One Word. (Or okay, fine. Two.)

The One Word challenge and some Real Talk about 2020:

2020’s word for me was “Up”. I knew it was the right word. I often need to keep “looking up”, and I find I am most grateful myself when I am lifting others up. But woah, was it ever a nearly impossible year to try to find the “up” side of anything.

The year began with mixing “up” my recipes, doing some tidying up and freeing up of some spaces. Then I was going “up” the Statue of Liberty, staying “up” late walking around NYC with my kids, going “up” a tier in price for some activities so we’d have a nicer experience (and not worrying about it). Using up consumables that were gifts that i had put aside for a special occasion. 2020 was looking Up!!

Quickly the pandemic set in and it was all I could do to stay “up” for my family and my students. Still I kept getting “up” every morning, and making up combinations, and rising up to the challenges even when they weren’t what I wanted. None of us wanted any of the challenges of 2020, right?

We dressed “up” for Easter anyway, and for a made-“up” substitute event to wear semiformal/formal attire, and lifted up some spirits that way. I cut up fabric and sewed up hundreds of masks. When I learned caps were needed I rounded up so much donated fabric and made up several hundred of those too. And the numbers continued to go up even this week.

We changed up our performances to outside (for one) and digital (for the other), so we didn’t have to give up on those dreams, and the kids didn’t have to give them up either. We dreamed up alternatives.

I also picked “up” some new skills this year like installing windows, editing So. Many. Videos. I gave “up” control in some good ways like letting my kid drive me home from work! We used “up” all our health flex spending (my systemic allergic reaction to poison ivy in which my arm and face blew “up”, and Mr. Catherine’s kidney stones certainly helped, even though he was “down” for the count for 38 days… yes those both sucked but I hate leaving money on the table!).

Unfortunately mixed into all that was “up”-lifting in the year, was giving “up” seeing people, giving “up” special occasions with my parents and friends, giving “up” at least some of my visions for what I wanted to create. I had to lower my expectations, and sometimes lower my standards, and sometimes my opinions of people were lowered by an action or comment or behavior. “Lower” is not what I wanted in an “Up” year.

I didn’t imagine giving “up” Mr. Catherine’s income, as his entire industry was crushed. Even with unemployment, which has been thankfully smooth and simple, there is no way to keep “up” our normal life (which was definitely not lavish to begin with). Then, we were forced to use “up” a major chunk of our savings to reside the house because of a stupid insurance issue. There’s nothing like watching your safety net in a free fall. In the year of “Up.”

(Side note: I have not spent much time since January tidying up. We live pretty much on top of each other so there’s no point. But I feel like it’s okay to give that one “up”.)

Through it all, little interactions, like zooms and text chains and social media, have helped to keep my spirits “up”. Some big and meaningful reconnections with old friends gave a huge boost, and some little comments that were probably meaningless at the time but simply conveyed understanding gave me some buoyancy so I didn’t just sink like the rock I felt like. (And not a nice sturdy rock, just a heavy one.) I am very grateful for each and every one of you who have been part of my year in ways both big and small!

Last week we found out that we had not yet received an amount of money from unemployment that is equal to about 10% of our combined income in a normal year. We knew we were feeling the stress and pinch that was the difference between what would have been and what unemployment covers. But we didn’t realize why it felt as bad as it did. Now we know. In a sudden space with some breathing room, I became aware that whether or not things like this happen in our favor, I need to trust that everything, or at least most things, will be okay.

So now it is a new year and I am ready to give up “Up.” And these two words have been competing for top billing: Trust, and Breathe. I have been realizing over the past month or so that one needs the other, and vice versa.

When things have felt “down” at times in the past year it usually coincided with moments of frustration, feeling stuck, or unable to control an outcome. I need to Trust that those things will work out. I need to Breathe and just let them be until they do. Not everything needs an action or reaction. Sometimes it’s just… time. And that may not feel okay but it IS okay. They might not be great, or good, but as Mary Poppins said, “Enough is as good as a feast.” We have enough. Breathe and Trust.

My kids are in remote school this year for many reasons, but in all honesty it is largely because I learned something about myself— I don’t Trust other people to do the right thing. And I can’t imagine a world in which a child of mine cannot Breathe. These are two things I’ll be working on in my core as things eventually open up. Trusting sending my babes back out into the world. Breathing and awaiting each time they return.

We will all Breathe easier when our loved ones are protected. So as the vaccine is distributed I need to Trust the process and know we’ll all be together in time. Gah, there’s the time thing again. Patience will surely guide this year too.

And, today, I know that for so many reasons we can’t take Breathing for granted, not in a pandemic, and not in the world. Nor can we take for granted our ability to Trust the institutions put in place to protect us. I hope to hear and see my privilege as these words Trust and Breathe may lift and challenge me, but are not unattainable to me.

A couple of months ago, for no particular reason, I played the atmospheric music from a meditation app in the background while I was (probably manically) checking off my typical to-do list. Every so often, I became aware of it playing and it reminded me to take a deep breath. I don’t pause well. In 2020 there has been a LOT of pause. But I do not pause. I do things. I make things. Constantly. I invent projects for myself when none exist, I make small things into big things, and I distract myself with bigger things or tangential things. But that day I got a little more oxygen, and I felt a little more trust in myself that I could face what needed to be done, and maybe that helped me trust that the universe had what I needed. Maybe.

So, for 2021…. I am choosing two words instead of just one for my One Word challenge. Trust and Breathe. Because they are intertwined, because I need to work on them both, and for them both to do their work on me. (And not at all because I can’t make decisions.)


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