Touching Life: Notes from the New Homestead

On Saturday our red CRV was filled with flattened cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, assorted other papers and questionable plastics. After an eighteen mile drive we had arrived at the McIntire Recycling Center, where Ben and I met a man named John.

John knew everything about recycling and was eager to show us what from our bounty of trash we could distribute among his many large green crushing machines and what would be coming home with us, destined for landfill. He taught us, for example, about what plastics are useful to the composite deck making industry: ‘if it stretches and doesn’t stick to itself they can use it..’. So our bubble wrap and bread bags were a ‘go’ but the mountains of cling film the movers wrapped our furniture in were, unfortunately, a ‘no’

This was a very hands on, prepare to do the hard work, old school recycling experience that forced Ben and I to consider how much we consume and to reflect on the environmental cost of our move across the country. It was hot and sticky work that was eye opening and, with all that we learned, sorta fun in that ‘I can’t wait to get home to take a shower’ sorta way. 

Home for Ben, Bruce the Cat and me is now a pre-planned suburbia, the end townhome in a short row of townhomes that wiggle uphill like caterpillars enjoying a juicy nasturtium leaf toward our ever blooming ‘town center’. And if you’re old enough to remember ‘little boxes made of ticky tacky’ then you get the idea. But we love where we are. We are surrounded by mountains and wooded trails. The view from our kitchen deck looks toward a thick forest that is bound on one side by bright single family homes and a crisp white cement walkway. The difference between the two conditions – one put in order by man and the other by nature – is a constant reminder of our impact on the earth. And somehow it is teaching Ben and I to be better caretakers.

A few evenings ago, just before dusk, I was looking out from my kitchen toward the shadowed woods and saw a slim, young deer enjoying a meal of wild weeds and flowers as she made her way down the grassy verge between the sidewalk and the forest. I called Ben over and as we watched we saw the deer’s fawn – not more than a few days old, all spots and gangly legs – run to catch up to its mother. We watched as they made their way around the pond to disappear back into the thick brush. Another reminder that Ben and I are temporary stake holders. Interlopers.

When we first arrived at our new home we noticed that we had some tenants already living in a vent on the back patio. Two Eastern bluebirds had built a nest and were nurturing their newly hatched brood. A few days after our furniture arrived the bluebirds lost one of their young when it fell from the nest. The next day they lost another. But the parents continued to fly back and forth, feeding what children remained a constant stream of grubs and grasshoppers.

Until Saturday. 

I found Bruce the Cat staring through the glass door in a state of high excitement and agitation. I was happy that Bruce had something to entertain him until I realized what was happening. On the patio was a disaster of Hitchcockian proportions. Two dozen sparrows perched on our railing, harassing the bluebirds. Their last two fledglings had been pulled from the nest and were now writhing on the patio floor. At this point they had feathers but I don’t think they knew how to fly. Their suffering and distress was horrifying. In a panic, one fledgling ran and fell off the patio and down a full story to the earth below. The parents continue to fight off the attacking sparrows to protect their last remaining baby while the sparrow spectators watched in what I imagined was bloodthirsty glee.

When it became obvious that there was nothing more to see the sparrows disappeared. But the parents were still in distress and the young bird was still suffering. Ben and I did not know what to do. Put it out of its misery? Wait for the inevitable? What we decided to do was to cut a hole in the end of a shoe box to create a shelter for the baby bird. We covered the shoebox with a plastic bag and built a sort of dam in front of the box with a rolled towel in order to keep out the rain.

What happened next was astounding. Within an hour the parents were feeding their last offspring an endless meal of grubs and grasshoppers again. Ben and I feel privileged that we were able to witness this remarkable process of feeding, healing and protection for two days. 

Today the box looked undisturbed but there was no sign of the fledgling’s parents. When an hour went by and there was still no activity I ventured out and looked in the box. 

It was empty.

I need to begin this week believing that we saved that young bluebird’s life and that at dawn, with encouragement from its parents, the fledgling spread its wings and took flight. That might not be true but it’s what I need to believe.

I have one more story to share.

On Sunday afternoon Ben and I thought dinner at the Thai restaurant just a five minute walk away would be nice. Delicious food. Friendly service. A mojito that will knock your socks off. What could go wrong?

