Becoming the Helpers, Healers and Caretakers

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We are meant to be social. We form communities. We join groups. We have friends. It is the way of being human. Suddenly we have been forced into a state of isolation by a virus that is not even visible to the eye but which may lurk in any corner through which we pass. This fact changes our plans, cancels traditions, upends our lives. We watch as our world appears to be descending into chaos and confusion. We just want to go back to normal but it feels as though our efforts to do so are thwarted again and again. We are disappointed, confused, sad, maybe even angry. We want to blame someone. Surely we should be able to rise above all of this. Who is at fault? When will we feel safe again?

The times are like no other even when we desperately attempt to make them so by ignoring or even doubting the evidence before us. We think that if we just stay positive and talk about something else we may find a semblance of the world as we wish it to be. We wonder why people cannot just focus on prayer and happy thoughts. We want to be calm. We want serenity now. We cannot understand why some among us insist on stirring up trouble. We want lazy summer days and laughter. We are tired and scared even though our bravado attempts to tell a different story.

We have people using this moment to demonstrate the magnificence of humanity. They are helpers, caretakers, healers. They are compassionate, selfless souls. They use this time to do the heavy lifting that keeps our society working as much as possible. They faithfully carry on even as they know that there is danger in doing so. They cure and nurse and teach and cook and clean and deliver and complete the payrolls. They make things, build things, repair things. They wear masks and wash their hands and follow uncomfortable guidelines out of the love that is apparent in their work. They face the problems that they encounter not to glorify themselves but to celebrate the value of every human being.

We also have people who are sadly using this moment in selfish ways. They stir up hate and divisions to cement their own power. They sow seeds of discontent. They appear to be unconcerned by the needs of others. They engage in false dichotomies and blame. Instead of taking positive steps to be part of the solution, they spend their time accusing others of bringing a scourge on our land. They point to the worst aspects of every situation rather than focusing on what is working and what is good. They seem to be tone deaf, insensitive, uncaring.

We know that our present state of fear and unrest is unsustainable. We will eventually have to face down the demons that plague our society whether they be microbes or beliefs. We might learn from the helpers, caretakers and healers. No problem is ever solved by being ignored and some difficulties require much patience, hard work and even pain to overcome. We might begin by agreeing to be guided by goodness rather than self centered motivations. We may need to make uncomfortable changes to set things right. We will need to look ahead to the future while learning from the past. We will do well to rely on the kind of experts and knowledge that have moved humankind forward in the past. We must be willing to open our minds rather than clinging to outmoded and ineffective ways of doing things. A brighter future is possible but only if we set aside ignorance and hate.

I am an optimist but that does not mean that I only allow happy thoughts to enter my mind. Sometimes I have to walk through darkness before I see the pinpoint of light ahead. I am religious but I also believe that our institutions devoted to the praise and glory of God are sometimes too rule driven and not centered enough on the preciousness of people. Just as I do not think that it is right to take the life of even the unborn, so too do I see it as our duty to fight for justice for anyone on earth who is being abused by word or deed. In our own country we have too long found excuses for the deplorable treatment of an entire race of people who were brought here in chains. We may not be guilty of racism of our own but we have certainly been guilty of allowing the continued glorification of those who fought to keep slavery alive. We must be as willing to admit to that wrong as we are willing to confess our personal sins. It is our duty as believers in the words of Jesus to finally embrace our Black brothers and sisters with the unconditional love that they deserve.

The truth is that we are now engaged in a battle for lives being attack by Covid-19 and lives being attacked by continued “isms.” If we are to become a greater nation of the kind imagined by Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we must stop fighting with one another. We need to proudly don our masks out of love. We need to value the life of every person on this earth out of love.  When we see or hear hurtful behavior we must decry it out of love. We must become the helpers, healers and caretakers out of love. 

I Have Watched and Learned

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My mother used to urge me to watch and learn. She would take me into the bathroom and show me that cleaning the toilet was way more than just swishing the most visible areas with some cleaning solution. She demonstrated how to iron a shirt and make a straight seam with a sewing machine. She showed me how to cook without a recipe. All the while my duty was to only observe what she was doing. There were no written instructions. I simply increased my knowledge by witnessing her at work. Before long I found myself watching and learning everywhere I went. I suppose that it was a good trait to have because I realized along the way that there is much information to be gathered by being a “fly on the wall.”

