The Pandemic in Six-Word Memoirs As collected by Carla Wilks, guest blogger.
Borrowing from the six word memoir form, our guest blogger, Carla Wilks, asked friends and relatives to send her six word memoirs about the pandemic. These are shown below. Karen Rose notes that anyone of these could be epitaphs on a tombstone marking the end of the pandemic. Enjoy and then add your own!
Alone time is good, short term. (CM)
Stay home, no vacation, wash hands. (CS)
2020 Wake-up call: COVID, racism, wildfires. (KS)
Missing friends but got a cat. (KR)
The cat wants us to LEAVE. (JC)
Cooking, cribbage, ponytail, gazebo visits. (CW)
Time freedom excites, stimulates. Zoom obligates. (KU)
Singing to dogs. We run again. (JC)
So glad we have a dog. (MW)
I’d rather not talk about it. (TM )
Missed prom, graduation, friends and Milwaukee. (MW)
New shovel, new gardens, new plants. (JW)
Summer of Dave, Fall, Spring, Summer! (DW)
Coffee, walk, text, pizza, wine, repeat. (KW)
Should I be social or responsible? (AW)
Next door with kiddos and coffee. (EW)
I met some new, amazing people. (AW)
Work and play – hours become blurred. (JW)
Child welfare became even more difficult. (SW)
My online clinical experience was tedious. (MR )
Enjoying yoga pants, commute and introversion. (BW)
New workload-overwhelmed. New granddaughter-overjoyed. (JW)
In the middle of July 2019 I announced my intent to retire at the end of June 2020; nearly one year in advance. Some people thought that time frame a little excessive. Would I not be considered a lame duck for the entire year? What would this mean for my ability to lead? Yet I know my boss, the Superintendent of Schools, appreciated the long lead time. I was a department Director for a school district and sat on the Superintendent’s cabinet. This gave him plenty of time to find a replacement.
I had a plan for winding down my time in the school district. Get as many projects as I could completed (or at least underway) before I left. And start helping my husband with his business. Things were moving along nicely. I was very productive at my job while also helping my husband deliver in-person workshops around the state on weekends. I was a little overwhelmed but feeling good.
Then came March 15, 2020. That was the day the Governor of Minnesota announced that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state was going into lockdown and school districts would start planning for distance learning. Students’ last day of in-person school would be March 17.
That changed everything. For everybody.
For me, as a school district employee, that meant stopping everything I was doing and refocusing on distance online learning and childcare for essential workers. It meant many daily meetings (virtual, from home), onslaughts of emails, sifting through pages and pages of Department of Health and Department of Education guidance that changed daily, checking in with my staff, checking in with others in my field, all while still trying to move some projects forward with the hope that school would reopen in the fall. It also meant that my husband’s in-person workshops (and therefore his business) came to an abrupt halt. Not that I would have been able to do them anyway – I had to work on weekends as well.
This went on for three and a half months – right up to June 30. Then on the morning of July 1, I woke up to – nothing. It was jarring to say the least. Don’t get me wrong – the weight of the stress lifted from my shoulders made me feel I was floating on air. I was happy to shed that weight. Yet I pride myself on being productive and I didn’t have any idea what to do.
Do – it’s a small word with a huge amount of baggage attached to it – at least for me. Does gardening count as doing? Does reading a book count as doing? Does cooking meals count as doing? Does going for walks count as doing? Does sitting and contemplating my life count as doing? Does it count as doing if I’m not earning money?
That last question gets to the heart of my dilemma. I have been a consistent earner since I got my first job at age 15, nearly 47 years ago. I took only four weeks off for each of my kids. I’ve never been laid off. I work; I earn money. That’s how I see myself. That’s been by design. My dad died leaving my mom a widow at age 53. She had not worked for pay since she was pregnant with me. Even though he left her with enough money to take care of herself, it hit me that it might not have been that way. What if he hadn’t left anything, and she had not been able to take care of herself? I vowed that I would ALWAYS be able to financially take care of myself and my family. I was 23 years old. And I fulfilled that promise to myself. The problem is I didn’t make any promises for what I would do in retirement.
It’s taken me nearly three months to start cutting myself a little slack. After all —we are in COVID times. The retirement life I visualized is not viable —at least for now. It’s time to start visualizing something different and, possibly even better. We are in a period of flux where things are changing for everyone. I can use this time to my benefit.
