our little tree: tiny hopeful buds

by Christie Shumate McElwee

We have a two-year old tree in front of our house that isn’t doing well. While all the other trees on our block have leafed out, ours silently stands with just a few buds attempting to open. Every day I send energy to its roots, hoping it will feel the strength of my love. I acknowledge that all my tree hugging may not be able to save it, yet I pray to Mother Nature to summon her powers to revive this struggling plant.

Lately I have been pondering the difference between hope and optimism. Yes, these concepts are related, but they follow divergent paths. Both are guideposts to the future. Think in terms of their opposites. The opposite of optimism is pessimism, and the opposite of hope is despair or fear. Optimism relies on feeling good about the future, even denying that bad things can happen. Optimists expect things to turn out okay. Hope, on the other hand, relies on the effort to make life better, knowing hard times are ahead and barreling ahead in spite of them. Hopeful people continue on through the pain, fighting for justice and kindness and peace.

In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers”, she writes:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

The little bird clings to the branch while the storm swells, and continues to sing its song. Hope gives us warmth, yet doesn’t ask anything of us. We know things are rough. We see the darkness. We feel the pain…yet hope is still there, singing its tune.

Where do I see hope? It is in people trying their best to protect others. It is in our beautiful faces, even when covered by masks. Hope is in the reaching out, the praying, the grace we give one another. Hope sustains us.

And what about our little tree? Will my hope save it? I check it every day for new buds, and embrace its trunk, hoping it will feel my spirit. Will it survive? I don’t really know the answer, but I continue to hope, and that hope gives me strength to face what is ahead. I will live under hope’s roof.

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” 

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

At first glance, our little tree looks dead.
But step closer, you can see tiny, hopeful buds.

‘show me’ how to breathe: the reopening of my state and how to navigate my anxiety

by Christie Shumate McElwee

I woke up in the middle of the night with a rapid heart beat and a litany of questions. Is this really a good idea? Are our numbers flat enough to reopen? When will I feel safe again in public? How do I manage my ramped up anxiety? Is there a right way to do this thing? A wrong way? What about those who don’t adhere to the rules? What about the small business owners who need to open so they can stay afloat? Will I ever feel comfortable eating in a restaurant? Shopping in a store? Can establishments keep their workers safe while operating? What about more tests? More PPE? What if there is a surge in positive cases? What about those who won’t wear masks? Will we ever go to a concert again? A street fair? The pool? Will I ever be able to catch my breath again?

My state and county officially reopened at 12:01 am today. (A few counties with larger populations have chosen to remain closed.) The “show me strong recovery plan” has lists of rules and regulations on its website, but with the exception of a few places, the doors have been thrown wide open. The businesses I follow on social media have been posting their procedures for reopening. Some are waiting at least a week while they hammer out the logistics. Others, especially restaurants, are moving tables and chairs six feet apart, instituting hygiene rules, and begging for patience from their customers while they attempt to figure this all out.

On Saturday my husband and I went for a drive. We decided to check out a county park that had just reopened. During “normal” times we love to walk the path around the lake, but when we arrived, the place was packed. People were everywhere. Parking lots were full. Despite the signs encouraging safe social distancing, few seemed to comply. We quickly left the premises and found a small semi-deserted place to walk where I could breathe.

I am slowly realizing that in order to come to some kind of peace with all of this, I have to sit with my anxiety and then remember I can only control myself.

So, here’s my list of what I can control:

