Double exposure white woman and falling leaves by Enrique Meseguer via Pixabay
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State of Wonder: One year later

One year later.

I feel obligated to write a thoughtful, reflective essay about all that’s transpired since covid hit home, to somehow commemorate the 400 days of March 2020 and mine their depths for existential treasure. I suspect every creative person does. But the task is too daunting. Too big. Too real. Too still-happening.

So I’ll take my cue from Amanda Palmer and instead of trying to sift and shape it all, I’ll list it out. Everything that’s been roiling in my heart and mind that I could never find the words, time, or energy to unpack, much less write.

A Disorderly, Incomplete List of Things I Want to Tell You About My 2020 Life But Probably Never Will

  1. How it felt to crash from “my husband just got a job after a year of unemployment” into “holy shit the world is ending” in the span of two days.
  2. How it felt to wait to get into Walmart the Saturday before Easter in a line that wrapped around the building, across the parking lot, and into the neighboring strip mall.
  3. How it felt to drive over an always-jammed bridge, realizing I’m doing 100kph in a 60 because there’s no other vehicles on the road to mark my speed by.
  4. Thinking of all the times I played “who would survive the zombie apocalypse” with my college friends as I’m wandering obliterated aisles, driving empty roads, avoiding at masked faces, and remembering that I never did.
  5. How I traded two loaves of homemade bread for 6 expired N95s.
  6. How I wore a mask to the store before we were told to and how the combination of shame from the looks I got and the parka I needed for standing in line was too much for inside gave me a panic attack at the checkout and all I could do was cry.
  7. How it felt to buy the first child’s mask.
  8. The surrealness of meeting with our downstairs housemates to inventory our collective food and supplies, sharing our anxieties but not assurances, taking it seriously and extrapolating possibilities that later turned out to be prophecies.
  9. How it felt to suddenly become a homeschooling co-teacher.
  10. How it felt to harvest thrift store shelves for games, toys, books, and projects to entertain three children who suddenly had nowhere to go and no friends to play with.
  11. How stupid I felt for not going to the library the week before like I’d planned.
  12. How it felt when the Canada-US border closed with my family trapped on the other side.
  13. How it felt to land a job in Orlando, then have to tell them I wasn’t coming but was sure everything would blow over in a couple of months; they said they’d hold my job for me.
  14. How my joy at each pregnancy announcement was tainted by sadness for a child who will never know a world untouched by coronavirus.
  15. Telling my 3-year-old she can’t have a birthday party; telling my 4-year old she can’t have one this year, either.
  16. How I cried through writing my annual birthday letter to my daughter, trying to explain how her life looked over the past year, trying to find a positive message for her 18-year-old self to hear, and failing.
  17. The excitement of the Royal Botanical Gardens, with their massive grounds, staying open, and the sense of normalcy and freedom found there.
  18. My pride at Mackenzie hiking 4km without complaint; my joy at teaching her how to navigate a trail; the “I see you, Lord” of finding contentment in the outdoors for the first time in my life.
  19. The shame of making more money from a year of government assistance than I ever have from a decade of working as a creative person.
  20. How it felt the day I realized it had been over a year since I’d seen my mother, my father, my brothers and sister, my rapidly-aging and infirm grandmothers; how it feels knowing I may not make it home this Christmas, either.
  21. How it feels knowing if any of them gets sick or dies, I can’t be there.
  22. How having beer in the house suddenly became very important.
  23. How it felt to drive down a street entirely populated by folks in lean-tos and tents; how it felt to prepare food for them; how it felt to see the city drive them out.
  24. How it felt to watch the kids help pack Easter bags with bunnies and treats for those same people.
  25. How many times in a week I thought about taking the Ativan in the medicine chest, leftover from an MRI, just to make the spinning in my brain stop for one effing day.
  26. How I never did.
  27. The way the idea for the Psalms series drifted to me as I doomscrolled social media; “The world needs some hope right now.”
  28. How many Post-It’s have covered my office window and wall, scrawled with ideas for teaching and stories that I cannot find the fuel to write.
  29. How hard it was to decide to send Mackenzie to in-person school in September, how impossible to choose between the risk of the virus and the risk of going slowly, genuinely insane.
  30. How Lino and I sat on a bench in an empty park and knew we weren’t going to Florida after all and our entire lives changed for the third time in 9 months.
  31. How aware I am of my breath.
  32. How every time I even think I might be getting a cold, I internally freak out but carry on as if nothing is wrong. (It never is.)
  33. How the darkness slunk through cracks in my psyche widened by pressure.
  34. How it felt to be doing totally normal things like the dishes and suddenly very clearly know that none of this is real, it’s all happening to someone else, I’m not really here so nothing matters, nothing will hurt, eventually the movie will end. To truly disassociate and know it and be helpless to stop it.
  35. How I censor myself because I’m so afraid to hurt anyone for anything when we’re all so delicate now.
  36. How I swear more.
  37. How it felt to have all the time and yet no time at all.
  38. How I burned myself into a husk before December but pushed and pushed anyway because I thought I was weak if I rested when not resting is what made me weak.
  39. How my heart melted in surrender to motherhood close up; how I prayed it’s not too late.
  40. How I grieved for the loss of what Mackenzie’s first year of school should have been, for the freedom and closeness that she’ll never know was stolen from her.
