Uvalde, Texas

I woke up dragging my feet this morning.

I’ve since been doing mental gymnastics to assure myself it’s okay to require rest and retreat. The world is an excruciating teacher. But by God, I’ve been paying attention.

There’s a lyric in one of my favorite songs that goes,

We gather stones, never knowing what they’ll mean
Some to throw, some to make a diamond ring

Lately, we’ve been gathering boulders, no? Heavy weights born of grief, disillusionment, anger. My mom, for example, is a specialized security operations professional at a global company. She works within a windowless office where her desk faces a wall-length of TVs featuring news channels and camera feeds. When the news of the Uvalde shooting broke, she was at work. She recently celebrated her 12th year employment anniversary and over that time has witnessed security threats I can’t write about.

But this was different. These were children.

And after Sandy Hook, didn’t we promise never again?

As we caught up this morning, she recounted having to excuse herself from the office to weep as briefly as she could and return to her post, all while the toll of victims kept climbing. A few coworkers noticed and scoffed, “there will just be another one next week.”

Source: Reddit comment from a discussion of the Uvalde shooting

I gathered Riyah for her morning walk once I finally got myself in the vertical position. We walked the lake near our place and I slowed down to reflect on the feeling of the sunshine on my face but I could still feel my nerves reminding me how fleeting and delicate it all is. The trauma of this tear is still across us. I haven’t slept well the last two nights and I thought it was strange until I read others experiencing the same thing.

Although I have a compulsive need to remain informed, I’ve put myself on a cautiously tapered drip of the developments surrounding this story. Last night around 10pm, I was scrolling Twitter and paused on a video of Anderson Cooper interviewing a father who realized his child had been killed while helping another little girl that was covered in blood. She told the man assisting her best friend had been shot. And then she said his daughter’s name.

I couldn’t look away – that is, until he said she has a 3-year-old brother who keeps asking for her return.

I was in bed when I was watching this and upon hearing these words, I had to run to the bathroom because I thought I was going to throw up. As I braced my hands on the sink and breathed through waves of nausea, I realized I couldn’t remember my last full meal.

Source unknown

I finally submitted to the emotion and wept on the bathroom floor. I just kept repeating “no” over and over again into my hands. No to this being the status quo, no to dead children in our schools, no to being collectively re-traumatized over and over with these cycles of carnage. No to fearing the movies, the grocery stores, the churches, the concerts.

Just no.

Source unknown

I’ve since been unable to look back at the news.

I haven’t studied the faces of the victims. In fact, I compulsively turn away because the innocence they bear in their images feels a lot like staring directly at the sun – too searing in the truth about ourselves that I might glance and never again recover.

I share all this to say if you’ve found your spirit, your mind, your body, your emotions, your heart crumbling underneath an absolute rejection of everything it’s costing us to live, you’re not alone.

Take Care Of Yourself and Each Other

It’s the strangest thing.

There’s a bird whistling outside of my bedroom window in the tree canopy over our street. I’ve never heard one so loudly this late into the evening. I would usually be delighted by the sound of this creature. Tonight it just punctuates the discordance of a world I can’t make sense of.

Parents sent children to their school this morning and now they mourn the life they didn’t reunite with. This creature is singing as if no one bothered to tell him the world should absolutely not go on under any circumstances. I lay awake in bed beneath a blanket of heaviness resisting it as long as I can.

In 7th grade, I cried in front of our family computer with my mom because she showed me I was not zoned for the middle school I wanted to transfer to. Tonight, I read accounts from parents comforting their children who don’t want to go to school tomorrow in fear of an active shooter.

Active shooter.

Even those words combined are an exercise in dissonance. What is an inactive shooter? And why have other countries figured that out so easily?

I’m Trying Softer in a Hard World

The world is ending.

What are you reading until it does?

I usually avoid sensationalism. In fact, I hate catastrophizing in any form. Perhaps because my father is an expert at it. Growing up, I would ask to sleepover a friend’s house and be met with, “what if you’re kidnapped?” A frightening retort to hear at 11 years old, I’ll tell you that.

