Loving in Place


”Shelter-in-place” feels heavy right now. It’s only been a handful of days, and we’ve weeks to go.

When I first heard the term, I imagined myself caught unawares in a thunderstorm, needing to duck into a nearby doorway until the storm passed. This directive told me to go home and stay put, something I haven’t done in a long time.

As you may know, these last few years have been chaotic and nomadic, traveling weeks and months on end. Even now that I’m more “settled,” I’ve been working long office days each week and traveling most weekends. I never think about things like stockpiling toilet paper or canned soup. Being on-the-go is an exhausting habit to break.

Last Saturday night, I decided it was time to get some groceries in the house. Imagine the barren landscape I found as I wandered into a local grocery at 8pm. By now you’ve seen pictures of empty shelves and produce displays, but this was my first glimpse. I wanted to cook a pot roast as a welcome dinner for my son. I couldn’t find enough food for any recipe.

My son goes to college in St. Louis, but while he was away on Spring Break, his university told him to go find shelter somewhere else. He flew to LAX last Sunday afternoon to shelter at my place for the foreseeable future.

“I have bacon, some potatoes and a loaf of bread,” I told him, as he climbed into the car. “That’s all I could find.”

Together, we visited a few more stores and added to our odd collection of food. He took over the cooking, a relief to both of us, and we’ve now had a week of forced—but welcome—reconnection. He flew away from home immediately following his High School graduation and our mother-son time since has only been on vacation. I’ve relocated to a new city and his childhood home no longer exists. Now, we share a bathroom and we’re experiencing the same strange reality as everyone else. We’re home college-ing and home office-ing, in this new city, where neither of us has any friends to go see, even if we could gather in groups.

“Shelter” feels like an old world word. It’s right there with “refuge” and “fortress.” Maybe it’s my childhood filled with the King James Version Bible, but the word feels vintage, and therefore, serious and meaningful. We don’t say, Where will you shelter on your upcoming trip to Hawaii? But if I asked, Do you have shelter?, we’d know we’re talking about dire circumstances. Shelter is a sobering word.

Many years ago, two friends who don’t know each other simultaneously introduced me to my now-favorite musician, Ray LaMontagne. He’s swoony, romantic, and has the most awesomely weird voice you’ll ever come to love. I’m playing him a lot these days and his song, Shelter, keeps coming on:

Listen when
All of this around us will fall over
I tell you what we’re gonna do
Hey, you will shelter me, my love
And I, I will shelter you
If you shelter me too
I will shelter you

I drove past boarded-up restaurants yesterday on my ongoing search for toilet paper. Crude spray painted boards covered windows, shouting, “Closed ‘til further notice!” I wonder what Ray had in mind when he wrote all of this around us will fall over. Is this it? Has everything fallen? His intimate picture of mutual sheltering sticks with me, though, and serves up a longing for connection. You will shelter me, my love. And I, I will shelter you.

Yesterday, I held a Zoom gathering for clients interested in seeing the latest cabi clothes. The call was sweet and lasted less than 20 minutes. After blowing kisses to the camera and signing off, I got a notification someone was waiting for me again on the call. I logged back on to find Martha, a client I don’t see very often. She’s caring for her 98-year-old mother, so you can imagine the worry she holds right now. A few minutes later another gal logged on. These women were 45 minutes late to see the clothing presentation and, you know, clothes never came up! I introduced them to each other and listened as they compared stories of elderly parents, closet clean-outs and life in quarantine. They kept their cameras off, so they were disembodied voices speaking to each other in the darkness. That created its own kind of intimacy for us. We chatted for at least 30 minutes, I showed them around my apartment, and I have to believe it was as bright a spot in each of their days as it was in mine. For those 30 minutes we were in place, safer together.

Last December, I had one week to find an apartment in Southern California. I spent each day pretending to know what to do in my first corporate job in 22 years. I raced out at 4:30pm to make it to one or two apartment viewings before building managers went home for the day. After viewing the smallest and saddest places, I sobbed my way up the hill to the warm, inviting, and decorated-for-the-holidays home of the CEO of cabi, who’d very graciously welcomed me to stay with her as I sorted myself out. I’d spend a few hours being as close to the perfect houseguest as I could manage (while asking for the wifi password), and fall into bed with my laptop to try and find more apartments to view. I’ll be forever grateful for that bedroom by the garage; it was the perfect shelter for me during that stormy week of change.

On the fourth night of that week, I searched in a different neighborhood and walked right into my new home. I knew immediately it was mine. After the dismal options I’d seen, this place felt like home, and it’s my shelter now—and the shelter for my son.

I’ve never faced difficulty alone. Even though I moved to this new city to live on my own, people helped me. Rachel drove my car down from San Francisco, loaded to the brim with what wouldn’t fit in my U-Haul. Emma arranged my kitchen. Louis built the IKEA table and chairs. Karla tagged my new cabi Collection and Melissa arrived when boxes still reached the ceiling. She moved stuff around while I worked each day, then cajoled me into unpacking more boxes each night. When we would discover a need—a lamp here, an end table there—she’d find options for me by the next night when I returned from work. During that difficult, exhausting, and transitional time, the fierce love of so many sheltered me and softened the upheaval, stress, and sense of loss moving can bring.

