de-centered cruciverbalist

At the beginning of the year, I bought a New York Times games subscription. I already have a regular NYT *news* subscription, which I used to share with BVS volunteers around the world and recently re-upped to support journalism during the pandemic (I subscribed to my two local papers, too!). But in January, after reading a few people talk about how the crossword had become a soothing daily ritual, I subscribed to the GAMES.

That might have been some of the best $20 I’ve ever spent on myself. Every morning, I print out the NYT crossword, and after I walk the dog and pray I solve the puzzle with my coffee. It’s just challenging enough – not too many DUH clues, not too many obscenely obscure ones – that it keeps me coming back for more. (This is the opposite of my current monthly Move Your Body challenge: the impossible, expanding, more-than-one-minute PLANK challenge, which is about to do me in.)

The crossword is super satisfying: one clue per line, one letter per box, each box connects to another. Solving the puzzle is the purest hit of dopamine. The work I do is very rarely measured in task completion metrics: there is no way to assess with clarity whether or not a sermon hit home, if a pastoral conversation addressed deep needs, how following a hunch about the Holy Spirit’s leading for the life of a congregation is going to pan out. Can you imagine handing someone a satisfaction survey after you’ve prayed with them in the midst of great trauma or great joy?

The sure and certain crossword rules are such a relief. The thrill of *finishing* one is a delight.

Yesterday, my friend Carynne – who knows I’ve been in training toward becoming a cruciverbalist – sent me this article from the Washington Post about how the crossword industry is undergoing a reckoning. “What’s common knowledge,” the article asks, “and who gets to decide?” It turns out that when people other than white men create crosswords, people other than white men see themselves reflected in the puzzles. One crossword constructor, Brooke Husic, talked about how creators cue the word “bra”:

“To me, it’s so obvious when someone who doesn’t wear a bra and has never worn a bra includes bra.” She specifically cites past clues such as “It makes the torso more so” or any variation that includes “uplifting” and counters with a clue from one of her recent puzzles: “Item often not worn while working from home.”

In February, the NYT featured Black crossword constructors for Black History Month. I noticed the clues (about Marcus Garvey, John Lewis and Cardi B), and also felt the disconnect that some [white] players complained about. There is, it turns out, a lively crossword community of people whose interest in the puzzles borders on obsession, a community that the article’s author suggests might make for a good television show like The Queen’s Gambit. I will binge watch the heck out of that show.

And like so many other parts of our American society, white people got mad about being de-centered. In the crossword puzzle. They called the Black History Month puzzles full of “obscure” and “alienating” clues. White people sure are whiny, aren’t we?

Drew Hart talks about de-centering like this: imagine that we are all in a group together and whenever we meet, I stand on top of the table in the center of the room, while all the rest of you sit in chairs around the table. Every time we gather, I’m standing on top of the table in the center while everyone else is seated, down below. It happens every time, and we all sort of grow used to it, even though it is absurd, bizarre, and clearly involves seriously messed up power dynamics.

Now imagine if one day, someone in the group finally decided to ask me to come down from standing on top of the table and, instead, choose a seat here around it with the rest of you. Huh. Of course, to me it feels like being demoted or discriminated against: I have always been up here in the middle! But in reality, the move from the tabletop to the chair is just getting all of us on more equal ground. It is correcting what has been wrong for so long. It’s actually good for all of us for me to quit putting my dirty shoes on top of the table and take a seat there, next to you.

Without intentional attention and invitation to change it, whiteness is centered EVERYWHERE in America. Our nation is built on the premise of white supremacy. It’s not just in the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, it is also in our classrooms, our congregations, and our hearts. It is even, it turns out, in our crossword puzzles.

I loved this article, because it made me examine a tiny little blip of awareness that I’d had when I solved those Black History Month puzzles. “Huh,” I thought. “This puzzle has a lot of sort of strange clues that I don’t know the answers to. I’ve heard the name Marcus Garvey but I don’t know anything about his headwear. They must have got a newbie in to create these puzzles if they’re too hard for me to solve. I don’t really like this one. I think I’ll take note of who made it and just be ready the next time I see their name to expect not to like the puzzle.”

