Let Me Not Forget

If we ever get through all of this…

“What do you want to continue doing, to remember, from all you’ve learned during the pandemic?”  An acquaintance of mine posed that question to several of us.  “What’s the most important thing?  And what have you done to take care of yourself through all of this?”

For me, the answers rose steadily and quickly:  The most important lesson I have learned from months of plague and lockdown, the one thing that I want to remember always and to continue, is appreciation. And the one vital thing I’ve learned to do to take care of myself is to intentionally express gratitude.

Never again do I want to look at a calendar and say to myself, “Great.  Five family and friend birthdays this month!  I’m not going to have any money or any weekends!”  Rather, I want to think joyously, “Time to be with the ones I love, gathered together, without masks, without fear; hugging, grabbing up the little ones to lift them high into the air, jubilant to be in one another’s company.”  I no longer want my sense of astonished wonder and absolute delight to be invoked only by astounding sunsets or exquisite rainbows or rare astrological phenomena (although I certainly don’t want to relinquish those experiences, either).  But I want to retain the lesson that we, all of us, have learned and sometimes still are learning from isolation: to value the most unpretentious enjoyments of daily life; all those things we had always taken for granted and then were suddenly denied.

I want to go to that restaurant a friend prefers, the one that I’m really not crazy about, and appreciate being out, having a meal together.  I want to be humbled by the opportunity to hug my family members.  And I want to know, in humility and gratitude, what it is to sit at the bedside of a sick friend, or to bring them meals or help with their housework, or to have the privilege of holding the hand of someone who is dying.

Put most simply, I never want to forget what it has been, still is, to not have these things.

And that is the crux of the matter, isn’t it?  We humans forget so easily.  Oh, we say we will remember—that history will not repeat itself, because we shall never forget, but we do.  Life moves on; we place one foot ahead of the other and walk away from the sad, the bad, the painful and uncomfortable memories.  We forget.

And it is for that reason that, every day that I am still privileged to go on walking this weary world, to breathe and live, I want to remember what it was to spend days in continual isolation while intentionally expressing gratitude.

I recall the long hours of lockdown, and the anguished, unbearable loneliness, as I recounted in “Surviving the Lockdown” (April 8, 2020).  As I waited vainly for an occasional e-mail, text or phone call from friends and family who did not, as I do, live alone; who did not even comprehend how desperately I needed communication, human contact of any type, I realized I had to find some way to make myself care about whether I survived.  And that way, it turned out to be, was not just to find, each day, something for which I was grateful, but to intentionally mark that gratitude in verbal or written form.

And so I found myself being grateful for all the time I had to catch up on long-neglected chores.  Without the excuse of social interaction to distract me, many of the things I’d been meaning to do forever, such as washing all the crystal in my china cabinet—those things were done at last.  On the rare occasions when I had to drive somewhere for necessary groceries or to care for an elderly family member, I was grateful for the lack of traffic.  A nervous driver always, tooling along roads that were almost empty was heaven to me!  I was grateful for my pets, as talking to and petting them sometimes kept me sane—and I told them so, sometimes weeping my loneliness into their furry coats.  These and so many other aspects of my life during lockdown I learned not to merely think about with gratitude, but to speak that gratitude aloud, or write it down; note it, with intention.  “I am grateful; I am grateful…”  Gratitude, I discovered, was a bridge from depression and angst to acceptance and peace.

And now, almost daily, I remind myself: Let me not forget.  Let me not forget appreciation and intentional gratitude.  Let these be the lessons that I take from the long and fearful months of isolation and anxiety.  Let me remember, always, what it has been and sometimes still it to not  have the simplest pleasures of daily life; to not have contact and communication with other human beings.  And let me now, having those things once more, be fully sensible of them, completely appreciative, and forever intentionally grateful.

If something in this post appealed to you, you might also enjoy “Three Things”, which you can locate by scrolling down to the Archives below.  You find it listed May 20, 2020.

 

A History of Queen Anne’s Lace

In response to the recent action by the State of Texas to ban abortions after six weeks, I reprint this post from May 22, 2019.

Years ago, I was watching an educational TV show during which the narrator discussed plants that were not native to the Americas but which are now common. As an example, the speaker mentioned Queen Anne’s Lace, commenting that the seeds of this non-native plant were inadvertently carried to these shores, hitchhiking in blankets and caught on the clothing of European settlers.