Since the first of March I have been busily noting the unfolding of events during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most interesting of all have been people’s reactions to the various things that have happened in response to the virus. With the killing of George Floyd in May occurrences and the perceptions of them became curiouser and curiouser. From my birds eye view gathered from the comfort of my home here are my random observations:

  • It was much nicer and more comforting when we were all concerned with one another and working together much as we did in the first couple of weeks of the novel coronavirus coming to our country.
  • Conspiracy theories of all kinds are rapidly attempting to overtake the truth.
  • Along those lines it must be noted that the pandemic is not a hoax and it will not miraculously go away in November once the presidential election has been held.
  • Not all persons participating in the Black Lives Matter marches and protests are rioters, looters and destroyers. In fact, of the millions who have marched across the globe all but a very small percentage are peaceful. Portraying them all as thugs who want to pillage and destroy our country is no substantive foundation.
  • Not all of our police and law enforcement officers are corrupt and racist. In fact most of them are good men and women who strive to protect us with fairness. Portraying all of them as evil is yet another ridiculous idea.
  • Defunding police departments is not a means of ridding ourselves of law enforcement.
  • Information from scientists and medical persons is far more reliable than anything one might hear from politicians, neighbors or some guy who has a thing for conspiracy theories. Being scientific in a time of pandemic is advisable.
  • Wearing masks will not make us sick from carbon dioxide build up. If that were true doctors and nurses would be long dead by now.
  • It is a great American right to have different opinions. It is not more patriotic to be a member of a particular party. True profiles in courage usually rock the status quo causing us to think.
  • Those who note and comment on problems within the systems of the United States do not hate the country. In fact, it may be said that they care so much about the country that they want to help repair the aspects that are broken.
  • History is often far more complex that a single point of view.
  • Those of us who are not Black will never be able to completely understand what the lives of Black Americans are like. To ridicule or ignore them when they attempt to describe the inequities that they experience is insensitive and inhumane.
  • Just because someone does not have Covid-19 and does not know anyone with the virus does not mean that it is not a serious illness. 
  • We take precautions for the safety of everyone. Proclaiming that we have a right to be reckless is the ultimate in selfishness.
  • Many, many people are hurting and this is causing great stresses and anxieties that we should not ignore.
  • It would behoove us to find out who among us needs help whether it be financial, assistance finding employment, or dealing with psychological issues. This is not a time to horde our good fortune while ignoring the hurt of others.
  • We should not even be thinking of repealing the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic. Too many people are relying on this healthcare safety net. They need to know that it will be there for them if they need it.
  • We should find a way to keep people in their homes rather than evicting them. To make people homeless right now is the ultimate in cruelty.
  • This is not a time to threaten dreamers that we will finding a way to stop DACA that is Supreme Court proof and eventually send them back to the places where they were born but may not even remember.
  • No piece of cloth, stone, metal icon, or song should ever be more important than any single human life. 
  • We must address the measures we will need to safely open our schools so that both students and teachers will feel comfortable upon returning. We must also be ready to be flexible in the event that Covid-19 begins a second wave.
  • Beware of anyone who tries to focus on our divisions or who revels in the pain and suffering of certain groups. Watch for trigger words and phrases that constantly lay the blame or poke fun. 
  • Covid-19 is an acronym for coronavirus disease of 2019. It is not the Chinese flu.
  • Covid-19 is not political and we should not try to make it so.
  • We should all make a point of being kind. There is enough uncertainty, privation, and sorrow without turning on one another.
  • If we do not work together again, we may fall together. We will all need to sacrifice and understand that going to the beach or a bar or a ballgame or out to eat or on a trip or to a concert is far less important that saving even one life.
  • We demonstrate how much we care by our behavior and by the expectations we have for our leaders. When they seem to be more interested in themselves than in the people it is our duty to call them out, not model their selfish behavior.
  • Remember above all else God loves every one of us and he wants us to love each other.