All of that happened subconsciously, on a Sunday morning before I’d finished my coffee. I wasn’t even quite conscious of it as it happened inside my own head, but all of my assumptions about how I – a white crossword puzzle solver – should be centered, how the puzzle should cater to me, how my comfort was the most important part of this endeavor – were active and operational. Even though I barely noticed them.

This article made me pull out that barely conscious script and examine it. “OH! I was uncomfortable because I was being de-centered. In the crossword puzzle. Tricky! I was being asked, as I solved that puzzle, to get off the table and sit down where I belong, in a chair alongside everybody else.”

This is what de-centering feels like. It is uncomfortable. It often makes the formerly centered people SUPER MAD. Like, unbelievably mad. As in, mad enough to not just write an angry letter to the NYT crossword editor, but mad enough to pass violent laws, support torture, and drag decades old practices of hatefulness out from the dumpster to give them new life.

But the discomfort of getting de-centered is GOOD. It is something to lean into. It is worth holding up, examining, and learning about. It’s an opportunity to ask ourselves where the assumption that we should have been centered came from in the first place. It is an invitation to enter into more honest, more mutual, more equitable relationships.

And that invitation can come from anywhere – even the daily crossword puzzle.

one year

Last March 12, I emailed my church leadership to suggest that we cancel that Sunday’s potluck given the weird news about COVID-19. Over the course of the next few hours, things got more intense, our council chair talked to her epidemiologist daughter, and by that evening, we’d decided to move entirely online for “at least the next two weeks.”

That was a year ago.

In my initial email to the Coordinating Council, I wrote: “I sense myself becoming a bit anxious about unknown possibilities and want to be sure that we take wise precautions and care for the most vulnerable among us. What do you all think?”

I found that thread by searching “potluck” in my email – easy to spot, since we haven’t had another one, since.

By that point, I was becoming more than a bit anxious. I was freaking the fork OUT. I called my sister, tried to explain the magnitude of what I was feeling and how the world seemed like it was ending. Always the practical one, she asked what there was I could do about it, if the world was actually ending. I started tracking my activities daily, to keep a log of potential exposures. I thought, then, that someone who could confirm that they were fairly isolated might end up being able to serve in ways that other, more compromised people could not. I thought, then, that we would launch war-time efforts to keep everyone safe. I thought, then, that there would be opportunities to join forces and pitch in and work through the crisis. It felt like the beginning of every apocalyptic, dystopian novel I had ever read.

In a lot of ways, I was right. This has been horrific. It has been an apocalypse – a word whose actual meaning is “a revealing, an uncovering.” But I was also very, very wrong: in America, we did not join forces, band together and work in tandem to get through the crisis. Instead, those of us with safe and privileged homes locked ourselves into them and allowed those without that safety to get sick and die.

Of course, this is not entirely true. Thousands and thousands of people have been leaning in, working together, doing good, curative, healing, problem-solving work. My own congregation, bless them, has had our common life deepened in completely unexpected ways over the last twelve months.

Leadership decided early on that we would keep worship online as long as local case counts were above a certain number, and that clear, data-based, early decision has saved us time and time again. We worked to find an online platform that fit our congregation’s needs. We planned monthly outdoor gatherings to make sure we all really did exist from the neck down. Over the summer, we completed our discernment process and joined the Supportive Communities Network, becoming publicly affirming of LGBTQ siblings. Moved by the Black Lives Matter movement, we dug into our own racial identities and the whiteness of our congregation and followed the Spirit’s movement into self-reflection, repentance and joining in God’s justice. We launched THREE licensed ministers from our congregation into ordain-able calls. We grieved, we rejoiced, we welcomed new members, our online worship services led to the highest average attendance in at least 15 years. We called new leadership in 2021 and have more people involved in guiding the ministries of the church than at any time since I’ve been pastor. This week, we’re sending hand-painted greeting cards to local nursing homes, working to implement a fantastic Healing Racism mini-grant project focused on sharing anti-racist kids’ books, practicing visio divina around Lenten art with our neighbors at the local Methodist Church, planting new groundcover on the eroded front lawn, AND applying to join an intensive, two year program to understand how racism has shaped our community and our congregation.

