Last summer as the days warmed and my sweet 6 months old chose to spend most of her naps on me in a dark room in the summer, I began to miss many things about the summer. Not only did I have a new baby but I was in the heart of a pandemic. Looking back I am in many ways glad they coincided, but at that moment I felt pretty heavy about it all as I believe is natural. I found myself scrolling images on my phone as that baby slept on me and longing. I am not sure that was a good thing at the moment but now I see why it was part of the process. You see I saw a beautiful story as my finger scrolled my camera roll from last summer. In the moment of Summer 2019 unfolding, it wasn’t a story I could read clearly, because well you cannot read a story that is in process. The details aren’t clear in how they will all connect.
In the images on my phone, I saw a story of community, gathering, and celebrating the things the Earth had given us. You see we moved back to Northern Michigan for this story to unfold even better. Our little area of the world doesn’t just value this, but it is also the livelihood of our neighbors. This idea that the Earth gives and we move with her is not just a lifestyle but a way of thriving in this area of the world. Living and breathing life in the natural world is the essential piece to the human experience. So we celebrate when it gives abundantly and we hold each other up when it doesn’t. It is a beautiful thing to scroll my feed and see the many gatherings some shared in blog posts and social media, and some that weren’t. The evening sunlight and the candlelight with the messy plates. It is my dream of a way to spend my days.
When Covid came this world of gathering for us disappeared in our community other than in small numbers but none of the large dinners like we did before. A full night of music and food and drink to simply feel alive. Nothing fancy. Just the good things in life. It slipped away and paused for a year and in some ways more still. A loss of connection and a way of living.
As that baby slept I wept feeling the loss of a year without gatherings. I also wept for how that feeling of ease around the table would take time to feel again. To laugh loudly, to share a glass of wine, to share a passed plate, all of it. I knew that even when the pandemic started to ease that we would struggle to break the script in our heads. But what I did feel in that moment was also gratitude. I looked at those gatherings, the people who grew the food, the people who gathered at my home, the food we had, and I realized how much this is where life happens. Life is in the tiny moments for sure but there are big memories made around the table. Every great childhood memory in my huge family exists around the table. The birthday cake to celebrate my cousins all born in August. The pizza dinners on paper plates with my huge family because all the adults wanted a night off and not to feed everyone. I could think of 100 stories about the table in an instant. I could think about how some of the best friends I have made have come from lingering around the dinner table in Leelanau County, Michigan.
I spent this last year pushing down that sadness about the loss of the table. I felt thankful that one of my greatest losses was this simple thing. I felt lucky to say that, but my God did the grief still linger. At times like grief does the loss felt immense when we harvested more than we needed and instead of inviting friends over for dinner, we dropped it off at their doorstep while waving to them from outside. The distance felt heavier than I could have ever dreamed. We all know this grief in some way.
They say when we go through grief there are stages. I believe this was the denial phase. I wanted to not think about it. The images became painful, but then one day I looked at them with new eyes. Granted it was after being vaccinated and cases began dropping again, but I saw a world in those images that reminded me of how much we need to celebrate life more. How we cannot live a world with celebrations and they don’t have to be big. In fact, the tiny is as significant if not more so. We must live a life full of these moments and it can be simple but meaningful. It brought it all back to the root of why gathering was everything to my routines through the seasons.
Those images spoke a new story in my head. I could see the details with new eyes and how thankful I felt for that time and how I could write a new chapter because of that time and now this one.
That same week my parents were coming up for the weekend. It wasn’t much different than things we have done throughout the pandemic, but I decided it was worth celebrating. I stopped at the bakery and picked up special things we haven’t bought in years. I realized I had started the experimental stage of grief now. I made a menu. I picked flowers. I set the table with the good plates. The plates that my grandmother gave to me when she downsized her home. The ones that probably are worth something. I don’t like fancy things, but I began to realize why we have good plates. It is to celebrate. It is to break the norm to signify there are moments to celebrate.
That week we strung the lights on the back deck. We grilled out. We folded napkins. It was just us. The kids, my parents, and Mike but I felt it was different. We lingered over a bottle of wine under the lights till the bugs won. We felt the rush of life hush in the lingering. We lit candles. Even the air felt better that night while the crickets sang. We enjoyed this simple moment with a new perspective…celebrate what already is because the now is already amazing. The now in fact is always worth celebrating.
Since then when we have had friends over and I have applied this concept. We have spent a year and a half waiting for these moments, you better believe we are going to celebrate. I pull out the good plates or the good stemware or make something special. I trim a bouquet. I realize that these tiny acts are protests to the monotony of life or the system that makes us believe we haven’t arrived yet. This is in fact an act of self-care. To learn to celebrate our world and our life no matter what is the way we also learn to celebrate ourselves in the process as well.
I decided because of the pandemic that all of life is worth celebrating. I will always celebrate. I will always make it special because well it is and one day we will look back and see that it was more precious than we ever realized because lingering under that baby during the height of summer and the sunniest days of the years, I read a story through my camera roll that I never thought I would read. I read a story that said, life is abundant right now so we must celebrate and set out the good plates.
How are you celebrating every day? Where do you struggle to allow yourself to see the beauty and joy in the everyday? What is one way you could be doing that as we close out spring and welcome summer this month? How can we commit to that as a community?