It May Happen For You

Here in the Midwest we say, “You won’t meet a nicer person” and that perfectly describes Sam Richards. Sam is married to my cousin Becky (another one of those truly kind people). The geographical distance separating us means we only see each other every decade or so, but nearly two years ago Becky and Sam came from Missouri to stay with us for a few days. Sam had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and because his symptoms were worsening they wanted to cross off as many bucket list items as possible before travel became too difficult. They went to parks, museums, visited extended family in the area, and walked around the tree-lined streets of Oberlin College where Becky’s father had graduated. It was an absolute delight to spend time with them, even though shadowed by our concern for Sam’s health. It was gutting to think this supremely capable and generous man was facing decline.  

Sam served in the U.S. Marine Corp for 23 years. He continued a life of public service as a police officer and code enforcement officer. His commitment didn’t end there. He served a total of eight years on two different city councils, nearly 20 years on a regional EMS board of directors, as well ongoing work on the executive council of their Methodist church.  He was asked to run for mayor of their city, Festus, but couldn’t consider it due to his health.

Later that year, Becky called with the most amazing news. It was discovered that Sam didn’t have Parkinson’s after all. A medication he was taking for another condition caused side effects that mimicked the disease. With a change of medication, his future was once again wide open. I could have laughed and cried at the same time. With everything going on in the country and the world, this was the best news we’d heard in a very long time.

It got better.

Last year, on April 2nd, Sam Richards was sworn in as mayor of Festus, Missouri.

                                                                     ~~~

Which brings me to today. Our new puppy arrived this afternoon. Many of the dogs we’ve had over the years came to us already named – among them Jedi, Winston, and Cocoa. But this little guy was ours to name. In these difficult times, I want a daily reminder that extraordinarily wonderful things are possible. That a good thing happened to a good man. That a town got a fine mayor. That there’s always hope. So of course, our new dog’s name is Festus.

He is an affectionate, playful, constant tail-wagging fluff ball. First nap of the afternoon.

SOMETIMES

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
fom bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
That seemed hard frozen: it may happen for you.

~Sheenagh Pugh  

Gratitude via Mental Subtraction

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~Thornton Wilder

Edible flowers as well as chard, basil, chives, and other tender plants grow on my front and back porches. I water them each day, aware a killing frost will arrive soon. I’ve been succession planting lettuces and globe carrots, but missed replanting one pot. That explains its proud crop of weeds. When I water, I water those weeds too. They might as well enjoy what time they have left.

This is my favorite season. Gorgeous autumn leaves, vivid blue skies, and a certain slant of light in late afternoon illuminating everything with a stained glass glow. Each one a reminder that what flourishes must also die. As I can, freeze, and dry our produce each fall I can’t help but think of my ancestors, yours too, whose preparations for winter were about survival.   

We are living in difficult times. Unprecedented times. Rampant disease, devastating injustice, and a climate teetering toward ever-worsening disaster. Somehow it helps me to remember our ancestors endured famine, floods, war, ill health, and oppression. Our existence is the direct consequence of ancestors who persevered despite the odds. We carry their resilience and courage in our genes.     

Thinking of my ancestors’ stories magnifies my sense of gratitude. Unlike nearly everyone who came before me I have a safe home, enough food, and access to medical care. I can connect with people anywhere in the world. I have rights, including the right to make my own choices, something that would astonish my foremothers. The very desk where I’m sitting is filled with writing and art projects as well as stacks of library books. This is true wealth.

I’m reminded of a concept called mental subtraction. It’s a version of the old school “count your blessings” approach. My mother and grandmother used it often by telling us we were lucky to have what we had, whether food on our plates or clothes on our backs, especially compared to those who had much less. (Typically in response to a child balking at yucky food or dorky outfits.)  It’s not helpful to reply to others’ misery with “it could be worse” but choosing to reflect on our own good fortune can be helpful. When we take the time to savor people and experiences we tend to be happier.

