Our Emotional Health

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As I write this a hurricane is moving toward Louisiana in a path that threatens cities and towns that are still reeling from hurricane Laura during the summer. We are feeling outer bands of wind and getting some rain where I am in Texas. The sky is dark and dreary. I’m making soup and feeling rather safe and cozy but my mind keeps drifting to those whose lives will be upended by the impending storm. It’s also on something even more somber, a message from a dear friend who has learned that a young man in the senior class of her son’s high school has died from suicide. Meanwhile my husband Mike received an email today with news that one of his high school classmates has died. 

This has been an incredibly difficult year for so many. There are millions of distressing stories that we have not even heard. People have been sick. People have died. Homes have burned. Winds have destroyed houses and businesses. Millions are still out of work and wondering how much longer they will be able to hold on without losing everything. Teachers and students are struggling to keep schooling going in very difficult circumstances. We have witnessed injustice and protests. The F.B.I. uncovered an incredible plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. The political environment is filled with venom and division. Nothing feels right. We are no longer surprised by anything. We feel battered and numb.

We do our best to be as normal as possible. We explore ways to relax and to laugh and to celebrate small victories. Sometimes we find a quiet corner to meditate or even to shed a few tears. We may not have contracted Covid-19 or suffered from other health problems but we are mentally fragile and so are our children. They are quietly absorbing the stress that they feel, perhaps without really understanding their own emotions. 

I am teaching mathematics to eleven different students during the course of each week. They vary in age from about fourth grade to high school. They delight me and fill me with joy each time that I see their beautiful faces on the screen of my laptop. We try to laugh and forget about the world around us during our time together but sometimes reality creeps into our discussion. We digress from math for a few minutes to talk of something that matters more. 

Recently one of my kids quietly mentioned that someone in his school had Covid-19. It was apparent that he was a bit worried so we talked about the virus and how it is spread. I mentioned precautions that he might take and he assured me that he was following the protocols. I tried to be honest without frightening him because he was already quite nervous about what is happening. He thanked me for talking with him and said that his father had told him similar things. He greatly admires his father and views him as one of the smartest men in the world. I liked that he is able to talk about his feelings with his dad. 

It is unlikely that our difficulties will all be solved anytime soon. Winter is coming and with it will be bouts with colds and the flu as well as a possible resurgence of Covid 19. There will  be an election that will bring who knows what kind of reactions. Our holidays may look different. There will still be deaths and unexpected events. We have to find ways to keep hope alive, ways to laugh, ways to care for ourselves. We also have to protect our children whether they be toddlers or teens or twenty somethings. They are watching and being affected by everything that happens. Talk with them just as that father so lovingly spoke with his son. Help with their fears without making light of them. Talk with them no matter how tired you may be or how grouchy they may be. Make certain with every fiber of your being that they fully understand how much they are loved. 

Make the most of small things. A walk around the neighborhood can be more comforting than an elaborate outing. Making cookies together and talking about feelings keeps helps our young people to know that their concerns are normal. Sometimes a hug is worth a thousand words. It only takes a few minutes to show how much you care.

I think of the young man who took his life and it tears out my heart. I would urge every parent, every adult to watch for signs that someone in your circle is not doing well. Watch for the cries for help, remembering that sometimes they are so very subtle. Depression manifests itself in countless ways. Many times the person who is laughing the most is dying inside. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Somebody you know may be sending signals even now. Be aware of them and then reach out to comfort them or even urge them to seek professional guidance. 

Be kind in every way. That person who seems so angry or lazy or insulting may actually be dealing with issues that are all consuming. If you are a teacher watch for these things in yourself and in your students. If you are a parent keep the love and the communication flowing. If you are a friend reach out to anyone who appears to be lonely or hurting. We need each other and nothing, absolutely nothing, should be more important than taking that extra moment to reach out a hand in a spirit of love.

Hoping I Can Make It Great Again

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Three years ago I embarked on a journey with my husband Mike to become fit and trim. I ended up losing close to twenty pounds over a period of about nine months. I was working out at the gym five days a week and feeling really good about my health and my appearance. I never had cookies or chips or bread or ice cream or any of those things inside my home. I was living a clean life even though I admittedly missed some of the goodies that I had omitted from my diet. I kept track of what I ate and created a notebook filled with great recipes that included no pasta or rice or salt. I even gave up the diet Coke that had become my go to medication for migraine headaches. I was dedicated to doing the right thing for both me and Mike.

