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. 

 

Let’s Get Real

woman in green and white stripe shirt covering her face with white mask
Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

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.

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.

The Adult in the Room

Meme

Watching John Lewis’ casket being taken across the William Pettus bridge brought back so many difficult memories from my youth. The struggle for unfettered voting rights for Black Americans was a hard fought cause and John Lewis was in the middle of it. When he crossed that same bridge as a young man he almost died from a crushed skull, the result of being beaten by law officers. He survived to become a conscience for the nation and an unswerving warrior for civil rights. Somehow he always managed to deliver his points without violence and often with a forgiving heart. When a man who had brutally beaten him asked for forgiveness John Lewis humbly and graciously accepted. Congressman Lewis was always willing to make good trouble but he did so with love and a clear purpose.

I have been struggling with the scenes in Portland and other parts of the country and I find myself remembering another time from my early twenties. I became involved in a seemingly unending struggle with someone who was quite dear to me. We were both had good intentions but our ways of doing things were at odds. As we quibbled back and forth bad feelings arose and seemed to escalate each time we communicated. I truly cared about this person and I was gravely saddened by the realization that we were headed for a break up simply because we disagreed on how to resolve a particular situation. I finally consulted a priest for advice and he told me that in such cases someone has to agree to be the adult in the room. Sometimes that means just stepping aside so that the other person has time to cool down. He suggested that I needed to decide if the relationship was important enough that I would be willing to be the one who backed down.

I stewed over the priest’s idea for days but I still was not certain that I felt comfortable with an idea that felt like giving up, losing my principles. I consulted my mother who was the ultimate diplomat and lover of all people. Like John Lewis she was an incredibly forgiving person so it did not really surprise me when she counseled me to follow the wisdom of the priest. Happily I did exactly as suggested and things became calm once again. My friend and I continued to love and care for one another for decades.

I believe that there would be no better way to make an astounding point and also honor the great life of John Lewis than for every single protester to just go home and not return to the streets. They have made their message clear and now it is time to work within the system of laws to bring about change. Think of how stunning it would be if those embattled streets became quiet once again. It would be a more powerful message than partaking in a daily back and forth that will ultimately only be resolved in violence, destruction and maybe even death.

John Lewis and my priest understood the value of being strategic. Sometimes we get more things done by knowing when it is time to just let things simmer down. If the two sides of a disagreement stay at it for too long we end up with a Kent State or a Waco or a bombing in Oklahoma. It’s time for the protestors to be the adults in the room. It’s time for them to get back to the heart of their message which has been lost in the chaos. When there is too much noise or too many words people get confused and lose interest.

As a teacher I knew that I would never get the attention of my students by being brutal or unfair to them. They might toe the line for me but inside they would be seething and my words to them would be little more than babble. I had to first win their hearts before I was able to influence their minds. It took time and patience to get where we all needed to be.

I am greatly troubled because I know that the current state of the protests will ultimately end badly for everyone. I see no desire from our president to take the time to win hearts and minds. He is a believer in a stern approach rather than one that would involve making an attempt to hear and learn. I also think that the ranks of the peaceful protesters are being invaded by both forces intent on destroying their efforts and forces intent on anarchy. In other words it no longer appears to be about Black lives.

When the garbage strike was roiling in Memphis Dr. Martin Luther King went to support the workers. They planned a peaceful march through downtown. At some point their protest was overtaken by people intent on causing mischief. As violence broke out Dr. King insisted that the peaceful marchers disperse because he did not want the cause to be associated with brutality. I believe that his insistence on maintaining peace more loudly proclaimed the injustice than fighting back would have done.

My advice to anyone in any city who supports justice and equity for Black Americans is to go home. Undercut the racists who are using the unrest as a reason to defile the cause. The message has been heard but it will be defiled and forgotten if the unrest continues for too long. Be the adults in the room.

Our Moral Obligation

john lewis

Each of us look at the world a bit differently. Our beliefs about the world and the people around us begin in our childhoods. How much we are willing to trust others is often rooted in our relationships with our parents. Children model the behaviors that they see in their parents’ actions. Children adapt and learn inside their homes. If there is nurturing and ethical guidance they generally become confident, capable and compassionate adults. If there is neglect and physical or mental abuse they are more prone to struggle with dysfunctional behaviors. Bullies are not born. They are made.

