Celebrating Our Magnificent Snowflakes

set-of-snowflakes

With each new generation there always seems to be a great deal of chatter about how spoiled or clueless or delicate they are. We hear them described as “snowflakes” not because of their unblemished beauty but because they appear to some adults to be far too fragile to take on the real problems of the world. There are those who poke fun at the ideas and ideals of our youth as though they are living in an imaginary land of unicorns and fantasies. The age old divide between some members of the older generation and our young people continues to flourish just as it always has.

With the outbreak of Covid-19 the normal routines of our youth have been twisted into unrecognizable versions of themselves. In an instant so much changed for our kids. To the utter amazement of many of the naysayers who thought that they would surely fall apart they have soared just as I knew they would. If there is any delight to come from this pandemic it should be the realization that the children are not just alright, they are warriors.

I puff up with pride when I see all of the evidence of our youngsters from toddlers to twenty somethings proving their meddle and creativity. When the track season was cancelled the athletes took to the streets and trails around their neighborhoods to keep in shape. When the lessons went online the kids tuned in to Zoom meetings and worked on assignments in their bedrooms. In the last few weeks thousands of high school students across the country have been faithfully taking the Advanced Placement exams in subjects from American History to Calculus.

I’ve watched a video of the valedictorian of Pearland High School giving a speech to his classmates from his front yard. Wearing a casual t-shirt and a big smile his words are somehow more uplifting and meaningful than they might have been in a big auditorium or sporting venue with thousands of guests squirming in their uncomfortable seats. With the same determination that earned him the honor of graduating number one in his class, he found a way to share a moment of celebration and remembrance with his classmates. I suspect that his moment will one day make a great story for his grandchildren. Moreover, it demonstrates his grit, a quality that will serve him well as he enters the adults world.

I saw a young lady try out for cheerleader at Madison High School. Imagine attempting to show your stuff on film with nobody else around. Well, she did it, and she made it. She is now a very excited member of the squad and she is still practicing wherever she finds enough space to do her flips and cartwheels and routines. She’s not about to let something like a virus hold her back.

I enjoyed the musical recital of my young cousin who continued his lessons remotely. He never quit practicing in spite of the shut down of his city and his school. When the date of his already planned performance came he demonstrated his talent and his creativity with arrangements both on the electric guitar and the piano.

I have laughed with some kids who were once my neighbors who have had their own episodes of “Chopped” for nine weeks now. Their production is professional and delightful. Mostly they spread a sense of optimism and joy with their unswerving determination to make the best of a difficult situation.

I have been impressed by the sweet sounds of the granddaughter of one of my dearest friends. Not only does she have the voice of an angel but she sings with the personality of a Broadway star. She has used her time at home to perfect her performance skills without a single sign of self pity that they have not showcased in front of a live audience.

The eight students to whom I teach various levels of mathematics have checked in on time for all of our scheduled sessions. They are alert and filled with questions. They send their homework without fail. They literally make me smile each time I see them because they are soldiering forward without a hint of complaint. We are excited to be nearing the end of this school year and planning for the new one in August however that may prove to work out.

I know that the children in my cul de sac study for most of the day and then emerge in their yards to run and play and engage in games that keep them at a distance from one another but still provide lots of fun. Their laughter brightens my afternoons and convinces me that they will be more than just fine. They have adapted more quickly to the new normal than most of us old coots have. I sit in my living room and watch their antics with so much delight. They are so alive.

My own grandchildren have been more than amazing. They have put as much effort into their online learning as they would have done in a regular classroom setting. They have offered tutoring to those who are struggling. They have continued to complete community service projects. They are entering online speech contests and trying out for offices like Drum Major of the school band. They have sought out opportunities to learn and grow outside of the required assignments from their teachers. They read voraciously and write about the kind of future they hope to see. They keep themselves in shape with regular exercise. They continue moving forward even as they realistically know that many of their dreams may have to be adjusted.

