Uncertainty Is Its Own Trouble

This week, I expected to write about a reunion in Ohio with a handful of my graduate school friends. I haven’t visited with them in more than 20 years, because we live in five different states. I was eagerly anticipating seeing them in person. We would have unearthed long forgotten stories, laughed about our younger selves, and discovered who each of us is now. Last week, during the days we intended to gather, we emailed and expressed our disappointment along with our hope that we’ll be able to meet in the fall.

Uncertainty is its own trouble. Especially for a person like me, who thrives on planning and likes to take charge of my life. It’s even harder for people who are missing out on milestone events: canceled study abroad programs, postponed weddings, and trips of a lifetime on hold. For certain dreams, there’s no do-over.

I feel for anyone whose major life event has been short circuited by the pandemic. Those disappointments pale in the face of death from coronavirus, but it’s understandable to be depressed and frustrated by the loss.

Reading and watching shows about life during WWII is surprisingly comforting. From day to day, people in Great Britain and Europe didn’t know if they or someone they loved would be bombed, arrested, dead, or alive. Many days, just carrying on with ordinary life would be all anyone could manage. No doubt, some people couldn’t spare the emotional energy for dreaming of a happy future. But others projected all of their hopes to when the war was over and things got back to normal. The same way we do now.

These days, I remain hopeful for the future, but am learning to accept how much is out of my control. And always was. Tamping down my expectations is one of the lessons of the pandemic. I’m not planning too far into the future, not counting on anything unless it’s something that I alone can make happen, like writing, reading, laying out a new vegetable garden, or making a strawberry pie. I’m more at peace than I have ever been with taking each day as it comes.

Will I get together with my grad school friends in the fall? I hope so. If we can’t meet then, we’ll try again for next spring or summer.

Time Suspended

Ancestral Pueblo people, including the Anasazi, lived in the New Mexico cliffs for centuries. The view from one of their dwellings helps give me perspective about the pandemic.

Whenever I travel, time suspends at the airport. I’m not flying the plane. I can’t control the weather. I’m at the mercy of the airlines and TSA and whatever rules they impose.

So I wait. In limbo. Crowded into a row of airport seats, keeping my arms and legs close, pinned behind my roll-on suitcase. Listening to announcements. Unsurprised by delays. Constrained.

Onboard, I shoehorn myself into an airplane seat. And wait. Wait to be given a snack. Wait to be allowed to get up. Usually, I accept the waiting, don’t expect anything different.

Often, I relish the flight time. No one needs anything from me. I can watch a silly movie that I wouldn’t have bothered with in the movie theater. I read, write, or doze. Eat all of the snacks.

Like air travel, sheltering in place is restrictive—close quarters, limited amusements, and out of my hands. I wouldn’t have signed up for it, but now that I’m on this journey, borrowing from my air travel mindset helps me accept this limbo. For the most part.

Cosmic smooch

In flight and during quarantine, time suspends. After an indeterminate while, we will arrive, and time will re-engage. Life will start up in a new place.

Staying Connected While Keeping the Distance

Between the pandemic and the resulting stock market tumble, my mind is often a crazymaking mess, fueled in part by our president’s lack of concern, care and compassion.

To keep myself from getting derailed by the body’s fight, flight or freeze response, I’m practicing mindfulness, which my friend Jacquelyn Fletcher Johnson, founder of Heartwood Healing, describes as paying attention to the present moment without rehashing the past or panicking about the future.

While I’m certainly not convinced that things are going to be “just fine,” being mindful has helped me think more clearly and calmly.

Two other things have helped: a mantra I’ve borrowed from my sister Karen (“Whatever happens, I’m going to be okay, today and in the future”) and a practice I learned from my friend Diane (Focus on what you want, control what you can).

To help keep my focus positive I’m staying connected with others while spending my days at home. I’m sending at least one card a day and even some handwritten letters. I’ve found a bliss buddy; she and I occasionally text one another what we are grateful for. I’m having weekly conversations with aunts, uncles and cousins, some of whom I haven’t talked with in years. And on Saturday, I’ll be meeting with my book group via Zoom rather than in person.

I’m also taking inspiration from what others are doing.

Deb Shanilec, my minimalist friend who helps people discover that less truly can be more, plans to celebrate her upcoming birthday via a virtual party around her backyard firepit. Teresa Thomas, founder of 50 Fun Things, is hosting an open-to-anyone online “Happier Hour” each Friday afternoon with the goal of raising a toast to joy.

And while joy isn’t my constant companion, it does remain my friend, in part because I’m practicing what Jacque refers to as the “art of the return.” By repeatedly and gently bringing my attention back to the tasks at hand, to my values and to the people and causes I care about, I gradually return to my future hopes and dreams.

How are you keeping calm? What are you doing to carry on? Who is sustaining you? What hopes and dreams are you envisioning for your own post-pandemic life? We’d love to hear. Please share.

 

Mental Whiplash

On February 19th, the snow was deep in our yard, and our alley was so rutted with thick ice that my car was forced to follow the deep track. Before my husband and I left for our three-week snowbird experiment in the Southwest, life seemed relatively predictable.