Here’s how mental subtraction works.

  • Pick something positive in your life – say a good relationship or a personal achievement or a friendly neighborhood.
  • Take a few minutes to imagine your life without it. What would be different right now?
  • Write down how you would be impacted, including emotional impact.
  • Refocus on the present moment. How do you feel now?

Research shows many benefits to regularly expressing gratitude for the positives in our lives, but the effect is even stronger when people reflect on the potential absence of these good things. It’s one thing to think, “I’m glad Jada is in my life.” It’s another to consider, “Imagine if I’d never met Jada!” Seems negative doesn’t it? But the brain’s workings habituate us to our blessings. We get used to a supportive friend or a good job. They inevitably become familiar, even when we try our best to be grateful.

But considering our lives without these positives can bring them into better focus. It’s sort of like the classic 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life. The main character, George Bailey, is in despair and considers suicide. An angel intervenes. He doesn’t ask George to be grateful. Instead he shows him what the world would be like if he’d never been born and those blessings never occurred. It’s a sugar-sweet movie version of mental subtraction.

In studies, people who practiced mental subtraction were happier and expressed greater appreciation than those who did not try the practice. It also boosted satisfaction with relationships and offered more positive self-reflection. Sort of like thinking back on our ancestors’ trials, a few moments of mental subtraction every now and then can reawaken us to the good in our lives.  

Image by Olcay Ertem

Empty Calendar

“We have surface time, which is the time we move through every day, but we need to reach the rhythms of deep time. Like the ocean is all waves and movement on the surface, we need to sink through time to the depths where the true rhythm lies.”    ~John O’Donohue

I stopped using online calendars years ago, preferring the inconvenience of art-rich wall calendars. On January first I perform an annual calendar ritual. I go through the previous year’s written-on pages, using a colored pen to transcribe birthdays and anniversaries on the new year’s clean, optimistic squares. Then I add regular gatherings —  second Saturday for book group, third Monday for women’s spiritual group, every Wednesday for focused meditation, and so on. As I do, I can’t help but reflect on the past year. All those days filled with classes, meetings, deadlines. All the celebrations, house concerts, potlucks, and family gatherings. All the trembly courage it took to give a talk or lead a meeting, now comfortably in the past. I always write an overly optimistic list of the ways I’ll challenge myself in the next year. I rarely do more than a few.  

The calendar I picked for 2020 offers beautiful tree-themed art for each month. And like everyone else’s calendar, it lies. I no longer even cross off what’s cancelled. Why bother, when there’s nothing to add in its place? Looking at it I imagine another me, in a parallel universe, doing those scheduled things. My other self doesn’t appreciate them nearly enough. She complains about being rushed, about traffic, about long lines. She vows to slow down and appreciate the moment. When she does she notices new things while stuck in traffic, enjoys the faces of people standing in line, savors more fully the pleasure of a porch chair after a long day. But she’s not always so mindful.

None of us could have imagined the year we’re in. Time takes on a different dimension when so many people have died and so many are suffering. We can’t help but sink more deeply into these hours of ours.

My calendar hangs by my desk, beautiful and useless. Time’s measure no longer fits on its pages. 

Reframing the Story

 

Dr. Bertice Berry is a sociologist, author, storyteller, and inveterate volunteer who is currently devoting herself to making and donating masks. She and her family have made 9,000 so far.  She also records a daily story each morning, sharing it both on YouTube and Facebook.

In this recent story she talks about reframing the negative narratives we carry,  which can change what we see in others and what we see in ourselves. It’s a way of making peace in our lives, but it takes practice.

That video brought to mind something my family used to do years ago, when the kids were little. If someone cut us off in traffic or was rude in public we’d say, “What is her story?” and then everyone would volunteer random possibilities. Her baby was up all night or a stone was stuck in her shoe or she’s late for work (or as one of my sons liked to contribute) “her butt itches but she can’t scratch it.”  It didn’t just distract us from our annoyance, it was a playful way to consider other people’s perspectives. I hoped this practice let us feel closer, for a moment, to the oneness underlying all life on this planet.

