Welcome Home

This is what we heard from everyone as we walked towards our destination.  People waved.  People smiled.  People cried out, “we missed you!”  You would have thought we were heroes returning from some war instead of crazed Disney fans returning to our happy place in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. 

Yes, despite the fact the COVID-19 infection is still plucking away at our world, Max and I trotted ourselves out to the Magic Kingdom for a special, limited capacity passholder preview event before the park officially reopened.  It was not so much that we couldn’t stand to go another season without a Disney fix that prompted this act of recklessness.  It was more that it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see and feel what an uncrowded Disney park is like.  As Disney reopened, they were severely limiting the number of people in the park.  They did not publicize the number, but experts estimated the park would be operating at only about 25% of capacity. I have lived in the shadow of Disney parks all my life.  Even with this wealth of experience and wisdom under my belt, I could not conceive of what 25% capacity would feel like.  Short of having to fight an army of fire-breathing and vomit-spewing dragons to get in, there was not much that was going to stop me from experiencing a desolate Disney ghost town.

To further convince me that I should risk a potentially fatal disease or lifelong lung damage to go to Disney for this soft reopening, the fates decreed I should go.  I have been a Disney passholder for nearly five years.  In all that time, I have NEVER attended any of the special passholder events.  I have never been one of the chosen few to receive the email invitation and respond within the first few minutes before the event reaches capacity. It is sort of like having to be the fourteenth caller when a radio station is giving away concert tickets.  Odds are, it is never going to happen.  A couple of weeks before this event, I was sitting at the car dealership waiting for an oil change.  Bored, I was checking my phone lethargically.  Coincidentally, I saw an email inviting me to register for the passholder preview event.  I did not believe for a minute that I was going to be able to claim a space for Max and I because prior experience has taught me that, if you take an breath between the time the email goes out and the time you try to book a reservation, you are going to miss out.   Just for giggles and because I had nothing else to do, I followed the link to register.  To my utter amazement, I was able to sign us up for a day of Disney with a side of hand sanitizer. 

We did think about whether going was an acceptable risk.  There is so much drama in the media telling us that the Florida coronavirus numbers are climbing out of control.  As I have said in prior posts, I have not felt particularly scared during this pandemic.  On the other hand, I absolutely want to be responsible. I do not want to do anything that will put other people at risk, especially as I am doing volunteer work which does put me in brief contact with older, immune-compromised individuals.  I decided to take a deeper dive into the numbers to analyze whether things are getting worse, better, or staying about the same.  I looked at the Florida coronavirus infection rate for the middle of April.  At that time, approximately 1% off the population had tested positive for the coronavirus.  Today, the percentage is 1.92%, so there has been an increase.  On the other hand, the percentage is still low, despite more testing and several months of reopened commerce in Florida.   It has been around the 1.9% rate for several weeks.  Less than 1/10th of 1% of Floridians have been sick enough to be hospitalized. In Orange County, where most of Disney is located, the percentage infected is about the same, but the daily infection rate amongst those being tested has been declining.  For several weeks, the percentage of positive results of people tested has been below 10%. Additionally, ½ of 1% of all Orange County residents have been hospitalized. 

Now, numbers are one thing.  Depending upon what you look at and how you look at it, they can often tell you whatever you want to hear.  I will not say that the virus is not a safety consideration.  However, it did seem that the risk was reasonable for me.

Then, there is another factor… the pixie dust prescription.  Disney has a whole lot to lose if they contribute to the spread of death and destruction.  Disney also has a corporate culture that is about excellence and innovation.  Disney also has a staff that is well-trained and resilient.  Frankly, one of my motivating factors for wanting to go was to see the creative ways Disney employed to manage the risk while still spinning the magic. 

So we decided to go, evaluate what we saw, and leave the second we felt uncomfortable.

We approached the entrance to the parking lot, excited and wary.  The line to get into the parking lot was a bit of a struggle.  I am not completely sure what was causing the delay, but I think it was due to the additional time it took to park the cars socially distant from each other.  What was kind of interesting about the socially distant parking is that Disney came up with a way to do the social distancing without having people park further away than they would need to if the cars were traditionally spaced.  I noticed when we left that the attendants must have shifted the flow of traffic to fill in the spots left between the earlier guests’ cars. 

Once we got into the parking lot, everything was smooth and comfortable.  Directed by smiling, waving, and welcoming cast members, we boarded the ferry to go over to the park.  There were clear social distancing markers on the floor of the boat to indicate where to stand.  Everyone was wearing masks.  The cast members had masks AND face shields.  When we disembarked, we stood in a fast-moving line so that only one party at a time could exit the ferry.  Later, when we were going back to the parking lot on the monorail, cast members permitted only one party on each monorail car. 

The first thing we noticed at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom was that there was no line.  For any of you who have been to the MK, you know that it is a bit of an ordeal.  Wait to get entry to the parking lot, park your car, take a tram to the transportation center, wait in line for bag check, wait in line for either ferry or monorail, wait in line to get into the park.  Even though there are always multiple turnstiles available to enter the park, there are lines at every one of them if you get there anywhere near park opening time.  On passholder preview day, THERE WAS NO WAIT. 