  1. We are going to maintain our own ‘shelter-in-place’ for at least another month. We will venture out for walks, trips to the grocery and hardware stores, and for my husband, an occasional game of golf, but we need to see how this all works before we tip-toe out in public. (And yes, I am getting my hair cut. You can judge me if you want, but it’s happening.)
  2. I am going to attempt to set aside my own judgment of others. I don’t like the icky feeling I get when I’m in the judgment zone. (This is difficult for me. I must be honest. If you are rude, unkind, racist, or just plain stupid, I may continue to judge you.) We humans are social animals. Staying sequestered goes against our natures. This I understand. I also know businesses cannot stay closed forever. If an establishment is going to the trouble to keep its workers and customers safe, I’m holding my judgment…for now.
  3. We will wear our masks when entering any establishment. Yes, it is a hassle. Yes, it is a pain in the butt. Yes, it is the smart thing to do in order to protect the health of others.
  4. I am cutting way back on the quarantine amount of wine I have consumed. I’m rationing myself to the weekends instead of every night. My sleep cycle and liver will thank me.
  5. I will continue to exercise almost every day. This is important for maintaining my weight and my mental health.
  6. I am also rationing my reading and viewing consumption of anything that concerns the current occupant of the White House and his hateful, small, ignorant words. A friend of mine said she won’t allow him in her house, and I’ve decided that’s brilliant! I would never invite such a person in my home, so why am I doing it now? I will permit one or two articles a day, an occasional rant, and that is it. I will vote in November and hope, hope, hope we can heal.
  7. I’ve decided to let go of my part-time teaching job. This pandemic has taught me the importance of listening to my heart, and it is telling me it is time to hang up my teaching cape. It’s been a good run, but I am done.
  8. We will continue to order from our favorite locally owned businesses. We’ve finally figured out this whole take-out routine, and we kind of like it. On nice days, we will grab a blanket and head outside for a picnic, just to mix things up a bit.
  9. Today I will start meditating. It may just be for five minutes a day, but it will help me breathe.
  10. I will attempt to live in the moment and push aside the fear. I will love with my messy heart all that is good in the world. I will breathe in hope and breathe out compassion.

“Life is beautiful in spite of everything…There are many thorns, but the roses are there too.” ~Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Crimson clover has overtaken empty lots in our neighborhood. Isn’t it gorgeous?

cece’s 19 thursday musings

by cece (my grandma name)

Day WTF

(A few are political, so if you don’t want to read or believe my sassy liberal views, move on.)

  1. I see online all the wonderful bread being made. It all looks so delicious I can almost smell it! Last week I baked a loaf of banana bread. Does that count?
  2. Please do not share conspiracy theories of body counts in urban areas. It is sad and sick and just not right. These “bodies” are people’s friends and family members. Say a silent prayer and step away from the propaganda.
  3. I miss hugs. I really miss hugs.
  4. I ration myself to just a few news articles a day that deal with our government’s total ineptitude of dealing with this crisis. My sanity can only take so much stupidity.
  5. Support mail-in voting. Widespread voter fraud is a myth. Yes, I love going to the polls to vote, but I shouldn’t have to risk my life to do it. Any type of voter suppression is morally repugnant. There. I said it.
  6. All the calories we are consuming during the quarantine don’t count, right?
  7. And the same goes for all the booze, yes?
  8. I went to our neighborhood market this afternoon, and it took half an hour for my heart rate to come down after I returned and wiped down everything. Again. I miss our weekly trips to the grocery store when Rock would push the cart while I’d dance down Dierberg’s aisles finding everything on the list. Dierberg’s has the best music, I’m just saying.
  9. Overnight, how did we all become hypochondriacs, agoraphobics, and Howard Hughes? Damn.
  10. Please do NOT gather in a church this Sunday. God will hear your off key version of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” during your online worship. Me? I’m going to rewatch Jesus Christ Superstar with John Legend. Hosanna, baby.
  11. According to the numbers and models, social distancing is working. Stay home, if you can. If you are an essential worker, stay safe. If you are venturing out to the stores or picking up food, follow the rules. Also, stop gathering in large groups. STOP. IT.
  12. I am trying to donate to a charity or order takeout or delivery from a local establishment at least once a week. What are you doing?
  13. Once again, it’s okay to feel sad. There are no rules for how to behave in a global pandemic. 
  14. I really really miss my lunches out with friends. 
  15. When I found out I wouldn’t be meeting my ESL students in person again this semester, I cried.
  16. If you will be missing graduations, proms, and end of the school year celebrations, I am truly sorry. My heart hurts for you.
  17. If you are having financial troubles, I am wrapping you all in my fierce warrior goddess energy. Stay strong, my loves.
  18. Spring is still on its way. No virus will stop spring.
  19. Listen to good music. Enjoy the quiet. Love one another.

You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.