All of this during a global pandemic when we haven’t met for in-person worship in one calendar year.

I spent a lot of the early parts of last year utterly infuriated with all the ways that my colleagues and fellow Christians were simply refusing to alter their worship practices and, in the process, contributing to the spread of the virus and the persistence of the pandemic. I am still unimaginably angry about that, especially as I have watched congregations and church leaders continue to resist change even after their gatherings have sickened or killed people they love. I have tried, for an entire year, to understand the motivations for this behavior. I have mostly failed.

I know that my congregation is tiny and connected to reliable internet service and generally technologically adept. Even the oldest members of our congregation jumped into online gatherings with a super short learning curve. I know that we have agility that other congregations do not. I know that this contributes to our choices.

And I am still baffled at the lack of creativity, the insistence on continuing deadly worship practices, the ways that the church has not only refused to adapt but also been stiff-necked, selfish and ornery about being “forced” to act in the interest of others.

In ecumenical contexts, my congregation is not beyond the pale. The conversations I have with local and national colleagues from other traditions are similar: as things begin to loosen and risk diminishes, how will we return to in-person gathering safely? What do we need to grieve after an entire year of this kind of adjustment? But in my own Church of the Brethren district and denomination, we are among the minority of congregations who have foregone in-person worship all year. Conversations in those contexts are not helpful; they mostly make me wonder how I will continue to work alongside these colleagues and siblings who have made choices that are so vastly different from my own, balanced on a calculus that I do not understand and, on my worst days, I judge as explicitly harmful.

It has been an apocalypse: uncovering so much about who we thought we were and where we thought we belonged. Revelation is good and healthy and can move us toward richer, deeper, more liberated life. And it can also feel like being scrubbed raw, torn apart.

if you have a garden and a dog

Six or seven years ago, I started thinking about how I wanted to live a life that had room inside it for a dog and a garden. I was traveling a LOT (between 1/3 and 1/2 my nights were spent in places other than my home in any given year), and the stability required for either a pet or a plant was just out of reach.

library’s always been covered.

When I moved to Durham five years ago, I was still traveling a lot. But I really wanted a dog. I brought Franny home on February 1, 2016. Halfway there.

inseparable.

The garden part has been harder. I’ve lived in tiny apartments with no ground of my own. My friend Lauree has an entire YARD of a garden, and every now and then I got to help plant tomatoes and eat fresh figs. But my life just didn’t quite have room for a garden in it.

I know *nothing* about gardening. My grandpa Bobby had a gigantic garden when I was a kid, and I have sensory memories of planting half-runners in long, long rows and snapping beans to be canned on the back patio. At the Manassas Church, one of the first things I encountered at my interview was David Hersch tending the community garden. I planted a few things there, over the years, and mostly let David grow them.

I haven’t ever had the joy and responsibility of tending an actual garden – the planning, plotting, planting, pruning, the worrying over early frosts or threat of deer. There is an entire universe of wisdom and knowledge about how plants grow and how we humans can help them that feels massive, mysterious and also something that should be natural and built-in.

Last spring, I started volunteering at the Parktown Food Hub Garden. It is just down the road from my house, connected to a vibrant local ministry, and run by friends. Almost every element of the garden – from the ground to the seeds to the compost spread over the beds to the raised beds made from old shipping pallets – is donated or reused. It’s maintained by Lisa and a host of volunteers from all over the place in Durham.

I still don’t have a garden of my own, but I am part of one. And it is actually better, this way. I don’t have to know everything. I get to learn so much.

