I’ve been learning to row during our society’s wrangling with COVID-19.
Usually twice a week since August, I ease myself into a one-person scull, push away from the dock, do “eggbeater” drills to remind myself of the boat’s feel. And then I row. As a novice, it’s none too pretty, but I am utterly transported, plying the waters of Washington’s Lake Stevens with as many as a dozen other club members and watchful coaches on yellow launches, ready with advice or rescue.
With my phone quarantined in the boathouse for a couple of hours, I can shake off the stresses that dog all of us. The latest presidential tweets undermining the election, the bitter political divide some have melodramatically likened to the Civil War, the alarming COVID-19 statistics, this outrage, that inequity. All important but too, too much sometimes, such as last Sunday when the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving sent all of us scurrying back into semi-quarantine.
With Gov. Jay Inslee’s order, the Lake Stevens Rowing Club, which had only recently started permitting team boats, is back to allowing only single-seat sculls or doubles with household members.
So, let’s get back in the boat. During my respite, I head out of the North Cove, always eyeing the tall trees for the bald eagles that perch there. On summer evenings, I smelled the steaks or hot dogs sizzling on grills along the shore and, on crisp fall mornings, I marvel at the ripples my oars make in front of me while I row backward. Sometimes, I stop and admire the exquisite beauty-in-motion of my fellow rowers in that meditative legs-body-arms-arms-body-legs cycle.
It is that magic, that sweet spot I’m striving for, the mix of exquisite balance, focused effort, patient recovery and refined technique.
By the way, I’m not just talking about in the boat but outside of it too, negotiating this pandemic’s stinginess, big and small. My colleagues, candidate interviews, family meetings happen in two-dimensions on my laptop screen — no impromptu espresso runs down the street to debrief after a long meeting. No, just the red “Leave meeting” button and the dog dropping her ball at my feet.
This week, our hearts ache, as do many others, over canceled Thanksgiving plans — no need for the canopy and outdoor heater. Instead, we will wait to see our son, who moved out recently, and our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters. Those little darlings with the teenage eye-rolling and the preteen wonderment. Talk about exquisite beauty.
Yes, we understand. Yes, we need to stay apart, for everyone’s sake. Yes, I can divide an in-law’s sweet-potato casserole recipe by 10. But finding the grace in these realities can be daunting.
Counting our blessings, this Thanksgiving, sometimes seems more like scrounging in the kitchen junk drawer for a lost key. Is it unseemly for my siblings and me to find the silver lining in my 90-year-old father breaking his hip so we could put our hands on him again, for the first time in six months, before he passed away?
Yeah, probably. But screw it.
Meantime, we make do: A virtual memorial is planned while cousins and friends from across the country — and that political divide — send floral hugs and cards brimming with love. But the rituals so important to Dad — a funeral Mass and a military service — are postponed.
Shake it off. Back to the boat. Hitting that sweet spot of rhythm, timing and muscle memory keeps you in a boat not much wider than your ass and not in the drink. Yes, I experienced the latter two Sundays ago when I got too cocky. Confidence does not override the need for careful attention, in the boat or out.
In that sweet spot, the process almost merges you with the ripples, the eagles’ flight, the shoreside laughter and the esprit de corps among your fellow rowers. Blessings, each of them, though most I wouldn’t recognize without a mask.
The pandemic’s swerving demands for adaptation, like a speed boat’s wake, make that confidence elusive. More uncertainty looms with economic curtailment and Congress at stalemate on a relief package. The vaccines seem promising. But the current administration is thwarting the next from planning an equitable distribution plan.
Indeed, I know how privileged I am, to have a home, a job and internet access to do it. Still, I can do better by embracing gratitude and grace more fully.
In this Thanksgiving week, I’m reminded of President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation issued during our nation’s actual Civil War, formalizing our nation’s annual holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. Bitter battles raged around the countryside, and the Union army had Charleston, South Carolina, under siege.
Yet, Lincoln’s humble, prayerful proclamation, while acknowledging “a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” set deliberately to scrounge the Oval Office’s cushions for the nation’s blessings:
“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines … have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore,” the proclamation reads.
How do you like that math? The nation was riven. Nevertheless, Lincoln declared the nation’s blessings, determination and forward movement. Talk about a sweet spot.
Let’s find it — that sweet spot of forbearance, grace, generosity and understanding. I’ll be back on the lake Sunday, looking for it.
Happy Thanksgiving. And good luck.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Kate Riley is the editorial page editor at The Seattle Times: firstname.lastname@example.org
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