Category Archives: Resilience

Finding Calm in the Coronavirus Storm

Each night as I try to fall asleep, I can’t help but imagine dying of coronavirus pneumonia in a hospital without my family. I turn my mind to God and fall asleep.

Each day, I think about the reality that people I love will certainly die in the next three months. Who will care for their families? Will I be one of the grieving or the dead, or both? The grief around us will become overwhelming as it is now in other parts of the world. As someone said recently, the freight train coming towards us in the U.S. has become a bullet train. I push the thoughts out of my mind and go about my day.

Several times each day, I imagine the people who are sit at their kitchen table wonder how to pay their bills and rent, buy groceries, and care for their loved ones after suddenly losing their jobs. At other times, I think about the thousands of homeless people and refugees with no way to wash their hands and clean their belongings frequently, and no way to self-quarantine to stay safe. How terrifying that must be. I say a quick prayer for them.

At other times I think about those who risk their lives and their families to work on our behalf, among them medical personnel from doctors, nurses, Certified Nurse Attendants to custodians; grocery and delivery workers, utility workers, first responders; government and community leaders; military personnel; transit drivers; Meals on Wheels providers; nursing home staff; reporters; and factory, farm, and warehouse workers. I am awed by their courage and commitment to the common good. With an aching heart, I lift a prayer on the wind.

I think of those who must still go to work because their bosses require them to do so, those who cannot afford to stay home, and the 70% of workers whose jobs cannot be done from home. These are brave people, whether they consider themselves brave or not, for whom I am unspeakably grateful and afraid. Be with them, God, and with their loved ones.

I don’t have children at home who need my attention, steadiness, love, and assurance, and for whom I need to be an referee or instant teacher as we remain in quarantine. It’s only my husband and I who will get cabin fever, feel bored, anxious, or irritable. Fortunately, we have a steady source of income and haven’t lost jobs. As an epidemiologist said recently, streaming Netflix while sitting on our sofa doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything to save the world, but we are. Not spreading the virus saves loved ones, caregivers, the world.

I know I am not alone in these feelings. I invite you to pause and pray for all of the people above, some names known to you but most unknown. Pray each day in your own words or with no words. If you are not a praying person, use the guided meditation below.

Breathe slowly several times. Settle your heart. Hold person or group in your mind. Imagine a gentle breeze of peace moving over and around them. Imagine them growing calm, then filling with wisdom and insight. Imagine a path opening before them through a forest and that the Holy One who created the universe will hold them and care for them as they walk that path, no matter what comes. Let that same peace and confidence and courage enter your being, as well. Breathe. Open your eyes and continue your day.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Be at peace. The Holy One who created the universe will hold you and care for you in the days ahead, no matter what comes.

Cracked Pots, Mended

I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for days to perfect this post on imperfection. Yes, I see the irony in that statement. I need to let go of the struggle for perfection and get on with it. Certainly, I don’t want grammatical errors in my writing, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about life and all that comprises it. I need to remember that perfection in life is more fungible than many of us realize.

Kintsugi Pottery Honors Imperfection

Hand built and hand-painted ceramic bowl broken during the firing process was repaired by Kintsugi. Created by Ruthann Hurwitz, The Village Potter

Ruthann Hurwitz [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

One of my favorite reminders to hold an expansive view of perfection is Kintsugi, a style of Japanese ceramic repair dating from the 15th century. In Kintsuge, a ceramist repairs broken or cracked pottery with silver or gold, and sometimes other materials. The repairs make the ceramic unique, bringing undeniable beauty from what had been broken. It becomes more beautiful for having been broken. It is tedious, but ultimately exquisite.

This style of ceramic repair is influenced by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect; and mottainai, a feeling of regret when something is wasted; as well as mushin, the acceptance of change. Kintsugi reminds us that our broken places can be sources of goodness and beauty.

The boy and The Water Jugs

According to folklore, a boy had to carry water a long distance every day in two jugs that hung from a pole across his shoulders. One jug was whole, the other cracked. The cracked jug was only half full each day when he reached home, while the other jug was still filled to the brim.

As the boy trudged along one day, the jugs begin to speak (as they can in folktales).  The uncracked jug boasted about its perfection, saying,

“I am such a good and perfect jug. I do my work just right.  You, on the other hand, are lousy and worthless.  Your purpose in life is to carry water from the well back to the village but day after day, year after year, only half of your water makes it home.  You’re always going to be like this.  I think that somebody should get a new jug and replace you.” 

