• Sarah Ratermann Beahan

COVID-19 Chronicles #2

Lately, I keep reading articles and social media posts that outline the myriad of ways people are suffering right now: parents are exasperated, elders are lonely and afraid, another well-loved restaurant has closed their doors, new mothers are grieving and scared in what should be a time of celebration.

I’m generally empathetic to a fault. Being with feelings, others and my own, is how I connect to the world. The way I understand is not through analysis but through emotions.

This week, though, my empathy seems to have taken flight. I feel callously impatient with the stories. I feel my eyes narrow when I read responses to the crisis that feel entitled or tone deaf. And every time I hear “well, everyone is dealing with this differently” or read memes full of platitudes about how we’re in the same storm but we’re not in the same boat, I want to put my fist through a wall. Is that supposed to encourage me to feel compassionate or shame me into behaving better?

Maybe all this raw grief and fear in the collective consciousness is seeping in. Maybe I’m tired and my reserves have been tapped.

Or maybe I’m grieving.

Regardless of the taproot, my grieving is not quiet or detached. It’s loud and it’s angry.

But I did not intend to sit down to write about how angry I am. I did not sit down to write about grief. I wanted to write about joy. Because we seem to feel guilty for feeling any sense of joy right now. As though if we acknowledge the joyfulness that might be a side effect of pandemics, collapsing economies and self-quarantine, we might gaslight the hardships.

I don’t want to gaslight anything. But I do want to see both sides.

I am Marie Kondo-style jettisoning parts of my life that don’t give me joy.

I haven’t worn make up in six weeks. And while I never had a “put my face on” routine, I did like a little mascara, some eyeshadow and a little lip. Eyeliner from time to time. This despite the fact that mascara makes my eyes itch and lipstick feels cakey no matter what brand I try. It feels liberating to show up to Zoom meetings and classes and happy hours with tired eyes, blemishes, age spots and all.

I only wear clothes that feel comforting: soft flannel, worn t-shirts, my broken-in jeans, yoga pants, sneakers, bras without underwires.

Short fingernails with dirt around the rims give me as much joy as the manicured ones.

My big, unruly curly hair is giving me so much joy right now.

This is a monumental shift. When I was in my twenties and moved from St. Louis to Seattle, a friend was horrified that I’d adopted the Pacific Northwest dress code of fleece and clogs. I loved fleece and clogs. I felt at home in them. She nominated me for the show What Not to Wear. As much as I’d have enjoyed hanging out with Clinton and Stacey, I was horrified that I was such an eyesore. The little inroads I’d made into feeling comfortable with my own appearance fizzled. I was back to juggling what made me feel good with what the world thought I should look like.

Now, after six weeks of staring in the mirror at an unadorned face, watching curls grow out in any which way and caring only for what makes me feel comfortable rather than what is flattering or in style, I am seeing someone else, and I like her. I’m accepting that my hair will grow in grayer and recognizing that my belly might pooch more on this side of forty. That it feels so much easier to just be me, a forty year old woman carrying about ten extra pounds, with sunspots on her cheeks and worry lines on her forehead. And nice strong shoulders and pretty blue-green eyes.

That gives me a lot of joy.

This is also not meant to be a blog about giving the finger to hair dye and make up and workout routines. Or some schtick about being comfortable in our skin as middle aged women. That has a place, but it’s not here.

I just mean, can’t we find joy in all of it? In the beauty and the ugly, the grace and the hardship? Rather than either or, can’t it be and?

Here I’m getting fired up again.

Rage shows us our boundaries. Anger reminds us when we’ve been violated in some way. Maybe my fury is about an unwillingness to go back to or to even want to go back to the way things were. Maybe I want to be able to say that I like this better. That there are parts of me that are so much happier in this new normal.

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