Rethinking

During a recent trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), I was surprised by a curator’s note about a sculpture in the Native American art gallery.

She said she’d reconsidered what she’d written about the sculpture years before. I’d just begun to read the note when a friend called me away, so I don’t know the exact points the curator made. 

To me, the actual content of her note didn’t matter as much as the phenomenon it represented. I was struck by her admission—that an institution like a museum would acknowledge the need to reassess. I also appreciated her basic statement—she sees things differently now.

Since the late 1970s when I became an adult, many Americans’ views have evolved regarding race, gender identity, sexual harassment, and so much more. Marijuana use was flat-out illegal in the 1970s, but now recreational use is legal in 18 states, and a number of other states permit medical marijuana. Until 2015, same sex marriage was illegal in many states. 

A lot of widely held views from 40, 30, 20, and 10 years ago have caused immeasurable harm. 

Pain caused by ignorance is real even if the person or institution didn’t intend to be hurtful, but that’s a different category of wrong from meanness or a stubborn refusal to learn as new insights become available. Intention matters. 

Historical context also matters. I’ve abandoned many views that seemed mainstream years ago. I know better now. 

This is a small personal example, but when our sons were babies more than 30 years ago, we had bumper pads on the crib and covered the boys with blankets. They also had stuffed animals in the crib to keep them company. I wouldn’t do it now, given what we’ve learned about babies smothering and sudden infant death syndrome. I didn’t know better then, but I’ve learned and changed.

Sometime in the last 10 years I read that commenting on someone’s non-European name was ‘othering’. Until it was pointed out, I had no idea. I thought my remarks would be seen as taking an interest in the person. Now I understand those comments are offensive and I no longer say them.

I don’t know what the MIA curator learned—if her perspective about artistic merit broadened or if she gained an enhanced cultural awareness. I’m grateful she acknowledged the change and hope museum-goers don’t judge her on her past views without considering her evolved views.

People do learn, regret, try to improve, and change. I certainly have. I also realize what seems right and appropriate today may very well be judged harshly forty years from now. 

Then and Now–A Year in Review

As last winter closed in a year ago, so did my life. Because of COVID, going to the grocery store was my only excursion (whoopee). There was no need to get gas—I wasn’t going anywhere. Sometimes I’d go for a drive just for a change of scenery. Yoga classes, my book groups, and writers’ groups all went to Zoom. 

My husband and I rarely saw our sons in person. At best, we visited for a few minutes as they stood in the doorway. Across the room we shivered in the frosty breeze. All of us masked. Even more chilling than the air was the understanding we couldn’t touch.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, my husband and I planned menus along with our sons and their fiancées. Our three households shared what we’d cooked. The food was good and we were outwardly cheerful, but inwardly, I felt our aloneness deeply. 

2020

For perspective, I watched shows about WWII and reminded myself that my life was way better than enduring the London bombing, the French occupation, or life on a naval destroyer as my father had. I was grateful we had healthcare and didn’t have to worry about being evicted. We were apart, but it wouldn’t last forever.

This year feels so much better. We are vaccinated and boosted. As long as I’m masked and keep some distance, I am free to work in the pottery studio, tutor, and shop in person. I am able to invite a few vaccinated friends over for a drink or dinner. We spread out and run the HEPA filter, but we can talk, laugh and interrupt each other in the natural conversational rhythms instead of the stilted stop-and-start of Zoom visits.

My life remains more restricted than it was pre-COVID. Dining in restaurants, watching movies in the theater, or flying are TBD. I avoid large gatherings and even assess the risks of events like indoor farmers’ markets.

But now we can do the most important things, like gathering for birthday dinners with our sons and their wives. We were able to be together at Thanksgiving. I’m so grateful the six of us can visit in person this Christmas. We’ll hug, laugh, and eat lots of good food. Pure joy.

2021

COVID rewired my thinking. These days, our plans are provisional. Maybe. If. We’ll see. I’m careful to temper my hopes and rein in my worries. Letting either get away from me doesn’t serve me. 

I have a different, more realistic view about my ability to control anything. Life never was in my control—I just thought it was.

COVID isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m learning to live with it. Going forward, there will be times when the Delta/Omicron/Whatever variant is raging, and I’ll have to limit my activities, and there will be times when I’m less restricted. For now, I’m taking sensible precautions, assessing each situation case by case. I don’t expect “we’ll get back to normal.” This is the new normal. It isn’t all I wish for, but being able to see family and friends in person means a lot.

Ready, Set … Bounce

I used to be resilient.  

At least that’s what a “How Resilient Are You?” quiz I took a decade ago indicated.

I came across the quiz the other day while purging a hanging file chockful of articles from Experience Life magazine. Featured in a September 2011 article titled “The 5 Best Ways to Build Resiliency,” my quiz results indicated that I was “highly resilient” and that I “bounce back well from life’s setbacks and can thrive even under pressure.”

No more.

My once optimistic self no longer looks on the bright side. Nor do I see difficulties as temporary. Instead, in large part due to COVID, I find myself in a perpetual state of ambiguity and uncertainty, a state sometimes even accompanied by a sense of dread.

