Springing Into Our New Normal

Last spring I finally became the owner of a magnolia bush. There is something about a magnolia and its herald of springtime that has always made me happy. So having my own magnolia out in the front yard, whispering that spring was approaching made me so happy. I love how the spring plants and trees hold their secrets like happy children – just about bursting with the joy of it – going from nothing but empty branches to gorgeous flowers overnight.

At the end of February, the magnolia’s branches covered themselves in tiny green buds. All I could think of was that we were all holding our breath in a moment of great anticipation.

Of course, what we were really anticipating was far less joyful than flowers.

Today marks the 75th case of COVID-19 in my community. In the time it took for my magnolia bush to bud, 75 people have a very different future ahead of them.

I feel like every day I’m holding my breath – waiting for what is coming.

And I fear what is coming is going to change everything we once believed we knew. I fear this spring is taking us into a new normal.

The Time of Horror

A glance at the calendar tells me it is October. I adore October — all my favorite things happen in October and is the colorful face of my favorite season. Any trip to even the smallest of shopping places is filled to bursting with reminders that this is the season of IMG_4618Halloween and we do love Halloween. From socks to underpants, candy and cookies, ceramic jack o’lanterns to animatronic dragons breathing “fire”, the accoutrements of Halloween appear to be everybody’s favorite. And while Halloween isn’t my favorite, even I have a pair of socks to commemorate what folks like about this season

One thing I can’t get behind is the love of scary things. Left to my own devices, my family’s Halloween decorations would be limited to friendly Caspar-esque ghosts and jack o’lanterns with features made of only triangles and circles. Mister Soandso has been very clear that my devices are not up to snuff in this part of our family. And why? Because Halloween is supposed to be scary. The scarier that better. Horror-riffic, even.

People do love being scared, don’t they? Not me, for sure. But other people do. This is a truth so true that an entire industry capitalizes on the apparent love of being scared that causes folks to not only buy tickets to see horror movies, but to buy tickets to improbable horror flick sequels. (“Friday the 13th”, for example.)

Our desire to allow ourselves to scared is so predictable and desired that Alfred Hitchcock told scriptwriter Ernest Lehman that, “The audience is like a giant organ that you and I are playing. At one moment we play this note, and get this reaction, and then we play that chord and they react. And someday we won’t even have to make a movie — there’ll be electrodes implanted in their brains, as we’ll just press different buttons and they’ll go ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ and we’ll frighten them, and make them laugh. Won’t that be wonderful?”

Wonderful indeed. Hitchcock understood human psychology – he understood how to control us — perhaps not all of us, but enough of us to capitalize on our desire to feel first scared and then safe. Marketers use this stuff all the time to get us to buy more stuff – to buy two cans of shaving cream so that both the men and the women in our homes have shaving cream to use…when what is inside the cans is basically the same. Don’t believe me? Ever wonder why the McDonald’s of the 60s and 70s all had red and yellow decor? Because McDonalds’ wants us to feel hungrier than we are and leave faster. (Read here and here for more about color in the food industry.) I first learned of this phenomenon back in sociology 101 (back in 1987) and these articles are all current – it’s been happening all along because it works!

So why am I pondering horror flicks and fast-food’s use of psychology?

Well, it appears the Supreme Court is about to get Brett Kavanaugh. And that, my fellow global citizens, is very horrifying.

Perhaps my statement seems either simplistic or hysterical, but I assure you, it is not meant to be brushed off as either.

We have been played by masters of psychology – so masterful that many who chafe at the thought of spending more for a meal or item at the store, don’t even realize what has happened. That’s right. We Americans love our independence, but seem to have no idea how that love has been used to control us.

That control keeps us distracted. It keeps the economy flowing in one direction. And that control keeps the power in the control of a very limited group.

We get scared and then we react. If that’s a horror movie at Halloween, then the reaction is probably the price of a movie ticket and an overly large bucket of popcorn.

But what if that scare tactic focuses on our safety? We might buy a gun or a security system. If the focus is our children’s health, we might decide to not immunize them and instead use a whole host of “natural” products meant to boost their immune systems. If the focus is job security, we might decide the answer is building a wall on our southern border. And so on. And in each case, the effect of our being scared isn’t that we are safer or healthier or more employed. Nope. The effect is that there is more money in the hands/pockets of the people selling us those guns or tinctures or border patrol policies.

The balance of power has shifted and that shift is largely due to the fact that we have been manipulated to fight against one another rather than notice what is truly at work. That fighting keeps us so busy that people are failing to notice what is really happening. Much like a diversion during a bank heist, the US citizens are fighting like crazy to make a life worth living while the very wealthiest folks are completely insulated from our in-fighting.

