Let’s Get Real

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Let’s get real for a moment:

  • Nobody likes to wear a mask. They are uncomfortable and hot, especially in the humid summertime of Houston, Texas. We wear masks not because some lawmaker is mandating us to do so, but because it is the right thing to do. Our mask wearing insures a less likely or rapid spread of Covid-19. Sometimes the good of the people as a whole should be more important than our personal desires. We should all mask up and do so because it shows consideration for the people around us.
  • Our medical community is working hard to keep us safe and to provide care for anyone who contracts the virus. Neither they nor hospitals are in cahoots to keep certain medicines or therapies from us nor are they simply attempting to make more money off of our fears of the virus. In fact, they are continually communicating with one another to find the best procedures that appear to work. The fact that our numbers of dying are slowing compared to the numbers of positive cases is a clear indication that they are more and more often winning the battle with Covid-19. To insinuate that they are somehow complicit in a plot to deceive us is not just absurd, but incredibly insulting.
  • We are long past the moment to point fingers and lay blame for the destruction that Covid-19 has caused in our country. At this point who cares if China hid the truth about the virus? What does it matter if we did this or that wrong? We have to begin again from where we are. We need to look forward not backward. We must focus our efforts on finding solutions rather than making accusations. 
  • Anyone who thinks that face to face schooling will be anything like normal is living in a dream world. There will be much ado about masks and social distancing. It will become the new battle between students who push the envelope and teachers who want to protect them. Children will not be able to hug and gather in groups but you bet they will want to try. Just moving groups from one classroom to another will become a difficult endeavor. It is going to be a bumpy ride for sure.
  • Those of us who are making every possible attempt to help keep the level of contagion down get quite frustrated when we see images of people gathering in large groups without masks. We have grown weary of those who continually demand their rights without any concern for those of us who want to get out and about as much as they do. We sense that each time a beach is crowded or a huge party is held the goal of getting Covid 19 under control slips away just a bit more. Those photos of people smiling while crowded together do not delight us. They frighten us into thinking that we will never reach a point of  being able to feel comfortable with them again.
  • There are people in our midst who lost their jobs as a direct result of Covid 19. Most of them were hard working individuals before all of this happened. They went to work each day for the good of their families and they had wonderful plans for the future. Now they sit at home vying for job after job only to learn that they are in competition with hundreds of others. They are not enjoying their new found freedom from lack of employment. They are not thinking how much better it has been to get checks from the government than having to actually work. They have watched their savings dwindle and the bills piling up. They worry that they may lose their cars or their homes. The rest of us should be just as concerned about their security as we are about our own.
  • Every single death anywhere in the world is a tragedy. Just because it does not affect us personally does not in any way make it less horrific. The elderly person who dies will be missed by someone as much as the forty year old who leaves behind a family. The Hispanic who does not make it should cause us to grieve even if his immigration status was illegal. Those numbers that we see represent real people who walked among us and were loved. If we are lucky enough not to be touched by Covid 19 we should be grateful, not uncaring. We should be dedicated to doing whatever it takes to lessen the likelihood of spreading contagion.
  • We need to be willing to be creative in our usual celebrations. That child of ours can have a happy birthday without a big party. I’ve “attended” a virtual baby shower. I’ve witnessed Happy Birthday parades in my neighborhood. I’ve seen images of friends visiting elderly loved ones through glass doors and windows. I have friends who have taken RV vacation trips without gathering in crowded places. I’ve been on Zoom conferences for Easter and Father’s Day. I have “attended” mass every Sunday via YouTube. I’ve received cancellations of parties for graduates of medical school and for future weddings. I have managed to exercise every single day without going to a crowded gym. We can still find ways to be “together” without risking infection.
  • We need to spend less time listening to people running for political offices and more hearing from medical and economic experts who have nothing to lose in speaking the truth.
  • We should avoid theories of hoaxes and attempts to create a fairytale vision of the pandemic. The likelihood that the entire world has joined to make trouble for a single person is incredibly low.
  • We need to support anyone who must return to work by insuring their safety and by doing our utmost to follow guidelines that will help to slow down the spread of the virus. If we really don’t need to do something that involves taking risks, we should consider just staying home. We can do many things to support our local businesses and the economy without setting up situations that have the potential to become virus spreading incidents.
  • We all miss the world as is was five months ago. We all watched that ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Day and made wonderful plans for 2020. We have lost many things like trips, graduations, time with friends and family, freedoms. When all is said and done nothing compares to the loss of health or life or economic security. If we can’t work together to get through this unprecedented time then we are surely doomed.
  • It’s time to get real.

