I Can’t Breathe.

To breathe.

It’s the most fundamental aspect of what it means to be alive. In fact, if you google “to breathe” the definition runs from “to draw air into and expel it from the lungs” to “to live” to “to feel free of restraint.” That’s pretty poignant in the context of recent events.

I can’t breathe.

As someone who runs a website called Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First, who encourages myself and others to take as many big, deep breaths as they possibly can every hour of the day (because I tend to forget – not completely, obviously – but enough that it doesn’t do me any favors), I can’t help but reflect on how powerfully the inability to draw breath has affected our world these last several months.

Oxygen mask. Ventilator. ICU. George Floyd. Death. Tragedy. False Accusation. Grief. Fear. Protest. Anger.

I can’t breathe.

I continue to try to put my attention towards where I can find hope. Without hope, it feels that we are irrevocably broken and that all is lost. When hopelessness takes over, there is no sense in going on.

I can’t breathe.

But on we must go, deep into the the discomfort and uncertainty. And thus we must, daily, find reasons for hope. If you focus on the thousands of peaceful protestors that have turned out nation-wide and not the looters and property destruction, you start to see the threads of hope and where we are headed. There is a united and diverse coalition actively exercising their democratic rights to confront police brutality and the social inequities that plague this country.

I don’t pretend to have answers. I don’t pretend to get it right every time, and I know that I have work to do to be a more conscious and conscientious ally. I look to my friends of color to understand their daily experience more deeply and to have that guide my actions. I always have, but I am doubling down on that now. I know I can galvanize my privilege and will continue to advocate for the voiceless and vulnerable. I am committed to asking the questions, learning more, and participating in forging a better, safer, more equitable future.

Stand together.

Lift up your voice.

Breathe.What if 2020 isn't cancelledAnd don’t forget – please – that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Social distancing, masks, and hand washing still matter tremendously. So do police – good police. Both/and. Life is complicated and shades of gray, ironically, not black and white. Let’s not lose track of what the story is about. It’s about greater equality for people of all colors – and that includes access to health care, education, safe living environments, opportunity. It’s about systemic racism that disadvantages some while privileging others. It’s about reforming bad policing. It’s about caring for our neighbors as ourselves, against injustice, violence and virus.

Check out my Resources page for reading and other information on #BlackLivesMatter being anti-racist.

To do list

 

 

 

 

The Time of Quiet

I’ve gone quiet suddenly, here in the blogosphere anyway. It’s like I returned from a long trip and suddenly I was very, very tired. And I had endless mountains of laundry to do. Apparently our virtual world tour has come to an end. I just fizzled one day. For once, I let myself get lost in that with no apologies. If I can’t learn to be in the moment, in THIS moment, now; to face into the fire and not turn away to avoid it, now; to source my strength from within, now, then when will I ever?

It’s often said that it takes 66 days to create a new habit. Today is, in fact, day 66. What new habits have you made? Which will you keep going forward?

Me? I hope to hold onto this conscientious quiet because I cherish the simplicity and peace that comes with it. In my typical suburban existence, I crave calm and quiet, and now I see clearly that so much busyness is self-created. I do like to be busy, but there’s busy and then there’s manic. It’s really refreshing for life to be so plodding that my whirring around checking boxes off my never-ending to-do list eventually has to stop and for once I just sit down and think. Or breathe. Remember that one? I always forget. But now I’ve had 66 days of practice so who knows what the future holds?!? Have you ever seen the short Warren Buffet and Bill Gates clip Busy is the New Stupid? Well, there you are.

Breathe

I also hope some of my meal plan-ahead skills will endure (but mostly I really want take -out). And I imagine I will never stop washing my hands as well as I do now.  Remember that the “new normal” isn’t normal. And it isn’t forever, either, incidentally.