Pablo Neruda

‘my friend ann’

by ‘her friend christie’

I have been blessed over the years to have gathered tribes of wonderful women friends. A few are from early grade school years, some when we attended Woodrow Wilson Junior High, others from MacArthur High School, several from my Millikin University days, and the rest I have assembled along the way from work, book clubs, and various organizations. I am grateful for their strength and passion and prayers (“Yes, Annelle, I pray!”). These women have propped me up when I’ve been at my lowest and stood along with me as I have stumbled into battles. We show up for one another, even when it is at its most painful.

My friend Ann is one of these women. I always refer to her as ‘my friend Ann’ to avoid confusion with ‘my sister Ann.’ I first met ‘my friend Ann’ during the second semester of my senior year in college. When I cast her in the one-act play I was directing for one of my final projects, I was thrilled she accepted the part. A real actress was going to be in my little old play! I was just a lowly speech education major with minors in English and theater. What did I really know about the world of theater? But her kind words of advice stayed with me, along with Doc Hopper’s (college theater professor) and Mr. Rueter’s (high school drama teacher), as I attempted to direct messy middle school and high school productions from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties. 

Years went by before I ran into Ann again. Our children went to the same magnet school and when we saw each other at a meeting, we both did that “I know you from somewhere” gesture. Her daughter and my youngest son became good friends during those years, but Ann and I were still just acquaintances, exchanging a few nods and words at show choir competitions and concerts.

Our friendship didn’t really begin until I joined a book club of intelligent, thoughtful, and hilarious women. Throughout the discussions, Ann and I discovered we had a lot of life journeys in common: divorce, the tough yet joyful single mom years, remarriage to our fabulous men, a deep love of literature, and our teaching careers. We began to meet for walks where we would talk about everything, from our families to the state of our nation and the world. Eventually, we brought our men together and the four of us connected over shared dinners. We serve appetizers, tell stories, toast with locked eyes, laugh about mistakes, and cry over heartaches. Couple friends like this are precious, and I am grateful every day we like and respect one another so much. A few years ago my husband and I moved two hours away, but the distance has not diminished our friendship. With each text, call, and visit, these stitches find us stronger in our affection .

Back in January, Ann came down for a visit. We ended up looking at mother-of-the-bride dresses at a few high-end stores. I was comfortably ensconced in the cozy chairs as Ann modeled dress after dress. My heart filled with gratitude for Ann sharing this moment with me. She may never truly know how much it meant to me to be able to giggle our way through the piles of designer dresses.

Ann has introduced me to opera. She challenges my mind. When she and her husband came to my father-in-law’s memorial service and as I heard her beautiful voice sing over the congregation, I cried tears of joy that she was there for us. Just last week she delivered soup and yogurt to my mother who is now, like the rest of us, homebound. I love her stories. I adore her passion. I admire her talents.

Happy Birthday, dearest friend. This quarantined birthday may not be the one you planned, but it will be remembered. You are my heart, my love, my touchstone. You, Rock, your Dick, and I will toast champagne together soon, ‘my friend Ann.” I love you for all you have given me and all we will share together on this fabulous journey called life.

“Friendship…is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” – C.S. Lewis

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” – Elbert Hubbard

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” – Mark Twain

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.” -Linda Grayson

CeCe’s Musings: The 13th Day

by Christie Shumate McElwee

CeCe’s Musings: A Resurrection of My First Blog Title

Random thoughts on Day 13 of social distancing, social isolation, quarantining, helping to flatten the damn curve, living moment to moment, still trying to figure out Zoom, and drinking all the wine.

