Early Morning

As our election nears and Covid-19 seems unwilling to just go away it is increasingly difficult to find a sense of calm. Our nation is generally riled up and there is an uneasiness even between friends and family members who disagree on how to bring a semblance of normalcy back into our lives. As we navigate through the emotional waters each day we search for moments of serenity, for surely if we do not calm down we will find ourselves in the middle of an eruption that makes the first presidential debate appear to be a model of congeniality. Feelings are not just being worn on our sleeves but consume our entire beings as we worry about the future of of families and our nation. We know that the intensity is not good for our mental health, but what are we to do?

I have found that just ignoring reality is unlikely to cure our woes. There are moments in life that we must face head on. Doing research, reading about the issues and then settling on a possible personal solution gives us a sense of at least being in control of our own thoughts. Such contemplation requires finding a quiet spot where we feel comfortable and able to sort out the confusion of our minds. It is a luxury in which we should indulge especially if we feel as though we are surrounded by chaos. We owe it to ourselves to pray and meditate rather than ceaselessly worry. Sometimes doing so may require us to arise before the rest of the household is awake or wait until they have all gone to sleep in the dark of night. 

In my recent travels to Colorado I stayed in a cabin atop Storm Mountain about fifteen miles from Estes Park. Each morning just before the sun arose a nearby rooster awakened me with his crowing. His cries for the start of a new day occurred just as the sun began to rise over the horizon when there was still a kind of chill in the air. I found myself following his command to awaken. I’d don my slippers and put a warm sweater over my pajamas and tiptoe into the kitchen to prepare a cup of tea. I’d sit on the porch of the cabin to watch that little slice of the world slowly coming to life. I found great comfort in the simplicity of the routine. 

Not far from where I was staying wildfires were burning. The news of our country and the world continued at its frantic pace. I worried about my aunt who was seriously ill with Covid-19. Reality still lurked behind the curtain of the pastoral scene but somehow that rooster and those early morning sunrises reassured me that I was part of a history far grander than the tiny moment of the present. The cycle of life is as steady as the rotation of the earth as it revolves around the sun. The year 2020 is but one of thousands, perhaps a bit trying but no more important to the cadence of life than the one in which my great grandfather awoke to don his military uniform for war against his once fellow Americans. The present is but a point on a continuum of human attempts to survive. The truth is that somehow we always find a way to overcome the most horrific moments even as our lives are utterly changed by them.

I am back home now and there is no rooster to foretell of the coming day but I somehow hear him in my heart. I still arise to the quiet of the house. I wait for the sun with my cup of tea. I listen to the sounds of my neighbors leaving for work or boarding buses to travel to school. I close my eyes and see the valley of Storm Mountain in my mind. I revel in the peacefulness of the image that will not forsake me. I say my morning prayers and check to see what has happened during the night. I plow on and even though doing so feels so much more difficult than it did a year ago I understand that there is a constancy in our human determination to make things right even as we struggle with so many difficulties that were once unimaginable. 

I suppose that we each have different ways of dealing with challenges but I worry about those who seem unable to confront their anxieties. They appear to lie to themselves about reality and pretend that just indulging themselves will chase away their fears. They do not want to sacrifice or change or gaze upon upsetting ideas. They attempt to make the rest of the world fit neatly into their own preferences. They avoid anything that upsets them, isolating themselves into a world of their own making that has no room for differences that they are unwilling to accept.

We are all in this crazy moment together. We are not just one family, one city, one state, one country but most importantly one world. The rooster on Storm Mountain will crow just as magnificently whether he is there or in Africa or the Middle East or Europe or South America. He will adapt to his environment just as we too must do when things change. Our best moments have always come when we agreed to work together. 

I have faith the we will ultimately use our talents to lift ourselves from all of the difficulties that plague us just as that rooster uses his. My early morning meditations and readings have assured me that good ultimately triumphs but it only happens when each of us is willing to do some heavy lifting and make necessary sacrifices for the common good. 

