Silent Heroes

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We love our children. Parents dream of helping their offspring to live glorious lives filled with joy, success, and love. Teachers play a huge role in the journey of a youngster into adulthood. We put our educators under a microscope, judging their every interaction with our youth. Each day in classrooms across the globe men and women accept the awesome challenge of educating the adults of the future. The work is both daunting and rewarding. Teachers quietly and tirelessly perform their duties without a great deal of encouragement. In fact we are more often likely to hear criticisms of their mistakes than compliments of their dedication. Nonetheless teachers carry on with their vocations even when the conditions are difficult, the pay is subpar to other professions, and the evaluations of their worth in society are not indicative of the enormous sacrifices and contributions that they make.

Teachers are often told that theirs is a last resort occupation that is the solution for those who cannot find anything better to do. They hear snide comments about their short work weeks and three months of vacation. In conversations about improving education they are generally the last persons whose opinions are considered. Instead lawmakers, business people, and an assortment of souls with no experience managing a classroom decide how to run the educational system. Nonetheless our teachers return for insult time and again simply because they have a beautiful secret. They love their profession and they adore their students. No amount of indignation can chase them away. They have a mission that drives their enthusiasm more than money or status.

A tiny virus came along this spring to upend the educational process without warning and along with the chaos that ensued came a pleasant surprise for everyone except those who are teachers. With amazing speed all across the globe educators went into action to create remote classrooms and lessons. They transformed bedrooms and dining rooms into spaces where they might continue to demonstrate their magic. They spent untold hours learning how to manipulate technology. They found ways to bring the needed equipment and conferences to each of their students. They worried over their flocks until they were certain that everyone was present and accounted for. They grieved at the loss of being with their students in person and wondered if their pupils had enough to eat or if they were being abused. They even went on parades inside the neighborhoods that they serve and made efforts to personally congratulate the top graduates in the Class of 2020. Not for one single minute did they forget their students in fact they spent sleepless nights worrying about them.

As moms and dads contended with having their children under foot all day long they began to marvel at the patience of teachers who shepherd whole classrooms of kids and somehow remain calm. The parents realized how complex the concepts and lessons actually are and realized that one would have to be rather bright to explain such things. They began to reconsider the value of teachers in ways that had not before occurred to them. As the long weeks in isolation went by they learned of the many skills and talents that good teachers so humbly provide to society.

In spite of the newfound estimation of the educators of the world many old habits are slow to die. In planning for the reopening of schools at some future date few teachers have been consulted even though they are very people who may have the best answers for the logistical questions. When grateful citizens provide food and gifts for first responders and essential workers they tend to forget the teachers with such rewards. There are even those who wonder why teachers are still being paid since they are just sitting around at home. Some suggest beginning the new school year in July but without any extra pay even though the salary that teachers will receive in that month is part of contracted pay for this past year.

I am and always will be a teacher at heart. I think that mine has been a noble profession that ranks alongside the most needed work in all of society. We have learned during our lockdowns and stay at home orders what is most important in this world. We can live in our pajamas and walk around the house in our bare feet. We can cook for ourselves and find entertainment in very simple things. Slowing our pace has brought us new found joys and realizations of what and who we most need. Our world has become a quieter and less congested and polluted place. We see an opportunity to change some of our habits which may not have been good for us individually or for the world collectively. We stand at a moment of possibilities and among them is a new way of viewing our educational system and our teachers. Perhaps it is time that we acknowledge the wonderful men and women who care for our children as the heroes that they have always been.

Most teachers will tell you that the joy that they feel for their work is not about the money. They will admit that they don’t even need the respect that other occupations provide because there is something innately glorious about having a career that provides so much purpose. Each day for a teacher is a meaningful experience and teachers never forget the students who have passed under their watchful eyes. They think of them and dream of them and worry about them and hope for them. Their ultimate reward is knowing that their efforts have made the world a better place.

May is traditionally the month for acknowledging teachers. Find a way to reach out to the valiant and selfless people who have influenced either you or your children. Try to understand how much love was poured into their work. Let them know how much you value them. They are already planning the future and it will no doubt be very good. Let’s acknowledge them as the silent heroes that they have always been.

