An Anchor in Facing the Unknown…part 4: Step Forward
Step: an act or movement of putting one leg in front of the other
Some weeks ago, already in the ‘wave from the front stoop‘ era of social distancing, I swung by to greet some elder neighbors. I noted that their front step was badly rotten. In these weeks of ‘staying home’, I’ve been really anchored to the immediacy of what’s right in front of me. Connected to the ground and my breath, as I wrote about in part 1. I notice what my mind is doing. I confessed about the tendencies of this mind toward fixing and improving in part 2. And, I connect to my heart, as I wrote about in part 3. I’ve learned that in reaching out, it’s important to ask permission, to see if some wants to support or help. I went back to my elder neighbors a couple weeks ago and I asked if I could repair their step. I had this gnawing apprehension one of them might step right through one of the boards. And considering their age, I didn’t want either one of them anywhere near a medical facility just now. They happily agreed.
I have some reasonable carpentry skills. First introduction: a sculpture class at the Glasgow School of Art. Back then the school was still housed in an extraordinary building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh which burned completely in 2018). Expanding beyond carving chisels and a band saw, I attended an interim wood working program at my undergraduate Colby College. Alan Hume, who founded that program, was a retired heart surgeon who devoted himself with phenomenal generosity, of heart and resources, to Colby students. Hume died at the age of 93 in late February this year.
So I brought these skills. And then I added the following
+ more spacious time
+ patience, several solid days worth
+ humor about my own fixing mind in action
+ humility in approaching a project I didn’t know how to do
+ other’s expertise generously offered by skilled neighbors
The rot extended well beyond a few planks to the entire step’s structure. And while I was doing it, they wondered if I could make it wider than the original, as one of them is rather frail and requires help up the step, or a good reach of the post. Another neighbor bought the materials. Assistance and tool loans were contributed by several others. At moments when I didn’t know how to proceed, I would pause a long while, and eventually ask one of my neighbors for help. The greatest engineering kink was that the concrete slab (of the step, not of the house!) had settled over 2 inches lower on the left than the right over the past 25 years of the step’s lifetime. Digging up the old and creating a new concrete footing felt beyond my reach. So I designed the step around things just as I found them. It was the end of day one, as I was walking home, that I thought, “This is how it’s gonna need to be going forward.“ We’re gonna need to do things for each other. We’re gonna have to pause and notice how those close by are doing, what they need. We’re going to have to build things, maybe things we didn’t know how to build. We’re going to have to ask for help, learn new things, take it one step at a time…build one step at a time, together.
In my eyes, this one step applies to all of us, our myriad different circumstances. For my friend in Spain who has not been able to leave her one bedroom apartment, under any circumstances other than groceries, for over a month. For the incarcerated members of our human family who have been on repeated lock down quarantine for weeks; confined to their cells with only a few feet in any direction to move; worthwhile considering for any who have been feeling stir-crazy, or referencing confinement-fatigue. Those who have experienced recent death, who are placing one grief filled foot in front of the other. For those who are moving in the world in a wheel chair or other forms of disability, where that one step is a different way of moving forward. For those who are unemployed and facing May 1st and the future horizon with a lot of fear. My invitations here? Somehow for me these steps, they just never, ever wear out in their utility.
- Feel your feet on the ground.
- Notice THIS precious human breath with intimate awareness.
- Notice the activity of the mind.
- Tune into the texture of your own heart.
We are all so interconnected. As you tune in, these steps will influence your interactions with yourself and everyone around you. In this Time f Coronal, healing and recovery are a whole new dance of the collective and individual. If you are comfortably, financially resourced, please consider local giving now: donation of your Federal Assistance check, engaging the nation wide discussion about Mass ReDistribution of resources. Your local food bank is wonderful place to support your neighbors in need. It may be that you really need that check to pay rent, mortgage, bills, to assist direct family and friends in distress. If you are in the latter position, barely treading water and overwhelmed, drop me an email. I’m reasonably aware of current assistance programs (including the many which are closed having exhausted funds). This is a worthwhile moment to consider what resources we have? For ourselves? For others? I wash my hands to protect your lung tissues. I keep what feels like strangely, unnatural distance, to save another person’s life. We give this to each other, because ultimately we’re not separate.
One further musing. Without any prompting by the Governor, Seattle residents have historically adopted a social distancing practice of about 3-4 feet with NO eye contact. Some refer to it as the Seattle freeze. In this Time of Corona, I have witnessed, and heard from a LOT of people, how things have felt surprisingly…WARM! Even all suited up with masks, bobbing and weaving to give each other six feet, people have been more frequently exchanging eye contact. A nod. A ‘how ya doin’?’ “Stay safe!” A smile, evident through wrinkles radiating like the sun from the eyes creases. However things evolve over the months ahead, I hope this warming trend stays. Seattle, it’s very becoming.
I’ll conclude here with an explanation of the photos. These are paths I have walked; every single one. Steps I have taken in different parts of the world during this precious human life. Whether or not one has ever owned a passport, or left their home town, we have all traveled great distances. And going forward, we will all wend our way one proverbial, and very concrete, step at a time. I’m hopeful this writing inspires you to consider what one step you can take to benefit someone else. A whole lot of people have developed sewing skills in this last stretch. What else might we learn to make or build? One next step for me: to open my clinic doors the first week of May. I will continue to remain attentive and compliant with our Governor’s counsel. And it’s my intention to return to clinic with patients spaced apart, taking proper care of sanitizing surfaces and air, and request patients wear a mask, as will I. I will be reaching out to patients individually who have gone without care during this time.
Please stay healthy and robust, honoring all counsel from Public Health and Government officials, the knowledgeable ones. Please open your eyes to those who are suffering and consider concrete gestures you can make, concrete steps you can build. Feel welcome to share this writing freely with others as you feel inspired. I always welcome responses and reflections in return.
Holding all of you with tender care.
Photos in order of appearance: NSW, Australia * Simigaun, Nepal * Okayama City, Japan * Buenos Aires, Argentina * Jomsom-Muktinath, Nepal * Central Cascades somewhere * La Bohn Gap, WA * Sogenji Temple, Okayama, Japan * Ben Nevis, Scotland * San Antonia de Areco, Argentina *Wawona, Yosemite, CA * Bridal Veil Falls Trail, WA * My neighbors’ front step, Seattle, WA *