I took Friday afternoon off work but I could not muster the will to leave my home office. "You picked a gorgeous day for it!" a colleague replied to my PTO notification. I told myself I'd go for a walk but I was so tired.
The dream I had before waking that morning had left me sad and exhausted. I was lost in Manhattan, determined to show up for my first day at a job as a nurse at a hospital. Only, I wasn't trained as a nurse, just didn't want to let anyone down. In the dull logic of dreams, pretending to be a nurse was a hero's journey. But in the dream it was getting dark and I was walking in circles, alone. Not knowing where I worked, not knowing where I lived.
Maybe that's why I was reluctant to take a walk, even though in real life I live in a leafy midwestern suburb and my walk is to and around a nature center, barely a mile away.
After Friday's malaise, Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny. I told myself to get out for a walk sooner rather than later. Plus my friend Cindie, coping with her own grief amid Covid, had posted an inspiring idea: "Name the superhero you already are. Then forge your bond."
I was feeling lost and sad and not at all like a superhero, so this idea seemed like a start.
These days, when I'm grasping for something to love about myself, I think of The Cookie Garden—all the joy it's brought to people. To me, the most meaningful thing about being a children's book author is knowing I helped create moments with children and their parents or grandparents or teachers. I hadn't anticipated the enduring gratification of hearing from a friend or a stranger that it's one of their child's favorite books.
With this thought as encouragement, I left for my walk. A few houses down the road, I saw a family, a little boy and his father walking ahead, with a mother and another child walking a few feet behind. The boy was talking and laughing, rushing ahead to check out a stick. I smiled and said hello. But in my mind I yelled out, "I wrote a children's book!" and wished I'd tucked a couple copies under my arm, to give away to families such as this one, a balm to help in these troubling times.
It became a game, me mentally telling people who I was. Near the school playground I passed three girls who were a few years past The Cookie Garden, greeting me with smiles and hellos. On the pathway to the nature center a woman wearing a LOVE PRIDE t-shirt rode by, towing a toddler in a wagon with another child on his own bike, every one of them wearing helmets. God, I loved this family but they are too cool for me and my little book.
By then I was feeling a little less needy, starting to think about my superhero name. Maybe Zelda something or Dorothy as in Dorothy Parker or from The Wizard of Oz.
When I reached the crosswalk into the park, there were three young men, each on his cell phone, standing in the way of me crossing while maintaining social distancing. The place wasn't crowded so I crossed a few feet farther up. To the left on the lawn, two moms sat on opposite sides of a large blanket while their kids romped around. To the right was a parking lot, and a swirl of detritus caught my eye, dead leaves rising up.
"Look, kids, it's a leaf tornado," one of the moms said. I stopped in its path as it approached and looked up into the pure blue sky with cotton-ball clouds as the leaf bits whirled around me, one small piece literally catching my eye.
If I had taken the walk the day before, I might not have taken it that morning. If I hadn't allowed myself my sadness and fatigue, I would have still felt sad and fatigued. If those boys hadn't blocked my socially distant path, I might have missed this baptism.
Leaf tornados are new to me. Just last week Keith pointed one out in the rearview mirror, as we picked up takeout in our now-quiet little town. The opening of space has allowed this natural phenomenon the room to play out, the last dance of the dead before it settles back into the earth for regrowth into something else.
Maybe my superhero name is Dorothy Leaf Tornado.