I could not stop laughing at such blatant ignorance. I was well aware that the seeds of Queen Anne’s Lace, taken as a morning-after tea, were the most effective of all the early forms of birth control–at least since silphium was hunted to extinction by Roman and Egyptian women desperate to prevent conception.Queen-Annes-Lace11  The seeds of Queen Anne’s Lace weren’t ferried to the Americas accidentally, hitchhiking on property, but quite purposefully, by women who preferred not to be worn out or die due to too-frequent childbearing.

For centuries, knowledgeable midwives instructed the women they served in the lore of birth control—difficult, and not totally reliable, but not completely impossible in the centuries before the development of the diaphragm and the contraceptive pill. And, yes, their knowledge also included methods of abortion, customarily using herbs. Compounded from celery root and seed, hedge hyssop, cotton root, Cretan dittany and spruce hemlock, mistletoe leaves and horseradish, cinchona bark, ashwagandha and saffron, wooly ragwort, castor oil, blue and black cohosh, evening primrose, and even the remarkably dangerous pennyroyal and tansy and ergot of rye, herbal abortions were common when contraception failed. Though those recipes have been lost to time, the concoctions were so prevalent that ads for patent medicines to cure “delayed menstruation” were common in women’s magazines throughout the 1800s—that is, until the passage of the Comstock Act in 1873  (both written and passed by men, of course) criminalized even the possession of information on birth control.

The world has turned many times since the Comstock Act, through the invention of the contraceptive pill, to the self-help clinics of the late 1960s that instructed women in the practice of menstrual extraction, through Roe vs. Wade. The morning-after and abortion pills were introduced, a chemical solution at last replacing that centuries-old use of abortifacient herbs.

I absolutely do not, will not, debate the wrongness or rightness of any of this, from Queen Anne’s Lace to the present day. To me, decisions regarding birth control and abortion remain always a choice best made by the woman involved, in accordance with her conscience and personal situation. But what struck me most forcefully in reading up on the history of contraception and abortion was that, step by step, women have been conditioned to believe that choosing to control their own reproductive process, even to the decision to prevent conception, was at best immoral, or at worst, criminal.

We think of the Middle Ages as a time of great ignorance, yet it was then that midwives—wisewomen–practiced, sharing their expertise and knowledge with the female population at large, easing the pain of childbirth and preventing many maternal deaths by their skill. And it was then, too, that such women were hunted down, burned and tortured and hung as witches, effectively silencing their knowledge for generations. Women were left in the hands of male doctors who, shrugging, pronounced, “Maternity is eternity”, reconciling countless numbers of women and infants to easily-preventable deaths as babies were delivered in filthy conditions with unwashed hands.

Circle the world a few times on its axis, and enter the 1900s, when horrific deaths by botched back alley abortions were common. Young and desperate women bled to death or died horribly of septicemia. Circle again, and information on contraception was readily available, along with new forms of birth control. Contraceptive creams and condoms were sold over the counter. Legal abortion gave a measure of safety to the procedure. The morning after pill became available for those who had either been careless or experienced the horrors of rape.

History, they say, always repeats itself. And so as society swings perilously close once more to the era of illegal and back alley abortions, so it may also oscillate to women who reclaim the ancient knowledge that gave them power over their own reproductive processes: to the natural methods that provided women a way to make their decisions in accordance with their conscience.

The morality of these decisions is not truly the question, for no matter what is legislated, women will continue to fight for and gain absolute control over their own bodies. They will continue to make their personal choices regarding reproduction. The Pendulum of Queen Anne’s Lace, you might call it. History will, genuinely, always repeat itself.

If you found something to like in this essay, you might also appreciate “MURDER”, the story of my 1985 miscarriage and the vicious accusations hurled several of us at my workplace who were grieving a pregnancy loss. You will find it in the Archives below, from June 19, 2019.

No Pleasure In Being Right

Saying, or at least thinking, “I told you so!” is usually one of life’s evil but genuine little pleasures.

I’ve seen the words written, heard them said, time and time again. “Believe me,” they always begin. “Believe me, I take no pleasure at all in being right.”

Bull puckey, I’ve always thought. Saying, or at least thinking, “I told you so!” is usually one of life’s evil but genuine little pleasures. It is vindication, justification, and smug certainty all wrapped up in one self-satisfied and self-righteous package, and it feels great. Absolutely great. I rarely actually say those words, but I have been known to think them loudly. Very, very loudly. And never so much as with the Covid-19 pandemic.