An hour earlier it had rained. As we enjoyed our drunken noodles and tum yum soup the sky was still grey but there were slices of sunshine. It was only after we paid our bill that the clouds turned black and ominous. We began our short walk home in faltering sunlight. A block later we stayed just two steps ahead of the thick plops of water that began to follow us down the sidewalk. It was less like rain and more like a slow leak in an old ceiling. We were still confident we would make it home. Besides, we had umbrellas. As if they were going beat back the onslaught about to happen.

Just past the roundabout the skies ripped open. And I mean ripped opened. We ran, we screamed, we laughed, we submitted to the inevitable. Ben’s flat cap blew from his head at the same time that our umbrella turned inside out. We ran back to catch the hat before it was lost to the deluge. By the time we reached our doorstep there was not one square inch that wasn’t soaked. It was magical.

I can’t remember having so much fun in the rain.

Over this past week I’ve touched life in ways I never have never touched life before.


Love and Home

I’ve been thinking about love and what makes a home.

The moving van arrived four days after we did. Our townhome has a ground floor garage and spare room (the ‘Mimm Cave’), a first floor open plan living room and kitchen, and a second floor primary bedroom and two smaller bedrooms – an office for Ben and our ‘yoga studio’. Boxes were easy to carry to their designated room. I’d packed over one hundred and sixty and all but a few were small enough and light enough for this sixty-three year old post-menopausal woman to lift. Maneuvering the furniture, however, proved an issue for our intrepid moving team.

Navigating the tight corners and two flights of stairs was an impossible task. After some discussion, the quartet – by now soaked in sweat – drove the truck further into our short driveway and parked at an angle. Two stood on the roof of the truck, which sagged under their weight. One stood on the small deck off our kitchen and the forth ran between the back of the truck, up one flight of stairs and back down again as together they hoisted furniture over the deck’s railing. Three hours later the truck was empty and the house was full.

Four days later Ben and I, along with our brave feline companion Bruce are adjusting to our new life. And I’m left thinking about love and what makes a home.

As I write it is 7:00 AM on a cloudy Sunday in Virginia. The house is quiet. Ben is still sleeping upstairs and Bruce is enjoying breakfast. I’m sitting in my living room, which is filled with soft morning light. Everything that I can see – the chairs, the sofa, the painting on the wall, the tea chest, the brass lamp and baskets – are gifts from someone else. So even though I am alone right now I’m surrounded by the energetic imprint left behind by the friends who offered these objects to me. I can feel the joy and spirt of generosity generated by giving. 

But I’ve been given unseen things, too, which have their own sweet vibration, like the way bright fuchsia and searing red bounce against one another when they are side by side.

All these energies, from the seen and the unseen, have infused our new home with love. And for the first time in a long time, I have space in my heart to feel it. 

So thank you. I feel blessed. Not only for this love-filled home, but for you.


Last Time Land

Last Sunday Ben turned left onto Fruitvale Avenue and I began to cry. The afternoon had turned from hot and humid to bright and breezy. We spent it enjoying cold pizza from Terun and chilled ice tea in Pat and Bob’s garden while their eight-month old Golden Doodle ran in playful circles around us. A few hours later we stood at their door not wanting to leave but knowing it was time. I wanted to hug them both – a simple gesture of love and affection – but Pat is immunocompromised and we were not willing to risk COVID. The best I could do to let these dear friends know how my life changed from knowing them was to say,

“I’m hugging you in my heart.”

Pat replied, “I know.”

The day that we move to Virginia is two weeks away. And now we can’t help but say, ‘that’s the last time we’ll grab coffee at Printer’s Cafe’ or ‘that’s the last time we’ll be up in the City’ or ‘that’s the last time we’ll sit in their garden with a glass of summer wine’. In other words, sadness and excitement have locked horns. We’re living in Last Time Land.

Last Time Land is an odd place. It’s full of sun bright joy – like the joy felt a few Tuesdays ago. That was the clear blue sky morning when a few dozen friends who have been gathering with me to practice yoga on Zoom gathered instead in Susan’s garden. It was less a ‘going away’ party and more a celebration saturated with love and appreciation for one another. I’m so happy that morning happened. It was an experience I didn’t know I needed.

