Life Will Go On

lv-circle-of-life920I’m reminded every May 31, just how difficult life can be. Of course that is the anniversary of my father’s death. I might have forgotten exactly when he left this earth but for the fact that his fatal accident coincided with Memorial Day of 1957, a time when it was celebrated on May 31 rather than the last Monday of May. I have not celebrated that holiday from that fateful time. Having it roll around each year is like rubbing salt in the wound that scarred my heart back when I was an eight year old child.

I am essentially an optimistic soul. I learned soon enough after my father died that our little family would survive. My mother kept us safe and sound and family and friends continuously rallied to our sides whenever we needed anything. My youth was idyllic save for the loss of my dad. I adjusted to the new normal but never really got over the void in my life that his death created. With each passing year after he was gone I found myself wondering what he would have been thinking about how my brothers and I had developed. I felt his influence on us genetically and in the memories that he left for us. Somehow he was always a factor in our lives even in his absence.

As time has passed I see my father in my brothers and in my nephews and even some of my grandchildren. I suppose that unbeknownst to me there are also hints of ancestors whom we never met in me and my brothers. The circle of life on this earth is an infinite loop that may at times appear to be bleak but the progression and evolution of humanity always finds a way to continue.

I have been cautioned by the doctors in my family to wait out the reopening of the country for another three or four weeks. Covid-19 still restricts me but i refuse to allow it to overwhelm me regardless of how it presents itself in the future. I have learned that I am capable of dealing with great sorrow and even fearful moments. I know that I will handle whatever blows the virus sends me and the members of my family.

If all of us are very lucky we will be laughing and celebrating our good fortune as the weeks and months go by and Covid-19 vanishes with little more than a whimper. If instead the virus battles on with a vengeance I am prepared to do my part in fighting back with everything that I have inside me. Experience has taught me to be patient when times get tough. I have learned that there is light even in the darkest hours. When I battled the mental illness that infected my mother I would sometimes become angry and frustrated, but I always knew that determination and time were on my side. Over and over my brothers and I were able to get her the therapies and medications that she needed to become whole again.

Life is littered with ups and downs and in this moment it feels as though the downs are overtaking all of us. Nonetheless as I look around I see the points of light that will guide us to better days. Our future joy is not to be found in false promises that are unlikely to unfold but in the quiet work of people whose goal is the betterment of all of us. The doctors and nurses and aides and researchers who continue to provide us not just with care but with facts and truths about how we should contend with the virus are heroes with no hidden agendas. They are not running for office or lining their pockets with profits. They are driven by the sole purpose of keeping us safe. When I think of them I believe that we may be wounded but we will not be crushed. This makes me smile.

I see stories about ordinary citizens making masks and little children raising funds to help those who are in financial trouble. I watch the good news from John Krasinski and I see the kind of hope that has guided me through every juncture of life. I smile at the earnestness of people all over the globe who are doing phenomenal jobs of dealing with the health and economic blows that have been inflicted on them. I laugh at the jokes that lighten our spirits remembering all the times that my father roared with delight over a good cartoon or satire. I feel him telling me to lighten up and look around at the positives that are everywhere.

I’ve made it through one more Memorial Day. I’m now more than twice as old as my father was when he died. I’ve overcome one crisis after another. Like my father I have a great interest in history. I read all of the time. I have learned that the world has been on the brink many times over. Somehow we have overcome evil, war, disease and natural disasters each and every time that they have threatened us.

While I tend to think that we have not yet seen the worst of the effects of Covid-19 I revel in the thought that we will find a way to extricate ourselves from its deadly grip. Life will go on. Memorial Day will return and my father’s spirit will be part of future generations. It has always been the way we survive. 

Mass Confusion

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When I was still a pup of a teacher I decided to construct an elaborate system for managing the behavior of the students in my class. I created a bulletin board sized list of rules with consequences for those who chose not to follow them. I spent days attempting to drill my demands into the minds of my pupils. I tried to stop immediately to apply the proper warnings or punishments for infractions. Before long I was spending so much time on classroom management records that I was struggling to keep up with the lessons I had designed. My only way out was to begin ignoring or changing my original ideas or risk drowning in management paperwork. The atmosphere in the class was strained and a kind of student led anarchy became the mode of operation. With great frustration I went to my principal for guidance. What I learned from her would prove to be effective for all of the days of my career as an educator

Her first bit of advice was that I keep things simple by listing only the rules that were essential and then applying them uniformly. She told me that once I allowed students to take over my classroom it would be extremely difficult to get back control of the situation, so she suggested that I think long and hard before putting anything in writing. She cautioned that wavering would mean that my students would just do whatever they wanted to do and not listen to me ever again. She also promised to back me up once my new and improved system was in place. 