Traveling In the Time of Covid-19

Traveling in the time of Covid-19 can be rather difficult. I have no desire to risk getting on a plane and I have yet to eat inside a restaurant since the pandemic came to our shores. I am not particularly confident that a hotel room will be as clean as I wish it to be. That’s why our little trailer suddenly became one of the best investments that we have ever made. 

Our first journey was only about four hours away from home. It was a great practice run for a trip that we recently made to Colorado. We managed to spend eleven days away from home and not once eat out or stay in a motel. With a bit of planning we were a self contained unit that travelled a contactless  two thousand miles. We stayed in lovely RV parks the whole time with only minimal and brief interactions with strangers, always with our masks clamped tightly on our faces. 

We drove from the Houston area to Ardmore, Oklahoma on the first day, arriving in mid afternoon. We had decided not to beat ourselves to death by driving into the night. Ours was a relaxing vacation that gave us time for leisurely evenings of dinner and movies in our little home on wheels. The park in Ardmore was spotlessly clean and even boasted an on site RV repairman. Our site gave us a view of a little manmade lake perched next to a swimming pool. We decided that this might be a great place for a short get away even after Covid-19 is little more than a horrid memory. 

Our next stop was in Russell, Kansas another rather delightful little park where we enjoyed a fall breeze over a glass of wine. Along the way we had viewed well manicured farms and the glory of middle America so our evening was filled with commentaries about the beauty of mid America and our gratefulness for those who farm to keep our tables filled with bounty.

By day three we had reached Loveland, Colorado where we parked our trailer for the next five days. We headed to my brothers’ cabin in Drake which is fifteen miles from Estes Park. We met up with my brother and sister-in-law who, like us, had been self quarantined since early March. We felt quite certain that everyone was Covid free because we had not been exposed to people during all of the ensuing months. 

We enjoyed the wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park for days. Timed reservations are in effect to keep crowding down. Everyone that we encountered was wearing masks and we complied as well. It was only when nobody was nearby that we removed the cloth coverings from our faces. We became accustomed to wearing them and sometimes even forgot that they were still on our faces when we returned to the car. Compiling with safety measures was a very small price to pay for the glorious luxury of enjoying the wonders of nature.

The Rocky Mountain National Park area is stunningly beautiful at this time of year. The trees are gloriously shimmering with leaves of yellow, gold, orange and red. We found ourselves in awe at virtually every turn. We took hikes and snapped photos all along the way and returned to the cabin each evening filled with a joy that we had not experienced for many months.

I suppose that because there were fewer people everywhere the wildlife was more abundant than I had ever before seen. We even had a moose run past us while we were sitting beside a river. I finally saw bighorn sheep walking along the edges of outcroppings and heard the bugling of a male elk. Even the rooster that lives near the cabin where we were staying seemed to be crowing a bit more jubilantly than usual. 

We did very little in Estes Park, a lovely town filled with little shops that we have rarely failed to explore. This time we agreed that we would not push our luck by visiting each store but we wanted some taffy and felt comfortable going inside to purchase it because of the strenuous mandates for safety. The county rules insisted that only four people be inside the small stores at any time and everyone had to wear masks. All of the precautions were strictly and rather cheerfully enforced which greatly elevated our comfort levels. 

In the evenings we might have built a fire but a burn ban was in effect. Not far from the cabin firefighters were battling a wildlife that has already consumed thousands of acres. We checked the fire reports each day to determine whether there was impending danger on Storm Mountain where we were staying. Luckily our area was spared. 

On one of our daily excursions we drove past the Longs Peak area to get better photos of that magnificent mountain. Along the way we encountered St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church where we stopped to say a few prayers. Then we browsed in the quaint gift shop.. I decided to purchase a rosary to say some prayers for my Aunt Valeria who had been battling Covid-19. She is one hundred one years old and I had been greatly concerned about her. I told the cashier why I wanted the lovely beads and she urged me to go back to the church to put my aunt’s name in the register. She indicated that a prayer group would pray for her that very afternoon, so I did as she requested. Later that evening I learned that my Aunt Valeria had somewhat improved so I celebrated that small victory with my family. Only last week my aunt tested negative for the virus and was steadily becoming stronger. Somehow I felt that my chance encounter had led to some powerful heavenly interventions on her behalf.