It’s difficult to describe the other side of Last Time Land. It’s like a deep sigh more than anything. It’s not sad or melancholy. It’s a letting go.

Like the letting go of a good job with good people and where I learned so much. But I’m not sad to be leaving my work at the pain clinic because the space I once occupied there is now occupied by someone else. Nothing has ended, only grown.

It’s the true endings that make this side of Last Time Land difficult to navigate. I had a true ending this week. The experience that came to an end this week was one that created so much possibility for me and over the past ten years influenced so much of who I am as a human and how I walk through the world. I feel a deep sense of loss in this true ending.

A true ending creates a void and an unknowing that leaves us with an imbalance that can’t be made right until we sit in that void and grieve. But in time the void closes, grief softens, balance is regained and surety in the journey forward is found.


Neurographic Drawing

At the start of the year I set the intention of building a writing practice that would allow me to post every two weeks. I created a spread sheet of topics around these obvious themes: yoga, coaching and craft. I hoped I would have the strength and energy (and the technical prowess) to have a brief video accompany the posts I wrote about aspects of our yoga practice. I managed one video, but my posts over the past six months have been consistent. Not what I intended, but consistent. Until now.

Writing, like yoga or art, is a practice that requires our presence. We have to show up. And I find it difficult to show up for writing practice when my brain is full. And right now my brain is full. My beloved and I are three weeks away from a major life transition – our move to the ‘other coast’. Our home has become a storage unit filled with boxes and I’m obsessed with worry about how Bruce – our amazing, elderly, deaf ginger cat – will manage the flight to Virginia and how he will adjust to a new home. There are so many details that need to be attended to that there is no room in my brain for putting words down on a page.

And don’t even mention my preoccupation with…well…everything else.

And so I’ve decided to draw. My art supplies are packed and so all I have to work with are a few sharpies and a mechanical pencil. But that’s all I need for neurographic drawing. The technique, a distant cousin to SoulCollage®, begins with just a thought. A quiet thought, a few shapes and a single line. So simple and yet it doesn’t take long before my energy settles. The jumbled words and racing thoughts become quiet, and I’m lost in the shapes I’ve drawn. I’m lost in the moment, which is a nice place to rest.


I’m a Coach. Don’t Roll Your Eyes.

When I began my training with International Coach Academy (ICA) at the beginning of the pandemic (and isn’t it odd how we now tell time according to COVID?) we were asked to find peer coaches with whom we would practice our developing skills. One of my peer coaches – who I’ll name Jane – was close to graduating from the sixteen-month program. I found Jane’s coaching prowess intimidating. She possessed limitless self-belief and her blinding confidence glowed like a pulsating aura. What Jane lacked was empathy. She didn’t notice that my habit of comedic self-deprecation is the tactic I use to disguise my fear of failure. It was both her loss and mine.

Before my peer coaching relationship with Jane began, I believed coaching was easy. I had no doubt that I was going to sail through ICA’s intensive program without breaking a sweat. But the opposite was proving true. Coaching is a skill that takes practice and dedication to master and I was struggling. Jane was blind to my struggle. When she told me that 80% of the individuals who graduate from a coaching program never become professional coaches, she didn’t see the movie reel of my life as a coach burst into flames. She couldn’t know that the committee in my head, my little saboteurs that run around with needles to poke holes in my hopes and dreams, never once thought to tell me I could be in the 20% who succeed. And so, when I graduated from ICA I didn’t shout my achievement from the rooftops. It was more of a whisper. And these days, despite my excellent training, I use my coaching skills on the sly. No one even notices. What a shame.

Newly minted coaches are encouraged to practice with peer coaches. I have two that I see on a regular basis. We use our time together to refine our skills and to share experiences. Most recently we’ve been trying to determine why, as bright and well trained individuals, we find it so difficult to ‘sell’ our services.

