So Much Still to Teach

She would laugh that we were so worried. I can hear her voice in my mind saying, if she understood, “What? About moi? Ridiculous.” She would probably be upset that we even sent her to the hospital in the first place. She is more of a stick-it-out-on-your-own, “I’m not sick, I just don’t feel well,” kind of person.

March 28 to June 5, 2020. That was the duration of my mom’s journey with COVID-19. She went to the hospital with gastrointestinal symptoms. We expected her to get fluids, be monitored for a little while in the emergency room, and then be sent home. Instead they tested her for the then recently arrived COVID-19, which I shrugged off as ER hypervigilance (leave no test un-run!). If only I could be there, I thought, I could explain to them what she can’t, that she always has a little cough and the sniffles. It’s nothing to worry about.

Her positive test result stunned us and resulted in her prompt admission to the hospital, where she tumbled into the black hole of a blossoming public health crisis and a rapidly filling hospital. She used to tell me not to set my expectations too high because then you just invite disappointment. When I heard “COVID positive,” my expectations were grounded pretty firmly in reality. 

She endured 2 separate hospitalizations (I wrote about the first one in a HuffPost essay – ironically, it was published the day she was sent back with secondary complications). She ended up spending 3 weeks total in the hospital. She didn’t eat or walk for weeks; had pneumonia (mild, mercifully) and then a pulmonary embolism and thrush. She was poked and prodded every which way and was generally miserable and confused. We eventually made the decision to discharge her from the hospital on hospice with the goal of getting her to a situation where she was comfortable and surrounded by people who loved her (even if I couldn’t be one of them because, COVID, which is pretty much the answer to any question of this dystopian existence anymore). We hoped that with one-on-one attention in a familiar setting someone could get her to eat. And we were prepared, if not, for her to leave this world in peace and comfort.

It was a long, long road full of Boost protein shakes and brownies for breakfast (for her, and, some days, to be honest, for me, too, because, well, I had to find comfort where I could). It was days of phone calls with doctors and nurses and hospice workers and chaplains and family and funeral homes. It was a nurse praying with her as she lay quietly in her bed, telling her we loved her even though we couldn’t be there. It was short Facetimes with my mom and the aides working with her, the Sound of Music or My Fair Lady playing on her CD player in the background. It was texted images of her sitting in a wheelchair getting her nails done or painting during a group activity. It was videos of her shuffle-dancing around the dining room, supported by an aide, honoring the woman she was and infusing joy where they could into her life. It was reports about her learning how to walk again, first with people supporting her on both sides, then, slowly, a few steps on her own. It took about 6 weeks for the odds of her making it through this illness to shift in her favor. She doesn’t remember any of it, which may have been her saving grace. Because she has Alzheimer’s, she lives in this exact moment, and then this one, and then the next, with no reference to the past or the future.

Through, and despite, it all, she exuded her characteristic grit and indefatigable spirit. She gave my brothers and I fatigued smiles through the Facetime screen, her inner spark sometimes igniting in her eyes through the otherwise wan expression on her face. More recently we have received videos of her humming a tune and dancing down the hall to the beat of her literal own drummer. Her laughter echoes like the first birds of spring after a long winter, issuing robustly and sweetly through the air, quickening the rhythm of my heart and flooding my soul with warmth. I only just realized as I listened more intentionally to her laugh, absorbing more fully this sound that so recently I thought I would never hear again, that her laugh echoes the sound of my own.

I guess it wasn’t her time. I guess she still has more to do here on this Earth, more to teach. I don’t know what else to say about how close we walked to the line, and then how she suddenly walked it back. She would say, “What did you expect? Of course I lived. Maybe don’t take life so seriously. Maybe don’t count me out just because the prognosis looks bad (really bad). Now tell me about you. How are you?”

I find myself speechless at times in her presence, my mind bending as I try to reconcile what happened to her and to our family during those months and the vast loss of life during this COVID outbreak, with her physically sitting there still with me, smiling, laughing, and full of LIFE. We sit outside on the patio at her care home admiring the trees and sky, listening to the river, singing or just sitting quietly. She still appreciates beauty in the world: a clear blue sky, a gentle warm breeze. She will close her eyes and tilt her chin upward, breath deeply, and smile broadly, completely at peace, 100% her authentic, younger self, the mom I remember. Post-COVID, she is back to walking unassisted, dance parties, eating, singing, giving back rubs, smiling, and laughing – lots of laughing. She doesn’t have much to say, and doesn’t understand much of what I tell her, but she knows I am someone special to her. She lights up like it’s a surprise party every time an aide walks her outside and she sees me standing there. On some biological level we are still connected, even if she can’t remember my name. She would like to give me a hug, reaches for me, but we sit and tap our toes together instead, a small physical connection that doesn’t potentially jeopardize either of us. COVID kisses. It’s the best we can do for now.

I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones. My mom returned to me from the brink, and she returned bubbling with happiness and love to share. She still has so much to teach, not only to me, but to all of us: about enjoying the simple things in life, like a warm breeze and a blue sky; about what it means to be fueled by love, to be guided by an inner joie de vivre; about dancing and laughing through life, no  matter what; about resilience and grit and never, ever counting someone out or giving up, no matter the odds; about how deeply the love between a mother and her child runs, and how it’s still recognizable when all else is lost.

