Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

adult black pug
Photo by Charles on Pexels.com

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. 

 

Celebrate Our Young

It seems like years ago since I attended a concert of music from Game of Thrones with three of my grandsons. It was a lovely evening with a happy crowd dressed in t-shirts and costumes celebrating the series. We sat outdoors under the stars listening to a performance that brought back memories of watching the story of power and intrigue unfold over the course of many years. It was fun and innocent. None of us had any idea that within a few months so much would change in our real world. On that night we were mostly filled with the joy of being together.

During the intermission I had a lengthy conversation with my grandson Jack who is a student at Texas A&M University majoring in computer science. He will graduate in May 2021 if all goes well and will soon be entering the very adult world of work. On the night of the concert he was very much engaged in thoughts of the coming presidential election. He had done his homework on each candidate of the democratic party as well as the presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump. He was well versed in a number of issues that he believed would have an enormously consequential impact on his future and that of his peers. I was impressed by the depth of his understanding of history and his research into the economic, environmental and social problems that he believed should be foremost in voters’ minds as they make the all important decision of which individuals to trust with the leadership of the country.

While he and I agreed on most things I tended to have a much more conservative view of how to deal with the most pressing problems while his ideas were more radical. Without mentioning what I was thinking I politely listened while somewhat patronizingly thinking that he would soon enough learn that most people are disturbed by revolutionary sounding ideas. Nonetheless he was so passionate and so armed with facts and data that I found myself thinking about our little discussion for weeks after that evening. I even did some research of my own and I found that he was not off base in terms of troubles with higher education, an uncertain economic future for his generation, and major concerns about the environment that are being mostly ignored. I had to admit to appreciating the fact that he cared enough about our nation to want to make it stronger and more secure for the future, not just the here and now.

Interestingly I engaged in a bit more emotional repartee with my granddaughter Abby on Christmas Day. She too knew her stuff and felt compelled to curb my own ignorance of certain ideas. Perhaps the two of us became a bit more territorial in protecting our beliefs but once again I found myself pondering all that she had said and I did a bit of studying and soul searching in the ensuing days and weeks.

Then there was a pandemic and an upheaval of the world so rapid that we were hardly able to keep up with what was happening around us. The economy which had appeared to be so strong reacted in ways that my grandson had actually predicted. Our inability to adjust quickly enough to contain the virus harkened some of my grandson’s doomsday scenarios that I had initially thought to be rather extreme. The veil of civility in our society seemed to be torn in two and I witnessed the kind of divisions and ugliness of which my granddaughter had spoken. I realized both of these young people were far more in tune with reality than I had been in my fantasy world that sought blue skies and happy thoughts as a way of dealing with troubles. I found myself realizing that dismissing our young as immature, fragile and out of touch would be a huge mistake.

If we really study the history of the world we learn that the most revolutionary ideas that change the landscape often come from those who are quite young. Jesus was only thirty three when he was crucified like a common criminal because his teachings seemed so radical. Upstarts like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison played key roles in the American Revolution. The list of thinkers who challenged the way we view things is long, but the common factor in each case is that sometimes a young person is able and willing to upend the status quo. Perhaps it is because they have not yet become rigid in their thinking or because they are willing to experiment and take risks. We would be wise not to dismiss them without consideration. After all it was a young boy who saw that the emperor had no clothes, and only he had the courage to voice that truth.

I hear so many older adults insulting the knowledge and logic of our youth. They imply that most teens and twenty somethings are ignorant of the way things are supposed to work. They push their ideas aside with a kind of disdain. They act as though it takes aging to reach a point of logic and leadership. They want things to stay the same or even to return to an earlier more nostalgic era. They have somehow forgotten or neglected to learn that the arc of history is long and ever changing. We not only can’t go backward but undoubtedly would not want to unlearn the truths that have improved our lives from those of our ancestors. The future belongs to the young. Our goal should not be to control their minds but to encourage their thinking and innovation.

A few years back I was greatly disturbed by President Obama’s idea of changing the systems for space travel. I felt that he was dismembering NASA in a way that would preclude a promising future for unlocking the secrets of the universe. I watched our astronauts hitching rides to the International Space Station and I was angry. I did not believe that the idea of continuing our exploration with private companies would lead to anything but failure. It seemed as though a nail had been driven into NASA’s coffin. I could not have been more wrong.

During the height of the pandemic the most promising and optimistic event was the SpaceX launching of a rocket that took American astronauts safely to the International Space Station and returned them back to earth with precision. The combined forces of SpaceX and NASA proved to create a powerful resurrection of our national space program. It had an energy that had been dwindling at NASA for years. It demonstrated that doing things the way they have always been done is not necessarily the best way. Innovation and out of the box thinking is what has always kept the world moving forward.

