A Good Thing About Covid-19

girl in red dress playing a wooden blocks
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I have attempted to keep in touch with people that I know during these crazy days of Covid-19. Sometimes I text. Other times I send emails. Now and again I FaceTime or join a Zoom conference. I also make phone calls just to make sure that the people who have been in my life are doing okay.

On a recent day I decided to phone a friend that I have known since I was six years old. We have had long stretches of time during which we got so busy with living that we lost track. Somehow we nonetheless keep circling back to one another. I first met Lynda when my family moved across the street from where she lived. I was not particularly happy to be leaving our old home because I had friends there that I thought I might never see again. I had been pouting on the drive to our new place and seeing the loving house that would be our new digs did nothing to improve my mood. That’s when the Barry family crossed the street to welcome us to Northdale Street.

They were a friendly crew who made us feel immediately welcome to the neighborhood. Lynda, who was my age, was peeking at me from behind her mother and I immediately became curious about her. Mrs. Barry noticed our preoccupation with one another and suggested that we go get acquainted. Somehow it was as though Lynda and I had known each other forever. We began talking and our conversation never really stopped from then on.

We spent every single day together, often laughing and singing on our bikes. We roamed the neighborhood seeking adventure and planning our futures which we assumed would always include being together. We tuned in to the Mickey Mouse Club each afternoon and practiced cartwheels in Lynda’s enormous backyard. I adored everything about her and her family including the nickname that her father gave her, Lindy Lou.

We we two silly little girls who were as happy as can be, so when my parents suddenly announced that we would be moving to California only a little over a year later I was angry and devastated. Somehow I thought they surely should have consulted me before making such an important decision. I cried at the thought of leaving Lynda behind because she seemed to understand me better than anyone ever had.

I missed Lynda every day that we were apart but my family eventually returned to Houston and shortly thereafter my father died. We moved into a house in the same neighborhood as Lynda’s but it was many blocks away from where she resided. We attempted to keep the friendship as wonderful as it had been before but we ended up in different schools and as we grew older we became more and more involved in activities that ate up our time. We always seemed to click right back into our old closeness whenever we had occasion to get together but life just kept insinuating itself into our relationship.

She got married and so did she. We purchased homes in different parts of the city and began our families. From time to time Lynda would invite me to visit for the day and we would have so much fun watching our children play while we gabbed just like we were still those six year old girls. Neither of us were working back then so we had all the time in the world. On some of those charming visits I would stay for hours before reluctantly heading home.

Eventually we both became working women and with that added responsibility we had less and less time for meeting up. Mostly our friendship became confined to occasional phone calls and as the years passed our children grew, our parents died, and we became grandparents. We were more likely to see each other at wakes or funerals but our love for each other never wavered.

Now Lynda lives in another town. We speak of getting together but those plans never seem to materialize. At the moment we are both staying in our homes. Lynda has autoimmune issues that prompt her to be as careful with Covid-19 as possible and I hope to keep the virus from coming into my house and infecting my husband who seems to be a poster boy for those who suffer most from it. Suddenly those long phone calls where we never seem to run out of things to say feel like a lifeline for both of us.

There is something spiritual about the friendships that we forge as children. They are so pure and guileless. Growing up together means that we know all of the good and bad things that have happened to each other. We have shared a journey through all of life’s ups and downs. We know each other without filters and we still like what we see.

I hope to make calling Lynda more of a habit during these days. Talking with her makes me feel young again and seems to be the one good thing about Covid-19. It has slowed us down enough to create time for just being ourselves once again. In those moments I see us as two skinny girls with a whole lifetime of possibilities ahead, finding adventure at every turn. We are quieter now but the joy of being together, even by phone, never seems to dim.

We Must Lead Ourselves Into the Promised Land

chicago-anti-war-protests-1968

I began my personal journey through the pandemic back in March. When I decided to write my thoughts on what was happening in my tiny corner of the world I did it to leave a record for my grandchildren and great grandchildren yet to come. I would have liked to have had a written day by day account of how the Spanish Flu of 1918 affected my grandparents, but of course they were too busy simply surviving to have the luxury of journaling about their experiences and thoughts. Neither of my grandmothers were literate and both of my grandfathers were laborers who only got paid when they showed up for work. I feel certain that they simply pushed through that pandemic hoping that they would stay well so that they might provide for themselves and their families.

