Let’s Get Real

woman in green and white stripe shirt covering her face with white mask
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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.

Our Moral Obligation

john lewis

Each of us look at the world a bit differently. Our beliefs about the world and the people around us begin in our childhoods. How much we are willing to trust others is often rooted in our relationships with our parents. Children model the behaviors that they see in their parents’ actions. Children adapt and learn inside their homes. If there is nurturing and ethical guidance they generally become confident, capable and compassionate adults. If there is neglect and physical or mental abuse they are more prone to struggle with dysfunctional behaviors. Bullies are not born. They are made.

Of course there are malfunctions of the brain that cause a variety of mental disturbances that do not reflect on family influences other than perhaps through genetics. Even in the best of situations mental illness can cause problems for both individuals and those close to them. Because we still have so much to learn about the how and why of our brain our treatments for psychological disorders are often limited and sometimes even ineffective. Still, the worst possible response to them is to simply ignore them.

As a teacher I often encountered young people whose behavior indicated either a psychological problem or a toxic home environment or both. Often such children were boastful, aggressive and mean. They had a kind of swagger and inflated sense of self importance. They dominated their peers and sought to dominate the teachers as well. They were masters of deceit and bravado. Generally nobody really liked them but followed them out of fear often emulating their mean spiritedness.

I worked in schools populated by gangs. There were leaders and their followers. It was a way of surviving in neighborhoods stalked by poverty and a lack of interest from the rest of society. Many of my students were virtually raising themselves and sometimes had the responsibility of caring for their younger siblings as well. Their fathers were in prison or had simply left the families to fend for themselves. Their mothers were sometimes “ladies of the night” addicted to alcohol and drugs. They had little guidance and had to navigate independently in the world far sooner than most of us ever must do. It was a harsh environment in which they learned how to adapt as best they could. Sometimes they became tough skinned, angry and mean.

I also worked in schools with middle to upper class students some of whom were living in emotional deserts. Their parents were well known and highly regarded in the community but they saw very little of them. Instead their care was relegated to hired helpers and they were given money to spend as they wished rather than time and attention. Their sense of what is important was confined to the satisfaction of their own desires. Their thoughts focused on things rather than people. They were boastful and domineering for many of the same reasons as the gang leaders I had encountered in my other schools. They were feared by their followers rather than loved.

Generally the healthy and happy children grow into successful adults who rise to the challenges of responsibility. Society has tended to value character over brutishness in selecting people to lead. From time to time a scarred and pitiless bully has incited the fears of enough of a citizenry to overtake the reigns of power but here in the United States we have mostly been wary of such persons. They have tended to be outliers operating on the fringes of influence but of late their tactics are more and more often viewed as a sign of strength and wisdom and even goodness. Meanness has been elevated to an acceptable way of life and it has been accompanied by an unwillingness to call it out.

The effect has been to divide us into “gangs,” tribes, groups warring with one another over our differences. Once beloved friends and family members are turning on one another simply because they have opposing points of view. Rational discussions have been replaced with accusations, stereotyping and name calling. Each side believes that the other is destroying our country. Politics have become a zero sum game that brooks no compromise. Our vocabulary is filled with hyperbole that only further increases our differences. We are being led by dysfunctional souls who were never taught how to love and lead with compassion. They care nothing for us and yet we blindly follow them because winning means more to us than doing what is right.

We are essentially on our own in one of the most critical times in our nation’s history. We now wee entire races of people described by single words and phrases like thugs, criminals, rioters, rapists, purveyors of kung flu. The most broken among us have taken up the cadence of hate. They attack an Asian woman in a grocery store as though she has single handedly caused all of the misery of our pandemic.

We see classifications of entire age groups of people with dismissive descriptions like snowflakes, millennials, Boomers. We more and more hear women being called nasty or “Karens” or skanks who have slept their way to the top. We can’t even agree on whether or not Covid-19 is a hoax or on the necessity of wearing masks to save lives without enduring vitriol. It is as though we have given up even trying to get along or be kind.

It would be easy to lay the blame for our difficulties at the feet of a single individual but our problems are much deeper than that. Ours is a nation of freedom and democracy. Nobody is forcing us to think or behave in a particular way. We have made our own choices and at least for now we are allowing and even encouraging the ugly behaviors. We have made those who would stand up for what is right and just afraid and in our frustration we are faced with the recklessness of protesting as a last resort. In other words we have brought this on ourselves and it will be up to us to end it.

Our nation is our child and we have been neglectful. We have looked away too often when problems arise. We have allowed inappropriate verbal tantrums when we should have corrected them. We have become afraid to do want we know is right. It’s time we model the behaviors that we want to see. We must demonstrate a willingness to work together with respect and dignity. We must once again value every person and relearn the ways of honoring our differences. As grown ups it’s time we set things right. It is our moral obligation to do so. 