Our young people have ideas. They love our country and our world. They are anxious to make a better life for all of us. They may sound a bit frightening in their enthusiasm but we should never hush their voices. Among them may be the very ideas that take us to the next level of realizing true greatness. Celebrate our young.

We Will Meet Again

Happy Plates

I do my best to be upbeat. I try to look for the silver lining in almost everything. I suppose it never dawned on me that our national ordeal would last as long as it has even as my daughters attempted to bring down to reality. I’ve made the best of my 20 weeks in isolation and even created a game out of the whole thing but I think I need to up my persistence because I’ve wavered a bit this past week.

I’ve found great solace working in my yard but as August dawns the heat is making it more and more difficult to get excited about being out in the jungle like atmosphere of Houston, Texas humidity. With the most recent rains that have kept the grass uncut for two weeks it feels like being in a swamp. I would not be at all surprised to find an alligator sunning in my flowerbed. Still I perform the tasks of weeding and trimming in fifteen minute increments which is akin to emptying the ocean of water one teaspoon at a time.

I’ve given up on the vegetable garden I planted. I usually have a green thumb but not so with the raised bed that I created to provide me with fresh tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and peppers. So far the insects have devoured the pepper plants in spite of my efforts to discourage them and the squash plants died. The cucumber plants were prolific and seemed to have so much promise with the profusion of blooms that popped out. Unfortunately not a single one of those blossoms bore fruit. The tomato plants were much the same. I’ll soon be dismantling the whole experiment and using the rich soil that I purchased to give my flowers and shrubs a little treat.

I started a project of relearning Calculus but frankly there is a bit too much going on in the world for me to concentrate. I’m moving so slowly through the lessons that I’ll still be in the process a year from now. Since I never like to cry “uncle” I may continue my pursuit but it’s not at the top of my list of daily routines. I find myself asking, “What will I use this for?” It makes me feel like a traitor to all mathematics teachers in the world.

I’ve made great use of my treadmill and stationary bike but I really look forward to outdoor strolls again. For now I’m not ready to brave the heat. Until it is cool again walks through the neighborhood won’t be any more pleasurable than thirty minutes of jaunting to nowhere in air conditioned comfort while solving puzzles on my phone. Last week I was number one in a competition and it all began with my daily exercise routine so it’s not all bad.

When I was still working I often dreamed of how wonderful it would be to have all the time in the world to binge watch movies and television programs. Now that I am living that reality I am growing bored of the routine of searching for new entertainment each night. I’ve watched Tiger King and all of the Granchester episodes. I’ve gone through most of what is good on Britbox and Netflix and Amazon Prime. I’ve watched The Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton. It’s all good but I’ve had my fill and can’t imagine ever wishing to binge watch again. I do however believe that Carol killed her husband.

I read a great deal. Books and newspapers and magazines always seem to be better than television. I glory in the words that take me on adventures or teach me new ideas. I have an endless supply of material to read and if I add a cup of tea to the mix I am quite content. Sadly so much sitting has led to the possibility of outgrowing my clothing so I need to be a bit more careful of that. 

Sometimes I splurge on a bit of happiness. I purchased some colorful dishes that I saw on Amazon. I delighted in the vibrance of the different hues and patterns. They look quite nice on my dining table set for a shared feast with six of my family members or friends. They provide me with an optimistic hope that one day my kitchen will again be filled with the laughter of guests.

My husband Mike and I joke a great deal. We lean toward the kind of humor that would delight the creators of Monty Python. We find laughter in the oddest things and crack ourselves up with inside jokes. I’ve always believed that a good belly laugh is the best medicine around and I rarely go a day without a dose of satire that makes me howl. I don’t expect however to be peddling my medical advice in front of the White House anytime soon. 

My most favorite activity is writing. As a young girl I always thought that I would become an author or a journalist. I went for steady work instead and became a teacher. I worry for my fellow educators because they are most certainly in for a very bumpy ride. As for myself, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my little band of homeschooled students. I’ll be meeting with them remotely for now so I’m eagerly preparing. I’m giddy over the supplies that keep arriving at my doorstep. I have a magnetic Cartesian plane that fits nicely on my white board. I’ve found magnetic money to use with my little ones and a large protractor for my middle school students. You would think that Santa Claus had come if you saw how joyful all of this is making me. I don’t need much to get very excited.

