I think it is fair to say that 2020 has been a very strange time, not only in MY STORY, but also in HISTORY. It seems that I have spent the past seven months constantly reinventing my idea of normal. I spent some time just waiting for things to get better and, when that did not happen, I found myself continually jerry-rigging the routines of my life to make them work during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have become the MacGyver of real life. I embraced Zoom to keep people connected. I ordered curbside dining and balanced Styrofoam boxes on my steering wheel in order to keep patronizing restaurants. I wear make-up and jewelry and do my hair even though I am only traveling from the bathroom to the living room. I went to Disney parks masked and sanitized at every turn- staying so far away from other patrons, I needed a carrier pigeon to communicate with them. I invest in a lot of postage stamps to periodically send little surprises to my absent loved ones. I re-defined getting a COVID-19 test as a date, for heaven’s sake.
Some folks would say I have invested way too much time and energy trying to solve problems that don’t really exist; that the activities I am trying to recreate could easily wait until after the world starts rotating properly on its axis again.
On the other hand, I know that I do a lot of these things not because I must do those specific activities, but because I am chasing some semblance of “feeling normal”. I am a person who is extremely motivated by steadiness and routine. I am pretty risk and change adverse. Spending nine months in a world that feels different every day in every way absolutely wears away at my sense of security. In retrospect, I feel like I have done remarkably well in coping with the situation. I have been able to manage my anxiety and depression level effectively most of the time.
I have certainly had my days when I have had to make a deliberate effort to push back an attack of negativity from my brain, but mostly I am good. I credit that emotional survival with continuing to try to build some weird, mutated version of normal life. In essence, it is not the doing of these activities like meetings on Zoom or calling a COVID-19 test a date that is important. It is the process of creating normalcy that is important for me. It is also important for me that the essence of myself does not drown in the ocean of apathy that threatens to engulf my quarantine life. When it gets too easy and too normal to not communicate, not socialize, not look my best, and not have fun, I know bad things are bound to happen to my psyche.
Still, despite my super-human efforts to create normalcy out of weirdness, I have not been completely successful. Masks, social distancing, hug prohibitions- all remind me that, no matter what I do, life is not normal. I am getting really tired of it, so I thought about when I have felt most normal during these past months. What can I do to maximize those times?
As I thought about it, I realized that the times I felt most normal were the times when I was at the beach. A couple of friends and I took an overnight trip to Fernandina Beach this spring. Max and I went to Daytona Beach a month or so ago. Recently, a friend and I went to Clearwater Beach. That is probably more beach activity than I have had in one year for as long as I can remember. It has been remarkably helpful.
At the beach, people can stay six feet away from each other easily. In fact, even before COVID-19, I would not be closer than six feet away from any other beach visitor. No one needs to wear a mask because we are outside and physically distant. There is nothing less claustrophobic than looking out into the vastness of the ocean. Hearing the sea birds and the waves, smelling the seaweed, tasting the salt in the air, feeling the cool water on my skin… all these things help me remember how big and beautiful the world is. I remember looking out at the ocean as I walked through the waves on Daytona Beach and thinking it was like a treasure chest filled with emeralds and aquamarines and teal tourmalines… so many beautiful, sparkling blue and green gems twinkling at me.
All three of my beach visits were this rejuvenating. I bought a shirt in Fernandina Beach that says, “Salt Water Heals Everything.” That may not be completely true, but, for me, salt water does seem to heal the COVID-19 blues. At the beach, I can wave good-bye to weird.
Is there a special place you go to “get back to basics” and feel at least a little normal? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Little by little, I am escaping the confines of my four walls. I am doing more and more “normal” things. We go to restaurants once a week. We have gone to outdoor and indoor malls. I have attended some real-life meetings for church committees. We have been to Disney Springs and even to the Magic Kingdom. I rode in the same car with two friends and stayed with them in the same hotel suite on our overnight trip to Amelia Island. It was a big day when Max and first sat inside a Starbuck’s with our beverages and pumpkin bread.
It is tempting to believe things are “getting back to normal.” That is not the case, though. Doing isn’t feeling.
