As we emerge from the isolation of the pandemic, we step tenuously into the void of the before. Before the pandemic, before the job loss, before the restaurants closed; before the loneliness, the fear, the mourning. We step into the world once more, masked, socially distanced, asking this question: have you gotten the vaccine? If the answer is yes, the shift happens. We can smile, laugh a little, touch another human being.
And yet, we are still living in a space I call the In-Between. It’s a place of transition. It could be that time between meetings, or when you are waiting for someone to sign on to zoom. It could in the moments when you’re stuck in interstate traffic attempting to get across a bridge, suspended. Or it could just be the time you spend sitting with a cup of coffee in your own home, staring out the window and wondering where people are going.
In the In-Between moments, we are on our way to somewhere else and often think of it as a less productive time. But I would suggest that it is also a useful time. I don’t know about you, but as a fully vaccinated person, I find myself both hopeful and fearful of stepping out into the world again. Will my friends want to get together? Can I go to the grocery and not judge people who wear their masks improperly or not at all?
Writing is a useful tool to cultivate a mindfulness practice in times of uncertainty. I carry a small notepad and a pen with me wherever I go. I use it to write down things that come to me in those moments when I can safely scribe. It might be an overheard conversation that gets me to thinking, or it might be a leftover dream from the night before that somehow emerges into my psyche. It might be the sight of a blue heron skimming the water of the Ohio River. Whatever the case, the practice is what counts.
Through this type of writing, I can begin to make sense of the world around me. And let’s be honest, this world has changed dramatically. Even in the face of hope that we will return to something called normal, we now know things we didn’t know even a year ago. My journal is fraught with images of uncertainty, thoughts on what is precious to me, and what I can let go of now that I’ve lived through this life-altering time in the history of the world.
I’d like to offer a writing exercise from The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World, by Brenda Miller and Holly J. Hughes. I hope it will help to get those juices flowing in the In-Between times of your life. Carry a small notebook with you so that whenever you have some waiting time, you can use it to write. This could be waiting in the doctor’s office, waiting at the curb for your child to get out of school, or waiting for a friend to arrive in a park. If you make it a habit to turn to write to pass these moments—even if it’s just a practice of writing down details, observations, a bit of news that caught your attention—you will find your writing mind waking up in the most unexpected places.
To further spur your creative mind to find those In-Between moments, here is a poem by Rebecca
Early Morning, Downtown 1 Train
In this car packed with closed faces, this tube
Of light tunneling through darkness: two sleeping boys, so close
I could touch them without reaching—their smooth brown faces,
Planed cheekbones like Peruvian steppes leading from
Or to some beautiful ruin. Boys so alike they must be brothers.
And the small, worried man they sprawl against, too young to seem
So old: father. How far have they come? How far to go?
They sleep as only loved children sleep, wholly, no need
To tighten or clutch, to fold themselves in. their heads thrown back.
Mouths open—no, agape, which looks like agape,
The highest form of love, some minister told me long ago.
As if love is a cupboard of lower and higher shelves, and why bother
Reaching if you have hands like the hands of this young father,
Cracked and blistered, stamped with the pattern of shovel or pick.
For someone must do our digging, and rise in the dark to dress
The children carefully, as these boys are dressed, and pack their knapsack,
And ease out of the seat without waking the open-mouthed
Young one nor the older whose head now rests fully
On the emptied seat…but, “My God,” I think
As the brakes squeal and the father moves quickly to face the door
“he is leaving
These children, a father leaving his children.” The train slows to 50th.
And he presses his body against the door, lifting his arms
Above his head—a signal? Surrender?—as the door slides open
And a woman steps in, small and dark like the father, her body
Lost in a white uniform. She touches his sleeve, something
Passes between their eyes. Not sadness exactly, but ragged
Exhaustion, frayed edges meeting: his night her day, her night
His day, goodbye hello. She slides onto the seat, lifting
One son’s head to her lap. His mouth is still open, his body limp.
She smoothes his collar. Her small hands move to his lips,
Closing them gently the way one closes the mouth
Of the recently dead. But the boy is not dead. Just sleeping,
An arm thrown over his brother. His mother near.