A Time For Healing

It’s far too soon to speak of the Covid-19 pandemic being over. It’s doubtful that we will be able to flip a switch and go back to the normal, at least for a time. There will be a wariness in the air until there are no longer daily outbreaks of the disease and a trustworthy vaccine is available to everyone. Still, we are becoming more and more anxious for that day to come because at heart we enjoy being part of a community. It is in our natures to be productive as well, to have purpose in our lives.

We’ve spent time away from the ebb and flow of the world at large. Our streets have been quieter along with our daily routines. We have had time to think, to meditate, to consider what kind of changes we might want to see in the new normal that will emerge. In some ways we no longer wish to return to the status quo as it once was because in our days of isolation we have realized new possibilities. Our worldwide distancing has in an ironic twist made us somehow feel closer. The individual who dies in Italy is as important to us as the grandfather who does not make it in our hometown.

We have witnessed a simplification in our lives, reminding ourselves of what and who is actually essential. The skies are clearer all over the world and so are our priorities and obligations to share our lives with others. As we enjoy our own blessings we realize how many people it took to make them happen. We may be in a cocoon of safety right now but we survive so pleasantly only because an army of people have worked diligently to keep the supply chain of goods and services running.

We look to our medical community for answers and comfort in time of need and see the immense sacrifices that have always been part of their work. We struggle to keep our children learning and realize the creative and caring presence that teachers have have been even while we often criticized their efforts. That onion or that loaf of bread are suddenly precious commodities brought to us with the backbreaking labor of migrant workers, people that we have sometimes derided in the past. We look to the wonders of technology to keep us connected and pray for the genius of our scientists and engineers to bring us out of this crisis.

We must surely be humbled by this pandemic which has both upended our way of life and demonstrated the amazing human spirit. Heroes that we once thought to be ordinary have emerged with powers more wonderful than Superman. That nurse who dons her battle gear day after day to administer to the dying deserves a Medal of Honor. The drivers who bring food and supplies to vulnerable shut-ins are providing an immeasurable service. The neighbors who look after one another are the very foundation of who we are as people.

We have learned to enjoy simple things. We realize that we do not need as much as we may have thought. The sound of a neighbor playing the violin is lovely enough to make our day. The birds that congregate in our trees are as entertaining as an evening spent on the town. The meals prepared at home are tastier than those at a five star restaurant. Maybe we don’t really need that extra pair of shoes or a new pair of earrings. Instead we might see who around us is struggling and help them to weather this storm.

When we speak of making America great I suspect that we now realize that it will require an acknowledgement that we are indeed members of a global community. A tiny virus has shown us that we cannot escape the fact that when a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa we are all somehow affected. This pandemic was not the fault of any one nation but we are all reeling from it.

Our new big idea should be to look around and see who or what needs help. We must look for ways to use our resources and our privileges more wisely and more universally. We need to consider our young adults who will be inheriting a world greatly changed. We must share our wisdom and work together to overcome the forces of human weaknesses like greed. We also must accept the reality that we are in a symbiotic relationship with the environment and everything we do affects the health of the earth. We humans are not the only ones who are sick, so is nature. It’s time we labor in tandem with our lovely planet.

I hope that we do not soon forget the lessons we have learned in our urgency to open up business as usual. We must be mindful of each other and what is truly important. If we just go back to our closed mindedness and most current tendencies of endless disagreements we will have missed an opportunity to not just recover physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. Now is the time for healing.

A Wonderful World

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My mother must have told me thousands of times to “watch and learn.” I took her advice so much to heart that she once had to chide me for always staring at people when we were out and about. I meant no harm, I was just observing them and taking notes in my mind. I’m fascinated by life and the way people respond to the world around them, so naturally I am obsessed with noticing how folks are reacting to the pandemic.

On the whole I’m pleased with what I see. I have found kindness to be on the rise with each passing day of isolation. Even business phone calls are more friendly and caring than they might have once been. People are genuinely wanting to be pleasant and helpful. Most of us are taking the time to be patient and thankful as well. It’s a nice contrast the the hectic stressful pace that seemed to be the way of life only a few weeks ago.