And no people.  At least, that is the way it seemed when we stepped foot on Main Street.  It was almost spooky.  There was almost no sign of life.  Max really, really likes getting Starbucks when we go anywhere for a day trip.  He is happily content to do pretty much anything I want for the rest of the day, but he really does want that latte first thing in the morning when we are on an adventure.  He will forgo it if we have something critical that we must get to first, but the morning Starbucks truly is important to him.  He does not ask for much, so I suck it up and factor waiting in the huge lines at Disney Starbucks locations as part of my plan for the day.  On passholder preview day, there was no line.  I think there were two people in the coffee shop.  By the time I recovered from the shock and awe of this phenomenon, he had his coffee and we were on our way.

Such was the order of the day.  We walked on to virtually every ride.  I rode the Seven Dwarves Mine Train for the first time, with a 20-minute wait. The wait for Splash Mountain was similar.  The queues on the other rides… oh wait, there were no queues.

From a safety point of view, it was amazing.  Except for a few cast members and Max, I doubt I got closer than 10 feet to anyone the entire day.  I think they expanded the space between social distancing markers to allow for antsy children and for large parties.  There were a couple of times when I had to inch forward off my spot to peek ahead to see if I was supposed to move.  The people in front of me were so far away, I could not see where they were!  There was hand sanitizer at the entrance and exit of each ride.  The cast members employed huge industrial containers of disinfectant attached to their backs to periodically spray all the ride cars.  With ride vehicles designed for more than one party, they sometimes had one party in the first row and one in the back row if there were several rows in between.  Usually, it was just one party for vehicle.

From a magic point of view, my reaction was a little more mixed.  To be completely honest, there was an initial sense of weirdness and forced gaiety.  Having so few fellow revelers did result in a slightly less festive atmosphere.  Many of the eating and shopping dining venues were still closed.  There were no Mickey-shaped pretzels to be had.  The absence of shows and parades did seem sort of “less than.”  On the other hand, having such short waits was uber magical.  The seemingly genuine and extremely vocal welcomes from the cast members made me feel “especially special.” 

As the day wore on, I found the magic.  Every now and again, there was a pop-up presentation- a group of dancers, huge parade float carrying a character, or streetcar of singers.  I cannot call them “parades,” because the very nature of a “parade” suggests more than one exhibit, one following behind another.  These were more like parade snapshots- one band, one drill team, one float.  The most magical moment of the day was when we ran across Tinker Bell riding atop a giant treasure chest around the circle at the end of Main Street. Because there were so few people, she could identify individuals standing below, smiling at her.  She noticed my quarantined Tink shirt and pointed at me.  She laughed, waved, and blew kisses to me.  I walked beside the float all around the circle.  It was like Tink and I had our very own parade.

It may not have been a personal, side-by-side visit with my Pixie Princess, but it was a new and different kind of magic. 

Have you done anything wild and unpredictable as the world starts to reopen?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a magical day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Quarantinking! Before anyone asks, I was wearing a mask. It was permissible to lower them for brief photo ops. Notice I have a Mickey nose showing beneath my chin. That is my mask, which I pulled back up over my mouth and nose immediately after Max took this pic.
No trip to Magic Kingdom, even a quaran-truncated one, is complete without Tinky!

Golden Hearts

Last Friday, the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad were supposed to open in Tokyo, Japan.  As everyone who has not been living on some COVID-free planet for the past five months knows, these summer games have been postponed until July 23, 2021 because of our worldwide pandemic.

I’m sad.

I have always been an Olympics fan.  I enjoy the pageantry and the passion.  I enjoy the patriotism. I enjoy watching the sports, even the ones with which I am entirely unfamiliar.  I watch sports I do not understand during the Olympics simply because it is the Olympics.  For two weeks in the summer every four years, the world celebrates excellence.  I have always wanted to attend an Olympics and never have.  Gluing myself to the television screen every waking hour of the day is likely the closest I will ever get.  This Olympic year, I am not going to even get that. 

I know the Olympic games and the Olympic spirit is not cancelled, simply postponed.  I know that my mourning for the vicarious Olympic community experience is selfish considering what is going on around us right now.  It is especially selfish because I am sure that the athletes who intended to be in Tokyo competing right now are having it much worse than I am.  For many of them, I am sure Tokyo was to be the shining zenith of their athletic careers.  A year’s postponement will be the same as a cancellation for some of these athletes.  The “sweet spot” of athletic achievement opportunity will not always linger for another year.  For the people who worked so hard all their lives to achieve a dream, a postponement may crush the dream.  All I can do is pray that they can take that commitment and passion and channel it into another dream.

To me, the most excellent thing about the Olympics is not the sports.  It is the people and the stories.  I love meeting individuals who rise above poverty, obscurity, and hardship to become the best in the world at something.  I love hearing the stories of competitors who purposely slow their own progress to help another athlete.  My heart expands when the commentators tell us about love stories that grow between participants.  I even love the commercials- the ones that introduce us to the relationships between parents and children, coaches and athletes, country and competitor.  The Olympics are games, but they are also a movement, a spirit, and a flame.

As much as I love the games, my real passion is the movement, spirit, and flame.  That flame could ignite all of hearts.  It could ignite our hearts with peace, excellence, performance, and perseverance.  Even those of us, like me, who will never become the best in the world at anything in particular, can use that flame to fuel our efforts to be the best people we can be.  I don’t want to wait another whole year to feel that fire. 