In The Time of Quiet

No one’s told the daffodils about the pause to Spring
And no one’s told the birds to roost and asked them not to sing
No one’s asked the lazy bee to cease his bumbling round
And no one’s stopped the bright green shoots emerging through the ground
No one’s told the sap to rest, deep within the wood
And stop the sleepy trees from waking, wreathed about in bud
No one’s told the sky to douse its brightest shades of blue
And stop the scudding clouds from puffing headlong into view
No one’s asked the lambs to still the springs beneath their feet,
To stop their rapid rush and quell each joyful bleat
No one’s told the stream to halt its gurgle or its flow
And warned the playful breezes, not to gust and blow
No one’s asked the raindrops not to fall upon the earth
And fail to quench the soil in the season of rebirth
No one’s locked the sun down, or dimmed the shimmer of the moon
And even in the darkest night, the stars are still immune
Remember what you value, remember who is dear
Close the doors to danger and keep your family near
In the quiet all around us take the time to sit and stare
And wonder at the glory unfurling everywhere
Look towards the future, after the ordeal
And keep faith in Mother Nature’s power & will to heal.

I have seen this beautiful poem attributed to Pablo Neruda, a Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet and diplomat. But a little hunt of the world wide web revealed that it was actually written by Philippa Atkin and posted on her blog March 27, 2020.

Pablo Neruda’s poem, also beautiful, is called Keeping Quiet. I am not exactly sure when it was written, but Neruda died in 1973 so we can be sure that he did not predict the internet age taking us over, our addiction to screens or busyness, and certainly not a global pandemic. It is also remarkably appropriate for today :

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

 

“Every Sunset has the Promise of a New Day” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where to start? My mom is in hospice care, which is a daunting word but may not mean it’s the end. What were the words the doctors used to describe her during her first hospital stay? Oh, yes, “resilient” and “feisty.” No, I definitely wouldn’t count her out.

That said, she started with COVID symptoms a month ago today. An entire month spent sick and in and out of the hospital. I’ve got a few thoughts about this, but they aren’t what you’d think. The emotional side of our situation seems to have shut down for the time being. What’s on my mind right now?:

1. If she passes from this, would she be considered a COVID statistic? I’m guessing not. And I am guessing she is not alone in this protracted COVID-related battle. So basically the mortality rate is already wrong.

2. Hospice care. Angels on Earth. I wish I had these resources and compassion at my fingertips when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Honestly, I battled the hard stuff alone years ago, not knowing where to start or how to handle it and navigating this totally unfamiliar and uncomfortable (and unwelcome) landscape. No case manager or social worker to listen or guide. Hospice would have obviously been dramatic for back then, but I could have used a crutch. Something. Now I realize what it feels like to have professionals who see this stuff all the time reach out to me and ask if I have questions and how I am doing. I can say with 100% certainty that I could have used that seven years ago. Just putting that out there for what it’s worth. Which actually leads me to a third point that I wasn’t planning to make.

3. Assisted living. What the bloody hell Massachusetts? Get your shit together and help these people out. They have been put in a position of having to function like hospitals because of the state’s lack of preparation. I get it, it’s a crisis, but damnit we saw it coming. It’s one fire drill after another at care homes across the state and the country. Manning the helm are some of the finest people you’d ever want to meet. And I mean the real kind of “very fine people.” They did not sign up to be on the frontlines of anything remotely like this, and surely they are not paid nearly enough for what they do, but they show up day after day with compassion and courage in spades. Meanwhile, front line assistance, offers of free life insurance, etc., focus only on hospitals and medical staff. Massachusetts doesn’t even count assisted living with its nursing home numbers, meaning that state data are undercounting this public health crisis’ impact on seniors. Does this also mean that assisted living residences are excluded from the state’s COVID assistance measures? I cannot fathom how these places continue to function, financially or emotionally, right now. The people who work in these homes deserve recognition, thank you’s, and more. WAY MORE.

Civil War icon Joshua Chamberlain said, “In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

We are being tested. Eventually history will look back on this period, reflect and probably judge, hindsight always bringing clarity of vision that the present doesn’t offer. I think about Chamberlain’s quote, about the courage and valor of battle, the honor of walking a field like Gettysburg or the beaches of Normandy today and thinking about those who have passed before us, who fought so courageously and with a united front for something bigger than themselves.

The enemy is invisible in our current battle, and the battle rages in our hospitals, our care homes, and our public spaces. But the concept endures. The honor in battle (and life) comes from sacrificing for something bigger than yourself, and from protecting the vulnerable. I was taught to respect my elders. They are not expendable collateral damage. We have already failed many of them by not acting fast enough. We can’t give up now. Looking back on this moment in time, we want history to extoll our courage and our compassion, our sacrifice and unity. We do not want to be haunted by spirits admonishing our soul-less self-interest and determined individualism at all costs. Is going “back to normal” really what we want? Normal failed our most vulnerable. We need to do better.