Part of our struggle is found in the knowledge that, like yoga, life coaching is an unregulated industry. And although coaches have a strong governing body – the International Coaching Federation – for there is no incentive to jump over the many rigorous hoops required to earn accreditation through the ICF when the truth is that anyone who attends a weekend long ‘coach training’ workshop can then hang out a shingle. For that reason, if you are interested in finding a coach, it’s important to review their qualifications in the same way that you might want to know how long your yoga instructor has been practicing and where she did her teacher training.

Another industry problem is the myth that working with a life coach is a luxury only the self-indulgent can afford. While it’s true that some coaches bill at a rate per hour that is so high as to be offensive, others offer their services on a sliding scale or are willing to negotiate payment options. 

Some parts of the health and wellness industry view the coaching industry as nothing more than an interloper riding the coattails of licensed mental health professionals. But coaching is not therapy. Coaching does not examine the past. It begins in the present moment and builds a scaffolding of accountability and action to support the client’s journey forward. It is a grounding, effective technique with which we can navigate and overcome the obstacles that prevent us from achieving our goals and living by values that, for us, carry heart and meaning. Coaching shifts perspective. It helps us to become ‘unstuck’. 

As a coach, I facilitate your journey toward the clarity required to find all the possible paths that will lead you to the future you envision. I create space for you to uncover and to shift the long held limiting beliefs that prevent you from bringing your best self fully into focus.

Coaching is client led. The relationship can be thought of like this: 

Imagine you and I are on a road trip together. I’m your coach, sitting in the passenger seat. You are behind the wheel. You are choosing the destination and the road we’ll take to get there. Along the way you might discover a different road and maybe even a different destination. My job is to help you find your way around roadblocks and to navigate detours. I help you determine for yourself if the choices you are making and the journey you are creating are coming from a place of authenticity aligned with who you are and who you hope to be.

There was a time when I reacted to the words ‘life coach’ with a Pavlovian eye roll – even when becoming a coach was tickling my intuitive heart. Now I understand how coaching works. I understand the skill and the techniques involved. I’ve experienced coaching’s magic. The way it can bring lost ambitions, goals and values back into focus.

Have you lost focus? Do you feel stuck? If you have an important decision to make or a habit you would either like to break or create – let a coach climb into the passenger seat. You’ll be happy you did.

International Coaching Week is happening soon. What better time to try coaching?


The Cotswolds, Broken Cherubs and Choosing Autonomy

I remember a trip to the Cotswolds. It must be over thirty years ago. I was on a solo visit to Oxford and was scheduled to enjoy a day’s excursion to the green rolling hills with an unassuming tour company called Spires and Shires. We might have visited Chipping Camden in the morning and perhaps were on the way to Bibury. It doesn’t matter. What I remember is that we stopped to visit a tiny chapel. We were a small group, maybe ten altogether and that’s counting Ceri, our guide from Spires and Shires. Everyone’s attention was directed toward the altar but Ceri and I were standing at the back of the group and unable to see. So we turned to explore what was behind us. We found two broken cherubs resting on a thick stone windowsill. The mid-afternoon sunlight, made soft and languid by centuries of dust, filtered through the diamond shaped panes of glass and fell on the sleeping angels like a warm blanket. It was a serendipitous moment of peace and beauty impossible to forget even decades later. 

What does a trip to the Cotswolds have to do with leading a yoga class? When I’m guiding a group of students through a series of postures I’m a little like Ceri from Spires and Shires. I can see where we are and I know where we’re headed. I keep us on the intended path but what you choose to look at – how you choose to explore our yoga path – is up to you. 

To encourage your exploration I offer options. Lots and lots of options which, I’m certain, might be annoying to anyone who arrives at our Monday, Wednesday and Friday online yoga practices yearning to be told exactly what to do and how to do it.

The thing is, I stopped being that yoga teacher long ago. 

When I offer choices, I’m really offering autonomy. We move along our intended path…triangle…warrior I…extended side stretch…but how you follow that path is your choice because it’s your practice. Do you use a blocks? Do you raise your arms or keep them by your side? Do you rest your fingers on the back of a chair? Do you answer your body’s call to work at your own pace and to a depth that is appropriate for you in that moment and in that pose?