  41. How frustrated I was (am) that she doesn’t care about her bike.
  42. How worried I am about her toe-walking and hips and if she’ll suffer the way I have.
  43. How helpless and small I felt as I watched my country riot and burn and compress and explode over and over for months and months for reasons that were so different but not actually different at all.
  44. How it felt to become a Canadian citizen via Zoom with so little fanfare I couldn’t tell you the date.
  45. How it felt to abandon Lino’s US visa application after 18 months of maximum investment.
  46. How good it felt to run in the thin morning air as the sun came up, rounding the abandoned parking lot as if it was the entirety of the world.
  47. How I had to start wearing trainers in the house because my feet and back were getting messed up from going barefoot 90% of the time.
  48. How it felt to work out in the gym and how it felt to stop and start and stop and start and finally stop.
  49. How I’ve watched my body slowly devolve without the crucible of the gym, hips and knee and rock-hard tendons and muscles screaming and failing. How I’ve cried more about it from fear than pain.
  50. How my social muscles have atrophied worse than my physical ones.
  51. How I visited with a friend for four hours and had to take two Advil and lay down after from the exertion.
  52. How much I just really hate Zoom.
  53. How two weeks of Christmas break turned into 3, then 4, then 5, then 6.
  54. How much I enjoyed being engaged with Mackenzie’s schooling during 6 weeks of remote learning.
  55. How fast my baby is growing in size and smarts and sass.
  56. How I feel thinking about what future her present will create for her.
  57. How I looked in the mirror one day and saw a stranger. One with clear skin and a cool home haircut, but a stranger just the same.
  58. How I started double-checking my responses; “Do I really think/feel/like/hate/want/need XYZ?”; how usually the answer isn’t the same as it would’ve been two years ago; how freeing that feels.
  59. How I didn’t gain “the covid 19” and know that I’ve been healed of my eating disorders but feeling the pull back there all the same.
  60. How it felt to vote.
  61. How much diving in to Critical Role has saved my sanity and giving me perspective about being a geek and a theologian.
  62. How needed it was to get back to devotional journalling after thinking I didn’t need it anymore.
  63. “Whatever my feelings will not yet allow, the blood of Jesus will surely cover.”
  64. How I wonder if anyone will ever read those journals.
  65. How it felt to forget what I was doing, what I came for, what I just said, what’s next.
  66. How it felt to slip from the timestream.
  67. How much happiness it brought all of us, not just Mackenzie, to get monthly surprise boxes of random stuff from my mom.
  68. How I kept the empty boxes next to my desk until the smell of her house wore off.
  69. How awkward and awful our Oktoberfest was, quarter-sized and masked and shivering on the back deck.
  70. How Christmas was a cluster of hurt feelings and confusion under a veneer of holiday cheer which made it more like a funeral than celebration.
  71. How bizarre it felt to order McDonald’s for delivery and groceries for pick up.
  72. How shopping in person felt defiant and dangerous.
  73. How the graffiti kept showing up everywhere, reminding us to “tell them how you feel” and that “it could be worse.”
  74. How writing about God’s perspective helped me to not lose mine.
  75. How it felt to close one church building and open a new one.
  76. How it felt to sing alone in the hollowed-out sanctuary.
  77. How it feels to hear Mackenzie keep saying, “when covid is over,” deferring her dreams already.
  78. How I started reading books again.
  79. How we started eating with my great-grandparents’ wedding silver because what the hell are we saving it for.
  80. How I made our family get dressed up and bought fancy cake and champagne to attend a Zoom wedding.
  81. How I took my housemate out for her anniversary while her husband was away for work; how uncomfortable I was eating indoors.
  82. How I flinch when people on TV are unmasked in a crowd.
  83. How my husband moving into my office to work from home has been the best thing for our family that we never would have chosen.
  84. How people have slipped out and other people have slipped in and still others made a home in my heart.
  85. How much I love the goddamn thrift store and library.
  86. How it felt to be the last one in our house to have a covid birthday and to remember that the previous birthday I’d spent in Florida convinced my life was about to change but had no clue what that would actually mean in a month.
  87. How proud of myself I was for making the Russian cake.
  88. How profound the difference is to have sex once a week instead of waiting for a perfect moment to arrive that never does.
  89. How angry I have been at people whose Venn diagram overlaps mine but are screaming and rebelling and dishonoring and uncaring in the name of freedom at all costs and a God we clearly see very differently.
  90. How I learned to love them anyway.
  91. How I lost all my keys except the one to my car in a parking lot.
  92. How I lost my debit card in the same parking lot a week later (but got it back).
  93. How survival mode has just become daily mode; how I’m aching to but also dreading going back to normal. As if there is such a thing anymore.
  94. How grateful I feel for this enforced time-out that’s made me think and do and feel differently.
  95. How I learned to scream inside my heart.
  96. How our two household house has become one family, one home.
  97. How it felt to make peace with changed priorities.
  98. How I learned to embrace not knowing and find peace anyway.
  99. How I learned to walk without rhythm, which is its own kind of rhythm.
  100. How I discovered one day that I was different—in a good way—but have no idea how and am still surprised when another clue is revealed.
  101. How it feels to have another today.
  102. How it feels to have hope for tomorrow in the face of disappointment, despair, derailment, and denial.
  103. How it all feels that it happened at all—that it’s still happening.
  104. How it is.

