Take the Politics Out of Covid-19

texas-tracker

Just when I thought I it might be safe to get out and about once again the numbers of Covid-19 cases in my part of Texas are continuing to rise. Our hospitals are filling at a frightening pace so quickly that our renowned Texas Children’s Hospital has agreed to provide medical services for adults. It is a disturbing situation that I saw coming but, I hoped against hope that I was wrong. Sadly the fight against the virus became political almost from the onset when it should have been a collective community and national effort to do whatever was needed to get things under control. While the doctors and nurses in my family and circle of friends were warning me to stay the course of precaution I saw the process devolve all around me. Now the predictions of the medical experts regarding the dangers of ignoring this deadly illness are coming true.

Many weeks ago the Harris County Judge, Lina Hidalgo and the Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, mandated that all citizens wear masks in public places. They also created an overflow medical facility at the Reliant Center in the event that the local hospitals became overwhelmed. At the same time the Lieutenant Governor of our the state of Texas, Dan Patrick, was insisting that businesses needed to open up and that anyone who was afraid should just stay home. All the while President Trump refused to wear a mask to any of his briefings or appearances, boasting that he was not afraid. Never mind that he is quite possibly the most protected individual in the entire country considering that everyone who comes near him gets regularly tested. He continually bragged that he had lead the best response to the virus in the entire world and insisted that the growing numbers of cases were there only because of all the testing that was taking place for everyone else. Before long he had managed to turn the pandemic into an election issue rather than a national emergency, resulting in his followers ignoring much of the advice coming from medical experts.

Along the way Trump supporters in Houston launched a lawsuit against the mandate to wear masks. Before long wearing one had become more of a choice than a rule. The governor ignored the guidelines for reopening businesses that had been created by the CDC and the Covid 19 task force. Here in the Houston area people were hurling insults at Lina Hidalgo, calling her an “Hispanic Nazi” for daring to require citizens to wear masks. They criticized both her and the mayor for wasting taxpayer funds on an overflow hospital that they believed would likely never be used. They rushed back to normal as quickly as possible, crowding beaches and bars and tubing along the rivers in the Texas hill country. They were determined to get on with living and they spoke of their belief that all of us had been duped by a hoax designed to make our president and our state leaders look bad. They insisted that after the November elections were over the virus would miraculously disappear. They turned all of the efforts to control the virus into a political battle and created an unnecessary division between those who wanted to move more cautiously and those who laughed at the very idea that Covid 19 was any worse than the ordinary flu.

None of this ever needed to happen. The efforts to contain the spread of Covid 19 should have been a united goal devoid of even a taint of politics. We should have been working together as a nation, supporting any city, town or state that needed help. Our guidance should have erred on the side of caution. We should have been willing to see ourselves as one people with a common goal. Each individual should have been eager to make sacrifices and help in the effort. We should have listened to the medical experts and allowed them to guide all of our decisions. We should have been patient and willing to proceed forward with great care.

There will be those who will blame the resurgence on the protestors who have filled the streets night after night. There will be others who will say that it came from Memorial Day partying. There are claims that the increases are coming from migrant workers and people in meat packing plants. Others will point to political rallies in enclosed spaces. Some will simply hurl racist accusations at China, insulting our Asian Americans with taunts of “kung flu.” Sadly each of those explanations point to how broken we have become during all of this when we might have demonstrated more strength of character just as our parents and grandparents did during World War II. Somehow instead we are talking over one another and ignoring the realities of what we should be doing. This should always have been a medical issue rather than a political one. 

We will probably never know exactly why Covid 19 has refused to release the grip it has on our country. I don’t think that blaming it on any specific group serves to make things better. What I do believe is that every effort should be focused on what is good for the people of this country. It is not too late to focus on those who are sick and dying. We still have time to move beyond our differences and agree to do what is best for the protection of the many. If we continue to refuse to do this I fear for the toll that Covid 19 will take on all of us. If our leaders won’t lead us we need to take the reins and do the right thing without them. We must take the politics out of Covid-19.