My writing has not so much been an unbiased historical account of Covid-19 as a depository for my feelings. In describing what I see happening I almost naturally draw on a lifetime of experiences and perceptions. At first I viewed the virus as a kind of adventurous challenge. I would surely show my mettle in being able to stay well and navigate through the restrictive days of isolation. I saw it after all as mostly a matter of staying busy and creating purpose for myself, but over time my emotions overtook my resolve. I looked outward and saw suffering on a grand scale. It became more difficult to simply enjoy the quiet time in my home when the numbers of sick and dying steadily increased. These were people and I could not even begin to imagine how their lives had been turned upside down. My goal became less and less about protecting and entertaining myself and more and more about doing whatever I needed to do to flatten the exponential curve of disease.

I was bemused and saddened as I saw great rifts developing within our population over how seriously to take Covid-19. I am a mathematics teacher and from a family of engineers and scientists and doctors. I suppose that I am inclined to make decisions based on research and data from experts and so it seemed ridiculous to listen to anyone other than those respected for their work with medicine. As the anger in the nation grew and armed citizens stormed state capitols I found myself harking back to the year in which I married.

It was 1968, and at nineteen I was far too young to be making a lifetime commitment and yet events from that year had convinced me that reaching for love was the best decision I would ever make. In that fateful year Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Not long after presidential candidate, Robert Kennedy, was gunned down following his primary victory in California. The year was filled with student protests and when the Democratic Convention was held that summer in Chicago things turned violent as protestors clashed with the police. I would always remember 1968 as both the year that I married and perhaps the worst year in the country’s history during my lifetime.

At my wedding the priest who gave the homily spoke of how much courage and optimism it took for two people to look to the future given the violence and divisions that seemed to permeate every corner of the nation. He applauded Mike and I for demonstrating the certainty of our love in uncertain times. I felt and understood every word that he spoke and prayed on that evening that peace and justice would one day become the rule for America.

Now more than fifty years later I was spending day after day inside my home with Mike and we both somehow felt as though what was happening was profoundly worse than anything our country had endured in our lifetimes. Little did we know that in the very week when the nation recorded its one hundred thousandth death that ghosts from our past would rise once again.

I wonder how it can be that only about a week ago we watched in horror as police officers took the life of George Floyd in a brutally cavalier fashion. He was only forty six, young enough to have been one of my children. He had grown up in Houston, my hometown. He attended Yates High School and played on their football team. By all accounts from those who knew him he was a sweet man who traveled to Minnesota to get a fresh start in life. On the day he was murdered he had used a counterfeit twenty dollar bill to make a purchase. We don’t know if he was even aware that it was bogus but that is neither here nor there. The manner in which he was ultimately mistreated is all that really matters and as I watched the painful last moments of his life it felt as though all of those years when I chose to set the pain and injustice of 1968 aside had been a selfish unwillingness on my part to face bitter truths. We have problems that have yet to be addressed and no slogans or hats or pretense that they are not still with us will make them go away anymore than pretending that Covid-19 is a hoax will allow us to resume business as usual without fear of more sickness and dying.

I have forced myself to watch the unfolding tragedy of pent up anger night after night. It is a painful thing to see. I do not like it. I want it to stop, but I know deep down inside that it will not go away permanently until we face it squarely and fairly just as we must face the virus. The tragedy of what is happening in our country today is not that we don’t have normal graduations or that our European vacations have been cancelled but that people are suffering and yet we are anxious to get everything back to normal even as we sense that nothing is normal. We are fooling ourselves if we just ignore the cries for our attention, for our help.

Using dogs and force to control human beings was a common method for those who enslaved the ancestors of many of the young people who are shocking us with their behavior in the streets of America’s cities. Vigilante lynching was used to keep the newly freed slaves in line after the Civil War. Even when Martin Luther King led peaceful protests the great grandparents and grandparents of today’s young people met with billy clubs and rubber hoses wrapped with barbed wire. When American athletes quietly kneeled during the National Anthem to demonstrate that Black Lives Matter they were loudly criticized and their efforts were mocked and ignored. I wonder how far any group of people can be pushed before their anger boils over in the kind of lawlessness that we are seeing? I wonder how we and our children and grandchildren would be acting if the tables were turned?

There are forty two million black Americans living in our country today. Only a handful of them have taken to the streets and even among those who are protesting an even smaller number are committing illegal acts. Nonetheless the vast majority of all African Americans are viscerally hurt and filled with grief and anger that even after all this time discrimination based on the color of their skin still exists. They are the group most affected by Covid-19 in this country. They are the most affected by the massive unemployment that has resulted from the pandemic. Nearly every problem our country has affected them more than any of us.

Our African American coworkers and neighbors and friends need us to finally hear their pleas and understand that while slavery was long ago the indignities associated with it have yet to be fully resolved. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that just because we do not personally discriminate that there is no need to continue the efforts to eradicate the underbelly of racism. We can no longer rely on an Abraham Lincoln or a Martin Luther King to do the heavy lifting for us. We must lead ourselves out of this wilderness and into the promised land by setting things right once and for all. For surely if we only clean up the damage and go back to our normal lives the ugly stain of slavery will continue to haunt us all. 