  1. A sunny day makes all the difference. Rain…not so much.
  2. Coffee and wine have saved my life.
  3. After reading Stephen King’s The Stand, I’ve decided real news is scarier. Take that, King of Horror.
  4. Have I mentioned wine?
  5. Sitting on my porch swing yesterday, I had lovely conversations with two of our neighbors. Finally after three years of living here, I learned one of them is a physician’s assistant and the other has three cats. Still don’t remember one of their names, but we have time. Lots of time.
  6. Videos of penguins walking around zoos are everything.
  7. Grateful I like who I’m sequestered with during this time. Ever so grateful.
  8. Trevor Noah’s sofa, Jimmy Fallon’s daughters.
  9. Have I mentioned sun?
  10. Pondering cleaning out the freezer and under the sink. Pondering does not equal doing. I’m just saying…
  11. Sitting with the blues when they come over me. Giving myself permission to be sad, stay in my pjs, and watch endless episodes of Gilmore Girls.
  12. Grateful for my soul sister girlfriends. Our text threads has been both sincerely vulnerable and freaking hilarious. 
  13. Why can’t we all have FaceTime? Why can’t our phones just get along?
  14. Walking outside is weird as we all do that crazy “don’t you get near me” dance.
  15. Construction of a new house is still going on across the street, and I’ve discovered I don’t mind all of the noise. The constant hammering calms me. And the workers seem to be social distancing in the midst of the build. Kudos, boys. Kudos.
  16. I had cereal this morning. I haven’t had a bowl of cereal in ages and it was delicious. Yup, that’s my life right now: expounding the delights of cereal.
  17. Rationing toilet paper is literally a pain in the ass, and I am not one to aimlessly use that word “literally.”
  18. Trying not to go down the internet rabbit hole. Emphasizing “trying.” Not totally successful yet.
  19. Who else is recharging their phones at least once or twice a day? Asking for a friend.
  20. I am finding strength every day in the simple things: a former student helping out my mom, hearing my husband’s voice as he works from our basement, talking with my sons, and trading Lysoled (it is now officially an adjective) puzzles with a neighbor. 
  21. Never never never forget to love.

“The world is violent and mercurial – it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love – love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.” – Tennessee Williams, who was born on this day, March 26, 1911.

The Beautiful Cruelness of Spring

by Christie Shumate McElwee

-Updated blog piece from March 2017-

(I wrote this piece three years ago after returning from a former student’s funeral. It was a heartbreaking service that gutted me. I pondered the irony of spring: its cruel beauty. How could a young person die in the midst of nature’s return to glory? Spring 2020 brings a new fear, COVID-19, yet offers me time for quiet contemplation. Today it rains and snows. Tomorrow the daffodils bloom. I left most of the writing intact and added two new paragraphs. I hope you are all safe, and hopefully soon we can all dance in the rain together.)

Spring is about new beginnings. Fresh pinks and yellows and greens sprinkle the landscape. 

But oftentimes spring is cruel. Storms fly in with screeching warnings from the sky. We scramble to basements, praying for safety.

Along with daffodils and blooming magnolias, spring also delivers ends. Disasters still happen. Tragedy still strikes. People still die. Hearts still break.

Spring is prom, Easter, bunnies, flowering trees, and new clothes. We clean our houses with a renewed energy. The windows fly open, inviting breezes to gently kiss the curtains.

But spring has also brought Columbine, Oklahoma City, Waco, and other tragedies. Our hearts have cried with pain for the fear and hatred lurking in the darkness of souls.

Spring 2020 brings a new cruelty to the entire globe. We are sequestered in our homes, attempting to stave off the spread of COVID-19. The experts call it flattening the curve. Businesses are shuttered. Students are learning online. Some have the privilege of working from home while others worry about loss of income. Doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery store employees, and restaurant workers delivering curb side service are all on the front lines. The numbers of sick and dying grow every day. Store shelves are empty. People are scared. We crave brave, honest leaders so we turn to Dr. Anthony Fauci, our voice of reason who speaks daily about the virus and what is being done to combat it.

No longer will we take for granted a leisurely al fresco meal on a warm summer evening, a crowded church service, or a raucous concert. For now, though, we stay inside and plan our future vacations and when we can hug our children and grandchildren again. The future, for now, is on hold. 

Spring is a reminder. While there is expectation and promise, endings lie in wait. Flowers peek through while a freak spring storm cancels out the remaining buds. We celebrate the joys of spring, knowing life is breathing its way back to us after a long winter, yet finales creep up and tap up on the shoulder to remind us of what it is to be human, to experience joy and loss in the same ragged breath.

Spring rains encourage growth. We smell the future in each drop. And even though we know a tempest could be brewing, we still hope. We still know love. We still dance in the rain. We still celebrate life.

This is spring.