The invitational language I use, the choice making I offer, turns our practice together into a present-moment experience as our bodies move from form to form. Those of us trained in trauma-informed yoga recognize these ideas as the lens from which a trauma-informed practice flows. But shouldn’t all practices be viewed through this lens? How else can we learn to the listen for the story our body wants to tell?


Growing Freer

I’ve been thinking about balance.

At the start of the pandemic, which now feels a lifetime ago, I decided that my new found spare time offered me room to begin running again. It didn’t matter that over the previous two decades I moved no faster than a brisk walk. In college I ran to relieve the stress of studies and an unhappy marriage. After college and well into my thirties I ran because when I ran I felt strong and invincible. I wanted to feel that way again. And so I made my preparations. I researched the best shoes for my finicky feet and purchased what I could afford. I found websites and apps with titles like Running for Women, Running for Seniors and Running for Senior Women. I downloaded training schedules and created a list of routes to run and calculated the distances. It didn’t take long for me to graduate from brisk walk to shuffle to an actual jog and in those first weeks I looked forward to a healthy body, a clear mind and the lean, organized structure to my life that I craved.

And then a broken side walk came between my toe and my hopes. While my knees and my thumbs healed I considered giving up. A few months later, when I had a second hard fall, I did give up. 

Falling down was not a rare occurrence when I was a child. My mom would tease, You can trip over thin air, she’d say. When I was in sixth grade one of our teachers who was fresh out of college watched me stumble my way through a tangle of classroom chairs and then, dripping sarcasm, joked about my ‘grace’. It’s funny how we remember these things and not our moments of actual grace. To be fair, it’s true that my knees were skinned more often than not throughout my childhood. But I don’t believe it was because I was clumsy or awkward. I was too busy thinking about the next adventure to notice where I was going. My head was always a million miles ahead of my feet.

And I didn’t think too much about having skinned knees when I was a kid. I always bounced back up, brushed myself off, stuck a bandaid on my scrapes and moved on with life.

But last year the cracks in the sidewalk that sent me flying caught me by surprise. I didn’t bounce back like I did when I was a girl. Something was different. For the first time the trust I had in my body, that all would be well, was questioned. For the first time I found myself afraid of the future and the changes my body would continue to go through as I aged. 

When I stopped catastrophizing about a future that is a mystery to me and began to think clearly I realized that there was plenty I could do now to improve my strength and my balance. How I take care of my body now will inform how my body thrives in the future. I can eat more vegetables. Especially cruciferous ones. I can take Vitamin D. I can add more weight bearing exercises to my routine to keep my bones strong. I can remember that physical balance can be practiced. And then I can make sure to include standing balance poses to my yoga practice.

I don’t really have a formal game plan. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not working toward my healthy future. It means I’m letting go of some of the anxiety I hold about the future. Over the last few weeks I’ve realized that a balanced body goes hand-in-hand with a balanced mind. And to keep a healthy, balanced mind I need to remain present with what is rather than focused on what might be. I can smile more. I can reach out to friends more often. I can immerse myself in the things that I love like art and reading and cooking. 

And I can remember that sometimes we sing the body electric’. Sometimes we fall down. 

This Pablo Neruda poem appeared in my Facebook feed this morning along with this advice: we are growing freer…not older.

You Start Dying Slowly

You start dying slowly

if you do not travel,

if you do not read,

If you do not listen to the sounds of life,

If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly

When you kill your self-esteem;

When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly

If you become a slave of your habits,

Walking everyday on the same paths…

If you do not change your routine,

If you do not wear different colors

Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly

If you avoid to feel passion

And their turbulent emotions;

Those which make your eyes glisten

And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly

If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,

If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,

If you do not go after a dream,

If you do not allow yourself,

At least once in your lifetime,

To run away from sensible advice.”

– Pablo Neruda


What Would You Carry?

As of this week I’ve filled eighty-six small to medium sized boxes that are light enough for a sixty-three year old woman in good health to lift with relative ease. Each box is numbered, the contents roughly noted on a Google spreadsheet. In twelve weeks – give or take a few days – those boxes that I’ve filled with treasures, junk, books – oh so many books – cookware and memories will be loaded onto a truck by a couple of burly strangers and driven across the country. 