I could go on and on and on. The young ones are continually inspiring me and giving me so much hope. They are showing their flexibility and their willingness to adapt quickly. They continue to look to the future, even as they know that it may be uncertain. They are filled with ideas and are willing to make needed changes in a split second. We are very wrong if we believe that they are only focused on proms and ceremonies. They are far more mature and realistic than that. If anyone wishes to continue to call them “snowflakes” they need to bear in mind that a snowflake is a mathematically complex and stunningly beautiful and unique creation. When all of those snowflakes come together they create a wonderland that is breathtaking. We should be celebrating their magnificence. 

Living From Day to Day

beautiful-sunset-sky-with-birds-royalty-free-image-865856136-1547059564Regardless of what may be happening with respect to the rest of the population I won’t be leaving my home to resume my normal activities anytime soon. My cautionary tendencies are screaming at me to take a wait and see approach to attempts to restart my routines once again. In spite of my own feeling that I am not one of the vulnerable ones despite my age, I happen to live with someone who has heart disease and I love him enough to make a few sacrifices to keep him safe. Besides, I have no assurances that my body would respond well to an infection of Covid-19. I may be kidding myself in thinking that I am made of steel.

Years ago my husband, my mother-in-law, and I came down with hepatitis A. They sailed through a relatively mild two week case while I spent three months sapped by the illness with my doctors wondering if I would ever become well again. I did finally overcome the infection but I spent over twelve weeks in quarantine, only leaving my home to visit my doctors. It took me many more weeks to regain my energy.

I suppose that my point is that I am not ready to take any unnecessary risks so I will continue staying home until it is very clear that the danger has passed. In the meantime I know how to keep myself busy but I will surely miss my encounters with people. I know that my writing has become a bit boring. I tend to find my inspiration by being part of the world at large. For now I am limited to watching my neighbors from my front room window and checking the pulse of humanity from posts on Facebook and news stories from journalists who don’t necessarily share my views. My borders have become smaller and smaller but I feel guilty to complain because my “prison” is filled with luxury.

Last year around this time I was in London. Perhaps the most fascinating place that I visited was the London Tower, home of Willam the Conqueror and countless monarchs which eventually became better known as a place of imprisonment and execution. I walked through cold stoney rooms where people had spent years languishing in isolation as criminals. They left intricately carved graffiti on the walls that speak of their frustration even centuries later. My temporary time of being shut off from society does not hold a candle to what they must have endured so I know that one way or another I will manage to get through this.

My head is filled with so many questions and concerns that it’s sometimes difficult for me to string words together in a coherent sentence. I am a thinker by nature but I have to be careful not to let my thoughts take me too far down a rabbit hole. I’d be much better off doing something constructive like Sir Isaac Newton who invented Calculus after he was sent home from Cambridge during a plague. I doubt that I will ever be quite that brilliant but it inspires me to use my time constructively rather than dwelling on possibilities that may or may not unfold. Perhaps I may use this time to relearn Calculus since I haven’t done anything in that realm since I was eighteen years old. I might even end up with a healthier mind.

It’s not as though I am incommunicado. I still speak with family and friends. Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype have been godsends in keeping me linked with people. I send texts and voice my feelings on Facebook. I read voraciously. The world is literally at my fingertips in one form or another. My worst days stuck inside are indeed mostly pleasant.

I found a list of books about plagues on the BBC website. I bookmarked the article that outlined the various volumes. It might be fun to take a look at some of them. I read The Plague by Albert Camus when I was in high school and recall being fascinated by it. Maybe it’s time to read it from the perspective of someone who is older, wiser, and has seen the actual ravages that a plague can inflict on the world. Maybe I can even set my mind to writing my own historical fiction book or story about Covid-19.

I sometimes wonder when I will feel safe enough to reintegrate with the life outside my home. The doctors in my family urge me not to be in a hurry to demonstrate my courage. They speak of their own worries for themselves and their children. They seem to believe that our dangers are far from being over. They are unwilling to suggest a time when it might be totally safe for me to emerge from my cocoon so I will just take things one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at a time without trying to gaze too far into the future and hopefully without letting my very vivid imagination get away from me.