Of course there are malfunctions of the brain that cause a variety of mental disturbances that do not reflect on family influences other than perhaps through genetics. Even in the best of situations mental illness can cause problems for both individuals and those close to them. Because we still have so much to learn about the how and why of our brain our treatments for psychological disorders are often limited and sometimes even ineffective. Still, the worst possible response to them is to simply ignore them.

As a teacher I often encountered young people whose behavior indicated either a psychological problem or a toxic home environment or both. Often such children were boastful, aggressive and mean. They had a kind of swagger and inflated sense of self importance. They dominated their peers and sought to dominate the teachers as well. They were masters of deceit and bravado. Generally nobody really liked them but followed them out of fear often emulating their mean spiritedness.

I worked in schools populated by gangs. There were leaders and their followers. It was a way of surviving in neighborhoods stalked by poverty and a lack of interest from the rest of society. Many of my students were virtually raising themselves and sometimes had the responsibility of caring for their younger siblings as well. Their fathers were in prison or had simply left the families to fend for themselves. Their mothers were sometimes “ladies of the night” addicted to alcohol and drugs. They had little guidance and had to navigate independently in the world far sooner than most of us ever must do. It was a harsh environment in which they learned how to adapt as best they could. Sometimes they became tough skinned, angry and mean.

I also worked in schools with middle to upper class students some of whom were living in emotional deserts. Their parents were well known and highly regarded in the community but they saw very little of them. Instead their care was relegated to hired helpers and they were given money to spend as they wished rather than time and attention. Their sense of what is important was confined to the satisfaction of their own desires. Their thoughts focused on things rather than people. They were boastful and domineering for many of the same reasons as the gang leaders I had encountered in my other schools. They were feared by their followers rather than loved.

Generally the healthy and happy children grow into successful adults who rise to the challenges of responsibility. Society has tended to value character over brutishness in selecting people to lead. From time to time a scarred and pitiless bully has incited the fears of enough of a citizenry to overtake the reigns of power but here in the United States we have mostly been wary of such persons. They have tended to be outliers operating on the fringes of influence but of late their tactics are more and more often viewed as a sign of strength and wisdom and even goodness. Meanness has been elevated to an acceptable way of life and it has been accompanied by an unwillingness to call it out.

The effect has been to divide us into “gangs,” tribes, groups warring with one another over our differences. Once beloved friends and family members are turning on one another simply because they have opposing points of view. Rational discussions have been replaced with accusations, stereotyping and name calling. Each side believes that the other is destroying our country. Politics have become a zero sum game that brooks no compromise. Our vocabulary is filled with hyperbole that only further increases our differences. We are being led by dysfunctional souls who were never taught how to love and lead with compassion. They care nothing for us and yet we blindly follow them because winning means more to us than doing what is right.

We are essentially on our own in one of the most critical times in our nation’s history. We now wee entire races of people described by single words and phrases like thugs, criminals, rioters, rapists, purveyors of kung flu. The most broken among us have taken up the cadence of hate. They attack an Asian woman in a grocery store as though she has single handedly caused all of the misery of our pandemic.

We see classifications of entire age groups of people with dismissive descriptions like snowflakes, millennials, Boomers. We more and more hear women being called nasty or “Karens” or skanks who have slept their way to the top. We can’t even agree on whether or not Covid-19 is a hoax or on the necessity of wearing masks to save lives without enduring vitriol. It is as though we have given up even trying to get along or be kind.

It would be easy to lay the blame for our difficulties at the feet of a single individual but our problems are much deeper than that. Ours is a nation of freedom and democracy. Nobody is forcing us to think or behave in a particular way. We have made our own choices and at least for now we are allowing and even encouraging the ugly behaviors. We have made those who would stand up for what is right and just afraid and in our frustration we are faced with the recklessness of protesting as a last resort. In other words we have brought this on ourselves and it will be up to us to end it.

Our nation is our child and we have been neglectful. We have looked away too often when problems arise. We have allowed inappropriate verbal tantrums when we should have corrected them. We have become afraid to do want we know is right. It’s time we model the behaviors that we want to see. We must demonstrate a willingness to work together with respect and dignity. We must once again value every person and relearn the ways of honoring our differences. As grown ups it’s time we set things right. It is our moral obligation to do so.