I took her advice and limited my behavioral guidance to four basic rules. I went over them with my students explaining the reasons for each of them and allowing the kids to ask questions. Then I made certain that they were followed. Things settled down and before long my management system was on autopilot and we were all much happier.

I’ve thought about that with regard to the directives that we have received from both the federal government and the state and city administrations regarding how to proceed during the pandemic. Sadly the chain of guidance has broken down. One day we are told that masks are worthless and the next the instructions tell us to wear them. Certain businesses have been closed but when someone protests by opening up despite the decrees the powers that be who initiated the closures don’t enforce their own regulations. The federal government outlines a remarkably sensible procedure for opening states and cities but when those guidelines are ignored the president almost seems delighted. Our country feels like the wild west with maskless groups protesting with guns, Confederate flags and disgusting signs in defiance of the edicts. Little wonder that there are actually people who believe that the danger is over and that probably it was never there to begin with. The government has created a state of citizen anarchy much like the one that developed in my classroom when I kept changing and overlooking rules.

Even I was beginning to question the safety measures that I have been dutifully following. When I go out wearing my mask I am lucky to encounter anyone else who is buying into the idea of using protective gear. At least for now most stores are still requiring such things but I wonder how long they will be able to hold their customers to their demands when the government pronouncements are literally ignored from one day to the next.

I was beginning to feel as though somebody was gaslighting me and I honestly could not decide who it might be. I questioned my own thinking so I finally contacted some doctors that I implicitly trust to see what kind of advice they had. It was like asking for counsel from my principal of long ago and I was ultimately comforted by what they told me.

According to my doctors, who are highly regarded professionals in their specialties, the numbers of cases in my area continue to rise and they are concerned by the numbers of  people who are refusing to adhere to the guidelines of wearing masks and avoiding close contact with others. For that reason they have advised me to continue to mostly shelter in place until further notice. They believe that the number of cases and deaths that we are seeing are being fueled by people who ignore the guidelines and leaders who look the other way when they see that happening. Local governments where numbers are still higher than they should be are being left holding the bag. The buck is being passed from one person to the next with nobody wanting to get caught with it when the music stops. The coordinated efforts and supports from federal to state to local government are lacking and it is causing massive confusion, especially when guidelines are continually being tossed aside only days after they have been enacted.

Add to that, there is a growing ugliness surrounding the massive confusion that has become far too prevalent. People are being ridiculed and insulted for doing what they think is right or need to do. I’ve been told that I should leave Texas and take my ideas to California or Washington State just because I mentioned that I wear a mask when I go outside of my home and make contact with others. I see women holding signs that suggest that wearing a mask is like a muzzle that should only be worn by slaves and dogs and I am horrified. I truly worry for my country when there is no leader willing to be the adult and rein in the disgusting demonstrations by calling them what they are rather than giving them a thumbs up by noting that such folks are good people. 

The doctors tell me that there will be more illness and death to come. We may have to deal with it while also attempting to repair our ailing economy. People need to pick up the pieces of their lives while staying relatively safe at the same time. This can be done in tandem if our leaders model the behaviors that they want us to follow. They must create a plan, stick with it and encourage unity not just among the citizens but in the halls of leadership as well. Our future may depend on how well or how badly they manage to do that.

I Keep Busy

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I plan math lessons. I teach math lessons. I grade math homework. I write blogs. I cook dinner. I clean the house. I wash the clothes. I walk on my treadmill. I read. I call to see how people are doing. I read posts on Facebook. I check my email. I take part in Zoom conferences, I order groceries. I take drives around my neighborhood. I floss my teeth and take showers and dry my hair. I organize drawers and paint lawn furniture. I feed the birds and watch them in my yard. I plant a vegetable garden and weed my flower beds. I text family members and friends. I watch Netflix and Amazon and Acorn and PBS and Hulu and CNN and CBS and NBC and YouTube. I keep busy. It’s the way I cope and always has been.

