Gate change

“Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy, because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite – it is a passionate exercise.”

~ John Patrick Shanley

Maybe that is why we are all so tired these days. Blame it on doubt. I usually blame it on the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. – and you can certainly connect the dots on that one, but I’m doubling down on doubt today. We are living in a constant state of uncertainty and it is absolutely exhausting.

Some days I feel like I’m on a moving walkway at an airport. You remember airports, don’t you? Anyway, I have my suitcase and I am making my way to my gate – only I don’t know where my gate is. In fact, I have no idea where I am going. I don’t even have a ticket, but it doesn’t really matter because the walkway never ends. It just keeps moving forward into the unknown.

This is life in a global pandemic. A one-way ticket to uncertainty. Who the hell knows what to pack? Besides lots of snacks, of course. No kidding, this is hard and the reality of it sent me into the dark hole of despair this week.

I have written before about my superpowers of denial, but they dissolved this week. I’m sure it was the cumulative effect of everything most of us are dealing with – fears about our health and our loved ones, fears about security, fears about what the future will look like when the gates open again.

Putting the COVID-19 smorgasbord of anxiety aside, there were two things that happened this week that made me feel the brutal reality of this pandemic in my gut. The first, innocently enough, was a virtual vestry meeting after a Zoom worship service on Sunday. In the Episcopal church, my church, the vestry is like a board of directors – conducting parochial business. We normally meet once a month, but since the quarantine in early March, we have been connecting weekly.

We divided up the church directory and each vestry member has been responsible for checking in on parishioners. Each week we spend the top of our meeting with updates and last Sunday, our rector told us that she had heard from some older members of our parish that they won’t be returning to the physical church until there is a vaccine. Lysol and grow lights aside, the most optimistic projections for a vaccine are a year or more away. Believe me, I want these dear wise owls at my church to stay home and safe, but I just can’t imagine not seeing them in person for that long. Damn you, reality.

The other event that leveled me was more of a Six Degrees of COVID-19. My sister, who manages some oncology clinics in East Bay, CA, had to inform her staff of a 20% pay cut. The freeze on elective surgeries during this pandemic has left medical providers reeling from a revenue perspective. She also had to lay off some temporary staff, including a cheerful young man who has been living in his car. Cue gut punch.

My sister had told me about this man weeks ago – how earnest and kind he was and how much he appreciated his job. He worked at the front desk and greeted everyone enthusiastically. He had shared his housing situation with my sister and she and her assistant were able to discreetly help him with some new clothing and toiletries. She dreaded giving him the news earlier this week and when I talked to her that evening, I asked her how it went. She said the young man said, “Thank you for this opportunity. I’ve learned so much.” True story.

I got off the phone with my sister and sat down in the chair in my office in the dark and I wept for a young man I will never meet. To be honest, I also wept for my denial. It was shattered, crumbling like a piece of fine crystal being tapped with a hammer. It was my pandemic tipping point.

There is no denying the uncertainty in which we are all living. 50,000 dead and counting as I write this. A friend shared the tweet below with me and it made me feel better – to know that someone else was feeling this way.

I imagine a lot of people are feeling this way and you know what? It is okay to feel that way – any way you are feeling about all of this. Anxiety, fear, grief, anger – we need to feel it. One of the truest things I ever read was Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking – her stunningly raw account of her husband’s sudden death and how she navigated that first horrible year without him. She writes that “grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” That, my friends, is as real as it gets.

I have been grieving the things I miss in this beautifully broken world and I am grieving the loss of certainty. The late Jane Kenyon is one of my favorite poets and I have found myself returning to her words again over the past several weeks. Her poem Otherwise is an achingly lyrical appreciation for the here and now and a haunting lamentation on uncertainty. I’ve been reading it a lot on the walkway. Hang on to your boarding pass and your humanity, folks. This could be a long one.


I got out of bed

on two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe, flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and

planned another day

just like this day

But one day, I know

it will be otherwise.

Next year in Jerusalem

COVID-19 Spring.

I’ve been dreaming a lot about my parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve been gone almost 20 years so I’m grateful that these are sweet dreams and not nightmares, but I’ve had plenty of those, too. We all have.

Last night I dreamt that I was walking in a big city with my father. My dad was a giant of a man – 6’4’’ – and you could always find him in a crowd. He had the long legs of a basketball player and it was hard to keep up with him – which always greatly annoyed my 5’4’’ mother. She spent a lot of their 52 years together looking at his backside – and bitching about how fast he walked.

When I look up “safe” in my dictionary, this picture pops up. My dad.