We need to remember to apply empathy to our own troubles too. The stories we hold about ourselves and the world around us, often subconsciously, can drag us down. These tend to be stories about unworthiness. We live in a culture where worth has to do with wealth, status, followers, beauty, youth, and power. We live in a culture where the worth of others is denied by those who benefit from us versus them thinking. Get enough people to believe less of those who don’t share their skin color, religion, ethnic background, or political leaning and you’ve got a powerful diversion from real issues that affect us all. Instead of acting on climate, healthcare reform, systemic racism, and public health we’re baited to fear and mistrust one another.

Which reminds me of another Dr. Berry story about comic books, old china, and a man’s insistence on acting with honor even while his family was being evicted. His plea, “Please don’t take my integrity,” will stay with me the way good stories often do. Give yourself a few minutes to listen.

 

When I make time to watch Dr. Berry’s daily story I am always improved by her wisdom, her smile, and her closing “I love you.” She says it like she means it. Is it hard to believe someone means “I love you” when they don’t know you?  It’s not hard to believe some people hate people they don’t know, even express hate for every individual who looks, acts, believes, or votes differently than they do. Dr. Berry’s choice to love is so much better. So much healthier, wiser, and kinder. I love you all too.

Elf Trouble

My husband does not admit to disposing of the body.

I have just realized our resident house elf has a problem. Somehow its body is missing. This creature has lived on the tops of various picture frames ever since one of our sons wanted an elf-themed 7th birthday party. Although no one knew quite how our elf moved from picture frame to picture frame, we all knew then and know now that this isn’t a real elf, like the elves who (when it’s very quiet here) can be heard snickering and scuffling through the pages of their teeny tiny books and living their best house elf lives. Still, I’m shocked to notice only its decapitated head now rests on a picture frame.

I ask the spouse in a casual non-interrogating way:

“Where is the elf’s body?”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“How long has he been broken?”

Even under repeated (casual!) questioning he claims no involvement in disposing of the body. Says it’s no big deal. Says it has likely been broken for a few years.

A few years?

The last few years in this family have been rough, health wise. Far be it from me to fess up to more magical thinking than is psychologically normal. (None is normal, I’m told. That can’t be right.) But if there is a ever a time to indulge in some elf-sized superstition, it’s now. Why piss off the Elm Realm if you can avoid it?

But I’m not sure how to deal with this decapitated head. I consider a respectful burial. Consider letting it rest in a box with other sentimental things. And then I consult the son who had that elf birthday party many years ago. “Put it back on a picture frame,” he advised. “He’s still our elf.”

Maybe I need to redirect my superstitions toward the chipped-wing gargoyle in our flower bed.

 

 

First Time You Felt Brave*

 

I am fifteen. I do my best to avoid being noticed. I don’t dress provocatively or wear makeup other than mascara, barely even see other faces because I don’t wear my glasses. I do my schoolwork, work an afterschool job, date a boy who makes me feel safe. But inside I have large, loud opinions about social conditions, politics, religion. I don’t know anyone who talks about such things. My boyfriend wisely listens and agrees with the fervent opinions I share only with him.

I don’t know how to get along with my boyfriend’s family so I smile and stay quiet. I’m pretty sure something about me disgusts his older brother because he won’t even look at me. If I call and he answers, he drops the phone on the counter to yell for his brother. He’s never once said my name. My boyfriend’s father is 6 foot 5 inches, towering 14 inches over me. I’m not familiar with adult sarcasm so I wilt around him. I don’t like that my wilting makes me seem like my boyfriend’s mother, who expresses no opinions, not even on her face, making herself small and subservient.