Reach For the Moon With a Plan

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I no doubt have too much time on my hands to really think about the state of the  world, particularly the state of my nation. We are quite troubled these days, not just with Covid-19 but with the issues that have surfaced and bubbled over after the horrific death of George Floyd. In the annals of history this will no doubt be a defining moment along with Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Perhaps because of, rather than in spite of the pandemic a cry of historic pain has risen from our Black Americans from sea to shining sea. Like Rosa Parks they are too tired to simply move to the back of the bus one more time, but unlike with Rosa Parks there does not appear to be a carefully crafted plan associated with the protests. As a result the reactions and the demands are fueled by pure emotion that is so all over the place that I fear that the things that need to be done will be pushed aside by minuscule victories like making Juneteenth a national holiday or rebranding Aunt Jemima products.

I am not Black and cannot even pretend to fathom the racism and associated injustices that they continue to endure. I can only empathize with my Black friends and neighbors and former students and interpret what they are telling us needs to happen. In my thinking the biggest issues should be restructuring and perhaps redefining the criminal justice system, strengthening the educational system for minorities, ensuring that quality healthcare is available to all, and making the effort to really hear and understand the voices and the needs of our Black citizens.

Sadly I sense that because there is little coherent national leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement the organic movement is all over the map concerning with regard to what is most important to accomplish. The deeds of those who loot and destroy do little for the cause as well. While I understand the depth of frustration and anger that leads to such behavior, the actions tend to divert attention from the true needs and place the entire movement in a negative light with those who are looking for a rationale for ignoring them or even shutting them down. There was a reason that Dr. King and the leaders of the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties insisted on nonviolent, passive resistance. They knew that they needed to win the hearts and minds of enough of a majority to bring about concrete and meaningful change. Those who lead this most important movement must do their best to disassociate themselves from theft and vandalism because even though such happenings are not representative they are being used to justify ignoring the real issues. 

What began as a move to rid our country of Confederate flags and monuments to leaders of the Confederacy has unraveled as well. Now almost any American historical figure is fair game. When things go too far, as they are doing in some cases, people lose patience with the cause. Burning the flag and spitting on soldiers returning from Vietnam did little to help the anti-war movement of the 1960s. It only gave ammunition to those who were already unwilling to consider the earnest perspectives of young people who wanted the unpopular war to stop. So too it is with BLM. Someone in charge needs to put out the word that it is best to keep the focus on the systemic changes rather than to get carried away with taking down inanimate objects. Already President Trump is giddily using such things to turn a segment of the American population against the BLM movement and to shore up his own chances for reelection. A wise group would not provide him with the ammunition to do so. Ignoring him quietly and totally would be a far more powerful tactic. The focus has to return to the kinds of changes that are most important and only strategic planning and leadership will accomplish what must be done. There is the very real threat that the president will rally enough support to dash the hopes of the entire Black Lives Matter movement just at the moment when their is worldwide support for the cause.

At the beginning of all of this one of my Black former students messaged me and said that he needed some of my understanding and gift for calming him because he was so very angry. I do indeed believe that our Black citizens have many reasons for being extremely mad. It is so apparent that their cause is being distorted by those who would rather not have to think about  the issues that have risen once again. It is truly tough to be honest enough to see that many of our nation’s ideals are tarnished by the history of slavery and racism. Too often we have tamped down the injustice toward Black in America with minimal stop gap changes and then hoped that the unrest would vanish. In many ways this time feels quite different and I believe that it can be if there is a real plan for making the much needed changes without upending even those aspects of our history that are in fact good. It is important for all Americans to think of how it feels to be viewed through a narrow lens. If nothing else we need to remember what it felt like to be punished by a teacher too lazy to differentiate between recalcitrant students and those who were attempting to do the right thing.

I sincerely suggest that the Black Lives Matter movement enlist the help of leaders, lawmakers, educators, doctors, ministers, students and ordinary citizens to become the voices of the change they wish to see in our country. They need to develop a plan and seek support from everyone in maintaining focus on what is most important. I fear that without such guidelines the forces against them will run as rampant as Covid-19 and they will lose the momentum that has garnered so many new insights in people who heretofore did not understand. Our Black citizens all too often must endure treatment that none of the rest of us would find acceptable only because of the color of their skin. I pray that this is indeed the moment when meaningful and long overdue change will occur but I also fear that without coherence and leadership it will only end in the reelection of a man who has no compassion for the cause and a citizenry that forces us to just go back to what they see as normal. Our Black citizens should reach for the moon this time, but remember that they must first begin with a plan.