In my dream, we were suddenly separated, and I was surrounded by hundreds of strangers, all walking rapidly as if to catch a train. My heart was pounding, and I wanted to cry when I looked up far in the distance and saw my handsome father’s head towering above everyone else. I called out as loud as I could, “Dad,” over and over again until, finally, he turned and saw me.  He smiled and waited as I ran towards him and into that magical feeling of being safe.

Do you remember that feeling? That moment when your breath stills to a whisper and you feel your feet firmly grounded. That moment when you can almost hear your heart humming. God, I miss those moments.

Most of us have been reeling in a maze of confusion and fear and a fair amount of anger the past month or so. My March certainly came in like a lion when a drugged-out guy in a van slammed into my car while I was sitting at a stoplight near RDU. It’s a cliché, but I never saw it coming. I suppose that’s often a blessing – in so many situations. Once the screeching and sound of crushing metal ceased, I heard a calm, sweet voice saying, “Are you okay?” The voice belonged to Dee – a lovely truck driver who was stopped next to me and saw the whole thing happen. She helped me out of my car on the passenger side and stayed with me until the EMTs and state trooper arrived.

It is not well with my Soul.

My car was totaled and I’m lucky I wasn’t seriously maimed – or worse. I did have some mega bruises on my left hip for a few weeks that looked like a map of the world. Oh, and the guy who hit me abandoned his vehicle – and one of his shoes – and ran away. So, I saw the best and worst of humanity that day – my dear highway guardian Dee who stopped her big rig to check on me and that guy that left me for dead. Moral to this story: Be like Dee.

I’m not exactly an optimist, but I did think that my car being totaled would be the worst thing that would happen in my life in the month of March. Again, such a blessing that we don’t see these things coming. Little did I know that the accident was just the opening act for the cancellation of a long-planned trip to the Holy Land and oh yeah, a global pandemic. Perspective can be a powerful thing.

Even though March was 137 days long, it feels so far away today. Gone are the days where we might have thought this was going to be okay in a few weeks. A week before my trip to Israel was cancelled, the United States reported 70 COVID-19 cases and the nation’s first death in Washington state. That was less than six weeks ago. Today, there are almost half a million cases and over 13,000 deaths. That hoax theory is not aging well, and neither am I. These days are long and the nights often longer.

I spend a lot of time grieving. It’s a horrible new version of a celebrity parlor game – Six Degrees of COVID-19. Most of us know someone who has or had COVID-19 and each passing day, more of us will know someone who has died from the virus. And certainly, everyone knows someone who is on the front lines of caregiving in one way or another. For me, that is my dear sister who is the director of Stanford Healthcare’s oncology clinics in the East Bay California area. Weeks before COVID-19 was on the front burner here in North Carolina, my sister was warning me of how bad it was going to get. She has adapted exceptionally well to her strange new normal. She works long days – always gloved and masked – comes home and takes off her shoes on the front porch. She heads straight to her laundry room, undresses and throws her clothes in the washer before heading to the shower. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Just another day at the office. My sister.

She has a vulnerable respiratory system and I worry (understatement) about her, but her spirit is indomitable and when I speak with her on the phone every day, she makes me feel hopeful that we will get to the other side of this.

I spent a good chunk of my career working in public health to support people living with HIV/AIDS and I learned early on that people were more likely to care about a pandemic when it became personal to them. Every one of us will have a very personal COVID-19 story to share before this is over and we need to tell them in the ways that feel right to us. The dead deserve that. The helpers deserve that. The grieving deserve that, too.

Shelter in place is a phrase we keep hearing repeatedly and I find a disconnect in it. I understand the literal definition of the term, but there are days that I wrestle with it. Those are the days I feel angry and frustrated that I can’t seek shelter in the places that make me feel safe. Places like my church. This week is Holy Week – a sacred and somber week in Christianity as we recount the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection.

I am an Episcopalian and like many denominations we have special services on each day this week. About a decade ago, I was going through a dark crisis in my life and suffering deeply. The young intern at my church encouraged me to attend every service of Holy Week. I thought that sounded a little severe, but she suggested that the liturgy of Holy Week might speak to me in a deeper way if I was present at every service. I think she knew I was broken open enough to hear those words in a new way. She could not have been more right. (Disclaimer: Non-believers can bail on this post if this is too much Jesus for you. No hard feelings.) For the first time in my life, I saw my suffering in the suffering of Christ. I felt his wounds as my wounds and perhaps, most importantly, I experienced my resurrection in his. I felt whole again in a way I never had before.

Palm (weeds from our yard) Sunday, 2020. Let us Zoom.