One afternoon my boyfriend and I are out together. We stop at his house for a brief interlude with his proudly Irish great uncle who is visiting from out of state for the first time in decades. He is thin and whiskery as a stalk of wheat. I smile at him whenever he looks my way. He brings up a work-related incident that still angers him, quickly devolving into racist comments  He is the first person I’ve ever heard deride Black people. In the next sentence he uses the n-word. I bristle. My boyfriend looks at me with an expression I interpret as let it go. The great uncle continues, his mouth in a strange smirk. I have been taught to be polite. I’ve kept quiet to my detriment many times and will do so many more times. But this time I speak up.

My boyfriend’s family looks shocked as the quiet little blonde girl, the one who obsessively reads history, spews out all the Irish slurs she can think of. I say Mick and Paddy and drunken Irish, asking if he wants his people spoken about that way.  I ask if he knows what prejudice his ancestors endured when signs were posted outside buildings reading No Irish need apply or No Irish, no dogs, or, more commonly, No Irish, no dogs, no Blacks just a few generations ago.

There’s an awful pause.

I want to run out of the room but, unexpectedly, he agrees such terms are unfair. Then starts to justify his biases. I say it’s the exact same thing. He says no it’s not, I say yes it is. Prejudice is prejudice.

A longer pause.

Neither one of us knows how to extricate ourselves from the situation. Right about then, my boyfriend invents a reason we have to leave. We hustle out of the house. Once we get in the car, I laugh although I’m shaking. I say I have no delusion I’ve made any difference. I have no idea how to make a difference. The real me wants very much to know what can.

~

Now I live in a world where young people, everywhere, advocate loudly and persistently for a sustainable, equitable, compassionate future. They’re not standing up to one racist man, they are standing up to an entrenched history of brutality and greed. They are reshaping the future. I can feel it happening. I hope you can too.

*I’ve worked on an exhaustively hyperlinked post about ways to reimagine education during the pandemic but just can’t seem to muster up what it takes to finish it. So I’m posting this response to the writing prompt “the first time you felt brave.” I think our world needs a great deal more bravery (and love) than it ever has in my lifetime. Please respond with a story of when YOU felt brave. 

 

Compassion By Design

The weight of other people’s suffering can be palpable, whether someone weeping in the next room or someone in agony across the globe. How do we go about our own lives knowing others are in anguish at the same moment? This question has haunted me, especially in my growing up years. I suspect such questions weigh more on children than we imagine.

By the time I was eight or nine years old, my parents had cancelled their subscriptions to news magazines because they couldn’t deal with repeated questions like, “Why is that village burning? Who hurt that man? Why isn’t someone helping that baby?” Even the most well-intentioned adult would rather not think about such questions, let alone answer them. Try to explain war to a child. No matter how you skew it, the answer comes down to whoever destroys more property and kills more people, wins. Try explaining poverty or prejudice to a child. It’s impossible to morally justify the indifference and greed that helps to prop up “normal” life in the face of truly open, honest questions.

Starting in babyhood, most children express empathy as well as a sense of connection to the natural world.  Many children, including some we call “gifted” and some we call “neurodiverse” are more strongly motivated by the search for justice, mercy, equality, and truth than by more superficial adult concerns like polite behavior.

Even new arrivals to the planet demonstrate this. By six months of age, babies show empathy for those who have been treated unfairly. Concern for others starts on day one. When hearing recorded cries, one-day old newborns are more likely to cry when hearing a recording of another baby crying than their own cries. Newborns also show more intense and longer-lasting distress when listening to others’ cries. This effect doesn’t diminish. Studies show babies continue to react with distress to other’s cries at one, three, six, and nine months.

As children show us, this is quite naturally who we are. Kindness is the way our species evolved. According to anthropologist Douglas Fry, author of Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace,  for 98 percent of our human existence on earth we lived in small nomadic bands that did not make war, thriving precisely because our kind relied on cooperation and collaboration. The oldest and most longstanding child-rearing practices still support this way of being.

