{ letters from quarantine : “remember” }

Dear Ams, It’s me, your former self, writing to you from quarantine but with the benefit of hindsight. You’ve been on furlough these past sixteen weeks, and you’ve discovered a lot, but furlough is just about over. You head back to work in just one week, and I know you’re carrying the weight of worry… Continue reading { letters from quarantine : “remember” }


{ uncertain reflections : day 12 }

What are your character strengths? How can you use these strengths in your current situation?

I am empathetic. It’s not hard for me to get inside the experience of others in a given moment and comprehend their possible emotions, motivations, thought processes, and needs. This is really helpful when someone does or says something that could be taken as hurtful or difficult to digest. And this can be really helpful right now because it keeps me from judging others harshly when they do or say (or don’t do or say) things that could be troubling within the specific circumstances we are facing right now. It also helps me be a source of comfort and consolation (I hope!) to those around me who are hurting or fearful and simultaneously allows me to celebrate with those who are celebrating something right now.

I am very dialed-in to nuance—both in circumstances and in people. I don’t need everything or everyone to be black or white. I see the myriad shades and tones and hues of all the colors in between, whether they exist distinctly or are mottled together in some degree of mixture. This is helpful right now because it allows me to make space—both for myself and for others—for change and shift and process. It keeps me flexible and fluid, instead of rigid and unchanging. It allows me to be patient and peacefully cohabitate with the in-betweens, almosts, not-quites, not-yets, and I-don’t-knows (for a while, anyway), which is pretty much all we have to work with right now.


{ uncertain reflections : day 11 }

Ten things you noticed so far today . . .

  1. The blossoms on the dwarf apple tree appear to be pink, not white, but I could have sworn they were supposed to be white!
  2. I have a sudden urge to clean out my car, and since I’m not driving kids around right now, I might just do it.
  3. The grass in my back yard is looking particularly luscious today.
  4. The baby maple tree my landlord planted last year is budding! I think this is the first time! But then again, I thought the apple blossoms were white, so maybe I just missed last year’s budding.
  5. I am losing less hair in the shower and when I style it, and the thinned places have lots of baby hairs. Maybe the treatment I’ve been under is finally working.
  6. The handle on one of my favorite mugs is starting to break off the body of the mug. Sad!
  7. My work sweater needs washing. I’ll do it tomorrow after work. That way it will stay clean.
  8. Today I had the urge to journal for the first time in months.
  9. The peach tree blossoms didn’t last very long, and there weren’t as many as I remember in past years. I hope that doesn’t mean there won’t be as many peaches.
  10. One of my succulents is getting droopy and I need to re-pot it.

{ uncertain reflections : day 9 }

Describe your favorite place in nature . . .

I thought about writing about the Adirondack State Park in upstate New York where I spent a semester twenty years ago living, camping, and hiking—in the winter. It’s a deeply special place for me; I love it—and miss it—dearly. Or I might have written about the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, where I grew up; they are part of my heart roots. I also thought about the lake in Minnesota where I spent every summer of my adolescence; it was my safe place—and my Minnesota family was my safe haven—during a season of life marked by unremitting trauma. Or Prince Edward Island, where I long every day to live. But I think my most favorite place in nature has to be my own yard.

I live in a basement apartment, so my “front” windows look out onto the back patio and yard. I love sitting on my patio in the mornings (once it’s warm enough) and staring out at the lush grass, the baby fruit trees, and the brush at the back property line that hides a creek, a shopping center, and numerous rabbit colonies. I love to watch the towering cottonwood trees sway in the breezes, their leaves rustling and dancing against the blue sky. I love the peace I feel here despite the traffic sounds coming from the highway three houses away. Sometimes wild turkeys will wander through my yard from the nature preserve located across the interstate a half-mile away. Or baby rabbits will venture forth into the yard; if I’m quiet, they will sometimes come right up to the edge of the patio. Squirrels play in the trees nonstop, and the birds never stop shipping. One time I even saw a mouse trying to pick an apple from the dwarf apple tree! And there is a family of robins that nests on the supports under the deck above me. They come every year, and I love that they always build their nest in the exact same spot. I have never been anywhere else (except maybe Prince Edward Island) that has made me feel so peaceful and settled and home as right in this little spot, and honestly, when I need to get outside, it’s the first and only place that my soul longs to be in.


{ uncertain reflections : day 7 }

People who always seem to make things better . . .

My pastors. Somehow they always say the right things to me—even when it pisses me off, mainly because I don’t want that to be the right thing to hear in the moment. But once I get past being pissed off, I don’t just know the rightness of the thing; I feel it. Feel it deep in my gut. It’s settling, even when it’s hard. They also know just when to pat my shoulder, give me a hug, offer to pray for me, or just check in because I was on their mind. They are tender, attentive shepherds and they reflect my Good Shepherd to me, and that always makes things better.

My therapist. She is the safest person I know. It’s her job to be so, but she also takes every opportunity to let me know it is also her delight to be so. She cries with me, but she also cries for me in moments when I or others should but don’t, or won’t. She stops to make space for acknowledging or celebrating things big and small that deserve a full-stop kind of notice. And she’ll just acknowledge and then let it soak. She hugs me after every session because she knows I need hugs and might not otherwise receive one that week, or that month. She lets me be broken, and that always makes everything better.