Then came Covid-19 and time stuck at home for weeks and then months on end. At first I thought that I’d get into the baking mode like so many of my friends were doing. I made banana bread and lemon pound cake. I bought some cream cheese to spread on it. I decided that it would not hurt to have some spaghetti or chicken and dumplings. Before long I caved and brought it some bread. After all we needed a diversion from the monotony of isolation and there were so many wonderful recipes being shared on Facebook. I figured a little treat here and there would not hurt a thing. 

Of course I have not been able to go to the gym so I substituted my exercise routine with long walks on my treadmill. They were refreshing but I missed the weight machines and so did my arms. Slowly the little bulges of muscle became flabby as did my waistline. No matter how vigilant I was in closing all of the rings on my Apple watch it just wasn’t the same as a good workout at the gym. I tried a few online exercise programs but found myself getting easily bored and sweaty. 

I haven’t worn nice clothing in forever. I switch from pajamas to baggy pants and t-shirts each morning and pad around the house in my bare feet. My hair has grown to a length that I haven’t seen since I was in my twenties and I have not put on makeup since February. My fingers and toes are au natural, no manis or pedis. In other words I have become an absolute mess. Worst of all I have gained back half of the weight that I worked so hard to lose. Perhaps the only positive about that is the fact that when I recently lost my footing on a slick wet bathroom floor and banged my jaw and arm against the vanity I did not break a bone. In that moment I thought of my mother’s theory that women with a bit of padding on their bodies are less likely to be fragile. I doubt she was right about that but at least owning her idea made my fall from health a little easier to accept.

I suppose that it is time to get back to work again before there is a vaccine for the virus and I am able to go back into society again. I would like to be in better shape when that happens. It means that I will have to forego cookies and ice cream and all forms of pasta and rice. There can be no more crackers or bread. I have to eat vegetables and fish and drink lots and lots of water. Mostly I have to find a more aggressive form of exercise than just walking.

Sometimes it just does not feel fair that there are so many wonderful things to eat in this world that are bad for us. I often think of one of my aunts who used to note that when she was young and fit she could not afford any dietary luxuries and once she had the income to purchase them they were hazardous to her health. Wouldn’t it be nice if cheesecake was good for us and we had to avoid kale?

The doctors seem to think that winter will be difficult this year in terms of Covid 19 which probably means that I won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Instead I’ll try to get back to a regimen of self care. It’s been fun being a slouch but I’ll have to purchase all new clothing if I don’t pull back on my ingestion of things that really taste good. I’m proud to announce that at least I have not been guilty of returning to my Diet Coke addiction even though I still crave one whenever I have a hamburger or watch a movie with a bowl of popcorn. 

I find myself being a bit jealous of the younger women that I know who post images of the yummy meals that they are preparing that I must once again try to avoid. I suppose that my metabolism is about as fast as a snail these days so I would have to exercise for hours to continue eating like I have been of late and not turn into a chubby little woman 

Wish me well. I’ll be taking out the old notebook of saltless, fatless, pasta less, somewhat tasteless recipes to go along with long walks around the neighborhood and doing aerobics with weights. Now if I can just convince myself that it is going to be great it may turn into a worthy project.

No Looking Back

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I know I’m an older person, two years younger than Donald Trump to be exact, but still classified as a senior citizen in spite of my energy and general good health. My mind is quick but now and again I find myself searching for a word that I know is stored in my memory. Sometimes I even use the wrong word even though I know what I meant. I suppose that almost everyone regardless of age is prone to such things now and again. I like to think of myself as still being young at heart and willing to accept change as needed. We humans need to evolve over time and I do my best to stay up to date. I am not one of the old people who longs for the days of my youth nor do I think that I am somehow wiser than the young men and women of today. 

I have great regard for the generations that have come after mine. I find all of them, the Gen Xers, the Millennials, and Gen Zers, to be thoughtful about the future and what needs to be done to insure that life will continue to improve. Sadly I see far too many from my Baby Boomer group acting as though all common sense and intelligence ended when the last boomer came out of the womb. I read and hear horrific comments from them about the laziness, ignorance and disrespectfulness of succeeding generations. It infuriates me because I know that it is simply not true. In fact it is ridiculous to stereotype any group of people and if ever there was a group that should know this, it is the Baby Boomers. We’ve been typecast since the nineteen sixties.

I have taught all of the generations since the nineteen seventies and I have been impressed with their earnest desires to be good productive citizens. They may go through some rough stages as teenagers but they always become quite serious as adults. They have genuine concerns about what the world may be like long after I am gone and they are tasked with solving the problems. They have lots of grand ideas but feel frustrated that so many from my time are fearful of viewing things from a different perspective. They are anxious to get started moving toward more equity and working on the environment. They worry that if we wait much longer they will spend most of their future cleaning up messes that might have been avoided if only we had acted sooner.

