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Dear Cole; a letter to my son on graduation

Dear Cole,

I’m writing you from our front porch, on the eve of your high school graduation. 

Life is not easy. You know that. You have lived that. It’s not about building a life that is easy–without pain or confusion–it’s about living life fully, completely, and compassionately. I know you can do that because you already have.

You have backbone in you now that will never leave you. You just have to talk to your courage, ask it for a clue as to what the next best step might be.

Talk to me, too, wherever I may be. As Anne Sexton, the poet, said to her daughter, “Talk to your heart. I am in it.”

I’ve lived a good life, a life full of adventure, and love. You can, too. Go for it! Risk discomfort for meaningful experience.

Do you remember how scary it was to disassemble your car and how fulfilling it was to put it back together, figuring it out as you went along? It’s not a bad analogy for how to make it through tough times. 

Or do you remember the story about the time I was learning to surf and was embarrassed by how terrible I was? And how I didn’t want to tell anyone I was surfing until I got really good? And how, at a party with interesting, cool people, I went to shake a fascinating woman’s hand and just as I did, sea water streamed out my nose? I apologized and tried to explain that I had just been surfing, but not very well, and that I was sorry, and excuse me while I went to get a tissue. Do you know what the fascinating woman replied? 

“When I see the surfers as I drive home from work at sunset, I think, what a beautiful painting! But you–you are not looking at the painting, you are in the painting. Don’t ever apologize for being in the painting!”

Aim for a life where you are in the painting–out in the world, trying things, throwing your whole, messy self into it, instead of waiting for mastery to begin. 

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer and his son. Maybe you know it. 

One day the farmer’s horse ran away.

“What bad luck!” His neighbors said.

“We’ll see,” replied the farmer.

The next day, the horse returned with three wild horses.

“How wonderful!” said the neighbors.

“We’ll see,” said the farmer.

Then the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. 

“How terrible!” said the neighbors as they brought food and flowers.

“We’ll see,” said the farmer. 

The next week, military officials came to the village to draft young men to the army. They saw that the son’s leg was broken, and passed him by. When his neighbors came around once again to say “What good luck!”

“We’ll see,” the farmer said.

Only time can tell the whole story. We never know whether something is good or bad luck when we are in a situation.

Trust that every time you’ve been challenged, you’ve learned something. When you broke your foot, you learned to beat Papa at chess. When I was diagnosed, you learned how to be a good friend to Joako. When Covid cancelled in-person classes, you learned to replace the clutch in your car. It doesn’t help to divide life into good and bad events, because we can’t see the future. 

Experience life as it is and don’t fight the moments. Being an adult doesn’t just happen because you turn 18 or graduate. Adulthood is a process of becoming. You have to earn it by facing difficult times with openness and curiosity, not just fear.

At dinner table arguments with your sister, I see how often you are right. I also see how important it is for you to be right. Remember, don’t take yourself, or the world, too seriously. Go lightly. Practice being kind rather than right. It feels good to “win” an argument, but it feels better to boost others up and see them discover what is right for them. 

Recently you spoke about your need to let go of trying to know everything. You said that you feel more comfortable in uncertainty now. The way you put it was, “it’s okay to wonder.” I love that. It reminds me of something the brilliant Toni Morrison said, “Meet the unfamiliar with unflinching friendliness.”

You are perfect now, you were perfect when you were born. It is okay to wonder. You don’t need to know everything, or to be right all the time, to earn love.

Papa and I love you unconditionally, Cole. Go into the world knowing that, and watch the way the world responds with love.

xox mama
more published letters:

 

The Most Radical Response to Despair

What is the most radical response to despair?

Last night, I didn’t sleep much. I was cycling through feelings of sadness and anger at the stupidity of another mass shooting, this time in my hometown of Boulder, CO. Ten people died, including a police officer. As I write this, I still don’t know the victims’ names. What if we lost a teacher or a friend who was just trying to buy her groceries? (Take Action Here)

Luckily, we are not at home. On spring vacation, we’re staying at a YMCA in the mountains, here to x-country ski and rest. We are safe, but rest is hard to come by. Hazel, in tears, keeps asking, “Why would someone do that?” and “How can we play when others are hurting?”

