I am far away. Far from the rage and the turmoil, far from the shrieks and screams and smoke. No one here is threatening. No one here is fighting. Not tonight.
The little bubble of my world is calm. Still. Peaceful.
The stars are silent. Orion is gone. Every night I look back over my shoulder and there he glitters in the night sky like a watchful, wakeful guardian. He is veiled tonight.
I feel as though I am holding my breath.
“Perhaps the Christ Child had walked between the lines and while he walked, peace had stayed the guns.” (Kate Seredy, The Singing Tree.)
The words circle in my mind and I hold them lightly, feeling the pulse of the words against my fingers.
Peace seems forever far away.
I am far from the city, but the fight is here in my chest. Fear is a heavy master and one I know far too well but tonight, I am more weary than afraid.
I am tired of living in this fight for my whole life. Half the time I don’t even know what is being fought for, but my whole life is marked with battle after battle while I am told there is no war.
There is more than this present chaos.
I believe that someday, at the far distant end, there is a garden, filled with great good things. There is peace and gentleness and love in abundance. There is the embrace of those I love that eases the ache of losing them. There is grace, and compassion, and beauty. There is everything great and good and more than I have ever dreamed. There is life and wholeness and healing. Healing, and no war and no battles and no destruction to try to undo me. There is rest.
This is not that end. I have a work to do first. I must sow the seeds. Water them. Nurture them. I may not see them come to fruition but I must plant them and care for them as long as I am able.
When it seems like everything is falling apart, I remember that it is okay to grieve. It is okay to mourn. It is okay to be lost and hurt and afraid. But I am here to do great and good things. I am here to make a change. Maybe that change begins here, tonight, in the quiet. Maybe that change begins in me.
I am here to live the best way I can and trust that in the end, I will be somewhere safe with someone good.
I am not a bible scholar, an epidemiologist, or a scientist. I’m simply a writer who has been immersed in biblical history and literature for most of my life, and who has done a lot of reading and writing about COVID for work.
For me, a fascinating study during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the Old Testament laws for cleanliness and hygiene, which I studied at least four different times when I was younger. Some of them seem a bit extreme but many of them are common sense measures we see in use today. Things like washing yourself, isolation and cleansing after exposure to dead bodies and certain kinds of illnesses, and washing or discarding contaminated garments and items are all found in the Old Testament.
Moving through history to the Black Plague, we learn that one of the reasons the Jews were blamed for the plague was because they were less affected by it than others, due to the rules for health and hygiene that they followed. If you’re not affected by it, you’re obviously the cause of it, right? There were other issues going on as well, I’m sure, such as people being prejudiced walnuts, but that was one contributing factor for why they were blamed.
This is something I’ve been musing on during the pandemic.
There’s a popular question I hear in church communities. “What would Jesus do?”
I’ve always struggled with this question because it is often asked in situations where we don’t have the information to be able to say, and we can run the risk of shaping Jesus into our own image and expectations. But it is a good question to make oneself think.
So, I asked it in this situation.
I imagine Jesus would wash his hands and stay home if he was sick, and would probably wear a mask if he had one. Jesus would love people regardless of their beliefs, their social standing, and their health issues. Jesus would feed those in need and comfort the hurting and take care of the people around him.
I imagine that during COVID, you would see Jesus volunteering at homeless shelters and soup kitchens. You would see him picking up groceries for shut-ins and talking with them from a safe distance. You would see him organizing online book clubs and movie nights and helping remote students with their classes. You would see him calling his neighbors and family, just to check in. You would see him out taking long walks, and it would seem like the day got a little bit better just for seeing him. You would see him writing letters to folks in nursing homes and others in isolation.
I imagine that you would see his eyes, bright and alive and holy, smiling over a mask or face covering, as he thanks the grocery store clerk and tells her that he hopes she has a good day. You would meet him on the road, helping a stranger change a flat tire. You would see him spending his weekend building a wheelchair ramp for someone in the community who’s disabled.
