Doing It Because It Is Kind

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The battles between those who want to wear masks and practice social distancing versus those who demand their right to choose how they will or will not protect themselves from Covid-19 rage on daily. Sadly some of the commentaries have devolved into schoolyard insults and taunts reminiscent of my years as a middle school teacher. While I am willing to accept that people have differing points of view, I can’t quite wrap my head around the behavior of those who shove, spit and threaten anyone who is attempting to follow the recommended and sometimes imposed safety guidelines. What is even more concerning to me are the insinuations that the procedures have only been enacted in order to defame President Trump and lessen his chances of winning the election in November. The chorus of thoughtless chants urging those who are” scared” to just stay home has irked me beyond my ability to continue to ignore them. Instead I feel more and more compelled the issue.

Let us suppose that there is a woman who faithfully goes to work each day to support her family. She has children who have not been in school for some time that she leaves in the care of her husband who lost his job in late February. Sadly he worked in the oil and gas industry tanked just at the moment when the pandemic reached worldwide proportions. It is now up to the woman to keep food on the table and pay the bills. She is quietly stoic as the world appears to be crumbling around her. She doesn’t sleep well at night and conditions at work do little to lessen her anxieties. 

Unfortunately the woman has a number of underlying health issues that worry her, so she wears a mask to work and brings gloves to use when she comes in contact with things that others may have also touched. She keeps disinfectants in her desk for when she must use the office bathroom. She is exceedingly careful because she knows that if she gets sick with Covid-19 her family will be in impossibly dire straits. She does not have the luxury of taking risks.

The other people in her office have become convinced that the whole pandemic is a hoax cooked up by fake new and democrats. They gather together in groups without regard to social distancing, never wearing  masks or gloves. They often disregard the woman’s obvious attempts to limit contact with others by getting way too close when they come into her office or pass her in the hall. They bring members of their family with them to the work making the environment even more crowded than it should be. They  leave during the work day to eat lunch in restaurants or to run errands at the mall. They boast that when they can get away with it they toss their masks aside. They look at the woman wearing her mask as though she is a silly goose, a paranoid mindless sheep.

The woman knows how her fellow workers feel and sometimes wonders if she is indeed paranoid. Then she thinks about her situation and sticks with her determination to be safe. Not only does she have underlying health problems but so does her husband and one of her children. She is also caring for elderly parents. She knows that she has to be vigilant.

The woman wishes that her coworkers, her boss,  and the rest of the people around her were taking Covid-19 more seriously because she is genuinely worried and realizes that nobody who is boasting about being unafraid is going to help her if she does somehow get sick. She is on her own.

She hears the people in her office chattering about the push to extend unemployment benefits beyond July. They sound like parrots as they insist that doing such a thing will only encourage people to stay home rather than accept a job and go back to work. She wonders where all of these jobs that will be offered to people like her husband will come from. He has been spending many hours every single day for almost three months now searching for work. So far he has had only one interview for a position thousands of miles away. In a normal time people would be recruiting him. Now he struggles to find anything and knows that he is competing with thousands when he does find a match to his degree and his experience. 

The woman sits quietly in her office faithfully completing her work and feeling profoundly sad that there are people who have taken the liberty of misinterpreting the situations of countless Americans rather than attempting to understand them. She has no problems with the idea of opening up country but she would like to see it done in a way that does not cause her so much worry. If only they would wear masks when they are all gather together or when they went out in public. It is such a little thing to request, not all that inconvenient.

She feels so very alone as the office sounds as though it is the site of a party. She knows that the others think she is strange. She actually hopes that they are right that we will all be fine, but something tells her that they are wrong. She has to pray that God will protect her in spite of the risky behaviors of her colleagues. She is the last hope for her family and the July deadline of increased unemployment benefits for her husband is on its way. She cannot get sick!

I do not understand why people find conforming to the needs of the common good to be so contemptible. Why are there so many inaccurate and judgemental conclusions being drawn about those who want to be precautious? Why can’t we Americans come together in a sense of compassion and responsibility? Social distancing and mask wearing are not tyrannical attempts to deny us of our basic rights. They are an effort to protect one another. While they may be imperfect methods for making us safe, they are better than doing nothing at all.

As we go to work, walk through stores, go back to old routines we should bear in mind that there are many people like my hypothetical woman. They desperately need kindness and a sense that people care enough about them to make an effort to keep them safe. Honor them by cheerfully wearing a mask and staying six feet away at all times. Don’t make fun of their precautions. They know best what they need.  Sometimes we must look beyond our own horizons and take action not because it is defined or undefined in the Constitution, but because it is the kind thing to do. 