Wew. I woke up in a tizzy today. Tomorrow is a new day. Take a deep breath. We got this.
Stay well, stay home.
You will be alright.
Brene Brown back to normal quote

Views from All Over

Well, it finally happened, folks. I hit a wall. It’s not that I am uninspired. I am just tired. So today will be short and sweet. I am diving into living in the moment at home, making sure I am paying enough attention to my kids in a less distracted way, and tending to my mom’s health situation and needs, which are acute at the moment.

Right now my kids and I are sitting on the porch in winter coats and blankets, basking in the sun’s warm rays like cats. We are listening to what’s around us, observing. Yesterday we set up a post at our dining room table to return to each week. We fling the wooden blinds wide and watch how our little world changes outside that one focused spot each week. It’s actually kind of miraculous, and I have never taken the time to watch spring unfold slowly before. If this were a recipe I’d say it’s one part making-the-best-of-things, a dash of keeping-my-kids-occupied-any-way-I-can, and a smidge of look-what-happens- when-you-slow-down-a-little.

This video, called When the World Stopped, takes us on a tour of the quiet that has enfolded on a global scale during this isolation period. Like my daily quest, it is both beauty and tragedy wrapped into one.

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Mary Oliver quote

COVID Gets Real and Hits Home

Taking a break from gallivanting around the world to bring it to you straight here. This is HARD. Today is day 41 by my count. My mom was hospitalized three weeks ago and diagnosed COVID positive. It got REAL around here fast. I wrote an essay about it that HuffPost published this morning. Check it out in my Clips. Also, the featured photo today is a painting my brother did. Just sayin’. So damn talented.

At any given moment I am shades of overwhelmed, fine, depressed, grateful and everything in between. I miss the grocery store. I mean, that’s low. What used to be a chore has become a dreamed-of escape. That’s where we are.

I spend my days cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, procuring food items, entertaining my children (I have stopped calling it homeschooling because that would imply they are learning something when, frankly, I have no idea if they are. I am just happy when we get through another day mostly intact), and trying to keep up with my quarantine journal (which is remarkably challenging to find time for, an odd situation to find myself in since I never leave my home). My mom being unwell has added a layer of intensity to this isolation existence as I have worried for her well-being and tried to navigate emotionally once again how quickly life can be upended. There were days during the past three weeks when I needed to call the hospital to check on my mom but also really, really needed to grab that grocery delivery time one week out (the first available) to ensure my family had the provisions we need. So bizarre. The brave neighbors and friends who are still going to the grocery store jumped in and saved us as my juggling act came crashing down, even sometimes adding a bouquet of flowers to the items they dropped for us on the front porch.

Rest assured, when I am not virtually traveling the world with you, I am keeping it really real here. Our virtual travels and hope-filled stories bring me tremendous joy and give me meaning and perspective (and, boy, have I needed that lately). It’s helpful to focus my busy brain on positive things, to spend time learning about places I’ve never been and remembering places I have.

It all feels so futile sometimes. Life. This version of life in particular. My mom alone in a hospital, sick and unable to communicate. All of us at home. Futile and frustrating and fraught.

And then I remember: One day at a time. Tomorrow is a new day. Breathe.

We need to continue to have hope and to find the fun where we can. My mom, and my beloved aunt Nancy, and their mom would say – this too shall pass. And so it shall.

Today is Marathon Monday in the Boston area. It’s literally a state holiday and a true rite of passage to spring. Obviously the marathon isn’t happening. My family is participating in the #BackyardBostonMarathon instead. I am running around my house 26.2 times; my kids are doing the same around the backyard. My husband is doing an insane number of push ups and sit-ups (to get to 262) plus a 2.62 mile run.

It’s not the marathon, not by a long shot. But if we all do it together (I mean, apart together, of course – stay home! do NOT go on the marathon course), that’ll channel the spirit of the event and that’s meaningful. My mom’s care home and hospital are along the marathon route. Give her a virtual wave and hug as you “run” by. We can use all the spirit of the marathon more than ever because, folks, we are in one right now. I am personally seized up on Heartbreak Hill. So cheer me through and I’ll cheer for you, too. I’d love to see your photos!