Right now, I’m starting basil and arugula and squash and zucchini and tomato seeds out on my tiny patio, to eventually be transplanted into bigger, broader homes in the garden. I have high hopes for these seed babies. I hope they sense how many people will get to be a part of their life over the course of the next few months: the people at ACE Hardware who donated them to us, the kids who decorated their current paper-bag homes, the rotating set of volunteers who will plant and tend them once they’re safely in the ground, the neighbors who will receive their fruit in the weekly food distributions at the Food Hub later this summer.

I still don’t have a life that is big enough for a garden. But I have, somehow, stumbled into a garden that is big enough to incorporate my life into its. Thanks be to God.

thank you. i believe you. i trust you.

I did something I never do the other day: I wrote an email to a well-known journalist whose work I follow. I’d noticed them lifting up a particular, kind of problematic group as a lauded example several times and just wanted to share my discomfort that they – a writer who I deeply respect – would be endorsing this group whose local reputation is…less than morally pristine.

I never do this, but I really appreciate this writer’s work and the third time I cringed after seeing them endorsing this group, I opened up my email and wrote a short note of appreciation and critique.

The writer replied, within hours, to say: “thank you for making me think more about this” “I believe you,” and “I trust you.” And: they CHANGED THE PART OF THEIR PIECE that I had asked about. Within twelve hours.

I was amazed that I could just…write an email to a famous writer and that they would just…respond. I was bowled over by the content of that response. And, after years of attempting to name and question problematic power dynamics in church contexts, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor that the immediate response to my inquiry was “Thank you. I believe you. I trust you. I will change this thing immediately.”

Over the years, I have raised questions about damaging power dynamics with pastors, church boards, denominational bodies, district executives, and official committees assigned to investigate ethical boundary violations. I have never – not once – received this kind of response. I have never – not once – been THANKED for being the one to point out how people were being hurt. I have never – not once – had a situation of harm addressed so swiftly; most of the time the situation is simply NOT ADDRESSED AT ALL.

I am filing this famous journalist’s response – to me, an unknown stranger showing up in their inbox – for future reference. How should we respond to someone who brings a legitimate concern that our work might be harming others? “Thank you. I believe you. I trust you. I will work to fix this, immediately.”

serve each other through love

Every week in worship, my tiny congregation shares our joys and concerns, and we pray about them together. Yesterday’s sharing included a LOT of joy: birthdays, work wins, bodies healing, the power of vulnerable sharing, and vaccinations.

One person shared that since they’d recently been fully vaccinated, they were able to give blood, volunteer at vaccination clinics and help out at the church workday, all in one week. It was, they said, the most satisfying week they’d had in a year.

There is a lot of conversation around what will change for us, both individually and collectively, now that vaccination campaigns are ramping up and being out and about is becoming safer. Folks are talking about when they’ll eat inside a restaurant again, when they’ll feel comfortable traveling, whether or not work-from-home will continue to be an option. I have barely begun to imagine post-pandemic life, even though my own personal time-table is now set at a short, six-week window. I know I want to hug my family, wander Target aisles more leisurely, without the 15 minute timer ticking in my head, and write a sermon in my favorite coffee shop (or, at least on their patio!).

But what if we began to think about post-pandemic life in more collective ways, like what we’ll be freed to do *for others* or *together*? The joy of being able to serve shared in worship yesterday was a helpful re-framing invitation. I realized that once I’m fully vaccinated, I’ll feel much more comfortable volunteering INSIDE at the Food Hub and not only outside in their garden. I started making a list of people from church that I want to schedule in-person pastoral visits with – probably still on porches and patios, but in person nonetheless. Maybe this summer will bring opportunities for me to show up at community organizing meetings or collective actions – things that I had felt a little wary of one year ago, but feel compelled to get involved in, now.