This photo of a magnificently budding tree was taken a few years ago in my old neighborhood. The trees right now are just beginning to show themselves. We will wait.

Love in the Time of Corona

(Shout out and apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

by Christie Shumate McElwee

“The search is the meaning, the search for beauty, love, kindness and restoration in this difficult, wired and often alien modern world. The miracle is that we are here, that no matter how undone we’ve been the night before, we wake up every morning and are still here. It is phenomenal just to be.” ~Anne Lamott, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair

I picked up Stitches, a small handbook of hope by Anne Lamott, in order to get myself through these troubling times. Now, one little book will not cure all my fears and panic, yet rereading Lamott’s wise, rambling, and comforting words gives me a calming sense of unity. You see, we are all in this crazy thing together, and even though we are sitting in our homes tucked away from exposure, we are connected. Ponder that.

We humans are social animals. We venture out of our caves in search of company, joining book clubs, gyms, and churches to find other humans seeking contact. When we are told not to socialize, it goes against all of our natural instincts. We introverts have our books and Netflix and we’re good, but others among us crave humans. Not in a vampire type way, but social interaction. Those extroverts out there may be having a more difficult time with this quarantine, so you might want to check in on them.

But, once again, we are all in this together. Don’t hoard the toilet paper or hand sanitizer. Do not post false or misleading information online. And for goodness sakes, stay out of crowded bars. Support local restaurants by ordering delivery or carryout. Offer help when needed. Call a friend or elderly relative. Be a decent human being, even though we are shut away. The internet gifts us a network of connections, but don’t get bogged down in the hype and negative energy. Step away. Meditate. Listen to music. Read a book. Cook a new recipe. Watch a classic movie.

These are extraordinary days we are living in at the moment. No one knows what will happen next. What we do have control over is how we treat ourselves and others.

Spread your awesomely messy love (but not your germs) to the entire human race.

You’ve got this.

“Love is the question. How can it possibly be enough this time, in the face of such tragedy, loss or evil? And it is the answer: It will be. How can this family or town make a comeback? The next action, the breath of time passing, love. Go figure.” ~Anne Lamott

(Note: I am going to attempt a blog piece each day of the quarantine. Don’t quite know what I will write about, but I hope you hang with me. Live gently, love madly, and breathe compassionately.)

The Gift of Love

by Christie Shumate McElwee

It’s a frigid Valentine’s Day here in the Midwest, and most of us are hunkered down under heavy blankets trying to keep warm. Me? I am sipping hot coffee while pondering the perplexities of this thing called love. I have many questions and no real definitive answers. Billions of words have been written over the centuries on the subject. Poets, philosophers, and scientists have studied the heart, how it works and the countless ways it breaks. We humans claim to know love, but we continue to stomp on each other in the name of it. It’s staggeringly complicated and stunningly simple, this love of ours. All I know of it is that I am still learning, still practicing, and still offering up love. It is a journey I hope to never relinquish.

The dictionary definition of love mentions words like tender, passionate, attachment, and affection. Phrases like “Love wins” and “All we need is love” are often glib testaments to our total confusion of the meaning of the word. If only it were as simple as loving one another. Wars would end. Guns would be stored away. Hate would return to its grave. But, because we do not understand love, we stumble blindly through life, hanging onto jealously, fear, regrets, and pain. Those we understand. Those we can keep close. They are our identity, our stories. Love, though, is often hazy in its message. Do we want to be loved or do we want to love? Is it selfish or selfless? Do we set contingencies on love or do we offer it up unconditionally? Do we love naturally or does it require daily practice?

All I know is this…love is a mystery worth knowing. It is a feeling, a presence, a pricking at the heart. It’s worried days and sleepless nights. It is the infinite stars we can never count. It can break us into a billion fragments and sloppily repair our damaged souls with crooked stitches and sticky glue. Love is believing in our brokenness, and not surrendering to hopelessness, to cynicism, to despair. Love is an impossible puzzle with missing pieces and no instructions. It is a simple gesture, a hand to hold, a wish before blowing out the candles.

Love, in all its crazy incarnations, is the reason we are here. It offers us hope. It serves up joy. It is all we hold in our hands when the sun sets, this love of ours.

