Gratitude is sometimes like tending a garden. You can cultivate it, for sure, with regular attention and care.
But sometimes it’s more like playing in the ocean when you were a kid. A big wave sneaks up on you, washes over you, almost drowns you. It comes unbidden, it knocks you down, it leaves you drenched and – also – thrilled. You feel that the moment is everything, and enough, and the best possible moment – though I wouldn’t have put it in those words as a kid. I only think of it that way now.
I’m happy for Hannah and John Lavey to spend some time in the Bacon Neighborhood today. Gratitude has found them in the Time of Corona (and they have found it).
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Hi Hannah and John! What’s your usual Friday night in the Time of Corona?
Hannah: John and I typically gather with our daughters, Frances (20) and Mary Sparks (18) on our front lawn to watch the sunset. Last night, we enjoyed a visit with our neighbors, Virginia and Kidd, at a social distance, of course.
John: Thanks, Jennifer, for inviting us to this chat. I’m going to trust you both that last night was, in fact, Friday. Losing track of the days over here.
What would you rather be doing on a weekend night?
Hannah: While visiting with friends before dinner is always nice, my favorite thing is walking with John to our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Answer. Victoria, the lovely owner, would sit us at the corner of the bar for a yummy dinner. The sound of folks talking and laughing would be our background music.
John: Knocking off all my to-dos for the work week, going on an early evening run with my buddies – Joe, Frank and J.P. – followed by what Hannah said.
Who is living at home now? How is that working out?
Hannah: We are living with our daughters, Frances, a sophomore at Vanderbilt, and Mary Sparks, a senior at Ensworth High School and our rescue cockapoo, Gunner who for the first time in the 4 years since he joined our pack actually seems to want to be with us instead of sneaking off to an open closet or hiding behind a door.
We are managing pretty well. During the day, we retire to our appointed rooms to do our work and then in the evening gather for a lawn sit followed by an amazing gourmet meal prepared by John. So far, our favorite recipes have been his chicken piccata and szechuan beef. The girls are on their own for breakfast and lunch. And they have to do their own laundry. I do our laundry but not as quickly as John would like. One of his frustrations that predated Covid-19.
John: Literally airing our laundry… thanks, honey. Other than me being a bit overbearing, apparently, I think it’s working well. I don’t mind working from home. Grateful to be busy with work. I like having our whole family home for meal time and talking after dinner. I think everyone has been a great sport, and mostly likes being together.
What have you learned about yourself in the Time of Corona?
Hannah: I have never been more grateful for my early morning routine. I usually rise an hour before everyone else wakes up. I grab a hot cup of coffee with half & half and retire to our den/sun porch to watch the birds gather at our feeders and read my devotionals and journal. I am an extrovert by nature but enjoy the quiet before the house is full of my people. I have learned that my morning gratitude list(a new edition to the routine since pandemic) helps me center on what is important and honestly, what is not.
John: First, there is a lot of suffering out there, both health-wise and financially. So, it’s a luxury to be philosophical, but I’ll say that I’ve learned I love being at home with my family. That my life getting smaller suits me just fine.
What do you wish you hadn’t learned about yourself, if anything?
Hannah: Hmmm….that is an interesting question.
I have known this a long time. But it has certainly been staring me in the face and my family can certainly attest to this. I am really not a great listener. However, I have been practicing on how to be a better one. A dear friend encouraged me to just say the word “listen” before I enter a room. I normally love to interrupt with my opinion or a great solution or some wayward fact that honestly is loosely based on some amalgamation of my thoughts. Nothing like being in quarantine to work on one of your greatest character defects. But I am just a work in progress.
John: Hannah is being rough on herself. She’s a great listener. I think the correct answer for her is that she is not a wonderful laundress. For me, I guess I’ve learned that I spend a lot of time rushing around trying to do a lot of things when I’m not forced into quarantine. And for what reason? I think the answer is that doing is easier than being. Bit uncomfortable still with the human being thing.
Favorite comfort food in the Time of Corona?
Hannah: My favorite comfort food are those little oranges and tangerines. We keep them in the refrigerator. So they are cold and juicy. Each grocery run involves a new batch. I was also introduced by my friend Alison to a great little taco restaurant in Donelson called Nectar, on the corner of Lebanon Road & McGavock. It has a great curbside menu so I have hopped on the interstate several times for a bag of Dos Perros brisket tacos and guacamole and chips and a margarita. It’s been fun discovering a new part of town.
John: Now we are getting into the important stuff. Ok, three things in combination: oranges, paleo brownie bites (date balls), and these little crackers (Simple Mills Almond Flour Crackers: Sea Salt), introduced to me by our friends. The right balance of these three things can smooth the edges of being in exile.
Hannah: Coffee!!!! We have been splurging on our favorite Hologram by Counter Culture
John: The aforementioned Hologram coffee. I also dusted off a Nespresso machine I bought at a yard sale and finally bought some capsules. Homemade Americanos are a good little pick-me up.
Creative outlets in the Time of Corona?
Hannah: I have enjoyed drawing and watercoloring. I made some silly postcards that depict animals who are usually foes giving each other absurd amounts of love. I also love writing letters so I have enjoyed reconnecting with old friends via snail mail. And, our daughter, Mary Sparks who is an amazing connoisseur of music has introduced us to the tiny desk concerts on NPR. We were blown away by the rapper Mac Miller and then youtube videos of Billie Elish and her brother, Finneas making her albums in their childhood bedrooms.
John: Planting things. Never cared about gardening, other than vegetables before. But I have taken to planting trees and studying perennials, then getting them into the ground. I finally understand why people are so wacko about gardening. Turkey hunting with my friend, Tom. Even our daughters, Eads and Frances, have joined us. I love hunting. For me, it’s meditation, with a specific point of view.