So even if the games of the XXXIII will not be gracing my television screen this year, I am going to use this time to research the golden hearts of these postponed Olympics.  I am going to search for the people, the passion, and the stories that would have been woven into this summer’s games.  Those people deserve for us to know their stories. I need to know those stories to build my own golden heart. 

The good Lord willing, I will be watching the athletes of 2021 next July.  I know the delayed Olympics will still move and inspire me.  However, it is good remember that there are always golden hearts out there if we look!

Do you watch the Olympics? What is your favorite part about it? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirment@gmail.com.

Have an excellent day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Muddled

Most of you who know me know that I manage my anxiety with over-preparation.  It is as if I think I can plan my way out of impending doom.  Clearly, planning and preparation is a good thing.  Clearly, it is good to take appropriate action to be ready for possible emergencies or disasters. However, life teaches us that, no matter how much planning and preparation we do, emergencies and disasters will still happen.  Life also teaches us that, sometimes, those emergencies and disasters are not as catastrophic as we fear in the grand scheme of things. All that planning and preparation can build them up in our minds to a more ferocious level than they merit. 

I get all that. These philosophical musings notwithstanding, I still tend to plan for every conceivable eventuality before I ever embark on a project.  Before I launched this blog, I pre-wrote about twenty posts to make sure that I would have new content each week.  This was my safety net against being torpedoed by crippling writer’s block. Ever since that time, I have always had at least three articles written in advance waiting to be posted.  I mean, the idea of a Wednesday looming ahead of me with nothing ready to post… appalling and unacceptable! Or that I might miss a Wednesday… that would be even more devastating.   Heaven forbid that I should get up one Wednesday morning and just write something!

Well, that day I have feared since I launched the blog nearly five years ago has arrived.  Last Wednesday, I posted Extraordinary Personship (http://www.terrilabonte.com/2020/07/extraordinary-personship/).  This was the last pre-written piece I had stored in my hopper.  And you know what?  Nothing very bad has happened.

It is not that I have run out of ideas for blog posts.  I have four or five snippets of ideas running around in my brain.  It is just that they are all muddled around up there in the attic- tangled and twisted and tentacled into a big mess.  I need to sort them out and get them to behave. Some of them have found their path and are running headlong down the way to completion. My typing is just not as quick as my brain.  Other kernels of ideas are flying around in my head, desperately looking for a point on which to land. Then there are some that are dithering about, dancing and jumping and making merry with no intention of settling down long enough to make any point at all.  Ideas can be like that.  They all have their own energy, their own path, and their own schedule.  They cannot be rushed.  I have decided that I should just slow down and enjoy the show.  It is kind of fun to embrace the muddle.

It may take me a few weeks to unravel the mess in my mind.  Ultimately, I am confident that the blog posts will get written and I will be satisfied with the evolution of the idea nuggets that are currently muddled in my brain.  Please have patience and bear with me.

I think you will understand.  After all, we all get a little muddled sometimes!

Does your mind ever get muddled?  What do you to sort things out?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terrirretirement@gmail.com

Have a moment of clarity today!!

Terri/Dorry 😊

PS Please do not forget about my book, Random (A)Musings. If you have not ordered your very own copy, please visit Amazon to become one of the many, many (well, 40) people who are the owners of this wacky journey into my brain.  I would really appreciate it. 

Extraordinary Personship

I have always believed in the importance of self-improvement.  Maybe it is easy for me, since there have always been so many areas in which I need to improve.  As much as I laugh at myself for all my introspection and navel-gazing, I do try to use my observations to be a better person.  I don’t know if I succeed, but I think it is important to try.

I used to think that the key to self-improvement was to identify areas of weakness and work on correcting them.  Then, I read a book called The Extraordinary Leader by Joseph Folkman and John Zenger.  It changed my whole perspective.  Folkman and Zenger suggest that it is not very productive to identify weaknesses and invest energy on them.  They hypothesize that, no matter how much energy a person spends on attributes that are not natural strengths, very little improvement is likely to result.  The far greater investment is to identify natural strengths and develop them even further.  Folkman and Zenger believe there is much more value in turning “good” to “great” than in turning “weak” to “mediocre.”   

Of course, Folkman and Zenger acknowledge that there are certain weaknesses that, if weak enough, will result in failure to lead.  These are known as “fatal flaws.”  In most positions of leadership, there are critical job duties that require basic competency at some particular skill.  For instance, many leadership positions require the leader communicate effectively in writing. A critical job duty might be writing performance appraisals.  Someone who aspires to be a leader may not have to be the best writer in the world, but she probably won’t succeed if she can’t at least string some coherent thoughts together on the page and consult spellcheck appropriately.  The idea of the fatal flaw is that the inability to develop at least minimal proficiency in some specific skill will be so detrimental or distracting that the leader will be unable to deliver the necessary results or to inspire followership.  In that case, the leader will fail, no matter how extraordinary the leader’s other attributes are. 

Therefore, the concept of extraordinary leadership is that a person should work to eliminate any fatal flaws and then concentrate all their improvement efforts on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. 

I think the concept works over a much wider landscape than “leadership.” I think it is desirable to live life pursuing extraordinary personship. I think we all have the capacity to grow in excellence and contribution.  I think it is much more satisfying and productive to grow by nurturing our gifts and leveraging our strengths than slogging our way through the depths of our disinclinations.  It’s a whole lot more fun, too. 