And why is this happening? Not only are we hooked on the feelings that being scared can give us, but we just might want this. According to Timothy Pytell, PhD, “demagogic populist leaders can mobilize the masses with visions of grandeur and fantasies of violence while the rest tolerate, or turn a blind eye, or perhaps see some possibility offered by the third path. Others out of either ignorance or a willful ignorance remain unaware of the dangers of fascism.”

The next time you watch a reelection rally of our seated President (which has never, ever happened before #45 took power), look at the faces of the people behind him. You will see the folk with visions of grandeur or fantasies of violence or a hope for a third path where only people who look like them have any pieces of pie. The psychology of so many US citizens has been manipulated so that the appeal of fear has led them to a place where the individual trumps society.

And that is why this truly is a time of terror. Because if we don’t stop thinking of just ourselves, there won’t be a society left.  Instead, we will have a country where only certain people have any rights for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. And the rest will just be fodder for whatever the rich want to distract us with.

The “great American experiment” may well be concluded. The question is just how horrific will the outcome be?

The Power of Sharing Memories

I’m conflicted on social media these days – so much good has come from our digital connections but the weight of the evil done via FB, Twitter, Instagram, et al certainly tarnishes what was once a pretty neato thing. But the other day a business associate shared something that struck a chord with me.

If you’re reading this, even if we barely talk, tell me your favorite memory of me. After that – consider making this your status, because you’d be surprised the memories people hold of you.

It struck me so much that I not only responded to her post, but I put it on my wall as well.

You see, there’ve been a series of events in my life lately that have keenly reminded me that each of not only has the first time we meet a person, but we also have the last time we see them. It’s the last time that we don’t know — maybe they move away, or you change jobs, or they get hit by lightning and die. We just don’t know…

I was thinking about all the wonderful people in my life who I’ve never told them that they’ve made my life better for having been in it.

Several years ago, I was having a particularly hard morning. I’m not much of a morning person and when I was working while parenting small children, heading to work on Sunday mornings was often not my favorite experience. I’d wrangle the kids, tying shoes while trying to apply mascara or lipstick, and hope my slip wasn’t showing went we finally arrived at church–I felt like a hot mess most times. There was a dear lady I sang in the choir with and she stopped me one morning. I was rushing back to my office to grab a forgotten item and she reached out, put her hand on my arm and said, “Kristina, how are you?”

She knew the answer. It was written all over my face. I was harried, crabby, and wishing the morning could have started a few hours later. But what was written all over her face was compassion and care. She was a grandmother by then but knew all about trying to do all the things even when you’re not up to it.

Something about her face, as well as the hand pulling me to a stop, made me change course. I stopped. I saw her. And I realized that she had just made my day feel better. And so my response – which a moment before would have been a quick “fine!” or “ugh, running late!” turned into, “I’m better for having seen you!”

I’ve kept saying that to people all these years later because I’ve noticed that they do exactly what Barb did right then — she paused and then smiled. She’d opened a door to me and I welcomed her right back.

It’s one of my favorite memories of Barb Harlan, her smile while we were standing there in the sunny hallway of Vancouver UCC outside the choir door.

I never got the chance to tell her that but this weekend, as we make our way back into our building after nearly two and a half years after an arson fire, I’ll take a few moments between running back to my office for a forgotten item and stand there in the hallway, right where Barb stopped me, and I’ll think to myself,

I’m better today for having had you in my life.

Take care of yourselves, friends. May the day be filled with real or proverbial sunshine and may your days be better for having folks in your life.


ps. And Barb, I sure do miss you.

The Weight of Small Things

The view out of my window at the moment is lovely – a nice fall morning. A glance at my BBC news app or Google reminds me that not everyone’s morning is going as well.

Hurricanes are brewing and blowing in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – the Philippines and the Carolinas are both being battered by winds and rains and surging waters.

Fascists are raising their voices and fists in slurs, salutes, and symbols throughout the world.

The economies of the globe are poised in delicate balancing acts as the wealthy find unimaginable riches and the poor become generationally trapped in poverty.

All four primary agencies measuring global temperatures (NASA, NOAA, the Japan Meteorological Agency, and the Met Office Hadley Centre) show global temperatures are the highest ever since 1880 when data collection began.

Dozens of species of plants and/or animals become extinct every day.

These are the things that make these days terrifying. They terrify because most are not things that happen in one-fell terrifying swoop. Instead, they are tiny things, adding up until the weight is too much to bear.