A weird sinister vibe accompanies our furtive ventures out of the house. We do not do anything without analyzing the risk/benefit factors. No matter how you look at it, life is certainly painted in a vibrant shade of “weird” when the notion of going to Starbuck’s is a potentially dangerous activity. Everywhere we do go, there are reminders that the world is still considerably off-kilter. While we are trying to right ourselves, our entire culture is working up quite a sweat from the effort of playing “let’s pretend.” No hugs or handshakes. Masks covering smiles. Following one-way directional arrows in the supermarket. Learning to speak up because no one can hear me from an appropriate social distance. Fitting rooms closed at department stores. Strangely quiet and empty streets, stores, and other venues.
There is also the “social acceptability” factor of returning to previously normal activities. Watching the news and social media, reactions to real life are mixed. There seems to be one camp of people insisting that the virus is taking over the world and we are all going to die. There is another camp that is insisting that there is no danger and taking any kind of reasonable precautions is unnecessary. I know I should not care, but I do tend to worry about what people will think if I post pictures of us at Disney World or suggest an in-person meeting for a church group. I want to be respectful and comforting. I also want to not be judged.
All in all, things in the area where I live and are doing fairly well. News media and prayers for full annihilation of the virus aside, causes for concern seem to be receding. People are aware that the world is not normal, but they also are beginning to feel the need to live outside the box… literally. People are beginning to stop waiting for things to return to normal to continue with their regularly scheduled lives. There are adaptations and adjustments we need to make, but society is restarting some form of regular life. That is a hopeful sign. The more we can do that, the more doing will be feeling.
It is another weird transition time that we are experiencing now. When the world first went on lockdown, the changes we had to make to our normal lives were so massive and intrusive, many of us felt our sanity sensors wobbling. I know I felt like I was kicked in the gut back to the last twelfth of Never. Now, we have adapted very effectively to zoom meetings, social distancing, and avoiding non-essential human contact. We might be having a hard time starting to climb back from Never. We may have become a little lethargic and rut-bound. In some ways, it is easier to remain securely in hunker down mode. It is a bit like COVID-19 spooked the horse of our lives and we got thrown out of the saddle. We toppled to the ground and hurt ourselves. For a time, it made sense to stay off the horse and heal. We could even decide to stay off the horse permanently if we did not enjoy riding. On the other hand, unless we want to give up riding forever, we must get back on the horse at some point.
I know that point will be different for everyone. I know that everyone heals differently. I know some horses are gentler than others. I know some people are better riders than others. I am not here to advise or judge, just to hope and pray that, someday, I can hug people again. And that I will feel “normal” doing it!
What activity or condition would help you to feel “normal” again? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. Alternatively, you can email me at email@example.com.
When COVID-19 broke out all over the world, an international debate about the wearing of face coverings also broke out. Some people believe that wearing masks will slow the spread of infection and that the masks are critical to containing the virus until there is a vaccine. Others believe masks do no good and represent an infringement on our civil liberties. Others believe that masks probably have some impact on stemming infection and that there is little downside to wearing them. Personally, I believe they do have an impact. I believe that we are seeing the positive results of wearing them in places that have mandated wearing masks in public. I wear my mask, not intending any political statement, but simply because I want to do everything I can to give us all more safety, peace of mind, and freedom.
For people who are not completely convinced of the public health advantages of wearing a mask when venturing out into the big wide world, I have compiled a list of ten other benefits that may be more compelling.
You save a lot of money on lipstick.
When worn with sunglasses, you can make faces at people without them knowing it.
You can have a bad hair day and people will just assume it is the mask.
You can buy a whole wardrobe of them and use them as fashion accessories.
You can talk with your mouth full and no one knows the difference.
You can rent out space on your mouth for advertising.
There is now finally something you can buy at Brighton Collectibles that actually costs less than the “free” $25 gift card they send you for your birthday (okay… that one is a little esoteric, but, as someone who routinely ends up using her $25 birthday credit to buy something that costs over $200, it is a considerable benefit for me).
Orthodontia may become a thing of the past.
You have an excuse when you meet someone in the grocery store and can’t remember his or her name (as in, “oh silly me; I didn’t recognize you with the mask on!”)
You can take Tink-ering to a whole new level.
