During the Time of the Exile for the Good of the Realm

Yesterday’s walk: The green hill to the right of the photo is the end of the currently-unused landing strip for our former neighbors’ ultra-light. Just to the left of that, in the break between the trees, is the path onto Goldfinch Farm, down into the holler to home. The green path ahead of me (to the left) winds through the neighbor’s ridge-top fields to their farm. I like to walk partway down those fields and back.

I suppose that technically our self-isolation begins today. No church tomorrow. No school for two weeks. Someone whose handle is @Sarkor posted a lovely social media thing yesterday, encouraging people to think of it not as “self-isolation” but as “Exile for the Good of the Realm.” I am taking that on with gusto, while also keeping an awareness that for many people this is an extremely difficult time.

Now is the time to keep our eyes on our neighbors, to check in with working people whose children must stay home, to check in with elders who will be even more isolated. Such care we must take in these days, such deliberation. We wash our hands and we meditate on hope and on goodness. We check in with those for whom this exile is costly, and we wash our hands again.

My up-the-road neighbor works in healthcare. Maybe I will wash my hands and bake her some break this week and leave it at her door. What about our neighbors whose livelihoods depend on People Showing Up? I was glad to hear one of the speakers in the PA governor’s address yesterday talk about buying gift cards from local small businesses to use when we’re back out in society. Also, we need to eat. We will wash our hands and get as much of our needs from Flinchbaugh’s and Sue’s, the local farmer’s market and small grocery, in the coming days, and to Jillybeans Sweet Shop, a marvelous little bakery in Wrightsville. And then we will wash our hands. I might wash my hands and go get a coffee at The Cycle Works’ coffee shop. I’ll maintain exile and precautions as much as possible, while doing my best to support those around me who depend on People Showing Up.

Also, let’s use this time to make our social media spaces places where people can feel connected and involved, places where we can help each other through our isolation and distance. Let’s share photos and poetry and stories. Let’s manage our anxiety so that we can express our worries without Feeding the Fears. That’s easier for me to say this morning than last night, when I was comparing my feelings of direness to the way I felt on 9/11. That’s a little how it felt: out-of-body unsettled. Let’s keep connecting to the deeper rivers of joy and satisfaction and memory and gratitude that carry us through difficult times, and let’s help each other find those rivers.

And here, on the farm, I will relish the introverted time, the time with the boys, the burgeoning spring, the cat cuddles, the sunrise and the birds calling. As someone who gets wobbly and rudderless without a schedule, the promise of daily school tasks in this work-at-home environment is a welcome diversion. Last night, we saw a daily schedule someone had made for student-people during the Exile. My younger son immediately constructed his own. I am going to make my own, looser, schedule, to include several hours of focused academic work, time exercising and being outside, time for art and making things, tidying time, limits for myself on screen time (while also giving myself a bigger breathing space for blogging/writing).

If you, too, are in Exile for the Good of the Realm, I wish you peace, joyful contemplation, productive work, and moments of satisfying connection with others through computer or phone. Let’s look out for each other. If it gets to be too much, reach out to someone. (If we’re not friends on Facebook, you can look me up there, and check in–I’ll give you a virtual high five and we can help each other to breathe through this.)


Gratitude List:
1. GREEN! The chickweed is up and vibrantly glowing with green life force. The highway medians and fields are shining with verdancy.
2. Blue: The speedwell is up, and parts of the yard are carpeted in blue. And the sky is the shade of a robin’s egg.
3. Coming to Terms. I acknowledge my anxiety. It sits there in the room like a large bear waiting to be acknowledged. (Welcome, Friend. Let’s get to know each other while we are here together in Exile.) If I ignore it, my imagination makes it so much bigger and scarier, but if we sit and have coffee together, we can figure each other out a little bit. This is a time to practice living with that particular friend and learning how to recognize her.
4. While I recognize that this time is really challenging for many people, the truth of the matter is that two weeks of being at home on the farm with the kids and the cats while having structured work to do each day is close to ideal for me. I am grateful.
5. Puzzles. Last weekend after we had brunch at Cafe 301 to celebrate Jon’s birthday, we went down the street to the Re-Uzit shop, where Jon bought several little puzzles. We’ll enjoy putting them together over the next couple of weeks.

May we walk in Beauty! Be safe. Be well. Keep connected.

Advent 19: The Value of Being Seen

by Gustave Doré

At the public school where my ten-year-old son is in fifth grade, the principal has taught the students the South African greeting, “Sawabona,” which translates to, “I see you.”

They respond, “Sawabona sikhona.”

“Because you see me, I am here.”

I have a friend who simply tells me that in English, usually when we’ve had a deep and meaningful conversation. “I See You.”

I feel Seen.

Just yesterday, I had a moment of feeling Seen. While much of my demeanor is heart-on-my-sleeve, I have my masks, the little disguises I wear to cover and protect parts of myself that don’t feel safe to reveal in certain settings. It was a little thing, really, but it opened up a tiny nest of calm in a place where belonging can sometimes feel a little tenuous.

It was only a book recommendation, offered in a quiet moment. But it felt like a gift, a way of saying, “I See You.” Not a tearing off of my mask, but a nod to the truth beneath it.

My masks are part of the shadows that I am exploring in these days of walking into darkness. Every shadow that I cling to has its purpose, its protection, and some I must release into the light when light returns, but others protect vulnerable and tender selves, make it possible for parts of me to move and flow in social circles. I’ll shine my little light on these protective shadow-masks here in the labyrinth, but keep them in place, and be glad of the people who know even these little parts of who I am.

Some of our masks keep us from being seen, being known. The protection becomes solid armor and the shadow takes on tangibility, beyond their need to protect, instead keeping people away, keeping people from knowing who we are. I have students who are wrapped up in their protective shadows with such care that they appear almost invisible.

The gentle work of tending to these quiet souls needs not a harsh and blinding light, but the golden glow of the little candles we’ve been nursing in this walk through the labyrinth. Let’s be a safe and nurturing circle, where we can look someone in the eyes and say with words or glance: “I See You.”


Gratitude List:
1. Being Seen
2. Something is lifting. Today, I feel the little animal of my spirit is lifting its nose and sensing the coming Sunreturn. Instead of two more days of walking into darkness, I feel two more days until Sunreturn, and that feels like a big inner shift for me.
3. Foxes. Yesterday I read the page on foxes to my students from my advent book, All Creation Waits. (If you are reading it too, I am a few days ahead, because I want to read them the Christmas reading on Friday.) And this morning, I was sifting through a deck of inspirational cards I keep near me, and today’s character, synchronously, is the fox. All the senses tuned. Ears cocked. The mystery of inner knowing.
4. Chocolate. Yesterday, I sort-of-but-maybe-not-quite accidentally listened to the hearing on the radio. After only a little while, I was in desperate need of chocolate, and my beloved obliged.
5. Anticipation

May we walk in Beauty!