Celebrate Our Freedoms

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This has been a strange summer indeed. I suppose that if I were not concerned with the health and well being of all of the people that I know I might have enjoyed my time in solitude. After all I am an introvert at heart and quiet away from the mad rush has always been a form of healing for me. I literally enjoy the slow routine of the life I am living right now but of course I miss the interactions with family and friends. What really has me longing for a reprieve from these pandemic times is the unrest and divisiveness that I witness happening across my country. I realize that much of it is being stoked by forces intent on maintaining power and I hate the thought of watching so many people being manipulated. I am also stunned by the level of ignorance that I am witnessing as well. It is in all of these things that I feel the most disappointed because I wanted to believe that we would ignore our differences during this difficult time and work together for the common good.

Cancel culture has me particularly befuddled. I find it quite sad to watch people becoming incensed over our individuals rights to our particular beliefs. Perhaps our most important right as citizens is our ability to speak our minds without fear of retaliation. There is nothing more American than freedom of speech and yet I am more and more often witnessing the disturbing trend of folks who decide to purge people and products from their lives simply because they disagree with something that an individual has done or said. Even worse is accusing those using their rights of free expression of being somehow unpatriotic or even hating the country.

I truly wonder if those who would restrict free speech to only that which they fully endorse understand why our Founding Fathers decided to include the First Amendment. Certainly they must know that those individuals who signed on to the Constitution and its Bill of Rights did not always walk in sync with one another. They had widely varying beliefs about how our republic should unfold. They wanted to insure that nobody or no group would ever be able to restrict us to a narrow way of thinking. When we see differences in the thoughts and actions of our fellow citizens we should be thankful that all of our rights are still in tact.

I don’t have to agree with the athlete who kneels during the National Anthem to feel a rush of joy that I live in this country. The very fact that I am able to stand with my hand over my heart while he/she kneels in protest is the surest sign possible that our freedoms are safe from demagoguery. I rejoice when I see this and my thought is always, “God bless America!” It is in my mind a truly wonderful sight.

If a business person fawns over a politician that I do not like I am thrilled that he is able to do that without worry that he will become a target of governmental ire. I have the right to purchase his products or not. If I happen to like what he sells I will probably continue to buy them because his politics are his business. Again it is the true beauty of our system of government. We are free to be you and me.

One thing that does, however, disturb me is the lack of understanding that freedom is always tied to responsibility. We have to consider not just our own needs but those of others. We understand that we cannot harm someone physically and so we have laws that prohibit assault and murder. We might have a car capable of attaining speeds of a hundred miles per hour but we agree not to drive around town speeding for the safety of the public. We wear our seatbelts and wait to drink our beer until we are no longer driving. We follow rules at work and school and inside private businesses. Somehow people have forgotten these basic ideas when it comes to a simple matter of wearing a mask. Some among us seem to think that it is their God given right to ignore the health and safety of others if they so desire.

All of this confusion about right and wrong has lead us to a very dangerous place. Our misinterpretation of patriotism and freedom and democracy is leading to ugly behaviors even among those who once thought of themselves as friends. A common response these days is either to just ignore what is happening in hopes that it will go away or to sever long time relationships with anyone who has differing beliefs. Putting our heads in the sand is not the answer any more than attempting to beat someone into submission. It should not be an either or progressive or conservative thing to love the country and have ideas how to improve it. If I mention disturbing trends that I see it does not mean that I hate my country. In fact it is more likely that those who wish to make positive changes have a love of America otherwise they would just ignore the issues or depart altogether. We do not want a one size fits all way of thinking. We should embrace those with out of the box ideas, not tell them to love the country or leave

I’ve had more time to think about such things during the pandemic. I would like to think that we may one day realize that we all want essentially the same things for our country but we just have different ideas about how to achieve them. No one party or individual has all the best answers just as no citizen is more right or patriotic than others. I want more than anything to keep our freedoms intact. If that means hearing or seeing something that I don’t like, then so be it as long as it does not hurt someone else. Celebrate freedom of speech. It is the very thing that makes our country great.   