Life Will Go On

lv-circle-of-life920I’m reminded every May 31, just how difficult life can be. Of course that is the anniversary of my father’s death. I might have forgotten exactly when he left this earth but for the fact that his fatal accident coincided with Memorial Day of 1957, a time when it was celebrated on May 31 rather than the last Monday of May. I have not celebrated that holiday from that fateful time. Having it roll around each year is like rubbing salt in the wound that scarred my heart back when I was an eight year old child.

I am essentially an optimistic soul. I learned soon enough after my father died that our little family would survive. My mother kept us safe and sound and family and friends continuously rallied to our sides whenever we needed anything. My youth was idyllic save for the loss of my dad. I adjusted to the new normal but never really got over the void in my life that his death created. With each passing year after he was gone I found myself wondering what he would have been thinking about how my brothers and I had developed. I felt his influence on us genetically and in the memories that he left for us. Somehow he was always a factor in our lives even in his absence.

As time has passed I see my father in my brothers and in my nephews and even some of my grandchildren. I suppose that unbeknownst to me there are also hints of ancestors whom we never met in me and my brothers. The circle of life on this earth is an infinite loop that may at times appear to be bleak but the progression and evolution of humanity always finds a way to continue.

I have been cautioned by the doctors in my family to wait out the reopening of the country for another three or four weeks. Covid-19 still restricts me but i refuse to allow it to overwhelm me regardless of how it presents itself in the future. I have learned that I am capable of dealing with great sorrow and even fearful moments. I know that I will handle whatever blows the virus sends me and the members of my family.

If all of us are very lucky we will be laughing and celebrating our good fortune as the weeks and months go by and Covid-19 vanishes with little more than a whimper. If instead the virus battles on with a vengeance I am prepared to do my part in fighting back with everything that I have inside me. Experience has taught me to be patient when times get tough. I have learned that there is light even in the darkest hours. When I battled the mental illness that infected my mother I would sometimes become angry and frustrated, but I always knew that determination and time were on my side. Over and over my brothers and I were able to get her the therapies and medications that she needed to become whole again.

Life is littered with ups and downs and in this moment it feels as though the downs are overtaking all of us. Nonetheless as I look around I see the points of light that will guide us to better days. Our future joy is not to be found in false promises that are unlikely to unfold but in the quiet work of people whose goal is the betterment of all of us. The doctors and nurses and aides and researchers who continue to provide us not just with care but with facts and truths about how we should contend with the virus are heroes with no hidden agendas. They are not running for office or lining their pockets with profits. They are driven by the sole purpose of keeping us safe. When I think of them I believe that we may be wounded but we will not be crushed. This makes me smile.

I see stories about ordinary citizens making masks and little children raising funds to help those who are in financial trouble. I watch the good news from John Krasinski and I see the kind of hope that has guided me through every juncture of life. I smile at the earnestness of people all over the globe who are doing phenomenal jobs of dealing with the health and economic blows that have been inflicted on them. I laugh at the jokes that lighten our spirits remembering all the times that my father roared with delight over a good cartoon or satire. I feel him telling me to lighten up and look around at the positives that are everywhere.

I’ve made it through one more Memorial Day. I’m now more than twice as old as my father was when he died. I’ve overcome one crisis after another. Like my father I have a great interest in history. I read all of the time. I have learned that the world has been on the brink many times over. Somehow we have overcome evil, war, disease and natural disasters each and every time that they have threatened us.

While I tend to think that we have not yet seen the worst of the effects of Covid-19 I revel in the thought that we will find a way to extricate ourselves from its deadly grip. Life will go on. Memorial Day will return and my father’s spirit will be part of future generations. It has always been the way we survive. 

I Keep Busy

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I plan math lessons. I teach math lessons. I grade math homework. I write blogs. I cook dinner. I clean the house. I wash the clothes. I walk on my treadmill. I read. I call to see how people are doing. I read posts on Facebook. I check my email. I take part in Zoom conferences, I order groceries. I take drives around my neighborhood. I floss my teeth and take showers and dry my hair. I organize drawers and paint lawn furniture. I feed the birds and watch them in my yard. I plant a vegetable garden and weed my flower beds. I text family members and friends. I watch Netflix and Amazon and Acorn and PBS and Hulu and CNN and CBS and NBC and YouTube. I keep busy. It’s the way I cope and always has been.

