tradition often uses pussy willow branches in place of palms on Palm Sunday.
It makes sense, when you think of it, for Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Georgia, etc., are not known for their warm, balmy climes.
Somewhere along the line, the pussy willow trees with their little fluffy nubs (pre-flowers or something like that) became what the faithful held in their hands as the Gifts made their way in procession around the nave.
In my church, one full of Macedonians, Bulgarians, Russians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Ethiopians and German/Scott/English mixes like myself, you see pussy willow branches on the altar along with the palm fronds for blessing and then handed out.
For all of its tradition, and its great beauty, the Eastern Orthodox Church is messy, and fine with it.
I almost grabbed a branch off an evergreen in our yard today, sprinkled holy water on it and used it for week 4 of the Facebook live-stream of the Divine Liturgy. (How has this been a MONTH already. It is both the longest time, and the shortest time. I think we might be somehow outside of time.) But I didn’t have a chance to do that because in this new world, we grocery shop on Sunday mornings, as soon as it is open at 8 a.m. when it is safe, and quiet.
So instead I used one of last year’s pussy willow branches–brittle and fragile–for the service.
I can’t lie about this. As a person who sets my watch by Holy Week, I am struggling to make sense of this, to know how I should or could walk through this week to Pascha. During a typical year, there are between six to 12 services I might make it to, depending on work or whether I go to Ohio and worship with my sister.
There were no palms this year. No children turning the fronds into crosses in the parish hall, and trying to teach us how to do it. I miss my friends, my sister’s family, our choir. I miss kissing the icons, and hugging Dave in the narthex. I miss donuts and conversation. I miss church.
But I am so grateful that our leadership took this seriously. I am so blessed to have priests, bishops and patriarchs who said, wisely, this is not discrimination. This is for the salvation of the world, in a very real way.
So I battled frustration with audio feeds, and a bad attitude, and impatience and all the things I’d have confessed by now, and placed my icon of the Theotokos, my home censer and a vigil candle in front of the wireless router, next to a flashlight and a police scanner and a Yankee Candle.
And my living room filled with incense, and I clutched that dried and fragile branch, and I prayed.
I know this week won’t look like anything I want. But I pray I am open to its lessons, that I embrace this season of difficulty and sacrifice and anxiety and caution in a way that doesn’t waste it.
I haven’t kept the fast the way I would normally. I know I’m not the person I want to be at this point in the Lenten spring.
But next Sunday, however it looks, the sermon will be the same one it’s been for a thousand years or so: the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom.
And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
But Holy Week started about 20 days ago, somewhere around March 11, when the bottom fell out of all the world. (On that date, NBA players tested positive, Tom Hanks tested positive, things started getting strange.)
How are you doing with all of this?
I, personally, am a bit of a mess. My husband works from home anyway, largely hangs out at home working on projects during the evening or the day. Other than the absence of church on Sundays, his life hasn’t changed all that much. (Oh and he does have to put up with me pacing around the house.)
But for me? The entirety of my day has been altered, from the small (gym before work and store after) to the large (work, SAR training, church), there is nothing the same.
My heart hurts. I worry for my family. But my situation is easier than many. I’m not trying to explain to my child why graduation won’t happen, and an open house won’t happen, and there’s no track season you’ve trained for. I don’t have elementary kids climbing the walls amid e-learning lessons.
I’m praying more though. I feel closer to Lent than I have in a very long time. I was talking with my friend Connie from church tonight, on the phone, while we walked our dogs at a safe social distance of about 25 miles. We both commented on how this all feels so holy, so profound, and how we’re so very aware of the humans with which we share our spaces.
It feels like Holy Week, still a few days away.
Holy Week always feels like that, especially as you get to the end of it, to the solemnity of Great and Holy Thursday through the Feast of the Resurrection. Your heart is so close to heaven. There’s no room left for you. You have worked so hard to scrub your heart clean of the self-centered, the pride, the concerns for what doesn’t matter. You’ve literally unplugged your life, and oriented your entire being to the services, the hymns, the prayers, your family. And that, miraculously, makes the rest of everything SO clear. It all matters. It’s all right HERE.
This feels like that. I feel strangely, horribly and magically, connected to the woman at the grocery store, smiling and remaining away at a safe distance. We are, could be, might be, existential to each other.
