You feel pretty buttoned up. Your writing workshop is coming together like a dream. Twenty-two people. A small city tucked into the mountains of Mexico. You spend months organizing the hotel, the shuttles, sending emails back and forth with participants, extolling the virtues of the magical town; the giant puppets parading the streets, the churches lit up all baby pink at night, bougainvillea crawling the city walls.

You bring in a bad ass teacher from New York, one of your mentors, one of the most inspiring writers you know, and someone you’re grateful to teach alongside.

Weeks before people fly in, you write your opening notes, talking about what it might be like to write in this ancient city, saying things like, “You’ll wake up, you’ll let go. You’ll be asked to step into the mystery.”

You love what you write. It’ll be a great beginning to the workshop. Some people might even take notes as you speak.

And to sweeten the deal, your family is coming to town for Christmas, a week before the workshop. You imagine yourself strolling the square at night with your niece and nephew, your sister, your mother and your oldest daughter. Churches from the 1500’s line the path, violinists spring up behind park benches for impromptu concerts, churros ooze caramel, everyone walks the cobblestone streets in the moonlight with their arms around each other.

You know how to make things nice, so you head to the Church of Immaculate Conception early one foggy morning, weeks before everyone’s arrival, to place an order for Christmas tamales because you’ve heard that the nuns make the best tamales in town. When you push open the heavy church door at 8 am you are met by the quiet eyes of six nuns who are sweeping the sanctuary and who don’t speak English. “Come back Friday,” says the man delivering flowers for the altar.

You order 24 tamales, but from someone else, a woman in town who can use the money and who your new friend from salsa class says is an excellent cook.

For your family, you plan a walking tour of town, a cooking class, and you order flan from the tiny bakery down the lane.

Everything is ready to go, but this piece is about lessons, and most lessons include some loss.

And so, when the workshop is canceled two weeks before everyone flies in because the virus is spreading, and because half the participants are coming from the epicenter in New York, you take a deep breath and re-read your opening remarks. You realize that you wrote them for yourself. Now you are the one who is waking up, letting go and stepping into the mystery. Now you are the one taking notes.

You write apologies. You find a new date. You try to make things right, but in the end, it’s the virus you’re wrestling – which is like getting into the ring with a sumo wrestler who is 17 times your size, and oiled up too. Every time you try to get a hold of him and flip him, you go flying. It’s almost comedic. You know the lesson is surrender, but it’s so hard to give up when you want what you want, when you want what you want…

As for the family, well, you know. No one is getting on a plane from the U.S., plus, your mother and daughter have been exposed back home, so they’re tucking in for a nice quiet Christmas. In a few days your mother will get covid, as will a member of the writing workshop who was set to board a plane.

The first few days are hard. You field emails, cancel plans. You run around trying to catch the falling balls. You hit a wall. People are upset, understandably. This is the American way. You’re used to being able to fix things. It’s not easy to sit with disappointment.

Seems like you should be getting the lesson by now; our third covid winter. But this is a hard one to learn.

You keep the order for the 24 tamales, which will be delivered on Christmas Eve. The woman making the tamales has a daughter with a broken cello, and they don’t have the money to fix it.

A group of Haitian refugees who have crossed the border into Mexico are camping out at a service station in town. You think about those 24 tamales. Two days in a row you set out on foot to try and find the refugees, but Google maps gets you lost each time. You end up donating money instead.

Hands on your chest in bed, you settle in. “It’s okay,” you tell yourself. “You’re okay. You’re getting the hang of it now.”

You don’t get what you want, you get something else – even if you don’t know what that something is, even if it’s disguised in sorrow and loss.

This is not a piece about the tamales. It’s not a piece about Christmas or a workshop that had to be canceled, or even a fast moving virus. You know what this piece is about. It’s not easy to surrender. It’s easy to talk about it, but living it is something else.

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