I stumbled through an answer when we went for a walk, “We may never know why. And it’s okay to feel deep sadness for the victims’ families and to play in the sunshine, at the same time. Play just might bring balance back to this world.”

We discovered a small chapel on the property. We walked in and knelt awkwardly before an empty altar, beneath a simple, stained-glass window. I remembered that in a few days, it would be the anniversary of my friend Lisa’s death. 

Hazel and I cobbled together a prayer for all the families of the victims, for Lisa, for the living who are sad and scared. It all felt too much. My friend Katherine texted me this poem,  

“I am in need of music that would flow

Over my fretful, feeling finger-tips

Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,

With melody, deep, clear, and liquid slow…-Elizabeth Bishop, “Sonnet” (1928)

Then, outside, Hazel spotted a fox running toward us. The fox was so light on the fresh snow, it looked as if it were floating. When the fox saw our little dog, it stopped. It sat down. It looked like it was trying to decide if we were bad or good. 

“Yes, we’re capable of the most awful atrocities…

we (also) have a fantastic capacity for goodness.”–Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Before the fox could decide, a car drove by. It turned and floated away, its thick red tail waving like a flag. 

We went looking for solace and found it in wildness. 

I also found it in the back of the car: Easter candy and plastic eggs that I bought last week.

While my family slept last night, I hid plastic eggs filled with candy everywhere in our motel room. On lamp-tops, under folded towels, in the mini fridge, between the covers of a book, in boots and socks, and tucked gently into pockets. 

Cole woke up when he rolled over and broke a plastic egg in his bed. 

Half-asleep, he asked, “What’s going on?”

“Easter came two weeks early. At least the egg hunt part,” I said.

“Why?” 

“Because we need to be on the hunt for goodness today.” 

The kids, now giant teenagers, crawled all over the room, and all over us, looking for eggs. They let out satisfied sighs when they found them. The best music was hearing them laugh.  

Sometimes, I get too caught up in the statistics and the dark truths of living and dying. But today I am a little jacked up on too little sleep and too much candy. I feel more determined than ever to celebrate what we have and to be on the hunt for goodness.

Our kids need our help to see the good in the world. Too many of them are struggling to see it. 

That doesn’t mean we have to turn our backs on the atrocities. It means we double down on action. We discipline ourselves to uncover the beauty and the compassion around us. We make it visible. We say it aloud: “See the way young people were helping older people get to safety in the grocery store? People who did not know each other at all?”  

“Listen. Did you hear that our neighbors are sitting with victims, holding space for them to grieve? And Colorado moms are taking action to end gun violence forever?”

“Look! Over here, see the fox and the snow falling on the steady pines?”

We have to work to find the beauty. To make beauty, too. It might be the most radical response to despair.

How am I right now? Awake, safe, sad, angry, and grateful. The kids are wired on sugar. In a minute we’ll head out into the woods on a hunt for goodness. We’ll look for moose sign, fox tracks, and acrobatic starlings, while holding you all in our hearts. 

Once restored, we’ll go back to Boulder and take the baton from our exhausted neighbors. We’ll show up, pitch in, and do our best to make sure lives were not lost for nothing. #BoulderStrong

Love,

Susie

Take Action:

#BoulderStrong

act.everytown.org

#Morethanthoughtsandprayers

 

Make Waiting Easier; 3 of My Favorite Techniques

Waiting is not my forté. Though I’ve gotten much better at it. I’ll show you how. I am waiting for scan test results (every 3 months I have routine scans to watch for tumor activity), Cole is waiting to hear back from colleges, Hazel is waiting for a package she ordered, Leo is waiting to go for a walk, and Kurt is waiting for all of us to be a little less anxious and cranky while we wait. 

Even if you are not waiting for something in particular, we are all waiting for COVID-19 to be a thing of the past. Aren’t we? Katharine Sweeny, PhD, researches how to make waiting easier and has come up with two surprising techniques. I’ve added a third that works for me and many of my clients. 

