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.

A Letter To My Children and Grandchildren (Including My Children From Another Mother)

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March 2020

To My Beloved Children and Grandchildren: (Including my children from other mothers)

Who would have thought as we began this new year and new decade that only months later our world would be so changed? Life often surprises us, but this pandemic is beyond anything that we might have imagined as we each went about our daily routines making our plans for the future. This is certainly not how any of us would have wanted the situation to be. So many of our short term goals have been dashed into unrecognizable pieces in the blink of an eye and many of our long term ones feel more and more difficult to achieve. We each wonder if the world will ever again be as it once was. Perhaps the only bit of optimism to which we now must cling is that so far we are still here and hopefully will remain untouched personally by the virus known as Covid-19.

We have always been participants in the great arc of history but now the events swirling around us feel far more momentous than any that we have hitherto experienced. I sense that each of us will be called upon to be flexible, make sacrifices and use the talents that we have to help rebuild a better society. Every moment of life teaches us important lessons and few provide us with as many opportunities to demonstrate our character and courage as this moment in time. History will tell our stories and I predict that each of you will be judged magnificently because you are all good and decent and bright. I know that no matter how battered your dreams may appear to have become you will resurrect them and accomplish them with even more resolve.

All of the tomorrows truly belong to each of you. Do not fret or worry about what you may have lost or the “might have beens” that never happened because of this interruption of your lives. There will be times of great rejoicing ahead. There always are for individuals with enough grit and ingenuity to remain focused and optimistic even when things appear to be falling apart. The world will need your intellect, your charisma, your work ethic, your compassion.

The days of my generation are not quite over yet and contrary to some thinking we are not totally expendable, but the truth is that you will soon be taking the reins to steer the course of the future. Your talent and beliefs will shape the world for years to come. I have every faith that you will be magnificent caretakers of this earth and its people. While it appears to be in a bit of a shambles right now I have confidence that humankind will rise up just as we always do to make things right. It is in our natures to sometimes need the shove of a disaster to realize the things that we have been doing wrong. Be ready to help to repair those mistakes.

In our days of isolation and solitude we have been reminded of what is most important. There is nothing more precious than our relationships and the love that feeds them. If we have learned nothing else, we should all be more intent on nurturing the beautiful connections that we have always shared. Family is the bedrock of who we are and ours is and always has been so very strong. We have models of inspiration both living and gone whose stories should guide and inspire us. Our ancestry speaks loudly of strength and purpose and the ability to survive. We’ve got the DNA that we need and when we bond together we are unstoppable.

I mostly want each of you to know how much I love you. There is never a day when I do not think of you. I am proud of who you are mostly because of your goodness. You have many accomplishments and no doubt many more are to come, but it is in your sense of honor and duty for your fellow human that I am the most profoundly moved. I do not worry that you will be overcome by the challenges that will come your way and while the present one may feel a bit overwhelming you will find a way to defeat it.

I am looking forward to the coming years and sharing in the triumphs that will come your way.

With deepest love,

Mama/Gammy/Aunt Sharron/Mama B

Living In the Twilight Zone

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Do any of the rest of you feel as though we have been caught in an infinite loop of The Twilight Zone? I know I do. I find that I awake each morning feeling rather good until my brain reminds me that nothing is exactly as it was only a couple of weeks ago. I won’t be planning a camping excursion any time soon nor will a trip to the grocery store be as unremarkable as I had grown accustomed to it being. As long as I am in the quiet and safety of my home I don’t feel anxious at all but as soon as I turn my attention to the outside world I am stunned by the extent to which we are all grappling with the unknown and my cockeyed optimism is rattled just a bit more.

I keep thinking of Rod Serling’s greatest stories and how they have stuck with me even though they seemed to be only the stuff of science fiction, unlikely to ever transpire. There is the tale of the young woman stuck in her New York apartment as the world is slowly and painfully coming to an end. Then I remember episode featuring a man who is a lone survivor of some cataclysm making the best of the situation by planning to read away his loneliness only to drop and break the eyeglasses that allow him to see. When I see the photos of empty shelves in grocery stores I am reminded of Serling’s take on the effects of panic in a cautionary story of a once friendly neighborhood that turns on itself at the first sign of trouble. Those shows had a way of stunning us with their shocking endings but we never thought that any of the creative scenarios might possibly come true.