When the end of the day draws near and all is quiet in the neighborhood my mind begins to wander. I think about things and thinking about things leads my awareness to worrisome places. We are in new territory and there are so many different ideas and theories being bandied about. Are we humans overreacting, under reacting? Who is right and who is wrong? I feel as though we are all being gaslighted, but by whom? Am I the crazy one or is it them? I have to squeeze my eyes shut and listen to calming sounds on my Echo Dot to shut out the thoughts that make me anxious. If I manage to fall asleep I can begin again tomorrow. I can keep busy again in another rotation of the earth around the sun.

I know that I can do this. It’s how I kept going after my father died. I just kept busy, tried not to think too far ahead, went one day at a time. Things got better just as they always seem to do, at least until the next challenge came along. Whenever my mother presented her symptoms of bipolar disorder I just kept busy. When my husband had a stroke and my city filled with the waters of hurricane Harvey I just kept busy. It’s what I do. It’s how I cope, any yet somehow things feel very different now. My mind tells me to pace myself for the long haul, to be prepared for more bad news before the good news returns. I keep busy in spite of my concerns.

I prefer to listen to the realists, not the ones who attempt to lull me with seemingly false promises. I’m a big girl. I can take the truth. In fact I crave it. Still, I want to remain optimistic about the future even if that future may take awhile to unfold. I like the guy from the federal reserve who believes that our economy will slowly heal in the next many months even as we continue to witness illness and death. He is not attempting to fool me and I appreciate that.

I listen to the scientist who sees this moment as an opportunity to envision the world in a new and better way. I hear the historian note that in other times of pandemic humanity applied its inventiveness to improve sanitation, move toward more equitable living conditions and invent medicines. The darkest hours have almost always led to brighter futures from the lessons that we learned, but then I wonder if we have truly grasped the significance of our foundational weaknesses or if we just want to rush back to the way things were without thought of whether or not we might do things better.

I keep busy. I watch the birds in my yard and notice that there are more of them than I have ever before seen. My plants are greener, more prolific. It is as though nature is happier now that we are not filling the air with our pollution. If we just return to the way we were will the haze of ozone once more fill the sky? Is it possible to reconsider how we live? Did we learn how little we actually need during our lockdown? Isn’t that lovely sound of singing birds worth so much more than the frivolous things that we have sought in the past?

I keep busy but I think of the people who have lost their jobs. I hear that Rick Steves is adjusting the salaries of his employees so that he may keep all of them for at least two years. Why isn’t this a tactic being used by every business, every corporation? Why fire some while keeping others and even giving raises and bonuses in the process. What would be wrong with asking everyone to share in the sacrifice until better days come?  Why must there always be winners and losers?

I keep busy but I know that just because we wish the danger of Covid-19 to be over it does not mean that we will all be safe and sound. Just because we may not know someone who has grappled with the virus does not mean that it does not exist. How is it even possible that so many seem to believe that the pandemic is nothing more than a hoax? How is such thinking even possible when there is no logic to it? How have some managed to conflate being careless with patriotism? In what kind of world do we attack our scientists and medical experts for demonstrating the methodologies that guide their work and prevent emotional bias from tarnishing their results?

I know that Covid-19 has forced us to operate in the present. Today and today and today creeps in its petty pace. I keep busy. It is what I do, but maybe this time I should allow myself to think just a bit more.

Hoping For the Best

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When I was a teen there was a song that advocated living for today. The whole idea was to set aside worries and enjoy the moment. It was a kind of rebellious chant against the work ethic that seemed to be driving our country into a state of anxiety and materialism. Many young people, myself included, began to question the way things had always been done and wonder if there were possibilities that might create a more equitable and prosperous life for everyone, not just the power elites.

Of course there was nothing really new about youthful indulgence into utopian thinking. It’s something that has characterized teens and twenty somethings for centuries. Some of the most revolutionary and profound ideas in history came from young people who had grown weary of the status quo. So too did I envision a world free of prejudice, poverty and artificial hierarchies. I was more than ready to rebel against the lack of freedoms and opportunities for minorities, women and the poor. In some ways my generation lit the fires that evoked change for the better but as so often happens we became distracted and burdened by the responsibilities of life. Soon enough we were the people over thirty whom we had distrusted. Like so many before us we settled into the rat race and focused on our families and our occupations. We had little time for philosophizing or inventing new ways of doing things.

