A Well-Timed Virtual Book Club

Last night was book club, and the most fun night I have had in weeks. Book club is always a highlight of my month, the last one was “Before”, on March 5th. Last night’s book club was virtual, since we are “During,” and it was a smart, stimulating, emotional evening spent discussing The Only Plane in the Sky, written by Garrett Graff (an amazing thinker, historian, and friend) who was with us virtually. 

For those of you who have not read it, The Only Plane in the Sky is a gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, oral history of 9/11. We picked this book to read, and this date to meet in early 2020, and I must admit the timing seems uncanny. Reading about 9/11 during the COVID-19 global pandemic was both maddening and reassuring. 

This is the time to read this book. Perhaps even the time to share its stories with children who did not live through the events of 9/11 and are of age to understand them. If you prefer to listen rather than to read, the book on tape version won the 2020 Audiobook of the Year Audie Award. 

The most insightful moment of our evening was when Graff spoke about Will Jimeno. William J, “Will” Jimeno was a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer. He was trapped under the World Trade Center for over 12 hours and survived. Today, he spends time coaching and inspiring people include veterans and addicts, helping them work through their hardships. Graff reminded us that in effect, we all go through moments of “I feel like I am buried under the WTC” – whether due to the loss of a job, a bad breakup, the death of a loved one, a global pandemic, and everything in between. 

While today, none of us are actually buried under the WTC, we may very well feel like we are. There is no hierarchy in pain, fear, loss, grief; these feelings cannot be compared or quantified, mine are neither graver nor lighter than yours – they are simply mine. We are each entitled to our own feelings, and should not add the guilt of “I shouldn’t be feeling bad right now because I have a roof on top of my head and food on the table” to the list of negative emotions swirling around in our head and hearts. 

Rather, as Graff reminded us, we should focus on the fact that what defines us is not external events, but how we respond to them. This was my reminder to be resilient, graceful, kind (including with myself), patient (including with myself), and hopeful. 

PS – for those of you not ready to start this book, but interested in reading about Graff’s perspective on what is happening right now, this article is a must-read. 

Road Trip!

To say these are unprecedented times is an understatement. In the past week, two of my family’s businesses have been forced to close (for 45 days) per Swiss government regulations (Forever Institut and Forever Boutique). Many of the amazing spas and boutiques that carry Alchimie here in the US have chosen to close for two or more weeks. I have had entire days open up in my calendar as trips and meetings and events have been cancelled. And, I listened to my father’s request to not fly from New Orleans this week (I succumbed to the “I don’t ask you for much, but I am really asking you to do this for me” argument). Instead, I drove.

Or I should say we drove. My husband Edwin, my cat Chloe, and I took a road trip this week. We left Hammond LA on Tuesday at 6 pm and drove five hours to Birmingham AL. From there, yesterday, we drove 11 hours to “home,” in Georgetown, Washington DC.

While I am still processing everything that is happening, still adapting business practices, still getting used to what (at least for now) is the “new normal,” and still wondering every morning as to what the news will bring, these hours in the car brought me some clarity.

  1. My husband thinks road trip = fast food. We stopped at Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Shake Shack (I did not partake). Also, drive-thrus are weird.
  2. Driving through 6 states, through cities and through the countryside made me realize how our country has an incredibly varied understanding of the current situation. Everyone is interpreting this reality differently – from signs on the highway encouraging drivers to “don’t travel, stop the COVID-19 spread,” to “it’s life as usual”, I saw it all. Including a gas station in VA where I was told by the proprietor I could not use the restroom because “this is my shop and now this is my bathroom, because you know, corona virus.”
  3. While we had plans to listen to a couple podcasts and finish The Only Plane in the Sky (by Garrett Graff) as a book on tape, we did no such thing. Instead, we took turns calling people. We were driving, so no emails or texts were possible. Now more than ever, talking to people is essential. We need to feel connected to each other, we need to feel like we are in this together. I am so grateful for the phone.
  4. Cats can get used to anything (except big trucks driving by and loud engine noises). Chloe spent most of the drive sleeping on the lap of the driver (which she prefers than the lap of the passenger regardless who is driving). With her being so chill and not complaining about a thing, the least I could do was act the same.
  5. Being with someone you love during such uncertain times makes everything bearable, even makes everything feel like an adventure. My heart goes out to those going through this time alone.
  6. Everyone is uncertain about everything, is questioning everything. The only things we can control are the things we can control: for example, adapting business practices to this new reality; changing our personal habits as need be; improvising and going with the flow (my dinner party tomorrow night is now happening via Go To Meeting); our reactions to news and events; how kind we are.

This morning, I woke up grateful to be in my own bed. And reminded myself, “control the things you can control.”

Be well, stay healthy, stay sane.