Love is a gift, both given and received. And as the years pass, I hold this precious love close to my imperfect heart, knowing it is all worth it.

The Gift

by Mary Oliver

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.

Earth and heaven are both still watching

though time is draining from the clock

and your walk, that was confident and quick,

has become slow.

so, be slow if you must, but let

the heart still play its true part.

Love still as once you loved, deeply

and without patience. Let God and the world

know you are grateful.

That the gift has been given.

A peek at my collections of hearts and books. Love is often scattered across pages, years, and memories. It is both comedy and tragedy, fire and water, and lost and found. I find love everywhere, if I bother to look up.

Reflections of My Dry January: A Month without Wine and Facebook

by Christie Shumate McElwee

I have never been been any good at New Year’s resolutions. I have the best intentions, but it is the follow through that stymies me. Eat healthier? Smoothie for breakfast. French fries for lunch. Exercise more? Yoga three times a week. Binge watch the entire first season of “Virgin River” in one day. Cuss less? Damn, that isn’t happening.

My husband and I have tried Dry January for the last three years. Neither of us made it through a week the first time. He went the whole month last year, but I gave up after eleven days. This year, though, I was determined to get through the entire thirty-one days without booze. I hadn’t gone that long since I was pregnant with my second son, who is now twenty-six. Yup, I do like my wine.

But….giving up alcohol didn’t seem like enough, so kooky me also decided to step away from social media for the month. If I was going to give up the lovely buzz of a glass of Chardonnay, then why not discover how it would feel to squash the mindless chatter and endless scrolling of Facebook and Instagram?

So, after deleting apps off my phone and drinking my last glass of wine on New Year’s eve, I spent thirty-one long and gloomy days without either vice. What did I learn? Am I a better person? Was it all worth it? Will I do it again?

Random reflections of Dry/No Social Media January:

  1. Giving up Facebook and Instagram was easier than skipping the alcohol. Seriously.
  2. What did I miss not being on social media? Birthdays. Life moments. Funny memes.
  3. What didn’t I miss? Comments. Comments. Comments. Did I mention I didn’t miss the comments?
  4. Booze was harder. I was fine for the first few weeks, but when a snowy weekend was forecast, I ached for a glass of wine. After a desperate trip to Friar Tuck’s, I did purchase two bottles of non-alcoholic wine. Review? The white was disgusting, but the red was better after adding a handful of frozen fruit and letting it sit for awhile. The big thing that was difficult to get around was the smell. Yuck. Sparkling water is still a better alternative, even though I did find an acceptable non-alcoholic St. Pauli beer.
  5. I was hoping to lose weight, but that didn’t happen. Phooey. Did I consume more calories to compensate for my booze-less life? Perhaps. Dang.
  6. I did sleep better. This is a huge benefit. Sleep and I have had a contentious relationship for years, and if stepping away from booze and social media helps us reconnect, then bravo!
  7. Not looking at social media for a month gave me a weird sense of privacy. I enjoyed the coziness of it, as if I had locked myself up in a cabin in the woods for a month with no internet connection. Nobody knew where I was. It felt warm and fuzzy. I may return to this cabin from time to time. It’s nice there.
  8. What are my goals now that it is February? I will limit my social media time. No mindless scrolling. No getting lost in the comments. No wasting precious time lurking at other people’s lives. I’ll treat myself to a glass or two of wine on the weekends and attempt to savor each sip. Moderation is a good thing, but I’ll also remember that a can of cranberry flavored Bubly will not wake me up at 1:00 in the morning with a headache and the sudden urge to down a bottle of ibuprofen.

Even though I had a few cranky days, I am proud of myself. Will I do it again? Ask me on January 31, 2020. I may have an answer for you. As for my February goals? I plan on writing more, drinking less, living in the present more, and wallowing in despair less. Seems doable. I refuse to let go of hope and love and grace, none of which are found in nasty comments on social media.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.” ~Anne Lamott

“Don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” ~Ella Fitzgerald

Me, celebrating February.

Gifts of Hope

Last Saturday gifted me with surprises. I wasn’t searching for hope, yet it still slapped me silly with its glorious presence.

