Glue & Ballast

I am wondering how many people out there are feeling a bit broken these days. Whether you are parents, teachers, child life specialists, essential workers, or caregivers, whether you live alone or navigate relationships and conflicting needs at home amidst the pandemic, are there times when you feel — well — certainly not at your best?

Monday was a day like that for me. I was following my typical morning routine that involves prayer online with the Church of the Heavenly Rest. I settled onto my couch and lit a candle while my laptop booted up. I signed into my email and clicked on the Zoom link for the video connection …… and all I got was an ERROR message. Thank God I was quickly able to find a workaround. I dialed in with my phone while I reached out via email to Lucas, the program organizer at the church, and simultaneously tried another browser. I was into the service in a minute or two. You would think that I might feel accomplished at this feat of multitasking, but here is the thing. Even though I was functioning and problem solving in real time, I was also bawling my eyes out, with all the unleashed vigor of a toddler.

And I cried so hard that there was no way I could turn on my video or microphone once I got into the service. I think I scared my dog too.

Since the pandemic began, I have only missed one service, and that was for a medical appointment. Amidst the tears yesterday, I was struck by how dependent I’ve become on the routine and comfort that morning prayer provides me: the reverend Matt’s steady, soothing and cheerful presence, the stalwart group of parishioners, who, like me, show up every day, helping one another carry our collective burdens and celebrate our joys. The predictability of the liturgy.

In that brief moment of disconnect, I felt panic at the thought of not being able to join in the service. The panic was followed by a crushing wave of grief, all out of proportion to the situation, but greatly indicative of the accumulated losses of these past 5 months.

The misery of the moment didn’t dissipate. It sucked and pulled at me like quicksand for most of the day. It wasn’t until late afternoon that the despair began to lift. But I can see the seeds of recovery planted throughout the day, some even in the midst of my emotional tornado. The kindness and speed with which Lucas responded to my distress. A chat with a friend midday. In the early evening, another daily ritual, FaceTiming my parents. Our conversations are as predictable as liturgy – we share the highlights of the day, whether or not my folks went for a drive to their local farm, or my dad went for a walk. We ask one another what we are having for dinner, I ask what wildlife they’ve seen, and my dad tells me a bad joke that he saw on the internet and memorized just for me. My mom busts my dad’s chops for hogging the phone, and then joyously exclaims, “There you are!” when he turns the phone her way so that she can see me.

These conversations are the glue and ballast that hold me together.

But there’s more to it. After I wished my parents a good evening, a friend called me and asked if I could spare some time to listen to her about the hard day she’d had. While I listened, nursing a cup of tea, I remembered what Matt had said earlier that day, that when people are struggling, they don’t always need advice. Sometimes, the listening, the gentle witnessing, and just asking the right questions is the way to go, so that our loved ones can access the answers within themselves.

Later in the evening, the phone rang again. This time, it was a child life colleague seeking some support as she prepared for a radio interview. After we discussed her plan of action, she went on to share some great stories of how she has been using Loose Parts to help hospitalized children make meaning out of their medical experiences. When I hung up the phone from these conversations, the change in my mood was nothing short of remarkable. How could it be, that during such a low day, when I felt so beaten down and miserable, the universe could make such good use of me? If loose parts are what children need to make sense of their suffering, it seems that encounters with others, be they friends, colleagues, family or strangers, can serve as our loose parts. Our mutual conversations and witnessing can bring solace, perhaps a shift in perspective, and sometimes even an answer or two. The amazing part is that we don’t have to be at our best to show up and make a difference.

I have a porcelain angel who has knelt in a state of constant prayer on my bedside table since I was a small girl. She is somewhat worse for wear, battered, stained and the tips of her wings broke off years ago. But she brings me comfort every night.

It’s not just how others shore us up when we stumble. It is how even in our brokenness, we can be the glue and ballast for others, and in doing so, burgeon our own healing and open our hearts to the presence of a love beyond our understanding in the midst of our suffering.

For your listening enjoyment, click on the link below.

