the safety pin sutra

September 23rd, 2020

I went to the dry cleaners the other day. It wasn’t because I had any dry cleaning, at least not like before, when my husband went to work every day wearing collared shirts that he liked laundered with light starch. That meant I went to the cleaners every week to drop off and pick up. But who needs the cleaners now? They’ve cut their hours in half.

This time I took one pair of linen shorts and five safety pins. The shorts were mine but the safety pins were theirs. I could do without the shorts, but I wanted to take in the pins. I wanted to do something, even a little something, to make things better, to even out the loss. The little somethings are what keep me going now, keep me upright and moving forward.

The safety pins came from the numbered tags they pin on your order. One day I was returning hangers to the cleaners and they said I could bring the safety pins back too. That sounded like it could be helpful, so I collected them in a little pile, like the books I used to take back to the library, the glass bottles that went back to the grocery store.

It seems to me that safety pins used to have a bigger role in life, maybe even a vital role. We always had them around, and used them too. We used them to pin a falling hem, or to close a gaping neckline. When I was a teenager, I used a safety pin to hold my bra strap in place, and other intimate things that must be kept hidden under your clothes.

A safety pin was for safety, really, the kind of safety you were worried about back then, not now, when there is no such thing as safety and there really is no way to hide.

Last week I left home because the fire was too close and the smoke, too thick. I was safe where I went, at least safe from some things, but it was there that I realized that I couldn’t be safe from anything. I stopped sleeping. I kept searching for a shred of good news about the fire, the air, the wind, the earth and the evil running amok, real evil, the evil that destroys rampantly and without remorse, the evil at our heels in flaming red cloaks, with torches and pitchforks. I wish it weren’t so.

After five days I returned home. Don’t worry, everything is intact. No one stole my Biden/Harris  yard signs, which was a principal concern. But then, as now, I was overcome with the scale of the things to do, the dangers yet to overcome, the damage to repair. I am laid low with grief and feebleness, with the sad admission of what I can’t bear, can’t fix, and can’t turn back. The first morning I made a list to settle my mind, to ground me in what is still real and good and useful, things that don’t even need a list, but here it is, my David against Goliath, a fervent, tearful prayer for a kinder, better world.

Empty suitcase
Start wash
Get mail
Feed birds
Return safety pins

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash


  1. Brilliant ♡ All of it.
    You are not at all wrong about all that is left to do. But it begins where we are.
    Yes ?

    Here’s my list:

    Replace salt lamp bulbs
    Unscramble night notes
    Dig out the paint and brushes
    Be surprising and unpredictable
    Do the laundry

    Comment by Bonnie Nygren — September 23, 2020 @ 10:17 am

  2. Little lists have helped settle and ground me during this time.
    • Return C’s masks
    • Downtown ex paint, rent, recycle
    • D’s lunch 11:00
    • E flu shot, bday card
    • Dad chicken, paper towels
    Trying to create the smallest bit of order while living in the midst of chaos.

    Thank you for this lovely post.

    Comment by Jane — September 23, 2020 @ 12:25 pm

  3. Thank you, Maezen. I have also been, as is our practice, doing the thing that needs doing–right in front of me–and putting one foot in front of the other. Taking care of what is mine to take care of. It usually includes dishes and laundry. It always means responding.

    I’ve tried to imagine what Justice Ginsburg might say to us right now. I think, maybe, “Do your work–whatever it may be–with effort, attention, and energy”.

    Comment by Laura — September 23, 2020 @ 1:31 pm

  4. Two of the most valuable lessons I have learned are by Gary Zucav: the distinction between your circle of concern and your circle of influence and Byron Katie’s remark that there are three kinds of business: my business, your business and God’s business. Which, now I’m thinking about this, are both basically the same thing.
    The miracle can be found in Zucav’s explaination that when you soley focus on your circle of influence it will expand and become a bigger and bigger part of your circle of concern.
    I’m glad to hear that you are now (relatively) safe, I’ve been worried about your safety.
    I’m off to focus on the things that are within my circle of influence.

    Comment by Simone — September 24, 2020 @ 12:46 am

  5. I feel lucky that I have my job to focus on every day. The rage of the outside world still burns within me, but I have things to do. I’m glad you are safe.

    My list today:
    Receive Rush books
    Receive scores for the Music Library
    Pay invoices

    Comment by Angel Craddock — September 24, 2020 @ 6:49 am

  6. My list
    Set timer for 1 minute.
    Allow sadness and grief to swamp over me for 1 minute only.
    Call my list of people to check in on them.
    Eat the ice cream dammit.

    Comment by Linda Esterley — September 24, 2020 @ 8:14 am

  7. From the New Yorker Magazine article Aging Gracefully by Merve Emre, a review of Sigrid Nunez’s book “What Are You Going Through,” a line from Simone Weil’s essay,
    “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to Love of God”:

    One night, the narrator speaks—or dreams that she speaks—to a kitten named Booger, adopted by her Airbnb host to replace the cat that died. Booger recalls his first home; the fire that destroyed it; the boys who found him wandering the streets, frail and hungry; the dumpster they threw him in after abusing him. “I began to cry making my voice as big as possible, said the cat, and very big indeed it sounded to me in that void, but no one heard, no one came, and soon I had no voice left to cry.” The narrator draws no distinction between how one might listen to a person and how one might listen to a cat. Why should she? The void they cry into is the same. Their need to be seen and saved is identical.

    Comment by Larry Misiak — September 24, 2020 @ 9:11 am

  8. Larry, you are really something. You are the one who hears the cry. Forever.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — September 24, 2020 @ 10:33 am

  9. My sister in law once found a kitten in a sealed box amongst a pile of trash. She was heard and is our cat now.

    Comment by Simone — September 25, 2020 @ 1:12 am

  10. I have to watch my feet to make sure they still know where to go. They do. It’s me who forgets more easily now. So I watch my feet and take their counsel. So far, we’re all doing okay. 😉 Thank you for your counsel, Maezen; it’s more than okay <3<3<3

    Comment by Jean Breheney — September 24, 2020 @ 1:02 pm

  11. Plant as many bulbs in pots and in the garden so as to keep focused and active now; and to know that spring will come.

    Comment by Debbie — September 25, 2020 @ 7:56 am

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