Relief and Gratitude

I sat with Tim in our car in line at the airport for two hours waiting to get Tim’s first vaccine. In a facility that serves 4,000 people a day, we were one of hundreds of cars (snaking) our way through the traffic-control labyrinth. I marveled at the planning that brought this event to life as we passed another set of porta-potties, this one from a different company from the last mobile toilets we passed. There must be hundreds of them dotted along this vaccine parade route, and dozens of contractors providing services. Some event planners spent weeks laying out the “run of show” operation, and it ran with all deliberate speed.

I felt relief and gratitude for the traffic guides, the administrative staff checking our appointments, the nurses administering the shots and the doctors checking in on everyone’s symptoms. With energy and good cheer, each person we saw executed their duties doggedly. And for the organizers who brought their experience and connections to bear on this important mission. And for an administration that prioritizes orderliness in public service over individualistic chaos.

I’ve been in a funk the last few weeks borne of avoidable causes. Increased outdoor work at the garden and hikes with my dog has exposed my receding fitness, so carefully won working with a trainer and then on my own. Our apartment gym closed, reopened with restrictions, and closed again in November. They still haven’t reopened. I hiked with the dog through the winter, but at-home workouts are just not as possible and effective as gym workouts, and I have steadily declined.

Since November, we also experienced the best food holidays from Thanksgiving to Easter; turkey, prime rib, black eyed peas and siapao, nachos for Super Bowl (which is only a food holiday, not a sports event), and Easter. Our wedding anniversary and our first-date-as-adults anniversary both fall in that period, so we feasted HARD. And I worked out less.

Photo by author and photographer C.B. Bernard, who wrote one of my favorite books “Chasing Alaska: A Portrait of the Last Frontier Then and Now.” This face is precisely how I have felt lately. Used with permission.

Huffing up hills and feeling creaky ankles is new and unwelcome. I sat my unhealthy self down for a full-banquet pity party and stayed for weeks.

Sitting in line for two hours and chewing over some newfound interpersonal material with my husband, I thought about how much has been lost this past 12+ months. How many people in line with us have lost jobs? Family members? Overhead, the only flights we saw at this typically busy airport were FedEx, UPS, DHL freight liners. One Delta flight passed in two hours. People haven’t been able to travel for pleasure or for necessity, and all the jobs related to travel have diminished abruptly. Restaurants, artists, theatres are all suffering. Hospitals are suffering both from the devastating loss of income from cancelled elective procedures and from the increased workload from covid cases, so some healthcare workers are overworked and some are out of work. The people staffing this vaccination center may be volunteers, or they may be paid, but just seeing them there brought into focus the universality of the pain of this era.

Lost jobs, lost income, lost family and friends. So much loss.

And I have lost fitness. All right, that’s true. In the grand scheme of things, though, there is so much more that I have gained.

–Weight. Obviously. I’ve gained weight.

–Because of the pandemic, I gained another year living with my daughter. When I wasn’t worrying about her getting sick — which I did every time she left the house — I was happy that she was safe and healthy. I got to watch her start her new career as a political organizer — a freaking political organizer! How perfect for her! — and grow in self knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of politics. And my innate concern about her respiratory health and her bone health decreased because she was taking fewer risks. She was in the safest possible place; my home, where I can care for her if anything goes wrong.

It isn’t a gain for HER mind you. She needs independence and autonomy over her living circumstances, and she needs to grow as an adult. It’s hard for her to do that living with us. I know this. But it was a gain for me, and I will cherish this time being with my adult daughter for the rest of my life.

–Time on weekly Zoom calls with my sons and their significant others. Learning who they are as adults, finding out how they interact in long-term relationships, and getting to know the women they have chosen to live their lives with has been fulfilling.

–Time with my dog, who is 14 and creaks when he’s getting up just like I do. He’s still spry enough to help me up those hills, though. He’s a good boy.

–Connection to Tim. We’ve also gained understanding and compassion for each other.

–New writing friends. I’ve written more this year than I have in the last five years combined. A writer’s group, a class on novel writing, and time have all combined to spur huge gains in the large writing project I started two years ago.

