And So I Worry

WorryI sit at home during this time of self isolation and I worry. Let me make it perfectly clear that I do not worry about myself. I will either get the virus or I will not. If I get it I will either survive or not. I am seventy one years old and my journey on this earth has been good. I feel very close to God and that belief brings me great comfort. My anxieties and concerns center on other people whose lives are being upended or may be upended by what is unfolding at warp speed. I am one of those individuals who wants our president to know that I am very scared of the repercussions of this pandemic and how they will affect the entire world, not just my little corner of it. I am most especially concerned for the young who stand to inherit a situation that will forever impact their lives in ways that few of us are even considering because nothing of this magnitude has ever before happened.

I am fearful for the medical community, people who understand what protocols they need to stay safe and keep their patients safe. They are on the front line and their pleas for our attention and help are real. They are not children crying wolf. They are highly educated, highly qualified individuals who are trained to stay calm. When they are afraid I know that the rest of us should also be afraid and that our job is to insist that immediate measures be taken to assist them in any way possible. If that means that we all stay in our homes avoiding contact with others, so be it. We need to listen to them, not a man whose claim to expertise in science and medicine is his relationship with a very bright uncle from M.I.T. The medical community tells us that this is serious and I believe them and so I worry about them.

I am anxious about the people who are already losing their jobs and their businesses. I know who they are and how vulnerable they are feeling. Nothing about their situation is typical. They have no guarantees that our economy will quickly return to a normal enough state to provide them with secure employment when all of this is over. My own city is the oil capital of the United States and that industry is collapsing almost as quickly as the virus is spreading Already there have been furloughs and layoffs. Sadly if the general outline of the Senate’s plan to stimulate the economy comes to pass many who have been most affected by economic loss will receive no relief even though they are the ones who need it the most. The proposed bill would only send checks to people at or below a certain income level based on 2018 tax returns. These people were working and doing well back then, but now they have no income and their retirement investments are in a shambles. Thus I am anxious for them.

I see a political game of back and forth insults playing out on social media even as we should be working together to achieve the common goal of defeating this virus. If there ever was a time when we should set our differences aside it should be now and yet I see so many instances of the quarreling only intensifying. Blame and finger pointing is on the rise as though it must surely be the fault of some nation other than our own or some group that does not believe in God or those who voted for a certain person in the last presidential election. The political paranoia and poison is operating at full tilt when we should instead be working together. Covid 19 is apolitical, a virus that randomly chooses its victims, and so I worry because I keep hearing accusations and excuses instead of a united front from those in charge of guiding us through this battle. I would be far more calm if the press conferences included members of both of our major political parties. I would be relieved to hear that plans were being made in a bipartisan way for the good of the country. I would feel less anxious if we were able to heal the wounds and divisions of our nation and the world even as we fight the virus. Since I don’t see as much of that as I think we need I am ill at ease.

The  millennials are more like those of us who are Baby Boomers than either demographic may think. We Boomers were a rebellious group that was often misunderstood by our elders. We looked honestly at the world as it was and were unafraid to point out its problems. We witnessed racism that made no sense and we stood up to our elders and spoke out against the ways things had always been done. We worried that the war in Vietnam was not being waged in an honest and legitimate manner and we voiced those concerns. Our parents and grandparents thought we were rude and too inexperienced to have valid points of view.  They disapproved of our audacity. So too are today’s young people taking note of things that bother them. Surely we should remember how demeaning it felt to have our concerns silenced when our intentions were so sincere. It’s time we listened to our young because they are about to step into an adult world that will be riddled with residual problems created by this pandemic. We are handing off immense challenges without acknowledging them and supporting them as much as we should. I worry about the future not because I don’t think they can handle it but because so many of us are not willing to consider that the millenials have a bigger stake in making things right than us older folk do. It would serve us all well to remember that aside from people like Benjamin Franklin most of the revolutionary men who forged the independence of this nation were very young.

I am an admitted worrier. I do not need anyone to tell me to set aside my worries and be happy. I am already happy, but I think about things and fret over solutions for problems. I do not need anybody to suggest that if I only trust in God all will be well. God and I have a beautiful relationship and I know that He/She does not play favorites nor smite people in spite. What I do believe is that God gave us wondrous minds and imaginations with which to tackle our challenges. I worry because we don’t always use that precious gift as well as we should. I worry because even in a pandemic we sometimes forget that the most important commandment of all is to love one another.

I hope that I am wrong in all of my fears. I pray that we will rise up and become better for all of the difficulties that lie before us. We may be in for a hard road ahead. We have everything we need to do well but I fear that we will be so busy chiding and advising anyone who does not think exactly as we do that we will miss opportunities to find the way forward without a world of pain…and so I worry. 

Get Busy Writing Now

Journal

I am always fascinated by the long, lovely, highly descriptive letters and journal entries from important historical times that were somehow saved by the sentimental people who found them. They became treasures because they opened a window to a moment when an ordinary soul took the time to vividly speak of the happenings, the privations, the fears and the hopes that they were experiencing. My mother-in-law had one such heirloom from a relative in the United Kingdom who communicated news about World War II to the family members who had emigrated to America. The words are so poignant and give voice to how the lives of ordinary folk were touched by the unfolding drama. The personal aspect of what the author conveys makes the letter all the more compelling in bringing the realities of daily routines under the duress of war to life. There is a special kind of voice in such first person communiques and luckily their existence traces it’s way far back into history.

I often write in the hopes that my words may one day resonate with my descendants. I know that my grandchildren are presently so busy building the foundations of their own adult lives that they rarely have the time to sit still and read my insignificant tracts. They are instead mastering mathematics, learning of the history of the world, enjoying the genius of the world’s greatest authors. They toil from dawn to the late hours of the night studying the fundamentals that will ready them for the future.

I have been in their position myself when I had little time to tarry and ask my grandparents or any of my elders to describe their lives. I was all too often impatient with their recitation of tales from their youth. It was only as I aged that I began to enjoy hearing what life had been like before I was even born. By then I had more questions than time to ask them. There is so much more that I would like to have known. Their knowledge, wisdom, and accounts of the past are forever lost. Because their educations were limited no written outlines exist. I will never know the full details of their experiences because I foolishly undervalued what they had to say.

My mother-in-law was a keeper of personal history. She researched genealogy and saved seemingly meaningless trinkets and correspondences from members of her family. She reveled in telling their stories and her own. I recall a time when she described her final year of high school when rationing was the rule and the young men who had been her classmates had gone to fight World War II. She showed me her yearbook which looked more like a thin magazine with its paper cover and lack of pages. She brought out a ration book that had once belonged to one of her aunts. She read that letter from a distant relative in Britain whom she had never met but with whom she felt a strong connection. I was fascinated by her dialogue and somehow felt that I had an understanding of those war years that no textbook or college lecture might ever have given me.

Each of us has a story, a history that might become a book. We may think our lives to be dull and unworthy of describing on paper but in truth our everyday thoughts and actions may one day become a treasure for some distant descendant intent on finding roots and knowing the people who came before. I am always thrilled when I discover even a kernel of evidence about my ancestors. I suppose that there comes a time for each of us when knowing such things becomes quite important. The more help we get from those voices from the past, the more exciting our search becomes.

We are now in the midst of a moment in time that will no doubt become a topic of discussion for years to come. We are part of history in the making as we navigate through the unknowns and unprecedented restrictions of the world’s battle with Covid 19. I find myself thinking that keeping a daily journal of what I witness happening across the globe and how I feel about it may one day prove to be an extraordinary gift to my great grandchildren who are yet to exist. What a glorious find my account may one day be even if I never get personally involved with the illness (and I pray that I am saved from ever actually knowing it). I can be a reporter of what I see unfolding in my tiny slice of the world. Surely there will be a future someone like me or my mother-in-law who will be curious enough to want to learn about the very personal aspects of the outbreak.

The very word history indicates that all that happens to us is a personal tale outlining how we react to unfolding events. The books that our descendants will one day read to learn about this moment will speak in more general terms without explaining how our own families endured. Keeping a journal of our thoughts will not only give us something to do while we self isolate but may also become a priceless heirloom of the future. Get busy writing your story now. It’s a worthy and important task.

Celebrating the Good and the Blessings

bucket-of-cleaning-suppliesWhen I was a young girl spring brought a massive cleaning effort in our home. My mother would engage our youthful energy in days of tackling every nook and cranny of the house. She’d issue bucket of sudsy water and old rags showing us how to wash every baseboard and how to insure that we reached every square inch of the walls. We revelled in seeing the dirty refuse as we poured our cleaning  down the toilet and refilled our containers with a clean batch of water for the next attack on grime.

Everything came out of the closets and the drawers and anything that was no longer of use went inside paper bags from the grocery store to be handed down to a family member or friend or to be donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  We laundered the curtains that hung over the windows and hung them on the clothesline to dry in the sun. Perhaps the most taxing job of all was carefully cleaning each slat of the venetian blinds until they gleamed like new.

We’d scrub the grout of the tile with old toothbrushes and put new shelf paper in the cabinets. Mama created a mending pile and spent evenings with a needle and thread making sure that every seam and button on our clothing was once again secure. As a finale she waxed the floors until they were shining with a warm patina.

Our efforts took many days but we always felt a sense of pride and accomplishment once we were done. Mama made housekeeping seem fun by playing recordings of symphonies on our Victrola, an old 45 rpm record player, while we worked. She made special meals as rewards for our hard work and praised us if we passed her inspections. She had high standards when it came to spiffing up our home and we did our best to meet them.

Somehow I have very fond memories of spring cleaning when me and my mother and brothers joined together to keep our home in tip top shape. My thoughts of those days are so pleasant that I still feel a sense of joy whenever I engage in a deep cleaning of my own home. I enjoy the process of repairing things, organizing, restoring. As someone who prefers to be in control of my situation cleaning offers me the reward of instant gratification. In the midst of confusion and chaos cleaning soothes my soul. I’ve used it time and again as a panacea for my anxieties.

A long day of physical labor around the house may strain my back or wrinkle my hands but it sends thousands of happy messages whirring inside my brain. Somehow the simple act of putting my home in order helps me to temporarily forget any cares or woes that I may have. Now that threats of Covid 19 have literally changed the normal functioning of the world I have filled my bucket and tackled the nooks and crannies of my house just as I did when I was a little girl. The regimen that I learned from my mother back then has become a kind of gift and a way of getting away from the worries and fears that seem to dominate daily life these days.

I have used the old ways that helped me to feel more secure when the world felt so uncertain after my father’s death. I find solace in reading, praying, reaching out to others, and cleaning. We all need to feel a sense of dominion over our circumstances and when all of the things that we normally do suddenly change it helps to find activities that bring comfort and occupy the mind. For me that has meant keeping to a schedule and accomplishing something each day.

I am one of those souls over seventy that the whole world seems intent on protecting. We are supposed to stay home or at least limit our contact with others as much as possible. The young folk in my life are being so lovely. They want to comfort and help me. I am moved by their gestures of love and concern. I am obediently following the guidelines for people in my age group. It will be the younger generation who will have to deal with people like me if we get sick in large numbers. It will tax their energy and maybe even their futures. I want to do my part to cooperate in the efforts to win the battle against this virus, and so I stay home and I clean.

It my be many weeks before I am once again free to travel and enjoy the freedoms that retirement has brought me. I’ll eventually run out of things to scrub but I have other ideas to keep me occupied. I have students to teach which means I have lessons to plan. My garden will fill with weeds unless I tend to it. I will cook my quarantine meals like beans and soups. I may even put together some puzzles or spoil myself with some binge watching of television.

I’ve learned that even bad things eventually pass and that I am strong and resilient when I need to be. I believe in the goodness of all humans and I am certain that together we will do whatever we have to do. If the good people of London were able to endure fifty nine straight days of bombing during World War II then surely I can stay inside my home as much as possible until the danger passes. If the citizens of Italy can still sing in the face of grave illness and death then surely I can turn on the music like my mother once did and celebrate the good and the blessings that I have while I wait out this virus.

Setting Aside My Selfish Fears

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I am wise enough to know that change is inevitable, but anxious enough to worry that it will occur. I despise the unknown, surprises that threaten my control. I used to laugh and brush off my mother’s accusations that I am a control freak, but she was one hundred percent correct in pegging me as someone who possesses a need to take charge. I am able to vividly remember the exact moment when my happy-go-lucky take on life became anxious and it was not on the occasion of my father’s death as some may suspect, but rather when my world was upended by an unexpected move to California only months before his demise.

I hated that long distance excursion. Nothing about it felt right. There was a tension hanging over my family that I was unable to explain but felt deeply. When things turned out badly and we ultimately returned home to our friends and family we were all exhausted from the frenetic swings our emotions. The change that was supposed to be exciting had sapped us all and made me fearful of living without routine from that moment forward. When my father died only weeks after we came back to where we had begun my abhorrence of change felt even more justified and thus began my long and often futile attempts to avoid the almost certain adaptations that are an integral and necessary part of living.

In my sixty odd years since that time I’ve been ambivalent about change. I know that it is not just inevitable but often quite good, and yet I have always felt a reluctance to trust the winds of change. I have so often associated them with violence as when I watched my mother’s personality alter because of her mental illness, I witnessed the horrors of political changes that ended in war,  assassination, and terror. I’ve even seen the climate of my youth change so utterly over time that my city filled with flood waters. I watched as our society has changed into a kind of tribal warfare pitting one group against another with little or no reason. I’ve seen the pride that once defined my country become a kind of self loathing in many quarters. I have observed the mutations of viruses and disease bringing misery and fear to mankind.

So it is that I selfishly wish that change would take a holiday so that I might enjoy the kinds of moments that I felt for a time when my mother created a safe haven for me and my brothers after my father died. She cloaked us in a routine and innocence that made us feel secure. Those were lovely times that were certainly destined to eventually disappear but I often long to experience them just one more time.

I patterned my adult life after the ways of my mother. I tried to create a kind of haven for my family. I did my best to make our home a happy place where the unexpected rarely came to call but those efforts often fell flat. Illness, death, financial worries refused to leave us alone and the world kept changing in spite of my efforts to keep it the way I wanted it to be.

My nest became empty and I had to watch over my children and then my grandchildren from afar. I tried to create continuity, traditions. I wanted everything to stay the same even as I knew that it would not. I selfishly wanted to run from change rather than attempting to adapt to it. Time and again I was forced by circumstance to accept the evolution of ideas and ways of doing things. Nothing ever really remains the same no matter how much we wish it to be so. Each of us has to endure many challenges, much loss. We watch as the old routines give way to the new. It’s not all bad. Some of it is rather good. I know that, and yet I dread the thought of doing things differently than I always have. I like continuity. It soothes me.

My grandfather often cautioned me to take each day and each challenge as it comes. He was a survivor who was ready to revise his life at a moment’s notice. He faced difficulties head on and did whatever necessary to deal with them. Often that meant being flexible and finding a grain of optimism in even the most seemingly hopeless situations. I suppose that the key to his long and mostly healthy life was that he let go of the past, enjoyed the present, and never worried about what the future might bring. He was a believer in progress and he understood that change had the power of making things better for all of humankind. He did not fear it, but instead embraced it.

Like so many who have lived for almost three quarters of a century I desire to spend the closing chapter of my life in a state of peace and quiet. I savor tranquility but I also know that the new world will belong to the young and that there are indeed changes that we need if we are all to survive. I will try to set aside own selfish desires for an unchanging uncomplicated ending to my story. I have learned that while change is often painful it is also the most inevitable aspect of our humanity. Only a tiny child actually believes that it is good to hang on to the past. I must open my heart to the possibilities that will not only make the future brighter for the rest of the world but, will no doubt bring me happy surprises as well.