The result I want most out of my personhood is to be kind, have integrity, and demonstrate Christianity.  These are high aspirations.  I think I will have to develop extraordinary personhood to even come close to achieving them in whatever time I have left in this life.  I really do want to spend the time I have left developing the parts of me that are most likely to yield greatness. 

However, before I start shooting off any fireworks or throwing any parties in celebration of my extraordinary personhood, I have to acknowledge that I have a fatal flaw.  I am a terrible worrier.  To be a truly extraordinary person and allow yourself to succeed at growth, you have to be brave and free enough to let yourself go.  Worrying is a pretty big detriment and distractor.  I’m sure the inability to control worrying will ultimately prevent me from delivering the results I want in my life.  Before I can really cultivate and leverage my natural personship strengths, I have to shore up my propensity towards worry. 

I have been working on that fatal flaw, with some success.  The thing to remember is that I don’t have to become great at keeping worries at bay.  In fact, I don’t even have to be as good at it as the next person.  I just have to not suck at it.  In other words, I have to gain at least enough competency in anxiety management to make sure that my worries don’t completely negate my strengths. 

And I do have strengths as a person.  I know I do.  I do believe I have a strong capacity to empathize, love, and nurture.  As I mature and grow, I am taking specific steps to grow those natural inclinations.  If the results I want out of life are kindness, integrity, and Christianity, I think I must improve my empathy, love, and nurturing skills from good to great.  I just need to be mindful about my attempts at extraordinary personship.  When I wrote my blog piece Love-er-ly (http://www.terrilabonte.com/2020/02/love-er-ly/), I think I was exploring that process. 

There is one more thing that I am doing to increase my mindfulness of my extraordinary personship goals.  I have two bracelets I wear when I know I will be tackling a challenging situation or just feel the need for reminding.  One says “Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10.” This bracelet reminds me to curb my fatal flaw of worrying.  The other bracelet says, “Let all you do be done in love. 1Corinthians 16:14,” reminding me to lead with my strength.

Let’s face it.  There is no way I’m getting anywhere close to extraordinary without God!

What are your greatest strengths?  How can you grow them from good to great?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment,  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have an extraordinary day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Lessons From The Sloths

We went to Busch Gardens a few weeks before the COVID-19 quarantine.  It was a sunny day, but cold and windy.  Even I, with my superheated bloodstream and hyper-insulated body type, sported long pants, socks, and a puffy quilted jacket.  I was very comfortable, although I did draw the line at flying through the air in an open sky ride gondola. 

We went to see the sloths when we first got to the park.  In the best of circumstances, a sloth is not exactly what you would call a perky animal.  Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE sloths.  They are sweet, gentle, cuddly, kind, warm, and smiley.  How could anyone not love sloths?  They are big bundles of furry adorableness.  Vivacious, however, is not a word that comes to mind.

While sloths are not exactly energetic on a normal day, the cold temperatures on the day we visited lowered their metabolisms to a near standstill.  Most of them hung from tree branches by their extremities- little paws nearly touching each other on the limb.  They curled the rest of their bodies tightly in against themselves.  They nestled heads and tails in an unkempt meadow of body fur, obliterating them from view.  The effect was that of a bucket made of fur hanging on a tree limb by a sinewy handle.  Honestly, if the sign had not said there were sloths in the enclosure, I would have been hard-pressed to identify any living, breathing animal. 

I was still pretty smitten with the beasts and we noticed there was an opportunity to participate in a sloth encounter, for a rather large extra fee.  I thought it was way too much money, but Max thought it would be super cute to video me interacting up close and personal with a sloth.  We went to the customer service counter to see about scheduling that interaction.  We found out that the cost was even more than I thought and, besides, there were no spots available.  The lady explained that they only allow six people to participate each day and people book their sloth appointments a year ahead of time.  No sloth-cuddling for me. 

We went on enjoying our day.  Later, we decided to visit the sloths again before going home.  The temperature was warmer, but still pretty frigid for Florida. I expected to find the sloths pretty much in the same bundled, bucketed positions they occupied when we left them earlier.  I was in for a surprise.  The sloths had moved about fourteen inches in the five hours since we’d first visited them.  They were no longer crumpled up, recycling their own body heat.  Instead, they were spread-eagled, clinging to the wire forming their enclosures. I noticed a red glow oozing from beneath their bellies. I looked harder and saw that each enclosure was equipped with an individual space heater roughly the size of a sloth abdomen. Those sloths looked like big, furry starfish stretched out over heat lamps built into the enclosure walls!  Basically, our sloth friends had their own version of tanning beds.  As I watched, one of the sloths turned his head and smiled at me in that slow, warm, slightly stoned-looking way that sloths have.  He looked like Jeff Spicolli at a tanning salon in a San Fernando Valley strip mall. 

(If you don’t understand the Jeff Spicolli reference, google Fast Times At Ridgemont High. You are missing out on an iconic figure of 1980s American pop culture.)

My time with the sloths taught me a few lessons, which I would like to share with you as a public service announcement. 

You don’t have to jump up the minute someone else expects you to. 