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Hope is like a drop of honey quote

Island Hopping – to Jamaica and Cuba!

Our tour of island nations continues, but this time we are traveling to the green-blue and warm waters of the Caribbean and the beautiful island nations of Jamaica and Cuba!!!

Map of Cuba and Jamaica

Cuba is a mysterious and alluring country. It is also mountainous, which I did not expect. In my mind for some reason I assumed it was flat. But it’s not. Not at all. From the Gulf of Mexico you can see it’s undulating, lush hillsides and somewhat imagine what it must look like within. Unique and beautiful historic architecture, brightly colored buildings, and old time cars that have been miraculously preserved and maintained define most people’s mental image of Cuba. If we have a notion of Cuba at all, it is these images from Havana that dominate. Today we are so lucky to be able to wander through Cuba in our imaginations thanks to photographer and creative Janice Kwan (follow her on Instagram @jwkwan and @kitrknits for more photos and other awesome creative work, including her gorgeous hand-knit pieces).

She has so many awesome images I didn’t even know where to start so I put together a slideshow. Check out the colors, the cobblestoned streets, the lighting, the purples and blues in the sky contrasted against those heavy, hovering clouds, Castro’s omnipresence. What do you see?

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Outside of Havana, the Cuba is more rural. You can get a real taste for Cuba and some powerful visual descriptions and cultural (and revolutionary) understanding by reading Our Woman in Havana by Vicky Huddleston (a former U.S. diplomat to Cuba) and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. 

Just south of Cuba is Jamaica. In fact Jamaica is very close to Guantanamo Bay. I don’t know how I missed it, but Guantanamo Bay is on the island of Cuba, just kind of fenced off from the rest of Cuba. I of course have heard of Guantanamo Bay, but it didn’t occur to me to think about exactly where it was. I was pretty surprised to discover it’s on Cuba of all places.

Anyway, a Jamaican friend sent me news from late March reporting that 144 Cuban health workers had arrived in Jamaica to help with the Coronavirus outbreak. This was his example of good news happening in his part of the world.

I had to pause to weigh how opportunistic versus humanitarian this show of support was on Cuba’s part and to wrestle with the possibility of our differing perspectives on Cuba’s intent. Since I am U.S.-based, the Cuban government’s actions come laden with a dose of skepticism. What is opportunistic propaganda and what is solidarity and selflessness? I am going to guess that there is gray area, perhaps it’s a bit of both, and it depends who you ask. Of course I am not professing to the U.S. government’s innocence either, to be clear. Surely many good deeds are born of strategic as well as altruistic intent.

Cuba has been sending doctors on international medical missions primarily to poorer countries all over the world for years. Currently, in fact, it has about 37,000 workers in 67 different countries. They provide more health care personnel to the developing world than all of the G8 countries combined. This is partially propaganda, but it is also a major source of revenue for the Cuban government. The U.S. has called into question the labor conditions and pay of Cuban physicians, and as part of increasing sanctions the U.S. discourages other countries from hosting these Cuban medical missions (for more on that, click this link to an Associated Press article from April 3). That said, Cuban physicians are generally quite well-trained, well-liked, and well-received wherever they go.

In the case of COVID, Cuban doctors have been on the front line in Italy since mid-March. From a practical standpoint, they are experienced with this virus and ready to assist better than many in the western hemisphere. There are also A LOT of them. Did you know that Cuba has more doctors per capita than the U.S.? In fact, it is ranked third in the world for the number of doctors per capita (67.2 per 10,000 people according to the World Atlas). WHY are there so many doctors in Cuba, you ask? That results from half of the nation’s doctors fleeing during the Cuban revolution in 1959 and Fidel Castro subsequently promoting medical education as part of a national project to reconstitute their medical corps. Universal health care is also a defining feature of communist principles.

Of course, it’s possible that the training required to become a doctor in Cuba isn’t the same as in other countries, and that that is part of the explanation for the differential in numbers. But Cuba’s health care system is widely praised and life expectancy and infant mortality in Cuba are the same as in the U.S. (if you believe the Cuban government’s statistics, which they do not allow to be independently verified). It appears they are onto something there, but no matter how you slice it, for a virus that seems to require all hands on deck a surplus of well-trained physicians seems like a welcome bright spot on an otherwise gloomy horizon. Propaganda or not, well-trained medical personnel descending en masse to help a neighboring country that isn’t as well prepared to manage it is good news.