My friend Kelly’s babies. They see me and break out into smiles that take up their whole faces—gums bared, eyes squinted, grunts of delight, drooly bubbles, and all. Or they fling their arms around my neck and declare, “That’s my Miss Amber!” and squeeze with all their might until you can’t tell where my cheek ends and theirs begin. Or they come running to greet me at the door and tell me all about their sports or dance class or toys. Or they ask me to read them books with all the voices, or cackle and howl with laughter when we are silly at bathtime. They just bring their love and delight, and nothing sours it, and it brings me back in touch with the things that matter most of all. And that always makes everything better.

Anne Shirley. She transports me, and in so doing she grants me permission to daydream. And to hold on to those daydreams. She sees the beauty in the poetry and the prose of life—even in the heartaches—and she grants permission for grown-ups to hold their childhood selves close and sit and listen as they ramble through their dreams and hopes and wonderings and observations and theories. Doesn’t matter how wild they are, they matter enough to hear, and by drawing us back to them, she makes everything better too.


{ uncertain reflections : day 6 }

Things that are contagious . . .

Sighs. It’s like somehow one person’s willingness to release gives everyone around them permission to do the same. Maybe they are releasing merely a breath, but often it’s something weightier, like stress, certainty, or grief. Maybe the sigh is a confession—of insufficiency, of peace, of delight, of connection with oneself—but whatever it is, you cannot be in the presence of a true sigh and fail to join in, even if you are skilled at hiding it.

British accents. Go ahead and start talking in a British accent and see if the ones you’re talking to don’t join in. I dare you.

Laughter and Tears. And their parents, Joy and Grief. They usually come as a set. We laugh till we cry, and we cry until all we have left to do is laugh. Sometimes we choose one in order to avoid the other, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t both there together. They are hallmarks of our humanity, and only those who have stopped being human can resist their contagious power.

Humanity. Even though there exist those that somehow manage NOT to succumb to being human and the influence of those who have embraced their humanity, it is still mostly contagious. We read and see and experience others being wildly human, and we are moved to do the same. That’s why it’s so vital we use our humanity for good. Because the bad kind is catching too.

Silence. It’s hard to resist the pull of Noise, but if we do, we will find the silence spreading. Eventually, the noise will noise itself out and will join us in just being. Try it sometime, instead of trying to out-noise the noise. I promise it works.


{ uncertain reflections : day 5

Things that feel heavy . . .

Air. Or maybe it’s gravity. Whichever it is, it makes it hard to breathe at times. The weight of the thing (air? gravity?) seems to settle over my lungs according to its own indiscernible fancy, and when it does, I simply have to take the air I can get and hope it will pass quickly. Before I do.

My emotional baggage. I believe I’m carting around a complete, matching set. And to all those who think it reasonable to suggest I simply choose to stop carting it around or to let it all go, I offer a few choice expletives and the opportunity to walk themselves back out the door before I toss them out. It isn’t that I’m holding on. Every piece is attached to me like a ball and chain, which means in order “to get on with life,” I must unpack them and then rip them all up. That is slow, tedious work, and it’s basically been on hold for the past year, all while more pieces are being added to the set. Welcome to my slog.

My eyelids. The last two days have been so emotionally exhausting! Even though I’m currently getting more sleep each night than has been true of the past nine months, I’m. So. Tired. Today.

The present moment. This Now. It’s packed with uncertainty and unanswerable questions that keep piling up and insisting that I wait in silence until the appropriate “now” moment arrives with its minuscule revelations.

Isolation and the disconnection it creates. Being untethered in a weightless nowhere makes your own self the heaviest mass, and any sudden movement could send you careening off into the depths of a void you’ll never find your way out of again. Or maybe it makes your own mass so heavy you’ll never move again, while everything else keeps going without you. Either way, it’s heavy. Either way, I’m heavy.


{uncertain reflections : day 4 }

Written from the perspective of the Faerie Tree outside Ball Hall on the campus of the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Something feels different, and I don’t just mean the weather. That’s been changing for a little while now, though I think my humans have not been as aware as I. They don’t seem too capable of thinking and judging from their roots, so, I’ve noticed, they often miss the early signs of the seasons changing. Their apex is clearly not close enough or deep enough. It seems a strange way to be, but they seem to make it work. Still, I’ll keep my deep roots and my nature-hearing over their mobility and speed, thank you very much.

But something else feels different. It’s too quiet here. More of them are usually passing by every hour than I’ve seen these last few weeks. In fact, no one has come to visit me or chat with my faeries. But it isn’t the quiet season yet, so I do not understand where they have all gone. It’s warmer now, and by this time, they are beginning to find their places in the field outside this building. They take their . . . books, I believe they are called . . . and their metal man-eaters and spend their afternoon hours reading and tapping. Sometimes in clusters and sometimes alone, but always many. They seem to prefer the grass over the support ledges that have been placed for them, even if they do refuse to bury their stalks. And sometimes they run and throw some sort of round disc. I like to watch that because they laugh, and it ripples on the wind through my leaves and tickles. But it also feels like an embrace.

But now they are not here, and I do not understand why they have stopped emerging and laughing and finding the sun.