• Sarah Ratermann Beahan

COVID-19 Chronicles #3

COVID-19 Chronicles #3



The updates from my corner of the world:

  • I wore pants with a button 4 times this week. Perhaps it’s an unconscious desire for normalcy, or concern that after not wearing them for weeks, I might no longer fit in them. Not to worry! The button still buttoned, so despite everything else being upside down, I have pants that fit.

  • I have continued to resist cutting my own hair. It’s a daily battle that I’m waging with myself, though usually laziness wins out over vanity.

  • Despite the unseasonably cold temperatures in east-central Minnesota, my arugula and kale and peas continue to poke their arm out of the dirt and I saw my first hummingbird of the season. Both of these things give me hope.

Speaking of hope. I’ve been thinking about hope.

1.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters. I was matched with my Little Sister when she was about 15 and I was 24 or 25. She was truly an amazing young person: thoughtful, creative, smart—but not just schoolbook smart. She was smart about people; she could see from perspectives outside of her own, and she could intuit how people around her were navigating the world.

At the time, I was moving through a divorce, trying to find my footing in the world again, and feeling a little bit like the world was upside down. I was trying to come to grips with the fact that I was a twenty-five-year-old divorcee; despite the fact that I’d initiated the split, I was also deeply ashamed to find myself in such a predicament. I remember thinking that she might be more “together” than me. Now, when I look back, I’m certain she was. She knew herself, and what she didn’t know (and there’s plenty we don’t know at fifteen), she patiently and determinedly sought to find out.

I moved to Seattle during her senior year of high school. I was still trying to find my way forward, in fits and starts, U-turns and with the occasional broken axel. We’ve stayed in loose contact over the years, through my multiple moves across the country and her young adulthood. She graduated from high school and college and got married. We reconnected on the phone when she lost a parent, and we trade texts on birthdays and holidays. Facebook helps a little.

This weekend, we talked on FaceTime for the first time. I got to “meet” her family, and she has quite a family. She has two (yes, two) sets of twins, ages 5 years and six months. She and her husband work full time, and I swear she’s a super hero. She, like so many parents, is clinging to her sanity by her fingernails, feels like a hot mess. From where I sit, she is doing it with the same grace and resilience she had when she was fifteen.

2.

Later that afternoon, Brian and I drove out to my friend Moses’ farm to pick up spinach and arugula (and, it turns out, radishes and onions and lettuce). We spent an hour walking through the hoop houses, green houses and fields. Moses showed us his homemade mole snares. He pointed out an egg of unknown origin that sat in a grassy nest on the ground that he’d protected with a coil of wire. He spoke of the hawk with whom he has a “symbiotic relationship.” The hawk appears when he gets on his tractor and flushes the black mice from the fields, the same black mice that are gnawing on his irrigation lines. Hawk gets dinner. Trumpeter swans from the neighbor’s pond flew overhead.

Brian and I pointed out the trees we’d have played in and the places we’d have built clubhouses when we were kids. I felt an honest to goodness urge to crawl under the low-hanging branches and do just that. Not because I want to hide, but perhaps to create a sanctuary, the place where we got to call the shots when we were kids. The adults got the big houses, we got the clubhouses.

3.

I tried to make sourdough bread the other day. I’ve been cultivating a starter for weeks, using it here and there to make crumpets and pizza dough. Truthfully, I have been intimidated by the breadmaking process. The recipes suggest processes and equipment that I am unfamiliar with, weighing ingredients, special dough scrapers and baskets for rising. But I found myself unexpectedly free for an afternoon and I decided, what the hell. What am I losing besides my time and some flour? This often how I operate: a long period of worry and contemplation, and then, when I can’t stomach my own neurosis any more, I leap in with both feet, preparation be damned. It’s how I decided to make my many moves, to get remarried…but those are other stories.

I mixed and waited, folded and waited, folded and waited, covered and walked away. I had two balls of dough and one Dutch oven, which meant baking had to happen in shifts.

The first loaf emerged from the oven flat as a pancake. If I’d been making biscotti, this loaf would have been ideal. But I was trying to make crusty, pillowy sourdough bread. What I had before me more closely resembled a frisbee.

I was disappointed. I’ve been trained in the art of succeeding on the first go, which to say that my schooling has long rewarded getting the right answer as quickly as possible. I did not quickly or efficiently get this right.

I know, though, that getting it right isn’t necessarily the way we learn best. I had to talk myself out of tossing the remaining dough ball in the trash. I read about sourdough and rise, I deduced that my old Victorian house, chilly after a recent cold snap and my staunch refusal to turn the heat back on, was too cold. So, I found a warmer spot, let the second loaf do a little more rising. After baking, while far from perfect, it was at least edible.

I’m proud of that. All of that. The bread, sure. But the fact that I didn’t toss it in the garbage, that I stuck it out. The beauty of time and patience and willingness to keep trying.

There’s something about watching things grow, you know? Your friends, your garden, your farm, your bread. There are millions of setbacks: late spring snows, optimism that comes from inexperience (read: putting my cauliflower in too early?) and the freaking global pandemic. But we’re learning, we keep tenaciously and resiliently learning. I’m still learning from my little sister, from the cycles of nature, the magic that a little moisture, warmth and sweetness can produce.

All this reminds me of when I was about ten and trying to build a treehouse. The treehouse consisted of a couple of boards hammered into the trunk of a tree to assist in reaching upper branches. When the boards loosened and fell, we found more wood and hammered in more boards, or simply got more skilled in our climbing. Perhaps this week I’ve found a bit more of that childlike determination to simply pick up, dust off and begin again.

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