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. 

Plan B

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There is plenty to cause people to be afraid these days. We are bombarded twenty four hours a day with stories presented more to earn readers and viewers than to just present the news. The more titillating the piece the more likely it is to increase ratings, the holy grail of journalism in today’s super charged environment. Add to the mix hackers who foment terror with propaganda and it can sometimes be difficult to discern the difference between truth and fact. Rumors abound to add to the inflammatory atmosphere. Uncertainty provokes anxiety that grows faster than a pandemic.

Everyone has real personal concerns that are enough to keep them worrying. They may be financial or health related, social or physical. I can’t think of anyone who is not grappling with some private tragedy that saps energy and brings on insomnia. The added furor over issues that may or may not be as dire as they are presented only adds to the pressures of existence. Our natural instincts to react when signs of danger appear have been stressed again and again by predictions of terrorism, murder, pandemic, natural disasters. We don’t want to be ruled by panic or illogical thinking, but we also don’t want to get caught unprepared. We find ourselves wondering whether to just laugh and continue our routines or take warnings seriously and make changes to our lives. When the information that we gather becomes contradictory we don’t know who to believe and our concerns only grow.

I remember a long ago day in October when I arrived at school to find fewer of my fellow students in attendance. My teacher appeared to be unusually tense and ultimately she spoke to us about the Cuban missile crisis that was unfolding. It was honestly the first time that I had heard of such a thing. If my mother knew of it, she never mentioned it to me and my brothers. I remember being somewhat amused by my teacher’s concerns and advice for what we should do if an attack on our city occurred. Because my mother appeared to be so nonplussed by the event I took her cue and simply ignored the whole thing which ultimately turned out just fine. It would be years later before I realized the extent to which our country had been on the brink of nuclear disaster. When I learned the truth I was unable to decide if my ignorance had been best or if I should have been more serious and prepared for a dangerous eventuality.

I worry enough without additional input from muckrakers. I’m generally not so much fearful of what may happen to me but rather how to protect my loved ones from harm. My guess is that I take after my mother in that regard. When I lie awake at night it is never out of anxiety for myself but always from fear that one of my family members or friends my be in trouble. When I am frightened I try to take control of the situation. I become like a mama bird preparing and guarding her nest. I maintain an appearance of calm and quietly go about my days as routinely as possible while also gathering whatever I may need to overcome the demands of an emergency.

Fear is the most normal of human reactions and one that may actually help us to avoid danger. It also has the power of driving us inside our own minds, crippling our ability to lead normal productive lives. I watched mental illness turn my mother into a sad paranoid shell of herself. She hid behind heavy curtains in the darkness of her mind. Hers was a medical problem that righted itself only when she took medications designed to balance the chemicals of her brain. Most of us will never know the terror that her bipolar disorder created in her thoughts. Still if we let our anxieties overtake us we lose the joy that we need to get the most from each moment of our days.

I suppose that I have learned to keep my fears at bay by taking constructive actions that may or may not be of any consequence but nonetheless allow me to feel more optimistic. I insure my home against disaster knowing that I may not escape devastation but at least will have a means of rebuilding if the worst case scenario unfolds. I take care of myself with healthy habits of both body and mind understanding that there are no guarantees that I will not be struck with a difficult illness. I can only hope that my routines will at least provide me with a reservoir of strength in any eventuality. I avoid dangerous situations as I go about my business and drive with care knowing that none of my cautions are foolproof. I have a store of provisions in case of some unexpected disruption in the normal flow of the world. Like a Girl Scout I plan ahead just as I always have.

I suppose that the events of my lifetime have taught me to never say never. If someone had predicted my future when I was a child I would have scoffed at the very idea of things that ultimately happened. Perhaps I may have also been very afraid. Instead I went about my life being a bit cautious just in case. There have been times when my careful planning served me well but I have admittedly spent sleepless nights wondering and worrying needlessly. Life has taught me that dreams come true through hard work but nightmares sneak up on us when we least expect them. Having a Plan B and staying calm has helped me through such situations time again. 

Believe

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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

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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. 

Facing the Fears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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