Tag Archives: gifts

I Will Miss The Pandemic

Photo by Barbara A. Besteni

Nearly 16 months after it began, the pandemic prompted by COVID-19 shows signs of loosening its grip on what we once called normal and allowing us to return to how we once were.

But do we really want to go back? Do we want to retreat to the comfort of what once was and risk losing the possibilities of what can be?

A pandemic is defined as an “event in which a disease spreads across several countries and affects a large number of people.” Finding a cure for that disease is a noble cause. However, to “cure” a disease by forgetting it existed is to plant the seeds of its return. And once it does, it can be deadlier than it once was.

If we look beneath the surface and consider COVID-19 as a symbolic representation — a metaphor — of the challenge we call life, we find the cure for the virus known as living.

Hidden within the challenge of that virus is the whisper of its cure. But are we disciplined enough to quiet our minds and pay attention to the still, silent voice within that is patiently waiting for us to listen to its cry?

The new normal awaits

Once vaccines became widely available, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifted the mask mandate for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the world moved one very big step closer to “normal.” And while this brought much joy and celebration, it comes with a huge dose of bittersweetness, one that even a spoonful of sugar won’t counteract.

The normal we are now entering is nothing like the normal we once knew. Hopefully, many of the habits we adopted to keep us and our loved ones safe from COVID-19 will stay with us long after herd immunity has been reached.

Regardless of where in the science vs. conspiracy theory side of the aisle your opinion on the virus and the world’s response to it fall, some things should stick around post-pandemic.

Things like:

  • Curbside pickup: Nothing quite compares to dining inside a restaurant, but there’s a lot to be said for popping your car’s trunk and having someone put your meal order inside. Not having to get dressed for the occasion is like eating dessert before dinner.
  • Instacart grocery deliveries: Enough said.
  • Sanitizing surfaces, especially when dining outdoors: You don’t realize how much dirt is still on a table at your favorite restaurant until you’ve wiped it down after your waiter “cleans” it.
  • Making sure our hands are clean: How many times did you sing Happy Birthday during the past 15 months?
  • Working from home: It doesn’t get much better than this.
  • Unexpected visitors during Zoom meetings: Cameos of cats, dogs, and humans in pajamas reminded us that important work meetings lose their importance when the Zoom squares on your screen utter a collective “Awwwwwww!”

These things might stay with us post-pandemic, but unless we remain vigilant, others are in danger of fading into the distance, making us forget the gifts living in quarantine brought us.

The gifts of quarantine

Although living in quarantine had its share of challenges, I chose to look at the opposite side of those challenges.

For example, making sure my 93-year-old mom was well taken care of and entertained was a struggle, to say the least. But praying for those who were kept from their parents and families because of the inability to travel or because the places where they were living forbid them face-to-face human contact, kept me thankful and humble.

I may also have temporarily lost the ability to socialize with friends, but I got closer to my immediate pack of family members, the people who will stop whatever they are doing at a moment’s notice to make sure I am well cared for — and for whom I will stop at nothing to do the same.

I learned to appreciate the meaning of home. Coincidentally, or not, I was at Miami International Airport ready to board a flight to Buenos Aires when we went into lockdown. I never left Miami. I could not be more grateful for having made that decision. 

Throughout the pandemic, I laughed harder than I had laughed in a long time. I mean, seriously, when nature calls while you’re out enjoying a drive through the empty streets, and the closest thing to a public restroom is a porta-potty left behind by a construction crew, you have no choice but to get creative. I now know of at least a half dozen places in South Florida to do your business outside without the risk of being seen by a security camera. 

I learned that bras, shoes, work clothes, and most of the items in my wardrobe are not necessary. Combing my hair is an option that can be left for Zoom calls. And if I can’t get to a comb in time, saying my computer’s camera is “acting up” is an acceptable excuse.

I learned that staying in on a weekend night, alternating between binge-watching and napping through the Netflix series du jour and eating takeout right out of the box, is a luxury I will never be able to live without.

I experienced small-town living in a big city; no people, no chaos, no distracted drivers to run me over during my morning bike ride.

I discovered the beauty of masks – because when all you can see are people’s eyes, you are blessed with a glimpse into their souls. 

