Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

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I am a planner, a controller, a doer. I usually fill up my calendar and keep myself organized and busy. I’m like the energizer bunny on steroids. I make my bed each morning and put everything away in its place each evening. I know what I am going to do and how I will accomplish it weeks in advance. I rarely waste a single minute of each day even in retirement. Suddenly my way of living for a lifetime has been upended. My calendar is empty. I’ve come to fully appreciate my mother’s mantra of “God willing” when agreeing to any future activities. Covid-19 has forced me more than any other event in my life to slow down and smell the roses. 

I now allow myself to stay awake until 2:00 in the morning if something catches my interest late at night. I no longer feel guilty about sleeping until 9:00 in the morning or staying in my pajamas until noon. I eat ice cream and make banana bread instead of worrying about my waistline. I have not used makeup since February. The only time I wear shoes is when I’m walking on my treadmill or working in the yard. I “attend” mass on Sundays in jeans and baggy t-shirts. I get great joy out of very small things like a strikingly lovely bumble bee who hovers over my hibiscus bush or the family of cardinals that feast at my bird feeder. I enjoy the laughter of the children playing in my neighborhood as much as the sound of a symphony. I celebrate the mere act of waking up each morning and still being virus free. 

It’s not easy to set aside a lifetime of habits. Nothing before made me change my ways, not even retirement. I measured the success of my day by the number of my accomplishments. I judged myself on the miles that I walked, the pages that I wrote, the places that I went. As I erased my future plans one by one from my calendar I became less and less sad. They were just ways of filling the time, small sacrifices compared to the ones that so many people have been making. I realized that nothing that I did was as important as doing my part to help slow the spread of Covid 19. That meant curtailing my usual activities and being conservative in my outings and contacts with people. 

I’ve had to find ways to make my quietly mundane days bearable. In doing that I slowed my pace and learned to revel in silence. I have always struggled with the idea of meditation because my mind seems always to be racing. In the past many weeks I have enjoyed sitting and listening to my own breathing. I have felt the pulsating beat of my heart. I have noticed the wind and the birds and rain falling on the pavement. I have felt a greater appreciation of just being alive.

I would love to go back to church and sit among the people there. I want to get my hair trimmed and enjoy a pedicure. I long to hug the members of my family and my dear friends. I want to travel again before I grow so old that I am no longer able to walk for miles exploring new places. I dream of  being able to visit my aunts and uncle who are in nursing homes once again. I miss having tea time with my niece. I find that there is little else that I now want to do. I don’t need to shop or eat out or go to a movie theater. I don’t want to run around all day doing things that I may accomplish inside my home. Covid 19 has allowed me to think deeply about what is most important. 

I am happy to do my part to help end this tragic occurrence that has so changed our world. I still teach my little band of students remotely. I wear my mask willingly. I order my groceries through Instacart and give the workers who bring them to me very generous tips because I so appreciate what they doing. I get most of everything else I need from Amazon or by purchasing from other online vendors. I support local restaurants by getting take out now and again. I mostly take rides for diversion rather than mixing it up with people in enclosed spaces. I’ve already signed up for voting by mail to insure that I will be able to cast my vote in November no matter what the state of things may be.  

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but somehow Covid 19 has managed to do that for me. In a strange way it has actually made me more aware and thankful. Nonetheless I feel great sadness for those who have been so hurt by this sometimes deadly virus. I cry at the news of a teenager losing both of his parents or the story of an elderly couple dying on the same day. It is difficult to see Covid 19 as anything other than a great tragedy. I pray constantly that an end to all of the suffering will come sooner rather than later. I pray that each of us will do whatever it takes to make that happen. I pray that we will never forget how dependent we are on one another. I pray that I will spend however many days and years I have left on this earth always remembering what is truly important. 

 

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.

Sameness

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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.

