Labyrinths Heal; The Rain Reflects

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Early on in the pandemic, when we’d just begun the lockdown with work places shutting down, restaurants closed, and schools closing, we were only just getting used to having the kids at home, shopping once a week, avoiding people as much as possible, including even our son who lived on his own, plus being in a constant low level state of anxiety, keeping ongoing lists in my head, living, breathing, reading, and writing everything I could about coronavirus 20/7 with four hours leftover for sleep. Often, I couldn’t get through that minimum of four hours. I tried watching the White House’s coronavirus briefings; I thought they would be useful and informative. I thought they would quell my anxiety of those early days of unknown. My priest called them “dark days of confusion,” and they truly were. We’re still in them sometimes now. Those briefings didn’t help; they left me with higher levels of anxiety.

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In the Midst of Loss

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My retreat house recently began to offer some limited online experiences. The first one that I explored was about the losses we’ve confronted during this pandemic since March. This was a two hour session, split into two days one month apart. I know the presenter, Father K, through other classes and workshops I’ve taken through the Diocese. He’s a local priest who also works in the area of mental health and I really enjoy the way he approaches things. He also reminds me of my therapist. At the end of the first hour, I thought I had been given an extra therapy session this month! It really was a comforting hour that led me to spend the next twenty-four hours deep in thought. For the first time in a long time, I felt calm and thoughtful but also, in a way invigorated.

To start out, he asked us to think about the losses we’ve faced since March, and to write them down, and then to share a couple of them with the group. I was one of the first called on, and for me that meant that I hadn’t any time to prepare what I might say. I had a list, but it felt superficial. I began with a pseudo-apology; something that many of us do on a daily basis, especially women. That isn’t to say that men don’t do it, but women, I’ve found are the primary apologists for things they aren’t at fault for. For example, have you ever had someone walk into you on the street or in a store, and you apologize to them? I do this almost every time. Women apologize for taking up space, for taking too long, for a myriad of things that men just don’t apologize for, and really, that we shouldn’t apologize for.

I began by saying that I was fortunate that my family and I haven’t lost anyone to covid and we haven’t been ill, minimizing what we have been going through, and that while it hasn’t been life-threatening (so far) it has also not been easy for our family. My husband already works from home, so we continued receiving our salary. I feel guilty. All of my losses come from a place of privilege and I feel it’s my obligation to add the disclaimer of our privilege even while trying to be honest with the emotional and mental toll this pandemic crisis has put upon us. I mentioned a few things that we have lost since March, and as I listened to the others share their losses. I was reminded of things that I hadn’t thought of as losses and I added them to my list as well.

At the close of this part, Father K said what I already knew (and I’m paraphrasing): whatever I’m going through is just as valid as the next person. Their struggle may seem more difficult, harder to get through, having more emotional value, but my losses are still just that: my losses. These are the losses that I’m feeling every day; that my family is feeling every day and I shouldn’t dismiss them because someone else has had a more challenging time than I have; whose struggle appears more difficult or more painful.

My losses are real, and this session allowed me to accept that and confront the actual loss and how I can move forward.
What are the losses that I don’t feel measure up to others’ losses?

The loss of time. What day is it? Even trying to tell time based on a favorite television show has been eliminated with the shutdown of Hollywood and all the global acting studios. Anything that wasn’t completed before March 17th ceased production; how many season finales were postponed? How many cliffhangers left hanging? On March 31, more than one friend mentioned how long March had been. March was a year long. I felt it in my soul. Would April also be a year long?

The loss of routine. School was canceled for my kids, but their schoolwork continued. They slept until nine, did some work, took naps, grazed all day or skipped meals. We were eating breakfast at ten in the morning, and dinner at nine at night, bedtime after eleven even on a “school night”. Haphazard doesn’t scratch the surface of our “new routine”. The kids’ independent learning and creating their own schedule seemed to be working, but at what cost?

Mass was canceled, and it took a few weeks to get the livestreaming set up, so at least now I know when Sunday is. All of my spring retreats were postponed at first, then canceled entirely. Therapy moved to the phone. Meetings canceled or moved to Zoom. If school and work were gone, was there even a weekend to look forward to?

The loss of being lazy. That’s wrong and a little harsh on myself. It’s more the loss of choice. It could also fall under the loss of routines. If I didn’t feel like cooking, we couldn’t just go out to dinner. Even if we did takeout, the restaurants closed about two hours earlier than normal. Menus needed to be planned so groceries could be shopped for in a way that minimized our leaving the house and coming in contact with other people. Planning every meal. Having food for the kids to eat lunch when they would normally eat lunch in school.