    

Becoming the Warrior I Have Wanted To Be

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After more than fifty years I once again found a neighbor who had grown up across the street from me. Kathy and I used to play with our dolls on the driveway. She had one of the first Barbies and I had a pretty Madame Alexander doll called Suzette. We made furniture for our make believe ladies and created a fantasy world for them. Kathy was known as “Candy” back then and she seemed to know so much more about the world than I did.

Kathy’s father was an incredibly handsome man and her mother was a petite woman with a strong will and no fear. My father had died shortly before we moved across from Kathy. It was a great shock when Kathy’s father also died. Her mom and mine became quite close after that, often going out to together and joining an organization called Parents Without Partners. Once both of our families even traveled to Dallas together for a visit to the Six Flags amusement park.

Kathy’s family eventually moved away and I saw less and less of her until finally she and I had completely lost touch. Then came Facebook and when I spoke of my childhood pet, Buddy, she remembered how he used to climb our fence and wander around the neighborhood sporting his summertime haircut. After that I followed her posts and eventually suggested that we have lunch together. We met at a local Mexican restaurant and spent four hours catching up on the details of what life had been like for each of us. It was one of those amazing moments when it felt as though our last conversation had been only a day or so before.

Kathy is much like her mother and I am like mine. Both of them had to be strong women after the death of their husbands and both of them were extraordinarily compassionate, but Kathy’s mom was someone who never seemed to worry what anyone might think of her. She simply did whatever she felt was right whereas my mother was quieter and more circumspect, often worrying about the possibility of offending. In truth I secretly admired Kathy’s mom and often wished that I had the fortitude to be more like her. It seemed as though she would be willing to stand up to the devil himself and I thought that was quite grand.

When my mother and Kathy’s mother were spending so much time together my mom encountered a man that she had known from her youth. Naturally they recognized one another and began a friendship based on their common history. After a time they went on a date. At the end of that first evening my mother swore that she really did not like him and that she would gently end their relationship before it became too complex. Instead my mother’s heart was so big that she felt sorry for him and was not able to turn him down when he kept calling her. Before long they were spending more and more hours together and she had little time for Kathy’s mom. I suppose that is part of the reason why Kathy and I drifted apart.

Of late I have marveled at how much alike Kathy and I are. I suppose that the hardships of our youth after our fathers died both strengthened us and made us more understanding of anyone who struggles. We both assumed adult roles at very young ages when our peers were enjoying more traditional lives of fun and limited responsibility. At times we both found ourselves in the position of being more like parents to our younger siblings. Eventually we became the caretakers for our mothers both of whom died fairly young. We experienced a rather large share of tragedy but it did not harden us, instead it made us more aware of the suffering of others.

I have been admittedly saddened by the last few months with the pandemic continuing to sicken and take lives. I have watched with utmost compassion as Black Americans struggle to demonstrate that racism continues to stalk them in ways that we might not always notice. So much pain has bubbled to the surface of our society and instead of coming together we appear to be divided into camps. Much like my mom often did I have shed more than my share of tears over what I see happening. My usually optimistic personality has been challenges by the realities that I see. I have witnessed the sorrow of those who are having a very difficult time right now and it pains me.

I normally write uplifting blogs because I know that my readers will enjoy them. I tried that at the beginning of our national ordeal but somehow my happy words had a hollow ring and then I noticed Kathy being as honest as usual about what she saw happening in our country. She was  bold and unconcerned with other people’s opinions just as she and her mother had always been. I knew that it was time for me to quit wishing that I were more like them and take a leap of faith by actually following their lead. I realized that it was time for me to speak the truths in my heart because one of the things that has been bothering me the most is how so many people are attempting to look away from the facts that are creating the despair in our nation.

I have lost some of my most faithful readers and puzzled many of my long term friends and family members with my newfound determination to speak my mind. I can no longer sit meekly by cloaking my beliefs in happy and pleasing phrases that are designed to make everyone feel good. There is a poison in our society that returns again and again because our nation has not yet addressed the issues with truth and reconciliation. So many speak of freedoms and patriotism and then complain about making sacrifices so that everyone will enjoy the fullness of liberty. Systems and icons and words continue to hurt people among us and many in our country have an unwillingness to even try to understand and address matters that even our founding fathers attempted to ignore. There is a national tone deafness that is shamefully toxic. Kathy has been unafraid to point these things out. She has given me the courage to do the same.