On the lighter side of the mask mandate, now that I have a facial covering to go with just about every outfit I own (thanks to my life’s traveling companion), I’m finding it difficult giving up this wonderful fashion statement.

I also continued my journey into the road less traveled known as sobriety. (You can’t drink socially if you’re not socializing.) It was a road that began with a 30-day no alcohol challenge nearly 900 days ago, and one on which I have chosen to stay.

While so many people struggled with addictions or chose to drink away the pains of the pandemic with a glass — or six — of their adult grape juice of choice, seltzer with lime was — and continues to be — my go-to beverage.

COVID-19 may fade into the background of history, but like any great teacher, the lessons it taught us, and the gifts it left behind, will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Sharing those gifts with others is the greatest gift of all.

It’s the one time re-gifting is not only an option, but a necessity.

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Filed under Alcohol, Barbara Besteni, COVID-19, Pandemic, relationships, sobriety, spirituality, Uncategorized

Painting Mary …

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She was looking kind of ragged.

Her royal blue robe was anything but majestic. Her feet were dirty. Her face and hands were worn. Her pedestal was chipped, and her heart was broken.

It was time to fix that.

Fourteen years ago, Mary had been rescued from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina by my father-in-law, a man whose rough exterior poorly hid the gentle soul who was capable of the detailed work required to revive Mary.

Mary, who had traveled 801 miles from Kiln, Mississippi, in the trunk of an Acura TL to our home in Miramar, Florida, to grace a corner of our yard and protect us from Hurricanes Wilma, Bonnie, Rita and countless other mini-natural disasters that had littered our neighborhood with downed trees, broken roof tiles and left us in the dark for days.

Mary, who, six years ago, made the move to our new home with spectacular sunsets in western Broward County and has shielded us from the ravages of Hurricane Irma and (and now Dorian) and the creatures that call the Everglades home: snakes, frogs, raccoons, alligators, and humans who prowl through our neighborhood at night, unafraid of the hundreds of security cameras watching and recording their every move.

For years, I joked that nothing bad ever happened around our house because Mary was protecting us.  But I was only half-joking. Her body was a warehouse of miracles waiting to happen. The storage capacity in her 2-feet, 9-inch frame could put an Amazon fulfillment center to shame.

But Mary was looking worn and tired.

She was still creating her miracles each day, but she needed a fresh coat of paint. We had gone as far as buying the paint and brushes, but they had been sitting in the garage for what seemed like forever, waiting for someone to move “Paint Mary” up on their to-do list and finish the job.

But that someone never seemed to raise their hand to say, “I’ll do it.”

Meanwhile, Mary was sending signs that she wanted to shine a little brighter. It was as if her never-ending storehouse of strength was charged by appreciation, love and care, as much as the humans she protects depend on a little bit of reinforcement every now and then to keep them motivated.

But I didn’t pay much attention to the signs. That is until Mary’s insistence became a little louder.

I had never seen a snake in my yard in the six years we have lived here.  My neighbors see them all the time but not me. I spend a lot of time outside, so by now, I should have seen my share of them.

A few days ago, I walked out my front door and right there, out of the corner of my eye, just inches from me, was a 3-foot-long southern black racer. That was about three feet too long for me, despite Google’s assurance that it was harmless and useful for keeping insects away. (I’ll take the fly swatter, thank you very much.)

Then there was the frog in the garage. (Anyone who knows me, knows that even the tiniest fake frog makes the hair on my body stand like a full-body Mohawk haircut spikey enough to be classified a weapon.) I had turned on the light to put something in the recycle bin, and there it was, all cute and cozy (to some people) and smiling at me. The fear rose from my solar plexus and turned into a blood-curdling scream that sent the frightened froggie out of the now open garage as I ran inside to monitor its departure through my security cameras. (I digress, but I assure you, I’m not making any of that up.)

Finally, there was the guy standing in our front yard with what looked very much like a rifle when we came home a few nights ago.  We made it inside safely while the guy disappeared to who knows where. The police nonchalantly dismissed it as a neighbor out shooting iguanas because “that’s legal now, you know,” but it was Mary’s loudest sign that I should pay attention to her.

She wanted to shine again, and sooner rather than later.

But who would paint her?  I was absent the day God gave out painting talents. So, I scratched my name off the list and went about the business of finding other to-do lists to conquer. But the paint cans sitting in the garage were too much of an eyesore to keep ignoring.