In addition to planning our joyful summer barbecues and picnics, finally freed from the isolation of the last year, maybe we can also start to think about what we learned and how we can put that into practice. Freed to start showing up, again, let’s be intentional about how and where we do it – not only for the sake of risk mitigation but also for the sake of mutual survival.

More people are hungry now than they were one year ago: how can we show up to address that problem? More people are in poverty than were one year ago: how can we show up in ways that support economic justice? People are lonely and struggling: how can we re-gather in ways that nurture spaces for honest vulnerability and genuine community? Our country’s political system is a MESS: how can we work together toward creative alternatives?

I am looking forward to eating inside a restaurant again. But I am also deeply convicted that the newfound freedom of the fully vaccinated is also to be leveraged into real, tangible change so that none of us will have to live through emergencies alone, isolated and abandoned ever again.

“You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love.” (Galatians 5:13)

so tired of being so angry

Ooof. I walked into a church fellowship hall in Raleigh yesterday and a retired nurse stuck me with a dose of Dolly Parton’s COVID-19 vaccine. I cried all the way home with relief and catharsis. Then I got deeply, deeply angry. Again.

I am so angry at incompetence, selfishness, ignorance and what has felt – for the last year – like a collective shrug of the shoulders in the face of urgent emergency. I am working on tracing this anger to its root, and I am working on putting it to good use. It is very, very slow going.

Here’s what I do know: I can’t just choose not to be angry. This deep well of rage is not something I can dismiss or ignore. I think anger is good. It keeps me from despair. It makes room for the truth, as awful as the truth might be. It prevents me from reverting to the place where I was allowed to be blissfully unaware of the pain and grief of the world. And it keeps me alert to people and places who are acting with compassion, clarity and competence.

But I can’t live here in this state of sustained rage forever. I’m tired of being angry, tired of being presented with shiny new reasons for rage on a daily basis. I want this anger to be fuel, not poison. I want this rage to be met with receptivity and not disgust, companionship and not condescension.

I am still so angry. Are you?

extra gentle and extra kind

Thanks to friends sharing opportunities, I have an appointment tomorrow afternoon to get the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. With all the requisite hemming and hawing and ethical complications (why should I get a dose when others in so much more risk don’t seem to be able to get access?!), I am SO FORKING RELIEVED.

Now, there is a personal timeline: first shot tomorrow, second shot the day before Easter, full immunity by mid-April. The timeline means that I will get to go see the exhibit of Egyptian mummies at the North Carolina Museum of Art while they’re in town. It means that my congregation might actually be able to worship in person sometime this summer. I can visit people in the hospital again, and meet people for pastoral lunches and do my in-person job actually…IN PERSON. It means that I can go to the beach with my fully vaccinated parents to help my dad celebrate his retirement. It means so much, and all of a sudden, the SO MUCH is coming into focus.

Bringing the relief into focus also brings the grief of the last year to bear. Seeing a clear path forward gives us permission to see with clarity the path behind us, too. Given the opportunity to imagine living day to day without being focused simply on survival opens up space for all those pesky and energy-sucking emotions that we’ve put on pause all year long.

I’m not a therapist or an expert in trauma responses. There is plenty of better analysis and advice than I can give, but here’s my amateur, pastoral take: we’re going to need a lot of time and space to recover from the trauma of this year. Even more so than in the middle of the pandemic, we are going to find ourselves crushed with postponed grief and delayed trauma responses. As things begin to open up and safety feels more certain, our systems are going to take advantage of the extra brain and body space and lift up all the difficult emotions that our focused-on-survival selves didn’t have time or energy for over the last year.

I’m feeling it – as soon as I scheduled that vaccine appointment, I started crying. I have had no energy for productivity all week. I tried to set aside blocks of time this week for long-range visioning in both my jobs, but as soon as my schedule cleared and I sat down to do some planning, I started crying. All that was there, when I tried to gather my wits about me to think about the future, was grief and exhaustion – a full years’ worth.