A Time To Share

Unemployment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His Life Was Profound

27georgefloyd-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600

I think it is time to look for a moment at the life of Floyd George. He was born in North Carolina but grew up in Houston’s third ward, an area that I have known since my childhood. I hate to admit it but when I was just a youngster in the nineteen fifties it was often referred to with a very racist and ugly description using the “N” word followed by “town.” We often drove through the area on the way to my grandmother’s house and even as a small child I noticed the poverty and horrific conditions. I even recall asking my parents one time why we made black people live away from us and why they had separate schools and public facilities. I was told that it was just the way things were and that we all had to follow the rules. It was one of the few times that I did not think that my parents had hung the moon. Even as a seven year old I somehow understood that the treatment of black citizens was unfair.

George Floyd, or Floyd as his family and friends called him, would have been living in the third ward at a time after segregation. He was young enough to have been my son and I might have taught him at school had he and his family moved just a bit farther down the road in the southeast part of Houston. Instead he grew up in a part of town where people often struggled to make ends meet. He found a place for himself in athletics at Yates High School where he was the tight end on a football team that went all the way to the state finals. He also excelled at basketball and when one of his coaches landed a job at South Florida State College he was recruited. His college career only lasted two years but his coach and the coach’s wife would always remember Floyd as a sweet and gentle soul who made them smile.

Floyd stayed in touch with all of his old teammates many of whom enjoyed success as professional athletes and coaches. They had a kind of brotherhood from their high school days that kept them close even as the years passed. Floyd struggled to find his own success and to care for his wife and family. Eventually he had a brush with the law and spent five years in prison. He paid his dues and became determined to clean up his life. A buddy convinced him to relocate to Minnesota for a new start and Floyd saw the opportunity as one that might be just the ticket he needed.

Floyd was a good man with a big heart. He had learned from his own mistakes and he wanted to teach young people the importance of eschewing violence and seeking a good and honest life. He worked at a restaurant and club as a security officer and supplemented his salary there by driving a truck. His bosses and the customers he encountered all remember him as an optimistic sweet and happy soul who would have taken the shirt off of his back to help someone in need. Life seemed to be working well for him until Covid-19 struck and he lost his jobs.

We know the rest of Floyd’s tragic story all too well. By way of video we were eyewitnesses to his death. We saw the gentle giant breathe his last as a police officer calmly kept him pinned to the ground even as he struggled to hang onto life. It was an horrific end to a story that is all too often repeated in our society but rarely played out so publicly. Still there is so much more to George Floyd than we will ever see. He is so much more than a tragic victim of police brutality.

His family is in a state of disbelief that their beloved brother, cousin, father would have died in such an horrific manner. His friends who played with him at Yates High School wonder how this could have happened to such a kind person. Even his second grade teacher remembers a sweet  little boy who so seemed to be heading for a promising life that she saved samples of his work. Nobody who knew Floyd thought of him with anything other than admiration. He was in their words the kind of person who was always helping, alway protecting and somehow when he needed help and protection most it was not there.

George Floyd is coming back home to Houston this week. The alumni association of Yates High School has already honored him as the fine athlete that everyone knew. His family has asked that everyone respect his peaceful nature when using him as a symbol. The Houston police force wants to provide an escort for his funeral just as they would if an officer had fallen. The people back home are heartbroken that one of our hometown citizens had his life ended so tragically. His death hurts us all.

George Floyd is so much more than just symbol of discrimination and its effects on black lives. He was someone who was loved. He was joyful, someone who encouraged and supported everyone that he met. He liked to give hugs. He was someone whose impact on people was profound even before that fateful moment when he died. Let us not forget his vibrancy. Let us remember him with love.