“Hey, Barb. Why don’t you paint me?” Mary whispered.

I looked around, and the smiling face of the frog in the garage popped into my memory.

“OK, Mary,” I’ll give it a try if you promise to hit the delete button on that frog vision from my brain,” I responded.

And so, I opened the paint cans, tentatively picked up a brush and trusted Mary to guide me, just as I trust the Muse when my hands hover over a keyboard and a blank page on my Macbook and the words flow like water from a broken dam.

Mary was restored to her shining glory.

Three days before South Florida was placed in the cone of Hurricane Dorian, I placed Mary back in the corner of our yard that she calls home.

My little statue was once again ready to pour her love and miracles on those willing to believe in her and trust her guidance.

It was a reminder that sometimes all it takes is a little “paint” and patience to make someone’s day brighter … to bring out the love hiding beneath an exterior that has been dulled by life’s elements.

Is there someone in your life who needs “painting?” Grab your brush of kindness and bring back the brightness that time has eroded.

And don’t be afraid to color outside the lines.

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Filed under hurricanes, spirituality, Uncategorized, Wisdom

God, Gifts, Guilt, Gratitude …

The Sunset After The Storm

Sunset at Barbs – May 16, 2018 – Copyright 2018 Barbara A. Besteni

“Be careful what you ask for because you might get it.”

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the world to her theory of the fives stages of grief in her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying.

I was 10 years old at the time, high as a kite because my favorite baseball team, the New York Mets, had won the World Series. My prayers had been answered.  All was right with the world.

Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – were as foreign to me as grief itself.

Joy, however, was all around me, and I devoured it with the reckless abandon of a wildfire hungrily consuming everything in its path, without question, without fear, without guilt, without regret.

Then, suddenly, I wasn’t 10 years old anymore. Overnight I became a teenager, a young adult, a grownup.

And the joy I once experienced at the gifts God placed at the table of life before me became burdens, joys I didn’t deserve. Guilt entered the picture to further suck the pleasure out of the gifts that I had once accepted without question.

Life became serious.  Sadness entered the picture as people I once considered invincible and immortal left this world to continue their spiritual journey.

It’s as if grief had swooped in and snatched the joy right from under me.

I still believed in joy, in answered prayers, but I got used to not having those prayers answered.  I think it happens to most of us.  It’s part of the human condition we come to accept as we “grow up.”

We are still disappointed when we don’t get what we ask for, but not as disappointed as we had been when we were children and our expectations were higher.

But what happens if, as adults, we pray for something and we do get it?

Now we’re entering into let’s go batshit crazy territory.

 

Instead of accepting it as a gift from God, we often reject it. Sometimes we cautiously open the gift wrapping, peek inside the box, and shut it closed.

Is it because it seems too good to be true?  Is it because we’re guilty that others don’t have what we are given?  Or is it because we don’t think we’re good enough to deserve the amazing gifts life places before us every day?

Could there be five stages of accepting the answers to our prayers … even if those answers are not what we expected? Or worse!  They’re better than what we expected!

Consider this:

Stage 1: I want this. Please, God, I want this more than anything else in the world, and if you give it to me, I’ll never ask for anything again.

Stage 2: I got what I asked for – Ooops, God answered my prayer. What do I do now?

Stage 3: Guilt – I don’t deserve this. “Hey, God, take it back.  I feel worse now because a gift like this should really go to someone who is like, say, Mother Teresa, not someone like me who sits in front of a computer all day editing copy and writing random thoughts in a blog.” (OK, so maybe this blog entry is just a bit biographical.)

Stage 4: Sabotage – “You know what, God? I’ll sabotage your gift to show that I’m not a selfish person. I know you gave this to me as a test to see if I was humble enough to deserve it.  So, here, take it back.  Did I pass the test?”

But no matter how hard we try, the gift doesn’t seem to go away.  In fact, God keeps wrapping it up and giving it to us over and over again, no matter how many times we reject it.

That’s because God’s gifts are unconditional.  We don’t have to do anything to deserve them.  And if those things for which we pray are in line with Her Will, if they will further Her love, then we only have one thing left to do when She answers our prayers.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Don’t judge the gifts.  Just say “Thank you,” and move on.

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