When it comes time to say goodbye, whenever that may be, I hope I will be able to be there and to hold her hand. In the meantime, I am counting my blessings and following her lead: taking a deep breath; embracing unbridled joy; seeking daily, small moments of happiness; loving my family and friends hard; smiling and laughing often; feeling grateful for every day I still have mom on this Earth; and living as close as I can to this very moment, and then the next one and then the next, moment to moment to moment. Even now. Especially now.

My mom survived COVID-19 and has lived gracefully with Alzheimer’s for over 7 years. She still exudes love and compassion for others. She still smiles and laughs. She is still the life of the party. She continues to be an example to us all about a life well-lived, no matter what. She would say, “This too shall pass.” And it will. 

Mask up. We got this.

#Youwillbealright

#Wearethesolution

#Wearamask

The Parable of the Lemon Seed

If ever there was a time to make lemonade out of lemons, it is now.

But where to start? It’s small, simple acts that take the circumstances we are given and flip the expected outcome on its head. This is exactly the story of Keki and the Lemon Seed, a true, modern day parable. Never heard of it? That makes sense because it has never before been told. But here it is:

There once was a woman named Keki. She lived in Hawai’i, where her work required her to fly between the islands regularly (back in the day when that was possible). In those 20 minute puddle jumps the airlines attempted to quickly serve beverages between take off and landing. The cabin crew would roll their carts down the aisle passing out drinks in little plastic cups to each of the passengers and then hurriedly collecting them and any other trash before landing. This was true all day long, every day, on the little flights that hopped between each Hawai’ian island.

As a series of islands, Hawai’ians tend to be extra careful about their environmental impact. And, yet, this standard way of operating persisted. Keki typically just said no thank you to the cabin crew and brought her own, re-useable water bottle. But one day she forgot her water bottle and was incredibly thirsty so she resorted to the only option available: to take the airline plastic cup.

This bothered her – A LOT. As she sipped her airline water, she thought about what she could do to ameliorate the fate of the single-use plastic she was holding in her hand. She didn’t have a lot of time to think since it was such a short flight, but as the cabin crew came around to collect everyone’s trash, Keki held onto her cup and the lemon slice inside it. When she got home, Keki filled the plastic cup with soil and buried one of the lemon seeds deep within it. She then placed the little airline cup in a sunny window. Within days, a sprout had pushed through the soil, the budding of a lemon tree.

Keki’s was a simple gesture, and also an incredibly authentic and refreshing one. Keki repurposed a tiny plastic cup that would have gone straight to a landfill into something beautiful and alive. She didn’t exactly make lemonade out of lemons, but she did make lemons out of landfill.

Imagine if we all took stock of our daily impact on the Earth, as well as our connection to it, with the same consideration and consciousness. Imagine if we all went about our days intentionally, thoughtfully considering our choices and contemplating the way we live and act. Imagine if we weighed the impact of our actions on our global community as well as our local neighborhood. In the middle of a pandemic that has upended the world completely, if ever there were a time and a call to make lemonade out of our lemons, it is now.

For more on what we can do, the United Nations recently published a series of Sustainable Development Goals and monthly actions. That’s a great place to start.

As a reminder, I know I say this every time, but I can’t emphasize it enough. WE are the solution. At a time when nothing feels within our control and the problems seem extraordinarily large and insurmountable, we need to dig deep inside, pivot, and rise to the occasion. Small but measured steps – planting one little lemon seed at a time – is the way it is going to get done. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. We need to do better starting now – and we can.

Rebuilding in Times of Uncertainty

The only way to hear another’s story and to truly see their reality, is to be assured that our own stories have been heard, that we have been seen. Social isolation drives a stake deeper into the systemic social divisions that already exist between us, wedging ever wider the yawning gap between our reality and that of “others.”

Malcolm Jenkins Narrative

Months of coronavirus isolation have provided a stark window into how isolation affects an individual and a community. We are living what happens when people are cut-off and feel they have no control over their life: hopelessness prevails; children fall behind academically and emotionally; a scarcity mindset stokes protectionism and hoarding; anger and frustration simmer and then boil over.

Fear, powerlessness, and uncertainty have become unwelcome, familiar feelings. With the sand perpetually shifting beneath our feet, we find ourselves quagmired by the overwhelming tidal wave of disillusionment, division, and disenfranchisement. We can’t stay here. We need to take a deep breath, set our course, and keep moving forward so inertia and negativity don’t suck us in.

You might wonder where exactly we are supposed to move forward to, being in the middle of a pandemic and the wheels clearly coming off the cart and all? While everyone is focused on the loss of now, on this period of sacrifice and challenge, we have to constantly remind ourselves that this is a finite moment in time; that great opportunity comes from overcoming adversity; that history is full of stories of struggle, resilience, and hope.

There is SO MUCH WORK to be done to move our society toward being more whole and equitable. As a country reckoning with a heightened awareness of our divisions, how do we do better?

The way to begin to heal is to come together, solving the issues of isolation and racial division through deliberate, intentional connection and engagement. North Brookfield, a rural community of 4,800 in central Massachusetts, is spearheading a regional creative arts program – ROAR (Rural Opportunity through Art and Restoration) – to do just that.

The Brookfields region has been wrestling with its identity and isolation for twenty-five years. As with many rural communities nation-wide, un- or underemployment, intergenerational poverty, depression, and drug dependency have permeated the region. Small businesses that were the life-blood of small town centers were decimated as retail was sucked outward to major highways and big box shopping centers. Health care and social supports are difficult to access. Though Vibram continues to manufacture shoe soles locally, employment and advancement opportunities have declined. Isolation here has become status quo.