Sweeny’s research found that common strategies like distraction and bracing for the worst actually exacerbate the pain of waiting. What helps? 

  1. Focus on the present with 15 minutes of meditation a week

Regret keeps us stuck in the past and worry throws us into an unstable future, so continually recover your balance in the present. Think of three things that you are grateful for today and say them out loud. Feel all the feelings now rather than push them away. And even you restless folks might want to give meditation another chance when you hear about Kate Sweeny’s study. She focused on 150 California Law students who took the bar exam and were waiting for their exam results. During the four-month waiting period, the students were asked to participate in a 15-minute audio-guided meditation session at least once a week. “Meditation isn’t for everyone, but our study shows that you don’t have to be a master meditator…to benefit from mindfulness,” Sweeny said. “Even 15 minutes once a week, which was the average amount of meditation practiced by our participants, was enough to ease the stress of waiting.”

2. Cultivate a sense of wonder. Have a mini awe-inspiring moment

Sweeny and her team did a second study. This time over 700 students took a fake intelligence exam. While they waited for results, the researchers showed one group a powerful video of a sunrise set to instrumental music, a second group a happy-but-not-awe-inducing video of cute animal couples, and a third group a neutral video of how padlocks are made. “Our research shows that watching even a short video that makes you feel awe can make waiting easier, boosting positive emotions that can counteract stress in those moments,” Sweeny said. This study validated my wacky idea that cultivating wonder is a precursor to joy. But how do we define “awe”? Scientists agree that it involves a feeling of vastness. Some simple ways to induce awe include: watch a Planet Earth video, commit to going somewhere to catch the sunset or sunrise, look up at the stars on a dark night, listen to an audio clip of Carl Sagan’s A Pale Blue Dot while watching footage of the Earth as seen from space, consider how the trees have been dormant for months and yet come back to life each spring. How do you cultivate a state of wonder, especially now? Where do you find mini awe-inspiring moments?

3. Flip What If? To Why Not? 

My friend Kari inspired me to try this simple, effective technique. When we are waiting, it’s easy to worry and spiral down the negative “What if?” chain, “What if the medical test results are bad? What if I get rejected from every college? What if my package is lost? Often “What if?” questions feel like predictions and they catapult us out of the present into a scary future. They are not predictions, they are only the mind trying to respond to uncertainty. 

Try flipping the question from What if? to Why not? 

  • Why not picture everything working out for the best? 
  • Why not give yourself permission to rest or play while you wait? 
  • Why not trust that you are resilient and resourceful, no matter what the results?  

Waiting can be brutal. But it doesn’t have to take over our lives. These techniques might be worth trying. Why not? 😉

Love,

Susie

image credit: ignant.com

We Have COVID

We have COVID. Or had COVID (we just ended our quarantine). Kurt tested positive first. We locked him in the basement; the kids left food and water outside his door, wearing two masks and gloves. I disinfected the entire house and sat outside in three pairs of long underwear, thinking. The virus we feared for ten months was suddenly in our home. As one friend put it, it was like being at the moment of impact in a slow-moving car crash. Now what?

The Settlers of Catan. That’s what. Upstairs, the kids and I played that board game for days. Below us, we could hear Kurt typing on his computer (he is a loud typer!), and practicing his electric guitar. Then suddenly we didn’t hear a thing. I texted him. “Are you ok?” 

“Need more Tylenol.” He wrote back. He couldn’t get out of bed. His fever spiked. For two nights, I went bat sh*t with worry. 

Turns out, Kurt had a painful sinus infection on top of COVID. With a round of antibiotics, he recovered quickly. He was among the privileged few. But there was a mental and emotional toll to being isolated in a dark room for ten days. 

He told us later, “I prefer to be alone. But this was different. I could hear you guys but I couldn’t see you. It wasn’t being sick that was hard, it was being invisible. And having the world be invisible too. Mentally, I fell into a dark hole.”