I’ve agonized these many months trying to say all these things, to dress them up in cleverness and beautiful turns of phrase so they land with someone who needs a friend who can say “me too.” So I didn’t say anything. But it turns out I can just say them. And you know what I mean. We all know.

Honestly, just writing it down, being able to see it and feel it all in one place after so long of patchworking it together in my (unreliable) mind, is clearing the way. I feel so much better. Like maybe I can write again.

2020 is over but the pandemic stretches on. The trauma is ongoing, the plot still unfolding. I’m not sure when it will end, or if, or how. But if this neverending year has taught me anything, it’s that the God of today is the God of yesterday and tomorrow and that in my highs and lows and joys and fears He’s got it—got me—well in hand. That if this introvert can miss people, this control freak can learn spontaneity, this jaded heart can embrace childlike trust, then all that happens (or doesn’t) is okay.

One day, one prayer, one year at a time.

4 thoughts on “State of Wonder: One year later”

  1. Ellie… how do I put into words what I just felt reading this? I vacillated between “yes!! She gets it!” and “oh poor Ellie… I want to hug her” and “gosh this lady is stinkin’ hilarious!” You are clearly a soul that feels things deeply and we need more of that in the world. Never stop sharing, Ellie!

    1. Oh gosh. Those cancelled/deferred events are probably the toughest part of the last year. I know so many people who weren’t able to say their goodbyes OR hellos to loved ones or couldn’t embrace their milestones. I hope that you’re able to find satisfying, creative ways to mark them this year. <3

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