My neighbourhood has not been the same since the pandemic. Not too long ago, a quick wave from a car window on our way to and from work was all we had time for. Nowadays cars remain in the driveways, and we sport comfy joggers and uncut hair or home haircuts instead. A more relaxed and slower pace of life, along with the common concern and responsibility for the global pandemic has generated fertile soil for more meaningful conversations.
Last week while on a dog-walk, an unrecognizable car pulls up beside me and the driver rolls down her window, “My dear I haven’t seen you in a while. I was hoping to see you.” A lovely grandmother (and neighbour) who lost her dog about a year ago wanted to stop and catch up with me. She bypasses the small talk and tells me everything that has been going on in her life (tears included). I wondered why this neighbour felt so comfortable sharing such meaningful conversation with me. Could it be just the type of person she is? Or was it the fact that I listened happily to her? Maybe both?
The phrase “holding space” comes to mind when reflecting on the changing dynamics of my neighbourhood. Holding space is a way of intentionally settling into a moment and being fully present in your body and mind, and observing both your inner and outer world. Holding space also refers to making room for conversation that goes beyond talk about the weather. This phrase used by yoga instructors, online meditations, podcasts and in therapy has made it’s way into my personal practice as well as my neighbourhood.
Dinner was served on hand-me-down plates from my late grandparents. Our everyday dinnerware was loaded into the dishwasher, hence the need for the ‘fancier’ plates. It worked out nicely since we were having a fancier meal: strip loin steak, baked potatoes and grilled asparagus.
Whenever I plate food or pour a drink into their antique dinnerware, I think back to memories I’ve shared with them. An odd but timely memory was activated during our steak and potato meal. I remember when I was a teenager my grandmother having to leave the kitchen anytime my grandfather ran the dish water. She couldn’t handle the violent sound the rushing water made as it filled up the sink. I thought that this was so peculiar and the reaction was just her being fussy.
When I was younger I thought success was an onward and upward journey mapped out by culturally embedded markers: high-school, post secondary education, a career, love and marriage followed by children. If I followed this map, I would know that I had arrived. Reality hit hard when I missed some of these predetermined markers by my late twenties. I felt unaccomplished because of the value I had placed on this familiar timeline. It was during this time in my life I began to question the notion of success and reexamined the many constructs I had built around it.
With not much to do these days, we’ve had to be creative in how we spend our free time. One of our new ‘fun’ activities is puzzling. Before all this, I never saw myself as a puzzler but, here we are! Our first puzzle was a beautiful starry night at an old lake house with three dogs sitting on the dock. Unlike our second and third puzzle, this one had very intricate pieces that had us seriously baffled. After an hour of puzzling our eyes were seeing similarly toned pieces as a wash of undistinguishable colours. Several times we had placed a piece in a spot that appeared to fit but did not. That one misplaced piece threw off the chance of fitting any other piece around the area, adding more hours to our puzzling fun.
Time spent puzzling made for opportunity to reflect (a constant practice in my life). Puzzling revealed more than just a beautiful old lake house under a starry sky. It also uncovered an interesting revelation: putting the wrong piece where it doesn’t belong tries to solve a problem but in actuality it doesn’t. It only throws you off course.
It was Saturday night a few days before Christmas and with nowhere to go and no friends to meet, we decided to live like the not so distant past (the time before lockdowns). “Let’s pretend we’re going out to a restaurant!” I exclaimed. “Sure, why not!” my husband replied. Gourmet nachos for dinner with craft beers and bar tunes transformed our dining room into a make shift restaurant for the evening. We dressed lime flavoured nachos with peppers, onion, tomatoes, ground beef, refried beans and topped them off with an excessive amount of cheddar cheese. We made fresh guacamole, spooned full fat sour cream and our favourite salsa into festive bowls. We poured local brews into our favourite beer glasses. We drummed up dinner conversation and laughed as we imagined asking our waiter for another round. It wasn’t the same as getting dressed up and meeting friends at a restaurant but, it sure felt nice (a friendly reminder of a luxury we once took for granted).
My nephew (a new addition to our family) is absolutely adorable and full of charm. The other day I was video chatting with him (and my sister) while he was eating his dinner. My sister couldn’t get the food to him fast enough. I was surprised that he was enjoying spinach, broccoli and salmon. There’s not a lot this little guy doesn’t like to eat. Thinking back to my own childhood, boy was I a picky eater compared to him. I could not handle anything with a ‘funny’ texture, including eggs and most meat (to this day, I still can’t.)
My video chat with my nephew during dinner time got me thinking about a much larger dilemma than my picky eating habits as a child. When life serves us a diet that is unpalatable we are quick to push the plate away. Our ‘food’ dislikes are actually unwanted emotions and experiences such as discontentment, sadness and loneliness. These can be brought on by loss, disappointment, failure and disagreements.
Just like I avoided eggs and most meat as a child (and adult), I’ve also pushed away many unwanted emotions and experiences. I did this by covering up reality with motivational mantras like, “Don’t give up! Stay positive! Do what’s right!” With such an unbalanced diet of motivational mantras, I neglected to notice any deficiency. The unbalanced diet, while tasty, caused an upset stomach. Unlike a child, I could no longer close my lips and shake my head, “No!” I had to acknowledge every platitude I had collected over the years: “Strong successful people persist! Don’t show weakness! Pray the roadblocks away!” All these taught me the art of resistance.
I imagine myself running into my backyard, collapsing to my knees and with fists raised in complaint, screaming.
Tears would follow, dripping with the same guttural utterance of my screams. I would tuck my face in my hands and slump forward. My cry to feel alive or at least to revive the life I once had, would have me lower my forehead to the cold damp Earth. Bracing myself with my forearms I would extend my legs and lay prostrate as if to say, “God!” With one unspoken word muttered in my humble posture, I would plead for communion without fear – for the comfort of a family meal indoors, for celebrations with balloons, cake and gifts, and for peace in spite of this mysterious danger lurking in gatherings.
I write this sitting in my backyard on a warm breezy fall afternoon. The setting is ideal. My demeanour calm and collected. I pride myself on how well I can hide the inner turmoil at times. I’m reluctant to admit how difficult the last few months have been and how the culminating eruption took me out.
I was aimlessly scrolling when my finger stopped at a post that read, “What makes you feel free?” I thought to myself, “I’m going to answer this.” Without over-thinking or complicating the question I allowed the first thing to pop into my mind: swimming. I feel most free when I’m submerged in water. Swimming ignites an instant child-like pleasure where your adult concerns are tossed aside like a beach towel draped over a lawn chair.