Sameness

kids-daily-routine-activities-vector-20635299

It is raining as I write this blog. The dark sky and the sound of thunder are a welcome change from the sameness of the overbearing July heat. There has been a sameness about everything for some time now. I wear the same pairs of jeans with the same shirts each day as I change out of the same pajamas after I take the same showers. I dry my hair with the same lack of concern for my appearance that is an outgrowth of the lack of variety in the current state of my life.

I know that I am blessed as I listen to rain falling on my roof. It is comfortable inside. I am surrounded by things to occupy my time. I have food in my pantry and a supply of all of my necessities. There is no reason for me to feel sorry for myself so I tamp down the longings that I have to roam freely again. I thank God for my health and for the many people who have made my life more interesting than I ever imagined it might be. Then I pray for our world. I pray that our goodness will overcome our temptations to be selfish and unconcerned with the sufferings of others. I pray that we will be willing to endure difficulties if that is what it will take to end the toll that Covid-19 has taken on our land. I pray and pray and pray.

I write my blogs even as I worry that my words are beginning to sound like an irritating noise. I clean my house that really needs little more than a bit of dusting and sweeping and mopping. It makes me feel good to be able to accomplish something, to bring a task to its conclusion. I correspond with family and friends through texts, social media, phone calls and Zoom conferences. Those links with other humans are like a lifeline that keeps me moving from one day to the next.

I will soon begin teaching again. I am almost giddy with the prospect of seeing and hearing my students. Ours will be a remote interaction but it feels almost like being together once again. I’m planning my calendar of instruction and deciding how to present the lessons. I’ve purchased fresh dry erase markers and new materials. There is an excitement to that, a purpose other than just making it from one day to the next. I have a feeling of power over the virus as I ready myself for something that feels normal and important. Even from a distance I can make a difference. What I do can be essential to the betterment of society. It feels very good.

My life has rarely followed a straight path from what I dreamed of accomplishing to the realization of my goals. In almost every case some obstacle or sudden change seemed to block my way forward. It has always been in those moments that the most wonderful things happened, reminding me that I do not always need to be in charge. I felt sorry for myself when my mother made me attend a birthday party for a cousin and then I met the man who would be by my side for the rest of my life. I was angry when there were no teaching jobs after I had worked so hard to complete my degree and then I got a call about what would be the most perfect position that I might have had. I wanted to run from the responsibilities of caring for my mom’s mental illness and then I became a stronger and more compassionate person from needing to understand what was happening to her. I know from experience that our time with Covid-19 will teach us unwanted but possibly invaluable lessons.

I look around each day at things that remind me again and again of the truly remarkable journey I have enjoyed. I realize that when all is said and done it is in our experiences with people that our greatest joy is found. It calms me and makes me certain that there is enough good in our world that we will overcome our troubles with or without leaders to guide us. It will be the things that we choose to do for love that will be the difference that we need. For love we will wear a mask. For love we will remember to help those who do not have the security that we have. For love we will allow differences, even those that we may not understand. For love we will not cling to money or things. For love we will not judge. It is in love that we will find our way to brighter days.

In the sameness of my days I arise each morning with great hope, almost ridiculous optimism. By the end of the day I am tired in body and mind. The darkness brings my worries to the fore. I begin to wonder if the world will ever be the same again and then I realize that it does not have to be. I think of the times when everything I thought I knew was upended and it turned out to be the best thing that might have happened to me. I suppose that this pandemic will indeed change us and that is not necessarily a bad thing for we were meant to evolve. This may be the very moment when we break with many of the problems of the past that have been holding us back.

The sameness of today allows me to dream of a better tomorrow. The sameness of today teaches me the importance of people and experiences over things. The sameness of today gives me time to quietly listen to the voice of God in my heart. The sameness of today is the very pause in the hectic rush that I needed to reset my priorities and my beliefs. I can finally see that there is a way forward that is far different and more meaningful than I have ever dreamed. I embrace the sameness for now.

A Time for the Young

Four-seasons-tree-1r-747x394To every thing there is a season,

and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Upon the advice of our doctors my husband, Mike, and I essentially began self isolation twelve weeks ago. We were a bit earlier than most people in hibernating in our home because Mike was going to have a heart procedure done on March 13, and the doctors felt that it would be wise for us to distance ourselves from the potential of running afoul of the virus which was yet to become so rampant in the United States. When we did arrive at the Walter Tower of Houston Methodist Hospital on the day of his surgery lockdown procedures were already well underway. Each patient was only allowed to have one person accompany him/her and everyone entering the building had to undergo an interview and screening at a checkpoint. Because I admitted to sometimes having a sore throat I was required to wear a mask.

The experience at the hospital was both encouraging and frightening. I realized that the medical community was taking extreme precautions to keep the patients safe as well as to prevent an outbreak of illness among their own. The atmosphere was strangely reassuring and it marked the moment when I too began to really take the virus seriously.