Historian Rutger Bregman, author of Humankind: A Hopeful History, says in a recent interview, “If I say most people are pretty decent that may sound nice and warm but actually it’s really radical and subversive and that’s why, all throughout history, those who have advocated a more hopeful view of human nature – often the anarchists – have been persecuted.”

Greed, and violence are not “human nature.”  We flourish best with gentle nurturance and ongoing cooperation.  Even our bodies are cued for compassion. In fact, research tells us our bodies pump out oxytocin when we’re stressed. Normally we think of it as a love hormone. It is. It prompts us to connect with and support one another. As we reach out, our bodies react with more oxytocin, helping us recover while strengthening relationships.

We are in a time of intense reexamination brought about by an unchecked global pandemic, systemic oppression, and ecosystem destruction.When we wall off our feelings of outrage, shame, and despair we’re walled off from ourselves.  It’s time to recognize the collective weight of suffering. Time to truly to listen to each other. This starts with the questions children ask, often the largest questions.

As Tobin Hart writes in The Secret Spiritual World of Children, our wide-awake presence in the lives of children “reminds us to listen for inner wisdom, find wonder in the day, see through the eye of the heart, live the big questions, and peer into the invisible. “

Hospitality To Strangers

 

Our home has never felt emptier. I’ve realized, over these months of isolation, just how much it means to me to welcome people here. What I miss most is family, especially our weekly Sunday family gatherings. I also miss out-of-town guests. And I miss old friends as well as new people we meet through house concerts, potlucks, and community meetings here. It feels as if we deny something intrinsically human when we shut others out, even though we’re doing it to protect one another from a deadly virus.

The importance of welcoming people, most especially the stranger, is emphasized by religious and cultural traditions around the world.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Christianity. Hebrews 13.1

“The husband and wife of the house should not turn away any who comes at eating time and asks for food. If food is not available, a place to rest, water for refreshing one’s self, a reed mat to lay one’s self on, and pleasing words entertaining the guest–these at least never fail in the houses of the good.” Hinduism. Apastamba Dharma Sutra 8.2

“One should give even from a scanty store to him who asks.” Buddhism. Dhammapada 224

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress them, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” Judaism, Exodus 22:20

“Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet) and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”  Islam. Quran 4:36

“Charity—to be moved at the sight of the thirsty, the hungry, and the miserable and to offer relief to them out of pity—is the spring of virtue.” Jainsim/Kundakunda, Pancastikaya 137

 “The heavenly food is needed successively; be thou a server of the food and direct thou the people of the world to present themselves at that table and guide them to partake thereof.” Baha’I  (Abdu’l-Baha)

“A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him.” Nelson Mandela, discussing the southern Africa tradition of Ubuntu

A divide between welcoming people in and shutting people out has been amplified to the extreme in the last few years here in the U.S.

  • The administration’s travel bans and immigration bans, particularly on people from Muslim-majority countries.
  • Human rights violations at the southern U.S. border, including the detention of children and families.
  • A growing threat from white supremacist violence and terrorism.
  • A continued emphasis on eliminating people from food assistance and healthcare coverage, plus threats to allocate aid based on whether a state is red or blue, all during a pandemic.
  • A nation seeing more clearly, due to cellphone evidence, the deadly impact of racism. Week after week, year after year, we witness the deaths of Black, Latino, and Native people murdered simply for living their lives. George Floyd’s execution by suffocation leads to mass protests, and again, to us versus them behavior from provocateurs who break windows, burn buildings, and otherwise do everything possible to discredit protesters’ anger, grief, and demand for solutions.

That’s why the open doors of Rahul Dubey’s home on Swann Street, in Washington, D.C. means so much. On Monday, before the curfew went into effect, shield-bearing riot officers and mounted police used smoke, flash grenades, and chemical spray to rout peaceful demonstrators from the area around St. John’s Church, even clergy from the church patio, clearing the way for a presidential photo opportunity. About an hour later police began boxing protesters into the residential area of Swann Street, making it impossible for people to leave.