After my husband left for his weekly golf game, I blinked my eyes open and realized there was no coffee in the house. I must have coffee, so I pulled on my clothes, grabbed my journal and phone, and walked the three blocks to our neighborhood coffeehouse. I brought my steaming cup to one of the outside tables, and then settled in to watch customers and write a little. I soon noticed a group of women and their dogs gathering at a nearby table. I caught bits on conversation pertaining to the proliferation of gun violence, and yes, I found myself eavesdropping. I turned around to comment, and then, surprisingly, I was invited to join their circle. I spent the next hour listening to these wise women discuss subjects close to my heart. One, an immigrant from a small South American country, gave me insight to the crises in both of our countries. As I rose to leave, one said, “We’re here every Saturday morning. You are welcome to join us.” I had accidentally stumbled upon hope, at a crooked, black rod iron patio table just blocks from my house.

After I walked home, caffeinated and rejuvenated, I decided to hop on my bike and ride down to the historic part of town. My first stop was the small Saturday farmer’s market that is located in a parking lot close to the river. I wandered the different booths, admiring fresh produce and baked goods. One of the last vendors had rocks, crystals, and sun catchers. I admired her work and we chatted about how she collected most of her beads from old jewelry and the prisms from dumpster diving expeditions. I wanted to purchase two of her sun catchers, but she informed me she didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have any cash. Stupid move on my part when visiting a farmer’s market, by the way. The artist then said, “Take ‘em. You can owe me.” At first I shook my head. “Oh no. That doesn’t seem right.” She replied, “I do it all the time. Most people pay me back, and those who don’t, oh well. They still have my art.” After some hesitation, I picked out my two favorites. She wrapped them up, and then wrote her name and phone number on a small piece of paper. I told her, “Oh, don’t worry. I will be back next week.” She said, “You seem like an honest person. I can usually see it in people’s faces.” I smiled. I will return next Saturday with what I owe her, and will purchase more of her work. This quirky, open-hearted, trusting soul handed me hope at the farmer’s market.

I stuffed my new treasures in my wicker basket and rode down to my favorite outside restaurant, The Bike Stop Cafe, one part restaurant-one part bike rental/repair shop. I left my bike alongside others at the rack, and went inside to order my usual lunch: a veggie sandwich with an iced tea. A breeze was blowing in off the river, and bikers and young families were scattered throughout the patio. Halfway through my sandwich, a man behind me stood up and said, “A man knocked over two bikes. He did pick them up, but then took off. You might want to check if yours is okay.”

I glanced over at the rack, and my first panicked thought was my bicycle was gone. “I think my bike has been stolen,” I gulped. My ten-year old tan Schwinn from Target. The one with the wicker basket and clanking gears. My grandma bike that takes me to bookclub, the neighborhood grocery, and the mail room. I adore that bike. I flew to the rack, but quickly realized that whoever had knocked over the bikes had just moved them. My basket must have become dislodged in the fall because it was now hanging from one of the handlebars. But here’s the amazing part. Just before this discovery, many of the diners were ready to go after the alleged perpetrator. “I think he rode up to Main Street,” they said. “We may be able to catch him.” All these strangers, without even blinking, were willing to run after my nonexistent thief. After checking to make sure everything was working and returning the basket to its rightful place, I waved at the crowd and said with an embarrassed smile, “Thank you. I’m good. You can go back to talking among yourselves.” 

I headed back down the trail, pondering the morning. All I wanted when I woke up was coffee, yet I also found a table of intelligent, social justice-minded women, a generous and trusting artist, and strangers looking out for me. In a world swirling in the language of hate and conspiracy theories, hope just danced with this girl on a sunny Saturday morning. It is easy to become mired in the mud of despair, but often hope tiptoes into our lives, presenting us with the possibility of hot coffee, true human connections, and smiles.

“I dwell in possibility.” ~Emily Dickinson

When I first turned on the trail, I spied this guy slowly making his way across the gravel toward the river. I stopped my bike to snap a photo. He froze, but didn’t retreat into his shell. I said to him, “You’ve got this, buddy. Keep going.” On my way home, there was no sign of him. I’m confident he made it safely to his destination, this little guy with his determined hard-shell self.
Hope.