From the first whispers of news about the virus, I felt concern. This could be, I told myself, every bit as bad as Ebola, and quite possibly worse. I mentioned this to a few acquaintances, who accused me of fearmongering.

Predictably, those same acquaintances never referred back to that conversation once the pandemic was underway, but I had the grim satisfaction of knowing my worries had been justified.

Next came the photos smuggled out of Wuhan showing hospitals beleaguered: dead bodies lining hallways where the still-living sick awaited treatment. Having learned my lesson, I said nothing to anyone, but told myself, “This is going to be worse than bad.” Again, sadly, I was right.

The newswires hummed with the first officially recorded U.S. case of Covid. I shuddered; I knew what was coming. A few weeks later, Trump announced that the virus would “…go away in April”. I rolled my eyes so hard they almost lodged in my hairline.

Deaths attributable to the virus began to soar, and I held one hand to my aching head—sadly, again correct.

I compared my own experience with a mystery respiratory illness, and those of family and friends, to the officially-recorded arrival of Covid-19 in the U.S., and disbelieved the official timeline. Months later, my supposition was proven right as postmortems and testing of blood bank contributions confirmed that the virus had been circulating much earlier than originally thought.

As each new stage of the pandemic was encountered, I questioned the endorsed stance. I should have been placing bets; I would have raked in the cash! We don’t need to wear masks. (“Yes, we do.”) Ah, we DO need to wear masks, but it won’t be necessary to lock down the city, the state, the country… (“Yes, it will, and it’s going to happen.”)

Then, blessedly, the vaccine was developed. Though breathing a sigh of relief, I continued to worry. After all, I was admittedly not a fan of the way children’s vaccinations are administered, considering some of them to be poorly-tested, and a few even outright dangerous. Would everyone accept the necessity of being vaccinated for Covid? I doubted so. Again, sadly, I was correct.

The CDC made the startling announcement that those who were fully vaccinated need no longer wear masks in public situations. “That’s insane!” I remarked to myself. “An honor system? Are they crazy?” Well, yes. It quickly became clear that this strategy had failed just as badly as their initial, “no need to wear masks” policy.

Meanwhile, in those states where both vaccination and mask mandates lagged, case counts began to mount, overwhelming local ICUs with the sick and dying. Once again, unhappily, I had been right.

As each of these missteps and errors and failures to take the virus seriously mounted up, my satisfaction in being right became ever more bitter. Each step of the way, I had accurately predicted a terrible outcome; each time, I had been proven correct.

It was awful.

Finally came the recent August afternoon when I, watching an Indy auto race with my Dad, was horrified as the camera swept over a packed infield: wall-to-wall people, and no masks at all. No social distancing, no masks. It was the second of three races being held in Indy that day, my Dad commented casually, and I felt my heart skip a beat.

Superspreader.

The vaccination rate in our county was less than 50%.

Assured that I was, as I had been all along, on track to a correct conclusion, I dared send an e-mail to several contacts considering the possibility that these auto races would prove to be a superspreader event. I was quickly and roundly lectured by one relative, who deviated from my actual question to soapbox about individual freedoms, pronouncing didacticly, “We can’t lock down the country again!” Another derided my concerns, noting that the Indy 500 in May (which had been held with both a mask mandate and social distancing requirement) had not proven to be a superspreader.

Less than two weeks later, by August 23, the New York Times reported that Marion County, Indiana’s Covid case rate had soared by a terrifying 79%.

I did not bother remarking on this predictable outcome to those who had disputed my remarks.

But I finally–genuinely, sorrowfully–understood the truth of that old saying which I had always disparaged. I took no pleasure whatever, none at all, in once more being right.

If you can stand yet one more article or essay about the restrictions of Covid-19, you might also like reading “When Life Was Simple (Sigh)”, which you can locate in the Archives from February 24, 2021.

The Subtlety of Verbal Abuse

Verbal abusers are sly…

I was once in a relationship with a man who suffered from misophonia (also called selective sound sensitivity syndrome). I lightly apply the term “suffered” to his personal experience with the disorder. Although the condition undoubtedly caused him distress, it was the people around him who truly suffered. As an individual who had never learned the value of self-control in any aspect of his life, his misophonia was simply one more excuse for him to demonstrate uncontrolled and abusive behavior.