The Friends of the North Brookfield Town House (“Friends”) have worked for over a decade to preserve their community’s vacant town hall, an architectural masterpiece and once “the center of everything.” The deteriorating building’s location in a small, isolated community has meant that a traditional commercial use would be challenging, if not infeasible. Two years ago the Friends contacted Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF), a Boston-based preservation organization, to help them with the puzzle of how to sustainably occupy the building.

AHF collaborated as a thought-partner, helping the Friends to recognize that renovating the Town House could catalyze change in their community and throughout the region, but only if complemented by additional economic development efforts. AHF recommended repainting the building, a small, empowering act that proved transformative in garnering broader support. The repainted Town House caught the attention of many area residents and was the catalytic spark that ignited a partnership with local recording company Long View Entertainment. Long View worked with the Friends to envision the building as an art and music center for at-risk rural communities.

ROAR, an expansion of Long View’s award-winning after-school program, will partner with Boston’s Berklee College of Music to offer educational and cultural programming featuring music, writing, storytelling, audio and video production, art, and theater click here for program offerings). Creative commerce education will build life skills, foster change, and inject energy – and hope. The program, anchored in a centrally-located historic structure that is meaningful to the community, will address from the inside-out the impacts of social isolation that divide and perpetuate separateness. ROAR will also provide work experience for Berklee students, infusing artistic talent from beyond the region and tearing down the rural-urban divide.

How does this help to heal? Data shows that tight family and community social networks can shield people psychologically from the stresses of having lower incomes, lower educational levels, or generally stressful living conditions. Dr. Tony Iton, from the University of California Berkeley, found that the social vulnerability resulting from poor schools, housing, transportation, and lack of access to healthy foods creates incubators of chronic stress that reduce life expectancy by 15 to 20 years as compared to higher income, healthier environments.[1] While Iton’s research primarily focuses on the inner city, poor rural areas face similar issues and outcomes. Meanwhile, a January 2019 National Governors Association report showed that rural counties that are home to performing arts organizations experienced higher incomes, population growth, and greater well-being and social inclusion than rural counties that lack performing arts institutions.[2]

Arts programing aimed at connection and diversification addresses both the turmoil boiling in our streets and economic vitality in distressed regions. In fact, the 2019 Massachusetts Rural Development Policy Plan highlighted “encouraging dialog and partnership between towns and regions; forming strong partnerships with regional academic institutions; developing youth leadership programs; redeveloping and reusing vacant industrial sites; growing local jobs and leveraging local assets; devoting more money to education; developing tourism and hospitality services; and promoting racial diversity”[3] as best practice. ROAR is all of these things.

ROAR at the Town House is piloting a replicable model that can be applied in other communities, not only in the Brookfields’ region but across Massachusetts and the nation. According to the New England Foundation for the Arts, “The creative economy is a powerful engine of growth and community vitality. A thriving cultural sector leads to thriving communities.” Creating a regional hub at the North Brookfield Town House will address downtown economic depression as well as rural social isolation.

When the world stopped, the arts, in all its forms, entertained and comforted us. It broke the barriers of quarantine and isolation by drawing us together. Now more than ever we need to be brought together to tell our stories, to be heard and seen, and to listen and learn.

All photographs are by Jason Baker @ jasonbakerphotography/

Footnotes:

[1] Iton, Dr. Anthony. (November 4, 2016 You Tube). “Change the Odds for Health,” TedX San Francisco, https://youtu.be/0H6yte4RXx0.

[2] Rood, Sally for the National Governor’s Association. “Rural Prosperity through the Arts & Creative Sector: A Rural Action Guide for Governors and States.” January 2019.

[3] Rural Policy Advisory Commission. Rural Policy Plan. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. October 2019, pg. 22.

 

Beyond Four Walls

We have to think big right now. And wide. Beyond what’s boxing us in.

People have a range of risk tolerances, values, and concerns. That is abundantly clear. In order to set up protocols for pandemic school in the fall means that all those risk tolerances and values and needs and wants are getting stewed together into one simmering pot. What people want and what is realistic may not be the same thing. Everyone wants something and pretty much everyone isn’t going to get everything.

All the arguing and division we are seeing in the national media and experiencing in our own social media feeds result from the sense – strike that, no, the fact – that we are trapped, that there are no good solutions that meet everyone’s needs and wants, and that this increasingly long period of upheaval feels as though it may never end. Sprinkle in a little conspiracy theory here, some uncertainty and fear there, and question science and facts with an onslaught of “what about-ism” and you end up with the centrifugal pull of a fast-spinning machine pushing people outward where we find ourselves with our backs suctioned against a wall, digging in our heels in an attempt to find solid ground, ironically ever more isolated and siloed from each other, and feeling rather nauseous.

So here we are.

Much of what we are experiencing is classic grief psychology. Grief is the acute pain that accompanies the loss of something we love. There’s a lot of loss in so many myriad ways right now. The response to that loss is the biggest variable, though. Some appear to be stuck in the anger, bargaining, and denial phases while others have grieved, been depressed, and moved on to acceptance.