Recently, I spent the day celebrating a friend’s birthday at the local Waldorf Astoria. A bottle was sent to our group of friends with a side of berries and juice, delivered by the maître d’hôtel. We drank it (of course) and when I mentioned it to my dad days later, he shook his head and asked me to consider that it could’ve been sent by the cartel because “that’s one way they pick and isolate women to entrap them.”

At first I was annoyed. Really annoyed. It was the Waldorf. In Orlando. You know? The family destination capital of the country. I remembered why I seldomly share details with him.

After giving it more thought, I realized it has taken my entire adult life to understand my dad and I did not grow up in the same world. He spent his youth defending national interests from communists at the border of Honduras and El Salvador. I spent them in New York City drinking free beer from a WeWork tap where my friends and I were paid to track digital trends.

When I visit my parents house these days, I brace myself for the inevitability that my dad will start up on the subject of who has recently died, and how. It could be a stranger on the news, a classmate he hasn’t seen in 40 years, a tragic event but he’ll tell me about some event or the other with incredulity. As I’m writing this it’s occurred to me that it’s a symptom of his own terrible fear of dying — something his particular brand of Latino machismo will never permit him speak about. The vulnerability it requires would be too costly, and certainly go against every rule that has helped him survive for 58 years. And that’s what he learned to do growing up in a country racked with political tumult — survive. If he can just see danger coming and clock its patterns, surely he can keep himself and his family safe from it.

Of course over the last few weeks, we’ve rediscovered just how illusory the sense of safety we create for ourselves actually is.

One of the reasons I keep myself from writing (publicly) at times is because the responsibility to say something when a tragedy occurs feels far too great. But it’s occurred to me it suffices to say the only thing there is to say: Things are terrible. I can’t fathom the choices Ukrainiana are forced to make right now because I’ve never had to. And there’s no way one could possibly know what it’s like unless you have also had to run from your home under the threat of terror. And I simply have not.

Thus, I let it be enough to pray that goodness and mercy follow every step of those fleeing. I pray they’re comforted by people rising up to this moment in history, to care and shelter. And I pray for citizens stuck under the chokehold a conflict they have no authority over. There’s historical and geopolitical complexity to this situation I won’t pretend to have a sufficient grasp upon. I hope that this will free you from the pressure of thinking you have to and that we can focus instead on any opportunities to alleviate suffering.

On the subject of alleviating suffering in its various forms, I’ve been reading the book Try Softer written by Licensed Professional Counselor Aundi Kolber. It discusses burn-out culture and how to re-integrate your mind, body, and emotions after experiencing high periods of stress. Written from the perspective of a faith-based application, I appreciate Kolber’s thoughtful consideration of the clinical as well as the practical.

Her chapter on our nervous systems has me thinking about is how ill-equipped we are at appropriately processing a terrible and costly tragedy that is completely divided from our lived experience. As I’m typing this, I’m listening to jazz play from the kitchen while my husband loads the dishwasher. I thanked God for the filtered water I poured in the bottle I’m holding. I’m fed, I’m warm, and I know where all of my loved ones are at this very moment. If I were given nothing else but the things I’ve counted around me, I’d still be unimaginably privileged. Full stop.

That can be true and yet I recognize so many of my friends (or myself) in Kolber’s writing. A generation of anxious workaholics running on mainly caffeine and the goodwill of their internet connection on any given day in the middle of a pandemic. And studies say it’s not sustainable. Go figure.

I recommend the book if you’re trying to understand your natural rhythms and how they stretch to adapt to our modern world.

Speaking of being stretched: that thing you didn’t get to do over the weekend? You’re off the hook.

I mean it.

You’re totally off the hook if you didn’t get to laundry, or meal-planning, or that work-out.

You’re alive.

You’re existing.

You’re on a huge rock floating through space as it orbits the sun and you’re doing fine. In fact, much better than you think in fact, if you’re here with me, because you’re among a friend.

