Joy and Tragedy Together

Joy Field Trip: Pollack-Krasner House, Springs, NY Time for imagination!

Today’s challenges might make it counterintuitive to see how joy can be interwoven with tragedy, but if you think about your own life, you might begin to see this happening.

My daughter’s birth, one of the most joyful events of my life, occurred in DC within days before President Ronald Reagan’s assassination attempt. An ambulance rushed him to the cardiac specialists at George Washington Hospital Center with a bullet lodged close to his heart. I’d been outside in the crowd gathered by reports of a shooting of someone in the White House when a spokesperson announced Press Secretary Jim Brady had been severely injured by a stray bullet. Upstairs at GW two floors away from the President, my newborn rested “under the lights” to adjust a jaundice that turned her an unearthly shade of yellow.

As the President struggled for his life initially unbeknown to many of us, I attempted to enter the hospital using my VA Driver’s license, US Senate ID (hadn’t checked out  since birth two weeks early), and my GW patient bracelet that I’d managed to retain.  Even as a nursing mother it took me 45 minutes to cajole my way into the hospital and another half an hour to convince the staff to allow me to use the elevator to reach my daughter. At first, they wanted me to take the stairs. What? No. Turns out the elevator ran close to the surgical wing where the President’s surgery took place. Once I reached the nursery, I found an armed guard placed outside the window to the room where I would be feeding my daughter. Unacceptable. Yet overcome by the joy in seeing my daughter, I proceeded, struggling to create the bond we needed to nurse successfully.  First thing next morning her doctor and I had a quick chat. Yes, I’d see she got lots of sunshine—at HOME—which was where she, her father and I went within the hour.

This is Us   

You may be more familiar with the television drama that mixes these two emotional moments. This combination consistently raises a tear from viewers of the American TV show “This is Us.”  Four years ago, the series began with the birth of triplets: two lived and the third was stillborn. A joyful birth with tragedy packed inside. Their parents–Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia)—are thrilled, yet devastated by the loss of Nick, the third. In steps Dr. Nathan Katowsky (Gerald McRaney won an Emmy for Best Drama Guest Actor for the role befriending the couple and commiserating as only someone could who lost his a child can.) Dr. K tells them a baby, born the same day as the Pearson’s, has been brought to the hospital from a firehouse, where he’d been left.

Dr. K suggests the Pearson Family might take home three children after all: “I’d like to think that one day you’ll be an old man like me talking a young man’s ear off explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade.” The Pearson’s adopt the black baby, naming him Randall. As is the case in television soap opera, many joyful and tragic incidents follow, but in near equal measure.

Tragedy—brought about by serious disease, death of a loved one, debilitating injury, or loss of a job– comes to most all of us at some point and can pull our world and everything in it apart. But as soon as we’re able, it helps to look beyond what seems to darken our world and see into the eyes of the innocent—the children—or take a walk down a nature trail. There is a vitality there that can slowly show us a path out and help us consider small steps that can lead us to sunnier paths, until we can again see joy in the universe. *

No one wishes for a global disaster that impacts the entire planet, taking lives and lives’ purpose from people all over the globe. But it’s bringing neighbors closer together exchanging vital information along with a cup of sugar or a tire change. Life boils down to our basic needs and moments with the family in a way many have never experienced before. Having a classroom at the kitchen table opens up a variety of learning experiences closer to home.

This unexpected closeness for a long period of time can create friction, but if a little patience is applied, this enforced togetherness can allow time to share ideas, maybe even collaborate across generations. While we certainly can’t rejoice over a pandemic, working within its limitations may grant us time we’ve not taken before to renew our relationships with family and friends in person and by text and simple phone calls to renew our bonds. That brings me joy.


*I’m not indicating that serious depression can be cured by a walk in the woods. I know better and hope that if you are headed that way, you seek help or at least find a professional you can meet online if you can’t meet in person. Your mental health is equally as important as your physical health, particularly now.

Zenshin, Mental Calm for Today

Natural settings help ease the anxiety of life and promote mental well being. A walk or even a view out the window can improve outlook.

Japanese for FORWARD, Zenshin, is the direction we should be going individually and together, even as we’re apart. Zen offers the sense of calm, like a gentle spring falling onto smooth rocks. Clearing our minds briefly every day–focusing on nature whether it is in front of us or not–will help ease the anxiety that comes naturally with thoughts of Corona virus.

Americans have been busy focusing on family, which is great. I love mine, too. Yet in order to thrive long term under these conditions, it’s going to be important to take precautions for ourselves and look out for each other and our neighbors—let people know what we have extra to contribute. A neighbor of mine, whose son had grown into his big boy training pants, shared multiple boxes of baby wipes with a total stranger she’d found online. These little gifts can be left at the door or passed through a car window (and the outside box wiped down before opening) If saved for 24 hours before opening, the cardboard is no longer contagious.