The World At Our Fingertips

internet-facts

I’m not going to tell stories of walking a mile uphill through the snow to get to school when I was young. The fact is that I lived in a flat city with a rather temperate climate and the distance to my school was only a matter of blocks. My journey was a short and rather pleasant affair. What was the most difficult about learning fifty or sixty years ago involved doing research for papers or my debate class. The only way to get information beyond the outdated set of encyclopedias that my father had purchased before he died was making a trip to the library.

Of course the old way of doing such things was to be armed with lots of paper and index cards to jot down information by hand, starting with notes about where to find the books and periodicals that I needed. I’d begin with the card catalog and then pray that the items that I wanted would actually be in the library. About seventy five percent of the time some other fortunate soul would have already checked out what I had hope to find. Even worse was when I eagerly turned the pages of a magazine only to discover that someone had vandalized it by tearing out the very sections that I most desired to read. Research was a frustrating and time consuming project that often took hours on a sunny Saturday when I would have preferred to be anywhere but inside a library.

Unfortunately for me this mode of getting the data for my papers continued through both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in college. I never formally enjoyed the luxury of using the Internet to learn or gather information while I was still a student but I watched it become ever more sophisticated and capable of housing a vast array of ideas and processes unlike anything the world had ever before seen. Now it seems as though I can use this marvelous technological advance to self teach myself about virtually anything and hardly a day goes by that I do not take full advantage of it, all in the comfort of my home without ever having to get out of my pajamas or put on my shoes.

I suspect that people in my age group marvel a bit more over the Internet than young folks who have grown up taking it for granted. I often find myself considering how much more I might have accomplished in life if I had not been bogged down by the time consuming process of searching for information when I was still a student. Now I am able to find multiple sources and points of view on virtually any topic as long as the wifi is operating wherever I happen to be.

Of late I’m a YouTube geek when in comes to Pre-AP Pre-Calculus. In an effort to better prepare students for AP Calculus the methods for teaching and learning the fundamentals of Pre-Calculus have changed. When I was still in high school such a course didn’t even exist and even when I attended college the depth and breadth of what I learned was not equivalent to today’s course. Since I never taught mathematics beyond Algebra II, and that was over twelve years ago, I have had to update my knowledge so that I might better prepare my grandsons for their tests. I’ve turned to the Internet for my own tutoring sessions and the experience has been rather remarkable. There are a number of dedicated souls who film themselves explaining the various concepts and they have illuminated me time and again when I felt a bit confused about a particular way of doing things. I do believe that it might be totally possible to learn the full scope of high school mathematics simply by going online each day and then practicing the processes just a bit.

I never dreamed that there would be so much knowledge easily available for anyone desiring to partake of it. I continually find answers to my own questions about the world around me. I’ve learned to search for multiple sources and to check the credentials of the persons providing the narratives that I read. It doesn’t take long to realize that some of the information is false or a bit inadequate so I never rely on a single site but in general the entire world of knowledge is there for the taking at anytime of the day or night and I can’t think of anything more wonderful.

Through the lens of the Internet I’ve seen the world, found my ancestors, listened to lectures, enjoyed music and learned how to cook delicious meals. The possibilities are seemingly  limitless and so I marvel at how lucky we are in this day and time. Even someone who is homebound still has access to knowledge. We need go no farther than the room where our computer or laptop is housed to find works of art and great thinkers. It’s breathtaking to think how lucky we are.

Even as I write this blog there is much concern over what may happen if the coronavirus spreads through our country causing schools to close and isolation to become the temporary norm. People wonder how they will spend their time, what they will do with their children. I suggest that they go to the Internet for ideas. There is a whole cornucopia of ideas just waiting to be discovered. Passing time these days is just a moment away. Learn how things work. Read great literature. Study the history of a time and place. The possibilities are limitless. There is so much to learn and it’s become so easy to find. The world is at our fingertips.