That comment may seem harsh, but is supported by countless events I experienced in his company, of which examples abound. Passengers in his car quickly learned that to gasp at a near-miss with another auto was reason for him bellow, not at the other driver, but at his fellow traveler. The give-and-take of normal conversation would send him stomping off to sulk in some quiet corner, demanding that the other person cease speaking. Those unfortunate enough to sneeze in his presence learned that the result was not “Bless you!”, but invective hurled at the miscreant.

I finally divined the hard truth that lurked behind his diagnosis of misophonia: he used the condition, applying it as a way to rage other people, and most often at women. Natural noise, I came to understand, even the most irritating dissonance, had very little effect upon Mr. Misophonia. The racket of annual cicadas, for instance, did not faze him. Disagreeable mechanical sounds, scraping or clattering, never bothered him. The voice of any male person he admired did not annoy him, yet he reviled women’s voices, and the sound of children’s laughter made him visibly quiver with distaste. Yet the crash of items that he threw in anger did not discommode him.

After three years in his presence I came to understand that much of his claim to suffering misophonia was no more than a method for exerting power over the people in his life. The disorder provided him an easy escape from either exercising control over his own behavior or apologizing for inappropriate conduct. Misophonia simply compounded his unremitting attacks of verbal abuse.

That it took me three years to reach this conclusion isn’t really surprising. Countless scholarly articles discuss the subtlety of emotional/verbal abuse; how it snakes, constrictor-like, about its victims, gradually divesting them of all sense of self-worth or even the will to defend themselves. It’s my belief that most of us who have, as adults, found ourselves enmeshed in a relationship with an emotional abuser also have a background containing some form of trauma, often from a very early age when we had few resources with which to defend ourselves. Our sense of dignity has already been deeply wounded.

Verbal abusers play upon that victimhood. They are sly. They have an uncanny ability to determine, using non-verbal clues, those among their acquaintance who feel that their very existence is taking up too much space in the room. With that knowledge in hand, it’s a quick leap to deep, penetrating conversations: discussions which falsely indicate a sense of interest in the other person, but which unveil someone’s personal triggers and touch buttons. Then begins the cunning work of further undermining that individual’s already-shaky sense of self-worth. Verbal abusers easily breach someone’s defenses, breaking down barriers that would have been firmly placed in a healthier, normal ego. Verbal abusers are both shrewd and skilled in their malevolence.

And often, like Mr. Misophonia, they exploit actual problems or illness to further manipulate their victims: “Pity poor me, I have this disease, this difficulty, this impediment, and I cannot help or amend the behavior that accompanies it. Because of this, I bear no responsibility for my conduct. YOU are the problem, for you lack empathy and understanding. YOU must work harder to support me in my struggles.”

Looking back from the distance of years, I’m a bit amazed that I was somehow able to wrest myself from this destructive relationship and re-establish myself as a whole person. Perhaps some spark of soul, some deeply-rooted hint of self-esteem finally rose up in me, rejecting his attempts to paralyze me into a vision of worthlessness. More likely, though, my enlightenment began when, helpfully educating myself about misophonia in an attempt to be supportive, I realized that there were sufferers who spent nearly their every waking moment exerting enormous self-discipline to control their painful reactions to sound triggers, trying to prevent outbursts that would distress the people around them.

My abuser, I realized, had never done that. Rather, he gloried in the effect his flaring temper had to quell and subdue the people in his orbit. He was less a misophonic, I came to understand, than a manipulator. A subtle, malicious manipulator. With that knowledge came the ability to remove myself at last from that terribly unhealthy relationship.

There are genuine misophonics who suffer dreadfully from a poorly-understood medical condition. But my abuser was not one of them.

If this essay appealed to you, you might also enjoy “The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Rose Up to Smite Me”, from October 27, 2017. Scroll down to the Archives link to locate it.

Mimsey’s Vow

If a newborn can’t smile, how is it that she could, dreaming, laugh?

Newborn babies can’t really smile. All the parenting books and articles, all the pediatricians and obstetricians, assure us of that fact. Oh, babies “smile”, even in utero, they explain, but it means nothing. No, no, it’s not gas—that explanation is old hat; after all, do you smile when you feel gassy? Heavens no—you grimace. But, nevertheless, for a newborn, it’s not a smile; it’s just a reflex; just “testing the equipment”, as it were.

