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  • michellelisenbee

Living in the AND Space

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

I woke at 4am to the wind whistling through our open bedroom window, rain pattering against the glass, a few flashes of lightning. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, so I got up to make coffee feeling unsettled and anxious. At 5:30, I hugged my oldest son goodbye as he headed off to work at Home Depot. I worried about him interacting with the public all day….made sure he had his hand sanitizer and asked if they’d provide him with a mask. He didn’t know. I prayed.

At 6:20, I hugged my husband goodbye as he headed off to work at his cabinet shop. I worried about him and his fellow employees. I prayed some more.

I drank coffee. I ate a homemade cinnamon bun. I browsed Facebook and read email. I read about and saw pictures of all kinds of amazing people doing all kinds of amazing and wonderful things during this global pandemic. Kind, loving, brave things. Nurses working at the bedside, other medical workers doing all they can and putting themselves on the line for us. People sending out care packages to loved ones. People offering printable PDF files of self-care tips for the times we are in, preparing and offering e-courses on healing and staying sane through trauma…pastors offering thoughtful and heartfelt reflections on Holy Week….and on and on. So much goodness. So much love. And yet…..

And yet, I didn’t feel better. I kept imagining one of my sons, sick and alone in the hospital. One of my parents on a ventilator. All my nurse and doctor friends in their fatigue and stress. I watched a video on donning and doffing PPE and remembered learning that years ago when it was Ebola. I felt the fear my friends must also face each time they do this, knowing this dangerous thing is invisible.

I feel like a coward. I am a nurse. And I am at home. I want to stay at home. The best job I ever had was working at CHI Health Care. That job ended last summer when the company closed. I’ve been trying to find my footing again ever since. Making art, developing classes, writing, being at home with my family, working part-time at The Queen’s Ink. Although I’ve been looking for nursing work, I admit the search has been half-hearted. None of the jobs I applied for worked out for one reason or another. With my severance pay diminishing, I decided to apply for unemployment just before all the business closures in March. I was approved. Checks have started to come. With the extra funding from Uncle Sam, I will be making almost as much as I was working at CHI – for the next few months. I feel so much guilt and shame about this.

When I read about medical personnel being brave, battling daily “on the front lines” of this pandemic…when I hear all my personal medical friends are doing in this effort….when Governor Hogan says we need more help….when I see people sewing masks or using 3-D printers to make them, and all the other ways people are serving, the shame overwhelms me. How can I justify being home when I could/should be out there fighting along with them? Why am I not at least volunteering? Isn’t that the patriotic and humane thing to do?

Yes, art making is important. Yes, making soup and feeding my family is important. Planting a garden is important. Writing notes and calling people to check in is important. And yet (again) I still feel it’s not enough. And I cannot bring myself to do more than I am.

Every morning, I walk to the river. I stand on the bridge and watch the water flowing beneath me. I listen to its constant, varying music. Every morning the vista is the same and also different. I breathe the dawn air deeply. I give thanks to the trees and water and sky. There are always birds. Sometimes the Heron. Sometimes the Hawk. Sometimes the Mallard. Yesterday, two separate groups of three geese flew directly overhead. I thought it significant, but wasn’t sure how. Today, God brought one of my favorite poems to mind:

Wild Geese | Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

I have no clear wrap-up for this. No great lessons learned. No neat packaged post. I only offer my raw self, living as Liz Lamoreux says, in the “AND Space”. Anxiety AND faith, fear AND trust, suffering AND beauty, light AND dark, despair AND hope, isolation AND connection. Holding my hands and heart open daily. Offering to God whatever needs to be released in me and asking Him to place in them whatever is mine to do. Praying the Spirit will continue to guide me this day and always. (Originally published April 8, 2020)

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