When I went to get my six month injection of Prolia five days later I felt a bit strange wearing a mask and gloves but my doctor had advised me to do so and I have always valued his instructions. He has kept me quite well over the years and so there I was all decked out in protective gear long before our city of Houston had even closed down. I got a few stares and soon realized that people were somewhat afraid of me, wondering why I felt the need to be so precautious. As I climbed the stairs to the infusion center I noted that there was a screening table at the entrance to my doctor’s office where patients were being checked before being allowed to enter the waiting room. That was on March 23, about three weeks from the time that I had first begun staying at home and limiting my contact with others.

From that point forward my husband Mike, and I have had little occasion to leave our home. We meet with family and friends via Zoom or FaceTime, procure our groceries from Instacart, order other necessities online and “go to mass” via YouTube. Once in a great while we venture out for rides around town just to remind ourselves of what the world looks like. Our only real human contact has been with my father-in-law and mother-in-law who are in their nineties and feeling a bit overwhelmed by what is happening. We mainly go to visit to ease their anxieties and to help keep their technology running. Mike regularly orders food for them on Instacart. We even managed to send a cake and some ice cream to my father-in-law on his birthday. When the sweet delivery woman realized that this was for a celebration she included a balloon with the order.

Mike and I are both in our seventies and to a large extent our lives have slowed considerably from the days when when worked ten and twelve hours a day. We have a much smaller income but we planned for that and at least for now it arrives regularly each month. It has not been a great sacrifice to stay at home and we are confident that we have planned well enough to stay put for as long as needed. I don’t think of my current status as being frightening or tyrannically beset upon as much as having the luxury to help with the cause. Namely, Mike and I are doing our parts to attempt to stay healthy so that our medical community will be able to care for those who may unfortunately become ill in the process of attempting to return to work.

I hear so much about those in my age group being the most vulnerable and I suppose that is true in the strictest sense of the virus’ effects but in many ways it is the young adults and their children who are bearing the brunt of the harm that Covid-19 has done to the world. They have had to keep the food supply chains moving and have done their best to keep the heartbeat of the economy tenuously alive. They have been the teachers of the children and the brave souls who have attempted to provide the rest of us with a semblance of normalcy in an upside down world.

I sometimes hear grumpy old people referring to today’s youth as “snowflakes” but I think that we have all seen proof that they know how to carry on in an emergency with grace. I have been greatly impressed by the college students who completed their semesters online. I have watched the youngsters in my neighborhood working inside their homes during regular school hours and then frolicking in their yards in the late afternoon. Like me they have not gone anywhere or done anything special for weeks and yet they are not complaining. Instead they are adjusting to their new world and doing whatever they need to do to. I’ve seen how creative and generous they are and it has warmed my heart.

However this all ends it will fall upon the young to move the world forward. I have every confidence that they will succeed. I believe that they have proven their mettle in spite of the naysayers who have been predicting that they don’t have the right stuff to carry the weight of responsibility. I know more than ever before that those of us in the twilight years should be quite eager to hear what they have to say and how they wish for the world order to proceed. Even the Bible tells us that there is a season for everything. Now is the time to trust the young for this is their world as much as it is ours. They are the ones who will be reopening the cities and towns and states and nations in the coming months. We need to support them as they carve out a world that suits their desires and needs. This is a time for the young.

Believe

Man jumping over impossible or possible over cliff on sunset bac

We may be getting bored or even letting our imaginations get the best of us with worries about how this pandemic will ultimately affect our families, our friends, our state, our country, the world. It’s a pretty sure bet that we are in for some hard times but we are hard-wired to survive and many among us are already demonstrating the most honorable traits of our human personalities. All over the world people are pitching in to fight the battle against this virus with whatever talents and tools they have. It’s almost impossible to list all of the contributions to the cause that I have witnessed and I’m certain there are many more of which I am unaware. Whether it be laughter or medical expertise, optimism or leadership, knowledge or brute force we the people of this planet are working together just as we always do.

Of course there will always be naysayers and instances of selfish acts or even ugliness and evil that stain the good intentions of the majority but we’ll just have to ignore and work around such things for now. We don’t have the time or the energy to spare dwelling on the negative when there are so many positive things to be done. Our competitive natures should feed on the glory of teamwork and the kind of good sportsmanship that understands that the real winners are always those who adhere to a code of honor.

Each of us has a role to play, even the very young and the very old. All we have to do is consider our individual talents and then use them for the cause. The young woman who delivers groceries to someone’s doorstep is as vital in the battle against this disease as the doctor who toils tirelessly in the trenches of a hospital. We need our generals but their plans can only be carried out with enough foot soldiers to storm the enemy which in this case is the dreaded Coved-19.

We are long past the time for divisions and recriminations. It is a waste of our energy to dwell on mistakes or to indulge in fruitless critiques. We must rise to the occasion of this moment if we are to surge forward into a bright future. As a human race we must focus on our common needs rather than our political or spiritual or geographic differences. When all is said and done our only enemy is the virus and that should be our focus.