The cracked jug was devastated.  It called out to God , “Why have you done this to me? Why is my jug cracked?  I am no good.”  The boy heard the conversation and the jug’s anguished plea to God.  He responded to the jug, saying,

“Yes, you are cracked.  I’ve known that for a long, long time.  But your crack doesn’t make you worthless.  Look at the side of the road below your partner jug. It is dry and barren, and nothing grows there.  Now, look at the side of the road below you.  Do you see the line of wildflowers all along the road?  They flourish because the water that drips slowly from your cracked jug gives life to what would not otherwise exist all along the road we travel.  Through the crack in your otherwise perfect jug, you have brought life and beauty to an otherwise desolate and barren stretch of road.  I will not exchange you for another pot, nor will I let anyone discount the good that your crack has done

The Wisdom of IMperfection

Life keeps reminding me that I need not follow the stern internal voices calling for a particular type of perfection. That striving too hard for perfection kills the joy of life and relationships. That taking a deep breath and experiencing the goodness of “imperfection” elicits gratitude. That what I consider an imperfection or broken place in my life may be a way for me to bring beauty, healing, and wholeness to others.

After all, as Leonard Cohen says, “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” (Anthem, by Leonard Cohen).

Knitted shawl with cable and garter stitches

Knit. Rip. Walk. Ice. Repeat.

While I was laid-up last winter with a broken foot, I decided I’d learn to knit.  I streamed knitting classes online and practiced stitches for weeks.  When I got bored with knitting, I’d change to woodworking and sewing videos, then go back to knitting.  After more attempts than I can count, I finally made a hat good enough to wear in public—as long as no one looks too closely. 

Onward!  When I could drive again, I took a short class at a local yarn shop https://www.allwoundupyarnshop.com/ to make a shawl.  In this class, everyone makes the same shawl pattern with the instructor teaching the new stitches, helping us fix mistakes, and encouraging us when we want to give up.  It seemed a good way to take the next step. https://newwayopening.com/2017/11/08/whack-a-mole/

The shawl we were making has two sections. The first is cable stitches—a new skill–and the second is simple knitting.  Surely, I could do this.  People all over the world knit, so how hard can it be? 

That’s like saying people all over the world keep going in tough times.  Or, people all over the world have setbacks but keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Or, people all over the world fall but keep getting up and trying again.  How hard can it be if so many people do it?

Having tried both knitting, and getting up after setback in life, I can tell you:  both are harder than they look.  Really hard.  Frustrating.    The biggest difference between them is that one is a non-essential skill for most of us, and the other is life.

I’m still deciding if learning to knit as a way to push through a major setback was a good idea or not.  The shawl isn’t finished, nor is the comeback.  On each, I go backward so often that I wonder if it’s worth the effort.

Here’s what I mean: I began the shawl at home before the class, but I couldn’t get past the first few inches. I kept ripping it out and starting over.  Even with the instructor’s help, I must have started over at least 1400 times.  Just last night, I ripped out a dozen rows again.  Note to self:  Don’t try to knit in the dim light while watching a movie.

Likewise, the last few years have had what seems like at least 1400 life setbacks, as well. https://newwayopening.com/2018/03/05/my-heart-failure-returned/ I keep pushing through, putting one foot in front of the other, but it sure feels like my knitting experiment:  slow.  I started physical therapy for my foot and ankle and have made good progress. But if I stood too long or didn’t elevate my foot enough, or bent it too much or walked too far, I had to elevate and ice my foot and ankle again for hours. 

For months, I walked and iced, knitted and ripped, walked and iced.

My knitting teacher fixed my mistakes a few times and said, “You can do it.  It’s hard, but you’ll get it.” My doctor said my foot was healing well.  “Keep up the good work. You can do it.” 

Then, I took a class on how to fix mistakes without ripping out endless rows of knitting.  I felt so empowered and hopeful that I almost cried. I straightened my spine and kept knitting. 

On a warm March day, I raked winter debris off my flower gardens.  Granted, I had to elevate and ice my foot for an entire day afterward, but I’d worked in my garden without permanent damage.  Last week, I was finally able to walk around my block.  I’ve gone back to my fitness class.  Sweet.

My shawl is now two-thirds finished.  People who’ve seen it seem genuinely impressed, as I am.  Cool.  I’m almost daring to hope.

Last week, I hiked a short distance on a fire road in the mountains of Eastern Washington and walked on rocks beside a stream.  I couldn’t have done that a month ago. The smell of cedars in mountain air mingled with the sound of birds singing and our dogs splashing in the creek.  If there’s a heaven, I think I was there.  I’m almost daring to hope.

Knitting well isn’t easy, as people all over the world know.  Nor is it easy to keep getting up when life knocks us down.  Yesterday, I chose yarn for my next project and signed up to volunteer in a food bank. Knit and rip.  Walk and ice.  I dare to hope. 

*If you find something helpful here, please pass it along to others and subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading.