The Beat Goes On

lifecycles-butterfly

I have always found the story and the music in The Lion King to be profound, particularly the crowd favorite The Circle of Life. Indeed without ever realizing it each generation endures similar challenges, common growing pains, battles to deal with the perceived problems of the era. There has always been a tension between the old guard and the new, a feeling that somehow the two worlds are incapable of fully understanding one another.

I’m a bonafide Boomer, okay? I was a free range kid on steroids like most of my friends. We went outside early each day and played wherever we chose until dark. I remember Halloween nights when my brothers and I would trick or treat until well after ten because our Catholic school gave us a holiday on November first. We lived on our bicycles and spent entire days roaming the nearby woods along the bayou with our friends. We stepped on nails and broken glass with our bare feet that were usually caked with dirt and dust.

Life seemed uncomplicated back then but it really wasn’t. We all knew someone who had become crippled from polio. Perhaps it was one of our teachers or a fellow student or even a neighborhood kid who mostly lived in an iron lung. Going under our desks for air raid drills became so routine that we appeared to have forgotten the underlying worry that there might one day be a nuclear attack on our country. We watched science fiction movies that portrayed giant bugs and creatures mutilated and transformed by nuclear fallout and read a satirical magazine with a hero named Alfred whose mantra was, “What, me worry?”

We lived in fairly ordinary little houses that were usually under twelve hundred square feet. We shared a single bathroom with our parents and siblings, requiring strict rules about using up all of the hot water. There was normally one phone for the entire household whose central location made it almost impossible to have a private conversation of any kind. One television was also the general rule and a parent determined when it might be turned on and what programs would be watched. Things like sodas and sweets were delicacies that we did not often see. If we had siblings of the same sex we learned how to share a bedroom and a tiny closet with them. Vacations were a luxury and those who actually flew somewhere on a plane were the exception rather than the rule.

Our teenage years were marked with the usual angst of overcoming the challenges of puberty but our worries about the future became increasingly more complex. There were people in our midst fighting for rights that should have been theirs from the beginning of this nation. We were becoming more and more embroiled in a war that we did not understand but which used our peers to do the fighting either willingly or unwillingly. We watched the violence that seemed to be growing all around us while hearings chants of “Never trust anyone over thirty.” The times seemed so tumultuous and the changes were coming too slowly to keep up with our impatience.

By our college years we witnessed friends being drafted into the military and sometimes being shipped to that war that grew like a virus. We attended the funerals of friends who had been cut down in the flower of their youth. Some of us began to feel that our elders had somehow lost touch with the new realities of the world. We scurried to rallies to hear a charismatic soul named Eugene McCarthy who pledged to end the insanity only to become dispirited when he did not make it to the presidential nomination of his party. We watched the “silent majority” of our elders elect Richard Nixon, a man who seemed clueless about our own fears.

Along the way we became members of the over thirty generation. We had families of our own that required our attention. We set to work building our lives and in what seemed like a blink we were middle aged and our own children were coming of age as Generation X, a group seemingly without a cause that was in reality more like us than anyone ever realized.

Now we are the seniors of society, sometimes caught between the generation of the healthiest of our parents and our middle aged children. Our grandchildren, the millennials, are experiencing the same sorts of fears and disillusionments that once ruled our own thinking. They are as anxious for solutions as we once were. We have had the time to understand that we were no more unique than they are. We have finally found the wisdom to view those old photos of our parents, the so called “greatest generation” and see that like us they were once filled with visions of a grander world. That spirit is in our human DNA. It is something that we might trace back to the beginnings of time. Those seasons mentioned in the Bible are real, just as the circle of life is infinite. 

We push and we pull and we judge one generation after the next when the truth is that each group attempts to do its best. We make mistakes and manage victories. The world spins on its axis and revolves relentlessly around the sun. As nature does its thing we humans do ours until it becomes time for the next generation to try its own ideas. We grapple with our elders and lecture our youth during a lifetime, so often forgetting the simplicity of the best plan of all, to love, listen, laugh and respect one another. The beat goes on.

A Fine Mess

closetI have a closet under my stairs that my husband lovingly calls “the velociraptor closet.” He insists that going inside is a dangerous adventure because the area is most assuredly filled with wild beasts that may attack at any moment. He always wishes me well whenever I daringly go into the farthest reaches of the area, assuring me that he will send for help if I don’t return in a timely fashion. The joke of course is based on the messiness of all that I have crammed inside for storage. It is quite a challenge to maneuver along the passageway without sustaining a bump on the head or a bruised shin.

I’m known as a neatness freak by all of my friends and family but when it comes to closets I fail in organizational skills. I tend to use those hidden spaces as a means of holding all of the things that I rarely use but may or may not need in the future. The only rhyme and reason that I follow in storing junk is based on where each the items actually fit and the seasons in which I am apt to want them. I have an entire section of a closet just for Christmas wrapping paper, tablecloths, and serving pieces. Several square feet of my home’s real estate holds things that I only use for one month each year.

Back in the day all of us had cameras that used film that we had to get developed and converted into photos that came inside little paper envelopes. We never knew exactly what we would get from our efforts of recording events. Sometimes the resulting pictures were hilariously awful but we had to pay for them anyway. Most of the time I never bothered to throw away the defective images. I just kept them inside those little envelopes with all of the others. Over time I accumulated boxes and boxes of photos from our celebrations, milestones and trips. After my mother and mother-in-law died I inherited their boxes as well. Now I have an entire upstairs closet as well as a cedar chest dedicated to those old pictures. Much like my mother-in-law I keep promising to label and organize what I have so that future generations will have some idea of their meaning, but I never quite get around to completing the task. I suppose that one day someone will have to decide whether to toss the lot or make an attempt at finally achieving what Granny and I never did.

I used to marvel that my maternal grandmother never gave anything away and now I find myself hanging on to so much more than I really need. I’ve got items that I haven’t used in years but for some reason keep with the crazy idea that I may actually one day find a reason for hoarding. I remind myself of a notion that a friend once mentioned noting that the messy folks who never throw anything away end up with the prize possessions of the Antiques Roadshow. I keep convincing myself that valueless items may one day be worth a fortune if I just hold onto them long enough. I suppose that I am more sentimental than I should be. I imagine my children and grandchildren cursing me one day as they attempt to cull through all of the things that I have accumulated.

I’ve tried paring down the number of books that I have but somehow I just can’t part with them even though they fill spaces all over the house and even under the beds. I find myself hanging onto worn linens by noting that they are fabulous for covering my plants during the one or two freezes that occur each winter. I have boxes of rags just waiting for cleaning projects and an array of old paint that I use to touch up knicks once in a blue moon.

I haven’t changed clothing sizes in several years so I have outfits that date back twenty years. I’ve tried making a rule that if I bring in something new I must rid myself of something old but I convince myself that I need to wait just a while longer in case an item comes back into vogue. I even have a stack of clothing that I use when I paint or use bleach. It may sit in the corner for years but eventually I pull it out and feel rather proud of my foresight.

As the year progresses I begin setting aside gifts that I have purchased for friends and family. It’s a habit that I learned from my mother but I’m not as organized as she was. When she died we found items labeled with the names of the recipients. I just put my purchases alongside the Christmas section of the closet without mention of who I want to have them. Sometimes I forget that I even bought them and they languish in limbo for years.

I’ve been getting messages from Medicare and the CDC indicating that it might be best for someone in my age group to stay around the house a bit more until the threat of the coronavirus subsides. Maybe this is finally the time to tackle the messes that lurk inside my closest and under my beds. In all honesty I’d have to wrap Christmas packages for hundreds of people to finally use all of the paper that I have. I’m thinking that if I do nothing more than toss the photographs of sub par quality I will have made a big dent in the volume. I need to tame the velociraptor closet and admit to myself that I’m not going to read the vast majority of my books ever again. Do I really believe that I or someone else might actually use those dvds?