The concept is called liminal space. “The word “liminal” comes from the Latin root, limen, which means “threshold.” The liminal space is the “crossing over” space – a space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else. It’s a transition space.” (Alan Seale, Center for Transformational Presence) This time of pandemic could be considered a very long liminal space for me, and for everyone else.
It’s time to leave behind the idea that I need to earn money for money’s sake. Financially, my husband and I are in a good place. Between my pension, his Social Security and our savings, we can take care of our basic needs and then some. (Although I will admit that we need to earn money if we want to live an exciting life of travel – when we’re able to travel again.)
It’s time to explore what it would look like if I were truly doing something I loved to do. That means trying new things and further exploring familiar things. And it means shedding old ideas of what it really means to be productive and unpacking the word “do.”
When I was 23, I didn’t think to make a promise to myself for what my life would look like when I retired. And why would I? It was so far into the future. Now the future is here. One of my favorite sayings is “When is the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago. When is the second best time? Today.” So today I make a promise that I will open my mind to the possibilities of what an actualized life really means for me.
I miss my friend, Ed. I miss watching Ed make sushi rolls with his large fingers. He rolls them slowly while talking lovingly about Japan where he grew up and where later he was head of an international school. I miss sitting on his deck and discussing children’s learning—the importance of activity. I miss visiting schools with him and teaching children to make Origami cranes. Most of all, I miss his friendship, which I once believed would last forever.
Something happened, but I don’t know what. After a mutual friend died, Ed stopped talking to me. I tried to connect over and over, but he barely acknowledged me. It’s been at least fifteen years now since we’ve shared a friendship. I’ve asked myself again and again: What did I do? How can I atone? I know the reason might be within him, but unless we both value the friendship enough to talk, I cannot address my part.
Ed embraced many Japanese cultural beliefs, including the belief that folding 1000 cranes strengthens the chance that a wish will be granted. Sadako Sasaki, a girl in Hiroshima exposed to radioactive fallout from the atom bomb when she was 2 years old and who developed leukemia at age twelve, set out to fold 1000 cranes so her wish to live might be granted. The story says that she died before she finished and that other school children finished for her. There are shrines to Sadako all over Japan and in other countries. She has come to symbolize innocent victims of nuclear war.
This June, in a pandemic malaise, when I was longing to talk to Ed to see what he makes of it all, I decided to fold 1000 cranes for him as a symbol of the value I held of our friendship. Perhaps when he opened the huge box of cranes all strung together, he would know how much it meant to me, still means to me. Maybe my wish for a dialogue would be granted. I calculated that I’d need to make six a day to be finished by the end of the year. I’ve been folding them ever since.
Not too long into the folding, it occurred to me that I am folding in the hopes of repairing a friendship with someone who has shunned me. Do I really want such a friend? And I started asking myself deeper questions. What changed between us? What was my role in it? Does he recognize a role that he might have played? If I had answers to these questions, would there be a common ground for apologies from either or both of us? And is reconciliation even possible? These are not easy questions to answer. It might be easier to simply move on.
Which brings me to forgiveness. . . Karen and I have focused on forgiving others, but what about people in our lives that might hold pain that we’ve caused? I know that when I divorced my first husband, I hurt him deeply. He wanted the “’til death do us part” promise kept, and I could not give him that. He did not remarry and maintained that he held our marriage as sacred. He has passed on, and I wonder if he ever forgave me.
We celebrate the healing that occurs when we forgive someone, but there’s an internal healing in recognizing and facing our own transgressions. I don’t recall telling my first husband that I knew I’d hurt him or that I was sorry for causing that hurt—I was sorry, although not for divorcing. At the time I needed to save myself. It took me a long time to come to terms with the loss that each of us experienced, but once I did, I changed my behavior from angry and resentful to compassionate—not in a patronizing way but as an equal, as a human being acknowledging that life isn’t easy, and we don’t always get what we want. Once I felt his pain, I stopped seeing him as the person who’d imperiled our marriage, a vital step in forgiveness. And then the next step, which was seeing that I, too, needed forgiveness. I have come to believe that at times something is out there that needs forgiving, and both parties created it and own it—a wound that needs healing.
Human pain is human pain. We have all felt it. It may be pain inflicted by others, knowingly, unknowingly, or as fallout from a decision one or the other makes because she must. To effect any forgiveness, both parties must open themselves to remorse—If I could do it over, I would do it differently; regret—I’m sorry about my part in what happened between us; and reconciliation—I will work to have our relationship go forward.
