Covid Memorial Project

I signed up for a slot to participate in our Covid Memorial Project.

The Covid Memorial task?

Mindfully, meditatively count 1500 stones as you place them into a jar. They represent lives lost to Covid in the United States. Then, place the jar of 1500 stones on one of the benches in our Peace Meadow.

I could tell you so many things about my church, this project, and the Peace Meadow, but you can find information in the links I included. This is an account (and accountability) of my personal experience as a participant.

I love this memorial project for many reasons. I stink at meditation. I knew right away that this was the perfect meditative project for me, because it involved movement, I didn’t have to sit still. I would be counting, sorting, filling my jars. I’m grateful to those who conceived this project.

I also love the project because, in this endless era of pandemic and political helplessness, I have something I can do: honor those we have lost.

Breaking the rules

I read the instructions on the table: count the stones into the jars, then carry the jar to the Peace Meadow. I deviated slightly, but I felt comfortable deviating towards comfort because, if my church does one thing well, it’s accept and allow for difference.Piles of dead stones

Instead of counting into the jars, I counted into piles of ten, much like I would count out coins when I collected and sorted coins, triggering pleasant childhood memories. I lined the stones up in columns of ten. I sorted 15 columns of 10 piles of 10 pebbles for one jar with mostly my dominant hand and fingers, then I moved to the other side of the table and counted out piles of 10 with mostly my left hand.

Spur of the moment decision.

I’ve been writing ten lines a day with my left hand for a few of months. My left-hand writing (left handwriting?) has improved a bit, but that’s not the point. I’m trusting the process to trigger something within. The shift resembles, for me, the walks along the same route but the opposite way. When I make the loop through my neighborhood or through the farm fields the “opposite” way, I see different parts of homes, notice different trees and structures. I feel a difference. Sorting the stones for the dead of Covid with my left hand gave me pause. I felt the loss from a different angle.

This is for me.

Counting complete, I placed my two jars of stones on the benches, took some photos, looked for angles. I don’t have anything special to share except that these stones represent real.

People I know are represented in these jars. The jars only hold the dead. I’m not sure my church campus could contain all those who have suffered and survived.Tears in a jar of stones

I don’t expect to change hearts of deniers, convince doubters, or corral troops around a cause. But I can do this. I can honor those we lost. I can be mindful of those who suffered and survived. I can hold up my child and his partner as they recover from the disease, my parents as they receive their vaccines. I can use both my right and left hands to embrace the losses and challenges. I can commit my restless body to an hour of remembrance and prayer.

As I took a few photos, I noticed some jars held condensation. I prefer to see these drops as our collective tears.

May those who were lost and have suffered loss during the pandemic be healed and remembered by our collective tears, by our mindfulness, by our commitment to do better, be better, and be present for each other.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021

The flow: I’m here for it.

Sometimes I side-eye my neighbors with envy when I work on my yard. One neighbor’s yard is mostly concrete and structures, no trees. The other yard is mostly grass, just one tree interfering with the flow of the mower. My yard is a tangle of spaces, the pond by the patio, the tattered greenhouse and giant philodendron in the middle, the fire pit, palm trees, the picnic table, pines, gardenia bushes, vegetable and flower beds, fig trees, the hill in one back corner, and the decrepit shed in the other. There are no straight paths for to flow the mow.

Crooked paths

I’ve never taken straight paths and sometimes I side-eye those who do with a little envy. The straight path seems much easier when I’m in the thick of a bush yanking at Virginia creepers that have climbed twenty feet (Virginia, please come collect your creepers and take them home).

I don’t hate my crooked paths. Most days, I love them. They’re organic, mysterious, and, in unexpected moments, healing.

My crooked paths are complicated by my disinclination to domestic tasks. I delay the exhausting, thankless tasks like trimming the edges of the lawn or chasing the dust that collects on the surfaces of my home. Why bother when a week later the edges are ragged and the dust has collected again? Some might judge me for it, but, even as an adolescent, I am happiest sitting in my sacred space, exploring, dreaming, delighting in the words, in the markers and colors, in the creative opportunities before me.

