In the Wake of Pain and the Gold of Care

“How’s your back doing?” my father would ask with a hope-you’re-okay smile from across the dinner table.

He struggled to remember many things during the last years of his life, but he remembered that my back was hurting. Perhaps he worried, knowing at his age how pain can accumulate and weigh us down. I felt that weight on the morning my mother called to tell me he’d died. That news hurt like nothing I’d experienced before . . .

Excerpted from the essay “In the Wake of Pain and the Gold of Care” in today’s A Kintsugi Life blog. Click here to read more.

Claiming a Fast in Pandemic Time: On How We Carry What We Miss

“Before the pandemic, the scent of warm, yeasty bread would have filled the chapel. Someone from our school’s café would have walked down in the hour or so before the service to leave a fresh-baked loaf wrapped in a white towel on the table. We’d have smelled it through all the prayers, music, and spoken word, reminded in each moment of a service of word and table. 

However, on the day of our very first in-person service since the pandemic began, I smelled nothing. The bread was missing.To be fair, I sometimes focus on bits and pieces when the bigger picture feels too big to handle in any given moment. I suspect I focused on the bread because it felt like the least painful absence on which to muse…”

Excerpted from the article “Claiming a Fast in Pandemic Time: On How We Carry What We Miss” in today’s Bearings Online. Click here to read more.

On the Changing of Seasons

Lately, I’ve been fighting it. Pandemic life has meant so much change already. I’m feeing less and less desire to adapt. I’m feeling strongly protective of things I wouldn’t have expected to hold onto so tightly. As summer passes and days shorten, I find myself feeling inordinate amounts of grief about small things like the loss of bike rides before work.

Sound silly? It’s true. Much as I’ve hated the pandemic, both COVID summers had me working remotely and relishing early sunrises on commute-free days. I’d often take a bike out on the rail trail near my home, riding north past restaurants that smelled of frying bacon, steering clear of pedestrians leaving coffee shops with their to-go cups and pastries. I’d notice changes in the feel of the air and coloring of the sky, amazed at how many different ways the world could look before 7 am. 

I knew that I’d never begun days so well. Rituals can remind us of bigger pictures, and that bike ride ritual began my days by reminding me of life beyond my email inbox. I’m really, really missing those rides.

I miss Steve’s smile. I never even learned Steve’s last name, but I learned to recognize the grin that would spread across the face of this older walker when he’d see me riding towards him. In our world of masks and Zoom-mediated faces, I found unmasked human beings and their smiles on that rail trail, and I loved it. Maybe Steve did, too. At first, we only waived to each other as we passed. Eventually, when we’d introduced ourselves, we’d stop and chat. I heard about his wife and his upcoming hip replacement surgery. He heard about my concerns as the end to my working remotely approached.

“Will you go back, or will you find a new job?” he asked. “I hear more and more people are doing that.”

“We’ll see,” I said, laughing to find that I was suddenly not worried about the future when I could stand under a shade tree, chatting my new friend. 

Those mornings along the rail trail kept reminding me that life had not ended, pandemic notwithstanding. Life moved along with a series of rapid and profound changes, and Steve and I and a lot of other people had been finding ways to move along with it. Those mornings kept me out among people, engaged by what I could still do and discover, experiencing newness as something beautiful rather than frightening. That time became precious. I’m missing it. When I think about all these things that time has meant to me, perhaps I shouldn’t feel surprised to find myself missing it so much.

The passing of seasons can feel bittersweet at any time of life, as it often means losing what’s become familiar and comforting. I wonder: does the passing of pandemic seasons feel extra difficult? Though life hasn’t ended, it has changed rapidly. Many of us have lost more this last year and half than we even know how to explain. One way or another, we’ve had to find things with which to steady and orient ourselves. No wonder I’m finding it difficult to let go of the pandemic summer comfort I found in those morning bike rides. 