We had so much fun being out in the world once again and sharing time with my brother and sister-in-law. We talked and played games and laughed and enjoyed good home cooking every single day. This turned out to be one of the best vacations I have ever had. It’s simplicity made it even more meaningful. There was healing power in warmth and friendship, being in close proximity to nature, and watching humanity making the best of a difficult situation. 

We headed back home by retracing our steps in reverse. Once again our little trailer accommodated us well. I am ready to face a few more months of whatever comes our way because I now know that we can hitch up and take off and still feel the freedom of the road any time that we become bogged down with the weight of the world. 

Hubris

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My husband was a banker by profession and he was quite good at what he did. He had all sorts of customers who did everything from plumbing to exterminating. He use to joke with them that if he needed to unclog a sink or get rid of bugs he would call one of them and in turn they should allow him to help take care of their financial needs. In other words, it is a good idea to rely on experts when we have a particular problem. 

Long ago I gathered with several of my aunts and uncles to learn how a psychiatrist intended to treat my mother’s bipolar disorder. He outlined a plan which I proceeded to tear apart point by  point. Eventually my Uncle William intervened and asked me why I thought I knew more than the man who had been trained to deal with mental illness. He suggested that we at least try the therapies that the doctor had suggested. I deferred to my uncle’s wisdom and the doctor’s expertise.

When Covid-19 first came to our attention the medical community pointed out that it was a novel coronavirus and that they were still determining how it worked and how to deal with it. They adjusted their advice as they learned more and more about the best therapies. One thing that never really changed was their insistence that we were in the midst of a worldwide pandemic with very serious consequences. They asked us to take precautions for our own sakes and those of others around us. Eventually they knew enough to recommend that we all wear masks, avoid crowds, and keep a distance of about six feet from others. They were especially concerned about anyone who had preexisting health conditions and the older population.

For some reason there was a push back from a rather large segment of society. There were many who downplayed the severity of the virus and even suggested that it was a hoax. Some folks played a game of Russian roulette and when they did not contract Covid-19 they became more and more convinced that they were invincible. They began to flaunt all of the rules and even go so far as to poke fun at anyone who chose to be cautious. Their hubris made it more and more difficult for the more circumspect citizens to join them in public gatherings because of the uncertainty of everyone’s actual state of health.

I might go on and on about unwarranted incidents of careless behavior. I know of a woman who was ridiculed for wearing a mask to the office where she worked. I am privy to the comments of a man who railed against the people of Colorado for being mask Nazis. I know of a young high school student who induced laughter from one of her teachers and most of her classmates because she expressed concerns about the safety of face to face schooling. 

We all know someone who has caught the virus. Many of us know someone who died from the virus. Most recently it appeared that my aunt might die from the virus. Covid-19 is still on the prowl for hosts and it cares little about who that person may be. It is simply doing what viruses do, but we don’t have to surrender to it by throwing caution to the wind and taking unnecessary risks. 

I tend to believe that I would be relatively unfettered by the virus but in reality I have no way of knowing how it will affect me. It would be sinfully cavalier for me to simply take my chances and let fate decide. I have a husband who meets many of the criteria for having a dire case if the virus takes residence in his body. It would be incredibly selfish of me to risk getting sick and passing Covid-19 on to anyone else. I have an adult responsibility to be more cautious as do all of us.

Love of our fellow humans should be our motivation and impetus for following the guidelines. I hate wearing a mask. I feel as though I am suffocating under a blanket when I wear one. It makes me anxious and yet I try to calm myself, breathe naturally and rather quickly my body adjusts to the strangeness of having my mouth and nostrils covered. It ends up not being so bad after all and knowing that I am helping in a cause for all of humanity makes it feel like the right thing to do.