What I know about grief, which has been my near constant companion the last several years, is that, while it feels counter-intuitive to face into the fire, that is in fact what needs to be done. While it feels like you should turn away from the pain, sadness, and loss to protect yourself, facing into it actually helps you heal faster, makes you stronger. The more you resist it and want to turn away, the stronger the pain becomes. It doesn’t slink off in the night because you have ignored it. No, it sits, bides its time, and quietly grows. By the time you deal with it it is so much bigger and more intense than it was originally. These days we witness daily the emotional devastation and turmoil that is wrought by crushed expectations and neglected grief.

Here’s a thought: instead of fighting with each other and arguing about the existence of or the impact of the virus and bombarding the superintendent/dean of students/president/you get the idea with hate mail and deluding ourselves into thinking that other school districts or private schools or whatever have figured this out, let’s all take a deep breath, call an adult time out, and step away from the screen. I made a rule for myself decades ago to wait 24 hours before I responded to something that irked or upset me. Typically if it still bothers you 24 hours later, it’s worth addressing. But a lot of problems lose their power if given a little time and, certainly, time affords clarity and calm in a response.

The trigger-happy, community-destroying, faction-inducing sparring on social media helps no one and advances no agenda other than an adrenaline rush. Everyone is so hyped and accusatory, constantly lobbing opposing news articles, demands, and opinions at each other. It’s like watching a pack of amped up dogs baring their teeth and straining at the end of their leashes looking for a fight. Take a day off. Trust me, you won’t miss anything. The needle won’t move one inch if you step away. Everyone already knows all there is to know – there aren’t any good or easy answers and that is what we are all living with.

Fine I won't give up but

SO, we make the choice to dig in and be angry and fan the flames. OR, we choose to take a deep breath and proceed with calm, flexibility, and acceptance. There is opportunity in this total explosion to our normal lives if we choose to see it. It demands that we pivot and get creative, dig deep and be resourceful, and truly think outside the box and beyond our four walls (and certainly outside the fours walls of a school building). The social contract of a functioning society demands that the majority respect each other and follow the established rules. We can all get through this period faster and more whole if we commit to taking a deep breath, accepting that this time is finite and also exceptionally challenging, and being respectful of each other, each other’s values and risk tolerances, and the reality that this is hard on almost everyone (except maybe people who invested in Zoom before March 2020). We would do well to face into the fire instead of trying to resist and hold it off. You don’t have to like it, but how you respond to this period is 100% your choice.

“It’s our choices that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities.”                          – Albus Dumbledore

Happiness is letting go SSL
from @sailorssweetlife

Release the death grip on what was, and open yourself to what could be. Be flexible and think beyond the norm. This period is anything but normal. If we stretch beyond the standards, expectations, and walls that typically box us in, we will find a whole world of opportunity. The natural world continues on without us. There is still so much to be learned right outside our front doors if we just re-focus our attention. Life goes on. Life skills school remains open for business.

“Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come.”                                                                          – Rumi

Breathe.

You will be alright.

We can do better. We are the solution.

MLK hope quote

Check out my General Resources page for podcast suggestions.

Masks are Tyranny???

Some people really and truly think that masks are tyranny. Really and truly. Despite EVERYTHING, there continues to be (really strong) opposition to wearing a mask.

I was initially all geared up to rant about it. I wanted to rant, but I am not going to. That’s the easy thing to do, but it isn’t helpful. It’s what everyone is doing these days. Who wants more of it?

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I looked up the definition of tyranny just to sanity check my gut reaction to that phrase and, yep, tyranny is a pretty extreme word for a face covering:

Tyranny (noun): “cruel and oppressive government or rule.

“people who survive war and escape tyranny” · 

Synonyms: despotism · absolutism · absolute power · autocracy · dictatorship · undemocratic rule · reign of terror · totalitarianism · Fascism · oppression · suppression · repression ·

  • a nation under cruel and oppressive government.
  • cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control.

    “the tyranny of the nine-to-five day” · 

  • (especially in ancient Greece) rule by one who has absolute power without legal right.”

close up of face masks
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I admit that after reading that definition I was even more pissed off for a while. Wearing a piece of cloth over your nose and mouth to stem a scientifically-proven public health crisis isn’t anywhere near the ballpark of being subjected to cruelty, oppression, or a reign of terror. It’s just not.

Of course there is plenty about this pandemic situation that is definitely cruel and unreasonable. Dying alone in a hospital comes to mind. Perpetuating this shit show and elongating everyone’s suffering by ignoring public health mandates gets a nod. Setting up the most vulnerable people in our society to be taken out by a virus that, at this point, we know exists and, honestly, we know how to contain, reigns pretty high too. But wearing a mask?

In the face of racial protests, clear inequality, food insecurity, massive unemployment, and pretty much many much bigger issues, calling a mask tyranny – wasting your breath complaining about it at all, really – seems pretty damn tone deaf.

But this blog isn’t Ranting and Raving.com for a reason. Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First is about providing a hopeful viewpoint to counterbalance the pervasive negative we are ever more perpetually steeped in. It’s about changing the narrative, looking more deeply at the universality of human suffering (how much more universal could you get than a pandemic?), and striving to take a new look at our challenges and to uncover the threads of hope.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

So, here we are, deep in struggle, and this is what I got for ya.

It’s been a really hard time.