The loss of of seeing and hugging my adult son. We barely saw him. He came by once every two weeks until I was exposed to covid, and then he stayed away until my fourteen day isolation was completed. He’s an essential worker and a first responder, and even if he wasn’t I wouldn’t want to expose him to something that we still know so little about. Fortunately, I did not have covid. We eventually had our family Easter dinner.

The loss of myself. I stopped being me. I had to become the covid expert. I had to tell everyone to wash their hands every time they came home from school (before the lockdown) or the grocery store after. The one time my husband needed to go into the office, it was half an hour of discussion weighing the pros and cons, and how to do it safely. I had to know how much toilet paper we needed and go shopping with all the others preparing for their own lockdown. I had to educate people about this virus and call out misinformation because if I didn’t do it, who would? I became teacher again.

And the burden that I put upon myself led to the loss or permanent change in status with some friends. It’s hard to maintain the reciprocal, balanced relationship with people when their fundamental values are so at odds with mine, like wearing a mask and isolating or simply the basic idea that covid was made in a lab somewhere to ruin the President’s term of office.

Some losses that others in the group brought up that resonated with me included the loss of purpose and the safety and peace of mind that I’d had from only a week before; the loss of trust especially in the authority of the federal government to take care of something so catastrophic as this and which they ignored so much and let us fall so far, and of course, the loss of the Eucharist and the rituals of mass, so much a part of my life.

I craved the Eucharist, but when the opportunity arrived to return to in person masses, I decided against going, and I surprised myself that as those in the pews received their communion while I was at home watching the livestream, I felt just as close as if I’d been there and received it in my hand and consumed it. I credit my parish and my priest for giving me that feeling of belonging and even though I wasn’t there in front of him and others, I was still present and G-d was still present for me. That was a good thing.

In the midst of the losses, there have been some gains, some good things to reflect on. What was good about this time as lockdown comes to a close? The last question asked in the session was how do we find joy in the confusion and the chaos? These are things I need to meditate on, to think about and discover the answers to. Reflecting more on the losses I’ve documented above and move toward accepting and then moving forward to finding the joy is a thing I want to work on between now and the next group meeting. I want to acknowledge the gains; find my joy.

In the coming days, I’ll share the one day back in March that kept me going, and then hopefully after that I can answer the question: how do we find the joy? At the moment, I don’t know, but I hope to find out.

Mental Health Monday, Part 2: Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration

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These mental health Mondays have been giving me trouble each week. I’m struggling to find my balance, and each day brings a new horror of deaths and White House incompetence that quite honestly is beyond frustrating; I don’t want to overuse the word, but it is horrifying. It’s beyond anything that we’ve seen in my lifetime. For those of you who saw the New York Times cover commemorating the covid-19 death toll reaching 100,000, you can see and understand it’s devastation.

It’s been a difficult time for those of us already on the edge with our “everyday” mental health issues having to slog through isolation day after day, and then watching on television people doing the exact opposite and wondering what the whole point is. I understand. Some parts of my anxiety have subsided, but some parts of my depression are heightened a bit. Nothing that needs a med check, but enough that it’s noticeable, and it’s hard to center myself.

I would usually find a quiet corner in a Starbucks and write. However, the Starbucks dining rooms are closed, and writing just isn’t there for me. While pre-covid I would sit in the car and have lunch and read or write on my Kindle, I find that eating in the car when the car is respite from the home isolation is not giving me the mental boost that it once did. I don’t know if it will come back post-covid, but for now, I’ve put off that worrying for another time. I’m trying to stay in the present, and the writing…I hope it will come. I will occasionally jot down a few thoughts in a journal, and I’ve been publishing here, but the writing that I long for just isn’t available to me right now. I can’t slow my brain down enough to get through a sentence let alone a paragraph and I may have mentioned my overactive brain has also been keeping me from sleeping properly.

Our family did have a nice weekend. We went to the comic store (curbside) and then got takeout from a chicken place, went to the state park and had a picnic in our car. Despite what I said above about eating in the car, this was actually a lovely time and we had a nice drive to places not too near our home so it was a different view for everyone. The people around us seemed to be following covid protocols so there was no outside stress from counting the maskless faces.