I’ve always been sensitive to other people’s needs and expectations of me.  There isn’t anything wrong with that.  I’m happy to help other people.  It makes me feel good.  I love building and nurturing close relationships with the people I love.  It is relatively easy for me to maintain those relationships by behaving in a generous way with my energy, time, and money.  On the other hand, sometimes I don’t really want to leap out of bed in the morning heaven-bent for leather.  I would much rather curl myself into a slothy ball and keep to myself for a while.  My day with the sloths taught me that there is nothing wrong with that.  It also taught me that, if I honor that desire to vegetate and give myself some time, it is likely I’ll eventually unfurl and face the light of day. 

Sometimes six people a day is enough.

Most people don’t understand this, but I am about as extreme an introvert as one can be.  Based on every personality, disposition, and emotional preference survey I’ve taken in my life, I fall somewhere in the “hermit” zone.  It isn’t that I don’t like people.  Most of the strongest satisfaction I have in my life derives from people and relationships.  I count it a huge blessing to have my family and friends from all walks of life all over the country.  I cherish living in and nurturing those relationships. Without them, I would certainly wither.  The thing is, all that relating can wear me out if I expose myself to too big a dose at one time.  Before our trip to Busch Gardens, I had been feeling more tired than usual.  People could look at my schedule and all the activities I was pursuing.  They would not find it odd at all that I would be tired.  It was not really the activity that was wearing me out, though.  It is was engaging with so many people so often.  I had to opt out of a few events just to give my introversion a bit of a rest.  I felt a little embarrassed about missing these events and trying to explain my absence without hurting anyone’s feelings. I really did want to attend, and I really did want to spend time with these people.  After my day with the sloths, I realized there is nothing wrong with skipping a few events and, if any explanation is required at all, the truth is perfectly fine. 

Catch some rays.

I may not have my own personal heat lamp built into the wall of my house, but I have other options.  When life seems cold and unfriendly, I know it is time for me to catch some rays and jump some waves.  When the going gets rough, this sloth goes to the beach!

What have you learned from animals?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a slothful day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

AARGH!!

Some friends and I recently took a road trip to Amelia Island on Northern Florida’s “Treasure Coast.”  It was delightful.  There was fresh air and sunshine and salty sea.  Who would have believed that President James Monroe once called it a “festering fleshpot of immorality?”

To be fair, President Monroe’s assessment was based, in large part, on the population of pirates who were plundering this luscious piece of real estate booty at the time. I did not see any pirates during my stay.  Well, not any real pirates, anyway.  I did buy a Christmas tree ornament that depicts Santa Claus with an eyepatch and gold earring, but I don’t think that counts. 

Our visit in Amelia Island included visiting some pretty awesome restaurants, splashing around in the ocean, admiring the adorable little cottages and adorable larger mansions, trawling the quaint retail shopping area, eating a crumb bun, and cruising around Cumberland Island on a tourist boat.  I do not think there was much immorality involved, except for maybe the crumb bun.  It was really, really good, though. 

There was one aspect of our trip that did have a faint whiff of pirate panache. Given the COVID-19 lockdown over the past few months, it felt distinctly rebellious to be out wandering in the world.  It was surprising how many people were visiting the island. Granted, the incidence of the virus has been much lower in Nassau County, where Amelia Island is located, than in the central and southern counties of Florida.  The community of Fernandina Beach, the crown jewel of Amelia Island, has a population of about 13,000 people.  Most of the activity in Fernandina Beach is outside, which means those 13,000 people are not congregating indoors in close quarters.  These are just some of the differences between life in Lake County, where I live, and Amelia Island.   It was surprising to see how those differences manifested themselves in real life practical terms. 

At first glance, it almost seemed as if the COVID-19 pandemic had never happened on Amelia Island.  Few people were wearing masks.  Just about all establishments were open for business.  You could try on clothes before buying them.  It was a brave new old world.  When one sailed further into the Amelia Island life, though, there were some indicators of safety precautions.  There were social distancing measures in place.  Most of the workers wore masks, especially in restaurants.  Our hotel offered a free breakfast, which is usually a buffet.  In consideration of the need to minimize contact, the hotel staff packed a bag with each guest’s choices instead of letting everyone get their own food from a buffet.  I felt like the community was being smart about things, but there was much less evidence of a world shut down by disease on Amelia Island than there is where I live my daily life.  There were protocols in place.  However, those protocols were not so “in your face,” constantly reminding people at every turn that living is a risk factor.  It was wonderful to ride this temporary wave of wildness. 

It is amazing how far my standards of “normal” have fallen.  To think I found it reassuringly normal to have a masked waiter serve me at a restaurant and to consider if having two people on an elevator was an acceptable risk! To think that I felt like a rebel because I was out in the world, where I could hear the sounds of people and commerce and entertainment! 

It is not that I think that we should take a page from the Amelia Island book.  As I said, the circumstances there are different from the circumstances where I live and the circumstances where I live are likely different from the circumstances where you live.  I do not pretend to know the “right” thing to do.  So, even though I am not advocating that we take a page from Amelia Island, it was very pleasant to read their book for a couple of days.  It even gave me hope that maybe we can all regain some of our freedom and lightheartedness at some point.

In the meantime, I will remember my pirate days on Amelia Island fondly.  Aaargh!

What makes you feel footloose and fancy free during this time of separation?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Ahoy!