Becoming the Helpers, Healers and Caretakers

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We are meant to be social. We form communities. We join groups. We have friends. It is the way of being human. Suddenly we have been forced into a state of isolation by a virus that is not even visible to the eye but which may lurk in any corner through which we pass. This fact changes our plans, cancels traditions, upends our lives. We watch as our world appears to be descending into chaos and confusion. We just want to go back to normal but it feels as though our efforts to do so are thwarted again and again. We are disappointed, confused, sad, maybe even angry. We want to blame someone. Surely we should be able to rise above all of this. Who is at fault? When will we feel safe again?

The times are like no other even when we desperately attempt to make them so by ignoring or even doubting the evidence before us. We think that if we just stay positive and talk about something else we may find a semblance of the world as we wish it to be. We wonder why people cannot just focus on prayer and happy thoughts. We want to be calm. We want serenity now. We cannot understand why some among us insist on stirring up trouble. We want lazy summer days and laughter. We are tired and scared even though our bravado attempts to tell a different story.

We have people using this moment to demonstrate the magnificence of humanity. They are helpers, caretakers, healers. They are compassionate, selfless souls. They use this time to do the heavy lifting that keeps our society working as much as possible. They faithfully carry on even as they know that there is danger in doing so. They cure and nurse and teach and cook and clean and deliver and complete the payrolls. They make things, build things, repair things. They wear masks and wash their hands and follow uncomfortable guidelines out of the love that is apparent in their work. They face the problems that they encounter not to glorify themselves but to celebrate the value of every human being.

We also have people who are sadly using this moment in selfish ways. They stir up hate and divisions to cement their own power. They sow seeds of discontent. They appear to be unconcerned by the needs of others. They engage in false dichotomies and blame. Instead of taking positive steps to be part of the solution, they spend their time accusing others of bringing a scourge on our land. They point to the worst aspects of every situation rather than focusing on what is working and what is good. They seem to be tone deaf, insensitive, uncaring.

We know that our present state of fear and unrest is unsustainable. We will eventually have to face down the demons that plague our society whether they be microbes or beliefs. We might learn from the helpers, caretakers and healers. No problem is ever solved by being ignored and some difficulties require much patience, hard work and even pain to overcome. We might begin by agreeing to be guided by goodness rather than self centered motivations. We may need to make uncomfortable changes to set things right. We will need to look ahead to the future while learning from the past. We will do well to rely on the kind of experts and knowledge that have moved humankind forward in the past. We must be willing to open our minds rather than clinging to outmoded and ineffective ways of doing things. A brighter future is possible but only if we set aside ignorance and hate.

I am an optimist but that does not mean that I only allow happy thoughts to enter my mind. Sometimes I have to walk through darkness before I see the pinpoint of light ahead. I am religious but I also believe that our institutions devoted to the praise and glory of God are sometimes too rule driven and not centered enough on the preciousness of people. Just as I do not think that it is right to take the life of even the unborn, so too do I see it as our duty to fight for justice for anyone on earth who is being abused by word or deed. In our own country we have too long found excuses for the deplorable treatment of an entire race of people who were brought here in chains. We may not be guilty of racism of our own but we have certainly been guilty of allowing the continued glorification of those who fought to keep slavery alive. We must be as willing to admit to that wrong as we are willing to confess our personal sins. It is our duty as believers in the words of Jesus to finally embrace our Black brothers and sisters with the unconditional love that they deserve.

The truth is that we are now engaged in a battle for lives being attack by Covid-19 and lives being attacked by continued “isms.” If we are to become a greater nation of the kind imagined by Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we must stop fighting with one another. We need to proudly don our masks out of love. We need to value the life of every person on this earth out of love.  When we see or hear hurtful behavior we must decry it out of love. We must become the helpers, healers and caretakers out of love. 

A Time To Share

Unemployment

I have had many different lives during my seventy one years on this earth. When my father was our family breadwinner I enjoyed luxuries that many of my cousins never realized. We always had a relatively new luxury car. Our home was modern and filled with beautiful furnishings. After he died things changed drastically. Suddenly I learned what it was like to be continually worried that our family might run out of food before the next check came. My mother was masterful at stretching our meager income and somehow always found a way to keep us supplied with the basics of food, shelter and clothing but there was always a specter of losing it all looming over us. I suppose that because of that experience I never again took any good fortune for granted.