I’ve always been inclined toward a willingness to compromise. I’ve found few situations in which I have won all of my arguments regardless of how good and true I believed them to be. If I get even a bit of what I want I see it as progress and so I think we need to be as we work our way forward from the brink of this disaster. Each little win is a treasure. We can work out the smaller issues once the people of our world are healthy again. Hopefully we will share the common goal of rebuilding with a worldview rather than a tendency to horde our good fortune in isolation.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy for the scales to fall from our eyes and allow us to see clearly. My fervent prayer is that we will emerge stronger and better and more understanding than we have ever been. I suspect that the road will be long and hard but we’ve been rather lucky in the past so perhaps it’s now our time to shoulder a few more challenges than we are accustomed to balancing.

I have found myself marveling at the courage and kindness of my friends, a motley crew of people from all races and generations and professions who nonetheless share a determination to soldier through the fears and hardships of this pandemic. When my own anxieties begin to overtake me I invariably witness something wonderful from them that provides me with the motivation to take a deep breath and another step forward. We have become lifelines for one another and a source of hope in a situation that might otherwise become too dark to bear. Our humanity is shining through as magnificently as I have always thought that it would if ever it was being tested.

I am a religious person and my faith admittedly helps me. When I am most fearful I find myself silently singing, “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest.” These words from a song by John Michael Talbot seem to whisper in my mind, reassuring me that we have ultimately got this. While I know that not everyone shares my beliefs I know that I will be more ready to help my fellow human being because of the love that is the center of my religious convictions. For now I simply pray that each of the souls across the globe will somehow find a source of comfort to sustain them as we work our way back to a more normal future.

My gentle advice for everyone is to find something that you do well and give to others. Maybe it’s cooking a nice meal or calling to check on a friend. Each positive offering is important to someone and just may be the very thing that saves someone’s life. Keep doing what you do best and then just believe.

Live Laugh Love

5-reasons-to-game-with-family-632x299

For well over five weeks now I have gone nowhere other than Methodist Hospital on the day of my husband’s surgery and Paragon Infusion Center for my injection of Prolia. My days are contained inside the rooms of my home and in the glory of my backyard. I watch the people in my neighborhood from my windows and smile when I hear their laughter. I teach lessons to eight young people from an upstairs bedroom with my computer and my phone depending on what resources they have for distance learning. I try to keep in touch with family and friends and news of the world. It might actually be a rather pleasant time for me were it not for the images of human suffering that I see from all over the world. I am seemingly untouched by Covid-19 in terms of my own physical well being but my heart is heavy with thoughts of those less fortunate.

I am comforted by the overwhelming kindness that I both observe and experience. For the most part the pandemic has brought out the best in people. The good is doing its best to overwhelm the bad. Sure we have incidents of hoarding, price gouging, selfishness but those are the outliers. The more usual response of people all over the world has been to help even when it endangers their own lives. Amazingly there are courageous individuals running into the maelstrom rather than away from it because they want to assist in saving lives. The heroes outnumber the villains exponentially with each person doing whatever he or she can to get us through this nightmare.

In many ways we have been stripped down to the essentials of living. Sure we are watching our televisions and ordering grocery deliveries to our front door, but there is an uncharacteristic quietness and slower pace all around us that allows us to discover more clearly what is most important about our lives. We see that everything that we need is found in our relationships with one another, not in our possessions.

I have become more acutely aware of my own good fortune. The environment in which I await the end of this trial is safe and inviting. If I had to stay here for an indeterminate time I could be quite content. Still, I note that for some the forced isolation is far from pleasant. I am certain that there souls struggling in environments that are unsafe, abusive, lacking in the basic necessities. I pray that the people in such situations will make through this ordeal as unscathed as possible. I pray that someone is looking out for their welfare just as my husband and I check on my aging father-in-law or communicate with our children and grandchildren. I’d like to think that everyone has someone on whom to lean, perhaps a caring teacher or a friend. 

I have not been particularly kind in my assessment of the political leaders of my country and my state during this outbreak. My criticisms have been sometimes brutal but of late I have come to the conclusion that engaging in commentaries about their failures is of no use in the present moment. This is not the time to be concerned with such things because what’s done is done. We have to deal with the situation as it is in the moment, not as we would have liked it to be. There will be plenty of time to analyze the mistakes and determine better plans for the future after the battle over the virus has been won. For now I choose to pray that everyone in charge will be guided by wisdom. I pray that the leaders of the world will understand the need to work together. We have to keep our eyes trained on the real enemy which is Covid-19.

This pandemic is the great equalizer. It knows no geographical boundaries or political philosophies. It does not differentiate between one race or another, religious believers or non-believers. It sees only our humanity stripped down to its most basic form. All of our titles and accomplishments and riches mean nothing to it. We are simply humans whose bodies are places for the virus to find a home. If only we might remember that when the danger finally passes. If only we will celebrate our common bonds that supersede the trivialities of difference that seem to create our problems. Life is what we must cherish and elevate because now we should see that when our backs are against the wall it is all that really matters.

We humans are a resilient lot. we have a way of overcoming challenges again and again. It is a time of uncertainty but the one thing of which we might all be sure is that in the end our ingenuity and common decency will prevail. It has before and it will in this instance. That is the thought that should be sustaining us until we are once again able to throw open our doors and invite the people we love back inside our homes. In the meantime live, laugh and love. It has always been what we were meant to do best. 

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.