Terri/Dorry 😊

A Mighty Fortress

I’m working through my second Lenten season after resolving to become a better pray-er last year.  Please see my post http://www.terrilabonte.com/2020/05/i-say-a-little-prayer-for-you/  for additional background.  Of course, I just published this piece, even though I wrote it almost a year ago.  I get really nervous if I don’t have several weeks’ worth of blog posts in reserve.  Perish the thought that I might have nothing ready to go some Wednesday morning!  I would have to write something on the fly without proper planning and scheduling.  The very possibility makes me nauseous.  Sometimes my pre-recorded pieces get a little stale sitting on the shelf waiting for their moment, but I don’t think prayer ever gets stale.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with two helpings of prayer in short succession.  In fact, in these uncertain times, maybe two helpings of prayer are exactly what we need to keep us off the ledge. 

I wanted to give you all an update on how my efforts to improve my prayer life were going.  Last Lent, I began a Bible In One Year app project, which guided me towards dedicated Bible study and prayer each evening.  After that experience, I served as the chaplain for our parish Episcopal Church Women group.  My sole job in that capacity is to pray and lead other members toward prayer.  I love it.  I actually feel my soul expanding as I help channel our group’s powerhouse of prayer and search for creative, experiential, thoughtful ways to spur closer intimacy with God.  I’ve been leading a small group in our Alpha program.  This leads me to even deeper levels and stronger intensity of prayer.  This past Lent, I chose a short passage of Scripture to capture and copy into my prayer journal each day. This helped me feel more confident and more grounded in my prayer. 

 I’ve learned a number of lessons about prayer and the results of dedicating time to improved communication with God.

Sometimes, external things happen when I pray.

There have been several instances when my prayer seems to have resulted in at least a small shift in circumstances.  Maybe I have not witnessed anything super dramatic yet (although I believe something extremely dramatic HAS happened and we just don’t know it yet.) Still, I see mini-miracles tied to my prayer all the time.  In the challenges presented by the COVID-19 physical distancing protocols, I see wonderful things happening.  In one example, my small Episcopal Church has not missed a single Sunday service.  After the CDC recommended that no one gather in groups of 10 or more, we didn’t gather together in the church building.  However, the very first week without physical community services, our rector and a team of wonderful, talented, Spirit-filled people figured out a way to organize, produce, and market a Sunday service on YouTube.  This might not seem like a big deal to a lot of people.  Our community, however, is not exactly modern.  It is not on the cutting edge of technology.  It was like going from 0 to 100 in electronic communication/distance learning in just a few days.  I am sure that was only achievable by hard working faith-filled, prayerful people.  Another example is the way neighbors and community members are looking out for each other.  I know there is hoarding and the grocery store shelves are pretty pitiful.  At the same time, though, people are calling each other to check in on people who might be feeling isolated, running errands for those who are more at risk, being creative in constructing a way to help the world feel “normal,” and finding ways to ease the economic cataclysm that the lockdowns will cause for the most vulnerable among us.

I know there are many secular organizations and many non-Christians who are also working to do these things.  I do think there is a difference with prayer, though. While we are all temporarily stopped from the busy-ness of our lives, some of us are spending more time in prayer and remembering our faith.  In some ways, I see us coming closer together rather than further apart, as we deliberately and mindfully find ways to protect our relationships and spiritual journeys from isolation.  Normally, when people are “stuck” inside their homes for a few days because of something like an oncoming hurricane, there is an overall atmosphere of resentment and dread.  This time, there is almost a feeling of empowerment and joy within my circle of praying friends.  It feels good for us to mobilize to deal with this challenge.  It feels good to support efforts to remain connected.  It feels good for us to remember who God calls us to be. 

Sometimes, the changes I see are less tangible.  I pray frequently for the guests in our church’s Alpha group.  I have seen that prayer lighten their hearts, as God has brought them closer to His love.  Of course, God could do that without my help. Jesus is the one that draws these folks to Him, not me.  I think it is awesome and exciting that God gives me the opportunity to participate in the process, through prayer and agape. 

Sometimes, prayer doesn’t change anything… except me.

During the past year, I’ve changed so much.  My service, confidence, thoughtfulness, creativity, emotional and intellectual intelligence, relationship-building skills, and love have increased exponentially.  My natural talents and strengths are expanding.  I am forgiving myself more readily for my weaknesses and failures, secure that God has already done so.  I often pray in thanksgiving for the paths where God chooses to lead me and the lessons he is teaching me.  I am absolutely convinced that the point of life is to grow into the person God wants each of us to be.  I feel like that is happening to me more now than at any time in my life.  It may seem strange that this is happening as I enter my golden years rather than in my youth or middle age, but I guess everyone has his or her own script. 

I think the reason I have been able to blossom, especially in the last year, is directly related to the increase in quantity and quality of my prayer life.  I feel like my prayer life is a mighty fortress that God and I have built together.  It protects me and allows me to live as genuinely and authentically as I can.  Within the walls of this fortress, I can grow the garden of my life and build my serving ministry without fear.  It is a godly kind of fortress.  It doesn’t keep anyone out; it just protects what is inside it.  The walls are permeable to anyone of good intent. 

All in all, the most important thing I have learned is just this:  Prayer works.  It may not work the way you think it will, but it works!

