Let’s Get Real

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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.

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.

The Trifecta

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Who knew that 2020 would bring us a trifecta of Covid-19, civil unrest, and an election year? Sadly our national response to all of it has turned into a three ring circus. It surely would have been nice to watch our governmental representatives forego their usual baiting and backbiting in favor of just doing the right thing to keep things calm and focused on getting our people and our systems well.

Of course it appears that such cooperative thinking is a thing of the past, something relegated to the World War II era when Franklin Roosevelt was president and George H.W. Bush’s Republican father worked with FDR. Or maybe we saw something similar after hurricane Katrina when George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton traveled together across the country raising funds to help rebuild New Orleans. Anyway we’ve been left to our own resources and luckily there are still heroes quietly working to set things right. It seems that emergencies almost always show us both our dark and bright sides and the good will always rise to the occasion.

At the dawn of 2020 I had to change my medical insurance because my former carrier had dropped the doctors that I see. I had done a great deal of research before choosing the medical team that keeps me as healthy as a seventy one year old might be so I was surprised that my insurance company thought that my loyalty would be directed toward them. I feel the same way about politicians, well meaning friends, personalities and random medical folks who attempt to dissuade me from following the advice of my carefully chosen physicians. I really have no interest in hearing from any of these sources because I know for a fact that my doctors do a great deal of research in addition to treating me and their other patients. If there is some wonderful cure or preventive measure out there I believe that they will find it and alert me to it just as they often do with other aspects of my health. So in the meantime, I plan to stick with the advice that they provide me which so far has been to wear a mask, keep a distance from other people, avoid crowds, stay at home when there is an outbreak in my area, follow proper hygiene procedures, continue to exercise, eat healthy meals, and take my medications.

If by some chance I actually contract Covid-19 I will contact my primary care physician and take his advice on what to do next. So I really wish that those who think they are being helpful with their suggestions would understand that I do not take medical advice from lay people. I stick with the professionals many of whom are in my family circle and among my friends. Since they are highly respected and credentialed doctors and physician’s assistants I count their information as being far more valid and useful than those whose expertise is questionable at best.

When it comes to the our present state of civil unrest it appears that we have mostly chosen sides and instead of making attempts to actually consider alternative ideas we are so tightly wound to our own thinking that we have lost any ability to bring the stand off to a mutually beneficial end. We have become like the differing religious sects in the Middle East who refuse to find ways of coming together. Hopefully we do not resort to all out war like they have.

I have decided that the only way to safely voice my own concerns will be in the sanctity of the voting booth. I do not need to explain my choices nor does anyone else and I will not be gathering my information on the issues and candidates from memes or questionable videos. I do a great deal of research before I make my decisions and I have never been bound to any one party, idea or candidate. In fact I abhor the lemming like behavior that I witness all too of late. I tend to believe that every single candidate has both good and bad ideas and so I weigh the facts and decide from there. I am wary of soundbites and instead look for overall abilities and behaviors. In the past I have voted all over the political map and generally felt quite satisfied with my choices even when my favorites were defeated. I like to go to sleep each night believing that I have done enough homework to make wise choices.

Since so much of the disastrous situation in which we find ourselves embroiled is only being stoked by the very people who are supposed to be our leaders it would be nice if we would all come together on our own to quash the hoax theories and the concerted attempts to drive us apart. We should not be challenging one another to love this country in exactly the same ways or leave. Not even our Founding Fathers thought it was a good idea to be tied to identical philosophies. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson argued about what was best for the nation until the day on which they both died. Some thought that Alexander Hamilton’s nationalization of banking would lead to the demise of the fledgling country. In the end it was the saving grace. In truth no single one of these men had everything right nor were they perfect so why should we suddenly believe that we have unflawed individuals in our midst today who must be followed at all cost or we will all be doomed? It is a dangerous game to blindly follow anyone. We have to be willing to be honest when assessing the character of our leaders. When they are wrong we have to be willing to say so, otherwise we give them permission to be authoritarian. 

I suspect the the rest of this year of 2020 will be as rocky as it has been all along. I fear that our trifecta of problems will only be exacerbated in the coming months as the political campaigns heat up even more. As the saying goes we need to buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. God help us!

Truth Is Beautiful

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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.

Good Trouble

good trouble

I have not said much about the death of John Lewis even though I have wanted to do so. I’ve been a bit too weepy thinking about his life story to be able to put my thoughts on paper in a coherent manner. Losing one of the last of the big Civil Rights leaders has brought back so many memories of a lifetime ago. I had thought or perhaps wanted to believe that the racial animus of my childhood was long gone. I actually believed at times that Congressman Lewis may have been exaggerating the extent of modern day problems  with race. All of that changed in the last few years as I observed an underbelly of our nation that seemed to be festering and growing like a toxic virus. I have been stunned by racism that I have seen and heard that should have died long ago. I knew that we have yet to complete the journey to justice and equality for all that he fought for so courageously for all of his life.

John Lewis was a young man when he decided to join in the struggle for freedom alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jim Lawson, and others. He was so passionate about the cause that not even multiple arrests and life threatening injuries were able to dampen his spirit. He marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday only to be viciously attacked. His skull was crushed but not his fervor. He often admonished all of us to engage in such “good trouble.”

When John Lewis was asked to speak at the famous march on Washington D.C. he prepared a speech that was so incendiary that his elders asked him to tone it down. He learned from them and always lived their creed of nonviolence and persuasion. He became known as a genuinely kind person. People described him as compassionate and sweet but he remained a fighter for the good of all people for the totality of his life.

I once visited Selma with a group of minority students. We stood in front of the church where John Lewis and others had gathered for their ill fated march to Montgomery, Alabama which was short circuited as they went over the rise of the Edmund Pettus bridge. They were greeted by law officers and snarling dogs who set on them with clubs, beating them to the ground. It was one of the ugliest moments in the history of our country and it changed the hearts and minds of people around the world.

As I walked across the bridge with my students so many years later I felt the spirit of those people who fought so valiantly for their right to vote. We were a motley group with our crew of black and brown students being led by mostly white teachers. We attracted a bit of attention and eventually we were even followed by a clearly marked sheriff’s car. When we got to the crest of the bridge I became breathless as I stared down its length and imagined how those brave souls, including John Lewis, must have felt on that fateful day.

Eventually our journey took us to Montgomery, Alabama where we once again reenacted history by walking toward the State Capitol building. I literally felt the living presence of the souls who had endured such “good trouble” to make the rest of us aware of the problems that they faced. I felt honored and humbled to walk in their shadows.

Now one of the greats among us is gone but I believe we can learn from him. I would tell the Black Lives Matter movement that their message is important but they need to be more tactical in the things they do and say. The protests of the era when John Lewis was young always had a specific message and purpose. They were respectful and nonviolent. They were not damaging to communities. They won the respect of the world with their passive resistance.

Today’s protests too often lose their focus. Looting never helps the cause no matter how many attempts there are to rationalize it. Destroying property only plays into the hands of the very people who have racist views. Being distracted by monuments and statues draws attention away from the real issues and results in only cosmetic changes. John Lewis understood all of these things and if the new era of protestors have any thought of honoring him they will study and follow his way of doing things. They will focus on voting rights and other systemic changes, not trivial symbolism.

It’s easy for a city to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee but if they do not also discuss changes that provide justice for Black Americans little will actually change. The Black Lives Matter movement is gaining support all over the world but it must be careful not to overdo. People become easily bored with a continual cadence that is not backed up with a seeable, doable plan. Now is an opportunity to honor a great man, John Lewis, by asking what he would do and then agreeing to make some “good trouble” with a clear goal that everyone can understand.