I imagine you would see him as a member on the volunteer fire department, first on the scene for an elderly woman who fell down the stairs. You would hear the tenderness in his voice as he helped her, and she might say that the pain eased when he came. You would see him working in a blizzard, helping lost and stranded people find their way home again.
I imagine that you would see him raging against companies who place profits over human lives. You would see him fight against a system that causes harm when it should bring help and relief. You would see him challenge the oppressors and stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves. You would see him do whatever it took to make sure that the elderly, the infirm, and the weak are not excluded or forgotten.
I imagine you would see him bring light, and hope, and healing into the sick rooms and hospitals. You would see him hold the hands of the lost and hurt and grieving. You would hear his footsteps between the beeping of monitors and the noise of ventilators. You would see him rejoice with each recovery and mourn with each death.
I imagine that you would see the kindness and compassion in his face, in his hands, in the way he lives his life. You would witness a joy so strong that sometimes it hurts. You would see a man who loves fearlessly and relentlessly. Though he would not risk the health of others, you would see him risk his own health for those in need.
I asked myself, what would Jesus do?
And I asked, what must I do?
A special thanks to my family members who encouraged me to share this. This writing is as much for myself as for anyone else. I understand that everyone has different beliefs and am not suggesting that I have all the answers or that I am an expert in biblical history and literature, Jewish culture, epidemiology, or other subjects; I am, at the end of the day, just a writer.
I don’t understand what the plan is, God. I don’t understand how this brokenness is supposed to help.
I don’t understand.
I look around and I see, played out on a global stage, the divides and shattered pieces and hurt that I’ve battled in my own heart and mind and soul.
There is so much hurt.
I was – finally – beginning to heal from my own. I was beginning to reach out again, to connect, to touch people after being afraid of them for so long.
And now I’m asked to draw back again. To contain myself within the walls of my own existence. I may speak, but my voice is not very strong yet. My body is the strongest part of me and I am asked to be still. To fold my hands in my lap. To step away from outstretched arms, to keep from stretching out my own.
I’m so tired, God.
I’m not afraid.
I’m tired of the fighting. The screaming. The fear and hurt and anger and pride. As hard as I try, the voices still creep into my brain and for a time break the quiet.
It’s finally quiet now, inside my mind, more often than not. Even now.
I’ve learned that in order to heal the hurts inside myself I first had to admit they were there. I cannot mend a broken plate if I insist that it is not broken.
Is that part of the plan, God?
Is that part of the hurt?
I’ve learned that I cannot exist without connection, yet for so long now we have made connection a lower priority – work has become the highest priority.
When work ceases, what will the hands do then? Will the hands learn new languages, or maybe rediscover old languages they know but have forgotten to speak? Will they remember how to connect with another?
Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Scottish Shortbread recipe
1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces 1 and 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour 1 and 1/4 cup unbleached white flour 6 tablespoons granulated sugar 3 Earl Grey tea bags
Empty tea bags; if tea is coarse, lightly grind. Combine dry ingredients; cut butter into mixture until it resembles fine crumbs, then knead until smooth. Roll out to 1/4 inch and cut out, bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes until golden brown on the bottom.
Hint: use a coarse cheese grater to cut the butter into small pieces to make it easier to cut into the dough.
I wanted the cookies to look like tea bags, so I cut them into rectangles with a knife and cut the corners off, then used a straw to punch the holes in the top. I thought I would put strings through the holes and add tags.
I also dipped a couple in melted chocolate, but I think it would be better with a lemon glaze. A chai shortbread would be better with the chocolate. Looked cute though!
I packed a handful into the empty tea box and it was super cute! I shared with the neighbors and they loved them. I’ll definitely be making these again!
A couple weeks ago I had a really hard day that resulted in me getting home too mentally exhausted to get out of my truck. I texted my bestie and she prescribed a chocolate bar, some yogurt, and a movie, to give me a place to start as I worked through what was going on in my head, and from there we came up with the idea for this mental health first aid kit.
One thing that my therapist and I have been working on is practical tools to get me through the rough spots. This kit is another tool for my toolbox.