Hubris has undone both historical and fictional characters from the beginning of time. We must not think that we can fly too close to the sun. It is important to heed the wisdom of those who have knowledge that is not ours. Listen to the science and stay safe.

Finding Greatness in the Seemingly Insignificant

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My twin grandchildren Ian and Abby celebrated their seventeenth birthday on October 1. As I was rummaging through photos of them to post on Facebook I came across one from the awards day when they were in the fifth grade. Both of them received medals for being on the all A honor roll for the year and for outstanding work in various subjects. Near the end of the ceremony the principal began to distribute Presidential Academic Awards that were based on scores from the previous year’s standardized test. Since both Ian and Abby had easily passed those tests we assumed that they would receive the special documents signed by President Barack Obama. 

One name after another was recited until virtually every student in the fifth grade class was standing on the stage. Only three students were still in their seats and one of them was my granddaughter who was by that point heaving as huge tears rolled down her cheeks. She was so embarrassed to be in such a noticeably small group and none of us could understand how it was possible that she did not earn the award. 

As soon as the ceremony had ended my daughter asked the principal if there had been some kind of mistake but she only referred us to the school counselor. The counselor said that even thought Abby had passed every test and even earned commended scores she had not met the required threshold of improvement from one year’s tests to the next. So she did not thereby earn the reward. 

Abby was still devastated. She felt that she had been shamed in front of her peers and their families. She could not understand why her high scores had not been enough to earn the Presidential award and there was no way to console her. In desperation I finally told her that I would personally write to President Obama and explain the situation to him. Of course I never expected to receive a response but my promise calmed her down enough to enjoy the rest of the day. 

I did indeed write to President Obama just as I had told Abby that I would. Weeks and then months went by and I assumed that my letter had ended up with junk mail and would never be acknowledged. Abby had moved on to middle school and didn’t seem to even remember that I had acted on her behalf. Then on her birthday a huge envelope came from the White House. Inside was a very personal letter written and signed by President Obama encouraging Abby to continue working hard and not to be undone by life’s disappointments. Included were photos of the first family and even one of their pet dog. There were also some pins and stickers and the kinds of things that little girls like to receive. 

I had to admit that I was deeply moved by the response and Abby was able to open it in front of her friends who had come to celebrate her birthday. They were oohing and aahing and telling her how lucky she was. I was almost in tears at the sight of her joy. While I tend to believe that perhaps the letter and other items were created by aides of the President, the signature was not just a rubber stamp. President Barack Obama had taken the time to personally sign the document. 

Abby has gone on to become a persistent young woman. When she encounters challenges she works hard to overcome them. It is almost as though she has taken President Obama’s message to her to heart. She works hard and won’t accept defeat. She has literally become the person he described to her in his letter. 

Abby’s moment of embarrassment and actual humiliation in front of a large crowd might have seemed childish and insignificant to most people but it had hurt her deeply. Her principal and school counselor seemed more concerned with following some strange rule than attempting to understand Abby’s feelings. They were unable or unwilling to admit that not giving a certificate to someone who had passed every single test with great scores indicated that something was wrong with the rubric. The letter from the President was symbolic of an administration with great compassion. They read my account and realized the importance of taking the time and the effort to encourage a ten year old girl. That small gesture meant everything to her and to me.

I admittedly was not always a fan of President Obama. He had policies that bothered me, but in that moment I saw the real measure of his administration. In the past four years retrospect has made me more and more appreciative of the kind of leader that he was. He surrounded himself with good people doing their best to lead for all Americans, even a young school girl. I shall forever be grateful for what he did for me and my granddaughter as well as for all the country. Sometimes it is in the seemingly insignificant that we see the most greatness.