In Memoriam

arlington

Memorial Day is always a pensive time for me on so many levels. This year I felt the spirit of all of the souls who lost their lives in the service of our country more than ever. I also thought of those who made it through wars but whose lives were forever changed by memories of battles that they fought. War is a terrible thing and we have generally tried very hard to use it as a last resort. Nonetheless even now we have soldiers serving in war torn countries knowing that they may lose their lives at any moment. Such courage is difficult to understand but many who served in the military have told me that in the heat of a battle the focus becomes the preservation of the members of the corps. It is all about attempting to insure that everyone survives and leaves the battlefield alive. That profound human instinct to protect takes over to create magnificent acts of heroism.

I am a pacifist by nature but I understand that there are indeed times that require humans to defend themselves, their families, their country. If I had my way diplomacy would be rational and powerful enough to end war forever but I know that somehow people have a very difficult time setting aside their differences in a spirit of compromise. Throughout history we have found ourselves engaged in combat again and again and our young men have been called upon to fight. On Memorial Day we remember those whose lives were cut short and while we honor them, we also silently wonder why they had to much such a profound sacrifice for the rest of us.

I spent time this past weekend watching some movies about the brave men who have fought for our cause. First I viewed Glory, one of my all time favorite films. I cannot watch it without ultimately sobbing. It encapsulates the mixed emotions that surround the history of our country including perhaps the worst political mistake we ever made in allowing slavery to coexist with the ideals of democracy. While the nation was growing and prospering the politics of slavery that divided the people became more and more inflamed ultimately pitting state against state, region against region, brother against brother.

My great grandfather who was living in Kentucky chose to fight for the union forces. He spent four years first as a foot soldier and then a calvary man. The war placed a toll on his health. Somehow he was never as robust as he had once been and surely the horrors that he witnessed must have haunted him. His unit was tasked with collecting the bodies of the dead and wounded soldiers after the battle of Shiloh. It had to have been a gruesome sight that haunted him even as he settled into a somewhat normal existence had began a family. I think of them often and feel both pride for his service and regret that he had to endure such a thing. 

I also watched We Were Soldiers another film that brings out emotions from my youth. It takes place during the Vietnam War in the year when I was a senior in high school. Seeing the brutality of the battle it depicts only reinforces the sorrow that I felt whenever I learned of the death of someone who had been a classmate or a friend. While many of them had enlisted, others were drafted into service. The country was conflicted about the necessity of our involvement in what was essentially a civil war in a place so far away from home. While it was touted as a stand against communism it became clear over time that somehow we were outsiders attempting to protect Vietnam from a war that the Viet Cong was determined to win no matter how long it took.

The wall in Washington D.C. lists the names of all of the almost sixty thousand souls that we lost in that effort. I am haunted by the humanity of it each time I visit and run my fingers over the names of those that I knew. They were brave individuals who believed that theirs was a just cause but to this very day I wonder if losing them might have been prevented if we had known beforehand how the conflict would ultimately end. How different would their lives and the lives of those who loved them be if they had never gone to Vietnam? 

History, and particularly military history, is riddled with questions. It is easier to see the might have beens in retrospect. An armchair general can consider what went wrong with great clarity but the reality is that we will never really know what would have happened if we had chosen different routes. Wars are caused when humans cannot agree on how the world should be. Our young people go out to fight the battles for the philosophies of politicians and sometimes tragically lose their lives. I consider how wonderful it would be if we never had to engage our youth in such horrors ever again while realistically understanding that such an ideal will never come to pass.

This Memorial Day was haunted by the growing divide amongst us regarding Covid-19, a virus that has taken close to one hundred thousand souls in a span of  only three months. While the disease stalks the world in search of bodies to invade we argue with one another and point fingers at those who are attempting to lead us. We choose sides and sometimes even viciously attack those whose beliefs differ from our own while our courageous essential workers have been drafted into the role of keeping us safe. It is a new kind of battle with so much uncertainty that none of us can truly know exactly how to react.