Now my generation is old and only tenuously maintaining a hold on the power to influence. Yes, our president is from my age group and so is his presumed opponent for the job, but it is apparent that a younger group will soon enough be taking over the reins. In the meantime most of the folks my age have retired from work and are spending much deserved moments enjoying however many years they may have left on this earth. With more time to consider such topics we sometimes ponder our accomplishments and worry that perhaps we might have done more to leave a kinder more promising legacy to our children and grandchildren. After all, what is really the purpose of our day to day existence if not to make a difference?

The last twenty years have been plagued by terror, wars, economic turmoil, extremes of climate and the emergence of hate groups that had been long festering underground. We are as divided as a nation as we were in the sixties and seventies of my youth. Perhaps we are even beginning to understand how life was for our great grandparents who found themselves engaged in a civil war. It has been challenging to watch the deterioration of our relationships that is often fueled by the very people who should be bringing us together. It is particularly sad for those of us who invested so much energy into the idea of making our country an inviting place for everyone regardless of who they might be. Now without warning we are dealing with what may well be the most damaging moment of our history.

Covid-19 has further accented our rifts and made it more clear than ever that we have issues that are still to be resolved. As I sit inside my home at the age of seventy one I grieve for the world, but most implicitly for my nation. I can see that we are not united at all and that our differences seem to be widening rather than mending. We are too much guided by fear and basic needs to work for a self actualized version of our nation. Because we want quick fixes we appear to be placing bandaids on our wounds rather than attempting to understand and heal the root causes of our problems.

When we only react rather than create rational plans we are bound to overlook the pitfalls of our decisions. I feel certain that the vast majority of people want what is best for everyone but in our hour of uncertainty we appear to be allowing those who are the loudest and most aggressive to determine our fates. Instead of putting the best medical and business minds together we are pitting them with one another as though we can’t be safe from the ravages of Covid-19 while also keeping our economy moving as robustly as possible. It has become a them against us free for all in which we witness people hoarding and scrambling for crumbs, all while taunting and insulting anyone who disagrees with whatever they happen to believe.

I have seen this kind of behavior before. It was very much a sign of the times during my youth. Then it was called the generation gap. It meant choosing sides between those who served in Vietnam and those who were against the war. It involved a pretense of fairness when certain races were segregated from the freedoms that the rest of us enjoyed. It kept women from thriving in engineering schools or colleges of architecture. Anyone who disagreed with the status quo of the country was told to “love it, or leave it.” It was not the romanticized era to which so many want to return.

We made some progress for many people but we became weary of the fight. We let down our guard and became self satisfied while new difficulties emerged. Our children and grandchildren kept warning us that there was till much work to be done but we only laughed at their intensity and reminded them that we all feel that way for a time and then get over it. Now I see that getting over it can be a dangerous thing. It leaves us unready and vulnerable when we do not work together to build and repair the foundations of our nation. We revert to partisan thinking and the hateful ways engendered by fear.

I am worried but not so much for me anymore. I am fearful of what my children and grandchildren will have to endure because we appear to be so incapable of setting aside our differences in a time of need. I am worried because so many are unwilling to sacrifice to get us all through of our difficulties. I worry when I see protestors threatening with guns. I worry when I hear insulting and racist comments fall so easily from people’s tongues. I worry because I see fear and ignorance and politics guiding decisions.

I have always been both fascinated and inspired by a story about the great depression in my city of Houston. Unlike other places the banks here never closed. As the tale goes the movers and shakers of the city met with Jesse Jones in the Rice Hotel and they agreed that instead of working in competition with one another they would join forces to make certain that nobody would have to go out of business. While times were nonetheless tough they indeed managed to keep most of the commerce working if only in a lesser form of itself. It was the understanding that saving as many people as possible was better than attempting to emerge as a single victor that kept the Houston economy working better than in most locales.

My daily prayer is that we will find a way to emulate cooperation and send a loud message to those who would have us fight among ourselves. We can emerge with cuts and scrapes or we can risk being mortally wounded. The difference will be determined by how willing we are to work together. I hope we find a way to make that happen.

An Introvert’s Covid 19 Story

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I’m a bonafide ninety ninth percentile introvert according to a test I once took. I didn’t argue with the results or the explanation because the comments appeared to be right on target when they came to describing me. The analysis made a point of explaining that my introversion has nothing to do with a dislike of people but rather a preference for how to recharge my emotions. In other words I’m a people person who sometimes needs to retreat from human contact for a time just to ease the stresses of living. When times get tough I prefer a quiet weekend inside the comfort and privacy of my home, alone with my thoughts rather than sharing them in a large group in public. Our tendencies toward introversion or extraversion are mostly determined by the extent to which we feel better in a serene understated setting or one that is filled with people and excitement. In my case I unwind best with a walk alone in an empty forest or snuggled in a blanket on my couch with a good book.