Metropolitan Tikhon, the head of the Orthodox Church in America wrote this to our churches in mid-March:
The life we “laying down” now is our normal life, because these are extraordinary times. We are making a sacrificial effort, which is in keeping with the present season of repentance and ascetical striving… if we stay united, relieve one another of the burdens that this virus has placed on us, “if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”
As I was writing this post, we received word from our beloved Bishop Alexander that our Holy Week and Pascha would be held online, entirely.
And yet together.
Our spiritual journeys are always ours, alone. And yet ours together. We often say that we are saved together, damned alone. And this seems counter-intuitive to what we are experiencing now. But it’s really not.
This effort, to save our neighbors, to protect our elders, to flatten the curve, requires that we do this in relative isolation. But we must do this together.
Lent this year is going to extend beyond its normal 40 days. And Holy Week may go on forever.
But as long as it takes, so we can all reach the feast. Together.
Last Wednesday, I missed Presanctified Liturgy to sub for our normal All Things Considered host who was out sick. (Just a cold!)
We were still in what we thought was the beginning of our spring membership drive, a bi-annual staple of public radio. Last week, amid the stories about the growing concerns over what was now a global pandemic: COVID-19. We had not yet suspended pitching yet, so I asked for money throughout the three hours of the show.
I hosted again tonight, giving the host’s voice a break. We’ve added an extra newscast to each hour to get in as much news as we can. Virus, virus, virus. All virus. All the time.
As I walked out after a particularly rough three hours of hosting (still not good at this), I noticed a stack of papers sitting on the counter under the other bank of mics.
Pitch scripts. From just a week ago.
It felt like I was looking back in time, across centuries, they seemed so old, so foreign.
Different concerns. Different worries. I cannot even remember what my priorities were that day, other than getting to church. And I knew more about the virus than the average bear because that’s my job, and I spend some time on Twitter and I read what happened in Italy as it happened in Italy.
I have no idea what next week will look like. I’m not sure what tomorrow will look like. A week ago, things had a certain rhythm to them, a delusional predictability.
Now? Who knows.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” –The Gospel of Matthew 6:34
(Note: I always tend to write more during Lent, and given the current situation, this is kind of serving as a check-in for my brain.)
I tucked them in tonight, my mom and my grandmother. They’re both in that high-risk population we’re protecting right now and my family has them wrapped in bubble wrap.
I’ll social distance my butt off if it helps my grandmother see 98. But giving up church, during Lent and marching to Pascha, that’s really hard. And it’s hard to know that our plans for this holiest of times matter not. Not even a little bit.
I’ve been Orthodox for 16 years this Lent. My life, though so far from holy it’s embarrassing, has become measured by the seasons of the calendar: the fasts, the services, and the feast days.
I missed the Liturgy of the Presanctified gifts last week, because the news starting breaking about the virus here in Indiana. I made it to Liturgy on Sunday, and knew in my heart we were sliding in as the elevator doors closed. Yesterday, the bishops cancelled the Liturgy for more than a couple people behind the altar. And while we believe it is served “on behalf of all and for all,” it’s more comforting to be there.
Anyway, it’s a weird time.
I worked from my mom’s house the past two days, taking care of Oma while mom lined up her FMLA to stay home to care for our matriarch for the duration. Her home health aids can’t promise continuity of care with the virus spreading, so here we are. I’m glad to have mom home anyway.
So on Monday, in between updating our website and editing news stories and conferring with NPR regional editors, I helped Oma with her bath. I made her lunch and we visited.
It felt sacred.
Today, she came out and bugged me while I worked, a little kid behind a wrinkled smile with a mind always working and searching. I love her so much.
We started our day praying together, reading the Prayer of St. Patrick’s Breastplate. I taught her how to cross herself. Mom came home and we ate supper. Then we all prayed.
We read the daily prayers, the scriptures for this day in the calendar (And the Lord told Noah to build an ark, and to enter the ark…) We practiced making our crosses. And the old girl, whose anxiety was visible all day in her drumming fingers and her questions, melted away with a smile.
Lord of the Powers be with us, for in times of distress we have no other help but You.
Lord of the Powers, have mercy on us.
The prayer in time of trouble.
We can do this, she said to my mom. While you’re home. We can do this. I feel better.
As I pulled away in the dark, my chest tight with the worry of the unknown, I know that this service, these living room prayers amid the fears of COVID-19, is everything.
The calendar marches on, and we do what we can. The crocus are coming up in the grass, one of my very favorite things. Holy is everywhere. And I’m fortunate to share it.