The neighbors’ yards are disciplined, controlled. Easier to maintain. The space might seem beautiful and peaceful on days when I drag my mower around impossible edges and swear as I yank weeds from the fence, but they don’t feel sacred to me. Where’s the whimsy, the fun, the flow? I hope the neighbors have more fun than their beautifully kept yards feel.

Disciplined control versus organic flow

My life is a testimony to going with the flow. I could spin my story many different ways.

  • She didn’t have any backbone, so she just stumbled from one thing to the next.
  • She let the flow of life lead her through beautiful years of education, relationships, and careers.
  • She could never make up her mind.
  • She is good at taking care of what is before her and dealing with chaos.
  • She never planned for the future.
  • She lived in the present.
  • She’s lazy.
  • She’s creative.
  • She’s undisciplined.
  • She’s free.

It’s all true.

If “flow” conjures for you images of water, you’re not alone. Imagine all the waters. The slow, mighty river; the babbling brook; the ocean’s gentle swells; the crashing waves; the dark, quiet lake; the puddles of rain; the deafening falls. All of the water metaphors, even the ones that contradict each other, are correct. There is truth in all of them.

The two metaphors that speak most strongly to me lately are going with the flow (everything I desire is downstream) and standing in the stream as the waters of time, of life, wash over my feet (always water, yet always different). But when do I let go and just float with the flow and when should I stand? Or maybe I just allow the flow to take me, oars up, dropping my hand in the waters from time to time to test the waters, guide the flow? Yes and yes. It’s everything. All the metaphors. All the things.

In the flow of 2020

After flowing between worlds for a year and a half, moving back into our home when Steven returned from Puerto Rico in January, I stopped, stood in the stream, to take inventory. Then came the pandemic, for which we all stopped to asses our situation.

This year, as we shelter in place, I stand in the stream and know my experience is privileged and comfortable. In March, I dove into programs that nourished me. I showed up for myself every morning, to write, to explore, to dream, just like that young girl I remember. In my reduced Covid19 world, I took care of things in front of me: the pond I started three years ago, the garden beds that were unkempt for two years, the novel I started twenty-five years ago, the Tweet-story launch I conceived three years ago. I took a crooked, organic, undisciplined path to tackle my projects, but I finished them. All of them.

I’m here for the flow.

What’s next? I’m not sure. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s deal with what is right before you. But mostly, to trust my intuition. I’ll know when it’s time to stand and time to float. That divine gift of intuition will guide my hand to the waters when it’s time.

What’s next is whatever else 2020 drops along my crooked path. And when I face it, I’ll know what to do.

Some days, this might look like bouncing from this to that. If it’s dusting or mowing, that’ll be true. But most days, I’ll be mindful as I commit my energy to a new project, to my circles, to work, to social justice, and to lifting up. I’ll find my place in the flow of this dissonant year. I’ll find my voice in the lessons of this turbulent flow. My path will be organic but, with the luxury of youth behind me, mindful, disciplined even. I stand mindfully in the rough bed of 2020, unsure when and how to show up, but ready. As I surrender to the stream, I dip my hands into the water to guide my path downstream, going with the flow but no longer drifting.

La Fête Nat (Fireworks in France for me?)

Bigger, harder things may be ahead, but what’s before me today? My birthday! And I’m here for it.

I showed up for my quiet time this morning. What’s before me now? The maddening backyard, which I mowed in my flip flops and a sundress because it’s my birthday and I can. Covered in clippings and sweat by 8 am, I asked, What’s before me now? This will be my mantra. What’s before me now? 

I’m going into this new trip around the sun mindful, flowing, and grateful for all of the waters, all of the experiences that have flowed through and enriched my life.

Thank you for all the wishes I know I’ll receive from phone calls, cards, emails, texts, and on social media. Please accept this heartfelt wish in return:

I hope on this day you feel the flow, whether you’re standing in it as it cools your heels or whether you float and flow with it, downstream. May this flow fill you with joy and delight.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020