Mr. Dubey heard clubs, screams, and chemical sprays going off outside his home. He flung his door open and urged people in, telling them to find refuge anywhere inside. Police shot pepper spray through the window and tried, throughout the night to gain access. Inside over 70 people rinsed their eyes, helped each other, cleaned up whatever messes they’d made, and tried to understand the situation.

As Mr. Dubey said in a video by HuffPost, “When they felt they were safe, I can tell you the pride and security and intellect of this group of people, ranging from 20 to 50 years old, shone over and over for the 10 hours they were held captive in this house — as my guests…. They all delegated to each other and self-managed beautifully.”

“Every square inch of this place had a person in it,” Mr. Dubey said in a BBC interview. “They were all strangers. That was amazing. They didn’t know each other… From age to race to ethnicity to sexual orientation, it was amazing. It was America. I just gave me a lot of hope.”

The next morning, as his guests left, Mr. Dubey stood on the steps of his home, surprised again, this time to receive applause from protesters and onlookers.

“It’s not something that should be celebrated,” Mr. Dubey said. “I shouldn’t be getting attention.” Asked whether he would do it all over again, he said of course he would. “I don’t think what I did was anything special,” he said. “If it is, we have a ton of work to do in this country.”

History shows us countless quiet heroes who reach out to help others, often endangering themselves in the process. They open their doors to shelter people from persecution, even genocide. What separates them from others?

People who have imperiled their lives for months or years to help others can give us some insight. Svetlana Broz, author of Good People in an Evil Timesays it requires at least three attributes.

  1. The courage to think for oneself, resisting conformity even at the risk of one’s own safety.
  2. A moral core that inspires action.
  3. The capacity to empathize with those who are dissimilar.

 

In this spirit, try a thought exercise right now. Imagine as fully as possible that a crowd of desperate people are at your door. Their eyes and lungs are burning, they are afraid, angry, out of options. You have seconds to decide. Imagine you open the door and now your home is filled with these strangers, every available space taken up. They need food, water, aid. Can you do it?

Now imagine this. You are on the other side of a stranger’s door. You’re the one in pain, afraid and desperate. Will the door open for you?

Now, Reality Is Surreal

Ostranenie  

Stare at any one thing
long enough
it recedes into form
without meaning.
Roof edge beyond the window
becomes a floating angle, abstract
against cloud-clotted background,
rain layered foreground.

Say anything over and over,
word you love or word you loathe
it reduces to sound,
to nonsense.
As a meditation,
this nudges us
closer to edges,
toward wilder realms rarely visited.

But be wary of ideas
ranted over and over.
They lose something too,
lose the softness of grass on bare feet,
of hand touching hand. They become
strictures against the way rain speaks,
barriers to what nourishes
the ground we are.

Laura Grace Weldon

First published in Sisyphus Literary Magazine, issue 6.3

“Ostranenie” is a literary term coined by Russian writer and critic Viktor Shklovsky to describe how art takes reality out of context, making the ordinary seem strange.

Hermit Bars, Despair, and Collective Renewal

Butter and sugar combine quickly in the vintage Kitchen Aid mixer that once belonged to my mother. I drizzle in molasses, drop in cinnamon and allspice, add eggs one at a time. I’m making four batches, 140 cookies in total, for this week’s porch drop-off. I’ve never made Hermit Bars before and admit to choosing the recipe solely for its name. I am intrigued to learn it may have originated 150 years ago in New England, even more intrigued to find it may instead hark back to 13th century religious hermitages. These sturdy treats, packed with spice and dry fruit, are said to hold up well. And what better cookie to make when social distancing creates so many involuntary hermits?

I started baking for porch drop-offs in my small rural township over a month ago. I figured I had a good stockpile of flour, butter, and sugar. I had way too many eggs from our chickens. And I had to do something with my despair.