When I was young a move required nothing more than a backpack and a few boxes. I had my life pared down to bare necessities and when the weight of possession became too much I happily gave it away. But to flit about as I did in my youth required a lightness for which I no longer yearn. What I want now, more than anything, is an anchor. I want to feel tied to a place and a people. I want a home. I want family and the sense of belonging that’s alluded me since the days when I was able to pack almost everything I owned into a cardboard box. 

I feel some guilt around my selfish wants. I know there is a difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’. I have everything I need and for that I’m grateful. But still, I want these things. Wanting pretty things like porcelain teacups from Japan. Wanting furniture made from wood and not multi-density fiberboard. Wanting a dining room table with extendable leaves and room enough for my beloved’s sisters, his nieces and nephews and their children. Cloaked around the knowledge that it can be taken away without warning is a deep want for stability. But this morning I’m wondering if a stability is determined by your environment or how you experience your environment.

What’s interesting about the process of packing is that as our moving date approaches we’re finding it easier to let go. But I struggle with the precious things. The little things. The tchotchkes that serve no purpose but are the keepers of such potent memories. The carnival chalk ware figurines I found at a car boot sale in Letterkenny, County Donegal twenty years ago. The elf shaped, never-been-burned three inch candle that my beloved keeps at his desk and refuses to abandon. What do we do with the precious things and what would our lives be without them?

The things we choose to keep around us tell our story. They remind us of the places we’ve been, the people we’ve loved, the dreams we’ve lost and the dreams that came true. 

But if I had to chose between these things and my life I would abandon everything without question in order to survive. What must it be like, do you think, to be forced to do that with a moment’s notice? What must it be like to wake up to the sound of explosions and to realize that everything you know, everything you assume will always be there – the school, the hospital, the corner market – is about to be destroyed?

For five weeks we’ve watched missiles rain down on homes that look like the homes we live in and on cities that look like the cities we love. Two weeks ago we saw a mother with her two children, two family dogs and the family friend leading them to safety. One moment they were alive and when the dust cleared they were dead. What did they carry with them? If we opened Tetiana’s rolling suitcase what would we find? What precious toy did her daughter Alise find room for in her backpack? What book was so important to Mykyta that he would choose to carry it with him on their futile attempt to escape a savage war?

What would you bring? What book would you carry?


Accepting Change

I was reared in a family that never scheduled routine check-ups and avoided seeing the doctor unless it was an emergency. I remember Dr. Yost being called out to our house for me three times in the ten years we lived in Lynnport. When I was seven I had a bad flu, when I was in fourth grade he pulled a large splinter from the back of my leg, and when I was in high school what started as a cold turned into something much worse. Each time my mother’s call to Dr. Yost was the last resort after all efforts by her to heal me failed. So I learned early on that you don’t call the doctor unless there are no other options. And a gazillion options are one click away. 

Following my families tradition I’ve avoided asking a doctor to examine my right hip and instead have designed my own treatment plan. What’s wrong with my right hip? What began as pain a few months ago has settled into unrelenting ache. It aches when I walk. When I climb stairs. When I sleep.

Instead I use heat. I use ice. I use over-the-counter NSAIDs and sleep with a pillow between my knees. My yoga practice is dialed down and until this week I shortened my long walks to brief strolls. I do core exercises to strengthen my back. I’ve added core exercises to support my back. But family traditions die hard and I’ve not seen a doctor. Although, to be fair, the physical therapist I work with ran some range of motion tests on my hip…so there’s that.

But with my medical degree from the University of Google, I assume it’s arthritis that’s plaguing my right hip. I don’t know that, of course, but I assume. And I don’t want to go to the doctor to have my assumptions confirmed and my current approach to treating the pain validated. While I’m blessed to have insurance it comes with a very high deductible which means a very high bill. So I am, for now, sticking to my ice and my heat, my NSAIDs, my mindful movement and my tummy crunches.

Here is the point of this long winded story:

While I continue to avoid seeking medical attention I’ve begun working on accepting change. Because isn’t that what’s really happening? My body is changing. This skin sack I live in, with all its bones and tendons and ligaments, nerves and muscles is aging. And my right hip is reminding me of that truth. 