I suppose it’s time for a change and maybe I’ll get around to making it or maybe not. It’s a fine mess that I have. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

adult black pug
Photo by Charles on Pexels.com

I am a planner, a controller, a doer. I usually fill up my calendar and keep myself organized and busy. I’m like the energizer bunny on steroids. I make my bed each morning and put everything away in its place each evening. I know what I am going to do and how I will accomplish it weeks in advance. I rarely waste a single minute of each day even in retirement. Suddenly my way of living for a lifetime has been upended. My calendar is empty. I’ve come to fully appreciate my mother’s mantra of “God willing” when agreeing to any future activities. Covid-19 has forced me more than any other event in my life to slow down and smell the roses. 

I now allow myself to stay awake until 2:00 in the morning if something catches my interest late at night. I no longer feel guilty about sleeping until 9:00 in the morning or staying in my pajamas until noon. I eat ice cream and make banana bread instead of worrying about my waistline. I have not used makeup since February. The only time I wear shoes is when I’m walking on my treadmill or working in the yard. I “attend” mass on Sundays in jeans and baggy t-shirts. I get great joy out of very small things like a strikingly lovely bumble bee who hovers over my hibiscus bush or the family of cardinals that feast at my bird feeder. I enjoy the laughter of the children playing in my neighborhood as much as the sound of a symphony. I celebrate the mere act of waking up each morning and still being virus free. 

It’s not easy to set aside a lifetime of habits. Nothing before made me change my ways, not even retirement. I measured the success of my day by the number of my accomplishments. I judged myself on the miles that I walked, the pages that I wrote, the places that I went. As I erased my future plans one by one from my calendar I became less and less sad. They were just ways of filling the time, small sacrifices compared to the ones that so many people have been making. I realized that nothing that I did was as important as doing my part to help slow the spread of Covid 19. That meant curtailing my usual activities and being conservative in my outings and contacts with people. 

I’ve had to find ways to make my quietly mundane days bearable. In doing that I slowed my pace and learned to revel in silence. I have always struggled with the idea of meditation because my mind seems always to be racing. In the past many weeks I have enjoyed sitting and listening to my own breathing. I have felt the pulsating beat of my heart. I have noticed the wind and the birds and rain falling on the pavement. I have felt a greater appreciation of just being alive.

I would love to go back to church and sit among the people there. I want to get my hair trimmed and enjoy a pedicure. I long to hug the members of my family and my dear friends. I want to travel again before I grow so old that I am no longer able to walk for miles exploring new places. I dream of  being able to visit my aunts and uncle who are in nursing homes once again. I miss having tea time with my niece. I find that there is little else that I now want to do. I don’t need to shop or eat out or go to a movie theater. I don’t want to run around all day doing things that I may accomplish inside my home. Covid 19 has allowed me to think deeply about what is most important. 

I am happy to do my part to help end this tragic occurrence that has so changed our world. I still teach my little band of students remotely. I wear my mask willingly. I order my groceries through Instacart and give the workers who bring them to me very generous tips because I so appreciate what they doing. I get most of everything else I need from Amazon or by purchasing from other online vendors. I support local restaurants by getting take out now and again. I mostly take rides for diversion rather than mixing it up with people in enclosed spaces. I’ve already signed up for voting by mail to insure that I will be able to cast my vote in November no matter what the state of things may be.  

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but somehow Covid 19 has managed to do that for me. In a strange way it has actually made me more aware and thankful. Nonetheless I feel great sadness for those who have been so hurt by this sometimes deadly virus. I cry at the news of a teenager losing both of his parents or the story of an elderly couple dying on the same day. It is difficult to see Covid 19 as anything other than a great tragedy. I pray constantly that an end to all of the suffering will come sooner rather than later. I pray that each of us will do whatever it takes to make that happen. I pray that we will never forget how dependent we are on one another. I pray that I will spend however many days and years I have left on this earth always remembering what is truly important. 

 

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

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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.