When the end of the day draws near and all is quiet in the neighborhood my mind begins to wander. I think about things and thinking about things leads my awareness to worrisome places. We are in new territory and there are so many different ideas and theories being bandied about. Are we humans overreacting, under reacting? Who is right and who is wrong? I feel as though we are all being gaslighted, but by whom? Am I the crazy one or is it them? I have to squeeze my eyes shut and listen to calming sounds on my Echo Dot to shut out the thoughts that make me anxious. If I manage to fall asleep I can begin again tomorrow. I can keep busy again in another rotation of the earth around the sun.

I know that I can do this. It’s how I kept going after my father died. I just kept busy, tried not to think too far ahead, went one day at a time. Things got better just as they always seem to do, at least until the next challenge came along. Whenever my mother presented her symptoms of bipolar disorder I just kept busy. When my husband had a stroke and my city filled with the waters of hurricane Harvey I just kept busy. It’s what I do. It’s how I cope, any yet somehow things feel very different now. My mind tells me to pace myself for the long haul, to be prepared for more bad news before the good news returns. I keep busy in spite of my concerns.

I prefer to listen to the realists, not the ones who attempt to lull me with seemingly false promises. I’m a big girl. I can take the truth. In fact I crave it. Still, I want to remain optimistic about the future even if that future may take awhile to unfold. I like the guy from the federal reserve who believes that our economy will slowly heal in the next many months even as we continue to witness illness and death. He is not attempting to fool me and I appreciate that.

I listen to the scientist who sees this moment as an opportunity to envision the world in a new and better way. I hear the historian note that in other times of pandemic humanity applied its inventiveness to improve sanitation, move toward more equitable living conditions and invent medicines. The darkest hours have almost always led to brighter futures from the lessons that we learned, but then I wonder if we have truly grasped the significance of our foundational weaknesses or if we just want to rush back to the way things were without thought of whether or not we might do things better.

I keep busy. I watch the birds in my yard and notice that there are more of them than I have ever before seen. My plants are greener, more prolific. It is as though nature is happier now that we are not filling the air with our pollution. If we just return to the way we were will the haze of ozone once more fill the sky? Is it possible to reconsider how we live? Did we learn how little we actually need during our lockdown? Isn’t that lovely sound of singing birds worth so much more than the frivolous things that we have sought in the past?

I keep busy but I think of the people who have lost their jobs. I hear that Rick Steves is adjusting the salaries of his employees so that he may keep all of them for at least two years. Why isn’t this a tactic being used by every business, every corporation? Why fire some while keeping others and even giving raises and bonuses in the process. What would be wrong with asking everyone to share in the sacrifice until better days come?  Why must there always be winners and losers?

I keep busy but I know that just because we wish the danger of Covid-19 to be over it does not mean that we will all be safe and sound. Just because we may not know someone who has grappled with the virus does not mean that it does not exist. How is it even possible that so many seem to believe that the pandemic is nothing more than a hoax? How is such thinking even possible when there is no logic to it? How have some managed to conflate being careless with patriotism? In what kind of world do we attack our scientists and medical experts for demonstrating the methodologies that guide their work and prevent emotional bias from tarnishing their results?

I know that Covid-19 has forced us to operate in the present. Today and today and today creeps in its petty pace. I keep busy. It is what I do, but maybe this time I should allow myself to think just a bit more.

A Time for the Young

Four-seasons-tree-1r-747x394To every thing there is a season,

and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Upon the advice of our doctors my husband, Mike, and I essentially began self isolation twelve weeks ago. We were a bit earlier than most people in hibernating in our home because Mike was going to have a heart procedure done on March 13, and the doctors felt that it would be wise for us to distance ourselves from the potential of running afoul of the virus which was yet to become so rampant in the United States. When we did arrive at the Walter Tower of Houston Methodist Hospital on the day of his surgery lockdown procedures were already well underway. Each patient was only allowed to have one person accompany him/her and everyone entering the building had to undergo an interview and screening at a checkpoint. Because I admitted to sometimes having a sore throat I was required to wear a mask.