They realize that just as the Industrial Revolution created a world unlike anything ever before seen, so too the time will come for using science and technology to change the way we live and work. They realize that we will have to move away from habits that are endangering our planet and our own existence. They rightly believe that new ways of doing things will create new opportunities and jobs. They take heart in the inventiveness of humans that has driven societies forward for centuries but they also realize that it will require flexibility and a willingness to give up old habits that are harmful. We have done this before so surely we can do it again.

They are looking for new modes of transportation, new ways of educating our young, new kinds of diets, new ways of living together. They see transitions as a positive thing, not as a denial of the past. We don’t use horses and buggies anymore but some of our grandparents did. We have embraced progress before but of late so many of us seem reluctant to move forward rather than clinging to the past. We are leery of taking risks even as we should surely realize that not taking them will hold us back from the possibilities that will make life better for everyone.

Those younger than I am are willing to look at our history with eyes wide open, not just to complain, but to try new more just ways of living together. They are less inclined to see the world in nationalistic ways or to want to isolate themselves from new ideas. They are not nearly as concerned with possessions as with people. They imagine a kind and open world and while they in fact know that idealism is almost always impossible they would at least like to move closer to a truly peaceful cooperation with the entirety of humanity.

In spite of some generally held beliefs these generations have been well educated. They have explored mathematics more deeply than most Boomers ever did. They have embraced science more fully. They have been exposed to literature and cultures of the entire world, not just that of their own little corners. They have studied history with honesty. They make decisions based on information that they have learned in twelve or more years of longer times in school than Boomers ever had.

The world is not the same as it was when the Boomers were young and it should not be. Just as we would think it ludicrous to go back to medieval times, so too is it silly to long for the days of our youth. We move forward and hopefully we adapt. The clock keeps ticking. The earth keeps revolving around the sun. There is no turning back so we would do well to demonstrate some respect for the younger people who are already taking their places as the next leaders in the halls of power. Let’s not leave them an outdated mess because we are always looking backward.

We Are the People

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Hyperbole: exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally. 

I am weary these days. We live in a world in which we have been bombarded with hyperbole day after day after day. The purpose of such overstatement is not to inform us but to propagandize us. Hyperbole stokes fear and confusion. It is meant to appeal to our basest instincts. It trivializes logic and tempts us to react more from emotions than thinking. Traditional and social media are flooded with it so much so that many begin to emulate the soundbites that have captured their minds. The drums are banging, the cadence is repeated in catchy phrases again and again and again until we accept the snake oil as a panacea of truth and buy into a giant pyramid scheme that leads us to a cult like existence. 

Of course we tell ourselves that these are are the extreme fringes at work and yet bits and pieces of such hyperbole make their way into the thinking of people that we know and even our elected officials who once seemed so rational and clear headed. Ordinary people begin to fear the worst. They choose sides and isolate themselves from those whose ideas seem dangerously different. They begin to demonize others as dangerous opposition. The divisions grow and the hyperbole becomes ever louder because now it is being accepted as gospel. When we have a need to unite we are unable because trust in one another has evaporated. We no longer know who or what to believe. 

Our nation has in many ways become its own reality show in which we all have parts to play while being manipulated and directed by forces that we never actually see. Voices behind the curtain ask us to believe that half of the country is intent on taking away every single freedom that we have ever known and transforming America into a godless communist gulag. The other half is supposedly the spawn of Hitler with its fascism and army of Proud Boys. Sinister voices threaten us that one way or another our country is on a precipice from which it cannot survive. Doomsday seems to be just over the horizon. 

It feels as though every single thing is being driven by political propaganda, by hyperbole. We have taken all of our first amendment rights and made them issues of fear. We confuse the roles of our three branches of government, attempting to turn them all into vassals of the executive branch, followers of a single party, a single set of beliefs, a single individual to whom we cede even the power over our health. 

It is as though we have somehow forgotten that our founding fathers did not want a monarchy or a dictator or a cult. They purposely separated government and religion so that no one faith would dominate others. In the early years they did not even have political parties. Each individual was important (at least each free white male) with provisions for equalizing the freedoms even more in the future to include all races, sexes and creeds. Our constitution is living and breathing and changing to reflect the times. As long as we staunchly protect its intent not to create dynasties and to be open to differing ideas we will flourish. Doing this has always required a willingness to accept our differences and work them out in a spirit of compromise. We should all shun attempts to divide us. 