And, of course, all new mothers and fathers know this is absolute, total hogwash.

IMG_20210430_104722463_BURST000_COVER_TOP (3)VID_20190626_114506425_Moment (2)A newborn’s smile may not be that wide-eyed grin, the delighted beaming countenance that it will be in just a few months, but it is, unquestionably, a smile.

When my first grandchild was born, I remembered and hunted down the newborn photo of her mother, my own daughter. Thirty-three years ago, there wasn’t a camera living in everyone’s pocket; photos required posing, planning, film.

Baby Amanda (2)
And so on the day the two of us left the hospital, I dressed my two-day-old daughter in a white dress and shoes sprinkled with tiny pink rosebuds and handed her over to a nurse who carried her down the hall for her very first “official” photograph. Returning her a few minutes later, the nurse laughingly explained that she’d done her best to make my little one not stick her tongue out at the camera, tapping her mouth gently and exclaiming, “We don’t do tongues!” It hadn’t worked. But when I picked up the photo package later, I could not help but smile myself: tongue or not, that baby was smiling.

Everyone who saw the picture exclaimed over that fact. “I think she is happy to be here,” her Grandma Mary explained.

I myself, by the way, didn’t plan to be “Grandma”. Because of family divorces and remarriages, my lucky little granddaughter was going to have a plethora of grandparents. The titles Nana and Mamaaw had already been co-opted, while being called the old-fashioned “Grandma” just didn’t appeal to me. But choosing my moniker turned out to be easy, because I’d already come up with it. My “extra daughters”—young women who my daughter had grown up with–all called me either Mom 2 or sometimes Mimi’sMom, jumbling the two words into one. For their children, we’d run the syllables of “Mimi’sMom” into a further sliding scale, creating a fresh version for my almost-grandchildren: Mimsey. So for my own grandchild, also, I would be proudly a Mimsey.

002

So Mimsey I was, sitting there in the hospital an evening three days after Morrigan’s birth, as my daughter endured her prolonged recovery from a difficult, fruitless labor and eventual C-section. An old friend had dropped by to see our perfect new miniature human, and was holding the little one as she quite obviously dreamed; we both remarked on it as we marveled, watching her tiny eyelids twitching and moving in REM sleep. Not wanting to wake her, we adults spoke quietly together…quietly enough so that we all heard it when this three-day old, tiny person chuckled in her sleep. That’s correct: chuckled. Laughed. Chortled. Our eyes rounding, we stared at one another before all bursting out, our words tumbling over each other’s, “Did she just laugh?!” “Did you hear that?!” “Was that her ?!”

If a newborn can’t smile, how is it that she could, dreaming, laugh? Laugh in her sleep?

But then, I had no reason to doubt the laugh, even if there had not been three of us to hear it. After all, I already knew from raising my own daughter that the “newborns can’t really smile” presumption was utter nonsense. Even had I not known it, though; even if this sleeping newborn child had not just laughed in the presence of three witnessing adults, I would have known the “can’t really smile” theory was utter bunkum because of what had already happened on the very first morning of Morrigan’s life.

As my daughter and son-in-law each slept the deep, healing sleep of exhausted new parents, I held that ever-so-small, magnificent child in my arms, whispering to her of all the wonderful things I hoped awaited her in this lifetime; blessing her; speaking not just to her tiny, listening ears, but, I hoped, directly to her soul. Her little eyes remained closed while she slept and I murmured, until I finally made my solemn promise to her: “I am your Mimsey, and it’s my job in this lifetime to protect you. I vow to you that I will do anything to achieve that, even to giving my life for yours.”

And she smiled.

Once again, I send
Birthday Blessings and So Much Joy to You, Morrigan Lynn
Great Queen of the Water
Mermaid Queen with the Heart of a Dragon
From Your Mimsey
Who Loves You Beyond Life Itself

Pandemic “Logic”

Hammering my head against a brick wall has never, for some unfathomable reason, been my favorite activity. Yet I seem to have done a lot of it since March, 2020.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been engaged in a battle of wits, with, no, not an unarmed person, but one who continually brings a knife to a gun fight.