I suppose that more and more people will attempt to get back to work. Nonetheless I don’t expect to see anything even remotely appearing normal for a time but we will get there. I’ve got my masks and my determination to be as upbeat as I can for the duration. I hope to contribute a bit of joy or humor or compassion or information to help with the cause. One day this will be but a memory and the world will find a way to move forward. That’s when my happy dishes will be waiting for my guests. We will meet again.

Truth Is Beautiful

green tree photo
Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

 

I want to be left alone. I want to fix things that are broken. I want to just be happy. I want to express my anger about the state of the world. I want to turn away from conflict. I want to have the courage to stand firmly with my principles. I want to get along with everyone. I want to speak out when I see injustice. I am caught in a conundrum, a moment in time when I might cling to wishful thinking or face the realities that I witness happening around me. It would be so much easier to turn off the news, ignore my Facebook and Twitter accounts and just live peacefully in my home blissfully unaware of any difficulties stalking humanity. Unfortunately my curiosity would no doubt get the best of me if I were to make such a choice and ultimately I would be compelled to seek information and truth. My delightful ignorance would be interrupted and once again I would begin thinking about the actual complexities of life.

I’ve been watching the bots and the trolls at work on social media and on YouTube and Internet sites that purport to speak the unvarnished truth. They rile us up with doctored images and false stories. I often wonder from what hole in the ground they operate. They take many forms and present themselves with many names and faces and then spread their poisonous ideas like a virus. I wonder if they are laughing at us as we accept their premises. Do they take delight in watching us turn on one another as we share and discuss their often outrageous posts?

Much of our thinking these days is being directed by anonymous souls who live in faraway places. They purposely want to pull us apart and sadly they are quite good at what they do. It does not help at all that even some of our leaders are as addicted to their devious propaganda as we are. Instead of seeking accurate sources of information we too often find it easier to just cling to a single phrase to sum up the knotty realities that daunt us. We prefer quick fixes and quick answers and then divide ourselves into warring camps when there is a strong probability that there is a much better middle ground. We do not have to settle for “either/or” anymore than I must choose to be either uninformed and content or knowledgable and dissatisfied with the status quo.

We rarely have honest discussions anymore. Each side is busily planning a response to conflicting points of view rather than carefully listening to the other side. It is as though we are engaged in a national debate competition designed to find winners and losers rather than to determine ways to find answers. We see ourselves as opponents rather than understanding that we are all engaged in an attempt to make the world a better place. One side is demanding change and the other is worried that change will cause loss of some kind. One side is revealing uncomfortable truths about history and the other is concerned that talking about such things is hateful.

By now my readers know that my mother suffered from mental illness as did her mother. It was a carefully guarded secret in the family with much denial defining the reaction to what had taken place. Since I was the person first charged with getting help for my mom I had to face truths that were painful. For more than a decade I hid my mother’s situation from the outside, pretending that all was well. Whenever my mother needed care I called in sick to my jobs and told my bosses that I had a very bad bug. Nobody beyond my closest family members and confidants had any idea of my mother’s chronic cycle of bipolar disorder. We tiptoed around the truth of the situation.

It was not until I finally hit a concrete wall that I blurted out my story to a random coworker and finally received the understanding that I needed. I no longer had to hide my secret in the shadows and with my openness came valuable information and comfort. While some people looked askance at my new found honesty most began recounting their own experiences with mental illness. I soon learned that I was not alone and I began to develop a network of individuals who supported me in the care of my mother. I doubt that I would have been capable of dealing with her sometimes frightening behavior for decades had I kept the situation under wraps. My openness and the willingness of others to hear me even when it felt uncomfortable gave me the strength to care for my mother for over forty years.

Sadly there were still those who squirmed when hearing about my mother’s situation. They chose to ignore her symptoms and to engage in a game of pretense. They even believed that I was in some ways dishonest and hateful for talking of my mom’s illness. They could not understand what they saw as my betrayal. They preferred to act as though the great big elephant in the room was only my imagination.

In many ways this is what I see happening today. There are many who are unwilling to discuss and tackle harsh realities and others who would rather cling to a rosy picture even if that image is not true. They worry incessantly about changes that will require sacrifices and do not want to hear of skeletons in the closet of history. They simply want to be left alone, be happy, turn away from conflict, just get along in a superficial manner.

Sadly we would all love a utopian way of existence but since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden we humans have had to endure more difficulties and unhappiness. Nonetheless whenever we pause long enough to actually work together everyone improves just a bit more. Even baby steps can make a difference. Perhaps the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement are the concrete walls that have hit us all in the collective face. They are urging us to begin the process of hearing what we need to hear and not just what we want to hear. Even seemingly ugly truths can become beautiful when we use them to make the changes we have needed all along. Truth is beautiful.