Happy Birthday

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Fifty years ago on July 18, 1970, I was headed to St. Luke’s Hospital to have my first child. I had no idea whether my baby would be a boy or a girl because there were no ultrasounds back then. My husband and I had picked out male and female names just in case. We wanted to honor our incredible mothers if our child was female and combining their names into one gave us “Maryellen.” We never had to use our other choice because after eighteen hours of labor our beautiful daughter was born and my brother Pat changed his pledge to take a boy on his first fishing trip to accompanying our girl to her first dance.

Maryellen was a big baby at nine pounds seven ounces and the doctor had to pinch her shoulders together as she was emerging into this world. She began life with a broken clavicle which was the first of many challenges she would overcome. She was the delight of our lives and that of her grandparents and our world began to center around her.

Maryellen accompanied me to my first time voting for president of the United States when she was barely four months old. It was a cold November day and she was dressed in a sweet pink sweater with a little hood that an aunt had made for her. It was a doubly proud day for me as I cast my vote and smiled at all of the compliments that she received. She would always be my very good girl.

Maryellen was sick a great deal. She endured one ear infection after another and I spent so much time taking her to see her pediatrician. On many nights a sat awake with her as she raged with fever. She seemed to have allergic reactions to any foods I gave her. I worried incessantly about her health even as she grew but while she had once smiled and loved to sing she grew ever more silent. When she was one year old she still had not walked and some of my friends suggested that there must be something wrong. My anxieties only grew.

Maryellen did eventually walk. In fact her first steps were a run to reach a ball that rolled past her. Because she was always dancing around the house I took her to get lessons and she had an unexpected grace and talent for creative movement. She still got more ear infections than I was able to count and we became more and more frequent visitors to her pediatrician’s office but she always sprang back from her illnesses.

Soon it was time for kindergarten which turned out to be a painful time for both of us. I contracted hepatitis and was sick for over three months. My husband later developed a rare disease that required months of chemotherapy. In the midst of all this her teacher called me to a conference in which she intimated that Maryellen’s intellectual abilities were not as well developed as the other children. The woman used a single worksheet as proof of her theory. The exercise required the student to draw a connecting line between a household implement and either the mommy or the daddy. Maryellen had “failed” the test because she joined the lawnmower, the rake and the hammer to me. I remember laughing my head off because I was indeed the person who maintained the lawn and often repaired things around the house. Sadly the poor teacher would not agree with my arguments about stereotyping the sexes. Instead she insisted that there really was a right and wrong set of answers. Furthermore she informed me that Maryellen was also socially inept.

I grieved for my little girl but then came first grade and a most wonderful teacher who changed Maryellen’s life. This educator had been given suggestions for grouping students according to their abilities. Maryellen began in the section for those with learning disabilities but before long she was doing so well that the teacher moved her to the next group and then the next until she was keeping up with the supposedly brightest children in the class. The teacher also noticed that Maryellen’s eyes followed her like a hawk. She observed that Maryellen appeared to be reading lips and so she scheduled an emergency hearing test with the school nurse. The results were astonishing. Maryellen had an almost fifty percent hearing loss!

I made an appointment with a well respected specialist and Maryellen was soon having surgery to fix the problem. I’ll never forget her reaction as we were taking her home from the hospital and she heard clearly for the very first time. Her eyes widened and she looked around with a smile on her face as she asked, “What is all of that?”

The rest of the story is so wonderful. Maryellen became a top student in high school where she also excelled as a dancer and a leader. She went to the University of Texas at Austin and was accepted into their school of business. She earned a degree in four years along with making wonderful grades and experiencing many friendships and adventures. She met her future husband, Scott, there and once he graduated they were married and began to build a life and a family.

Maryellen now has four magnificent boys of her own. She works as an accountant but is first and foremost an incredible mom. Each of her sons is unique and she has helped them to develop their own talents. Mostly she has taught them how to be fine men with respect for all people. She has done this through one challenge after another always being the steadying force in her family.

Maryellen has always made me puff out with pride and she has lived up to the legacy of the grandmothers for whom she was named. They were strong women with gentle hearts and like them she is a warrior whose cause is to compassionately love and care for all people. She is her own person and with a quiet steeliness that champions the causes of equality and justice. She is exactly as I hoped she would be.

Happy Fiftieth Birthday, Maryellen. The world has always been more wonderful from the day you were born. Here’s to many more years of making a difference in people’s lives. 

