(How Are You?) Are You Okay?

[Hello from July 2, 2023. This one sat in my drafts for a long time and I just saw it tonight. I am eminently more “okay” today than I was when I wrote it. We aren’t post-pandemic but I just went to the crowded Market Basket today and while I was masked, I wasn’t anxious. I am living in between the world that has moved on and the world of awareness that there are many for whom “moving on” will never be an option. But personally, I am greatly healed from all of my losses and I can tell that I am by my dreams, by my ability to enter the day without feeling in a soul-fog, and by my sense of wholeness. I hope you are also doing well. I hope this post will encourage to share the story of how the pandemic is/was for you. I feel that I am in a process of integrating it all, and maybe you are too. – PB ]

This blog was locked up for awhile due to tech issues, and that’s not a bad thing. Writing is not something I can not do; it has always been my primary way of making sense of my life and feelings. Even if writing doesn’t explain or resolve anything, it always feels valuable to me to respect my life enough to record some of it. The same goes for our shared lives; I write my impressions and reactions to the times we’re living in as often as I record my own much smaller concerns.

And we sure as heck have been living through some times. We talk all the time now about trauma, which I appreciate for its clinical clarity: trauma is psychological and physiological. The more we know about it, the better we can address healing. It helps to know about the vagus nerve and brain chemistry and how our bodies manifest shock and loss. It is also important to address the soul in pain — how do we accompany the soul in is own underworld experience? I can’t answer that but I have a lot more experience in doing it now.

In November of 2019 I started a sabbatical. I traveled to England, France and Spain. While in London I attended three operas based on the Orpheus myth. I felt drawn to the Orpheus and Eurydice as related to my earlier passion for the Persephone myth. I wrote my master’s thesis at Harvard Divinity School on Persephone and Jesus as twin avatars of resurrection and the use of the Persephone story in pastoral care to women.  When I saw the Anais Mitchell’s genius work, “Hadestown” on Broadway in July of 2019 it re-activated a fascination with these mystery religions and the Queen of the Underworld. Get the Original Broadway Cast recording! It’s amazing!

After I tracked Orpheus across London and France and spent some time in Spain (Monserrat! Girona! Barcelona!) I spent Advent of 2019 at home in Massachusetts, worshiping with a monastic community and attending holiday concerts and outings; a real treat for a parish minister who is usually too busy that time of year to attend services.  A dear friend stayed with me and my beloved beagle Max for a month. Early into the new year of 2020, I flew to Arizona to attend an intensive training to become a certified spiritual director. While out West I road-tripped out to California to see the opera “Eurydice” and then came back to Phoenix after a brief stop at the Grand Canyon.

I flew home on February 20 or so, went to visit my sister in Connecticut, and then life went kaflooey. My mom had had a health crisis but she was stable, so we thought, and I was planning on going down to visit. But you remember what happened. The weird cancellations and closures. I followed the news and announcements from our governor and thought, “Wow, I can’t fly to North Carolina? I mean, I guess I can drive!” But no. Then it was no driving. You might touch the gas pump and die coughing the next day. The next day it was don’t leave the house. It was don’t touch anything.

On March 25, my mom died. I almost want to say she “up and died,” because that was what it felt like.  My siblings and I had a group conversation with her on the phone from the hospital. We sang “Bushel And A Peck” (a song she had always sung to us).  On a private call a few hours later I told her I loved her and her last words to me were “I don’t trust you.” She was lucid, believe me. It was a very intentional dig, consistent with her treatment of me for years.  What can you say to a dying woman? Certainly not, “Mom, you don’t trust ME because you’re chronically dishonest yourself. It’s called projection.”  Did I mention that we had been estranged? 

I told her to be at peace, I would always hold her love with me and hoped she would know she went with mine. You know why I did that? Because my mama raised me to be gracious, to understand that people’s nastiness is their problem, not mine. Oh, the irony.