We are keenly interested in politics, so the Democratic primary in South Carolina on February 25 and Super Tuesday on March 3 (which included Minnesota) were on our minds. We voted before we left town.

We speculated about the outcomes as we hiked in the California desert among shaggy palms, Joshua trees, and giant boulders that are tumbled like toys in the foothills.

Less than 48 hours before Super Tuesday, the trailing presidential candidates ended their runs abruptly. Although the departures were inevitable, the timing was startling. The consolidation of candidates meant that my early vote was irrelevant. Like many, we were astonished by Joe Biden’s surge. When Elizabeth Warren exited a few days later, I was sad that there were no women candidates. The political landscape had changed dramatically, and the rapid change was jangling. However, COVID-19 felt remote.

In Tucson, our next destination, the desert was blooming. Clumps of yellow desert marigold dotted the hills that bristled with saguaro cactus. The sunny warmth of Sabino Canyon’s trails soothed me.

During the first week of March, concerns about COVID-19 came to the forefront for us. This was new terrain. Until then, sensible precautions seemed enough; our life hadn’t been disrupted. With each subsequent day, our understanding of the COVID-19 crisis increased as updates poured in faster than we could absorb them.

The Grand Princess cruise ship, which carried passengers ill with COVID-19, docked in Oakland. We worried about our son and his significant other, a physician in Oakland, who would be on the front lines.

The sky was overcast but the temps were still warm as we walked trails alongside the broad dry Rillito riverbed. I noticed spikes of pink penstemon, but our conversations centered around the looming pandemic and the conflicting national response. We worried about restrictions on flights from Europe where our niece was studying abroad and the pandemic’s impact on the economy.

By the time we flew home, the landscape was changing hourly with updates about cases and the CDC and NIH’s latest guidance. On our first day back, the president declared the overdue National Emergency. Comprehending the impact of the cascade of closings and event cancellations was hard. Is hard.

The pandemic is uncharted territory. Only a week ago, I wondered if I’d be able to fly to Chicago later this month for a wedding shower. Several days ago, meetings with my writer’s group and book group seemed possible. We’ve ruled out travel, in-person visits, and ordinary errands to help “flatten the curve.” The daily, even hourly, changes are like mental whiplash. No school. OK. Restaurants and stores with limited service. OK. Stay home. Got it.

March 18thIn the space of a month, so much has changed. The world looks very different. Socializing in person has been postponed. I no longer assume my travel plans for May and July will happen. We’ll see. We’re figuring it out, day by day, case by case, just like everyone else.

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 10.56.42 AM            Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 11.01.46 AM

 

 

At the moment, we’re healthy. The snow in our yard is nearly gone, and the alley is ice-free and dry. As I circle the yard, I note the early tulips and weeds pushing up in my gardens as they always have. Though much is unknown and I’m seeing the world with a new perspective, spring is coming, and for that, I’m grateful.

 

 

Je M’appelle Frisque

My grandparents’ families came from places like Walhain-St. Paul, Incourt, Nievelles, Tourinne-St. Lambert, and Huldenberg in Walloon Brabant, Belgium. Impacted by the same potato famine that brought many Irish to the United States, the Belgians made their way to Wisconsin communities with names like Brussels, Tonet, Namur, Luxemburg, and Walhain. The homes they left had been clustered in an area about forty miles wide. The farm towns they carved out of tree-covered land, almost four thousand miles across an ocean and half a continent, were about the same distance apart.

When I was a child I spoke some Walloon, a nearly forgotten language, with my Belgian-American great-grandmother and her friends as they quilted in our living room. We ate Belgian farm food like jut, a boiled cabbage side dish, stoemp, a mashed potato and cabbage dish, trippe, a bratwurst-type sausage, booyah, a chicken-based soup with many ingredients, and Belgian pie, a sweet dough tart filled with prunes and a cream cheese style top. Our Catholic church held a Kermis celebration in autumn. Beyond jokes about how much Belgians sweat or drank or were short, maybe stout, that’s about what I knew of our heritage. All the amazing accomplishments of the Belgians or their art or chocolates were from a different socio-economic part of the country.

My mother’s cousin and my father’s cousin researched family trees. Through the Frisque genealogy I discovered that my family was related to many, many people in Luxemburg, Wisconsin, the small town where my father grew up and we lived through part of my childhood. The Nockaert family information uncovered that my mother was mostly Belgian although she believed she was German. Names, dates, locations, relations fill pages. That’s it. The Belgian Heritage Center in Namur, Wisconsin may provide information to further the cousins’ research.

The histories of these people, who permanently left all they knew for 40 acres of land and a better future, are probably lost forever. But this summer we are going to visit Belgium, specifically Walloon Brabant, and trace what is left of our Cravillion, Frisque, Nockaert, and VanderKelen ancestors. They were all small farmers who left Belgium in the mid 1850s so there is probably little left of their lives beyond cemetery headstones.

We have nothing physical from their lives in Belgium and little expectation of connecting with other great-great-great grandchildren of the original immigrants. But one can always hope.

Genealogy