Has your spiritual life changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?  In what way?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a prayerful day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Normal

Normal is a tricky concept these days.  Now that states are starting to reopen after the coronavirus quarantine, it is hard to know how to view life.  Reopening commerce is not a free-for-all for freedom.  Wisely, reopening processes are gradual and tentative.  As the process plays out, it does so on a social canvas that is chippy and uneven.  Some people are declaring victory over the virus and bustling to be the first one in line to regain “real life.”  Others are certain that everything is happening too quickly, with public health being thrown to the wind in the name of economic health.  Everyone is sure that their position is the reasonable one.  Many people are also trying to validate that their perspective is the reasonable one by advocating for their position on social media.  It can feel a little judgy and a little self-righteous.  It is hard to know what to do.  I struggle with the questions of legality, safety, and risk/benefit.  I also struggle with the question of what is socially acceptable. 

It is particularly difficult because one of my great fears about this whole quarantine thing is happening.  I have lost my grip on social interaction and how to do it.  As I explained in my post Social Distancing  ( http://www.terrilabonte.com/2020/03/social-distancing/ ), I had a tenuous hold on that skill at the best of times.  Now, I just feel weird. The energy required to maintain social connection in new and different ways during the quarantine has been a bit draining.  I have worked hard to mold my social interaction needs and skills to fit a virtual world, but it has felt awkward like learning to write with your non-preferred hand. Now, I just want to return to writing with my dominant hand, but it feels rusty from disuse.  It does feel good to go out and about a little bit.  It is not that eating in the dining room of a restaurant or looking at clothes in person inside a store is that big a deal. The giddy feeling of normalcy is a big deal, however.  On the other hand, that normalcy is clearly just pretending.

“Normal” has not started in today’s world.  “Normal” is sputtering.  As with an old car in need of a tune-up, I am never quite sure what will happen when I turn the key of “normal.” I may be delighted and pleasantly surprised to see that Outback Steakhouse is open.  I may be jumping out of my skin at the chance to go to Disney Springs.  I felt like a real thrill seeker visiting a fancy home décor specialty shop in a cute little local downtown area.  Truthfully, though, the experiences are still far from normal.  The “normal” car started, but I still have that nagging sensation that there are things going on under the hood that may portend disaster.

There are the big, visible abnormal differences. We wear our masks, sucking in trapped humidity with every breath.  We avoid hugging and shaking hands. We project our voices when we speak to friends across a six-foot barrier.  Fitting rooms, jewelry counters, and other more “hands on” experiences in stores are still unavailable.  Starbucks, along with some other big chain dining and retail establishments, are still closed to walk-in business.  Church services are still coming to us via the Internet instead of face-to-face fellowship. There is still a wistful stillness and vacancy in places that are open.

There are also the less concrete barriers to normalcy. I have said from the beginning that I was not too worried for my physical health or safety.  It is not that I think the virus is not dangerous or that we should just go about our everyday routines without employing safety precautions.  I just had a feeling that I, personally, would be okay no matter what happened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  Given that perspective, it makes sense that I have a little less trepidation about returning to normal life than some other people do.  Just as I have been careful to adhere to the public health guidelines and limitations in place out of respect and compassion to other people, I want to be respectful and compassionate to other people as we climb over the other side of the quarantine curve.

Reading people’s posts on social media, it is hard to get a good take on what the socially acceptable level of comfort is. I’m okay starting to patronize the physical world again now, but I suspect many other people are not.  I do not want to be insensitive to other people’s feelings. I also do not want to be thought reckless and irresponsible. I do not want to endanger other people’s physical or emotional health.  I also want to spend time having fun and improving mental health with friends who are also comfortable venturing into the great unknown of public dining rooms, stores, and theme parks.  I have been enjoying small gatherings of friends at outdoor picnics for the past couple of months, sitting more than six feet from each other.  When is it okay to move those gatherings into enclosed spaces without risking the health of those I love or freaking anybody out?  A couple of friends and I have an overnight girls’ trip planned in a couple of weeks.  Are we all comfortable riding together in the same car for three hours?  What precautions should we employ to be respectful and polite? 

I guess the answer to all of these dilemmas is communication- communication about comfort levels that has nothing to do with judgment, trying to convince other people of how they “should” feel, or vilifying people who feel differently.  The goal of communication is to preserve relationships and stay close, not erect dividing walls based on “comfort” level. 

How “normal” do you feel at this point?  How are you transitioning back to real life?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a better-than-normal day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Of Course

Of course, I see…

That your skin color is different from mine

That you are of a different ethnicity than I am

That your hair is a different texture from mine

That your facial features are not the same as mine.

Of course, I hear….

That your speech patterns and inflections and tones are different from mine

That you express yourself differently than I do

That you pray differently than I do

That the story you tell of your life is not the story that I have lived.

Of course, I feel…

That some of your culture and traditions are different from mine

That the broken places in your heart are different from the broken places in mine

That there is segregation between our lives, be it intentional or not

That it is painful to find sturdy common ground on which to live in justice and peace together.

Of course, I know…

That we are both hurt

That we are both angry

That we are both scared

That we are both much-loved children of our mighty God.

Of course, I love you. 

