mar 14, 2020—rx for a pandemic

Hey me again…I wrote this last night after a walk with my dog; I shared it on my personal page, and thought I’d share it with y’all here too. We’re in some whacky, trying times right now—a crisis is prime time for drinking urges to be challenged mightily. I think of many past crises in my life that I truly missed out on being fully present, whole and at my best because my go-to was to numb the fear, the unknown, the trauma with alcohol…we only know what we know at the time and do the best we can, given what we know. I truly believe that, and no longer pummel myself with guilt and self-loathing for my past reactions and instead, offer grace, dignity and respect to the person I was then. This time, I am 100% on board to stay clear-minded, open hearted and connected to the world as it spins out of control of control around me. We literally cannot control anything, except our reactions to anything. Reconnecting to nature is so restorative for me, something I don’t do enough of, but when I do, holy, holy, holy wow…I hope this helps some of you in this tumultuous time. Be safe, be well, and for God’s sake, don’t be a hoarder!!! xo!

Rx for a Pandemic (forest bathing)

Know what’s still open during a pandemic? State parks, that’s what. Which is a good thing, because it’s a good thing to once in a while, close the laptop, turn off the TV and step back from the news. Not just a few feet back. Farther. Outside-back. Waaaaay outside-back. As far back from the modern world as you can get (which, when you think about it too much, really isn’t that far any more, which is probably, very likely, part of the problem), till you find the point where you can separate distortion from clarity, fact from fiction, and remind yourself, or learn for the first time, that there is literally nothing in the world you can do to control anything in the world, except your reaction to what’s going on in the world. Literally. Nothing. Else. Take the dogs, take the kids, take yourself way out back, into the woods or the prairie or a forest or to the river for a spell if you need help remembering or finding or reinforcing this truth.

When you get to William O’Brien, take note that even cars received the “social distancing” memo—beautiful early spring Saturday morning, all sportsing events cancelled, yet only a handful of vehicles, dutifully, at least six feet apart, scattered across the park’s parking lot. Leave your phone in the car. “What?!! This is a goddamned PANDEMIC, Jennifer!!” Okay, fine. Leave it in your pocket, but turn off the damn ringer, and resist the urge to take photos of everything you see. and definitely no selfies (not even if it IS your seventy-fucking-fourth day AFAF!). Instead, just walk. And breathe (which you can do out here with ease—cough or sneeze, even, without apology or disclaimer—there’s definitely no one within many, many feet of you out here). And see. And listen. And smell. And feel. And taste. No, wait—maybe not taste—it’s a pandemic, for chrissakes, keep your fingers out of your mouth and don’t go licking things, even out here. but all the other stuff. yes.

Breathe in deep, feel the cool air rush through your nostrils, filling your lungs. Marvel at your body’s ability to instantly warm this chilled stream of oxygen. Exhale long. Longer. As long as you can, until you feel your own muscles wrap around you like a hug, expel the warm air that just a second ago was swirling around deep inside of you.

Stop walking. Listen to the birds, pick apart the distinct calls—the cardinals have been trilling their little spring hearts out for the past few weeks—do you hear them? And chickadees! The distinct hysterical laugh of a piliated woodpecker. Wait a minute—what the hell was that—a rooster? Out here in William O’Brien? hmmm….you still think about the job you might not be able to do, and the paid time off you don’t have, and how long this pandemic will last and do you have enough in savings to weather this unknown storm. But those won’t be your only thoughts out here. Keep breathing, keep walking, keep touching, keep feeling, you will remember there are millions of people going through this very thing with you. You will remember that you are not alone. it’s still scary but it helps ease the sting.

Walk across ground that isn’t concrete or asphalt and flat, walk across dirt. Feel your toes shift and mold the terrain, separated only by the thin sheet of rubber of your boots: soft mud, frozen mud, ice-covered, snow-crusted, slippery, sticky lumpy, bumpy, dead-grass covered rocky ground. Wonder about the generations of people whose footsteps lay beneath yours. Slip on sneaky slick spots a few times. Maybe right down on your ass, even. Let a “goddammit!” fly right out of your mouth. No one’s around to hear except God, and she’s cool with that, she’s got bigger things to care about. While you’re down there, your eyes catch a flash of clear green. Allow it to startle you, amaze you, as though it’s the first time you’ve ever seen this green before. Because each spring feels just like that. Let sunshine warm your eyelids, cold air prickle your skin. Take off your mittens, wrap your hand around a branch, notice the life in this treed body, run your hand down the gnarly skin of its trunk. Pick up a smooth black rock, chilled like an ice cube. Realize that it has been through every single pandemic and stock market crash and senseless war and glacial advance and retreat and maybe even a dinosaur stepped on it one time—it has known just about every single other natural and unnatural disaster, and yet, here it still is. Stop to fingertip a tiny ball of silver fur pushing out from the tip of a branch—a pussy willow? Try not to think about what your small 401K looked like when you peeked at it the other day. Remember that it is something you cannot control. Remember how soft this tiny ball of silver fur is.

Let your dog lead you off the beaten path down the banks of a newly-freed creek for a drink (him, not you), where you can better hear the ecstatic water jingling and jangling over rocks and under fallen branches, its song no longer muffled by a sheath of winter ice. Believe that you could easily live in one of those little camper cabins on the edge of the path, how quiet life would be, how simple, like a modern day Rootbeer Lady, but you’d have to be something else, like maybe the Wildflower Woman, because at one point in your life you knew the names of so many wildflowers by sight, and you want to unearth that skill again. Maybe that’s what a pandemic is good for—to help us return to the essentials. Wonder if you or anyone you know might get sick with this virus and remember that’s out of your control. Remind yourself that you and everyone you know are doing everything they can to keep themselves and the rest of their world safe and healthy, that right now, everyone you know is doing the best they can with what they know. Know that things like a pandemic will bring out the best and the worst in people. Decide there, in the middle of the woods, with the singing water at your feet and chattering birds overhead, and bright sunshine warming your eyes and crisp, early spring air cleansing your breath, which side you will be on. Definitely *not* Team TP Hoarders. xo

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