COLUMNISTS

Here's a tip: Stop dueling with people who disappoint you, move on and take deep breaths

We don’t owe farewell speeches to those who have disappointed us too many times. Instead, just back quietly out of the room. And then take a deep breath.

Last year, my young friend and his fiancee had planned to be wed in November before a gathering of 200 friends and loved ones. The pandemic uprooted their plans.

This is a love story.

Adam is 30, and Melissa is 29. They love every person they had invited, and they wanted them to stay alive. So, they postponed their big wedding. Instead, they were married outside, before a small huddle of family members who were safely distanced and masked. The party could wait.

Recently, they mailed wedding invitations again. Finally, Melissa will put on her wedding dress – she didn't wear it for the small ceremony – and she and Adam will exchange vows next month in front of everyone they had planned to celebrate with a year ago.

One crucial caveat, delivered in a printed insert included with each wedding invitation:

For the safety of all, especially those we love that are immunocompromised, we respectfully ask that you only attend if you are vaccinated. We saw, firsthand, in November 2020 how this virus can affect our big day. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers that day, as we will keep you in ours. We will miss you.

Masks cover the faces of these bride and groom figures, reflecting a common public health precaution amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remember, Melissa and Adam love every person they are inviting. They want them to stay alive.   

Response has been overwhelmingly positive. Several invitees have reached out to thank them for their thoughtfulness, for this act of love.

Embrace the graceful exit, closed door

This is a way we can take care of ourselves as COVID-19’s delta variant surges and hospitals fill, again. We don’t have to give farewell speeches to those who have disappointed us one time too many. We don’t have to declare war on those who parade their disregard for the well-being of others. No ultimatums, no duels to the end.

Instead, we can embrace the graceful exit. We can back out of the room and let the door quietly close.

I have a tip I want to share with you. It’s about breathing.

Recently, my doctor described with alarming accuracy the amount of stress I was holding onto every day. The body tells its own stories. As an asthmatic, I’ve long been aware of the value of a deep breath. But like too many things I do, I had turned even that basic need into homework during the pandemic. Breathe in 1-2-3-4, hold the breath 1-2-3-4, exhale 1-2-3-4 ...

My doctor suggested a different way to breathe. Instead of counting, she said, imagine a wave upon the shore. Inhale as it rolls in, exhale as it recedes. Here’s the key: With each breath, recall a happy memory.

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Timing my breathing to an imagined wave (inhaling as it crashes ashore, exhaling as the water rolls out) has been life changing.

This has been life changing. It’s like hearing the theme song to "The Sopranos" and the next thing I know, I’m singing the title song to "The Sound of Music."

Inhale, and 5-year-old Milo is on the Zoom screen last Christmas Eve. He doesn’t recognize Grandpa, and so when Santa mentions that it’s almost bedtime in Rhode Island, Milo turns to his parents and squeals, “He knows where I live!”

Exhale.

Breathe in, and I’m in the car with my favorite married couple, Jackie and Kate. I ask them to pull over so that I can get out to photograph a house decorated for Christmas. Suddenly, Santa waves from the front porch window and I scream, tripping over a trash can as I race back to the car. My friends, who knew to expect the projected image, can’t stop laughing.

Exhale.

Breathe in, and my son Andy is holding his baby sister Caitlin for the very first time. He is 12, and in the softest of whispers I hear him say, “You are so beautiful, you are so beautiful, sister of mine.”

Exhale.

Breathe your way to happier times

Recently, I shared this exercise with a friend who asked if I ever run out of happy memories. I told her this was another nice surprise: Memories beget memories. Throughout the day, more happy moments bubble up, often without beckoning, as if somewhere in my mind there’s been an agreement: This is a better way for this human to navigate the pandemic.

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And so a morning this week, I thought of my husband and I heard his rambling marriage proposal 18 years ago that was so confusing I finally said, “Are you asking me to marry you?” His reply: “That is what I want.”

One night, a new friend filled my wine glass and for a moment I saw my old friend Fleka, who died during this pandemic. She was back on my front porch swing again, waving a bag of Bugles and a bottle of champagne.

As I type this, I can hear my mother laughing. I have just emptied a glass of wine on her after one of her acrylic nails caught fire over a candle.

“You had to throw the red?” she says.  

The wave rolls in.

The wave recedes.

USA TODAY columnist Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” is a New York Times bestseller. You can reach her at CSchultz@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @ConnieSchultz