I just erased so many examples that I know in just my community because you have your own lists that are just as valid – families torn apart over politics or war, lives lost because of disease or accidents or untreated mental health issues, communities fractured over differences of opinion or skin tones. So much pain. And so much of that pain begins with a small thing, a tiny thing that is easily overlooked or ignored.

But like the raindrops that add up to a 12 foot tidal surge, small things do add up to become something too large to ignore.

The bad stuff adds up until it weighs so damn much.

But so does the good stuff.



Holding the door for the person behind you.

Doing one tiny, absolutely unimportant thing can absolutely change the world for someone else.

11734305-50B6-4586-8BFC-640C0444D40AThe weight of good small things is immense. But instead of breaking a soul, crushing a spirit, those tiny things rebuild, shore up, change the course of a tide. Added up, even a penny is worth something of value.

So today, do some small thing for good.

It just might be you who feels the most unburdened by the weight of small good things.



Going His Own Way

The new routine around here gets us up and ready for work and school way too dang early (!) but also at staggered times. A bit over an hour after Mister Soandso and Middlest leave to get her to high school, I stand at the window and watch Littlest walk to the bus stop.

It’s our first week of school and already he’s got a system: eat breakfast, get showered and dressed, and head out the door all with limited interaction with me. He’s never been a super chatty morning person, but even for him it’s a bit muted. Not in a rude sort of way, but more in line with how he interacts with the pets – sort of a quick acknowledgement and then a “bye! Love you!” thrown over his shoulder as he head out the door.

Sounds like I’ve got a middle schooler on my hands, 100%.

After the door lock clicks, I refill my coffee cup and the dog and I head into my bedroom where the window affords me the best view. It takes a while for him to come into view, and then, after a short walk up the hill, he disappears. At no point does he look back over his shoulder – why would he? His destination and friends are ahead of him. And he knows how to get back home when it’s time to do so.

Eli first day of kinderThis photo of Littlest popped up on my FB feed this morning. Seven years ago Mister Soandso and I walked him to his first day of kindergarten.

He didn’t look behind much even then. He knew where we were… right behind him should he need us. Plus, he knew he had free reign until he got to the corner where’d he need to wait for us and the crossing guard. He knew how to do this trip.

After all, his dear sister was back there with his dad and I, and he’d made this trip with her too many times to count in his life.

Seven years and now that little boy is gone. That too big backpack wore out years ago, he’s favorite tee shirt has long been outgrown. And those tiny running shoes he was so excited to get have been traded in for 8.5s in adult size!!!

The young man I watched walk to the bus stop resembles this tiny boy so much, and yet very little. His voice proves adulthood is around the corner even more than those big shoes do. And his fierce independence seems to demonstrate how grown up he is as well. Except it doesn’t.

Instead, it reminds me that he has always known where to find his dad and I – behind him, watching his back while giving him the space he needs to become the person he will be. And g-d knows, we love that person so much.

Welcoming a child into your life is always a scary thing – and Littlest’s entrance to our world was not without drama. Oy. But in the big picture, journeying with this young man has been such smooth sailing. Or, maybe the joys have just so outnumbered the challenges that I rarely think about the scary stuff nowadays.

A friend’s baby came early this past week – his little boy was born at 24 weeks 5 days and weighed only 1.9 pounds. So far, little Will is doing well. Every photo his parents share is a reminder of just how precious and tenuous life is. And how very lucky Mister Soandso and I were to have three full-term babies.

Our babies start out so very vulnerable and need so much. And then in a blink of a proverbial eye, they put on their backpacks and head off to kindergarten.

Yep, the days are long but the years are so very short. And then they are off, going their own way.

Circles and Straight Lines

I got up this morning and made banana bread muffins.

This is certainly not out of the ordinary. After all, I’ve been getting up and making banana bread muffins for years now. (When one eats as many bananas as I do while having a very small “perfect banana” definition, there is a much larger banana bread window than banana eating window at chez moi.)

But one thing was different today. After I put the muffin pan in precisely the center of the center rack and set the timer, I texted Biggest.

“Making banana bread muffins and missing you.” Continue reading

Standing in the Shadow, part 2

When Biggest was about 2 or so, he got frustrated by my “multi-tasking” during breakfast and reached across the table, over the paper I was grading, and put his little hands on either side of my face. “Pay attention to me,” he said while he pulled my face towards his. He didn’t stop until his forehead was against mine, staring into my eyes to ensure I really was paying attention to him.

Sometimes, our world requires us to pay attention.

And sometimes, we’d really rather be distracted by anything but that which is reaching out and grabbing our attention. Continue reading