I try to be gentle with myself as I bear this in mind. I try to be gentle with others, too. I try to be gentle, and I try to give myself time to enjoy those memories of summer things that brought me gladness and comfort. Taking time to remember can honor what seemed good and right. However, remembering doesn’t only focus us on the past. Remembering what seemed good and right can also help us focus on what may yet become good and right in new seasons ahead. It helps me, at least, to remember what I’m watching for. 

I’m watching for good ways to start my day, for one thing. I need morning rituals that remind me of bigger pictures and of life beyond my email inbox.

I’m paying attention, also, to how much I need those settings where I get to enjoy being with people who are enjoying their world. Morning bike rides meant getting outdoors into settings where I could soak up the smiles and gladness of others exercising, contemplating, and otherwise greeting the day. (Sometimes I have my own smiles and gladness to share, and some days more than others I need to draw gladness from the people around me.)

I’m also on the lookout for Steve. I haven’t seen him since his hip surgery. I knew recovery would take time, though, so I’m not worried. I’m just making sure to get out as bright and early as possible on my days off to watch for him as he works his way back to the distances he used to walk. 

I trust that we do tend to find what we’re looking for, however unexpected the form our findings might take. I remind myself to stand down from fighting all the changes of season underway (both in Indiana weather and in a global pandemic). I hope to draw wisdom yet from the grief I’m feeling as I say “goodbye” to summer.

I’ve been taking my bike out in the evenings after work lately, and going up the rail trail the other day, I found something new that I’d been waiting to see. A tunnel that had been closed for a while had reopened. Five young people with paint brushes stood inside, studying the tunnels walls while trying to stay out of the way of foot and bike traffic on the trail.

During the tunnel closure, I’d read that a mural would be going up. I saw it now: piano keyboards, violins, and instruments of all kinds danced the length of the tunnel walls. These five young artists must have had detail work to finish up, for they laughed with one another as they dabbed their brushes at the wall. They acted so engrossed with their project and with each other that I wondered if they even noticed the cyclists flying by so close behind them. I watched them enjoying this new thing they were doing, and I let their smiles make me smile, too. 

Monon Greenway tunnel mural by Carmel High School students. Photo by Callie J. Smith.

What will you be watching for this fall?

Handling the Holes Created by Loss

“I’ve never worked in kintsugi gold, but I’ve begun enjoying the other kinds of repairs that I do manage to do. Repairs feel like a form of care for the things that go with me through my days. On the bookshelf, a Joy of Cooking cookbook I inherited from my grandmother has its cracked spine reinforced with packing tape. A favorite coffee cup still holds up well with its super-glued handle. I even brought out my sewing kit recently to tackle the holes in my shower curtain.

Pulled threads and puncture holes—that curtain has seen better days, for sure. My black cat Bo caused most of the damage. Between playing with the hem, reaching for the tassels, and grabbing at the fabric when she’d slip on the bathtub ledge, Bo left her marks on that shower curtain. When I gave her away, it took me a while to think about repairing the curtain. I had so many other things on my mind…”

Excerpted from the essay “Handling the Holes Created by Loss” on today’s A Kintsugi Life blog. Click here to read more.

Beneath the Loss

“Does the vividness of memory ever surprise you? It does me. 

I remember a day as a student when I joined some classmates in waving scarves of every color as we danced barefoot down the grey, marble-floored hallways of our seminary. A drummer walked with us, and a group of people followed.

I think it was a holiday. I think we led people to a special service. I don’t remember those details exactly, but I do remember the joy: on dancers’ faces as we turned and leapt, in the drum beat and clapping hands, in my own body as I danced in public for the first time. I found myself with others in the middle of something larger than any one of us, something whose gladness went deep. 

So much time has passed since then. Even if it hadn’t, the pandemic would stand as a sharp dividing line between now and what came before…”

Excerpted from the article “Beneath the Loss” in today’s Bearings Online. Click here to read more.