There is a bit more to my story. It is about the man who for a time overtook my mother’s life. He was a boorish and brash individual, so unlike anyone I had ever known. He was hateful in almost every utterance that came from his mouth. He was a bitterly unsuccessful man who blamed his failures on others. He belonged to a racist organization and had convinced himself that all of the woes of society were derived from Black people attempting to be equal to whites. He mentally abused my mother until she eventually had a psychotic break. She was afraid of him but unable to get away from him. My uncles had to convince him to leave her alone. Even in his absence he stalked her mind. 

I suppose that I feel as though our country is now being led by a man so small that he is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions. Instead like that pitiful man who broke my mother’s beautiful spirit our president is abusing the most vulnerable in our country.  I have heard the kind of language and rhetoric that our president uses before and I know that it is very dangerous. I feel compelled to speak out because I failed to do that for my mother even as I witnessed her being destroyed. Now I have become a warrior like Kathy and her mother. I refuse to sit back and allow our country to be destroyed. I will search for and speak the truth because I love America just as I loved my mom. 

A Good Thing About Covid-19

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I have attempted to keep in touch with people that I know during these crazy days of Covid-19. Sometimes I text. Other times I send emails. Now and again I FaceTime or join a Zoom conference. I also make phone calls just to make sure that the people who have been in my life are doing okay.

On a recent day I decided to phone a friend that I have known since I was six years old. We have had long stretches of time during which we got so busy with living that we lost track. Somehow we nonetheless keep circling back to one another. I first met Lynda when my family moved across the street from where she lived. I was not particularly happy to be leaving our old home because I had friends there that I thought I might never see again. I had been pouting on the drive to our new place and seeing the loving house that would be our new digs did nothing to improve my mood. That’s when the Barry family crossed the street to welcome us to Northdale Street.

They were a friendly crew who made us feel immediately welcome to the neighborhood. Lynda, who was my age, was peeking at me from behind her mother and I immediately became curious about her. Mrs. Barry noticed our preoccupation with one another and suggested that we go get acquainted. Somehow it was as though Lynda and I had known each other forever. We began talking and our conversation never really stopped from then on.

We spent every single day together, often laughing and singing on our bikes. We roamed the neighborhood seeking adventure and planning our futures which we assumed would always include being together. We tuned in to the Mickey Mouse Club each afternoon and practiced cartwheels in Lynda’s enormous backyard. I adored everything about her and her family including the nickname that her father gave her, Lindy Lou.

We we two silly little girls who were as happy as can be, so when my parents suddenly announced that we would be moving to California only a little over a year later I was angry and devastated. Somehow I thought they surely should have consulted me before making such an important decision. I cried at the thought of leaving Lynda behind because she seemed to understand me better than anyone ever had.

I missed Lynda every day that we were apart but my family eventually returned to Houston and shortly thereafter my father died. We moved into a house in the same neighborhood as Lynda’s but it was many blocks away from where she resided. We attempted to keep the friendship as wonderful as it had been before but we ended up in different schools and as we grew older we became more and more involved in activities that ate up our time. We always seemed to click right back into our old closeness whenever we had occasion to get together but life just kept insinuating itself into our relationship.

She got married and so did she. We purchased homes in different parts of the city and began our families. From time to time Lynda would invite me to visit for the day and we would have so much fun watching our children play while we gabbed just like we were still those six year old girls. Neither of us were working back then so we had all the time in the world. On some of those charming visits I would stay for hours before reluctantly heading home.

Eventually we both became working women and with that added responsibility we had less and less time for meeting up. Mostly our friendship became confined to occasional phone calls and as the years passed our children grew, our parents died, and we became grandparents. We were more likely to see each other at wakes or funerals but our love for each other never wavered.

Now Lynda lives in another town. We speak of getting together but those plans never seem to materialize. At the moment we are both staying in our homes. Lynda has autoimmune issues that prompt her to be as careful with Covid-19 as possible and I hope to keep the virus from coming into my house and infecting my husband who seems to be a poster boy for those who suffer most from it. Suddenly those long phone calls where we never seem to run out of things to say feel like a lifeline for both of us.

There is something spiritual about the friendships that we forge as children. They are so pure and guileless. Growing up together means that we know all of the good and bad things that have happened to each other. We have shared a journey through all of life’s ups and downs. We know each other without filters and we still like what we see.

I hope to make calling Lynda more of a habit during these days. Talking with her makes me feel young again and seems to be the one good thing about Covid-19. It has slowed us down enough to create time for just being ourselves once again. In those moments I see us as two skinny girls with a whole lifetime of possibilities ahead, finding adventure at every turn. We are quieter now but the joy of being together, even by phone, never seems to dim.

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.