I spent last night going through old VHS tapes I’ve had in a box for years, transferring them to digital files. To transfer a video you slide into the VCR. Then, after loading the software onto your computer, you watch the video play on a tiny window on the screen. Deciding what you want to record is a manual process, so you have to pay attention, watching and listening to every little bit instead of skimming the way I usually do.
There were so many different kinds of videos in that box– silly commentary in the video I shot on my 13th birthday, an interview for my first solo painting show, and an hour or so of footage from my sister’s dance performances.
My sister studied contemporary dance in college. She performs aerial dance now, and watching her perform always brings up powerful emotions in me. We have always loved to dance. Friends used to tell me that I dance “like my soul is dark,” a reminder that the hidden parts of me make their way to the surface when I am too lost in the moment to hold them in.
At about 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving I called my parents to say hello, and my dad told me that they both have COVID-19.
I’d spent most of the day making sourdough bread and playing Animal Crossing. I was feeling a moment of calm and gratitude in this year of chaos. With my dad’s words over the phone it was like a 35 lb. anxiety blanket of sadness thrown on top of me. I don’t know if I’ve taken a full breath since. I’m working on it. Anxiety has always been a part of my world. So has grace.
My dad’s parents were killed in a robbery when I was four years old. When they first hear about it friends and colleagues often look at me a little differently. I guess that they’re trying to understand what my life was like based on the experience. I often wonder if they are imagining what their lives would be like if it had happened to their family. I was too young to understand what was happening at the time. As an adult I feel like that one event touched everything in a way I’ll never fully understand. At the same time, I can also look back and see how their dramatic passing, my parents’ response, and the gifts my parents have given my sister and I have created my relationship with grace.
Grace is an old term. The etymology of grace is from the Latin gratus, meaning thankful. Many associate the term with religion but as a sassy media-obsessed 80’s kid, the term God’s grace reminded me of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.
Others think about grace in terms of movement. For as long as I can remember, my parents have described my sister’s way of moving her body as graceful. If you watch my sister dancing or see her choreography, you can imagine the depth and complexity her dancing built into my personal experience of grace.
As an adult I’ve carried that sensibility into the hard times. Death and illness, abrupt change and chaos, fear and anxiety. With each intense event in my life, there’s been a feeling of panic. I am trapped and waiting for something, anything, to give.
As I get close to the end of that moment, I look for grace. Some part of me knows that if I can feel that lightness and fierce power all at once, things will be okay. They might not look the way I want them to, but things will work out in a way that I can accept and embrace.
It’s been just over a week since I talked to my dad and he sends a text each day to give us an update on how they are feeling. My parents are almost 1,300 miles away, but even if they were next door we couldn’t see or touch them. So, I’m writing in my room with some soft blue morning light, waiting for grace.
Update: Their fevers went down a few days ago. Dad went to get propane and did the dishes today. Mom went to the library for more books. I am doing a better job of breathing.