Because I have a diagnosis putting me at greater risk of mortality from Covid-19, I have been in isolation since March 16th. Other than walks outside, I am home with only my husband. I realize what a privilege this is when people all over the world face extreme risks to work, often in jobs offering low pay and even lower agency.

Everyone in isolation handles it somewhat differently. I know people who are playing board games, watching movies, hiking, laughing arguing, and deepening family life. I know people who are relaxing after too many years of overwork, gladly getting more sleep and cherishing their newly unbusy time. I know people who are de-cluttering their homes, participating in Zoom dance groups, writing, drawing, repairing, working with renewed zest. Not me. I’ve been wretched. For weeks I struggled to keep up with editing work, barely able to write, and for the first time in my life not even reading much. I was afraid my old enemy, depression, was coming back. I felt best when I was sewing or cooking, doing anything I could to feel useful. But without our usual weekly Sunday family gatherings, there weren’t many excuses for staying the kitchen. Unless, I realized, I baked for my community. So I posted this on our rural township’s Facebook page.

Dear Litchfield neighbors,

I have a 25 pound bag of flour and plenty of other baking supplies. I’m hoping to donate baked goods weekly till my flour runs out or we’re freed from self-isolation, whichever comes first. This week I’ve made Apple Walnut Bread. It contains apples I dried last autumn, eggs from our chickens, some white as well as whole grain flour. I have 15 loaves to give away.

If you’d like a loaf, just email me your address and how many people are in your residence (so I know what size bread to drop off).

You don’t have to be in need, this is simply a friendly offer to sweeten the day for a few people. I’ll post a comment here when I have the loaves spoken for. I’d like to drop them all off tomorrow (Wednesday) early afternoon. My husband or I will leave them on your front porch unless you instruct me otherwise. I may ring your doorbell, but just wave so we can maintain social distance.

cheerfully, Laura

I wasn’t comfortable with any of the laudatory comments my post elicited but I was heartened to see that my offer made people feel better, especially when so many comments mentioned their renewed faith in humanity. My email filled up with requests. The next morning I was indeed cheerful as I chopped, mixed, and baked. And that afternoon we dropped off foil-wrapped loaves at all sorts of different homes. A tiny house with a rotting porch and friendly sign on the door. A newly built home with no one home. A sprawling home flying a large Confederate flag. A carefully tended ranch with a large Trump-Pence sign. A beautiful farm with little lambs out on pasture.

Although we’ve lived in this township for nearly 23 years, we simply haven’t gotten to know many people. Perhaps it’s because the houses are farther apart than in our previous neighborhoods. Perhaps because we homeschooled. Perhaps because of other encounters in our first few months here that made us wary, starting with a veiled death threat.  But as the baking donation weeks have gone by I’ve started to feel closer to my community.

And also, as I’ve baked muffins and loaves and cookies, my mood has leveled off. I’m starting to catch up on work. I’m back to writing and reading and happily tending seedlings nearly ready for the garden.

I’ve also gotten some perspective on despair after talking with my friend Maureen. She told me she’s been inert and ineffectual, retreating into herself. She also said she was feeling on a deeper level all the loss she’s been through in the past few years while at the same time feeling guilty about her grief because so many people are going through far worse.

I realized I’d been feeling the same way, not depression at all but some kind of collective mourning. All that our species is going through can’t help but ask us to more intensely feel our own losses. Perhaps feeling our own grief more fully — seeing it, naming it, letting it walk with us –may help us on a collective level.

Maybe the different ways we react rise from wise inner promptings, helping to heal what has felt unbalanced in our lives while, on some level, we process the world’s larger fear, loss, and terrifying uncertainty.

As I pack up today’s Hermit Bars, I am grateful that offering homemade sweetness to strangers restores sweetness to my life. And I choose to believe everyone who claps for healthcare workers, or shops for neighbors, or sends cards to nursing home residents, or donates food, or adopts shelter animals, or plays music from balconies, or supports local businesses, or abides by social distancing to keep others safe is remaking a more connected and compassionate future for us all.