Let’s face it. Despite all of our past grumblings about the unfairness of the world most of us would be more than happy to rewind to September 2019 if only we might never have to face the unraveling of the world that has slowly enveloped all of us in fear. It’s difficult to go the the dark possibility that maybe things will never be quite the same again. If there were indeed a way to undo all that has happened would we remember how it felt to be threatened with loss and privation? Would we be more willing to be appreciative of our good fortune and then share it with those who have not been as lucky? Would we be more attuned to working together to solve problems. Would we always be generous and less wasteful, eager to slow down to enjoy our families and our friends? Would we treasure life more now that we have seen how fragile it and our institutions can become? Would we be able to see how destructive our hubris can sometimes be and begin to value our differences?

The human experience is riddled  with instances of grave mistakes as well as stunning victories over injustice and evil. We seem to slowly work our way toward better versions of ourselves as long as we don’t get lost to temptations that interfere with our focus. We work best together when we are willing to tap into our more enlightened natures by a willingness to admit that we rarely have all of the answers. Perhaps we have been moving too quickly of late. Maybe we have been to busy competing with one another and building resumes of our accomplishments that are not particularly important. We have scurried about too quickly, forgetting to take the time to be still and hear the beating of our hearts and see the simple beauty that surrounds us.

This is indeed the most incredible event of my lifetime and I have seen quite a bit in my seventy one years. It has the potential to define us in the long stretch of history. We will eventually move on from this, but will we have learned from it? I know that I have been continually reminded of the wonderful people who are part of my life during the last few weeks. I have felt their love surrounding me. I want to cherish that feeling and never forget what it has meant to me. My hope is that the whole world will find renewed pleasure in the simple act of spreading kindness and understanding every moment of every day.

I am not so naive as to believe that this is a kumbayah moment in which humankind will shed every aspect of its darker side. People have endured plagues, wars, economic depressions and holocausts many times in the past and yet we still haven’t found a way to prevent those things from ever happening again. We fall back into our bad habits again and again which is why I find it somewhat hypocritical to denounce our ancestors when our own modern track record is not free from sins. Instead we must attempt to learn from mistakes and rectify them as best we can.

We’ve seen hoarders and thieves and individuals who have attacked Asians in the misplaced belief that they are somehow responsible for our present woes. At the same time we have witnessed even more signs of generosity, courage, brilliance and understanding. When all is said and done these are the qualities that will remind us of who are and should be as the human race.  Our questions right now should not dwell on judging others, but rather on how each of us might help. These are the things that will provide us with the optimism we need to build the future and take us out of the twilight zone.

   

Staying Apart To Come Together

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I am admittedly impatient. My personality is such that I prefer taking control of situations. I don’t like to like to wait around to see what is going to happen. I want to make a difference right now, do something to make things better not just for me but for others. When things take too long I become indignant and do everything possible to fix them immediately. Suddenly I’m caught up in a worldwide flood of uncertainty along with millions of my fellow humans while a tiny virus, invisible to the naked eye, is wreaking havoc and spreading fear. I’m watching life as we have all known it being put on hold. I am forced to reach deep inside of my psyche to find patience that I don’t always have.  Already the waiting challenges my normal need of control. Enforced social distancing leaves me to my thoughts which are racing in their usual breakneck pattern that tends to occur with or without a worldwide emergency. 

I am an empath, someone who literally feels others’ pain. I worry incessantly about how events will affect the people that I love. In all honesty I’ve had a very good run of seventy one years on this earth and if I were to contract the coronavirus and leave for heaven I’d want everyone to celebrate the wonder of my life and not waste tears. It’s the young folk and the future that concern me and I understand how tough and confusing this must feel to them, and even a bit unfair. I know all too well that you don’t always get what you want and that a bit of adversity toughens the spirit. I’ve been there done that more times than I care to remember and I’ve survived quite nicely, but I would not wish what is happening on any of our youth. Nor would I ever want them to know the bitter disappointments that have impacted my own life even though it is certain that they will have their own trials.