I cannot understand why we humans choose to argue with one another so often and why we so seldom choose to find a road that eschews hostility. Perhaps it is in our natures, something that we have never been able to totally control. We have gone to war with one another in an endless loop of death and destruction that rears its head more often than we wish and yet we still work at odds with one another and follow those who actually encourage us to do so. We repeat the mistakes and the sins of our ancestors because in the end we are not so different from them. Memorial Day should always remind us of the cost of disagreements that become so entrenched that we no longer communicate. The spirits of all of the lost humanity should spur us to find ways of loving instead of fighting. 

Life Will Go On

lv-circle-of-life920I’m reminded every May 31, just how difficult life can be. Of course that is the anniversary of my father’s death. I might have forgotten exactly when he left this earth but for the fact that his fatal accident coincided with Memorial Day of 1957, a time when it was celebrated on May 31 rather than the last Monday of May. I have not celebrated that holiday from that fateful time. Having it roll around each year is like rubbing salt in the wound that scarred my heart back when I was an eight year old child.

I am essentially an optimistic soul. I learned soon enough after my father died that our little family would survive. My mother kept us safe and sound and family and friends continuously rallied to our sides whenever we needed anything. My youth was idyllic save for the loss of my dad. I adjusted to the new normal but never really got over the void in my life that his death created. With each passing year after he was gone I found myself wondering what he would have been thinking about how my brothers and I had developed. I felt his influence on us genetically and in the memories that he left for us. Somehow he was always a factor in our lives even in his absence.

As time has passed I see my father in my brothers and in my nephews and even some of my grandchildren. I suppose that unbeknownst to me there are also hints of ancestors whom we never met in me and my brothers. The circle of life on this earth is an infinite loop that may at times appear to be bleak but the progression and evolution of humanity always finds a way to continue.

I have been cautioned by the doctors in my family to wait out the reopening of the country for another three or four weeks. Covid-19 still restricts me but i refuse to allow it to overwhelm me regardless of how it presents itself in the future. I have learned that I am capable of dealing with great sorrow and even fearful moments. I know that I will handle whatever blows the virus sends me and the members of my family.

If all of us are very lucky we will be laughing and celebrating our good fortune as the weeks and months go by and Covid-19 vanishes with little more than a whimper. If instead the virus battles on with a vengeance I am prepared to do my part in fighting back with everything that I have inside me. Experience has taught me to be patient when times get tough. I have learned that there is light even in the darkest hours. When I battled the mental illness that infected my mother I would sometimes become angry and frustrated, but I always knew that determination and time were on my side. Over and over my brothers and I were able to get her the therapies and medications that she needed to become whole again.

Life is littered with ups and downs and in this moment it feels as though the downs are overtaking all of us. Nonetheless as I look around I see the points of light that will guide us to better days. Our future joy is not to be found in false promises that are unlikely to unfold but in the quiet work of people whose goal is the betterment of all of us. The doctors and nurses and aides and researchers who continue to provide us not just with care but with facts and truths about how we should contend with the virus are heroes with no hidden agendas. They are not running for office or lining their pockets with profits. They are driven by the sole purpose of keeping us safe. When I think of them I believe that we may be wounded but we will not be crushed. This makes me smile.

I see stories about ordinary citizens making masks and little children raising funds to help those who are in financial trouble. I watch the good news from John Krasinski and I see the kind of hope that has guided me through every juncture of life. I smile at the earnestness of people all over the globe who are doing phenomenal jobs of dealing with the health and economic blows that have been inflicted on them. I laugh at the jokes that lighten our spirits remembering all the times that my father roared with delight over a good cartoon or satire. I feel him telling me to lighten up and look around at the positives that are everywhere.

I’ve made it through one more Memorial Day. I’m now more than twice as old as my father was when he died. I’ve overcome one crisis after another. Like my father I have a great interest in history. I read all of the time. I have learned that the world has been on the brink many times over. Somehow we have overcome evil, war, disease and natural disasters each and every time that they have threatened us.

While I tend to think that we have not yet seen the worst of the effects of Covid-19 I revel in the thought that we will find a way to extricate ourselves from its deadly grip. Life will go on. Memorial Day will return and my father’s spirit will be part of future generations. It has always been the way we survive.