As I fold my cranes and think about Ed, I realize that in shunning me, he loses, too. We could have supported each other in grieving the death of our friend; we could have continued our work to better children’s lives; we could have shared the last fifteen years over numerous glasses of wine and sushi. Both of us lost a friendship. I continue to hope that that friendship can be restored, through forgiveness if needed. Meanwhile, I will continue to fold my cranes.
I was folding an Origami crane when I started to think about impatience—probably because Origami teaches precise steps taken one-at-a-time, which requires patience. I am by nature impulsive. I don’t know if that’s equivalent to impatient, but certainly related. When I am impulsive, I’m not necessarily feeling impatient. I act without thinking and a different feeling follows the action. Sometimes the feeling is regret, which I can often shake off. With impatience, however, that longing for something to happen and then trying to force that something, the regret goes deeper. It often leads to remorse, “if I could do it over, I’d do it differently.”
I’m the person new car dealers love. Take my last car. I set out with my sixteen-year-old grandson to buy a Mazda. He, however, didn’t want to drive across town (inherited impatience?) to the Mazda dealer, so suggested we start with the Volkswagen dealer in his neighborhood. I ended up with a VW. It was impatience meets impulsiveness. The car buying process that takes patience—or endurance—was sped up with an impulsive purchase. Fortunately, I love my car—having no Mazda to compare it with, since I never considered one.
Life is a first-rate teacher about impatience. One of my most enduring lessons occurred when I was about ten years old. I had a baby tooth that ached and ached, but would not fall out on its own, but instead needed to be pulled. My stepfather took me to the free dentist at the gas company in Racine. As we rode the bus downtown, I was filled with dread and fear. Up until then, my experience of losing teeth involved pliers or strings tied to the tooth, connected to the knob on a door that would then be slammed, and voila—the tooth would be out, instant but short-lasting pain. To my mind, my stepfather taking off work to take me to a dentist surely involved something worse, although I couldn’t imagine what.
I don’t remember how the dentist pulled the tooth—the dental equivalent of a pliers? I do remember sitting on the bus on the way home crying, with blood and saliva running down my chin. My embarrassed stepfather handed me his hanky and hissed at me to Stop crying!
The next day I woke up feeling great, no more toothache, and now the permanent tooth could come in. I’d learned an indelible lesson: “Get it over with. Worrying and dread are worse than moving forward. Once it’s over, all will be fine.”
When my second husband, Gary, was dying of cancer, that lesson kept rearing up. Our situation was life and death, in no way like a tooth extraction, yet my mind kept capitulating to “get it over with.” Gary’s pain was unremitting from the disease, fear about dying, and a deep sense of loss—he was 54 years old. My pain was watching his suffering and feeling like I could do nothing to help. I dreaded what was to come for both of us.
How much more could either of us take? At one point I thoughtlessly told him that I just wanted it all over with. He responded cynically—and rightfully hurt—“I’ll see if I can’t speed things up.” Fortunately, my careless remark prompted us to spill our feelings and share the pain to the extent that we could—love in the midst of dying—yet I still regret those thoughtless words.
And then he died. Regret was nothing compared to the unrelenting pain of a heart trampled by death. And the notion of “getting it over with” . . . a childish fantasy. I felt even worse than I had watching him die. Day after day of sudden crying, feeling the loss so deeply. I thought over and over about what I would give to have him back. I realized that I should have hung on every moment we had together in that last year, treasured them. A new lesson took hold “Live fully in what is tangible and present today. Cherish those you love.”
I tell this story because the pandemic, for me, calls up again that childhood lesson of wanting something over with. I want this damn pandemic DONE, FINI! I wish COVID was a tooth that could be pulled, and we’d wake up tomorrow feeling better.
But then there’s that competing lesson of enjoying what is tangible and present. I’m also reminded that I’m 76. My time could end abruptly from a heart attack or stroke. I could learn tomorrow that I have a fatal disease.
So, I forge on, wear my mask for a better tomorrow for all, while reminding myself that a beautiful summer is blowing through my windows. On my daily walks or bike rides, at my socially distant breaks with friends on our patios, or during my Zoom meetups, I remind myself to show up fully. This is the new normal, and I’m resolved to stay present, to know the magic in today’s moments. Even time during a pandemic can never be gotten back. Patience, Karen, patience.