If I am feeling this enormous weight as someone who has weathered the last year in the safety of my work-from-home, financially-resourced life, imagine the weight of those who’ve experienced compounding traumas of grief, tornadoes, evictions, job loss, exacerbated mental and physical illness, lack of running water, or daily being on the frontlines of pandemic triage. Collective grief is wild and wily, and we are in it.

So, I’m trying to slow down and make more time and space for all that overdue processing – for myself and for others. And I am trying to be mindful that everyone grieves differently, and my inclination to slow down and make space might be in direct opposition to someone else’s trauma processes of speeding up and digging in. Time to be extra gentle, I think, and extra kind.

small & needy

I’m reading Drew Hart’s book, “Who Will Be a Witness: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love and Deliverance.” Dr. Hart is part of the Harrisburg Church of the Brethren in Pennsylvania, and he joined the CoB’s Healing Racism initiative with a lecture and conversation last month. Click that link and listen to the lecture – you won’t be disappointed.

In his book, Hart describes a moment in college when one of his white Christian friends asked him if he would die for his country. At first, Drew didn’t understand: what do you mean? Under which circumstances? What kind of scenario are you setting up, here? But eventually, he realized that the friend was asking for an all-encompassing commitment: would you die for your country without any qualifications and for any purpose?

“My answer,” he writes, “was easy at that point – ‘Hell no!’ is probably what I said (or at least what I was thinking)…I was confused. There should never be anything that demands your ultimate allegiance as a Christian, regardless of the context and circumstances, except discipleship to the way of Jesus, yielding to the Spirit’s activity in the world, and worship of our Creator, and living life committed to loving your neighbor as yourself.” (WWBAW, p. 166)

In this morning’s devotional reading, Anna Lisa invites us into the story of Naboth and King Ahab. Ahab lusts after Naboth’s field, vowing to starve himself to death until he could get what he wanted. Ahab was KING – he had EVERYTHING. And yet he was willing to die for the next best thing that he couldn’t have. Anna Lisa says “There’s a striking correlation between lung capacity and lifespan. The clothes you wear, the way you sleep, your stress level, pollution and infections can decrease your lung capacity. Is your rush-hour commute worth dying for? What about the hours at your computer?” Her prayer at the end of the day’s reflection is “Jesus, you died for love, healing and revolution…teach me to live and die for these things, too.”

We’re all just trying to survive, right now. Avoiding death sort of seems like a wiser activity than discerning what it is we would die for. Except, for the last year, people have been making that choice over and over and over, every single day: I will die for a chance to eat in a Chili’s. I will die for my “right” not to wear a mask. I will die for one hour of sitting inside my church’s sanctuary. I will die for the honor of caring for COVID-positive patients in my workplace. I will die for money to pay the rent. I will die for a birthday party. I will die for the permission to teach my students in person. I will die to accompany my sick child to the hospital. Every one of these scenarios has come to pass over the last 12 months.

I got my hair cut yesterday, inside a salon. I’m super cautious in every other way: my only other indoor activity is a weekly grocery trip for 20 minutes or less. But a haircut – one hour every two months – means a trip downtown, an hour of conversation with my stylist who I love, a rare opportunity to experience human touch, and a tiny bit of normalcy when I look in the mirror and at my own face on those godforsaken Zoom screens every day.

I suppose, in some forms of this calculus, I have decided that I will die for a haircut. Or maybe I will die for an hour of face-to-face conversation with someone I like. Or maybe I will die for the sensation of human touch.

It’s messed up that we are forced to decide, every day – every hour – what we are willing to die for. Both Drew Hart and Anna Lisa Gross wrote those reflections before this pandemic, before the question about “for what are you willing to die” became a constant drumbeat behind each day’s to-do list. Their questions are also individual ones, but the pandemic has expanded the question to: what are you willing to kill for? Every one of these decisions has the potential to kill someone else.