In Memoriam

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Memorial Day is always a pensive time for me on so many levels. This year I felt the spirit of all of the souls who lost their lives in the service of our country more than ever. I also thought of those who made it through wars but whose lives were forever changed by memories of battles that they fought. War is a terrible thing and we have generally tried very hard to use it as a last resort. Nonetheless even now we have soldiers serving in war torn countries knowing that they may lose their lives at any moment. Such courage is difficult to understand but many who served in the military have told me that in the heat of a battle the focus becomes the preservation of the members of the corps. It is all about attempting to insure that everyone survives and leaves the battlefield alive. That profound human instinct to protect takes over to create magnificent acts of heroism.

I am a pacifist by nature but I understand that there are indeed times that require humans to defend themselves, their families, their country. If I had my way diplomacy would be rational and powerful enough to end war forever but I know that somehow people have a very difficult time setting aside their differences in a spirit of compromise. Throughout history we have found ourselves engaged in combat again and again and our young men have been called upon to fight. On Memorial Day we remember those whose lives were cut short and while we honor them, we also silently wonder why they had to much such a profound sacrifice for the rest of us.

I spent time this past weekend watching some movies about the brave men who have fought for our cause. First I viewed Glory, one of my all time favorite films. I cannot watch it without ultimately sobbing. It encapsulates the mixed emotions that surround the history of our country including perhaps the worst political mistake we ever made in allowing slavery to coexist with the ideals of democracy. While the nation was growing and prospering the politics of slavery that divided the people became more and more inflamed ultimately pitting state against state, region against region, brother against brother.

My great grandfather who was living in Kentucky chose to fight for the union forces. He spent four years first as a foot soldier and then a calvary man. The war placed a toll on his health. Somehow he was never as robust as he had once been and surely the horrors that he witnessed must have haunted him. His unit was tasked with collecting the bodies of the dead and wounded soldiers after the battle of Shiloh. It had to have been a gruesome sight that haunted him even as he settled into a somewhat normal existence had began a family. I think of them often and feel both pride for his service and regret that he had to endure such a thing. 

I also watched We Were Soldiers another film that brings out emotions from my youth. It takes place during the Vietnam War in the year when I was a senior in high school. Seeing the brutality of the battle it depicts only reinforces the sorrow that I felt whenever I learned of the death of someone who had been a classmate or a friend. While many of them had enlisted, others were drafted into service. The country was conflicted about the necessity of our involvement in what was essentially a civil war in a place so far away from home. While it was touted as a stand against communism it became clear over time that somehow we were outsiders attempting to protect Vietnam from a war that the Viet Cong was determined to win no matter how long it took.

The wall in Washington D.C. lists the names of all of the almost sixty thousand souls that we lost in that effort. I am haunted by the humanity of it each time I visit and run my fingers over the names of those that I knew. They were brave individuals who believed that theirs was a just cause but to this very day I wonder if losing them might have been prevented if we had known beforehand how the conflict would ultimately end. How different would their lives and the lives of those who loved them be if they had never gone to Vietnam? 

History, and particularly military history, is riddled with questions. It is easier to see the might have beens in retrospect. An armchair general can consider what went wrong with great clarity but the reality is that we will never really know what would have happened if we had chosen different routes. Wars are caused when humans cannot agree on how the world should be. Our young people go out to fight the battles for the philosophies of politicians and sometimes tragically lose their lives. I consider how wonderful it would be if we never had to engage our youth in such horrors ever again while realistically understanding that such an ideal will never come to pass.

This Memorial Day was haunted by the growing divide amongst us regarding Covid-19, a virus that has taken close to one hundred thousand souls in a span of  only three months. While the disease stalks the world in search of bodies to invade we argue with one another and point fingers at those who are attempting to lead us. We choose sides and sometimes even viciously attack those whose beliefs differ from our own while our courageous essential workers have been drafted into the role of keeping us safe. It is a new kind of battle with so much uncertainty that none of us can truly know exactly how to react.

I cannot understand why we humans choose to argue with one another so often and why we so seldom choose to find a road that eschews hostility. Perhaps it is in our natures, something that we have never been able to totally control. We have gone to war with one another in an endless loop of death and destruction that rears its head more often than we wish and yet we still work at odds with one another and follow those who actually encourage us to do so. We repeat the mistakes and the sins of our ancestors because in the end we are not so different from them. Memorial Day should always remind us of the cost of disagreements that become so entrenched that we no longer communicate. The spirits of all of the lost humanity should spur us to find ways of loving instead of fighting. 

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. 

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.