I ordered a birthday surprise and groceries for my father-in-law earlier this week. The woman who delivered the items picked up on the occasion and included a Happy Birthday balloon with the items. She also took a picture of my father-in-law at his door from a distance and let me and my husband know that seeing him smile had made her day. What she did was a little thing that only took a small bit of extra effort but it meant the world to our family. I learned something in that moment, namely that a bit of kindness goes a long long way.

I’ve had neighbors and students sending me messages to be sure that I am doing well. I cannot begin to express how important those connections have been. The isolation seems to dissolve with a text, a card, a phone call. I feel blessed to have such remarkable people in my life and to enjoy the comforts of technology that allow me to see and hear them. I know that there are people working quietly to insure that my internet and electricity keep operating so that I won’t lose touch with the outside world. They are nameless individuals but I actually think of them and feel so much gratitude for their efforts.

I see members of the healthcare community selflessly and courageously going to work each day. Some of them are members of my family. Others are former neighbors or students that I once taught. I know how afraid they are of becoming sick and being unable to care for the people who come to them. They also worry about infecting their own families and yet they overcome their fears and keep returning for another day of work.

One former student spoke of ending a twelve hour shift at her job in the Houston Medical Center. She was exhausted and ready to get home as quickly as possible when she heard a commotion on the street ahead. She worried that her journey home would somehow be delayed and just as she was feeling a bit irritable she realized that it was a parade of ordinary people cheering her and others who were leaving their shifts. She was moved to tears by their support and understanding of how difficult the work has been. For me that one moment describes all that is best in people during this horrific time.

There are hundreds and hundreds of wonderful stories which teach me once again how good we humans really are. For every bad egg there are a thousand as lovely as the finest one made by Faberge. Humankind has mostly been glorious during this catastrophe teaching me that we may be hurting now, and the future may still be difficult, but we will rise to the occasion. The collective virtue of the people of the world will sustain us.

I have also seen things that bother me but I am hoping that this experience has taught most of us to join together to do what is right and defeat the ugliness that often threatens to overtake us. We have seen how significant family and friendships are. We must cherish those relationships above all things. We have witnessed the importance of each individual within our workforce and never again take them for granted. We have experienced the loving concern of teachers for their students and should demonstrate our thanks and regard. We have realized the need for a strong healthcare system for all people, not just those who can afford it. We have felt how much we miss our faith communities and from henceforth we should embrace them with joy. Appreciation should become the central attribute of our daily lives. We must celebrate the young and the old and emphasize the value of each generation. We depend on each other in ways that have become so clear. We are interconnected with our brothers and sisters from around the globe.

I have learned so much while locked away in my home. The funny thing is that I see the world more clearly now than ever before and I am genuinely pleased to know how wonderful it is.

With Grace

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My grandmother travelled alone from the Slovakia region of Austria Hungary to Galveston, Texas shortly before the outbreak of World War I. She was a young woman then with a lifetime stretching before her. She joined her husband in an unknown world to forge a future. At first she worked at various jobs outside of her home but as her family grew she mostly confined herself to the duties of caring for her husband and children. After ten pregnancies and the loss of two of her babies she suffered a mental breakdown and was involuntarily sent to a state hospital in Austin. Once she returned she never again left her home other than a few times when she experienced health emergencies that required hospitalization. The extent of her world was contained within the perimeter of her property where she busied herself with daily routines until she died in her eighties.

I never thought much about my grandmother’s isolation. She spoke only a handful of English words and so our communication consisted of mostly smiles. She had kind blue eyes and she was eager to be a good hostess by offering mugs of coffee to anyone who came to visit, including the children. She made the brew palatable for us by filling the enamel cups with mostly milk and sugar. After that she would join us in the living room, sitting in a chair in the corner just watching the proceedings from her perch while we sadly tended to ignore her and even forget that she was supposed to be the reason for our visit.

She had turned the entirety of her tiny backyard into a garden that gave her something to do other than cooking and cleaning. She’d putter among in the plants in her bare feet watering from a rain barrel rather than a hose. I never actually saw her wearing shoes even in the winter. She had long before foregone the societal rules of dressing, instead using a few well worn cotton dresses as her wardrobe. She wore her hair in a long braid down her back until one of her children gave her a short haircut that may have been easier to care for but was never as lovely as the braid.