The experience at the hospital was both encouraging and frightening. I realized that the medical community was taking extreme precautions to keep the patients safe as well as to prevent an outbreak of illness among their own. The atmosphere was strangely reassuring and it marked the moment when I too began to really take the virus seriously.

When I went to get my six month injection of Prolia five days later I felt a bit strange wearing a mask and gloves but my doctor had advised me to do so and I have always valued his instructions. He has kept me quite well over the years and so there I was all decked out in protective gear long before our city of Houston had even closed down. I got a few stares and soon realized that people were somewhat afraid of me, wondering why I felt the need to be so precautious. As I climbed the stairs to the infusion center I noted that there was a screening table at the entrance to my doctor’s office where patients were being checked before being allowed to enter the waiting room. That was on March 23, about three weeks from the time that I had first begun staying at home and limiting my contact with others.

From that point forward my husband Mike, and I have had little occasion to leave our home. We meet with family and friends via Zoom or FaceTime, procure our groceries from Instacart, order other necessities online and “go to mass” via YouTube. Once in a great while we venture out for rides around town just to remind ourselves of what the world looks like. Our only real human contact has been with my father-in-law and mother-in-law who are in their nineties and feeling a bit overwhelmed by what is happening. We mainly go to visit to ease their anxieties and to help keep their technology running. Mike regularly orders food for them on Instacart. We even managed to send a cake and some ice cream to my father-in-law on his birthday. When the sweet delivery woman realized that this was for a celebration she included a balloon with the order.

Mike and I are both in our seventies and to a large extent our lives have slowed considerably from the days when when worked ten and twelve hours a day. We have a much smaller income but we planned for that and at least for now it arrives regularly each month. It has not been a great sacrifice to stay at home and we are confident that we have planned well enough to stay put for as long as needed. I don’t think of my current status as being frightening or tyrannically beset upon as much as having the luxury to help with the cause. Namely, Mike and I are doing our parts to attempt to stay healthy so that our medical community will be able to care for those who may unfortunately become ill in the process of attempting to return to work.

I hear so much about those in my age group being the most vulnerable and I suppose that is true in the strictest sense of the virus’ effects but in many ways it is the young adults and their children who are bearing the brunt of the harm that Covid-19 has done to the world. They have had to keep the food supply chains moving and have done their best to keep the heartbeat of the economy tenuously alive. They have been the teachers of the children and the brave souls who have attempted to provide the rest of us with a semblance of normalcy in an upside down world.

I sometimes hear grumpy old people referring to today’s youth as “snowflakes” but I think that we have all seen proof that they know how to carry on in an emergency with grace. I have been greatly impressed by the college students who completed their semesters online. I have watched the youngsters in my neighborhood working inside their homes during regular school hours and then frolicking in their yards in the late afternoon. Like me they have not gone anywhere or done anything special for weeks and yet they are not complaining. Instead they are adjusting to their new world and doing whatever they need to do to. I’ve seen how creative and generous they are and it has warmed my heart.

However this all ends it will fall upon the young to move the world forward. I have every confidence that they will succeed. I believe that they have proven their mettle in spite of the naysayers who have been predicting that they don’t have the right stuff to carry the weight of responsibility. I know more than ever before that those of us in the twilight years should be quite eager to hear what they have to say and how they wish for the world order to proceed. Even the Bible tells us that there is a season for everything. Now is the time to trust the young for this is their world as much as it is ours. They are the ones who will be reopening the cities and towns and states and nations in the coming months. We need to support them as they carve out a world that suits their desires and needs. This is a time for the young.

Hoping For the Best

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When I was a teen there was a song that advocated living for today. The whole idea was to set aside worries and enjoy the moment. It was a kind of rebellious chant against the work ethic that seemed to be driving our country into a state of anxiety and materialism. Many young people, myself included, began to question the way things had always been done and wonder if there were possibilities that might create a more equitable and prosperous life for everyone, not just the power elites.

Of course there was nothing really new about youthful indulgence into utopian thinking. It’s something that has characterized teens and twenty somethings for centuries. Some of the most revolutionary and profound ideas in history came from young people who had grown weary of the status quo. So too did I envision a world free of prejudice, poverty and artificial hierarchies. I was more than ready to rebel against the lack of freedoms and opportunities for minorities, women and the poor. In some ways my generation lit the fires that evoked change for the better but as so often happens we became distracted and burdened by the responsibilities of life. Soon enough we were the people over thirty whom we had distrusted. Like so many before us we settled into the rat race and focused on our families and our occupations. We had little time for philosophizing or inventing new ways of doing things.