Will I be able to join my sisters in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Will I be able to travel outside the United States while I’m still healthy enough to do so? When am I going to retire and where am I going to live?

Who the heck knows. I sure don’t. And I’m tired of trying to figure it all out.

I’m also angry more often than I used to be, sometimes for no apparent reason.

And once highly social, I’ve become a bit of a hermit. Many of my family members, friends and colleagues have as well.

Fed up with feeling alone and adrift, I’ve been working on being more positive and getting back in touch with that resilient me of a decade ago. She can’t be that far away. In fact, I know she’s not as there are days, even weeks, when she’s ever-present rather than elusive.

Books such as Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson have helped. So have books on resilience, four of which I discovered had been sitting unread on my shelf for years.

So now, when something goes wrong—like when I rolled my car into a parked car at my friend Pam’s husband’s funeral causing more than $3,000 worth of damage (even though I and the owner of the other vehicle could barely see the scratch)—I try to find the silver lining. In this case, it was being treated kindly by the owner of the car I’d damaged and by the friend who stayed by my side until I found him and told him what I’d done.

I’m also paying attention to my positivity ratio. According to Fredrickson’s research, we need three positive experiences to balance out each negative one. Normally those positive experiences would be part of my everyday life—a compliment on a new sweater, a hug when meeting a friend for coffee, a thank you for volunteering.

But being as I’m still not venturing out any more than necessary, those experiences are harder to come by. So instead, I make a point of calling at least one person a day and of sending at least seven cards a week. While the conversations sometimes last only a few minutes, they definitely brighten my day. So do the cards I send. I take pleasure in finding just the right one and in writing a heartfelt message or including a silly joke.    

I’m also striving to view my challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. That’s not always easy, in large part because I’m more of a “judger” who asks questions such as “Who’s to blame?” or “What’s wrong?” rather than a “learner” who seeks to grow by asking neutral, non-judgmental questions such as “What can this experience teach me?” or “Given my choices, what do I most want to do?”

But my favorite question, the one I’ve found to be most helpful is one I learned from Arianna Huffington who chose “resilience” as her word of the year. The question?

“How can I not just bounce back, but bounce forward?”

While I’m stilling working on my answer, I am growing more resilient—and bouncing a bit higher—every day. For that, I am grateful.

Roadblock

A screeching, beeping monster clawed a mountain of dirt from my front yard, pirouetting in a repetitive mechanical dance.

In a surprising moment of consideration, the monster’s keepers preserved my ratty, overgrown boulevard garden, which fringed the gaping hole where sidewalk used to be. As if that garden is worth the care they gave it! They didn’t know I’d gladly be rid of the hosta and daylilies.

Workers in neon green coveralls appeared waist deep in the front yard. Urban prairie dogs. Do they like standing in holes, dirty and damp? Being where the rest of us don’t go? Searching for a pipe—hidden—but not exactly a treasure. 

Weeks later, cars still charge up to the roadblock in disbelief, apparently thinking, You can’t stop me, I’ll get through. Some seem to contemplate launching à la Thelma and Louise over the one-foot precipice into the scraped dirt and escaping, only to accept reality, veer into a nearby parking lot, and cut through the alley. Back on their way.

That’s how this summer, or really this whole year, has felt because of COVID. We’ve hurried toward the life we wanted, only to see—again—not here, not now. Go around, adapt, try again.

At night it’s peaceful. No clattering buses driving by. No thumping bass from passing cars or snatches of song from cyclists.

Silent orange hazard lights blink like fireflies.

Farewell to Masks?

I don’t enjoy wearing a mask. The elastic turns my ears elfish. Wearing my glasses cocked to hold down the mask alters my vision. And whoa, somebody’s breath sure stinks inside this mask! You’d think I’d be ecstatic that the CDC has said that in many settings, vaccinated people like me no longer have to wear a mask or distance. 

Instead, I’m discombobulated. Not quite ready. I understand the rationale behind this policy change, but am struggling to process it.

COVID has been a harsh teacher. The randomness of who got deathly ill or who experienced long term debilitating effects kept me careful. My sister, who is a respiratory therapist, told me stories of her grueling ICU shifts. Awareness that COVID was real and deadly became a form of low-level anxiety. Unwinding that daily concern will take time. 

When a friend I rarely see said she’d be in town and asked if we could go out to dinner, my immediate reaction wasn’t yippee! It was, I’m not sure. Am I ready to eat inside a busy restaurant? Could we do patio dining instead?

I do love hanging out unmasked with vaccinated family and friends. Masked, you learn to look at people’s eyes to see if they’re smiling or preoccupied. Now the full range of our expressions is visible. 

Nevertheless, I’m not throwing out my masks. After 14 months of caution, I recognize the risk is reduced but not gone. Besides, although the state of Minnesota rescinded the mask mandate, Minneapolis and St. Paul have maintained it for a while longer.

Yet I remind myself that the point of living through a pandemic is to be alive. Fully. Masking narrowed my vision and limited my sense of possibility. After more than a year of looking inward, turning outward again will be good.