My seasonal allergies are causing my nose to run and my throat to hurt. I have no fever but I wonder if that weight on my chest is only evidence of the anxieties that have arisen in my mind or a sign that I’ve somehow contracted the virus. I know that I am overthinking this situation, but it is the way my mind operates. I am a teacher. I am trained to plan ahead, to see a thousand different things happening all at once, to know what my students are feeling, to be able to shift gears in a nanosecond, to be ever alert and protective, to take charge when danger lurks. I’ve already turned a room in my home into a virtual classroom. I will continue to work with my grandchildren and the little group of home-schooled children to whom I teach mathematics. I will keep calm and carry on, but I think about the impact that all of this will have on the youngest among us and I know that we will have to remember them and comfort them.

There are all of those youngsters who have spent months raising livestock to show at the Houston rodeo. I have two grandchildren who do such things. I know that they arise before dawn so that they will have time to feed and care for their animals before going to school. In the evening when they are tired and have mountains homework to do they must return to the barn again to repeat the process. They shortened summer vacations and Christmas visits with relatives because the animals depended on them. They spent a fortune in feed and veterinarian bills. The experience taught them to be dependable and no price can be placed on that, but the culmination of their hard work is to show their goats and pigs and steers and get recognition and money for their efforts that they set aside into their savings accounts for college or to purchase the next animal. What will happen now?

Hopefully there will be kind souls who make things right for them, but what about the other teens who have worked hard on projects about which most people are unaware?I’m talking about someone like my grandson who has been running since he was a little tyke in elementary school who earned the record for speed in his physical education class. Now he is a junior in high school at the peak of his skill. He runs all year long, even in the heat of summer to be ready to demonstrate his prowess in the spring track season. This is his junior year. If he is to catch the notice of a university that might be willing to offer him a scholarship it needs to happen now, but there may be no now for him. He’s been consistently winning in the few competitions that have already been held but what will happen to the rest of the season?

There is my granddaughter whose Vet Tech team was almost certainly headed to the state competition. They have worked incredibly hard and getting to the finals is more than just an honor. It is a way of getting FFA scholarships which require winners to have made it to at least one state run off. She worries that the opportunity for which she and her teammates have been working may never come.

Then there is another grandson who has been staying at school until well after nine at night to practice with the indoor percussion group of his band. They were slated to perform at a national competition in Ohio and the odds were rather good that they would earn a prize. Now that trip and future performances have been canceled and their efforts are in limbo.

Two other grandsons were supposed to receive their Aggie rings from Texas A&M University on April 18. This is a grand tradition celebrating thousands of hours of studying and learning. Now the rest of the semester on campus has been suspended. All classes will resume online. They must return home to uncertainty and a way of learning that doesn’t always work well for everyone.

So it is for our young all across the nation. Stories like those of my grandchildren’s are being repeated again and again. Not just disappointment but missed opportunities are suddenly the rule when only a week or so ago their plans seemed so exciting. While these sacrifices are nothing compared to the tragedy of those who are sick and dying, we should not minimize the impact that this will have on their futures.

To make matters worse we know that an even more pressing question concerns what will happen to the millions of working people who cannot earn a living from the solitude of their homes. What will happen to the hairdressers if the clients fail to come? How will the service industry stay afloat while social distancing becomes the norm? What will happen in my city, the energy capital of the nation, if the price of oil continues to tank? When will those 401ks stop bleeding form loss? Will the Teachers’ Retirement System be able to weather the disruption? Will the economy collapse in our effort to save lives? It’s suddenly a whole new world, a mind boggling reality unlike anything we have experienced, but it would be familiar to our grandparents. We need to remember their stories and the ways that they approached life. There is wisdom in the way they lived.

I have every confidence in myself, in the young and in the people of the world. We are a resilient lot and we will endure and overcome the challenges wrought by our current state of affairs, but I do not fool myself into believing that it will be easy. We are in for some difficult times and each and everyone of us will need to be ready to help and to rethink the way we have always done things.

I’ve already witnessed some promising ideas. There are school districts that plan to offer food service pickup to the families of students who need it along with online classes. There are good people who are already offering to purchase the livestock from those kids who were literally caught off guard by the cancellation of the rodeo. Teachers are revamping their lessons. Companies are finding alternative ways of doing business. Schedules are being redone. I even heard of a way to help our local business owners by purchasing gift certificates from them online to be used when this disruption has finally blown over. The important thing is to remember to check on your neighbors, call your friends, find out what members of your family may need. Be patient. Be kind. We are in for a bumpy ride and impatient souls like me will have to learn how to wait but with efforts by most everyone I believe we will ultimately be fine. As someone has said this experiment in social distancing may be the very thing that we need to come together.