Ever since then, I have attended Holy Week services, well, religiously. So, who knew we would have to give up church for Lent? The rector at my current church is young and cyber savvy and has done a remarkable job of creating online worship opportunities. Zoom is our sanctuary and it has been lovely to see the sweet faces of my community of faith. That said, I’m a cradle Episcopalian and I still feel uneasy wearing flip flops and a T-shirt to church. And I really miss the passing of the peace. At my church, this part of the service goes on for what must feel like an eternity for all the introverts in the parish. But what I miss most is communion – the sharing of the consecrated bread and wine. Without a doubt, this passage from The Book of Common Prayer is why I am an Episcopalian:

“We who are many are one body, because we all share on bread, one cup.”

Even as a child, I think my little bleeding liberal heart loved the idea that a pauper and a prince would drink from the same cup. I worry that COVID-19 might change this sacrament and that makes my heart ache.

The truth is that a lot of things are never going to be quite the same again – and it’s okay to grieve that. Yes, we’re all in this together and the tsunami of gorgeous stories of people helping each other sustains us each day, but before this began, the fear of the other was a real one in our country. A global pandemic won’t help reduce that fear. Neither will government leadership that promotes xenophobia. Yes, the struggle is real and so is the anxiety.

Sidewalk inspiration.

As I stumble through the surreal wilderness of this Holy Week, I am most comforted by thoughts of a beautiful Seder my wife and I attended last year. We were in Washington, DC for the celebration of my most beloved mentor/friend/touchstone Phyllis’ 70th birthday. Her birthday was on Good Friday, which coincided with Passover. Phyllis’ cousin traditionally hosts a huge family Seder – tables and tables pushed together with attendees ranging from about 5 to 95. She graciously invited us as the fortunate chosen Gentiles.

Phyllis Freedman. My favorite Jew.

It had been a long time since I had been to a Seder, and I had never been to one so big or elaborate. As the evening began, we took turns reading the stories of the terrible plagues sent by God and inflicted upon Egypt in order to allow the Israelites to depart from slavery and their journey to freedom in Israel. I loved the symbolism and connection of the meal to the story – dipping hard-cooked eggs in salt water to remember the tears of the ancient Israelites and the sharp herbs representing the bitterness of slavery. It was deeply moving and well, I’m not going to lie – I am a big fan of Cousin Davida’s kugel.

The president keeps making the rather ridiculous observation that “America is just not built for this.” I suppose he means the shutdown that most of us are navigating, but I would guess he also means all the suffering this pandemic entails. I think that’s why I’ve been reminiscing about last year’s Seder and hearing – and perhaps understanding in a new way – the tremendous struggles that Jews have endured. I’m not saying that the Jews were built for this, but they surely can teach us a lot about resilience and dealing with despair.

The traditional Passover Seder ends with the Hebrew, “L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim.” Next year in Jerusalem. This prayer finishes the Seder’s journey from a reminder of the suffering of the past to hopes for the wholeness and peace of the future.

Next year in Jerusalem. Whatever that might look like to you.

Wholeness. Peace. May it be so for each of us.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping to see that tall handsome man in my dreams again soon.

This post is dedicated to the late great John Prine who died from complications of COVID-19 on April 7, 2020. We’ll miss you like crazy, John.

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go



By Carla Kucinski

On the last day of the year, a dense fog rolled in,
thick and hazy like a Whistler painting.
This day feels heavy,
the year’s final, long sigh—an exhale of the sorrow, the joy, the pain, the beauty.
Tonight, I will go to sleep and lay to rest this heavy heart,
let go of the weight,
all that it has carried and endured.
Perhaps my head will be buzzing from the Moscow Mules I will sip with dear friend M,
counting down the New Year.
10, 9, 8, 7 …
Perhaps my heart will feel light like December’s first snowflakes—joyful, swirling.
Perhaps I will close my eyes and recognize that the lightness I feel is gratitude,
gratitude for it all—the darkness, the cracks of light—there is always light.
Perhaps everything has a purpose.
Perhaps next year will be easier—a break will come—
some peace will settle from the cloud of dust of 2018.
Perhaps I’m stronger than I think.
Perhaps this new year will feel like a warm blanket.
Perhaps that’s the beauty, the not knowing.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps …


IMG_4892 reduced

Photo by Carla Kucinski

House fire


The Downtown Mall in happier times.  Photo:

I have no memory of my first visit to Charlottesville. I was a baby in my mother’s arms. She would have been in Charlottesville visiting Aunt Lillian – her mother’s older sister. I would visit that home, near the Downtown Mall, many times as a child.

