• Kathy Coudle-King

In the Handbasket, or What I learned about fear this week

Updated: Mar 22

Fear. It saturated the week. Smelling like bad eggs. Tasting like spoiled milk. Feeling like thick, morning fog. And it spread throughout the world this week. So, it’s not like our private fears; it’s a shared fear, which makes it all the worse. Bigger. Badder. Worser. It’s like confessing, “I’m afraid of the boogey man,” and your parent says, “Hell, yeah! Me, too!”


There are very good reasons to be afraid. I could list them, but you all know what they are; you’ve worried them all week like the faithful rub rosary beads. As my mother, born in 1922, would say during my teens: “The world is going to hell in a handbasket.” (I don’t recall what it was about the ‘70s that caused her to repeat that expression: Punk Rock? Disco? Bite your tongue!)


In any case, here we are: In the handbasket. And it’s getting a mite toasty.


I ended the week with a silly puppet show I posted on Facebook, but friends – I struggled this week. Mightily, as did all of you.

First off, I am a planner. I am always looking forward: An event, a writing project, a trip, a production is always in the works. However, the thing that really keeps me moving forward is a schedule. However, a schedule doesn’t work for me if there are no outside demands. If you take away my obligations to others – be here, be there, at such and such time – I am in a rowboat on the ocean. I just get tossed around by the waves.


Last week was brutal. Technically, we were on spring break at my university. Sure, like everyone, I had plans: Work on a new play as part of the Dramatist Guild’s “End Play”. I was going to Thermea Spa in Winnipeg with a friend, staying overnight at the charming Fort Garry. I was going book browsing (okay, buying!) in Fargo at Zandbroz. A trip to the Plains Museum, maybe, and the ND Museum of Art. Yoga Nidra at Willow Life Yoga to celebrate the spring equinox. Lunch with friends. Well, you know, you had plans, too. What became of them? Canceled until further notice.


My students were in the same boat, of course, so I was getting a steady stream of emails and rough drafts. Not every college student was on the beach in Florida. Some were home worrying about writing literature reviews. I appreciated the diversion, myself.

But then after an hour or two each morning of responding to students, the entire day stretched out before me in an endless loop of NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and Facebook. I found myself alternating between anger and humor. I felt off center. Out of whack. Alan, my husband, continued his normal routine, which in the best of times involves social distancing. He went to his office, researched, wrote, exercised, ate, and gave Donald Trump a good piece of his mind each evening. (Donald told him he was “nasty.”)


Throughout the day, I reached out via phone to friends and texted my kids. “How are u? U ok?” I actually sent Ryan a message: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” I was seriously jonezing for contact with human beans. I love human beans -- even the ones that give me gas. (Okay, I love them a lot less.)


But despite some serious “hamster on the wheel” brain activity, I was trying desperately to keep my shit together. And my shit, fine people, my shit was about to explode like a toilet that’s been clogged with paper towels because some jerk hoarded all the toilet paper.


So, I did what I could to keep it in check. Last Saturday and Sunday, I did a vegie/fruit juice cleanse. I decided that if this was the end of the world as we know it, it was time I made some changes. (Better late than never. I would have the cleanest colon in the morgue.) I stopped eating meat, too. I’ve had ethical issues with how we slaughter animals for years, but I’ve always succumbed to the smell of a burger or steak on the grill. However, I decided in the midst of a pandemic, no more! I can get my protein elsewhere and save a cow. Yeah, it’s just one cow and a barnyard of chickens, but still: It’s one cow and a barnyard of chickens.



Also, I stopped consuming insane amounts of sugar every day. It had gotten to the point, where I considered knocking over an old man at the post office for the Snickers Bar he was eating. I was buying Cadbury caramel eggs by the dozen. It was bad. Real bad.


I was going to drink more water and tea during the day. I wasn’t going to drink so much wine at night. The cat was looking at me with pity.


I

was going to start a morning practice of meditation. So, I dusted off a table where I have some objects that are special to me, and I lit a candle, and recited Jack Kornfield’s love and compassion meditation every day. (You all were in my thoughts.) Then I did some stretches. Nothing major, just kind of waking up some muscles I’d forgotten were there.


And whatya know? I did all of the above and guess what?


It didn’t make me feel any better. Not by Wednesday. Not by Thursday. And not by Friday.


My spice cabinet was alphabetized and my can goods were organized, but on Friday that hamster was still working up a sweat on his wheel. Plus, the bread dough I tried to make on Thursday still hasn’t risen!



Then this morning -- this morning I woke up and I felt different. I think something has shifted. Maybe. Have I somehow become resigned to the fear? It’s moved in with me, but maybe it doesn’t have to hang out on the couch. I found a space for it. Oh, it’s right there. In the corner. Not out of sight. But it’s not the only thing I can see.


I can see Tony who is being teased by the squirrel outside the window. I can see Casey, my son, working on his “stream” in the basement. He who will have much more time to stream since he lost his serving job at a restaurant. I can see Alan as he goes off for his walk precisely at 4 o’clock each day, and I see the widsom in that. I can see outside this window in my living room, and while the snow is piled high, and the day is still mighty cold, but I can almost see spring in the distance -- if I squint. I've lived in North Dakota for 30 years, and spring's never cancelled yet. Postponed maybe, but never cancelled.


Mind you, I am not friends with fear. Oh, no. I don’t think we’ll ever be more than acquaintances. But let’s just say I’ve found a way to coexist with it. In the process of controlling the things I can control – what I can consume, my daily practice, my silverware drawer – I feel more at ease. The hamster is slowing down. You know what else?! The news, the radio, and Facebook’s constant “pinging” are all off. Huh.


Silence does not scare me. It’s the cacophony that makes me anxious. It feeds the fear. Silence feeds the peace. Well, whatya know? What have you dealt with fear this week? What are your three biggest fears concerning the pandemic? If you could give it a smell, taste, touch, color -- what would they be? Grab your favorite writing pen/pencil, a notebook/ journal, or laptop, and set your timer for 10 minutes. Give it to the page. It's ready to absorb all your fears.

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Frances Perkins

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