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

 

 

The WHY of Preservation Matters Now More Than Ever

Today’s post is brought to you by Anna Davis, the Communications Director of the Architectural Heritage Foundation in Boston, MA. She wrote this really wonderful post recently distilling why historic preservation matters. When all else goes away, she writes, “what remains is the stories we keep.” How profound and beautiful. Historic preservation is about more than preserving old buildings – it’s about community and our past and the stories that weave us together. That’s important to recognize, now more than ever. It will help guide us when we emerge from this period of extreme slowing-down, introspection and, honestly, grief to engage with our communities and our world differently and more completely.

Stay well, stay home. You will be alright.

Photograph of the Fellowship Hall at the Grand Army of the Republic Hall and Museum in Lynn, MA. The Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) is providing historic preservation consulting services to the Friends of GAR Hall.
Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Lynn, MA. Image courtesy of Jason Baker.

When life as we have known it comes to a halt; when the bonds holding society together grow brittle; when we cannot gather for fear of harming each other – what remains to us are the stories we keep. The reminders of those stories take many forms. A building. A battlefield. A burying ground. These physical affirmations of our histories and values are all around us. They help us to see ourselves as part of a community spanning generations and, in so doing, make us feel less alone.

Yet preservation can seem frivolous during a crisis like COVID-19. Why spend time and money on saving historic sites when people are getting sick, losing their jobs, and struggling to stop every aspect of their lives from unravelling? Answering this question requires a shift in perspective from regarding our historic places as luxuries to recognizing them as necessities. Catalyzing that shift in perspective is one of the main challenges facing preservationists over the coming weeks.

Successfully making the case for preservation will depend on how well those involved in restoration or adaptive reuse tell their projects’ stories. This means crafting a narrative focusing not on properties’ historical and architectural significance (though important), but on the material and intangible benefits that successful projects bring to their surrounding communities. Projects need a vision that extends beyond the historic places to the people who will use them.

A vision does not need to lock a project into a specific program, but it should offer a general idea of the role that the site could play in the community. For example, could a vacant building become much-needed housing? A mixed-use commercial hub that invigorates a business district? And arts or educational center? Which populations will the building primarily serve, and how will it benefit the most vulnerable members of society? And specifically, how will the project help the surrounding community to heal post-Coronavirus?

North Brookfield community members stand conversing in the Great Hall of the North Brookfield Town House in front of a stage with blue and red velvet curtains. The Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) is providing historic preservation consulting services
Community members discuss the future of the historic North Brookfield Town House.

Though all preservation efforts are different, they share certain commonalities that are helpful to consider when making the case for a project:

Preservation strengthens the economy

Most likely to resonate with the widest range of people are the economic benefits of preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation notes that each year, historic preservation creates millions of jobs, attracts hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, increases property values, augments the affordable housing stock, and generates more money in tax revenue than it costs.

Preservation is green

Not only does preservation make economic sense, but it is an ecologically sustainable form of development. Demolition and new construction generate massive amounts of landfill waste and carbon emissions; by contrast, adaptive reuse of historic real estate reduces these climate impacts. Moreover, historic structures designed prior to the invention of HVAC systems are generally more energy efficient than many modern buildings. Preservation is a climate-friendly option.

Preservation brings people together

The preservation of a beloved historic property often inspires people who otherwise would not come into contact with each other to pursue a common goal together. Moreover, it gives people – not least those who often feel disenfranchised – a stake in improving their neighborhoods. This benefit, though unquantifiable, is particularly important to emphasize at a time of social distancing. As communities become ever more fragmented, projects that are unifying, uplifting, and meaningful can raise morale and connect people to one another.

Now is the time to speak up for historic places by articulating why preservation projects matter to the communities in which they are located. As Richard Moe, former President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, once said, “There may have been a time when preservation was about saving an old building here or there, but those days are gone. Preservation is in the business of saving communities and the values they embody.”

Photograph of the Shingle-style buildings of the Charles River Speedway framed against autumn foliage and sunshine in November 2014. The Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) is preserving and redeveloping the Speedway as a mixed-use commercial complex.
The Charles River Speedway, November 2014.

The Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.