I grew up in Harrisonburg, VA, a small town about an hour from Charlottesville and travelling there always felt exciting – like going to a real city. There have been many trips to Charlottesville since that first one some 60 years ago, including a dozen years that I lived there beginning in the early 80’s. My father and my sister went to college there. My mother took her last breath in a hospital there. Charlottesville has always felt like a second home to me and what happened there on Saturday has broken me.

Disclaimer: This is not a political blog post. If you’ve followed me at all on any social media you most certainly are aware of my leanings. No, this is a personal post – more of a lamentation if you will. I am grieving another loss – the loss of what little innocence remained in my life. Over the past 15 years or so, I have experienced a great deal of loss – my parents, my longtime partner, and a job I dearly loved – that’s just a bit of the inventory. I’ve become comfortable with loss. No, I don’t like it but it feels familiar to me.

When you suffer such loss, you tend to cling tighter to happier times – you grip those memories with white knuckles and you don’t let go because sometimes you feel like your life – or at least your sanity – depends on it. So over the years, my memories of Charlottesville have been a virtual safe house for me. It was a place I could go in my head to feel whole and happy again. I am either blessed or cursed with a wicked memory and I can see my times in Charlottesville like a movie I’ve watched a dozen times.

I can see my dad and me on a sun-dappled October afternoon in Scott Stadium watching UVA play football. I can hear him cheering – more like yelling – and I can feel his big bear hugs after a touchdown. UVA would more often lose than win but my father, ever the eternal optimist, would always put his arm around me as we walked out of the stadium and say, “We’ll get ‘em next time, Adda.”


Win or lose – a happy place for me and my dad.  Photo:

I can see my mom at Mother’s Day brunch at the Omni Hotel, dressed so elegantly and relishing being the center of attention as she sipped – more like gulped – her champagne. Good Lord, my mother loved champagne. I can also see her take that last breath at Martha Jefferson Hospital on a blustery cold night in December. That may sound morbid to you, but I don’t intend it that way. My mother was in death as she was in life – a lady – and she exited with courage and grace and that moment is one that I will cherish until my last breath.

I can see my former partner and me at an apple festival. So many apple festivals! I’m not even that wild about apples but those festivals were such pure joy – folks out in sweaters and fleece enjoying the grand weather, eating apple everything, listening to bluegrass music. I wonder now what we possible could have worried about back then.


A bushel of fun.  Photo:

I suppose it was a simpler time everywhere across our nation but Charlottesville is my personal frame of reference for a precious time of great contentment.

That was until Saturday. I don’t care to recap the horror that unfolded in downtown Charlottesville, not far from Aunt Lillian’s house. Heather Heyer, 32, is dead and several people are recovering from injuries. And a beautiful city has been terrorized.

I know what happened in Charlottesville on Saturday is way bigger and far more important than me. It happened to our whole country and the national grief is palpable. I feel it – you feel it. But my grief is also personal and I don’t know where to go with it.

My safe house has been burned to the ground.


The end of the innocence.  Photo:

Adventure is calling …

“Let me fall if I must fall. The one I become will catch me.” 

A year ago, I purchased a black and white postcard in a bookstore in downtown Rhinebeck, N.Y. The postcard features a photograph of a woman in a dress, holding a parasol and balancing on a tightrope between two rows of hedges. The image resonated with me and felt like the perfect metaphor for my life at the time. Just weeks before, I had taken the GRE, which stands for Worst Test Ever. It was the first major step I took toward my dream of becoming a mental health counselor. That entire year felt like a balancing act, teetering between the past and the future, my grief and my healing. Many times, during that difficult year, I felt stuck in my grief, like I was sinking into a deep pool of wet, heavy mud. But when I saw that black and white postcard that afternoon, I also saw lightness in the way the woman balanced her body on the tight rope, and her gentle determination. The photograph gave me hope that I would once again find the lightness in my own body and reach the other side of the tightrope.

Well, I have reached the other side of that tightrope. Tomorrow is my first day of grad school. This journey that I embarked on a year ago is actually freaking happening. I am in shock every day that my dreams are being realized. Along the way, so many of my loved ones were cheering me on, supporting me, believing in me, confident that everything would work out. It’s also been a nerve wracking and scary experience to take on. I left my job just two weeks ago. The night before I gave my notice, I printed my resignation letter, walked into the living room, and joined my husband on the couch with the letter in my hand. I started to sob. “I am freaking out. Majorly freaking out,” I sobbed. “You should be,” he said. “It’s a huge deal.” Yes, it is a huge deal. But I never second guessed one second of this journey. The closer I got, the more I realized how much I wanted it.

