Seeking Center After Capitol Chaos

With the upheaval of 2020 behind me, I was so hopeful going into 2021. Who could have predicted the chaos in Capitol in Washington, DC on Wednesday…yet it’s not surprising given the rhetoric that has been spewed the last five years. A few years ago after the president’s tense exchange with a foreign leader not known to be an ally, I remember an early morning commute to my day job when I looked to the sky and wondered for the first time ever, if bombs were going to start falling.

It’s A LOT to process.

I couldn’t watch the live feed of the mob storming the Capitol because I started thinking Where are the police now? Surely they’ll stop this like they did the earlier protests this year. When that didn’t happen, my next thought was Is this the moment we lose our nation, the one I swore an oath to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic?

My chest tightened, my muscles tensed, and my anxiety increased.

So I went shopping at Costco to avoid watching and I hoped for the best. But I’ve been hoping for the best for the past 50 months since the president was elected when I saw him for what he was…a failed businessman who had used the system and women for his benefit and pleasure.

When meeting high school classmates in Washington, DC in December 2016 to share the joyous celebration of a classmate’s retirement, I avoided discussions of the recent election until I could no longer. Two classmates starting talking about visiting the gift shop to buy inaugural kitsch for Christmas when the discussion turned to politics, “her emails”, and what a good job they were expecting him to do as a businessman.

“I’m not so sure,” I said.

“Well, he’ll grow into the job. I have faith,” one said.

“I hope you’re right, because you have more faith in his abilities than I do.”

Social norms have been shattered, there is reduced faith in our institutions, and a deep social divide separates our nation while Covid-19 kills more than three thousand Americans a day, the equivalent death toll of 9/11…every damn day.

Like so many Americans, I was glad to see 2020 come to an end and looked forward to a vaccinated future so our lives could return to some semblance of normalcy. I can only hope this is our darkest hour and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming freight train.

Yesterday I sought contemplative refuge walking a labyrinth. The gloomy, grey sky overhead seemed appropriate given recent events. With each and every mindful step, I focused on my breathing, the rhythm of my heartbeat, the honking snow geese overhead in their V formation, and the multitude of varied rocks thoughtfully placed on the North Dakota prairie by the Benedictine Sisters of nearby Annunciation Monastery.

As I navigated the winding path, I became aware of how similar a labyrinth is to life and world events. Each step takes you closer to the spiritual center, a goal, a more perfect union then a sudden shift finds you in the farthest ring, impatient and wondering when you’re going to arrive again.

At long last once getting to the center, you realize although you’ve arrived, your work isn’t done…but you walk out knowing you have arrived before and will again.

NaNo Month of Turbulence

This is the first time since I started writing that I didn’t “win” National Novel Writing Month, completing 50,000 words by the end of November. Being a recovering perfectionist, it was hard to let go of that goal but with pre and post-election chaos, the closing of my Michigan home, and Covid-19 numbers spiking, I figured it might be hard to focus.

In past years, I would have given up everything to avoid failure and pull out a win. Instead I spent a restorative last weekend of the month at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Western North Dakota. On the way, I visited New Town Sue (the World’s largest holstein cow) and The Enchanted Highway where the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture “Geese in Flight” stands 110’ tall, 150’ wide, weighs 78.8 tons. The meandering trip was a well needed break from the four walls and subdivision city living that I’ve come to know the last two months.

Instead of sitting in the house grinding away at a story that went to the dark side on Day 2, I chased sunrises and sunsets amid the stark beauty of the Badlands. Instead of inventing new characters, I delighted in the whimsy of a huge fiberglass cow and fantastical scrap metal sculptures that were larger than life. Instead of taking a walk on the city sidewalks, I hiked five different trails and scoped out the Maah Daah Hey trailhead for a future hike. And instead of domesticated city dogs, I relished seeing bison, big horn sheep, and wild horses in their natural habitat.

The weekend adventure served another deeper purpose for me as well. Growing up in North Dakota, I lived life small and afraid to venture outside my comfort zone. These past two months, I’ve felt myself reverting back to that person which made me sad, like I was losing a piece of myself. I needed this weekend to remind me that I’m an adventurous soul who is always learning, growing, and seeking out new experiences.

This November I redefined winning. I reconnected to my wandering spirit and got my butt in the chair writing again. Plus, there’s always NaNoWriMo 2021.

Land of the Hand

MI PalmUnless you’re from Michigan or know someone who is, it may not occur to you that Michigan is shaped like a mitten. I’d grown up in a boring rectangle state and lived for years in California, the long, misshappen left coast.