People are BURNT OUT and worried. In the U.S., we left school in March with the promise that fall would be better. And it’s not. We are still vulnerable, still uncertain. And now, all these months later, the cure is perceived to be worse than the curse. There is virus fatigue, isolation fatigue, fear fatigue, economic fatigue, uncertainty fatigue, cheering-myself-up-and-looking-on-the-bright-side fatigue, fatigue fatigue. Kids are climbing the walls and so are parents. What’s so sad is that if everyone would just wear a mask, keep some distance, and wash their hands, we wouldn’t be having this problem.

mona lisa protection protect virus
Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

So here’s the short of it: we can do this. We HAVE to do this.

Care about the economy and want it to open back up completely? Wear a mask.

Want the kids to go back to school? Yep, wear a mask.

You say Black Lives Matter? Wear the mask (otherwise that is 100% NOT how you are living. Black and brown people have been disproportionately impacted by this virus. So, mask it).

There are a bevy of excuses for disliking the mask: it’s hot, it fogs my glasses, I don’t know anyone who has had the virus, I want my kids to have a normal childhood. My short response: rip the band-aid off, wear the mask, and we can all move on. The long version is:

  1. It’s hot: that’s true, it’s damn hot and the mask is extra uncomfortable when it’s hot. I am pretty sure a ventilator is uncomfortable, too, so a mask seems like not that much to ask, relatively speaking;
  2. Glasses fog: I wear glasses, too. I wipe them off or lift them up when they start to fog up. Ink smudges when I write with certain pens, too. I deal;
  3. Don’t know anyone personally who’s had the virus? – well, I do. The conservatively estimated 165,000 people who have died in the U.S. to date all knew someone. You will, too – eventually. Would that really make you feel better?!?!? The fact that the majority who have died were old doesn’t make me feel better about them getting bumped off. It’s a horrible way to die. When did we get so callous?
  4. Kids having a normal childhood: I get the worry about the kids, trust me, I really do. But adversity can be a great teacher. Besides, does anyone remember their own childhood in great detail? Like year over year detail? My summer memories are a blur of the odd family vacation, the odd sports or all around camp. Mostly we made our own fun and spent A LOT of time being totally bored (my mom’s solution: “I have plenty of things you can help me with around the house,” which effectively sent me into hiding and back to figuring out how to entertain myself). There is no timeline or dates or ages associated with any of it, just a vague pool of memories. School years also blur together. I am sure bad stuff happened in there, but I don’t remember most of it. And I turned out okay. Maybe better than okay. Completely pandemic-ready okay. Resilient, flexible, able to make my own fun.

person with a face mask and latex gloves holding a globe
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Basically, kids will respond to all of this okay, maybe even with some positive memories, if the adults in their world present it well. I don’t mean to fake it. I mean to listen and be present, but to work with it instead of against it. Resisting it or fighting it doesn’t make it better, it just makes it harder to live with this reality. This is 2020. This is just it. We don’t know the end date, but this isn’t forever. Take a deep breath.

Remember that many people are facing MAJOR, earth and life-shattering issues right now. If you aren’t food or shelter insecure, if you are safe in your home and not struggling with addiction or mental health issues, then it’s time to put your oxygen mask on, take a big deep breath, and then assist the person next to you.

Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy. – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

Just because we wish it so will not make this all go away. Until we all tow the line in a unified way, the U.S. will continue to trundle along with its ineffective whack-a-mole approach to dealing with this. More and more people will suffer and die, the school year will be in a constant state of upheaval, and the economy will not be able to fully re-open. Instead of the fast, difficult, unified approach, to date we have taken the long, slow, extended suffering approach. All the loss plus a clear view into our broken health care/insurance system (that would sooner bankrupt people for needed care than cover them); the inability of many to skip work despite the risk (because there is no financial safety net whatsoever); food tied to schools/food insecurity in one of the wealthiest countries in the world; and a government that treats its most vulnerable citizens as expendable, well, I think I just described tyranny. If masks and tyranny belong in a sentence together, it would be more accurate to say “masks are liberators from tyranny.”

Wear a mask.

Unite. Be strong. This too shall pass. If we work together, it will pass all the more quickly.

We are the solution.

You will be alright.

Back to School options

 

 

Strong Core

Swimming is one of my favorite things. I used to swim 2 to 3 times per week with a Masters swim program (don’t be impressed, it just means I am old). I was in super swim shape this year right up until, oh, March 10. And then it all stopped.

Let’s face it. During a global health crisis, many things we might love – and even things we didn’t know we loved but suddenly now miss (I am thinking of my kids and how they unexpectedly longed to go to school) – just aren’t a priority. So we shift gears and adapt. Personally, I did more crossfit, and I tried kickboxing and yoga (all on zoom). I made stuff up on my own, rode my bike, went running (sorry, joints, desperate times call for desperate measures). I just kept moving. The school thing is still a conundrum I have not yet solved so I am not going to dive into that one.

Anyhow, it’s summer now, our case count is low, and the ponds are no longer freezing or frozen, so I can swim again. And it feels SO good because I missed it (a lot) and my hamstrings were really, really sore (too many squats? I have no idea, but, as usual, swimming fixed it.)

As I paddle along, I have these moments of philosophical inspiration (oxygen deprivation can do that, apparently). Not only is swimming great exercise, but it has a lot of important life lessons to teach.

When I first got in the water, it felt familiar but my body was like, wait, what the what? Oh, we are doing this again suddenly four months later? And my mind was like, oh my gosh, was that a turtle? It was chaotic and ugly and, at times, terrifying (I prefer my swims wildlife-free). Yet it was also divine to bask in the soothing weightlessness of water again.