I think it’s still worth asking, and answering. Am I willing to die for my hours at this computer screen? Am I willing to kill for the chance to eat mediocre food inside a restaurant? Am I willing to die for human contact? Am I willing to kill for my country?

A year ago, I would have had ready, powerful answers to all of those questions. I would have answered with clarity and hubris. “No!” I am only willing to die for love, healing and revolution. Humbling, then, to recognize how small and needy and how very much like King Ahab I am, how less-than lofty my basic requirements reveal themselves to be, how much I need other people.

every day i’m paul rudd

I’ve hit a major wall in pandemic cooking. For a year, I’ve kept myself fed with (mostly) healthy things. The Budget Bytes website and the occasional Dinnerly meal box delivery (that link will get you a free box, on me!) have been my mainstays. I try to eat a lot of veggies, not too many carbs, less meat than plants. You know: healthy stuff.

Cooking for one is not ideal in any season. Recipes don’t make single servings – they create batches of food, which means I generally cook and eat two main meals over the course of a week. That’s a lot of leftovers, and it is usually just fine. Most of the time, I like finding interesting recipes and doing the meal planning and grocery shopping. Cooking after a day spent staring at this laptop screen feels like a great break. But the last month, all of the required time, energy and attention has mostly had me feeling like Paul Rudd (in one of the greatest scenes ever to grace a movie screen):

The kicker is, though, that there is no Janeane Garofalo in the room, or anyone else, for that matter. My entire sighing, put-upon performance is directed only at myself. There is no one else to blame, here! There is no one forcing me to cook healthy meals or clean up the kitchen when I’m done. This entire cycle of obligation/resentfulness is always and only directed at myself. Exhausting.

This week, I complained enough about having to feed myself and then resenting the fact that I have to feed myself that my friend Kendra took pity on me: “Well, why don’t you go to Aldi and just buy a week’s worth of their prepared foods. Not takeout every night, and just for one week. Maybe that will give you the break you need to get back into cooking.”

And as soon as Kendra offered that option, I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders. Well, of COURSE I can do that! Aldi has fun prepared foods, too: pizza and stir fry kits, barbecue trays and frozen waffles. It was like a whole new world opened in my brain. So simple. So silly.

I went to Aldi on Monday and did exactly what Kendra suggested, and the mental space that is freed up this week has been amazing. No hours spent debating what to eat for dinner. No cycles of obligation, resentfulness & guilt about the smallest, most mundane part of my day. I’m just…opening the fridge and pulling out whatever is on top of the pile.

I know this probably sounds ridiculous to some of you, both the ones who eat this way all the time and the ones who are still leaning into pandemic home cooking with a vengeance. But it’s real. I had not realized, until Kendra gave me permission to stop, that I had been so obsessed over my own self-imposed obligations and so sunk into my own self-created resentfulness. “Hey,” she said, “it doesn’t have to be this way. Just choose this simple alternative. It will be okay.”

For whatever reason, I did not have the resources or wherewithal to grant myself that permission that I so desperately needed. I needed someone else to grant it for me.

So, hey: it’s the end of an entire year of living in a state of fight or flight. The losses we’ve racked up are enormous. The anxiety we’ve carried is heavy. We are anticipating another few months, at least, of this state of heightened awareness.

It’s okay to give yourself a break.

I have heard people saying that for months, now, but it never crossed my mind that it could mean buying prepared foods instead of agonizing over what to cook myself for dinner. So, I don’t know what it might mean for you, right now. But if you, like me, find yourself immobilized on the living room couch after work, perseverating on your dinner choices or your to-do list or your kids’ extracurricular schedule or WHATEVER it is that is binding you up in knots and keeping you hostage to the internal cycles of demand/anxiety/resentfulness…well, hey: it doesn’t have to be this way. Take the easy option. Take a break. Leave some things undone. If you can’t entirely relinquish that sense of responsibility or obligation to your boss or your family or yourself, at least try to loosen your grip on it a little. If you are anything like me, your body and brain and being will be so grateful for the relief.