Two of Grandma’s single sons lived with her. They watched over her, brought her groceries, made repairs on the house, and kept her company when they were not working. She seemed happy enough in her routine but I did not know for certain what she was thinking. It never occurred to me to wonder what it must have been like to be completely homebound for years, but I have been thinking about her a great deal in the last few days as I have been restricted to the smaller world of my house by the outbreak of Covid-19.

It has almost been two weeks since I self isolated into the confines of my home other than for excursion to doctors and pickup points for groceries. I have almost infinite potential for busying myself and I have to admit that the time has gone by more quickly than I might have imagined. As long as my source of food replacements and deliveries from Amazon continue I will have access to anything that I might need. I have regular communication with family and friends and enjoy hours of entertainment with my books, my laptop, my television and my garden. In truth the only thing that I truly miss is the touch of human interaction and the freedom and joy of becoming one with a crowd. I already long for adventurous days, and as I admit to myself that it’s difficult to be constrained I think of my grandmother and marvel at the contentment that she seemed to possess in spite of her very simple life.

I suppose that we humans adapt to our circumstances just as my grandmother did. People have endured great hardships throughout history and my little foray into a temporary quarantine is nothing compared to the four hundred plus days that Anne Frank spent hiding in an attic to avoid capture and imprisonment in a concentration camp. When I get antsy and a bit resentful that my independence has been curtailed I remind myself that this too will one day pass and I may even find myself rushing around and longing for a bit of solitude. I know that the key is to make the most of the moment and be grateful that I am able to spend the time in so much comfort.

I’ve always been a fan of Henry David Thoreau. Before the world ever heard of Marie Kando he was urging us to simplify, simplify, simplify. My days inside my home have allowed me to see and hear things that I might otherwise have ignored. I laugh at the squirrel who scampers among the birdseed that falls from the feeder that is designed to keep him from becoming a thief. I smile at the children keeping a social distance from one another on their skateboards while their moms shout at one another from the safety of their front porches. I marvel at the incredible kindnesses that I have witnessed and the sense of humor that keeps us laughing even in the midst of uncertainty. I have slowed my pace and joined my grandmother in freeing my feet from shoes and wearing clothes selected for comfort rather than style. I feel no sense of urgency other than to wish that this plague would leave us to end the suffering of those who have become ill and to return our world to a normal state before its economic trajectory takes people’s lives into a downward spiral.

If staying inside my home helps to end the contagion and defeat the virus then I am happy to accommodate. There will be social occasions, nights out, trips and adventures soon enough. My sacrifice is nothing in the long range scheme of things. If my grandmother could do it for all those years then so can I. She is my role model, the person who will show me the way to accept this small inconvenience with grace.

Understanding Why

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On Wednesday, I had an opportunity to observe the world of doctors and nurses during the time of Covid 19 from a close up perspective. My husband Mike was scheduled to have a stent placed in one of the arteries of his heart. I had initially argued that I did not want him to have this procedure done at this time. I worried that he might be exposed to the virus and then have a difficult time recovering from it. My youngest daughter, a nurse, had a different point of view. She insisted that fixing his heart actually make him more likely to survive a case of Covid 19 if he were to become infected, and that furthermore it was time to get the surgery done now rather than later before the hospitals potentially become overwhelmed. Since my husband was eager to have the repairs done and my daughter supported his thinking, I did my best to overcome my many anxieties and fake the optimism that Mike had.

We arrived at the Walter Tower of Houston Methodist Hospital at the appointed time. The usual valet parking was unavailable, no doubt so that there would be no close interaction between employees of the garage and the patients. We found a spot to self park and proceeded to the main building where we were greeted by two nurses sitting at a table sporting surgical gowns, gloves, masks and plastic headgear with clear screens that covered the length of their faces much like I had seen during the ebola virus outbreak.

They asked us to stay at least six feet from the people both in front of and behind us. Once we reached the station they scanned our foreheads to determine whether either of us had a fever. If we had not passed that test both of us would have been told to return home and quarantine ourselves. Since our temperatures were normal we next answered a series of questions about travel and any symptoms of illness that we might have. I was honest in admitting that I have been coughing at night but noted that I do that all the time due to acid reflux. The nurse understood what I meant but nonetheless asked me to wear a mask inside the hospital.