One that will tell you the truth, though. And that is we indeed are all going to die, but not today.

Today we’re going to put our favorite playlist on, text someone that we miss them, and sit in our favorite spot to read the next chapter of a really good book.

Today, I promise you that’s enough.

On The Two Year Anniversary Of Pandemic Living

Image source unknown

I wish I would have written throughout the course of the pandemic.

When it began, I mean.

I wish I would have captured the multitude of questions and anxieties the last two years have wrought in real time. But I suppose one is busy surviving.

The last normal birthday I can remember was my 29th.

My family and I planned to reunite at Morimoto in Disney Springs for cocktails before going to the movies. We grabbed a table in the lounge area upstairs which hadn’t been wiped down, but it was a busy evening so I didn’t think twice about sitting down to secure our seats.

The server attending us arrived quickly, unnecessarily apologetic for the brief delay. “Sorry about the wait,” she said as she sprayed a large bottle and wore thin plastic gloves like the kind you might see on someone making your sandwich, yet no mask yet. The smell of bleach filled my nose.

“Oh, and the smell! We’re getting really clinical with it now,” she added implying we’d seen the news but still embarrassed. She wiped a dishrag across the table surface in full sweeping motions and seemed overwhelmed.

If you want a job as a teenager in the US, you usually go into either retail or food service. I’ve found that people usually remain in one or the other once they have, unless of course they have had the privilege of not working through high school at all. My siblings and I individually went into food service. I worked as a hostess at a pizza restaurant and later slung smoothies to my peers after school wearing a tie-dye company tee. My brothers have each worked as servers so between the three of us, going out to dine can feel like we’re competing to see who can be the most polite to service personnel. We’ll stress our “please,” overuse our “thank you,” and stack our plates after each meal. This evening was no different.

“Totally fine! We’re not really in a hurry,” I replied, thinking of our selected showtime but figuring there would always be another. This year, I didn’t carry with the expectations and pressure birthdays are usually pockmarked by. I just wanted to have a nice time.

Earlier that day, the governor of Florida had announced that the first two deaths in the state. But they were elderly and had traveled internationally…

A few days later, the first cruise ship would be prevented from docking as a result of 21 passengers testing positive. Metropolitan cities like New York City had already experienced a ravage by the novel coronavirus, the rest of the country had not. The majority of Americans were still saying “it’s just a flu,” or at best simply trying to carry on with a heightened sense of caution and consideration. Like us.

But the tension in the restaurant that evening was electric and nervous. People kept their distance from others, strangers looked at each other shiftily in passing as if the symptoms of Covid would stare back. We tried to make the best of it, thankful to be among family in one place but certain it’d be our last reunion for a long time. I ordered a lychee martini and our server told us it wasn’t available because the lychee wouldn’t come in from China anytime soon.

Since that day, the world has changed about 3,000 times over. Maybe more.

While I might spend my waking hours cleaning, working, reading, walking the dog, thriving, surviving, consuming, I arrive here and feel the sudden compulsion to account for the ground upon which I find myself standing. I need to discover the ring patterns that have appeared among this forest since, and pass on what the trees have told me about the time that’s passed. Who I’ve become as a result.

Who we’ve become.

I’m asking that question as I prepare for birthday to come around again next month. When I consider who I am now and how I’ve changed, I’ll notice my spirit catching with an alarm that didn’t exist within me before. It’s subconscious. Not exactly fear, it’s not quite terror. It’s more like a state of hyper-vigilance and nervousness remaining from the experience of my parents catching (and surviving) Covid before the vaccine was available, from observing how few people remain when our community contracts, and the fatigue of two-years worth of moral Olympics when you’re just trying to go to the grocery store.

I’ve become curious about this feeling, and how it’s emerging in others — at this point in the shared timeline of our collective trauma. We are a band of brothers, you and I, carrying on because we must. Anyway, there’s a question I find myself most unable to shake in isolation, clamoring relentlessly to be asked. It’s the investigation I engage as I write, figuring these days are still odd, and new, and worth logging.

What have we survived?