–A brand-new job. After being laid off from my office job at the music center, I started teaching piano online to individual students, and then to classes of students. Working with children for so long, I thought what I loved about teaching was the kids, but teaching older adults has electrified my music brain.

–The first stimulus payment started a savings account into which I stashed part of my unemployment checks until I had enough to finance the piano move. This is an outrageous gain I would never have achieved without the pandemic.

–My piano! It won’t be here for another two weeks at the earliest, but two weeks? TWO WEEKS? I’ve been waiting eight years! I have gained my piano.

–An ongoing savings account into which I stash all extra cash that comes my way. This is my first legitimate savings account, and I’m 52. I’m proud of myself for having one at all, and never missing an opportunity to put money into it, despite the spending I am doing on garden tools and comfort items.

–Comfortable clothing. All my clothes are knits now, and I will never go back to bras with hooks OR wires in them. Do I look most days like I just rolled out of bed? Yes. Do I care? No.

Today I am dressed like a toddler; soft long-sleeved shirt under a pair of knit overalls with big patch pockets on the front. All I need is a snap-crotch and I will have the best outfit ever.

–BRAND NEW COUSINS. Tim helped fill my idle hands with an Ancestry subscription, which led to my cousin Marion contacting me, which led to her contacting our OTHER cousins, and now there are five of us. FIVE. We have weekly cousin group-texts about family, but also just about our lives. I didn’t know this was what having extended family could be like. It’s remarkable.

–Connection with my friends who live on the east coast. This was possible before, but the widespread use of Zoom facilitated more connection. Also, one of my friends’ kids had twins, and she generously included me in the regular informational loop about the pregnancy and delivery of the two gorgeous little girls. I just got pictures of them this morning, and I feel like I know them.

–Being unemployed gave me more time to be outside, so my garden last year was the best one I’ve ever grown. All that time to fuss over tomatoes and strawberries and peas and hollyhocks resulted in a huge harvest. Plus I had time for hikes in new places, stretching my limits farther and farther to find places that weren’t crowded with my fellow newly unemployed people. Oregon’s outdoor spaces are crowded.

–I gained a whole new library of books that I consumed like popcorn in my sleepless nights and often throughout the languid days without work. At the last count, I’d read 70 books, which is rather a lot for me. Usually, I read idly, but reading has become a constant activity.

–A new Kindle! Tim replaced my 10-year-old, 2nd gen Kindle that I refused to upgrade until it fell lazily off the edge of my bed onto a hard surface and cracked irretrievably. Now my new Paperwhite is my constant companion, full of incredible works of fiction and some basic but entertaining light mysteries.

My mobile craft tower

–Connection with my brother and his family, also made easier by electronic communication. How incredible is it to really love your siblings’ spouses? I love his wife and their daughters.

–Time to be creative in new ways. I started a bullet journal which turned into just a doodle journal, but I get to play with markers and stencils and glue and ephemera. It’s like scrapbooking with zero rules and 100% more navel gazing.

–Extended connection to my sister who now lives 1,112 miles farther away than she lived before, which was already 1800 miles away. She bought the house with a barn that she has dreamed of her entire life, and I get to watch her progress and emotionally support her through pictures. Okay, that one feels more like a loss, because I wish I could be there to help with my hands and witness her new life in person instead, but I am still happy for her.

Looking at my list, my life is ripe and full and luscious — like my cheeks have become. There are so many more important things I have gained than weight. And there are far more devastating things I could have lost than my marginal fitness, but I have lost none of them.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote about the process of maturing in her novels. She likened maturity to “deepening,” a necessary rooting of one’s self into a community of other rooted beings. This year, despite my incidental loss that I can surely regain in the coming months, I have been allowed to deepen, grow my roots into where I am. Sometimes painful, often messy, as growth and development can be. Like aging, this opportunity to mature and learn is a gift for which I am grateful. I have gained so much more than weight.

Large rock with face carved in it, with full cheeks and dimples.
Copied from @MadeleineLEngle ‘s twitter account.

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