At the first whisper of the approaching pandemic, I voiced my concerns. My apprehension elicited a reaction amounting to a big shrug and a long lecture. After all, I was informed, the SARS epidemic of 2002 did not reach pandemic proportions; ditto, bird flu. MERS never even amounted to epidemic, let alone pandemic proportions. The most serious outbreaks of Ebola, although devastating to other countries, resulted in very few cases reaching the U.S.

Of course, my disputant quite ignored the fact that, during those years, from 2002 to 2016, the US was governed by administrations in which Presidents were actually literate and capable of reading their daily briefings, all the while maintaining cordial, informative relationships with the WHO and CDC. Unfortunately for America (and fortunately for the novel coronavirus), 2020 found us governed by an orangutan who couldn’t have located his own backside using both hands and a proctologist. (I apologize to orangutans, who are actually very intelligent creatures.)

My plaints fell on deaf ears. As both case counts and deaths began to accumulate, I was assured by the Font of All Wisdom that Covid-19 was no worse than any other annual influenza. “Really?” I dared question. “I don’t ever recall seeing plague pits and mass burials during previous winter flu epidemics.” But the photos I displayed of the distressing Hart Island burials were dismissed with a wave of the hand.

Then worldwide death tolls spiraled upward. Nationwide mask mandates and lockdowns were initiated (to which I reacted with a nod to necessity while hunkering down for the duration). Meanwhile, I was sent information regarding Sweden’s herd immunity experiment and copies of the so-called Great Barrington Declaration.

“Hmmm,” I responded, watching Sweden’s death toll pile up countless times higher than any of its neighboring Nordic countries, decimating its elderly population and leaving thousands suffering the lingering effects of long-haul symptoms. “Hmmm. Isn’t it odd that no world population anywhere managed, over all the centuries of recorded civilization, to achieve herd immunity to viral illnesses such as chickenpox or smallpox? Nope, the darned viruses just managed to keep on inflicting illness and injury and death until vaccines were invented.”

“And how,” I wondered idly, “does anyone, anywhere, propose to ‘shield’ medically-vulnerable populations—elderly and infants, immunocompromised, and those undergoing various medical treatments such as chemotherapy? How does one even begin to accomplish that, when the very people working with those at-risk populations are bopping about, unmasked and not socially-distanced, going to work or attending school, socializing and gathering at sports arenas and Trump rallies?”

I received no answer to these very Spockian-logical questions.

And, “Isn’t it amazing,” I recently noted, as the increasing spread of the more-contagious Delta variant became endlessly newsworthy, “that the authors and signatories of that Great Barrington Declaration never even considered that the damned virus might mutate?! That all those living bodies hosting and incubating the virus might be nothing more, after all, than petri dishes for an increasingly vital, transmuting monster, desperate to survive despite all the mitigations of lockdowns, masks, hand sanitizers, social distancing and vaccines?”

Ignoring these remarks, and responding only to my statement that I was still, and planned to continue, wearing my mask while in public, I was informed that masks only protect others from me; they provide no protection to the wearer. I sighed tiredly and referenced a web page produced by the renowned Mayo Clinic stating that masks and eye protection serve to protect the wearer from inhaling or encountering respiratory droplets released by others. I doubted the page would be read, but I felt a masochistic compulsion to send it, nonetheless. Partnered with that compulsion was an act of simple insanity on my part when I further confessed to still wearing disposable gloves in certain situations, such as while pumping gas or touching ATM or elevator buttons.

Now, it isn’t really possible to hear scathing laughter over the electronic pathways of e-mail, yet I swore I could catch it tumbling down the wires in response to my admission. There was NO possibility, I was informed from the lofty heights of Mt. Know-It-Allus, that one could contract Covid-19 from surface contact—no, not even if one hopped into the car picking one’s nose after pumping that gas! Once more, I exhaled gustily, rolled my eyes, and replied with simple truth: “Have you ever SEEN a report of exactly what bacteria and viruses contaminate those surfaces?! The only thing missing is bubonic plague!”

I may be wearing those disposable gloves until the end of time, let alone the demise of Covid-19.

Hammering my head against a brick wall has never, for some unfathomable reason, been my favorite activity, and yet I seem to have done a lot of it since March, 2020. No matter. I’m vaccinated, masked, gloved, hand-washed and sanitized, socially distanced and surface-disinfected, and have so far been Covid-free. And if apprehension, information, caution, and just plain common sense can keep me that way, then that’s the plan.

