The Plant Flowers on Dead Relatives’ Graves Tour, 2020

Back in January, I planned all my trips for the year – some great ones that I was really looking forward to, but none more important than the one I began calling the Plant Flowers on Dead Relatives’ Graves Tour, 2020. It hit me over Christmas that I haven’t been home to where I grew up (Lexington, Kentucky) in 7 years. Maybe I’ve avoided it because all my parents are gone and my brothers moved away and home doesn’t feel like the home I’ve always known anymore. I think I just didn’t see the point anymore. 

And suddenly, in January, I remembered the point. I urgently felt like I had to go, so I planned my trip for April 15-19. I told my friend Ashlea and we planned a Keeneland day. She asked if she could come with me to plant the flowers and I told her sure, but prepped her that it might not be the most exciting excursion. Me digging in dirt, probably crying,and talking to dead people like a crazy person. Her response: “That sounds great … let’s do it!” This is, and has always been, Ashlea in a nutshell. Unwaveringly supportive, even in the face of extreme boredom and morbidity. Cemeteries? Dead people? Tears and regrets? Sign me up! (Side note for more color on Ashlea: when we were 23 and making nothing, she begged me for weeks to cut her hair before her wedding. I begrudgingly said yes finally — and then proceeded to cut 8 inches off her hair giving her an unintentional bob about 2 weeks before her wedding. She laughed. I would’ve lost my shit.)

Then 2020 happened. At the beginning of March, we still had hope: maybe this will pass and by April 15, we’ll be sipping Bloody Marys at Keeneland. It quickly became clear that wasn’t even remotely possible. I was really bummed, but I told her that maybe in the fall or next spring I could come. They’re DEAD after all, I said; they’re not going anywhere. Bad joke, end text. 

Today I woke up to these pictures. Ashlea called Lexington Cemetery, found where my parents plots are (it’s a massive place) and proceeded to …. wait for it … PUT FLOWERS ON 2 OF MY 3 DEAD PARENTS’ GRAVES. When I got the text, I ugly cried for about 10 minutes, then knew that I had to tell someone — anyone — about what she did.

I share this because as I’ve sat alone in my house for going on my fifth week, a lot of thoughts and questions have come up as they have for all of us. A sampler platter of those thoughts:

I recognize that even though I’m alone in my house and that’s been hard as hell, I’m in a position of privilege – luxury, even. Because I still have a job. I’m lucky in that respect. 

Yet every day I still feel anxious and overwhelmed, as I know we all do. About death and health and the spread and containment of this and about the safety of all the people I love. As if that’s not enough, it’s actually way more than that. Who can I help and how? There are so many people/funds/causes, how can I choose? I don’t WANT to choose, because it feels AWFUL to choose. I want to do something big. I want to make masks! I want to do more than clap at 7 pm for all the healthcare workers putting their lives on the line every day. The grocery store clerks. The delivery people. The restaurants and small businesses that are teetering on the edge of closing.

And also, way less urgently and considerably more selfishly: How can I make something good come out of this? What does the other side of this, whenever that is, look like for me? Who do I want to have helped, how do I want to have loved, and how do I want to have grown? What will this extraordinarily hard time in the world teach me and all of us? 

Listen, I’m one person with an active imagination, a lot of time, a lot of opinions, and an Instagram account, a platform, by the way, that is picture-, not word-friendly, so thanks for continuing to read. I certainly don’t profess to have any answers or ideas that are right or even close to right. But over the past 24 hours, after finding out about this extraordinary kindness that my friend showed me, a few things have crystallized for me. I’ve realized and decided a couple of things that I’m adding to the mix in guiding myself through this. Take ‘em or leave ‘em, but here they are:

1 – The things that I wish for rarely come to me in the way that I hope they will. Pretty much 100% of the time. This trip. Jobs. Relationships. Creative pursuits. All of it.  Ashlea completing my mission for me – without me? Never entertained that thought, not even once. 

2 – Global pandemics? They’re a freakin’ marathon, not a sprint. I can’t help everyone (and neither can you), but I CAN pick one person/business/thing/idea a day to support in some way. One thing. One foot in front of the other. Slow and steady wins the COVID19 race, but only if everyone participates. I have to believe that.

And that’s why I’m sharing this. Everybody can do their version of Plant Flowers on Someone Else’s Dead Relatives’ Graves. We can all do ONE THING. It doesn’t have to be grand, just genuine in its intention. I’ll stop beating myself up because I don’t have a sewing machine and I can’t make masks. (I even thought about buying one on Amazon, which led me down a whole other ridiculous path of guilt. GAHHH!)

But you know what I can do? I can tell you about my favorite business that I want to help and maybe you’ll buy a gift card or pick up some takeout if you’re nearby. I can go knock on my neighbor’s door. I can call someone I’ve been thinking about but haven’t reached out to yet. I can create my own version of Ashlea and the Plant Flowers on Someone Else’s Dead Relatives’ Graves, and maybe that will help one person in one small way. 

Be well, love well, and do well. And be grateful for all the Ashleas in your life.That’s all I got today. (Said after 1067 words. Writer, yes. Editor? Not so much. Thanks if you made it to the bottom.)