With Liberty and Justice For All

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I write this on July 4, 2020, a day when an uptick in cases of Covid-19 has resulted in the closing of beaches and parks. There is a mask mandate in my state and I received a text from my doctor suggesting strongly that I stay at home. It will be a different kind of holiday from the seventy two others through which I have lived and I find myself feeling quite pensive as I think about my country and its people. There is a great deal of division and unrest at work during this time. There are many questions about what constitutes patriotism and as I ponder such thoughts I think about a survey that asked non-Americans to describe what they like best about the United States.

It is interesting that those who are not citizens of my country often view our nation from different perspectives. They overwhelming speak of the bounty of our nation. They point to the massive houses in which we live and the amount of land that is still so open. They think that our food is undoubtedly the best in the world and they maintain that nobody creates entertainment as well as we do. More so than any other aspect of our country they find our diversity to be amazing and beautiful. They are in awe of our right to criticize our government and its leaders without fear.

Of late almost every issue within the United States has been highly politicized and certain groups claim the mantle of patriotism in the name of only certain kinds of approved behavior. It is all too often asserted that anything less than unflinching allegiance to a particular way of thinking about the United States and its history and traditions is an affront to those who have fought for the freedoms that we have. In truth a thoughtful analysis of the revolutionary ideals of the United States would point to a more generous attitude toward freedom of expression. The visitors to our country seem to understand better than some of those who are citizens that the most wonderful aspect of our country is its glorification of free speech and thought. The intent of our founders was to build a land in which patriotism meant honoring individual rights to disagree. This is indeed the very thing that countless individuals have fought to defend.

Our pledge speaks of liberty and justice for all and yet anyone with a modicum of observational skills must surely understand that our society is an imperfect rendition of that ideal. There are people living in our country who were once denied even the most basic of all freedoms. They were held as property, rated by monetary value, counted as  fractional humans. It is not unpatriotic to note these things. They are true and we have advanced enough to understand that they were wrong.

Our nation was severed in violence and bloodshed during a war that pitted state against state because some states worried that their economic future might be disrupted by the gradual elimination of slavery. Literally every article of secession listed anti-slavery policies as the reason for withdrawing from the union. The states rights for which they fought was the right to continue owning human beings. Their act was treason and resulted in the greatest loss of life in war this nation has ever known. In spite of the suffering that the traitors inflicted on the country our country chose reconciliation and healing when the war ended. It had finally righted the wrong of slavery that had so stained the fabric of liberty and justice. The nation attempted to become one again.

There have been many other struggles to maintain freedom since that time. Our imperfections have persisted alongside our desire to be a democratic republic with the compelling goal of providing liberty and justice to all. We battle again and again to preserve those ideals even as we must surely know that their distribution is not always even and fair. Still we do our best because we love this country even when we believe that it is moving in the wrong direction. We are not a monarchy that idolizes a single individual as the arbiter of our laws. We are a democratic republic that allows us to select individuals to represent us and a president to insure that all of our voices are heard. We note the wrong when they occur  not because we hate our country but because we love it. We do not leave or rent our nation in two because our fight is to help our country move toward closer and closer approximations of perfection.

Who is the greater patriot, the person with blind allegiance or the one who is willing to risk being denounced for alerting us to injustice? Which is more courageous, following rules even when they are clearly hurting people or doing something audacious to bring wrongs to light? Did our founding fathers intend for the citizens of this country to intimidate those who have differing points of view? Did they believe that we must all walk in lockstep? Is it possible that the person who quietly kneels during our national anthem is actually doing something great for our country rather than insulting it? Should we be tied to the status quo or do we need to confront issues that continue to plague us? Does making our country great again mean doing things in only one prescribed way that ignores the needs of those who are struggling to feel valued and respected? 

We have become a beautifully diverse nation of many cultures. People have always come here in search of freedom and acceptance. They have followed the rules, fought in the wars, worked to make lives for themselves and their families in spite of the reality that they have not always been treated as fairly as they hoped. At this watershed moment of our history perhaps it is time for each of us to realize that a mindless virus better understands that we are all the same. It discriminates less than we humans have so often done. If we are to truly be as patriotic as we sometimes claim we are then our love of country should lead us to the determination to ensure that liberty and justice are finally and truly the right of all. There can be no better sign of our greatness as a country than embracing all of our fellow citizens and righting the wrongs that are limiting their liberty. Only then will we all be free at last. 

  

Celebrating Our Magnificent Snowflakes

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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.