A Good Thing About Covid-19

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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.

Becoming Profiles In Courage

congress

To the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States of  America:

Dear Sir or Madame:

I recently penned a letter to President Trump offering some unsolicited advice regarding  the kind of behavior that we need from our nation’s chief executive during this unprecedented time of pandemic, social unrest and economic difficulty. It has occurred to me since I offered my views to him that in reality his duty as the president is to be an administrator, not someone enacting rules and laws. Sadly during the tenure of the last several presidents there have been far too many executive actions taken in the absence of actual lawmaking from your chambers. As a result it all too often feels as though we have one person deciding how to approach the nation’s many problems much like a monarch might do while all of you act more like presidential lackeys or critics than actual lawmakers. The phrase “do nothing Congress” seems quite apt in describing the nature of the standoff between republicans and democrats in the legislative branch of government. The result is that most of the country’s pressing problems are being mostly ignored by the men and women elected to represent us. Instead for years now we have endured a patchwork of temporary directives announced by our presidents to repair the damage done by the inactivity on your part.

It has been far too long since I have observed any efforts in Congress to work together for the good of the nation. A while back you attempted to pass a law to reform immigration and you even came close to a compromise that would have created a pathway to citizenship for immigrants and the dreamers but in the end you froze under pressure from your more vocal so called bases and ended up doing nothing. Somehow it seemed better to you to just let the problem fester and grow while President Obama decided to protect the dreamers by executive action and President Trump used his power to divert taxpayer money to building a wall. Years after the moment when a bipartisan immigration bill was on the brink of passing, we still await a permanent solution and waste precious time and money on stop gap measures.

We have watched time after time as you have battled with one another over the budget with ridiculous scenes of a Senator reading from a children’s book to filibuster rather than to work out a deal good for the people. You have special investigative panels seeking information over and over again but in the final analysis they seemingly accomplish nothing. Even in the midst of a pandemic you only seem capable of sending out one time checks to some of the citizens without regard as to who might actually need the assistance at the moment.

You have witnessed the social unrest that has bubbled over in cities and towns and the best you seem to be able to do is sponsor bills declaring Junteenth to be a national holiday. Rival legislation offered in the democrat controlled House and the republican controlled Senate is not even allowed to see the light of day. Efforts to actually do something are ignored without so much as an open discussion that might demonstrate a real intent to create meaningful and systematic change. Instead you appear to compete with one another for the most righteous indignation and pontification. None among you seem to have the courage to actually cross the aisle to insist that everyone work together to legislate the badly needed changes. As usual you talk and talk and talk but get nothing of substance done. Then you complain and worry about presidential overreach depending on which party holds the executive reins at the time. With your abdication of the responsibilities of legislation you have turned the role of the president into a monarchy.

I know that there are fringe groups that exert great control over each of you with the threat of taking away your office if you do not follow their dictates. I would like to suggest, however, that your duty is not to be herded like lambs to the slaughter but to have enough courage and character to do what is necessary for the American people. You should be less beholden to the current thinking of a party or the president and more concerned with passing laws that repair the flawed and broken institutions that are demanding your attention. If you were working in any other capacity you would all be fired for dereliction of duty. When the members of any organization cannot get past the stage of norming and storming that group is doomed to failure.

I respectfully suggest that each and everyone of you read the duties of each branch of government as outlined in the Constitution. Then I recommend that you take back the powers invested in you and begin a process of repairing the ridiculous divisions that have left you unable to address the pressing problems that now face us. There are real people who feel forgotten and ignored who need your help. They can no longer accept your antics as an excuse for inaction. The grandstanding and partisanship and executive ordering needs to stop and that will only happen if you decide to finally do your jobs.

I am weary of knowing what you are going to say and do before you even show up for legislative sessions. You have only two minds, democrat and republican. You are puppets being animated by Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. Cut those strings and think for yourself, think about this country and its people. Take back your role and begin the work of providing us with the common sense laws that we need. Remind the president that his duty is to enforce the legislation, not to create it through sleight of hand. Let’s see who loves this country enough to become a profile in courage.