A picture is worth a thousand words.

Some pictures tell thousands of stories.  

Yesterday I experienced a profound, overwhelming and visceral grief while visiting an outdoor art installation here in DC. 

Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s installation “In America How Could This Happen…” plants a small white flag for every person who has died of Covid-19 in the US.

Relatives can write names of loved ones on the flag, or Firstenberg will do it for you.

Walking this awful field in the twilight yesterday I cried and cried for people I never met and their families who I will never know. Flags of multiple family members who died are planted together. It is a devastating physical representation of the ongoing pandemic.

My husband and I stopped to thank the artist as she was diligently walking her installation, re-staking fallen flags and picking up trash that visitors have left. She was grateful that we stopped to visit. She shared how some of the people who have been denied the rituals of grieving are finding some solace by planting a flag and honoring all who died.

We thanked her again.

Art is one of the super powers of civilization. It has the ability to transcend, and to unify, and to speak even more than those thousand words about our humanity.

If you can, visit this art installation before November 30 and let the dead speak.

picture of number of dead from covid-19
The artist updates the number every morning

flag for Kenneth bridewellflag for Terry bridwell

grandpa norman

I was forced to buy a new wallet recently. I don’t invest much in accessories like wallets, handbags, phone cases and such so this doesn’t happen very often. I think this might be the fourth or fifth wallet I’ve owned in my lifetime. All my previous wallets has slots for school photos. Which I sort of miss.

Cleaning out the old wallet, which had considerably more nooks and crannies than the new one, I found something my mother gave me back in 1991.

My mom was a religious person, a person of faith, and a big believer in miracles. Back in 1991, the year before my dad was diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him a year later, I was in a place of flux.

When I was laid off from the theatre I worked at for years, I took a job as a temp for a publisher. Within months I was hired full-time and was making more money than I had ever made  in theatre. I think the salary was a whopping $18,000.

Seeing as this was thousands of dollars more than I earned in theatre, I actually paid down my looming debt and felt “rich”. I had savings for the first time in my life and still managed to act and direct  at night. The stamina of youth + coffee.

In 1991 I was weighing the decision to return to a theatre position full-time, which I ultimately did. Sitting at my moms kitchen table obviously moaning about money worries and trying to decide between what was safe and what was authentic, she pulled out a piece of paper and wrote me a note.

It said “Pay to the Order of Amanda T. Shaffer. Paid in Full. The Law of Abundance.” She dated it, had me sign it and told me to carry it in my wallet always.

I don’t know if her talisman worked but the next year I met Mr. Man who became my friend and husband, and the years following the abundance flowed – I founded a theatre, bought a house, had a child and continued to find interesting, fulfilling work in and out of theatre for the next 25 years.

There were many dips in the road, losing my dad in 1992, and then mom in 2001. Followed by the death of my brother, my husbands grandparents, and my father-in-law. But the abundance and richness of my life has never dimmed. And I am grateful.

Sunday was the anniversary of my mom’s death and I am still vaguely surprised by it every year. So I was happy to find the tattered paper talisman she gifted me with – dated on what would be my daughters birthday eight years in the future – and put it in my new wallet.

Where I will carry it always.

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