Illness, in my experience, is always a separation. There is the pain of the sickness, and then there is the pain of disconnection from your body and from others. Everyone understands this now, during the pandemic.

The next time the kids and I went to get tested, we were positive. Now all of us had COVID. I was surprised that my first reaction was to hide and not to tell anyone. COVID shame is real. But I also didn’t want others to worry alongside me. How would my immune system, weakened from radiation and chemotherapy, handle this? 

If illness is a separation, then the process of healing is about reuniting with what makes you whole. I needed to connect with Nature and with Kurt again. I needed to reconnect with my body as a healthy system instead of the diseased betrayer of my trust that first got cancer and now COVID.

I finally ignored the urges to hide and reached out for help. Soup and juice and puzzles showed up at our doorstep, reconnecting us to the kind world beyond our disinfected doorway. (Thank you!! @phyllisrogers @rachelleclements @debbiemcgrath @teresachapman)

Here’s what else I did that you might want to try: I chose to reunite with the 99% of my body that was healthy rather than the 1% that was sick. I loved up my immune system. No, really. I lay on the floor and thanked every tiny, mighty, fighting T-cell. I told my body that I loved it. I told my lungs what a good job they were doing. I even pictured the beautiful order of the planets and stars. I thought about how everything fit together and how I was a part of that order. 

I also had my doctor on speed dial and took extreme amounts of Vitamin D, C and Zinc. 

Cancer has prepared our family to handle scary uncertainties. Some things we’ve learned: 

  • Stay firmly in the moment and feel all the feels
  • Do not indulge the anxious “what ifs”
  • Be extra kind and gentle with one another  
  • Love up what works, what is good, and what is funny

Ultimately, we had mild cases with very few symptoms. We slept and slept (have you seen @napministry? Naps as soul care!) COVID finally gave up and went away. We don’t take our privilege for granted. 

How we got COVID is unclear. The obvious reason is that we traveled when we should not have. But the timing and several negative tests long afterwards make it less obvious. The truth is, we don’t know. Like so much else about this disease, we may never fully understand. (And I still don’t understand how to play Catan.) 

Today I went for a x-country ski in the park. I skied and thanked my lungs and the cold blue air after weeks of clouds. I mentally thanked all the cute people skiing around in circles for their company. I feel worn out from endless stress and sanitizing, but I also feel elated. I can trust my body. It hasn’t betrayed me all these years; it’s been saving my life.

Love,

Susie

From 2020 Annus Horribilis to 2021 Annus Stupendous; Here’s Your Map to Joy

We declare 2020 Annus Horribilis. And we invite 2021 to be Annus Stupendous! The year 2020 dared us to be human: vulnerable, mortal, and adaptable. We realized how important laughter is to our wellbeing. And we learned that rage and grief are not one-off emotions. They are rough landscapes to travel through again and again, until we spot joy.

How has this year given you a map to find joy, even contentment, within a terrible storm? 

I learned that I am more of a wild beast than a domestic creature. I thrive on spontaneity and variety, connection and travel. I used to feel bad that I needed variety, that I wasn’t focusing on only one thing in my business. But I learned in 2020 to own my need for variety and to embrace it, because it makes me happy. So I will bring that forward with me in 2021 and make it a part of my business plan. My friend discovered that she has zero tolerance for B.S. and for high heels. She wants to carry into 2021 her desire to do more things that are meaningful to her and to wear fuzzy socks in flip flops more. What will you bring forward with you? 

Here’s a fun activity: Draw a map of the year as if it were a landscape, complete with what you learned about yourself. 

  • What were your personal peaks? What were your valleys? 
  • Where is the quick sand, the place you get stuck in the role of victim?
  • Put an oasis on your map and label it with the things that fill you up.
  • Draw a couple of rivers of curiosity. Where might they lead in 3 years?
  • Don’t forget to include your home . Let it stand for relationships, too. What do you want to keep? What do you want to let go?
  • What else could you put on there? The forest of uncertainty? Your 3-2-1 plan? 