My friend Stacee shared this blessing with me during our recent Lenten meditation:

Bless the House of the Heart
If you could see
the way this blessing
has inscribed itself on every wall of your heart,
writing its shining line across every doorway,
tracing the edge of every window and table and hall –
if you could see this,
you would never question where home is
or whether it has a welcome for you.
This blessing wishes to give you a glimpse.
It will not tell you it has been waiting.
It will not tell you it has been keeping watch.
It would not want you to know just how long it has been holding this quiet vigil for you.
It simply wants you to see what it sees,
wants you to know what it knows—
how this blessing already blazes in you, illuminating every corner
of your broken and beautiful heart.
—Jan Richardson from The Cure for Sorrow

In this piece, my heart is the home, I know. As I read it, though, I couldn’t stop my eyes from watering, looking around my new home. Seeing my grandmother’s dining room table, pictures of my kids when they were little, a brand-new couch Melissa helped me find. I look out the window to the neighborhood I discovered during such a stressful time: palm trees tower over the beach as a sea breeze blows in. This is mine. This is my shelter.

I’m grateful for this life and what I can offer my son. I’m also thankful for the sense of shelter I can share over the internet in connecting with others and experiencing this strange time together. I am stronger and better when I am connected to people. Beyond all that, I treasure the shelter I receive in the rooms of the hearts of my friends and family all the time. The refuge I find there, mutual sheltering offered and received.

I pray you find yourself sheltered these days, and someone joins you in a room of your own heart. Perhaps he or she will hold you safely while you rest easily for a while, sheltered from whatever life storm is brewing in addition to COVID-19. Social distancing doesn’t need to mean isolation; loneliness isn’t so good for anybody. Come close and get warm. I’m holding a quiet vigil for you.

Sheltered and Safer in place,

Long Beach Joy (+ Son)

PS How are you holding up? Leave a comment telling us what this time looks like for you.IMG_3536

When your girl moves away…

IMG_1249 Consider this hypothetical situation:  While living your normal life – coffee in the mornings, sunset walks in the afternoons, backyard BBQs when the weather is nice – your bestie walks in and tells you she is moving to the other side of the world.  There are so many ways for you to deal with this information and whatever you feel; you gotta know it’s okay.  You might feel mad, deserted, jealous or simply sad.  Or maybe you will feel excited, hopeful or eager-to-go-visit.  Likely your feelings will bounce around a bit and you’ll experience a touch of mania: This is the best decision for your family and I am soooo happy for you! And depression: How could you leave me? Why don’t these opportunities come to me? When will I ever see you again? Rest assured that whatever you are feeling, your bestie is feeling that same thing, but on steroids.

For this column, we’ll agree that no matter how you feel, you definitely want to do what is most helpful to your bestie right now.  The good news is that there are so many ways you can make this massive life transition a little bit easier for her, and if she’s lucky to have lots of friends, you don’t need to do all of them.  You can pick the one that seems the most logical and know you are helping her more than you realize.

You might be the friend who lists with her….

IMG_1052Two months before my move, listing became my daily chore.  Shelly came over and saw my scribbled post it notes falling all over my couch, entry table and kitchen counter.  She opened a notebook and methodically copied all of them down in a central place.  Then she followed up with me about each item until they were all crossed off. If we were chatting on the phone and another action item revealed itself, she’d yell, Put that on the list!  She even taught me the secret thrill of writing down something I’d accomplished just to be able to cross it off.

You might be the friend who throws a goodbye party…

IMG_1017I read an article that shared how to make an international move easier on teenagers.  Overvalue what a goodbye party will mean to them, it suggested.  In response, I dutifully planned, executed and paid for some amazing events to mark the farewell between their friends and them.  But for some reason I didn’t feel comfortable doing that same thing for myself. So a few friends stepped up and offered their ideas.  They had to twist my arm for me to agree, but I am so glad I did.  The sustaining memories from those parties, surrounded by women who love me, made leaving so much easier.  One friend mentioned she might skip the party because I’d be surrounded by people and wouldn’t notice one who was missing. Hear this: Don’t skip the party!  And if you hear about a goodbye party and are sad you were not invited, just invite yourself.  It’s impossible for someone who is throwing a party for someone else to know everyone who should be invited.  And if you are sitting around assuming there is a party happening without you, there may very well be, but by golly your bestie could always use more than one so throw her a party yourself!  Thank you Lauren, Terely, Ti and Melissa for giving me awesome leaving memories.

You might be the friend who cries with her…

Yup, your bestie will need to cry.  And she’ll probably need to cry a few different times and about different things.  Just let her be the one to open that door if you can help it.  Cry on your own but do your best to pull it together when you see her.  But if in the middle of sipping her diet coke she chokes up and shares her mourning, worry, or sadness, you should feel very comfortable letting ‘er rip alongside her.  No need to placate her with It will be great!  You are making the best decision!  Just listen to her heart and cry too.