Every step of the way, I was shocked and surprised when I’d make it to the next level. After I took the GRE, it was like doors just started opening for me. I applied to two nationally ranked schools and got into both. My Life Coach instructor kept telling me last year that my dream was just “three clicks away.” I laughed and told her she made it sound so easy. “Because it is,” she answered. I listened to her advice and I wrote the words “You’re just three clicks away” in black Sharpie on a post-it note tacked to my computer at home and at work. Doing that simple task made my goal seem attainable. The day that I realized that there were no more clicks, that I had arrived at my goal, I smiled as I removed the sticky note from my computer, balled it up in my hands and tossed it in the garbage.

I’ve wanted to be a counselor for a long time. It’s one of those things that I feel has always been in the back of my head. I’ve always had a heart for people and helping others. As early as grade school, I remember my girlfriends passing me notes in class, writing to me like I was an advice columnist: “Dear Carla.” They had questions about boys, friends, their parents divorcing. In high school, I volunteered a lot through the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) and spent time in psychiatric hospitals and assisted living centers singing carols, serving food or just having a friendly conversation with the residents.

By the time I was a sophomore in college, I became depressed, partly due to the stress I was under. I was a full-time student working 25 hours a week and writing for two on campus publications and in a relationship. I was overwhelmed and extremely unhappy—numb even. I don’t remember how I ended up at the counseling center at my college, but my counselor, Alice, saved me from a really difficult time in my life. The other day I was rummaging around in our guest closet when I found a piece I wrote about my struggle with depression for my Creative Non-Fiction class sophomore year. I sat down in the middle of the closet and read the entire thing. I remembered going through a tough time, but re-reading my own words made me realize how much pain I was in. I couldn’t help but cry reading it.

Since Alice, I’ve seen four counselors throughout the peaks and valleys of my life. And I can honestly say because of them, and because of the work I put into growing and learning about myself, I am the best version of myself. I believe so strongly in the power of counseling, and how it can transform lives the way that it has mine.

Last year, my heart felt called to do this work. Writing will forever and always be my first love, but I have never in my life felt so pulled to do something like this. At times, it has felt like there has been some outside force pushing me, guiding me down this path. When I would talk about my dream with my friends or family, I would start crying; that’s how badly I wanted it. After my first interview at my top choice school, I called my husband and best friend and bawled over the phone, blabbering about how I didn’t do well and feared I didn’t get in. A few days later, my acceptance letter popped up in my inbox. I was on my lunch break, casually checking my email while shoveling food in my mouth. My whole body started to tremble and I burst into tears, re-reading the letter over and over to make sure it was true. It really wasn’t a dream.

During the last two days, I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.” In chapter 5, “Bouncing Forward,” she writes about “post-traumatic growth,” positive outcomes that follow loss. I wasn’t familiar with this phrase, but as I read the chapter I began to realize that grad school is my positive outcome from my trauma. That experience, that loss, changed me forever. Months after it happened, my eyes started to open. I found myself re-examining my priorities and redefining what really matters. I longed for a job that would fulfill me and impact the lives of others. I felt a deep need to help people heal and grow.

Sandberg writes that in the past psychologists defined two possible outcomes of trauma: a person either struggled (developed PTSD, depression, anxiety), or they were resilient. But now, there is a third outcome, bouncing forward, Sandberg writes. Seeing new possibilities is one of the forms that post-traumatic growth can take. The chapter goes on to share a dozen anecdotes about people who have experienced an incredible loss, and recovered by re-imagining their life and “adding more love and beauty to the world.” That’s how I see this change in my life. More love. More beauty. A better world.

“It’s like you’re going through a portal. You can’t go back. You’re going to change. The question is how.” That’s a quote from Jeff Huber whose story is told in the chapter. He lost his wife to cancer, quit his job, and became CEO of a company that detects early cancer—despite warnings from loved ones not to make any big decisions or changes after losing his wife. Jeff’s words made me pause on the page. Last year felt exactly like walking through a portal. I came out on the other side a changed person. Now I’m using that experience to fuel my dreams and, I hope, help others who have undergone similar experiences of loss and trauma.

My department orientation was last week. I got to meet the rest of the future counselors in my cohort, and reconnect with those I met during the interview process. I was on an adrenaline rush all day. I still couldn’t believe I was there, that this was happening, that these professors saw my potential and welcomed me into this program and this profession. I can’t believe this is my life.

When I recapped the day to my husband, I told him how I had this comforting feeling the whole time that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. “I found my place,” I told him. “I found my people.” It took me 37 years to get there, but the timing couldn’t be more perfect.