Life lesson #1 – It doesn’t have to be pretty; if you love it just get out there and do it (turtles welcome, ideally from a distance).

And then my lower back started to hurt. And I thought, huh, that’s odd. It’s a low-impact sport, after all, which is the whole point in my case. What the heck? So I mentioned it to the friend who I swim with and he said, “Are you tightening your core?”

BOOM! Right then I had this huge a-ha moment. I’ve been told to tighten my core many times before, but then I forget and need a reminder again. Sure enough, as soon as I tightened my core, my stroke became more efficient and less chaotic. I felt stronger, more whole, less floppy. And I realized that having a strong core matters more broadly as well. Sometimes I forget to engage my core in life – too often, really. When that happens I feel blown about by the shifting sands of time and public opinion. I am so non-confrontational that I will adapt like a chameleon so I don’t attract attention or get attacked. It’s a survival strategy (classic, in fact, if you’ve been bullied), just like it is for a chameleon. But in those situations, deep in my unengaged core, I am filled with misgiving, chaos, and confusion. When I remember to engage my core, I immediately feel stronger and more empowered.

Life lesson #2 – Engage your core! Live your values. Find your voice and speak it!

Once my core is engaged, I remember that I am supposed to stretch my body long with each stroke (or as a good friend told me when I got back into swimming several years ago – “You are not tall enough for this sport. You need every inch you can get” 🙂 – which means that the Olympic dreams of my childhood were pure fantasy, it turns out. Glad no one told me that then!). When I consciously stretch my body long, I suddenly realize that I tend to spend much of my life sort of shrunk. There’s a cool inch or two gained if I just stand up straight, or stretch all the way through all of my muscles, especially in my hips and spine. It feels so good to open those joints that mostly spend their time being compressed by my slouch, or by my lack of awareness that I am not reaching, stretching, extending, growing, lengthening. Like in life, a reach doesn’t necessarily feel good at first. And it requires conscious thought to make it happen. But once you start doing it, once you find that groove and stretch yourself, your stroke becomes much more efficient and so much more beautiful. You begin to glide across the water instead of battling against it.

Life lesson #3 – Stretch. Reach. Grow. Stand tall. Glide with the water, don’t fight it.

I can’t talk about swimming without talking about gratitude. Swimming is what brought me back to life after several years mired in emotional and physical pain with my RA diagnosis and my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. When it was taken away, as with so much else during the height of our state’s efforts to curb the pandemic, I could have been angry or sad. And maybe I was those things a little bit. But mostly I accepted that that’s what needed to be done for the greater good, adjusted my stroke, and found some other way to channel my energy. Now that I am back in the water, I am filled with gratitude – for an accessible pond nearby, for a break in coronavirus infections, for summer, for my health, for the ability to swim. I know this time in the water is fleeting because summer is fleeting and indoor isn’t an option for me until the coronavirus takes its leave of us. So I am conscious of this gift and I cherish this time while it lasts. Which leads me to:

Life lesson #4 – Gratitude is powerful. Live and love consciously.

So many of us spend so much of our lives on auto-pilot, unconsciously moving through the world. We miss so much of the nuance, so much of the good in the simple things this way. The coronavirus has created a unique moment in history (and I am definitely looking forward to it being history!). If we take the time to be conscious and reflective about what’s going on in our world, in our communities, in our lives, it can be an opportunity. This period has pulled back the veil of what we have accepted as normal and revealed so clearly how abnormal, unjust and inequitable “normal” was. I think a lot about the notion that “if you win the rat race you’re still a rat.” Where are we racing to? Is it somewhere we actually want to be? A life we actually want to have lived? And at what cost?

finding-dory-movie

WE ARE THE SOLUTION.

Wear a mask.

BREATHE.

Stay well.

You will be alright.

Reasons for Hope (and I am Still Here)

Remember back when this whole Coronavirus thing started (see Don’t Freak Out. But Also Don’t Be Cavalier) and I was, well, freaked out, and for whatever reason it made me feel better to look at puppies? Welp, let my silence here be an indicator (warning?) that we went next level. Not only did I look at puppies, but we decided to actually get one. He has arrived and has fully absconded with our hearts as well as my erstwhile writing time (which was carved out in the wee hours of the morning from my erstwhile sleeping time)! It’s all good – he’s worth it – just a shift.

Puppy

So I sit here today finally trying to parse through all of my thoughts from the past, oh, three weeks and maybe even a little bit of these past four months. Distance and time are always good for reflection, so, thanks, puppy, for providing me with both. I was initially feeling like a good rant, given everything, but have redirected my bubbling (boiling?) passion toward a more positive direction (for now – the rant is still percolating, but ranting isn’t terribly productive, is it?).

First things first, a deep breath. Even a recent article in the Wall Street Journal says deep breathing helps build our mental resilience. I say “even” because, while I respect the WSJ, I would have thought the editors would put deep breathing in the “woo woo” section. I already knew that deep breathing was a good idea, and useful to prevent ranting and other forms of insanity, but I was surprised and glad to see the WSJ sharing this wisdom, too. Surely all of us can use a good dose of resilience right now as well as shifting our focus to positive things (the WSJ notes how we are psychologically pre-wired to fixate on the negative – it’s a survival instinct, but it’s a little outdated since we no longer live in caves, usually, and don’t hunt and gather for food in a need-a-speer-and-I-could-get-killed-by-my-dinner-kind-of-way). So, breathe.

