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Marny Stebbins.

At this time, when the entire world feels increasingly fragmented and vulnerable, scientists, if not our country’s leadership, are urging us to remain vigilant in response to the pandemic. The guiding advice is to protect each other by continuing to keep our social footprint small and take individual steps of precaution.

Stay home when you can. Wash your hands often. Wear a mask outside of your home. These are not by any measure, large sacrifices, but the war against COVID-19 is a long game and Americans have a history of struggling with long-term goals. As a country, we value graphs with sharp peaks and short timeframes.

It has been a long time since we initiated our first Zoom Happy Hour and rationed a weekly toilet paper allowance. It feels even longer since we have shared popcorn in movie theaters and hugged relatives at birthday parties.

We adjusted our schools, churches, offices, and homes but the novelty of creative response to the pandemic is wearing thin.

I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of mastering line dancing or making a sourdough starter this week. All of my energy is reserved for hybrid learning tech support, managing the collective mental health of our family, and disinfecting surfaces like an over-caffeinated chamber maid.

It feels like we are on a Ferris wheel stuck in a perpetual state of backwards and we are all being told to just sit tight each time we zip past the exit sign. Meanwhile, the ride conductor continues to announce on the megaphone:

“In order for the ride to come to a stop, we need everyone to buckle their seatbelt for three rotations.”

And then he laughs into the collar of his shirt and explains why flying backwards at warp speed is nothing to fear.

I crave steady ground. And a mute button. And I am not the only one.

This MEA, our family needed to slow down and return to something unchanged by the wake of the pandemic.

We needed to be reminded of what life was like before the Ferris wheel. We desperately needed to breathe free in fresh air.

Up on the shore of Lake Superior, where the wind routinely howls against the evening windows and the bluffs are securely blanketed beneath patches of yellow

Birch and strong and stoic White Pines, perspective is as sharp as the jagged shoreline. The forests contain both the crash of waterfalls and the gentle trickle of creeks all reaching, returning to the mighty swell of the lake. Being in this space is sacred, the landscape itself, a hymn of patient endurance.

Right outside our hotel room, a black, rocky beach stretched straight into the crashing waves like a broken finger pointing to the horizon.

On the North side of the crag, a birch sapling shakes in the wind, its yellow leaves a spray of golden tokens not quite ready to release into the cold air.

The leaves look as if they should make music, dangerously delicate like the fluttering notes in a Chopin concerto.

But the leaves are a diversion from its true beauty — the roots. Crawling deep into crevices, the tendrils disappear into the rock without permission or caution.

Somehow, the roots have found sanctuary in the same rock that has absorbed centuries of pounding storms, lifetimes of crashing.

Bending to the daily fury of Lake Superior, it looks almost unnatural, this one brave and stubborn sapling determined to stand at attention against each new day.

One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle, often writes about our capacity for courage: “We can do hard things” is her mantra.

The Ferris wheel is going to continue to spin.

Indeed, we may have a long, uncomfortable wait for a new conductor altogether.

But, like this little sapling, we can do hard things.

We can continue to stand up and do our small part.

We can dig our roots deep into that which has withstood storms before, borrow courage and strength from those we admire, and prepare for a day when it will be safe to return to solid ground again.

Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.

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