Hyperbole and politics have even invaded our response to Covid-19. The extremes are visible. Even now we hear groups insisting that our efforts to keep the virus contained have been too extreme. They insist that we should return to total normalcy and let the dice fall where they may. Those who feel this way don’t seem to realize that things are more horrific because half of the population has been willing to take precautions. In doing so they have kept the infection rate down. Our seeming good fortune is not because the virus is a hoax but because many have followed the science. If we throw caution to the wind in a grand hyperbolic gesture scientists tell us to expect more suffering and death. 

A nation gripped by fear turns on itself. Beware of anyone peddling prognostications of gloom and doom or anyone whom we repeatedly catch in a lie. Extreme language is often a key that we are being subjected to manipulation. Adolf Hitler made the Germans afraid of economic want and the threat of communism. He used their fears to increase his own power. Lenin took advantage of war and poverty to overtake Russia and replace the government of the Czar with communism. Dictators first turn people of a nation against each other. They divide and then they conquer. When we see those signs it is time to ignore the noise that they peddle and use our common sense and our freedoms to set things right. 

This is the United States of America. Each person’s vote is sacred. Each branch of government is there to protect our freedoms. No single person is the key to our liberty. We do not bow or curtsy in adulation. We are the people. We are the life the liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let no individual or group or power behind a curtain ever take that away from us. Just go vote.  

Did You Hear the One About The Cat On the Roof?

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Did you hear the one about the man whose wife called him one day and told him that his cat got on the roof, fell and died? The distraught man schooled his wife in how to break such devastating news more gently. “First you call and tell me that my cat is on the roof. Wait for a while and then call again to inform me that the cat fell from the roof but he is under the care of a veterinarian. When you have given me enough time to deal with the truth you finally call and say that the doctor was unable to save the cat. The cat is dead.” The wife was sorry that she had been so insensitive and she swore that she had learned her lesson. A few months later she called her husband at work and calmly told him, “Your mother is on the roof.”

In many ways this has been the approach that our president has taken in guiding us during the pandemic. In an effort not to frighten us he has often downplayed the severity of Covid-19, insisting that the seasonal flu is far more dangerous and assuring us that the novel virus will one day miraculously go away. He eschews masks and tells us not to fear Covid-19. He wants us to live as normally as possible and just get through this time with as little disruption as possible. 

While his intentions may have been good, the reality is that he has actually prolonged our suffering and perhaps even contributed to more deaths that there needed to be. It would have been better if he had united us in our efforts to protect ourselves from contagion from the outset. instead of minimizing the impact of Covid-19. As a nation we have shown time and again that we are capable of handling the truth and making sacrifices when they are needed. The pandemic might have been a moment when we set aside our differences and worked together but the president politicized the virus and led many among us to believe that we need not allow it to have any great impact on our lives. He blithely held packed rallies and garden parties while discouraging his supporters from taken very basic precautions. Now he and much of his staff is infected with Covid-19.

This might have been a moment when he apologized for his mistake and urged the citizenry to be more careful than he has been. Instead he seems to be using the old dog bite theory of denying that he has ever done anything wrong. It goes something like this, “My dog could not have bitten you because he does not bite. My dog may bite sometimes, but he didn’t bite you. If my dog bit you it did not hurt you. I can accept that my dog bit you, but you provoked him. What are you talking about? I don’t have a dog.”

So here we are almost eight months into the pandemic and it feels as though we are still not getting the truth from President Trump. He does not appear to trust us enough to keep be honest about what is happening. He has changed his story again and again and he seems to think that he has successfully fooled us enough that we will be willing to simply carry on as though the danger has passed. He wants us to view him as a tough guy who is not going to let the virus stop him from guiding the nation. He does not seem to understand that all we ask of him is that he demonstrate compassion, honesty and trustworthiness. We need for him to acknowledge mistakes, own them and then demonstrate a willingness to make needed changes moving into the future.  

We are tired of photos and rallies and flags and salutes. What we want is leadership and that leadership must be totally honest all the time. It must include concern for everyone, not just those of us in the red states. Our president must provide example for us by following the science, not polls.

I saw Ronald Reagan’s daughter speaking recently. She noted that when her father was shot by John Hinckley he worried about those who had caught bullets because they were near him. He never again attended church services while he was still president because he felt that innocent people might be hurt if another attempt on his life was made. She said that he always considered the good of the people of America before his own well being. That is what a strong leader does. 

Not only can we handle the truth, we must demand the truth. We are weary of stories of cats and dogs designed to fool us and make us feel good. We want to genuinely discuss the state of the pandemic. We want Fauci and Birx and Redfield back to tell us where we stand and what we must do. We want to trust our government again.