Blackbird by the Beatles

Wonders of The World: Hope & Resilience Amidst a Pandemic

Camp Klicek, Malejovice, Czech Republic

Playing at a Distance

As a consultant working with the child life team of Sabara Children’s Hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I am so grateful to be in close contact with them during the COVID19 crisis. I meet regularly with the clinicians online to discuss their work with children and families (currently they are working at a distance, as they are sheltering in place). In order to support their challenging work during the pandemic, we have spent the last several sessions together participating in creative arts activities, such as the ones I have been blogging about. Today, we did one of my favorites, Wonders of the World, adapted from Rebecca Carmen’s Helping kids heal: 75 Activities to help children recover from trauma and loss. As we play together via What’sApp, the team benefits from the parallel process of participating in a relaxing, inspiring activity which they can then bring to the children and families in their care.

Shizuoka University, Japan

Activity Instructions

Introduction:

The Wonders of the World activity is meant to instill hope and resilience in children and adults who may have difficulty picturing their lives beyond the walls of sheltering in place. It has been used with hospitalized and traumatized children and teens for the same reasons. Sometimes it is hard to imagine our lives beyond the present situation. It can be a challenge for us to move our bodies when we are leading a more sedentary existence. This activity is a great way to get us up, moving, and interacting physically when we do a life-sized body tracing. More conversation and joy tend to occur when we do it on the larger scale, but it still has therapeutic value and is enjoyable when done on a smaller scale with the outline of a body on drawing paper.

I have conducted this activity with nurses, hospital play specialists, social workers, psychologists, hospital administrators, and children in the Czech Republic and Japan. Thank you to the Czech and Japanese students and professionals in the photos.

Materials

  • Drawing paper with body outline (Links to an external site.) or butcher paper on which to trace your body, should you decide to do this with a friend or relative. Participants can also be invited to draw their own body outline on a piece of paper.
  • Pencil/Pen
  • Crayons/Markers/Watercolor pencils/Paint

Instructions:

You can use the body outline provided, or on large butcher paper, whiteboard (or sidewalk chalk if you want to do it outside!), have someone trace your body. The body tracing can be done lying on the floor/ground or standing against a wall.

Tokyo, Japan

Decorate the body outline with facial features and clothes.

Imagine your life in the future outside the pandemic quarantine. Then draw/paint the following items on the outline or anywhere on the paper that seems appropriate:

  • What you want your eyes to see in the future
  • What you want your ears to hear in the future
  • What you want your nose to smell in the future
  • What you want your mouth to taste in the future
  • What you want your heart to feel in the future
  • What you want your hands to do or make in the future
  • Where you want your feet to take you in the future

Activity Tip

  • Consider playing music in the background to accompany drawing (kid’s choice), maybe a childhood favorite.
  • If a participant is reluctant because they feel they cannot draw, encourage them to pretend they are an artist.
Jess in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Reflections

The sharing out is one of the best parts of this activity, both during the artwork and after.

Today, Jess shared: “When I imagine what could happen, I think of my friends all at the bar – so here we all are hanging out at the bar. I am missing my muay thai. The classes were in the middle of the process of my self perfection. I want to go to the beach and the sand and to smell the smell of the beach. The wave represents things coming and going.”

Dora in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Dora shared: “I put different colors for different feelings and senses. I want to be in nature, because when we go out now, it is just buildings and concrete. I want to hear the wind in the palm tree. I am listening to music a lot. It helps make the days more light. Here is a bird singing. I would like to hear news about a cure for COVID, so I put medicine here. I want to see landscapes, the Christ the Redeemer in Rio, because my best friend lives there and I won’t be able to be there now.

I want to smell the wet ground after rain. I would like to eat the cheesy bread of my grandma, a very special recipe. I would like to feel myself with all things that make me feel safe. We aren’t in a safe context right now. I want to touch things and people and hugs, touching things without fear. My feet want to go to the sea and the sand, and I also put paths to different routes and ways to walk without fear and with freedom.”

Leandro in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Leandro shared: “I think like a kid. At first I was doing philosophy, and it was too hard to think of big ways to change the world because I am so tired. But then, I tried smaller concrete things, and it was easier. I would like to be in nature now and to eat vegan cheese bread and good coffee.

My feet are on the beach between the water and the sand. My hands hold an electric guitar because that is what I want to hear. My eyes want to see the forrest and to smell the forrest – the trees and the green.

My heart is a yin yang because I want to feel good things, but I understand that it doesn’t happen every time. I understand the balance of the good and the bad. “

Thank you, Team Sabara, for doing such great work all the time. You inspire me.