What benefits of wearing a mask have you discovered? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can leave me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Max moved in with me in 2002, we had a talk about keeping our relationship lively. Before we cohabitated, we lived about an hour away from each other, with traffic. We got together for a date every Saturday. It was the highlight of the week for both of us. When he moved in with me, I wanted to make sure we still had that special dedicated time to have fun together. I made him agree that, even if we were living in the same home, we would still have a date at least once a week. I am happy to say that we have kept that agreement, almost without fail. Since my retirement, we’ve even upped the ante and have spend two days a week doing something fun together. Since the COVID-19 invasion, this has been a little more challenging, but we’ve managed to pull off some form of a date a couple of times a week even during the pandemic.
However, when I talked to Max about my need for a weekly date way back in 2002, getting a COVID-19 test together was not exactly what I had in mind.
The other day, we set out on an admittedly low-key date day. We went to Starbucks and sat in the café. We chatted, sipped our beverages and shared a slice of pumpkin bread. It is still kind of a thrill to be inside the Starbucks, so I suppose that, in itself, might qualify for a date. We had even more exciting plans, however. Our original schedule involved going to Home Depot to return a towel bar and then wander the tiny, not-quite-a-mall in our town. Whoo-hoo!
When we got to the Home Depot, Max spotted a white tent-like structure in the parking lot. We wondered what it was and drove around it to investigate. It turns out that it was a pop-up COVID-19 testing facility. Max suggested we get tested. I was not quite on board because I could not think of any reason we would be at risk. As far as we knew, none of the people with whom we are in contact has the virus. Neither of us has any symptoms. The infection rate in our county has been decreasing. Still, I could not think of any reason not to get tested, so I agreed to undergo the procedure to please Max.
The operation was efficient. A masked and shielded greeter registered us and explained the processing and results procedures. There was one person ahead of us getting tested when we arrived. Max took the first turn and the technician ushered me in right after finishing with Max, before I had a chance to even ask him what it was like.
As a public service, I am going to tell you what it is like. It is like having a tiny eggbeater pushed up your nose into your brain for ten seconds in each nostril. I am glad I only have two nostrils.
I would not say it hurt exactly. “Pain” seems too strong a word. It was more that it was such a weird sensation than that it actually hurt. It is sort of like the eyeball, nose, and ear equivalent of chewing on aluminum foil. My eyes certainly watered and I felt my face doing some weird contortions, like when you taste something extremely sour. I later found out that there is sometimes a problem with testers who want to make the test more comfortable so they end up not going far enough up the nostril to get a valid specimen. I do not think my technician had that problem. That night, I looked it up on the internet. Apparently, if your eyes water, that is a sign that the technician is performing the test correctly because the process puts pressure on the tear ducts. Gold star, COVID-19 tester outside of Home Depot.
The people at the testing site told us that we could set up an account on their website and would be able to access our results in 2-5 days. Less than 48 hours later, their website revealed that we both tested negative. Yay, us.
The other thing that the people at the testing site told us is that you should get tested every fourteen days if you are out and about in the world. Yeah, no. That’s not happening.
What is your idea of a romantic date? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few weeks ago, I lamented the fate of my acrylic fingernails during the COVID-19 lockdown. When I wrote that I had been wearing the nails for over 30 years, something inside me blushed in embarrassment. How could I have been wearing fake fingernails for so long? Time has been marching on over my lifetime. And it seems it has been marching past me with acrylic fingernails.
This epiphany started me thinking about what motivated me to pay someone to paint artificial material mixed with toxic chemicals on my hands every few weeks over the past 30 years. Arguably, the whole acrylic fingernail thing is a ridiculous notion. I have been embracing it for over half my life. How is this possible?
My journey towards three decades of acrylic nails started long before anyone ever even heard of acrylic nails. I was a terrible nail-biter as a child. It started with thumb-sucking and escalated. I could not seem to keep my fingers out of my mouth, no matter how hard I tried. My parents didn’t make a big deal about it, but they tried to help me overcome the habit in every way they could. They tried manicures. They tried bribes. They tried coating my fingers with various solutions designed to discourage me from putting my fingers in my mouth. They put a rubber band on my wrist to snap when I caught myself biting my nails. It was so bad that I often left myself with only nibs of nails. Sometimes, I had to go to the doctor to be treated for infections because of the nail-biting.