When my family moved to Michigan in 2000, we were mystified why people put their hands up to show me where they lived. I know, it seems so obvious now, but never in my 45 years had I seen anyone present a body part to describe geography.

At the time, my daughter was a high school sophomore. Having had enough of the hand, when asked where she lived before, she threw her left arm over her head, bent her elbow, and pointed to a spot about 2-3″ from her armpit on the outside of her arm. I love her quick wit and thought it was brilliant.

I’ve come to love my adopted state, but I’m still not comfortable using my hand for directions. My default is using directions and miles in relation to cities. Next year, I’ll celebrate two decades of being a transplanted Michigander…maybe then I’ll start using my hand.

Deathiversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of my Father’s passing. It’s been a year of firsts in what I’ve come to call my grief hibernation. I lost my Mother when I was 30 but that was different. I lost her to mental illness long before she walked out of a North Dakota state hospital on a frigid February day and died of hypothermia.

Pa was my rock, my go-to guy through out-of-state moves, joining the military, marriages, a miscarriage, the birth of my daughter, divorces, coming out, and finally marrying my partner. My Father fought for and won custody of my brother and I during the era where children were assumed to be the mother’s responsibility, regardless of mental state.

“Guess what I did Pa?”

He was never quite sure what I would say next, and inevitably, he would respond, “You did what?!”

Whether it was joining the Marines, skydiving, signing up to run a marathon, or getting a promotion, he was always my biggest fan and cheerleader. This was the guy who water-skied in the Missouri River for 12 straight months without a wet suit so clearly I was my Father’s daughter.

Last01
Pa bought this personalized plate for his last new car. It’s a bittersweet reminder that he was the last of his siblings to pass.

My Pa had prepared for his passing by writing his own funeral service and obituary in 2008. After writing them, he called each person he listed as pallbearers, asked them permission to include them, and then proudly read them his newly written obituary. To say my father was a character is an understatement. He ended his obit with “P.S. If you want to put in that he loved to gamble at Prairie Knights you can, also he loved to dance in his younger days.”

 

My Father also planned for his granddaughter and I to deliver eulogies. How on earth would I be able to stand in front of an audience of friends and family and talk about his life without sounding like a blubbering fool?

I listened to the song “Dance With My Father” on repeat and boo-hoo’d my way through the days until “the day” arrived. I really wanted the eulogy to talk about what he meant to me as my Father, but I knew everyone in the room had lost someone very special to them, for so many different reasons. So this is the eulogy I wrote and read:

On behalf of the family, thank you all for coming to help us celebrate the life of our Father, Don D. Sinness (as he liked to call himself).

My Pa impacted and touched the lives of so many people and a stranger was a friend he just hadn’t met and talked to yet. He had a great sense of humor and he loved to make people laugh.

He had this uncanny ability to uplift a person’s spirit just by being present and listening. The next time he saw you, he’d focus on how you were and what was going on in your life, even though he himself was often fighting a medical battle.

My Pa had charm, character, and compassion. He was many things to so many people…a fatherly figure with support and advice, a shoulder to cry on when you needed it, a brother and uncle who loved his extended family, a compassionate ally to transgender co-worker, a fun dancing partner to kick up your heels with, the old Goat roper you loved to party and smoke cigars with, a Grandpa who loved to play 6-5-4 and made you feel like the center of his universe, a best bud you looked forward to catching up with every day, a fellow MDU retiree you could reminisce with, a guy you knew you could count on to do what he could to help if you were having trouble, a loving partner and caregiver to his wife of nearly 45 years.

To us, his wife, kids and grandkids, he was our Rock of Gibraltar and we will miss him terribly.

One of the last things Pa said to me was “It’s time for you to be a brave Marine now.” Pa, it sucks that you’re not here anymore but I’ve got this. Thanks for being my Pa.

Father. Grandfather. Rare Gem.
My Rock. Confidante.
Love You Much. Miss You Always.

90 Years Loved

img_1915Last weekend I spent five days with my extended family in North Dakota. I’m always relieved to come home to Michigan this time of year because the weather never seems quite as bad as the frozen, windy North Dakota prairie.

My Aunt is now the matriarch of the family and the sole survivor of her generation. As my cousins and I celebrated her 90th birthday, I wondered how it was possible we cousins had gotten so old. With a 15 year spread and the oldest cousin being in his mid-70s, I’m the only one who isn’t retired.

Seems like yesterday we were chasing after our kids, yet in the blink of an eye we’re the grandparents, the elders. When you’re raising your family, the days seem endless but the decades fly by all too quickly.

When I was 18, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of North Dakota. Now reflecting on the many trips I’ve taken over the decades to return to my Dakota roots, I am the person I am because of those roots.

Work hard. Love much.