Karen Richards sitting on her back desk holding a chicken
Karen Richards and friends.

Carl Jung wrote, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”

Over the past year, sheltering in place beneath the shadow of COVID, I reclaimed myself, channeling memories into the vessel of memoir, excavating the remains of the person I was meant to be.

In a matter of weeks, the perfect storm gathered to sweep my hearth clean: A virus that originated half a world away. A struggling child who needed more care than I had hours of the day left to give. A job that consumed me. A daughter on the cusp of going off to college.

And a growing sense of disconnection―almost as if I wasn't inhabiting my own life.

All the artistic dreams of my youth―stories, poetry, music―receded with every passing day. I harbored a deep abiding sense of regret I couldn't quite pin down, like the wisps of a shadow passing through the rooms and disappearing just beyond my sight.

I was afraid to do anything different, but more afraid to allow my soul to grow any smaller than it already had. I thought about another life, but carried on, hurrying through the days cell phone in hand, rushing to complete a list of tasks that grew up overnight like mushrooms on a perfect green lawn and mocked my waking hours.

Then, in the midst of this darkness and uncertainty―after an unlikely series of unrelated events both personal and global―stepping away from the demands of corporate work outside the home, canceled trips, high school sports postponed and then schools shut down entirely, news reports of ventilators and vaccines, family separations and face masks, and the numbers of the dead reported on the evening news, I began to awaken…

See again the slanted light through a morning window, dew on the petals of early roses in the garden.

Taste fresh strawberries and ripe avocado and vanilla bean ice cream.

Hear the strains of Brahms’ violin concertos drifting like sweet honey over the day.

Feel again what it is to be a small human, alive and breathing under a vast expanse of stars, miraculously still constant above me.

To open my heart once more to all the forgotten world, and to write.

I spent my days in yoga pants and gardening clogs, homeschooling my son and tending to our household, raising chickens, walking with my husband through the quiet trails in the early mornings and painting old furniture we’d put aside for a rainy day.

I listened to uncounted hours of all the music I had missed, bathing in the sounds of guitar and cello, voices rising and falling in song.

I breathed in deeply and completely, the scent of lavender and lemongrass seeding what was now possible.

I cradled week-old Hazel, one of our baby Ameraucana chicks in a warm towel nestled in the palm of my hand. She ruffled her smoky grey feathers and settled against the warmth of my body.

I watched as the day passed into evening. One breath in, one breath out.

I did what I could to keep us safe, resting in the wisdom of simple things. Folding clothes and polishing silver. Writing in my journal. Brushing out the puppy’s curly oatmeal coat in the soft morning light through the kitchen window. Tidying and creating order of drawers and shelves and closets. Letting scenes flow from my fingertips to the blank screen, hour after hour. Putting on an apron like I meant it.

Purposeful and calm in the knowledge that I could do one thing at a time and do it well. I quelled my outer fears by making good use of my hands. Soothing, painting, sorting, writing. It was all I knew how to do.

As the year progressed, I asked myself the difficult questions I’d been avoiding: What if I die without ever having written a book? What legacy am I leaving my children? What if I never become who I am supposed to be?

I always believed it would take both courage and hope to change the trajectory of my life. Then the stars aligned in ways I could not understand. The landscape shifted and reassembled itself into a different terrain. In that liminal space I let go of everything I knew and leapt, with no firm plans other than writing and caring for my home.

I decided to simply be who I was―without apology―discarding the trappings of corporate life like an old coat that no longer fit.

It took months of quarantine, but I came to accept all those things were not “me.” The only real and true things were those which had been inside me all along. My love of words. The ability to feel the pain of others. My imagination. My exacting memory―both a blessing and a curse. My faithful, sensitive heart. 

When I completed my son’s school registration, I filled in the field for Mother’s Occupation: Writer

So began the long journey back to myself. On the walking trail. At the computer plotting scenes and writing dialogue. In the kitchen and at the dining room surrounded by books and highlighters and number two pencils. On the yoga mat.

At the piano, my fingers fumbling on the keys after so many months of silence. In the backyard feeding the hens watermelon rinds and watching the sky turn from blue to pink at dusk.

All at once, time was no longer my enemy. I rose each day without dread and did my best to bring good things into a world that needed them more than ever. At last my humble gifts could be given and received.

I ended my days with yoga, lying face up on the mat, a small blue pillow beneath my resting head, palms open to the sky. Sometimes it was about letting go―of stress, worries, the weight of all the many things I did not know. Others about breathing in peace and breathing out calm.

I tried to be gentle with myself, to come to the practice in the moment I was in, whether deep in the mud or as the silent blooming lotus. One of my teachers advised, Discover yourself as you are, not as you wish you were.

Sometimes, in the space between breaths, between thoughts and distractions, a shiver of contentment passed over me like a fleeting moment of sunlight between storms. I felt unencumbered by the world, yet completely at one with it.

The Sanskrit name for this feeling is Santosha. Entirely content. Full of equanimity. For a moment, free.

Grateful for the unexpected gifts of a plague year: my words, my self, everything.

Karen Richards view of backyard with flowers in blue jug
The unexpected gifts of a plague year.

This is a guest article written by Karen Richards, a writer living in California. You can follow Karen and learn more about her and her writing projects over at her blog: The Bitter and The Sweet.

Karen is a graduate of the First Book Finish program — if you're interested in hearing more about First Book Finish, you can get on the Waiting List here.

Karen Richards: Between Mud and Lotus