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 was horrific. Writer Katherine Porter lived through that terrifying experience and later wrote a semi-autobiographical piece about a young woman who survived the epidemic. During an interview not long before Ms. Porter died she revealed that of all the tragic events of the twentieth century it was the 1918 influenza outbreak that most affected her. In fact she spoke of never having been able to totally get over the horror of what she saw during that time.

We are living history even from inside our homes. The children of the future will want to know what we did and what we saw. There is something both exciting and terrifying at one and the same time. My only hope is that however each of us chooses to react to the situation we will do so with the intention of making it a bit easier for everyone else. For me that means staying put for a bit more time. 

A Time For Healing

It’s far too soon to speak of the Covid-19 pandemic being over. It’s doubtful that we will be able to flip a switch and go back to the normal, at least for a time. There will be a wariness in the air until there are no longer daily outbreaks of the disease and a trustworthy vaccine is available to everyone. Still, we are becoming more and more anxious for that day to come because at heart we enjoy being part of a community. It is in our natures to be productive as well, to have purpose in our lives.

We’ve spent time away from the ebb and flow of the world at large. Our streets have been quieter along with our daily routines. We have had time to think, to meditate, to consider what kind of changes we might want to see in the new normal that will emerge. In some ways we no longer wish to return to the status quo as it once was because in our days of isolation we have realized new possibilities. Our worldwide distancing has in an ironic twist made us somehow feel closer. The individual who dies in Italy is as important to us as the grandfather who does not make it in our hometown.

We have witnessed a simplification in our lives, reminding ourselves of what and who is actually essential. The skies are clearer all over the world and so are our priorities and obligations to share our lives with others. As we enjoy our own blessings we realize how many people it took to make them happen. We may be in a cocoon of safety right now but we survive so pleasantly only because an army of people have worked diligently to keep the supply chain of goods and services running.

We look to our medical community for answers and comfort in time of need and see the immense sacrifices that have always been part of their work. We struggle to keep our children learning and realize the creative and caring presence that teachers have have been even while we often criticized their efforts. That onion or that loaf of bread are suddenly precious commodities brought to us with the backbreaking labor of migrant workers, people that we have sometimes derided in the past. We look to the wonders of technology to keep us connected and pray for the genius of our scientists and engineers to bring us out of this crisis.

We must surely be humbled by this pandemic which has both upended our way of life and demonstrated the amazing human spirit. Heroes that we once thought to be ordinary have emerged with powers more wonderful than Superman. That nurse who dons her battle gear day after day to administer to the dying deserves a Medal of Honor. The drivers who bring food and supplies to vulnerable shut-ins are providing an immeasurable service. The neighbors who look after one another are the very foundation of who we are as people.

We have learned to enjoy simple things. We realize that we do not need as much as we may have thought. The sound of a neighbor playing the violin is lovely enough to make our day. The birds that congregate in our trees are as entertaining as an evening spent on the town. The meals prepared at home are tastier than those at a five star restaurant. Maybe we don’t really need that extra pair of shoes or a new pair of earrings. Instead we might see who around us is struggling and help them to weather this storm.

When we speak of making America great I suspect that we now realize that it will require an acknowledgement that we are indeed members of a global community. A tiny virus has shown us that we cannot escape the fact that when a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa we are all somehow affected. This pandemic was not the fault of any one nation but we are all reeling from it.

Our new big idea should be to look around and see who or what needs help. We must look for ways to use our resources and our privileges more wisely and more universally. We need to consider our young adults who will be inheriting a world greatly changed. We must share our wisdom and work together to overcome the forces of human weaknesses like greed. We also must accept the reality that we are in a symbiotic relationship with the environment and everything we do affects the health of the earth. We humans are not the only ones who are sick, so is nature. It’s time we labor in tandem with our lovely planet.

I hope that we do not soon forget the lessons we have learned in our urgency to open up business as usual. We must be mindful of each other and what is truly important. If we just go back to our closed mindedness and most current tendencies of endless disagreements we will have missed an opportunity to not just recover physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. Now is the time for healing.