During my mom’s last days, I saw a Tshirt that said, “It ran in the family until it ran into you.”  It has become a motto. I broke many generational patterns of abuse, but even as that was hard and painful, I was able to do so largely because of the loving mothering Shirley was able to give me during the years she was emotionally healthy, committed to recovery and sobriety. And my childhood, during which she suffered with substance abuse disorder, depression, eating disorders and a terrible marriage, she also made a valiant effort to be a good and loving mom. She was sad and scary but also magical and wonderful and gave us some really good stuff for our life backpacks.

Shirley had a hard time aging. A really hard time.  Not my story to tell, but it was hard to watch. It is hard to watch someone who has worked so hard to heal their wounds and to befriend their demons slide into bitterness and dishonesty. I am glad that she did not have to endure a drawn-out decline; she wanted more than anything to avoid that, and perhaps that is why she did not share medical information with us. Children are wont to push parents to do everything possible to ensure maximum longevity, but that was not my mother’s goal. I respect that. Here’s my girl. We were in NYC. I took her to see three Broadway shows. We had a blast. Here she is at a bistro in Union Square showing me her lipstick.

Shirley Lesko Weinstein Mole, 1939-2021

Almost simultaneously with mom dying, I returned six weeks early from my sabbatical to help my congregation cope with the shut-down. A time of utter madness for all industries and when we wanted to complain, we just thought of the essential workers and health care sector and the educators and zipped our lips.

 I hope I will never forget the wild experience of bringing a church program online. Only my music director will ever know the true chaos we managed on multiple devices while producing a beautiful worship service over Zoom. We were up until 3AM learning new technology, editing videos, scrambling along with the rest of the world to try to figure out how to function under bizarre and unprecedented circumstances. 

Two people I will always remember who cared for me in those first weeks of fear and loss: my dear friend Michael who drove up to Lynn from the South Shore just to hug me. We put a big fleece blanket over him and one over me to protect ourselves. It was so scary but he knew that my heart was broken and I needed human contact.

And Jim, my gum-chewing neighbor who has lived in the triple-decker next to me for thirty years or so, texted me a day or two after mom died. This is what he wrote, “Hi Victoria, I will be getting your groceries so get a list to me by Thursday. I will be going to Market Basket, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods, so feel free to let me know what brands of items you prefer.” 

“I WILL BE GETTING YOUR GROCERIES.” He was informing me, not asking me.  Listen, I was in such a daze of sorrow and discombobulation, I went with it! This was a genius tactic, because if he had said the usual, “Do you need anything,” I would have responded with the usual, “Oh no, I’m just fine, thank you.” I wasn’t fine at all, and Jim got my groceries for weeks. When I went to square up with him financially, he waved me off, chewing gum. “Naw, we’re good.”  He didn’t give me a choice! So he gets muffins (I’m a bad baker but I really make an effort for him) and my eternal thanks.

I should also mention that I have an amazing neighborhood and that we did, and still do, a brisk front porch Tupperware trade. Soups, casseroles, bottles of wine, bags of bagels, borscht (me), and yes, the traditional cup of sugar when requested. 

Continue reading “(How Are You?) Are You Okay?”

Condolences in the Time Of COVID-19

A word from a mourner in sequester.  Don’t know why YouTube isn’t allowing me to embed this video but since everyone and their dog is online right now in quarantine and shelter-in-place and hunker-down and such, there are all kinds of glitchy gremlins afoot. My internet connection has been really slow and people’s phones are cutting out all the time. We are overloading the grid, I guess.

This is KA-WHITE the experience, isn’t it. I’m kind of staggering around lately, how about you?

Oh, and here’s the video I made from the depths of early April’s inherent dreariness. Daffodils are out and we saw some sun today, but it’s a play-Chopin-and-wrap–up-in-a-fleece-blankie kind of time.

Wishing you well!

High-Speed Train

I rode the Eurostar from London to Paris, which I have never done before.  I dragged my suitcases from the Airbnb flat in Kensington to the Gloucester Road Tube station, got on the Piccadily line and thought vicous things about the cows who were sitting right near the door when they could have moved over three seats to the empty ones and let me sit with my big suitcases.