Now my generation is old and only tenuously maintaining a hold on the power to influence. Yes, our president is from my age group and so is his presumed opponent for the job, but it is apparent that a younger group will soon enough be taking over the reins. In the meantime most of the folks my age have retired from work and are spending much deserved moments enjoying however many years they may have left on this earth. With more time to consider such topics we sometimes ponder our accomplishments and worry that perhaps we might have done more to leave a kinder more promising legacy to our children and grandchildren. After all, what is really the purpose of our day to day existence if not to make a difference?

The last twenty years have been plagued by terror, wars, economic turmoil, extremes of climate and the emergence of hate groups that had been long festering underground. We are as divided as a nation as we were in the sixties and seventies of my youth. Perhaps we are even beginning to understand how life was for our great grandparents who found themselves engaged in a civil war. It has been challenging to watch the deterioration of our relationships that is often fueled by the very people who should be bringing us together. It is particularly sad for those of us who invested so much energy into the idea of making our country an inviting place for everyone regardless of who they might be. Now without warning we are dealing with what may well be the most damaging moment of our history.

Covid-19 has further accented our rifts and made it more clear than ever that we have issues that are still to be resolved. As I sit inside my home at the age of seventy one I grieve for the world, but most implicitly for my nation. I can see that we are not united at all and that our differences seem to be widening rather than mending. We are too much guided by fear and basic needs to work for a self actualized version of our nation. Because we want quick fixes we appear to be placing bandaids on our wounds rather than attempting to understand and heal the root causes of our problems.

When we only react rather than create rational plans we are bound to overlook the pitfalls of our decisions. I feel certain that the vast majority of people want what is best for everyone but in our hour of uncertainty we appear to be allowing those who are the loudest and most aggressive to determine our fates. Instead of putting the best medical and business minds together we are pitting them with one another as though we can’t be safe from the ravages of Covid-19 while also keeping our economy moving as robustly as possible. It has become a them against us free for all in which we witness people hoarding and scrambling for crumbs, all while taunting and insulting anyone who disagrees with whatever they happen to believe.

I have seen this kind of behavior before. It was very much a sign of the times during my youth. Then it was called the generation gap. It meant choosing sides between those who served in Vietnam and those who were against the war. It involved a pretense of fairness when certain races were segregated from the freedoms that the rest of us enjoyed. It kept women from thriving in engineering schools or colleges of architecture. Anyone who disagreed with the status quo of the country was told to “love it, or leave it.” It was not the romanticized era to which so many want to return.

We made some progress for many people but we became weary of the fight. We let down our guard and became self satisfied while new difficulties emerged. Our children and grandchildren kept warning us that there was till much work to be done but we only laughed at their intensity and reminded them that we all feel that way for a time and then get over it. Now I see that getting over it can be a dangerous thing. It leaves us unready and vulnerable when we do not work together to build and repair the foundations of our nation. We revert to partisan thinking and the hateful ways engendered by fear.

I am worried but not so much for me anymore. I am fearful of what my children and grandchildren will have to endure because we appear to be so incapable of setting aside our differences in a time of need. I am worried because so many are unwilling to sacrifice to get us all through of our difficulties. I worry when I see protestors threatening with guns. I worry when I hear insulting and racist comments fall so easily from people’s tongues. I worry because I see fear and ignorance and politics guiding decisions.

I have always been both fascinated and inspired by a story about the great depression in my city of Houston. Unlike other places the banks here never closed. As the tale goes the movers and shakers of the city met with Jesse Jones in the Rice Hotel and they agreed that instead of working in competition with one another they would join forces to make certain that nobody would have to go out of business. While times were nonetheless tough they indeed managed to keep most of the commerce working if only in a lesser form of itself. It was the understanding that saving as many people as possible was better than attempting to emerge as a single victor that kept the Houston economy working better than in most locales.

My daily prayer is that we will find a way to emulate cooperation and send a loud message to those who would have us fight among ourselves. We can emerge with cuts and scrapes or we can risk being mortally wounded. The difference will be determined by how willing we are to work together. I hope we find a way to make that happen.