When I have a really hard day, it’s often hard for me to do basic self care things. While the frequency of my bad days is reduced, they still happen. I talked it over with my bestie and we isolated the areas in which I struggle most on those days, and designed this kit to offer me the support I need, ready when I need it.
My kit has a bottle of water, a box of mac and cheese, a chocolate bar, a packet of electrolyte drink mix, a packet of tissues, one of my favorite movies, and a checklist to evaluate what I need to do for myself.
For me, communication is both the best way to get through an episode, but also the hardest thing to do. Texting someone to say “hey, I’m having a hard day, can you send me cute cat pictures?” can be hard, but often that casual connection is the best thing to help me work through what’s going on in my head. Another thing that helps is just chatting with someone face to face; due to the pandemic, that can be hard, but it’s so important.
Other things to check are if I’ve had enough to eat, enough to drink, if I’ve spent any time outside, and if I’ve taken any time for just myself. Evaluating these things gives me an idea what I can do to help myself.
I do well with a step-by-step list of what to do, so I included a step by step guideline in my kit. Having a detailed plan makes it possible for me to get up off the couch and do step one.
The last card in my kit is a list of things in my environment to look at. The goal is to pick just one and do that to improve my immediate environment. Just one isn’t too overwhelming and I can usually do it in five or ten while my meal cooks.
This is not professional or medical advice; this is just something I’ve set up to make it easier to get through the bad days, and I thought others might benefit from it and be inspired to create their own kits. I fully expect to create a kit for each of my kids if/when I acquire younglings, because this is something that I would have LOVED to have as a kid. Other ideas could be just some snack food, a good book, a puzzle or game, a coloring book, outdoor toys… there’s tons of possibilities.
My main goal was to assemble this kit in one place so it’s ready when I need it. The days that I need something like this, I’m usually not capable of collecting things from all over the house. Think of it as a mental health first aid kit and make sure it’s stocked and ready to grab when you need it.
This has been on my mind for a week or so now and my bestie said I needed to share it, so, here goes. This is for you, Missie. ❤
We’re caught in the middle of a global pandemic and nothing is clear and nothing is certain and I have no answers and no idea what tomorrow has in store.
And yet, for the first time in my life, I am filled with this calm assurance.
It feels odd to me, because my anxiety is still there, fluttering around, but then there’s this deep bass note of knowing.
Sometimes you feel things in your head, and sometimes in your heart, and sometimes in your gut. I feel this assurance in all three: no matter what happens, no matter what comes next, this is not the end.
This is not the end.
Even if I should catch this virus and die, even if the knuckleheads speeding on my street should actually kill me, even if there’s some kind of violence and I get caught up in it and die, this is not the end.
There will still be a garden to tend, there will still be a cat to pet, there will still be a hand to hold — maybe Jesus’s hand, I don’t know.
But no matter what happens today, tomorrow, or in a year, I know, and kind of for the first time in my life, that this is not the end.
I don’t have answers. I don’t even really have questions, if I’m honest. I’m scared and nervous about what might happen.
But I know that whatever does happen, it’ll work out okay somehow
Death isn’t the end of the story. Death is turning a page.
So for now I’m going to keep washing my hands and keep waving at people and keep smiling even if I’m wearing a mask because my eyes will show it. I’m going to keep writing my articles for work and keep writing my stories for me and keep mucking about in my garden.
I’ve been working at the paper since July 2019. In that time, I’ve traveled all over the county, all the way up to the border. Most of the places I’ve gone have been places I’ve never been before. Most of the things I’ve done have been things I’ve never done before. Most of the people I’ve met have been people I’ve never met before.
I’ve never yet gotten lost.
(Not for lack of trying, either.)
I’ve gotten stuck — up in Rangeley on a holiday with a dead camera battery and another half hour of photo taking to do, off the road into a ditch in Phillips at 8PM, on the shoulder of the road in Coplin Plantation in the dark with a secondhand smoke induced coughing spasm — but that’s not the same as getting lost. And there was always someone to help.
In Rangeley, I texted the police chief and asked where I could charge the battery, and he pointed me to the grocery store. They let me charge the battery for a bit while we browsed and picked up lunch and a few groceries, and I got my photos.