Most kids outgrow nail-biting. I was not most kids. As I grew older, I did lose the thumb-sucking habit, but was never able to control the nail-chewing urge. I picked and broke and bit my nails well into adulthood. My hands were always in shambles. I can’t count the number of times I tried to stop, but I always failed.
Fast forward to 1989. My ex-husband left me in 1988 and I was just starting to think about dating again. This was long before internet dating sites (it was long before the internet, period). In those olden dates, the pre-cursor to match.com was the newspaper personal ads. I had no idea how to meet people. I think everyone I knew socially was married. No one seemed to have any suitable gentleman friends with whom to set me up. I eventually met the first man I dated after my divorce through a personal ad. After a few phone conversations, we agreed to meet in person.
I was terrified. In retrospect, I probably had no business dating at that point. I was still too broken from a bad marriage and divorce. Besides, I was almost 30 years old and had not been on a first date since I was 17.
The day we were to meet, my nervous system was in armed revolt. To soothe my squirrely spirit, I went to the mall. Shopping is kind of my drug of choice when I need a little artificial serotonin. As I wandered through the stores, every stress response in my brain pushed me to buy something. I ended up buying some pretty underwear. That didn’t really do the trick for me. After all, I told myself, I had no intention of letting anyone see my underwear that evening so what difference did it make if it was new? I kept wandering and looking for something I could buy. I had already told my date what I was going to wear and, since that was the only way he would recognize me at the bar where we were meeting, changing that particular horse didn’t seem like a good idea. As I walked past the beauty salon, I noticed a sign for acrylic nails. That’s it, I thought, I can buy new nails!
Acrylic nails were just starting to become the rage at that time. I didn’t know anyone who had them. I just saw them as a quick and easy way to gain some confidence for the evening. I knew that my date was likely going to be disappointed in my looks, so I thought that I could at least buy myself some pretty hands. Honestly, if I’d known at the time that you had to come back every few weeks to have more acrylic applied to your fingers, I doubt I would have done it.
I guess ignorance was a good thing in this case because I did like my new nails. I guess I liked them a lot since I’ve been maintaining them ever since.
My hands were nice. They were way nicer than the guy I wanted to impress deserved, as it turned out. I dated him for about a year before realizing he was kind of a jerk and way more trouble than he was worth. I broke up with him, but I did not break up with the acrylic fingernails.
Speaking of breaking up… or, rather… not breaking up… one of the benefits to the acrylics was durability. I can’t say that I completely stopped biting my nails when I got the acrylics. However, the consequences of biting my nails were much more limited. They were so strong, I didn’t demolish them every time they got near my mouth. It was like there was more intervention time. When I put my fingers to my mouth, I had enough time to realize what I was doing and remove them before I did any damage.
All in all, once I had the acrylic nails, I couldn’t imagine not having them. My hands, another shameful secret in my repoirte of unattractive qualities, were no longer a source of embarrassment. I guess, overall, acrylic nails and I have had a decent partnership. But 30 plus years? That just doesn’t seem reasonable. Still, I had every intention of starting over again once the salons reopen. I figured, with the acrylic-related damage incurred by my natural nails and my uncontrollable nail-biting, I’d be lucky to have fingernails at all by the time we are released from lockdown.
Surprisingly, though, my natural nails are doing fairly well after four weeks of freedom from acrylics. They are not in great shape and I’d love to have a manicure, but I don’t seem to be destroying them. The nail atrophy that I expected was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. The nails are flimsy and rough but seem to be holding up against normal wear and tear and many, many hand-washings. Even more surprisingly, I don’t think I’m biting them. I smooth the edges each day with a manicure block because they do seem to fray a bit, which also seems to help.
Maybe that the reality of fake is that I don’t need the fake after all!
What is the most fake thing about you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
Have a real day!
PS: EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT! My latest book, Random (A)Musings will be released on Amazon.com on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Please look for it and consider buying a copy… or several dozen! The book will be available in paperback and kindle editions.