Can you be your best self in the Time of Corona? When?
Hannah: I have good days and bad days. I laughed with friends on zoom this Monday that I was tired of being a Pollyanna in the Pandemic. It was an especially tough Monday. I think I had spent the last
few weeks focused on the upcoming Easter. It was the carrot that was carrying me through my days. And then it was over. And I was grumpy, sad and unsettled. I spent part of the day trying to change my perspective (back to the gratitude list, right) then it hit me… just accept that you are feeling this way. No judgment. No working harder to change. Just gentle acceptance that they were just feelings and like everything, these feelings will not last forever. So I accepted my mood, climbed into bed and took a delicious long nap.
John: I can be my best self. I benefit from routines. As long as I can get some exercise, get sleep and meals (and coffee), reach out to 3-5 people every day and have something meaningful to do, my life gets smaller and my central nervous system isn’t quite as jacked up as it is usually. So, I feel like I’m more present for the people I’m with, even on Zoom.
How are you sleeping in the Time of Corona?
Hannah: I am sleeping pretty well. But with lots of vivid dreams. I read an article posted on some news site that during this time, lots of folks are reporting a more active dream life. That makes sense to me.
John: Well enough. Turkey hunting is voluntary sleep deprivation, so some solid weekend naps.
Are you exercising more or less?
Hannah: At the start of the quarantine, I was exercising once or twice a day… walks with the dog, yoga on the Down Dog app, and weight lifting in my closet. Now, I am usually just taking one long walk a day. My one constant has been a Wednesday walk with my dear friend, Collins. We have been pretty creative and have explored greenways all over the city. Our favorite to date was walking over the pedestrian bridge off of Briley Parkway and Two Rivers greenway. There is a beautiful view of the Cumberland River from the bridge and then a tree-lined path that creeps alongside the river bed in both directions.
John: About the same. It’s not optional for me to not exercise. I’m getting more runs in, and fewer workouts. But doing the SHED workouts via Zoom.
Where do you go when you need to hide from your family?
Hannah: My car. Sometimes, I just drive around with the windows down listening to Lightning 100. Sometimes, I take the dog. Often, I leave him behind too.
Jennifer: I never thought I would say this but sometimes I feel like I need to escape EVEN my dog. I have only gone on one walk without her – but I may go on more.
John: Cheatham County. Into the woods.
What are you reading/watching/listening to?
Hannah: I just completed the third season of “Handmaid’s Tale”. Amazing acting and far more, grim and dystopian than our present moment so that has given me some relief. In terms of books, I just completed On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. It is stunningly beautiful prose. There are some passages that I have read and reread.
Also on my bedside table are Girl, Woman. Other by Bernadine Evaristo, Upstream by Mary Oliver and my constant ~ Blessed Relief: What Christians can learn from Buddhists about Suffering by Gordon Peerman. I attend Gordon’s Wednesday night meditation talks at 2nd Presbyterian Church. And starting this week, he will be on Zoom.
John: “Tiger King”. Not really too much TV other than that. I really miss sports. Started latest season of “Ozark” and “Money Heist”, but I can’t seem to stick with them. Reading more has been a bonus of this plague. Picking up the Sunday Times again. Knocking out two John LeCarre novels I had not read: Agent Running in the Field and Single & Single. I read the Robert Iger autobiography. Working through a few other books simultaneously: Ta-Nahesi Coates’ The Water Dancer, Samantha Powers’ The Education of an Idealist and a series of novels my mother read when she first came to the United States, the first ones she read in English, which she still counts among her favorites – Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. Plus a couple of palate cleansers – Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books.
Jennifer: I read the Kristin Lavransdatter books in college a thousand years ago. They were a stretch. But you have made me want to revisit them. You & John Cheadle should have a chat about those Jack Reacher books.
Guilty pleasure during the Time of Corona?
Hannah: thelesliejordan on instagram. Leslie, a comedic actor, is giving the world some laughs from his hotel room in Chattanooga(his hometown) where he is riding out the pandemic with his “Mama & them.”
His stories are hilarious. My family has tired of me asking if they have viewed the latest of his instagram stories.
I watch them over and over.
John: “Tiger King”, for sure. Fascinating, weird and sad. Only in America. Being off social media, which I give up for Lent anyway, has been very pleasurable. No Twitter probably keeps me sane right now. My other guilty pleasure and not a sign of high character: being right that there was some major shit about to go down. I was early into this and most people who know me thought it was a symptom of my mild hypochondria. To be fair to them, though, I was just as prepared for the avian flu that never arrived here. And killer bees.
How does this all end?
Hannah: I don’t know. John predicted that this was going to happen back in February and I would just kindly nod, chuckle and think to myself, “he is reading too much twitter.” But now, I just humbly ask him for a daily report and then attempt to live one day at a time.
John: I hope and pray safely, and with a flatter curve than the math might point to. I believe that we are looking at a V-shaped economic recovery. I really am optimistic that we will emerge from this stronger, and better, as a family, as a community, and hopefully, as a country. I am amazed and moved by so much of the goodness I see in response to what’s happened. People are doing so many beautiful things to respond: our healthcare workers risking everything to be on the front lines, people bringing groceries to older neighbors they never knew, and people making music on Zoom. I really hope that spirit continues. We could use it moving forward.
What’s your advice for people trying to stay sane in the Time of Corona?
Hannah: Try to take things one day at a time. And if that is hard, one hour at a time. Find some sunshine and sit in it. Laugh when you can. Pray if that is something that helps you. Tell someone how you are feeling. And remember this will not last forever.
John: I avoid offering advice. I’ve got two adult daughters and a wife. I know better.
Jennifer: LMAO! Yes you do, John. Thank you both. xoxo