In Phillips a couple guys stopped and used one guy’s truck and the other guy’s chain and popped me out of the ditch easy as anything. Made sure I was all set before they left.
In Coplin a Lucas Tree truck driver stopped to see if I was okay. I was crying, on account of not being able to breathe very well and having to stop in a place where I didn’t have cell signal, but there wasn’t anything he could do. I just needed time to ride out the coughing, so he reluctantly left. But the action of someone stopping to check was something that still makes me feel like it’s not all rubbish in the world today.
But I’ve never gotten lost.
I was talking about it with my big brother Caleb when I was down in Cape Cod to see those boys, and was able to put words to what I meant.
I may not always know where I am, but I always know what to do to go where I want to be, or what to do to go back where I came from.
I don’t feel lost if I know where to go. And I always seem to know where to go.
I am lost when I don’t know where I am and I don’t know where to go or what to do.
And that’s where I’m at with this virus.
I don’t know where I am.
I don’t know where to go.
I don’t know what to do.
Here’s the thing about being lost: you need to do a little bit of letting go. If you’re sitting in the car clutching the steering wheel for dear life, you need to pry your fingers off it and get the map out of the back seat before you can even think about getting unlost.
We don’t really have a road map for this situation. And it’s not like getting lost in the woods where you might need to just sit down and wait for rescue teams to find you.
I don’t know how we get unlost here.
I don’t know where we’re trying to get to.
I don’t know how to get back to where we were.
All I can do is let go, take one step, then the next. I feel like I’m learning to walk all over again.
I think of a wee little babe learning to walk who was so focused on taking a step that she held her breath; she couldn’t get past that first step when she was holding her breath.
I need to let go and breathe deeply in, out, in, out, to the beat of my footsteps.
Here’s the other thing about being lost: it doesn’t matter where you’re going and where you’ve been, if you’re okay right where you are. That is my wish for each and every one of us: that we will find a moment of stillness where we are.
I wanted to republish one of my most popular blog posts in light of the state of the world today. This was originally published in February 2018 on my blog.
You’d be surprised how many times I get asked what my favorite book is. It’s on blog tour signups, it’s quizzes in my online groups, it’s just random questions. I usually have a hard time picking a favorite, but not with books. There’s always one I can give as an answer:
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The first time I walked into a hole in the ground, I was five. Maybe six. My dad read it aloud to me and my four brothers, and I was hooked for life.
See, I was a fearful little girl. I wanted to be brave and important and save the world, but I got scared by the shadows in my closet and bright lights and by people talking too loudly around me.
I learned about being wild from the boys I grew up with. They challenged me to jump off cliffs (literally), to climb trees (I am terrible at it), to run all out and not be scared of tripping and falling (I still have scars on my knees). They encouraged me to take a couple steps and throw myself out, trusting to the water to catch me and cradle me.
But there were some things they couldn’t do.
They couldn’t teach me not to be afraid of the darkness.
They couldn’t teach me about the dragons I would have to face.
We were only little kids, after all. They didn’t know about those things either.
Later – much later – I learned far too much more about fear. I learned about the monsters that lurked, not under my bed or in my closet, but inside my mind. I learned about grief. I learned about being ripped apart. I learned about being wrong. I learned about being hurt. I learned about death.
I learned all that and more, and I almost lost myself in the middle of it.
By that point, The Hobbit movies were being filmed and everyone in my family was buzzing with excitement. I got out my book from the bottom of the stack on my bedside table – even during the time when I didn’t read it every six months, it never quite made it to the shelves – and I read it again.
I found myself inside the pages. I was Thorin, brave and loyal and proud. Too proud. I was Smaug, my own monster. I was Gollum, clutching to things I couldn’t keep.
Most importantly, I was Bilbo, small and afraid and unimportant.
But I learned something, and the movies helped me see it clearer.
I learned that even the small, seemingly unimportant ones are needed. I learned that sometimes what the world needs is a little more home. Sometimes it needs another pocket handkerchief.