(I’ll send you a t-shirt if you send me a picture of your map drawn with enthusiasm and honesty to [email protected]

Life is the rarest of gifts. Time is our most precious resource. We have to honor those truths daily by living the most courageous, fulfilling lives we can imagine. To navigate what lies ahead, it helps to have a map to your true self.

If there is no way of knowing what life will hand us, why not do what you love? Why wouldn’t you ask for what you need? Or write that book, study Spanish, learn to play the flute? What stops you? Can you talk back to the voice, to that inner critic, that says you can’t?

We are much more powerful than we think. 2020 showed us that we can pivot and that we are deeply creative and capable. Choose to lean into what you love.

Xo

susie 

***

…to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward

What’s larger within us, toward how we were born.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.

We’ve come this far, survived this much. 

What would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

–from “Dead Stars” by Ada Limón

***

image credit: Helen Cann from her book, How to Make Hand-Drawn Maps

What you should give your dearest ones this season

If wonder is the precursor to joy, how can we help each other kindle moments of wonder? Can we give our dearest ones gifts or moments that foster curiosity, creativity, and astonishment?

When we practice pursuing wonder, we can find joy. The goal is to get out of our heads and grown-up thinking, and into our child bodies. Wonder requires zero talent or skill.

Have you ever been in a hot tub or sauna and hopped out of it to roll in the snow? With naked legs and bare feet, you run across the freezing ground, screaming? Then when you finally roll in the snow, your skin tingles all over? That feeling is wonder. Hazel and I tried this at the rec center recently. It cost $5.

Pick someone and become their “Wonder Buddy.” Ask them, When have you felt wonder? Or What are you curious about trying? Next, make it your job to foster their sense of wonder all next year. (You can call yourselves the Wonder Twins. No one in the Justice League cartoon will mind.) For example) Ever since watching My Octopus Teacher, I want to learn to hold my breath under water longer, so that one day I could free dive. My Wonder Buddy would remind me to reserve a lane at the rec center to practice. (Did you know you can’t get Covid-19 in the water?)

Wonder is smaller than joy. Like the word “jot” is to writing a novel. (Thank you, Seth Godin) Like “whim” is to running a marathon. Like sketch is to building a cabin or painting a landscape.

The top three ways to kindle wonder are: 1) learn something new 2) create with your hands 3) spend time outside with nowhere to be.

Think of something you could do with your Wonder Buddy (ies) this holiday season. Here are seven silly ideas to get you started:

  • Fill the birdfeeder and watch what comes.
  • Invest in a wildlife camera; see what passes by in the night.
  • Get up early enough to watch the sunrise.
  • Make a point of being outside and IN the sunset.
  • Learn to identify trees by their twigs.
  • Listen to Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Snowflakes” and embody the freedom of snow falling. (Thank you Ms. Seham and Siobhan Burke in the NYT)
  • There’s always dinner with a squirrel. I found this guy on our local “Craigslist” (Kijiji in Canada) who makes tiny picnic benches for squirrels to sit and enjoy their nuts (and leave your birdfeeder alone!) I bought one yesterday for a friend and plan on mounting it to her tree this week.

I am looking for a Wonder buddy. I’ll nudge you to do whatever lights up your curiosity if you will nudge me to learn to free dive and hold my breath longer under water. And remind me how to knit hats. And make snow angels with me in the park.

I’m fairly certain that pursuing wonder is like dropping bread crumbs to joy. Like paying attention is to prayer. I’ll leave you with this gem by Mary Oliver.
Love,
Susie

Praying
It doesn’t have to be the
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Mary Oliver. Thirst.

Lessons from Swedish Death Cleaning

It began with the fires. Then it continued because Covid-19 continues. Then anxiety around my scans added a level of intensity to the exercise. I am talking about “Döstädning” or Swedish Death Cleaning. Have you heard of it? 

I’ve purged my stuff before, following Marie Kondo’s advice to keep only objects that “spark joy.” But it often seems more complicated. What if the object sparks nostalgia? Or gratitude? Or is part of my identity? Maybe it is time for a new cleaning idea. Hence, “Swedish Death Cleaning.” 