We Can Do It!

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So here we are in early March, a time for the Houston Rodeo, Spring Break, March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Our nature is to enjoy the promise of this time of year when the flowers begin to bloom again, at least in my part of the world. We are creatures of habit and regardless of how much we protest any insinuation that we are not flexible, we feel the earth move a bit under our feet when things don’t go as planned.

We are a generally lucky lot here in the United States of America, at least those of us who are members of the middle class. We plan trips and decorate for Easter and watch sporting events on our big screen televisions. Worries come now and again but we generally work through them. Sometimes Mother Nature brings destruction to our front doors like it did when hurricane Harvey hit Houston, but we take pride in taking control of such situations and putting things back to normal as quickly as possible.

We Americans are notoriously independent souls. We don’t like to be told what to do. Some among us even insist that the government should stay out of our business as much as possible. We can be quite vocal and sometimes even a bit brash when it comes to our ideas about how things should be done, but more than anything we tend to think that we can conquer almost any challenge better than most. We got to the moon, didn’t we? Surely we’ve got the best of everything in the world! We don’t think of it as boasting because it seems to just be the truth.

Suddenly the whole world is turned upside down by a virus that is new and strange. We’re not completely sure what it will ultimately do or how we will put it down. Our instinct is to ignore it as long as it doesn’t come near us. We’ve been saved by those two big oceans that have protected us from wars and left us relatively unscathed by rumblings in other parts of the world for most of history until terrorists found a way to bring fear into our midst. Now we hear warnings that the current threat will not be intimidated by our advanced technology, or national wealth, or borders. It does not respect our traditions or our freedoms. It does not see us any differently than it does the citizens of Wuhan or Padua or Kirkland, Washington. To it our bodies are all just targets for destruction, some more vulnerable than others, but all capable of carrying the deadly disease deeper into our midst.

Leaders across the globe are making decisions without any guarantees. They may as well be blind because there is no certainty as to what will actually work to halt this novel virus. We cannot compare it to the flu or measles or any other known disease because we have no scientific basis of doing so. We have yet to learn all of its mysteries and capabilities. We only have numbers of the sick and dead and the anecdotal stories of those on the front line of the battle against it to guide us.

Covid 19 seems to affect the elderly in more dangerous ways, as well as those who have other health issues. Children and young adults seem to generally have milder cases, but they are not automatically immune to the more critical symptoms and everyone who becomes infected is a carrier. Nations that have insisted on enforcing social distancing protocols early on have generally done better than those that waited until the toll of sickness rose to unbearable numbers. At this very moment there are countries whose healthcare systems have been overwhelmed and the end to their trials does not yet seem in sight. They send furtive warnings to the rest of us to take cautionary measures before it is too late.

This virus is not just a seasonal flu that is being overblown. It is not a hoax. It is not the fault of China or Democrats or President Trump. How we handle it will surely define us in history. We can rise to the occasion and do whatever is needed to end the contagion as quickly as possible or we can whine about inconveniences that we do not normally have. We can demonstrate our concern for all people everywhere by doing our utmost to cooperate with the efforts to contain the virus or we can demonstrate a false bravado by ignoring the requests that we stay home as much as possible.

The NBA season is done for now. Tom Hanks and his wife Rita are among those who have the virus. The world seems to be spinning out of control, to have suddenly gone insane. It will be up to everyone of us to restore calm and reason by following directives and doing our individual best to comply with each request for temporary changes in our behavior. This is a time for prayer, not just for those who are ill but for those who might become that way as well as for the medical personnel across the globe who are or will be fighting this demon virus. This is the time for unity and mending of the divisions that have produced so much rancor in recent times. This is the time for understanding, compassion and flexibility. This is the time to remind the people in our lives how much we love them.

If all goes well most of us will never be personally affected by the horrors of this virus. Hopefully when all is said and done we will actually be able to wonder if it was all much ado about nothing or if we did indeed prevent a more horrific scenario by doing whatever was needed at each juncture of the battle. We can only hope that by this time next year we will have dodged a bullet but for now it is  time to arm ourselves with calm and the good sense to do what is asked of us. Nobody is immune from the consequences if we presume to know more than the good souls who are attempting to protect us. Take care. Keep in touch with one another. We are a strong species that has faced down danger before. We can do it but it will take the combined efforts of everyone!