We can also do this by putting only what we need into our shopping carts or delivery requests, so there will be food and essentials for others. Of course if we need to make a grocery visit, we should time it when there are fewer people in the store–maybe first or last thing of the day—check the parking lot so you can have ample personal space. It’s tempting to stock up, but seriously who needs 48 rolls of toilet paper? Unless you have five or more people in your family, it’s unlikely.

Today we have an important tool unavailable to those in earlier crises or certainly the 16th century Europeans who faced the Plague–technology—apps, cellphones, iPads, and laptops to keep us connected, share ideas, and help find people who could use what we don’t need or the skills we have. Then get creative as to how we can share safely. We can figure this out and come out on the other side stronger people.

And, we need to take a break periodically–be slightly silly for those who enjoy another era’s Old Movie Stars Dancing to Uptown Funk on It encourages us all to get up and dance—work off nervous energy or find some music that appeals to our own taste and get down to it. Music just soothes the soul, let’s see who said that?

It’s vital that we practice safe distancing with gatherings of 10 people or less, wash our hands and items we receive, keep our mitts off our faces, and stay 6 feet apart when we meet.  We can do that for our stake and the sake of others. Each day we should plan to contact a friend or associate by phone or email each day, so we prevent ourselves from becoming isolated.

Americans are friendly people, some might even say handsy, huggee folks who use handshakes to seal the deal, but we can do and be all that without threatening our own health, our loved ones, colleagues or friends. Elbows may come in handy! Zenshin: It’s not a huge ask, really, but to protect people of all ages, please just do it!  If you have other ideas what we can do to help our communities while staying safely distant, please put them here and I’ll pass them along. We need to put our minds together and get busy!

Keep Calm and Carry On

Air Travel just became more complicated.

I hugged my daughter yesterday, knowing I might not see her before Christmas, and we both shed a quick tear.  I laughed because we’re not the “crying type.” She slid into the passenger side of a rented mini-van stuffed to the gills with luggage for five, plus two ginormous pieces chock full of the essentials, and two work bags as the family headed to Austin’s International Airport around 4 pm on their way to London.

Heroic to pack up a young family for adventures on another continent, but on March 14, 2020—the night the President added Britain to the US travel ban two days hence—beyond bravery. We’d known for months—before Thanksgiving—that her husband’s corporate job would require a move across the pond so they could be together. Then December’s news of fatalities from the Coronavirus in China seemed far off and unrelated to day-to-day life in the Western world.

But like a much more serious version of “Baby Shark,” the disease crept into Italy and Korea, then further west to Spain and Germany, as it peppered the planet, coming to Washington state and New York, then sprinkled throughout America. Now several governors and the president have declared an emergency to prevent America’s health care system from being overwhelmed by lack of hospital beds, ventilators, and skilled medical staff to treat critical patients.

Protecting against the virus by washing hands and avoiding touching one’s face seems too easy and staying home with elementary-school-aged children for countless days seems too hard and financially brutal. Working from home, if it’s possible, is an option for some. There’s little appeal to a constant drudge from inside one’s own walls, but that’s where working life in America is headed for now, leaving out those whose jobs require them to BE somewhere else. 

Airport Reality: March 14

Challenges laid ahead Saturday night as the family’s departure time for their flight to London scheduled for 7:55 pm kept getting pushed further into the night. With their household goods already shipped, technically their move began a month ago. Turning back wasn’t an option. They entertained the kids with relays and obstacle courses around a half-empty airport. Exhausted and still not onboard around 9:30, they launched a kid video, which provided a much-needed hour and a half of quiet, childhood bliss. 

During this respite, the British crew marched onto the plane, offering encouragement that the plane would fly “tonight.” This followed by an email my daughter received from a neighbor that someone who arrived in Austin onboard the British Airways flight at the terminal had tested positive for the virus. Austin’s ground crew refused to clean the plane, but with negotiation the British Airways’ employees agreed to—maybe they too were eager to get to London and not be stuck away from home for several weeks.

Well cleaned the plane boarded at 11:20 and flew at 11:56, just four minutes before the crew would time out and be required to leave the plane, stranding the passengers. My six-year old grandson and his three-year-old sister slept well throughout the flight, but the eight-year-old, a bit more agitated by the evening’s uncertainties and eager to end up in Harry Potter land, slumbered for two hours or less. They all arrived at Heathrow about 8:30 Austin time, eager for their first English breakfast (think bangers and mushrooms, etc.) only to find restaurants closed and even peanut butter missing from the grocery shelves. So, the Brits hoard in a crisis, too. By that point those jelly sandwiches tasted better than expected.

Daily Reality

With a little calm, advanced planning, we’ll have our PB & J sandwiches. Life may be more solitary, maybe meals a bit less complicated. The key is to be sensible and thoughtful to keep our communities, our neighbors, family, friends and colleagues healthy. We don’t need to be digitally isolated, enabling us to reach out to others online. We can make it through this if we hang together, but keep our distance!