I use “cow” as an insult for all humans who lumber along in life without any awareness of those around them. I am hyper-aware of those around me and apologize profusely when I am selfish or inconsiderate when I should have realized that a simple action could have provided some relief to someone else. It’s not a sacrifice to scoot down a few seats. I hadn’t had any tea or coffee or food and I was cranky. Still, I judge. I most definitely do.  A bit of attentiveness costs nothing.

I got to St. Pancras and stood in line for security and passport control and I found my seat and stowed my luggage and got all settled on the train (window seat) and sat happily contemplating the next leg of my journey. I had a tremendously delicious latte at a stall called Source at St. Pancras, where I also asked for “some bread and cheese” and was sent on my way with an enormous container full of huge slabs of delicious cheddar and something soft and runny and a third kind of slightly tangy frommage and some toasts. A feast! I brought it to my hosts in Paris and we will be eating it all week.

As I sat in comfortable tranquility and watched the landscape whiz by I remembered traveling as a very young woman and becoming aware that my interior monologue was relentlessly frightened and self-critical. These were my first adventures in solitude and I became attuned to myself for the first time in a way that I suppose some adults never actually do. Solitude eventually emerged as my lifestyle, perhaps vocation? — and my internal monologue at this age is mostly concerned with things on the ministerial to-do list, thoughts about life, death and God, a bit of worrying and thinking about friends and loved ones (still a category of more insecurity than most others in my life), dog details and housekeeping. I am not rattled by insecure or self-critical thoughts although I have very little skill in dismantling them, whereas I have developed a fairly high level of skill in interrogating and untangling insecure and other-critical thoughts; particularly in catching myself catastrophizing or projecting.

I am grateful for that. Now, perhaps, I can learn some effective ways to disarm the monster who lives in my head who takes up arms against myself. That monster is so deeply hidden, I only hear rumblings when she is active. She tends not to speak in complete sentences, she just shrieks and throws things and is as irrational as my parents were when they were in their fits of rage or addiction.

But today on the train there was no monster and no anxiety or fear. I am an experienced enough traveler to think a few steps ahead and get where I am going — and by the way, I am not going to Venice as I had planned, because I trust my instincts by now — and I like myself as a traveling companion.

I recognize now that the extreme anxiety I experienced when traveling in my youth actually caused me to dissociate, as happened on the beach in Antigua when I was 18 years old and on a senior trip with three of my girlfriends. The three of them went horseback riding one afternoon and I decided to go to the beach by myself. When I settled myself in the sand, I experienced a jolting sensation of the world rocking and went blind for a few seconds, after which I saw shooting stars everywhere and felt that I no longer existed. It was one of the earliest memories I have of literally losing my mind and it scared me badly. I decided to patiently wait where I was until my senses returned, so there I sat on a beautiful tropical beach, a young, pretty teenager trying to stay sane.

I was probably dehydrated and God knows if we had been eating enough food. We were drinking like fishes, far away from home and on our own. I remember the trip very fondly in general but I have not forgotten the tilting earth and my momentary blindness. Stress, anxiety, a fragile psyche, I was a kid whose father had recently died and who was living alone at home with an actively alcoholic living parent and a kid brother, sitting thousands of miles away under a too-hot sun with only three peers to rely on if my brain didn’t start functioning right again. We got through it. I am still close friends with two of those three peers and I feel protected by their good cheer, their confidence in and love for me now as I did then.

This morning: navigate the Tube. Use the Oyster Card. Find the platform. Get the coffee, bread and cheese. Load the luggage. Take the journey.  Disembark, find the toilet. Learn the toilet cost .70 Euros. Locate the bank machine, obtain the euros. Return to the toilet with the help of a friendly nun. Protect the bags, the passport, the phone from pickpockets. Call an Uber.  Find the Uber, who is parked a block away. Find the apartment code. Load the self and the luggage into the tiny lift. Be received in warm, welcoming arms of friends. Eat dinner, have some wine, load the laundry. Plan tomorrow.

Write. Remember. Thank God for the sound mind and body, for the accumulation of experiences, of years, of journeys.