There were few people in the hallways and every entrance was blocked and guarded by hospital personnel and security guards. Each incoming patient was allowed one and only one person to accompany him/her. Social distancing was being strictly enforced even as we lined up to check in at the admissions desk on the fourth floor where the catheter labs are located. The business administrators were kind and friendly and did their best to ease our anxieties and hide their own.

There were hundreds of chairs for patients and their families but fewer than twenty people who were waiting. We all kept away from one another with no problem and there was an unusually quiet and tense feeling overall. The smell of bleach was quite noticeable and a hard working woman circled about continually cleaning areas that people had left. The machines that might have provided us with coffee, tea or hot chocolate were unplugged. There would be no communal gathering around any part of the building.

We waited for quite some time and I observed that all but one pairing of patient and visitor was in what the world is now calling the elderly demographic. I sensed that nobody felt particularly comfortable about being there but understood that there were few other acceptable options. We simply stared blankly at one another pretending that the strange scene was normal.

Once my husband was called to prepare for his surgery I was allowed to accompany him to learn what was in store for both of us for the remainder of the day. The smell of disinfectant became ever more noticeable and the nurses and aides while very kind and determined to allay our fears became more clinical. I found out that once my husband left for the surgery I would have to return to the waiting room where I would stay until he was released later that evening.

By the time I found my way back to the holding area there were only four of us remaining and we avoided one another like the plague, no pun intended. In other circumstances we might have conversed about our common situation but on this day there was a more somber and silent tone to the environment. So I busied myself with my laptop and my phone until I would learn about the results of my husband’s surgery.

Eventually I was accompanied to a more private room where the doctor informed me what kind of damage he had found in my husband’s heart. I learned that all three of Mike’s main arteries were blocked at a level from eighty to one hundred percent. I could hardly breathe as I thought of how likely it had been for him to have an heart attack, a terrifying prospect in the middle of a pandemic. The doctor explained that he had opened up two of the arteries with stents and left the third as is because Mike’s body had actually developed new arteries around to compensate for the blockage. Then the cardiac surgeon indicated that he wanted Mike to get back home with me as soon as possible rather than staying in the hospital overnight as is the usual process. He noted that the times were strange indeed.

I went back to the waiting room and watched one after another person leave. Before long I was the only one left in the huge area that now felt eerie in its emptiness. A nurse came out periodically to assure me that my husband was doing well but apologized that it would be at least ten o’clock before he would be ready to leave the hospital. When I asked where I might get something to eat I was told that there were no open eateries in the hospital because of the virus and the snack machines were one floor below. I was cautioned not to go down because I might not be able to return to the floor where my Mike was recovering. Luckily I had brought two apples and an orange with me so I settled into a nice dinner of fruit while watching programs from Amazon Prime video with my laptop.

About the time that I began to believe that I would be spending the night in the cold and abandoned room a nurse came out to announce that we would soon be able to depart. She walked with me to procure my car because she feared that I would not be able to find an exit. In fact, we had to walk around the hospital for about twenty or thirty minutes before we were finally able to find a way out. All of the entrances and exits were locked up tight so that nobody might enter or leave without notice.

It was with enormous relief that I got into my car and drove to the main entrance of the Walter Tower where I texted the nurses to let them know that I was ready to take my husband home. They told me to be safe and to take it easy because everything was so crazy right now. I had an urge to hug them but knew that I could not. As I drove away I had a sense of their worry and their courage in overcoming the fears that were so obviously in their minds. I thanked them profusely for all that they had done and literally prayed that they would be okay.

Following their instructions my husband and I stripped off the clothes that we had been wearing as soon as we got home and put them immediately in the washing machine. I wiped down my phone, my laptop, my glasses, and the handbag in which I had carried everything. We were exhausted and literally collapsed into bed but I could not sleep as I thought of those wonderful people who had so lovingly cared for us all day long.

They are no doubt back at it today, not knowing how bad things may ultimately become. I will be rooting for them and doing my part to self isolate in an effort to prevent them from being overcome by sick and dying patients. I now understand their concerns and the processes they want us to follow that may save many lives. It’s not about me at all. It’s about everyone.