You might be the friend who refuses to ghost…

Do you know about ghosting?  It’s leaving a party without saying goodbye to the hostess.  Public opinion is divided on the topic: Some think it’s rude and others think it helps everyone avoid something no one likes to do.  Ghosting when your bestie is moving is the easy way out, but it will only feel good in the short run.  Your bestie needs a memory of that last hug with you and she will want to know when that hug is happening. We left in the summertime and some of my friends were still on vacation.  They didn’t ghost on purpose, but when I saw them for the last night neither of us knew at the time that it was the final goodbye.  And I wish I had a moment to look back on and remember we held each other and said what we meant to each other and then we wished each other well.  If you have a choice to ghost or give a final hug, go for the hug.  Thank you Linda for resisting the urge and joining the madness on packing day. Thank you Joyce for stopping by as I was handing the keys over to the agent.  Thank you Ti for meeting me for a hug on the side of the road and Nancy for coming down in your PJs when I woke you up.  These are my final moments in San Francisco and I cherish them.

You might be the friend who connects her to someone you know in her new town…

Forever, I will be indebted to the San Francisco people who thoughtfully connected me to the Singapore people.  You graciously shared your besties with me and they have helped me immensely.  Life is so much easier to navigate with friends who have already walked the path that is new to us. Julie, Annie, Ling, Roxanne, Kimberly and Dan: Your besties are taking good care of me!

You might be the friend who organizes thoughtful group expressions for her to cherish later…

Shelly asked many of my friends write me a letter and then she compiled them in a book.  I looked through it when she first gave it to me, but right now I can’t remember what many of the letters said or even who contributed.  But you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be grabbing it out of the movers’ hands as they unload the container and reliving those words as often as I can.  Jane bought a box of gorgeous metal fortune cookie Christmas decorations and had all my friends write wishes for me.  I have shown exemplary self-control by agreeing not to read them until December.  I will enjoy some emotional income on Christmas tree decoration day, for sure.

You might be the friend who shows up at the door and says What errands can I do for you right now?

IMG_1065Shelly, Craig, Nini, Karla, Kristin, Terely, Jackie, Meg, Linda… the list goes on.  Swing by a garage sale to say hi and work it for the rest of the day?  Drive around town looking for a light fixture the movers broke?  Take my cable boxes back to stupid Comcast? Buy and install a new toilet seat because the old one chooses this exact minute to crumble! Take my list of over the counter meds and travel from Walgreens to Walgreens until you find all that I need?  Hear that my kids haven’t had a home cooked meal in two weeks and show up with a shrimp boil? Come fix my thermostat and refill the picture holes with a mixture of toothpaste and cover-up?  I’ll never be able to thank everyone enough.

You might be the friend who takes the bestie’s kids on awesome timely outings…

IMG_0872Do you know what teenagers do all day while the movers pack a house?  Well, when the mother can think of no other ways for the teenagers to be helpful, they sit on the hardwood floor waiting for it all to be over.  But if Kristin will take him to the movies or Vanessa will take him to a water park, or Shelly will take her to lunch or Hilary will offer up a last minute trip to Mexico, life will get easier for your bestie and her teenagers will have another memory made with friends.

You might be the friend who agrees to exhausting, outlandish outings just so your departing friend can cherish the memory…

IMG_1297Seriously, it was just a regular Wednesday night. I was set to fly the following morning.  We were all exhausted from our own lives of work, constant moving, hosting my teens and me as houseguests, needing to pack for their own vacations etc…  And I insisted they take me to a fancy dinner, then to bi-rite ice cream in the mission because that’s the one that has salted caramel, and then because it was a clear, but freezing night, I made them take me up to Twin Peaks. One of them had to drive a motorcycle up there with my son on the back. And they agreed because they cared about their bestie and they wanted to send her off the way she wanted to go, with awesome memories of her city and the people she loves and with tears streaming down her cheeks afterward.  Dan, Kimberly, Gretchen, Shelly and Craig – thanks for the final hurrah.

You might be the friend who keeps in touch…

Yup, I know it’s easy to go with the out-of-sight-out-of-mind plan.  Seriously, I get it.  I’m the one who moved, after all.  You need to pick up your life and move on.  But if you reach out via skype, whatsapp, viber, facebook or even old-fashioned email, your bestie will appreciate it so much.

And finally….you might be the first friend she makes upon arrival! 

I keep reminding my kids (and myself!) that friendship building takes time.  You can’t know someone deeply right away. It will take a while before we have those belly laughs we shared on the final hurrah.  Give it time!  I’ve heard the advice: accept any invitation you receive, extend as many as you can, go on walks and coffee dates, learn to play Bunco and take up flower arranging.  Do whatever it takes to be around other people. I promise, I’m going to follow all that advice!  But sometimes you just get lucky!  Twiggs and Michelle Reed, thanks for being first besties for all of us.   We are so lucky you were sitting around in Singapore just waiting to know and love us!

You’re welcome, because now you’re prepared.  When your girl walks into your kitchen one day and shocks the predictability of your life, you’ll know what to do. Wrap her in a big hug and tell her how happy you are for the adventure she’s about to take and assure her you will be around to help make it easier.

The danger in naming names is that I might forget some.  Am sure I did.  Please forgive your girl.