If you enjoyed this essay, you might also like “To Wash or Not to Wash: No Question”, last published July 8, 2020, or “Handshake, Schmandshake”, from April 18, 2020.

December 26, 2019

I am horrified now to realize that I might have spent a full day carrying and spreading a potentially fatal illness

On December 26, 2019, at two o’clock in the morning, I woke with a dry cough. Sitting up on the edge of my bed, coughing steadily, I blamed the roughness in my lungs on the unhealthy combination of my asthma and all the ghastly cigarette smoke I’d been forced to inhale at a relative’s house on Christmas Eve.

Since I was due at a medical lab at an ungodly early hour that morning for blood tests (note to self: Never ever, never again schedule an annual checkup following a month of overindulgence between Thanksgiving and Christmas!), I piled my pillows high to breathe more comfortably in an upright position, and slept a little longer before rising for my appointment.

Later, minus six vials of blood, I hurried to break my fasting status (more junk food, before I had to face the awful results!) and then dropped by my favorite discount store to load up on post-holiday sale merchandise. But my cough worsened as I piloted my cart through the store, so I checked out with very few purchases and drove home, planning to use my nebulizer to clear the ongoing asthma attack.

Good intentions, road to hell… I arrived home to find a message on my house phone (why, oh why, did he not call my cell?!) from my father, saying he was heading to the ER with breathing difficulties. Of course, he neglected to mention the ER of WHAT HOSPITAL??! Since he never actually turns his own cell phone on, precious time was wasted in tracking him down before I rushed off to the hospital. I remained there most of the day until Dad, made more comfortable, was admitted in the late afternoon and settled into a room. Then I drove to his house to care for his lonely little cat, check his home security system, and haul in his Christmas gifts, still sitting in his car.

Yet even as I’d remained at Dad’s side throughout the afternoon, I’d struggled to suppress my ongoing cough. I couldn’t in good conscience abandon my father, yet I was uneasy. A full day of wheezing? Could this really be no more than a reaction to cigarette smoke? But I had no other symptoms, not then, and years of asthma have made me blasé about the condition. I told myself that I just needed that nebulizer treatment.

But as I drove to Dad’s house, a tidal wave of illness crashed over me. My head began to swim; every muscle began to ache. Arriving at his home, I seriously considered just collapsing there and sleeping on the couch. But I knew my own pets were probably waving protest placards and chanting unpleasant slogans regarding my failure to provide dinner. So, despite a quickly rising temperature, I drove home. Half-hallucinating, I was actually startled when I automatically raised my garage door and drove in, for I remembered nothing of my route home but feverish dreams.

I cared for my pets and collapsed into my favorite armchair. I would remain there for the better part of the next four days, aching, chilling, headachy, feverish and coughing; actually unable to walk up the stairwell of my own home to my bedroom. Although the worst of my illness seemed, at least initially, to be over within a week, I suffered a relapse on New Year’s Day, and continued feeling absolutely dreadful for weeks, coughing continually long after my fever lowered.

My brother, who had taken over with Dad when I dropped, fell ill next; his wife followed, all of us sharing similar symptoms. Meanwhile, a friend living in another state who is usually healthy suddenly fell seriously ill of pneumonia; one of her acquaintances then lost her spouse to pneumonia. And if all this sounds like possible cases of Covid-19, well, then, so it does. But on the day I fell ill, the epidemic in China was still carefully under wraps; their first coronavirus death had not even been acknowledged until December 8.

Long months later, I would read about random blood samples collected during that December which were found to exhibit Covid-19 antibodies, proving the disease had been infecting people throughout the U.S. far earlier than initially known. So I’ve since given much thought to the undefined illness my family and friends experienced that winter, and the horrifying reality that I might easily have spent a full day carrying and spreading a potentially fatal illness, all the while thinking it was nothing more than a totally-undeserved smoker’s cough bequeathed me by others’ cigarettes. That realization overwhelms me with guilt.

I remind myself that none of us living had ever experienced pandemic, and that when I fell ill even the medical community was unaware that Covid-19 had already begun to spread. But whether we suffered Covid-19 or not, and as the victims and fatalities from the Delta variant mount up, I hope that none of us who’ve survived these turbulent and painful months will, in the future, ever again take lightly even the hint of communicable illness.

