By day, Liz Petrone ’02 is a programmer analyst supporting financial systems for a Syracuse corporation. But when night falls and her four children are asleep, she logs on to her computer with a very nontechnical destination: her blog. “It’s a place to share stories and tell the truth,” she says. “It’s about motherhood, about losing my own mother, and about the lessons learned in trying to navigate through life. I was fully unprepared for how earthshakingly beautiful this journey would be.”
Petrone’s blog has gained national attention and her work has been featured on sites like HuffPost, The Mighty and Erma Bombeck’s Writers’ Workshop. She was selected as a Blogger 2017 Voice of the Year, and her post Coffee in the Keyboard was a 2017 Beyond Your Blog Hall of Fame selection. She’s been a guest on “The Broad’s Way” and the “Inside Voice” podcasts. Petrone’s first book, a memoir titled “The Price of Admission,” will be published in September by Broadleaf Books. It’s available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.
Nearly 20 years ago, Liz Richey arrived on campus at Syracuse. She was a post-traditional student working multiple jobs to support herself after some stops and starts at Cornell and Onondaga Community College, where she studied human development and psychology. When she took on a part-time job doing clerical work for Onondaga County, she tackled a lot of backlogged IT work. “There was something so immensely satisfying about finding creative solutions to complicated problems,” she recalls. She ended up transferring to Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies (iSchool) and changing her major to information management and technology .
“I loved my time at SU,” she says. “I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in, having come from a psychology background academically, but my iSchool professors all worked hard to make me feel comfortable and successful.” These days, the skills she gained at the iSchool help Petrone and her husband, Nick, a high school history teacher and adjunct professor, feed four children aged six to 15 in a big, old house in Syracuse’s Strathmore neighborhood. But it’s her writing that feeds her soul.
Petrone originally wrote this blog post in 2017. Then the Coronavirus started changing life as we know it, so she updated it.
Bravery in a Time of Coronavirus
By Liz Petrone
There is a single prayer I pray every day, often many times a day, lately—since I started to worry that this might actually be the apocalypse—with every breath.
"God, help me be brave."
This whole praying thing is still relatively new to me. I didn’t grow up praying. I didn’t grow up in a church. And so when I decided I needed to start having a dialogue with God, I did what a what a lot of people do.
I asked for stuff.
"Please help me find happiness."
"Please help me fit into that dress by next weekend."
“Please let this marriage last.”
”Please keep my babies safe. Healthy. In my sights."
There’s a problem with that though. And it’s not that it’s greedy either, all that asking. I truly believe the universe is a plentiful and loving place. I believe that it wants us to be happy. I believe that it wants us to have what we need and even what we desire, that it wants to rise up to meet us where we are. I think we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for things or hope for things or truly believe in our hearts that we are good and worthy of receiving things.
The problem is that all that asking I was doing was giving me the illusion of control. And control is where it gets tricky, especially when things happen like what is happening out there right now. I’m addicted to control the way some people are addicted to booze or sugar or gambling. I crave it. I’ve spent this quarantine following around behind my family and reloading the dishwasher when they aren’t looking, for God’s sake, because I think I am the only one who can do it right. Like I am the queen of dishwasher loading, like this is a thing that little girls everywhere are aspiring to right now, like it even matters. And like anything we can get addicted to, control makes me feel powerful and like I have a purpose at the same time it is slowly destroying my life, because I don’t really have control of anything.
A few months ago, well before this mess started, I made a solo trip to visit my very best friend in Maine. I usually chunk this trip up into two trips so I can also stop and see my stepdad (not married to my mom, she’s dead now, but I call him that forever because that’s what he is) too. So I’m driving a few hours on the Thruway to stop at his house and it’s December and snowy and rainy and the sun sets at approximately 3:32 p.m. and something funky is going on with my windshield wipers and I’m *kinda* old and long story not very short: I cannot see a thing. I’m barreling down the Thruway and it’s pitch black except for the glare of the headlights of the cars coming the other way against my not-able-to-be-cleared windshield and I am scared out of my ever-loving mind. I can’t see. I can’t stop. I can’t breathe. And I’m praying the whole time, out loud because I’m alone, this ridiculous non-sensical stream of things I’m asking God to help me do, like see or drive or inhale or calm down, and nothing happens. It goes on like that for an hour or two and then out of sheer desperation mixed with the desire to not hear my own voice anymore, I decided to try something new. I surrendered. I took a deep breath and unhinged my shoulders from my ears and made myself peel my fingers one by one from their white knuckled death grip around the steering wheel as I exhaled, softened, trying to remember that the other side of all of that asking is trusting that what we actually need will be provided.
When I tell you that it stopped raining right then you may believe me or maybe you won’t because it sounds crazy or you’re like me and you’re a strong independent woman who has a lifetime of adversity to thank for teaching her how to survive and scratch her way out of the darkness but never quite mastered the art of acquiescence or trust or faith, and either way I get it. I’m not here to try to convince you.
What I am here to say is this: it is a hard time to be a control freak. All we have to do is look at the latest coronavirus news or outside at the eerily empty streets to be reminded of that. The world feels increasingly scary to live in with every passing day and everywhere I look I see people throwing up their hands and asking why? What did we do to deserve this? I’ve been asking it too, whispering it in the dark corners and waiting, waiting, for the answer.
And maybe the answer is nothing.
Maybe the world is just hard, maybe being alive in it takes great faith and great courage and a slow ungripping of the wheel, finger by white knuckled finger, because we were never the ones driving anyway and the truth is the dishes in the dishwasher are probably going to get clean even if they are stacked all haphazard and wrong.
Of the two—great faith and great courage—I suppose faith has come easier to me these days. Spending so much time around children does that to you, I think. But courage? No way. I am not a brave person. I am the one who watches everyone else jump in the pool from my corner where I have to ease myself in so painfully slowly, one inch of stark white goose-bumped flesh at a time, holding my breath for so long that dizziness starts to crowd into the corners of my vision. I don’t drive above the speed limit even when it’s not raining and I don’t watch scary movies because they make me feel like I am dying. That is exactly how I have been feeling when I watch the news lately too. And my depression is back and it has brought its faithful partner along with it, anxiety, and every single bone in my body is calling out for me to hide, seek shelter in the bed covers, cower until this over. But I cannot. And that’s where God comes in, at least for me, at least for right now. Because I am not inherently brave, but maybe I don’t have to be. Maybe all I have to is ask for the courage to keep going. Maybe getting out of bed and facing the day is an act of tremendous courage right now. Maybe that’s how the true healing starts.
Because I still want happiness. I still want us all to be healthy and safe. And yes, I want revolution too, and healing, and progress. I want to march and sing in the streets and not be afraid every morning when I let my babies out the front door and into the world. And none of that is going to be found under my covers. I know. I’ve looked.
So all I want, all I will let myself ask for right now, is to be brave.
God, help us be brave. Brave enough to keep going. Brave enough to have faith. Brave enough to keep living our lives in a broken world we no longer recognize.
Brave enough, even, to fix it.