Last week, as I was cruising along holding my breath and all caught up in my thoughts about people only thinking about themselves and their own personal happiness, comfort and satisfaction, and how did we get here, and basically WTF is wrong with people it’s-a-little-piece-of-cloth-for-Christ’s-sake-stop-being-such-a-baby, I happened across an interview on the radio with Jane Goodall. She is one of my environmental (and life) heroes, and she is still out there fighting for environmental justice 60 years on. It is remarkable how little her message has changed over the years, and also how accurate it remains (and how calmly she delivers it – no ranting. Incredible). While there is still so much work to be done, still so many people ignoring science, still so much habitat and species destruction, her message is still one of hope. She doesn’t deny any of those issues, nor our role in this pandemic, and yet she remains hopeful. And sometimes I think, how can this be? And, then I realize her genius. Without hope all is lost. Hopelessness leads to giving up. Jane Goodall is not a giver-upper. And that’s inspiring. In the face of the many engrained, long-term problems we as a society need to face and change, we can’t lose hope and we cannot give up.

art artistic black and white blank
Photo by Lynnelle Richardson on Pexels.com

Over two decades ago, she published her book Reason for Hope. In summary, here are her reasons:

  1. The Human Brain (if we use it (that’s my line, not hers) – “We have at last begun to understand and face up to the problems that threaten us and the survival of life on Earth as we know it. Surely we can use our problem-solving abilities, our brains, to find ways to live in harmony with nature.”
  2. The Indomitable Human Spirit – “My second reason for hope lies in the indomitable nature of the human spirit. There are so many people who have dreamed seemingly unattainable dreams and, because they never gave up, achieved their goals against all the odds, or blazed a path along which others could follow.”
  3. The Resilience of Nature – “My third reason for hope is the incredible resilience of nature. I have visited Nagasaki, site of the second atomic bomb that ended World War II. Scientists had predicted that nothing could grow there for at least 30 years. But, amazingly, greenery grew very quickly. One sapling actually managed to survive the bombing, and today it is a large tree, with great cracks and fissures, all black inside; but that tree still produces leaves. I carry one of those leaves with me as a powerful symbol of hope. I have seen such renewals time and again, including animal species brought back from the brink of extinction.”
  4. The Determination of Young People – “My final reason for hope lies in the tremendous energy, enthusiasm and commitment of young people around the world. Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world. We should never underestimate the power of determined young people.”

The most compelling of this list to me back then and now is the indomitable human spirit. I think that’s where hope comes in.

Jimmy Fallon interviewed Jane Goodall on Earth Day in April 2020 if you are interested in hearing her thoughts outloud, including how animal trafficking and other forms of environmental destruction lay the groundwork for this pandemic as well as future ones. Unless, of course, we use our marvelous brains and change!

Finally, if you are still reading this, here’s a quick public service announcement: If you don’t really love dogs (like really, really love them), no matter how bored or lonely you are right now (or ever) don’t get one, especially a puppy. They are a lot of work and they deserve to be loved and taken care of now and in the future when life goes back to some semblance of normal. I know the pull of those cute little faces when you are sitting alone in your house day after day, week after week, and pretty much any other living creature coming to love you and direct your attention elsewhere seems like a really good idea. Puppies do those things, but that comes at a cost as well. I am joyfully but majorly picking and choosing how I spend what was already limited free time. I spend most of my day at the edge of my driveway encouraging my puppy to go to the bathroom. I love it, but it’s not super glamorous and if you can’t see yourself doing that much of the day and even the night, a puppy isn’t a good fit. So, there, PSA delivered and off my soapbox.

BREATHE.

Stay well.

You will be alright.

WE ARE THE SOLUTION.

And just wear a mask. If this is the greatest adversity you have ever faced, you are beyond blessed. It’s not hard. Honestly.

Jane Goodall Quote

 

 

100 Days of Quarantine

Yep, that’s right. I’ve been counting. I may be a day or two off because it all blurred together and I couldn’t tell what day was what for a while there, but I am calling it today and sticking to it!

What does this mean? Traditionally, in my experience, preschools and elementary schools celebrate the 100th day of school. The 100 days of school typically signifies that you are over the hump of the school year and on the downward slope toward summer break (that’s my interpretation anyway, no one ever actually explains WHY we are doing this). It drives me nuts, to be honest, because it’s pretty arbitrary and usually involves some sort of project with 100 objects that requires my assistance to collect, coordinate, and recoup after it goes to school. But damn if those traditions don’t just stick in your brain whether you like them or not! And, I mean, come on, 100 days is a freaking long time and a nice, round number so let’s at least notice it if not celebrate it! As far as I am concerned, these 100 days is 1/3rd of a freaking bizarre year and worth reflecting on no matter how many days are still to come.

The 100 days of not being in school? The 100 days of isolation? The 100 days of digging deep (sometimes really, really deep) to find gratitude? The 100 days of riding a roller coaster without ever leaving home?

Are we over the hump of coronavirus now? I suspect not really. Maybe we are over one hump, the first sin wave, but this bizarre period is not yet over. So the trouble I have with this 100 days is that there is no end in sight, and that still incites a little panic and overwhelm at times. I refuse to use the term “new normal.” I hate it. I prefer something like “the way things are for now.” For now is always a good way to approach uncertainty and change. It implies acceptance of the present but knowledge that the future might be different, though when that future comes is unclear.