Upon arriving home, I discovered an art and music presentation that I had missed, but luckily through the magic of technology and the internet, I was able to watch the video of it.

The art was by my favorite spiritual artist, Brother Mickey McGrath and I know that when I’m enamored by something I post about it a lot and I will readily admit to being a Bro. Mickey stan. The music was from Meredith Augustin. I’m providing the link below because I think that this presentation, while religious in nature was also very soothing and would be a beneficial mental health exercise for anyone. Brother MIckey’s voice in describing the artwork and Meredith’s singing really just lulled me into a different headspace, and the beauty of it I think transcends and invites non-religious people to enjoy it as well, and spend an hour with it, away from everything else that may be weighing on us right now. I would certainly encourage you to give it a try, at least through the first musical section. If it’s not for you, of course, stop the playback and find your own musical and art encounter.

I had originally planned to draw or doodle in my sketchbook while I watched it, but I was so caught up in the presentation and pulled so far into the pictures that I didn’t do anything but give myself over to it. I can always doodle tomorrow.

Give yourself that time to breathe.

Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration in Art, Story, and Song with Brother Mickey McGrath and Meredith Augustin

The Black Madonna

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As part of Mary’s month, I’d like to something written by my friend, Brother Mickey McGrath, artist and author. This article, titled We Need Images of the Black Madonna Now More Than Ever appeared in the March 5, 2018 issue of America Magazine. Below is one of the pictures that appeared with the article.

Our Lady of Montserrat. (c) Brother Mickey McGrath 2020

Inspire. May.

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Statue of Mary, Journaling, Spring Blooms, Rosary, Mary by Tomie de Paola, Zen Garden. (c)2020

Mary our mother sustains us in moments of darkness, difficulty, and apparent defeat.
– Pope Francis

We’ve been slowly returning/adapting to a new normal. I don’t think we’ll go back to what we knew as normal for a long time, if at all.

I don’t think it’s helpful to be Pollyannas, but it is possible to find joy in our new circumstances.

Knowing that staying home and also wearing a mask when I go out for groceries and other supplies is my way of contributing to the mitigation and the time to search for a cure makes it a bit easier to accept my role in the effort. Each of us has a small part but all of us together can create a larger outcome.

Cooperation.

Unity.

Selflessness.

Compassion.

We all have our own struggles, but I would encourage you to find the silver lining in the cloud; the rainbow after the rain; the cliche in the trope.

Three Places Where I Find Joy

1. Cool breeze

2. Mary  *more below

3. Kindle – FB with family/friends, books, podcasts, writing – encompasses much of my person in one place, not quite a talisman, but a path, a tunnel from one place to the next; from one world to the next.

May is also Mary’s month in the church. There’s Mother’s Day and Mary is all of our Mothers. Marian devotions. May Crowinings. Pope Francis provided two new prayers to add to our rosary prayers for the month of May. 

I will have weekly Mary posts throughout May beginning below with links to the Vatican’s Rosary pages and the Pope’s letter and his two rosary prayers.

I have been praying them when I’ve prayed the rosary this week and it truly makes me feel as though I’m doing something tangible and positive during this pandemic. I may also begin a Mary meditation, but time will tell.

Soup

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Soup is one of those comfort foods that cross over all demographics – economically, culturally, all the ways. Every culture has its own soup specialty – Italian Wedding Soup, Chicken Noodle Soup, Gazpacho, New England Clam Chowder…I’m sure you can name ten more.

During Lent, my church renewed its yearly tradition of noon Mass followed by a soup lunch, beginning with Ash Wednesday. When shelter-at-home orders came down, they decided to continue the Wednesday soups through no-contact delivery. This occurred for three weeks, and the delicious selections were: Creamy Vegetable Chowder, Hamburger Barley, and Chicken Noodle. They were amazing!

For Easter, I made matzo ball soup for part of our dinner. I know that matzo ball soup doesn’t quite sound like part of an Easter meal, but it was also Passover, and everyone in the family loves it, so really, I can’t go wrong.

I just noticed in the below picture that all three soups, made by different cooks, all have carrots!

Soup is comfort for the soul, and for the stomach. I’ve found blowing on the hot soup and watching the steam rise like incense in the church is very nearly a prayer for the gift of soup, and the gift of love and friendship. Mmm, mmm, good.

Soups: Matzo Ball, Chicken Noodle, Hamburger Barley. (c)2020