The Swedes are so practical. Margareta Magnussen, the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning says, “I am between 80 and 100 years old…Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” She finds joy in giving things away and is committed to not leave a mess for her children to have to clean up after she passes.

What if I tame my closets as a way to prepare for death? And also update our wills and get our finances in order? It’s not as dark or as sad as it sounds. It’s completely liberating. 

Let me be clear: I am not planning on dying soon. Quite the opposite. I am treasuring my life more than ever. It’s just that every three months, I spend four hours inside MRI machines, getting scanned from head to toe to see how the tumors in my skull and on my spine are doing. Then I wait about two weeks for my doctors to find a coordinated time when they can discuss the results with me. While I wait, I am forced to face my mortality. 

What if we all intentionally faced our mortality? Could it make us live better now?

Swedish death cleaning is one way to start. Here’s what happened yesterday. I was getting rid of things I had accumulated and making piles. Piles of things to donate, some to sell, and some to add to the landfill. Then I came across running medals that I earned winning races. I took them down from the wall in the laundry room, and put them in the “landfill” pile. Then I pulled them out of the pile and put them back on the wall. I took them off the wall again, and wondered if they should be donated. Who could use old medals? I decided that only I could, and put them back on the wall again. 

What the heck was going on? Why was it so hard to let them go? They were dusty and covered in cobwebs. I rarely looked at the medals and no one else saw them next to the washing machine. My choice was to move them somewhere more visible, leave them where they were, or get rid of them. I didn’t think I cared about the medals, and I knew I didn’t want to display them more prominently, so it seemed obvious that I needed to let them go. But I couldn’t do it.  

What was I afraid of? Did I think I would forget that I won those races? Or that my children, after I’m gone, might not remember what I had accomplished? The medals were triggering an array of emotions that caught me by surprise. This simple exercise was forcing me to reckon with my death and the death of my identity as an athlete and a champion. There is a difference between intellectually understanding that no one or nothing lasts forever and actually processing the feelings around that fact. When it comes down to it, letting go is really hard. 

The only thing we can count on is that we are going to die. Why don’t we have a ritual to teach us about how to die with grace? Or how to face the loss of someone we love? Or how to let go of parts of our identity, so that we can move on? 

Western traditions are about adding or acquiring things on our birthdays and holidays. Where is the holiday that is about letting go? 

The Buddhists say. “The more you let go, the more you can receive.” Being forced to face death is difficult, but it also roots me strongly to what really matters: relationships and experiences. With fewer things to have to put away, I find I have more time and less stress. Last night, instead of tidying up after dinner, the kids and I made chocolate fondue and played cards.

I confess. I kept a few medals. I thanked the others and let them go. But having to make the choice helped me to see something important. I may no longer be competing in races, but running has given me discipline, endurance, and life-long friendships. I don’t need to fear letting that part go. I’ve integrated running into who I am. 

Let me know what time of year you think we should have a holiday about letting go. What would we do and what food would we eat? What would we call it? “Swedish Death Cleaning Holiday” doesn’t have the best ring to it. I am open to ideas. These days I’m open to everything that allows us to go deep into life. 

Love,

Susie

***

What’s Underneath Fear?

Four years ago, I was diagnosed with a terminal disease and we elected a leader who ruled with fear. I was sick and the country was sick. I was afraid and the country was afraid. It was exhausting. And it didn’t feel like me to be scared, angry, and sick all the time. I learned to meditate and I listened. I listened deeply to find out What was underneath all this fear? It was not comfortable. I prefer movement to sitting still. In the quiet, all I heard was the loud, fast-paced, and mean voice of Fear. But eventually I felt the steady presence of joy. It wasn’t even joy at first. It was more like a calm current of possibility. And that felt more like me. When I tapped into what was underneath the fear, the real healing began. What I want for this country is what I want for myself: to feel more like who we truly are. Beautiful, powerful, and connected to place and to one another.    

Disease and division don’t have to be our identity unless we want them to be. It’s time for healing. It’s time to shine the light on places of division and disease and watch fear shrink from the light. Our tired bodies will slowly heal and learn that it’s okay to exhale. We can listen and find out that we are not what the headlines say we are. 

Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.””

We are hard-wired to help one another. Everywhere I look, I see helpers; people who are trying to make the country, and the world, better. And statistically-speaking, each of us is related to someone who has a very different idea of which direction this country should go in. The kind of brave we need right now is to listen, to seek to understand, and not to convince. That’s how healing happens. Listen for the fear, and then listen underneath the fear. From that place of common humanity, we can be the helpers that our children are looking for each day.

Love,

Susie

***

image credit: theatlantic.com

The Value of Getting Lost

I wake in the middle of the night, feeling lost and anxious, and ask Kurt, “Do we know the election results?”

“No, not yet.”

I can’t sleep anymore. I get up and put on the kettle for tea. Our teenage daughter, Hazel, can’t sleep either. At dawn, she wraps herself in a blanket and comes to the kitchen. She pours a bowl of cereal and makes me one too. I sit next to her and hand her a cup of tea. The two of us eat our Cheerios and drink our tea in silence. 

“What do we do now?” She asks.

“We feel all the feels.”

“I read that we only have seven years before climate change is irreversible.”

“In my experience, change rarely comes from the top office.”

“Then where does it come from?”

“From the ground up. They say that women are going to decide this election. I think women are going to lead us through the challenges ahead. The old ways aren’t working anymore. Women will create a new way.” 

“With a really old, white guy as President.”

“This time.”

I sound strong, but my heart is beating fast. My breath is shallow, and my chest is tight. I can’t get enough air. I know this feeling. It is grief. 

Fear wins. 

Science and truth and dignity lose. 

It isn’t for sure. Nothing is. 

I need to get away from the red and blue map. I can see it inside my closed eyelids. 

Luckily, my friend Tania knows a place in the forest where we can surround ourselves in geologic time, the resiliency of lichen, and the natural cycles of change.

I leave Hazel and Kurt watching Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” and take the dog out to meet Tania at a trailhead.

We scramble up a scree field to the western side of one of the Flatirons, the slab-like peaks rising above Boulder. We lean our backs against nothing but sky and a 290-million-year-old sloping mountain. We stay there for a long time in silence.

The rocks and their lichen necklaces say to me, “All will be well. All will be well.” 

When it’s time to go, we aren’t ready to return home. 

“What if we bushwack up to that ridge?” Tania suggests.

It’s exactly what I feel like doing. 

We bushwhack through dense pine forests and up steep, slippery rock faces. At one point, I have only one good hand hold on the rock. I’m perched precariously. It’s unclear where to put my foot next, or where the next hand hold might be.

“How are you?” Tania calls up to me from the ground. 

“I’m okay right now. Just not sure what’s next.”

Then we laugh at the obvious analogy to the whole nation waiting in the unknown about the election. Maybe that’s how we get through this uncertainty: one hand-hold at a time. And when someone asks, How are you? We can take it moment by moment and answer, We’re okay right now

We climb like this for several hours. When the rock is too steep for Leo the dog, Tania goes first, and I pass Leo to her. We scale the rock this way, passing Leo between us, making slow but steady progress. Leo clings to me with a look that says, You have gone totally insane.  Then a raven flies over us, his wingtips only an arm’s length away.

The jagged ridge is in sight. I wonder, Will there be another ridge to climb or have we made it to the top? We crest the ridge and look. It’s a jaw-dropping view. Snow-capped peaks touching bluebird skies for miles. The Continental Divide runs north to south before us. 

The only problem is we don’t know how to get down. Then I hear Tania shout with joy. She has found a trail. We can’t believe our luck. Hidden behind a boulder is a well-worn path. There’s even a sign tacked to a tree pointing us home. 

We intentionally got lost and found our way home. 

On the first switchback down, there’s a Limber Pine.

A rare species whose scientific name is Pinus flexilis. Limber Pines can live up to 3000 years because their branches are remarkably flexible, even in the driest of climates. Their branches twist, bend, and bounce back from the heaviest snowstorms and the strongest gales. 