The beauty of The Hobbit is that Bilbo doesn’t try to be Thorin or Gandalf or Beorn. Bilbo is simply himself, and that is enough. He becomes, over the course of the story, a better version of himself… but he is still himself. He is a hobbit. He likes his books and his armchair and clean handkerchiefs. Tea is at four.
I learned more about being from reading or listening to The Hobbit approximately 200 times in the last fifteen years than I ever learned in church or listening to sermons or preachers. I learned more about life, my own and life in general, from this little book than I have from almost anywhere else. I sometimes think this book saved my life. I don’t really know, but I do know that it has shaped me in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible.
I love C. S. Lewis’s quote on stories for children because it sums up my relationship with The Hobbit so well:
So if you ask me what my favorite book is, I might tell you the title of one I just finished… I might protest at having to pick favorites and how difficult the entire concept is… I might rattle off a list that’s three miles long… or I might tell you The Hobbit.
Copyright 2018 by Annie Louise Twitchell Annie Louise Twitchell at 4:58 PM Friday, February 23, 2018
My ideal writing environment is the following scenario:
I have a couple hours free in the morning. I drive over to The Orange Cat Cafe, get my breakfast, and occupy a seat in the back room of the cafe. I pull out my laptop and work for an hour or so, pausing between paragraphs to nibble my quiche or sip my coffee.
I’ve done that maybe six times in the last year.
Sometimes this is what it looks like, darlings. Sometimes writing means scraping together a few minutes in waiting rooms, just before you go to sleep, while you eat breakfast, while you cook supper.
Messy, real, unfiltered and unedited, this is where I knocked out 307 words while I waited for my pots to boil.
I’m sure we all have our ideal writing environment, but if we wait for our ideal, we’ll have a really hard time getting anything done.
I’ve been learning that the hard way in the last year. I started working and being away from home a lot, plus overnight trips to the city for my mom’s neurologist visits and physical therapy appointments. I had to get good at writing in two and five and ten minute stretches.
I had to get good at being flexible. At making the best out of a bad job.
I had to decide what was more important: getting the work done, or getting it done the way I wanted to get it done.
Because the way I wanted to get it done wasn’t an option.
But you know what? The more flexible I got, the more I got to experience my ideal. My ideal shifted. Now, my ideal is a cup of coffee and something to nibble, period. That sometimes means the cafe, and that sometimes means sipping a cold cup of coffee and typing four sentences on my phone while I wait for a soccer game to start. I’m happy there. I’m writing, I’m in an environment I enjoy and take delight in, and I can work well there.
Still working on taking delight in the ‘laptop on the kitchen counter’ environment, but hey, at least I’m writing.
I first wrote this up in a post in the Go Teen Writers Facebook group.
A list of 50 activities you can do while social distancing that use minimal or no screen time, from an introverted extrovert with lots of experience with small children and cabin fever. Most are child friendly.
Read a book.
Listen to an audio book.
Read a book out loud—you don’t have to read TO anyone. Just read to yourself or a pet. Exercise your voice.
Play a board game.
Play a card game.
Do a coloring page.
Make a drawing.
Make a painting—don’t underestimate children’s watercolor palettes.
Write a letter.
Start a journal.
Do a jigsaw puzzle.
Learn to crochet.
Learn to knit.
Learn to weave.
Learn knot tying.
Learn to eat with chopsticks.
Sing—it can be terrible.
Go for a walk.
Wave at someone.
Start a garden.
Start a mini garden.
Start a single plant pot on a sunny windowsill.
Learn Cat’s Cradle.
Try yoga or pilates.
Bake bread. If it fails, try again.
Wash the windows so you can see outside clearly.
Hug a pillow or a stuffed animal.
Build a blanket fort.
Build a city out of legos, duplos, or building blocks.
Play an instrument—it can sound terrible, just try.
Write a bucket list.
Write a poem.
Trace the alphabet in a thin layer of cornmeal or sand on a cookie sheet.
Bake some cookies.
Make cornstarch gak.
Roll a single dice and record the number of each roll—enjoy the randomness.