I have been dwelling in sadness, anger, and fear over the past few weeks since the killing of George Floyd and the aftermath of that event.  It is not this one event that has brought me to this place of contemplation.  It is more that this one event is a microcosm of race relations in our country. That is the concept that provokes sadness, anger, and fear in me.  The atmosphere in so many aspects of our lives is so “us or them” that I do not know if it can be overcome.  We are seeing the “us or them” attitude concerning race relations unfold in such an ugly way during this time.

It makes me feel good to see so many protests that have stayed peaceful and productive.  People can be righteously angry and peaceful at the same time. These peaceful protestors have something vital to say and people ARE listening.  It is especially heartening to see protests in which people from all races, ethnic backgrounds, and professions (including police and government leaders) participate.  On the other hand, the fact that there is such evil in our society that caused Mr. Floyd’s killing to begin with generates a certain amount of despair.  That same evil also spurs additional darkness when angry and opportunistic people commit violence in the aftermath of the murder. 

Today, I listened to a discussion between my pastor, Fr. Tom Trees, and a young African American pastor from another local church, Reverend Ryan Armstrong. Reverend Armstrong shared an idea that I believe and pray is the best way forward.  He said that distance breeds suspicion, but proximity breeds empathy.

I think the best thing to do is to pray that God will grant us courage and grace. I pray that He helps us to find the proximity we need to create enough empathy so that the “of course” in “of course, I love you” rings true for everyone. 

What are your thoughts on this delicate issue?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Locked In

I have seen news stories about all the wildlife boldly going where no undomesticated animal has gone before since the coronavirus quarantine drove people into their dens.  While we have been locked down, nature sees us as “locked in.”  Wild animals are using the opportunity to run amok. I think it is the natural world equivalent to calling all your friends and having a party when your parents are away for the weekend… or for many extended weeks in the case of coronavirus quarantine.

I am seeing it in my own neighborhood.  Our friendly neighborhood rabbit, Honey Bunny, has made several appearances in my backyard in the last couple of weeks.  We often see squirrels scattering around in the trees back there. Seeing Honey Bunny is a rarer phenomenon.  Up until a few weeks ago, we had not seen hide nor hare for over a year.  Then there was Ghastly Gussie the Gator.  I’ve lived in Florida for over five years and, before the quarantine, saw no alligators sunning themselves in the proximity of my sun porch.  After seeing a very live Ghastly Gussie in the backyard, I have seen two halves of alligators on opposite sides of the main highway outside my subdivision.  They might not have been so ghastly as Gussie, but certainly grislier and more gruesome. 

A week or so ago, a friend and I both saw some sort of mystery critter within a few days of each other. It was skedaddling into the brush around our community “meditation glen” wooded area.  We both saw it in about the same location, so I think it is probably the same animal.  Neither one of us have a clue as to the identity of this animal, even after extensive googling.  To me, it looked like a brown, furry, ambulatory ottoman roughly the size of an overfed lhasa apso.  Someone suggested it might be a wild hog, but it seemed too fluffy to be a hog.  It moved like an extremely large skunk, but it seemed to be devoid of any skunk striping or coloring.  I wondered if it might be a mink or otter, but it seemed too large and stocky to be a mink or otter.  It also would have had to have been a mink or otter having a really bad hair day because this creature certainly lacked the sleek elegance of minks and otters. It might have been a raccoon, but there was no banding on the dark brown bushy tale.  I really thought it looked most like a fisher cat or wolverine, but fisher cats and wolverines do not live in Florida. Whatever it was, I am sure I have never seen anything like it before the quarantine.

The other day, as I sat at the table eating breakfast, I noticed some action outside my screened-in lanai.  I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye.  I looked outside and saw Robert(a) the Bobcat sidling past my lanai.  If I had been out on the lanai and the bobcat had stayed where he/she was, I could have touched him/her through the screen.  That is how close the cat was.  Robert(a) was not in any particular hurry.  He/she walked purposefully but was clearly not in any “fight or flight” mode.  Max and I watched while Robert(a) made his/her way past all the houses on my street until he/she disappeared around a curve in the conservation belt behind the houses.  

Not to be outdone by the bobcat, Rocky (short for Rockette; I am guessing she was a female braving the daylight to forage food for a nest of babies) the Raccoon tramped by the lanai yesterday.  When I posted a photo on Facebook, my neighbors responded with dire warnings that Rocky was probably the Rabid Raccoon because she was out during the day.  Further research indicated that, although raccoons are primarily nocturnal, they are often seen during the day, especially in the spring when mommy raccoons leave the babies in the nest while they wander in search of calories.  Either for the babies or for themselves.  Apparently, nursing baby raccoons is hard work.  Google indicated that, if rabid, a raccoon will likely be disoriented, clumsy, and lethargic.  Rocky was none of those things.  In fact, she traversed the backyards along my street with a certain pep in her step and lightness of foot.  She seemed to travel most gracefully with a rhythm of movement.  That is why I named her Rockette.  I half expected to see her doing eye high kicks.

I think I am beginning to understand how animals in the zoo feel.  I’m locked in and the regular inhabitants of my world are coming out to look at me!

Rockette the Raccoon high-stepping outside my lanai

FRIENDLY REMINDER: Today, my second book, Random (A)Musings, launched on Amazon. You can order paperback and kindle editions. You can thank me later!

Me, showing off my new book before yesterday’s virtual launch party
I couldn’t wait to read it!