Once we introverts are feeling calm once again, which rarely takes more that a few hours or days to accomplish, we are fully able to return to the crowds and the noise and actually enjoy our interactions with the world. Our feelings for the people around us are often even stronger than those of our seemingly differently wired extrovert friends who find so much joy and comfort in raucous gatherings after a long week of work. Perhaps it is our intensely deep feelings for the humans around us that are at the root of our need to step back into our little cocoons now and again. We are often empathetic to a fault. We notice those who are hurting with little more than a glance at the pain in their eyes and then worry about them until we are assured that they will be okay.

As an introvert I tend to be content with little more than observing the birds in my backyard or time spent writing in my front room where I can hear the children playing in my neighborhood. So when we were asked to isolate ourselves in our homes for a time to prevent the spread of Covid-19 I believed that I had been preparing for such an eventuality for my entire life. It seemed as though being confined to my quarters would be an intensely pleasurable experience and one that would lead me to a kind of self healing of the soul that would feel luxurious. Sadly I did not count on the longings for purpose and social interaction that have always defined me. I did not seem to understand that my introversion is a healing mechanism, not a lifestyle.

At first I felt rather joyful staying home. After all I have virtually anything a person might want to keep myself busy and entertained. My husband Mike is my very best friend and I enjoy my conversations with him. We have food in our pantry, books on our shelves, flowers in our garden and interests to keep us occupied. I’m not someone who cares much about food so I honestly don’t miss eating out. I suppose I could go the rest of my life without entering a restaurant and be just fine. I used to enjoy shopping as a kind of sport but it does not give me the thrill that it once did. I can enjoy a movie as much and perhaps even more in my living room than at a theater. I politely put up with sports but don’t really miss them now that they are gone.

Nonetheless after many weeks of staying home I find myself longing to get back out into the swim of things while hearing people say that I am part of a group that should continue to maintain my now self imposed isolation. I sense that my patience with this situation is wearing thin and in that realization I see more and more clearly the true meaning of my introversion because what I long for most are intimate gatherings with my family and friends. I can see them on Zoom conferences or with a FaceTime call but I really want to hug them and see their faces. Just sitting next to them without saying a word would be glorious.

If things were still normal and Covid-19 had not entered my life I would have been as busy as the bees that flit around my yard. By now I would have spent time in the mountains of Colorado with my brothers and sisters-in-law. I would have celebrated with my grandsons on Aggie ring day and attended parties for a number of young people who are graduating from high school or college or medical school. I’d be packing and preparing for a grand tour of Scotland with a Rice professor as my guide. I’d be excited about taking our trailer out for camping trips and counting the days until the Elton John concert for which I snared tickets back in November of 2019. I would have gone to see my aunt on her one hundred first birthday and I’d get to spend time chatting for hours over lunch or dinner with friends. I would get to be with my mathematics students when I teach them the fundamentals of arithmetic and Algebra. I would sit inside my church again smiling and embracing the lovely people that I are there each Sunday. I would be out and about in my bustling city grumbling about the traffic but secretly enjoying that I live in a place so vibrant and filled with life.

I miss all of that so very much and I wonder when I will be able to feel safe enough again to join the world around me without a mask or gloves or hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes. I have grown weary of feeling a profound sense of worry about the physical and economic health of the world. I sense an almost tectonic shift in the routine ways of doing things that is shaking all of us to our very core. I long for normal even as I fear that I will have to redefine what that means. I want to believe that we will be able to come together to make positive changes that will make the world an even better version of itself than it was before Covid-19.

On some days I am filled with optimism and on others I grieve. Perhaps my introverted tendencies are too much with me. I am overthinking and instead of comforting me, those thoughts sometimes lead me to conclusions that are terrifying. I see us humans attempting to avoid truths by showering ourselves with superficialities, but thankfully I also see instances of profound compassion and sacrifice. My hope lies in the prayer that we will ultimately make our way through all of this but this time we will watch and learn how to build a better world.

When the dust settles I will cast aside my self imposed shackles and literally dance back into the flow of life. I will be everywhere with everyone. I’ll still be an introvert at heart but I will grab the world with everything that I’ve got.