When I became an adult I worked alongside my husband to provide for our family. Neither of us ever made a great deal of money but we almost always had what we needed to enjoy a comfortable life. We were able to purchase a home and pay for our daughters to attend college. We even managed to prepare for our retirement years and have enough to take some wonderful trips here and there. Nonetheless I never quite got over the anxieties that I often felt when as a child I would look inside our refrigerator and see bare walls with a day or two left before we would be able to replenish our larders at the grocery store.

Living from check to check is stressful and so I have always had a clear understanding of the students that I taught who were living in circumstances even more dire than the ones that I had experienced. I knew that one small emergency or illness or needed repair can turn into a major disaster for anyone whose economic situation is precarious. I also understood that once someone is in such a situation even with very hard work it can be challenging to move up the economic ladder. For that reason I have never felt beset upon when my taxes were used to help others in need. Instead I have been grateful that I have enough to share for without government help and that of my community I don’t know what would have become of my brothers and me.

I have always lived with a sense of appreciation and a feeling that those of us who have more should help with those who have less. I have never begrudged the social programs that give people an economic boost even if they result in individuals like me paying the government a bit more to keep them running. I am a person who knows what it is like to wait all day long in a free clinic to get inoculations for school. I am someone who benefitted from the social security payments that kept my brothers and I alive after my father died.

With the scourge of the pandemic and the bust of the oil industry there are still millions of American citizens who suddenly find themselves unemployed. These are people who only months ago had great jobs and plans for the future. With little or no warning they were suddenly informed that their positions were being eliminated. It was a kind of insult added to injury as they scrambled to cope with all of the inconveniences of the pandemic. In some cases both husbands and wives faced unexpected job loss, so when Congress voted to provide an additional six hundred dollars a month to their unemployment checks it was a godsend. In may instances it was literally the needed assurance to keep their homes. Nonetheless I also learned of people that I know who became homeless in a time when we were supposed to huddling in our domiciles. 

There are many unfortunate souls who are now in a state of anxiety because those extra payments are slated to end soon and they have yet to find new jobs. Even as many in the retail and service industries are opening back up and lowering the numbers of those without work, large corporations like BP are announcing plans to lay off ten thousand more. Sadly both the president and many in the general public are reluctant to extend the unemployment benefit past July. They even cruelly suggest that those who are still hunting for jobs are just lazy slackers who need to get off of their behinds and get back to work.

That would be all well in good if everyone had a position waiting for them to go back to work. I personally know highly educated, brilliant and hard working individuals who have been unsuccessfully attempting to find jobs for over three months. In a good economy they would have been snapped up in a week or so, but our present situation is still fragile and employers are reluctant to begin a hiring frenzy. The more likely outcome is that there may be even more layoffs in the coming weeks. Knowing that, the unemployed people that I know have expressed a willingness to relocate anywhere in the world if necessary. They will uproot their families and venture far away from the lives they have built if that is what it takes. In the meantime they need help because for every job that materializes there are thousands of applicants.

Most of us have only been slightly inconvenienced by Covid-19. We may be bored and desirous of resuming our normal lives but we are not wondering what we ill do when our savings are gone and we have no new leads on work. We should all be insisting that we take care of our fellow citizens in these unprecedented times. Even if it takes a pinch out of our own comfortable lives we should not mind. Americans are known for generosity. Now more than ever we need to think of the people who are lying awake at night worrying and provide them with the reassurance that we will not let them down.

Ironically when I was writing this blog I made a cup of tea and reached for a fortune cookie that came with a takeout dinner that we enjoyed a few Fridays ago. The message inside seemed to say it all, “Pure love is a willingness to give without  a thought of receiving anything in return.” We have to get through all of this together. The weight of sacrifice should not be limited to a few. Demand that Congress continue to take care of people still struggling to find work.