I am trying to remember what life was like 100 days ago. I still prefer life from 101 days ago, I am certain of that, but am pleased with the mental shift that’s occurred in between. Those early days were LONG. And confusing. And depressing. I would go to bed knowing I had nothing to look forward to in the morning. I am a do-er and a busy bee so the idea that I had nowhere to go and nothing to go do tanked me at first. It felt so heavy, like so much work to get up and just make it through another day. I’ve mentioned before how I felt like coronavirus teleported me to the 1950s as a housewife, right? I swear that’s the truth of it. I wrote in my quarantine journal on March 31, “I missed 16 whole days in writing this journal. How is that even possible? Well, I’ll tell you how it’s possible. Because life right now is this twilight zone of sur-reality. I have been teleported to the 1950s and spend most of my waking hours cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, working with kids on one thing or another, and curating precious items for our consumption or comfort (general groceries and paper towels in particular).” That did not feel like much to wake up for. So for a long time I wallowed. For three weeks, in fact, according to my journal. Time is so strange. During the same period that the days were forever long I didn’t have time to write. Riddle me that, Batman.

Anyhoo, I know for sure that those first few weeks were a doozy, with more emails about cancelled plans and “uncertainty” than I care to count. I literally still use whiteout and still have a daily planner so I get to laugh when I look back at my calendar now and see the indent of my pen marks for all the plans that should have been just disappeared from reality by the quick stroke of the whiteout brush. It reminds me of traveling in Madagascar, sitting at the airport waiting on a delayed flight. The airport staff would just erase the departure time on the chalkboard and rewrite a new time when the plane was ready to go – two hours delayed was suddenly, miraculously, right on schedule! It’s like the question of whether trees falling in the woods make a sound if no one can hear them. If the plans you didn’t do don’t exist, well, did you miss out on anything?

I have 154 pages (including lots of pictures) keeping track of the last 100 days to pour over one of these days. In sum, a haiku:

Grief. Plodding days. Fear.

April snow. Enough! Spring blooms.

Pollen, hope abound.

Or something like that! I do love a good haiku :-).

So, today – day 100 – I am not saying we need to celebrate. But maybe we might as well (we did, after all, flatten the curve (where I live anyway) so at least a pat on the back is warranted for that)? My March 12, 2020, post Don’t Freak Out, But Also Don’t Be Cavalier is still all true. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that the puppy thing is very real as is the racism.

It’s a remarkable thing that the whole world is living through at the same time. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to define this period as good or bad, but we should notice all of it, learn, and adjust. Maybe I will make a list for next time of all the things I have learned over this time. Camus sums it up well, but I am always up for a good list.

Camus Quote

You will be alright.

Wash your hands.

Stay well, stay (close to) home?

 

 

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 and being anti-racist.

To do list

 

 

 

 

A Plea and a Prayer for the Voiceless and Vulnerable

Where do I even start? I am rendered speechless by some of what I see happening in the world right now. And not speechless in a good way.

I understand rationally that anger stems from fear, powerlessness, and uncertainty, which we have in spades currently. So I get to some degree that what we are seeing with regards to the virus, opening plans, and people flouting the very simple protocols for keeping everyone safe from wearing masks to maintaining their distance are symptomatic of that. I recently read an article from Psychology Today, in fact, entitled What Your Anger May Be Hiding that explains anger very rationally. Did you know that when someone is angry the brain releases a chemical that stimulates a numbing sensation while establishing a sense of security and control over a situation? I did not, but it explains so much.

I guess I thought and hoped we were more evolved than that and that we could recognize anger for what it is and modify our behavior. Clearly not. And that’s disappointing. Most disappointing of all is how there appears to be a cultural disregard for the most vulnerable people among us currently. If I hear one more time, “oh, yea, a lot of people have died but most of them were old” I am going to explode. WTF kind of attitude is that? Damn.

“What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.” from Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Anyway, I am rambling. I felt like I needed to acknowledge that because it’s been bugging me and making me sad. But I don’t want to focus on it. What I want to do is to say a prayer for the voiceless and vulnerable, for the elderly, our elders; for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia; for those in care homes; for those with other health vulnerabilities; for those in places like rural Guatemala and rural Madagascar and so many other places in the world (including the inner city and parts of rural America) that are disconnected from the regular news cycle so we don’t hear their plight – both because they don’t have a platform to tell it and because no one is listening. Amidst all the quiet of this time, it’s remarkable the cacophony we humans can stir up to distract ourselves and still not LISTEN.

I don’t want to dwell on this. I want to focus on the good stuff, the stories of hope and kindness where you would least expect to find them! It’s my whole mission here and really this is the stuff of grace and humanity that needs to be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops!

In today’s episode, we have video footage of Girl Pioneers from the MAIA Impact School reporting from their homes in rural Guatemala on what life is like in quarantine for them, thanks to donated devices that have been distributed to the students and the MAIA Impact School’s on-going work to give these girls and their families a platform from which to be heard and seen.

You can read more about the students, their lives, and MAIA’s response to COVID @ https://www.maiaimpact.org/maias-response-covid19

More to come!

Each day is a blessing in whatever form it comes – don’t squander it!

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Indigenous Woman Poem