A Message For All Time

Jesus

This is Holy Week in the Christian world, a time to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. His was a story that changed the world and is embraced to this very day by millions across the globe. After weeks of sacrifice and good works during Lent we pause to consider Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem when people lined the streets to see him, laying precious palm leaves in his path as a sign of respect and adulation. This no doubt only added to the concern of political forces who worried that his growing popularity might lead to rebellion and so the time seemed right to convict him with trumped up charges of crimes against the state.

Of course Jesus saw it coming and told his apostles in a final gathering that one among them would betray him. It was Judas Iscariot who led the Roman soldiers to Jesus by identifying him with a kiss. The trial was swift and the punishment was brutal. Jesus was nailed to a cross alongside other criminals. His pain was excruciating and his captors taunted him with commands that he prove his divinity by coming down from the cross. His apostles meanwhile were hiding behind locked doors, afraid that they too might be captured and found guilty of their association with him. Only Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, a cousin and a kind stranger stood at the foot of the cross to watch him die. All seemed dark and unbearable after the triumphs of the past. His followers must have wondered if they had been fooled, if it was all over.

Three days later when the tomb was opened Jesus was gone. His apostles still hiding were told that their prophet and savior had risen from the dead. From that moment forward the story of Jesus spread throughout the world until today Christians around the globe continue to celebrate the glory of his life and his word.

Of course we know that many did not then and do not now believe that Jesus was a savior, the son of God. Some have their own alternate prophets and beliefs. Some continue to wait patiently for the true savior to come. Others do not believe in any form of higher power, thinking it foolish to even consider the idea a being who watches over us and guides us in our behavior toward one another. They think of prayers and religious ceremonies as silliness. The world is made of believers and nonbelievers of every sort. We humans have often injected our personal thoughts and feelings onto the teachings of religion or disbelief. Little wonder that the whole idea of Jesus as God is confusing to some.

I am a Catholic, a member of a religious group that some believe is not Christian, although I can’t imagine why such a differentiation would be made. Mine was the first organized church to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Over time there were those who began to question the direction of Catholicism and so they made efforts to reform Christianity by creating new sects. The variety that evolved from such efforts makes it clear that even among those of us who strive to adhere to the teachings of Jesus there can be great differences in how we react to and interpret his words. Somehow just as with nation building we humans have complicated the most basic essence of Jesus which he so very clearly iterated and reiterated while he still walked on the earth.

Jesus represented a new way of thinking and doing things and his message did not involve thousands of little dictums and instructions. He made his message very simple by example and word. We are to love one another, not just those who think and act and look like us, but everyone. That is essentially all we need to know. It does not take a magnificent cathedral or a list of rules to follow his example, but he showed us that following his commandment of love may be difficult. Our intentions may be misunderstood and like him we may be abused for our beliefs. We will endure hardship and suffering just as he did. The miracle of Jesus is not found in riches or success or lack of difficulties but in the comfort that he provides us with his teachings and his love. He did not come down from the cross to save himself because he wanted us to know that part of our humanity requires enduring difficulties.  He helped us to understand that the rewards for following his commandment to love will be immeasurable but not in the usual ways that we interpret good fortune.

As the world struggles with a virus that has changed our lives in ways that are daunting to comprehend it is fitting that we think of Jesus from behind our locked doors in the safely of our homes just as his apostles did so long ago. He would want us to think of all of the people on the earth with love and compassion. The best way to honor him and his teachings is not found in judging one another but only in love. Our prayers should focus not on asking for special favors from him but on pleading that we have the courage to always do what is right and just. The glory of the Easter message lies in hope and a determination to continue to follow the goodness of Jesus throughout our lives. He is with us in all things, even our darkest hours. The cup of agony was not lifted from him and so too must we cope with this moment doing our best to remember all of humankind and its salvation, not just our own. He taught us the way to live and in doing so became a light for all the world.

In this holy Easter season I pray that those who feel lost will find comfort. I pray that those who are hated will find love. I pray that the sick will be healed. I pray that the doctors and nurses and first responders and all people engaged in the fight against Covid-19 will be honored and supported for being the finest possible examples of the kind of people that Jesus asked us to be. May this be a glorious Easter in which we love and respect all people just as Jesus would have done. Go forth and be kind.