I have nothing against growing old. I love watching my hair turn silver and I look forward to dispensing kitchen wisdom to any potential step-grandchildren that might show up in my dotage. I’m just not a fan of the baggage that comes along for the ride.

Like my achy hip. Which, by the way, is responding to my treatment plan.

Here’s some news you might use. Did you know yoga teachers have a higher than average incidence of hip replacement? I began teaching yoga almost thirty years ago. All those triangles and twists add up. Factor in the ego-driven yoga practice of youth and you might be looking at a titanium ball and socket joint before you collect social security.

For an interesting take, read this.


Truffles, Baseball Caps & Judgement

During the pandemic a friend of mine eschewed the sourdough bandwagon and instead  mastered chocolate truffle making. His truffles are exquisite. Velvety smooth, they’re indulgent but somehow never ‘too much’. Some of the truffles he makes are elegant and traditional – little spheres of creamy chocolate rolled in cocoa or hazelnut. Others are playful and wear coats of chocolate sprinkles or crystalized ginger. All are simply perfect. 

Sunflowers

I’m thinking about truffles, COVID and politics this morning. Is it just me or does it feel like we’ve figured out how to live with COVID? At least in the the San Francisco Bay Area where vaccination rates are high, infection rates are low and people lean toward wearing masks indoors. New variants don’t hold Omicron’s power to terrorize and we’ve figured out how to enjoy social occasions with groups larger than two again. We’ve even mastered Zoom.

But I’m still baffled by anti-vaxxers. Early on, when vaccines first became available, a friend explained why she would remain un-vaxed: “I take vitamins, I exercise and I’m in good health. And I did my own research.” In hindsight I wish I’d replied, “I bet a lot of people said that before they ended up on a ventilator” but I was too flummoxed. More recently – during the peak of Omicron – a friend invited me to lunch. They excused their lack of vaccination this way, “I’m not going to catch COVID and even if I did, I’m going to die anyway.” Sigh. 

This, believe it or not, brings me back to truffles. 

My truffle making buddy and I meet – vaxed, boosted and, now that mandates have softened, carrying a mask just in case – every few weeks for coffee. If his ganache hasn’t broken I’m presented with an elegant box purchased from Etsy and filled with little yummy bites of joy. 

Today’s truffle was rolled in finely crushed Oreo biscuit and black salt.  The addition of salt added an unexpected and nuanced sophistication to the cookie crumble.  I enjoyed it with a cup of Earl Grey. The morning was pretty much like the truffle – delightful. The sun was shining and people were happily filling bags with produce from the nearby farmer’s market or standing in a long, chatty queue at the dim sum market stall across the street. Even the cafe’s usually grumpy owner was wearing his frown upside down. A few tables away sat a group of four middle-aged friends and a dog. One of the men – slightly older with a thick, grey beard – was wearing a light brown baseball cap with the message ‘Biden Failed Us’ embroidered in gold on the crown.  

To say I found it triggering is an understatement. But not for the reasons you think. Free speech, after all, is a human right.

But in today’s political atmosphere wearing a hat that is guaranteed to provoke feels unnecessary to me. It feels ugly. Selfish in the same way that, unless you are exempt for health or religious reasons, not being vaccinated is selfish. It’s an easy way to be loud without opening your mouth. To look like you are well informed when really you’re more like the Great Oz when he’s revealed to be less of a wizard and more of a fraud. 

I know nothing about the man with the hat and maybe, if I’d asked him, he would have explained with clarity his position. Yet I let his silly hat drag me kicking toward a mental space I find myself locked in more often than I would like. 

Judgement. 

It’s been a messy two years. An exhausting two years. And just when we thought we could see daylight again the world has fallen into a frightening state of chaos. 

I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna and the accusations are true. I am a card carrying, dyed-in-the-wool Pollyanna. But I believe with all my heart that we have a light within us and this is the time to shine. We shine our light by thinking about how our decisions impact the lives of others. We need to consider how our choices – down to the hat we choose to wear – should lift people up rather than tear them down.  We need to speak with care. We need to own our beliefs but share them with compassion, not vitriol. 

We need to stop being mean.

And above all else, we need more truffles.