I hug the tree, hoping some of its wisdom sticks to my clothes.

Tania laughs, “That’s right. We all need to be more flexilis to get through this year.” 

Soon, we are back at the trailhead. I feel stronger, lighter from our adventure. I was unsteady before and now I feel brave again. 

One way through all this painful waiting is to physically feel our way through the unknown, in order not to fear it. Courage loves action.

How are you? 

I’m okay right now.

Love,

Susie

What’s your 3-2-1 self-care plan?

My clients tell me they are exhausted, anxious, and overwhelmed. One powerful woman said, “Remember last year when I was handling three crises and some uncertainty and I thought it was a lot? Those days seem dreamy now.” She was talking about managing big helpless feelings about the election, but also about climate change, four nearby fires, systemic racism, her kids growing up, early menopause, work stress, loss of income, and loss of loved ones. We’re not hardwired to handle so many stressful challenges at once. We need to make a 3-2-1 self-care plan.

My plan is the same one I’ve used while waiting for scan results (that announce whether the cancer has returned). The purpose is to remind me to Connect. Move. Breathe. I think of it as a 3-2-1 plan: 3 people-2 places-1 thing that nourish me, center me, and restore me.

What’s your 3-2-1 self-care plan?

3 people (who lift you up):_______  ________ ________ (I’m available if you need a 3rd!)

2 places (that inspire and center you) : ______ _______ (Mt. Sanitas, Boulder Creek)

1 thing (that calms you and makes space for joy): ________ (Dalai Lama playlist)

How do you choose your 3-2-1?

3 people. Pick three people you adore, but you don’t call because they are far away. Who haven’t you spoken to in awhile? We can get stuck only talking to the people we have been isolating with since March. What helps is to connect with others, those people who lift us up and just listen, without trying to fix us. If you struggle to name three, you can add me to your list.

2 places. Where do you go to support your mind and mood? Do you feel better when you walk outside? Nature grounds us. Especially if you need to move your body to get there. I chose a nearby hill and creek because they remind me of geologic time, the resiliency of lichen, and the natural cycles of change. But you can pick a place in your home: your bathtub, a square of floor to dance, or a chair by a window. 

1 thing. What brings you quickly back to your best self? Do you have a breathing practice? (If not, try a triangle breath: inhale through the nose for 4, hold for 4, exhale through the nose for 4.) I also learned that the quickest way to move out of the “fight & flight” nervous system and into the “rest and digest” nervous system is to hum. Humming activates the Vagus nerve which tells the body it’s okay, the lion is gone. You don’t have to limit it to one thing. But you need at least one. What is one thing that restores you? Music? Belly dancing? Baking? Yoga? Meditation? Writing?

Write down your 3, 2, 1 and stick it to your fridge or your forehead.

Mine lives next to our list of numbers for the nearest hospital and fire station. You think you don’t need to display it because you know the responses by heart. But in the midst of a crisis, it’s easy to forget. Your 3-2-1 tells you to Connect. Move. Breathe. Then you can handle whatever comes your way.

This is election week. Get your 3-2-1 ready and make a plan. 

You made a voting plan. Now what’s your Voting Day plan? Don’t sit in front of the TV and listen to moment-by-moment, breathless updating of trivial changes when what matters is what happens when the night is done. Many are saying that it could take a lot longer than a day to know the outcome. Use your 3-2-1 to brainstorm what you are going to do Tuesday night and Wednesday to handle the waiting and the results.

I am an impatient person. If I don’t have something to do while I wait, I become a terrible, mean, nasty person. So I made a plan. 

On election day, we’ll invite our pod of friends for an outdoor dinner and leave our phones inside. We want to be around people and in fresh air. On Wednesday, we’ve blocked out two hours of work to hike in the mountains. 

If the outcome doesn’t go the way I want, I choose to feel the despair fully without trying to numb or distract my way out of it. Then I’ll need my 3-2-1 to stand back up. What’s your 3-2-1? And what’s your plan for Voting Day? 

Love,

Susie

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