The Truth Has Set Me Free

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One of the most famous and often spoken of old movies is Gaslight. The gist of the story is that a man attempts to drive his wife insane by making her believe that things that she is seeing are not real. He almost succeeds in driving her mad and gaining control of her fortune by playing mind games with her. Ultimately his plot is foiled but not before she begins to doubt everything that she witnesses.

From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic I felt as though I had somehow been thrust into a real life version of Gaslight. I listened to my doctors and followed the science. In doing that I became ultra precautious. I have worn masks, constantly washed my hands and disinfected surfaces, avoided contact with strangers and even mostly stayed away from family and friends. I have ordered all of my groceries from Instacart and then carefully cleansed packaging and washed produce. I slowly became willing to eat takeout food from restaurants but I have refused to go inside any of them. I get most of what I need beyond food items from Amazon or through orders that come in the mail. When I travel I do not even use public restrooms or sleep in a hotel. Instead I bring my trailer which is outfitted with everything I need to continue my self imposed quarantine. Each time I decide to be a bit braver I consult with a number of doctors and do whatever that say. In all cases they have agreed that I should continue to be very careful.

As I have followed the thinking of the scientists and medical personnel I have witnessed the president laughing at those who arm themselves with masks, insisting that only old or already sick people will be adversely affected by the virus, promising that it will miraculously go away. I have watched his rallies where more than half of the people are crowded together without benefit of masks. I have seen people that I know living their lives as though there is nothing about which to worry. I have heard my daughters complain about situations in which they and their children were mocked for playing it safe. I have heard both politicians and private citizens angrily demanding their rights to freedom from restrictions of any kind regardless of their purpose. I have heard the pandemic being called a hoax. All the while I had begun to wonder if I was in fact the one who was crazy since so much of the world around me appeared to be carrying on as usual.

I watched my aunt almost die from Covid-19. I learned of a former student who was sick for many many weeks with Covid-19. I learned of acquaintances who had died from Covid-19. Many that I knew were touched by Covid-19. It appeared to be real but the naysayers looked askance at me, as though they pitied my silly overreaction when all I was doing was acting exactly the way my doctors told me to do. It has been frustrating and confusing. 

What angers me most is that it should not have ever been this way. Had everyone in our country followed the science all along most people would have been living as I have been. We would not have so many dead. We would have donned masks early. We would have consistently avoided crowds. We might never have had a second wave of the virus in the summer. We would have been better prepared for a cautious reopening of everything from businesses to schools. We would feel more confidence in slowly finding ways to return to a kind of normalcy. 

Instead we now have a President and First Lady who have tested positive for Covid-19 after flaunting a lack of concern for the virus in one public venue after another. President Trump even made fun of Joe Biden during the recent debate for wearing a mask, a very big mask as he so sarcastically noted. We have a President who was briefed on the severity of the virus but chose to hide what he knew from the public. He did everything he could to make us believe that all of the warnings about Covid-19 have been overblown. He heartlessly suggested that most of the deaths only occurred because people were old or already unhealthy, writing off lives as though they were of less value because they were marred by weakness. 

No more will I wonder if I have been a frightened sheep rather than an informed and precautious wise woman. I will don my mask and wear it proudly as a badge of my intelligence. I will follow science rather than worrying about snake oil salesmen trying to sell me a line of bull. I have been proven to be right all along. I am not crazy and neither are my daughters and their families. My mind is as clear as it has ever been and I pray that most of the rest of the nation will finally understand as I have that we must seek our guidance from the medical community, not from those seeking power over our lives that they do not deserve. 

I would never wish illness on anyone, especially an illness like Covid-19. I will not stoop to being as low as President Trump so often is. I will pray that he and his wife will have an easy and speedy recovery. I do not expect him to change his ways. At the age of 74 it is unlikely that he will become a new man from having been proven so wrong. Nor do I believe that those who believe that he has all the answers to deal with the woes of the country will think that his illness is anything more than a fluke. I suspect that they will carry on as usual and look askance at me. I no longer care. I am armed with truth and it has set me free.