Facing the Fears

practice-self-care

I’ve noticed a number of people being very honest about their anxieties with regard to Covid-19. I was raised to be stoic about such things. My mom never complained or showed her worries until she had a mental breakdown and then in a state of psychosis she could not stop talking about her fears. I suppose that it was that point in life when I realized that we should not have to keep our concerns to ourselves. Bearing the unbearable alone does not always lead to a situation as dramatic as my mom’s was, but it can have both physical and emotional consequences that sap the very energy out of a person. I think it is quite healthy of my friends to admit that they are worried and afraid. I admire them for asking for help in dealing with the losses and frustrations that they are feeling.

I’ve been rocking along being rather proud of myself for bearing up and adjusting to the temporary normal of Covid-19. I’ve kept myself busy, made sure that my husband’s recovery from recent surgery has been smooth and upbeat, created distance learning for my math students, checked on members of my family and circle of friends, kept a written record of this historical event, and generally rolled with the ever changing punches that we are experiencing. I had considered myself to be immune from crushing worries because I’ve handled many crises in my lifetime. So it was a wake up call when I had a dream a view nights ago that made me realize that I was a bit more concerned than I have been willing to admit.

My nightmare began in my old home on Anacortes Street. I was a younger version of myself and my two girls were still children. As I walked down the street to meet them at the bus stop after school I waved at my neighbor Betty Turner who was smiling at me from a lawn chair in her front yard. I told Betty I would be back in a few minutes and I would sit with her and have a little chat. The school bus pulled up just as I arrived at the corner and my daughters hopped off with their book bags and lunch boxes. I was happy to see them and I gave them both hugs before starting back home. That’s when the fun or, should I say, the horror began.

Somehow our straight and quick pathway had become blocked and we had to take an alternate route. At first I wasn’t worried because I knew the area well and there was more than one way to get back home. Unfortunately no matter what I tried we could not find a way to the safety of our house. In fact we were getting farther and farther away and I was doing my best not to frighten my children. Instead I attempted to turn our adventure into a game which worked for a time but eventually they grew weary and begged me to take them home so that they might rest and see their friends and enjoy some playtime.

I kept trying my best to protect them from the reality of our situation but it was beginning to feel hopeless. Our wandering even took us back to the old neighborhood where I grew up and when I searched there for someone to help I only found strangers who ignored me when I attempted to speak to them. I was exhausted and on the verge of hysteria when I awoke and realized that it was all just a dream, but it helped me to understand that I had been denying the impact that this pandemic was having on me and the people that I love.

I suppose that most of us are longing for the comfort of that yesterday before any of this happened. As a mom I still worry about my still grown and very capable daughters. I long to see them and hug them and protect them. It’s difficult for all of us to be so separated and to feel so helpless. I am a person who takes control of situations and suddenly much of that control is in the hands of others. For now I am mostly doing what I can from afar and not being the responsible person in the room makes me feel a bit lost.

My dream has helped me to visualize and vocalize my fears. I don’t intend to dwell on them because that is not my style, but by allowing myself to feel them I have become stronger in my resolve not to allow any of this to defeat me. I think that it is important for each of us to find that honest part of our minds and then deal with the demons that haunt us. It really is okay to long for the normal times and want to rewind to a happier moment. It’s normal to want to protect our children even if they are grown. It’s a very human thing to want to get back to a dear friend like Betty where we can just sit and feel ourselves returning to a sense of safety and contentment that feels threatened by the specter of Covid-19.

I think of myself as a superwoman and I know I have a backbone of steel, but I am in reality just as human as anyone. I believe that it will be our very humanity and empathy that gets us through this crazy time. I’m thankful for all those dear souls who have been courageous enough to admit their fears. They have helped me and others. If we are honest we all know that hearing someone voice the feelings that we have pent up inside assuages our own worries. There is nothing more normal than being a bit anxious right now. Once I admitted it to myself I knew that I would be okay. It’s time to keep calm and remember to practice self care.