At this spot, I usually refer readers to an earlier blog post–but there is nothing in the Archives of my past blogs that in any way relates to this essay. Of course, with the possible exception of those who endured Ebola, none of us living in the late 20th and early 21st centuries had ever experienced a plague! Pray heaven we never do so again.

Cowardly Lions

I find myself bewildered by belligerent individuals who first escalate but then refuse to discuss a problem.

I’m someone who consciously avoids conflict. When forced to argue a position, I find that problems are more often solved by calm voices making their points with firm resolution, as all parties involved allow the other(s) to speak while listening wholeheartedly and carefully and asking for clarification.

So I find it absolutely bewildering to be viciously verbally attacked by a gutless ass who then storms away, refusing to discuss the problem, darting into his home to avoid doing so.

Yes, I said “his”. Because each time this has happened to me, it’s been some male who behaved in this cowardly manner. Women, I’ve found, if they aren’t amenable to calm discussion, tend to stand their ground, shouting and gesticulating.

But men (at least when confronting women), throw a genuine hissy fit before storming off to sulk in their dens like old lions. Or such has been my experience.

Two examples of this behavior spring strongly to mind. The first was the neighbor of “There’s Always One” fame (if you’re interested in that bizarre little story, you can locate it in the Archives, dated April 29, 2020). The incident recounted in that essay was only the opening gun in his on-going practice of picking insane quarrels with me. One memorable event was the occasion when I went helpfully about to pick up downed branches from the backyard trees following a severe thunderstorm. There being no trees around my own condo, I heaped all the detritus into a single pile, mixing them with the downed limbs from the tree behind his condo, innocently supposing that, since the mess would have to be cleared by the contracted yard workers, it would be helpful to have all the scattered branches gathered into one place.

Bad assumption on my part, apparently. Much like the thunderstorm that had brought down the branches, Grumpy Neighbor stormed out, roaring at me for having intermixed the neighbor’s tree limbs with his own, before escalating into a shouting harangue about where I placed my garbage bin at the curb for weekly pickup—which, he proclaimed, interfered with his ability to exit from our conjoined driveways. Wondering to myself why the old fool hadn’t just calmly mentioned this problem to me earlier, I began to reply coolly. But my words died on my lips as, rather than hearing me out, Cowardly Lion turned and stomped back into his den.

The very next week, however, the old crank intentionally placed his garbage bin where it would make it impossible for me to exit my portion of our joined drives. Meanwhile, I, ever the little peacemaker, had trundled my own bin all the way down the drive and sidewalk to the grassy verge. The joke was on Cowardly Lion, though, for previous to his temper tantrum I’d been the considerate neighbor who’d thoughtfully rolled both our emptied bins back up to our garages. No more to that nor any other helpful practice. When the post office sent notice one snowy winter that mail would not be delivered if the street in front of our boxes was not cleared of drifted snow, I dug out my own mailbox only–and considered, but didn’t follow through on piling each shovelful in front of his post box. The shrub between our two condos remained beautifully trimmed—on my side only. (Never let it be said that I do not have a full grasp of the joys of passive aggression!)

But dealing with Cowardly Lions never ends, I find.

Parking is an adventure on my daughter’s one-way street in an old area of town. There being no driveways or attached garages, cars of both residents and their visitors line both sides of the road; only the spaces marked by handicapped signs are unusable to the general public.

I’d found a single open space across the street from her home one Saturday afternoon, but, upon leaving, discovered that I’d been boxed in by someone who’d parked much too close to my front bumper. As I crouched down to be sure my car hadn’t been scratched, the homeowner stormed out of his front door, shouting, “Not even close!! But if you ever park in front of my house again, I’ll beat you!”

Shocked, I nevertheless started to reply calmly, but he thundered back into his house. Still hoping to discuss the problem, I walked over to knock on the screen door, but the main door was slammed in my face, as Cowardly Lion went to sulk in his den.

Prevented from resolving the problem, I merely sighed and stopped by the local police department on my way home, reporting the incident and his threat. The police sighed, too; it wasn’t their first encounter with Mr. I-Own-the-Street.

Reflecting on these and similar incidents, though, I find myself bewildered by belligerent, irrational males who first escalate and then refuse to discuss a problem, instead storming off to hide after a display of unwonted aggression. I will never comprehend such behavior, never. Just something to do with that Y chromosome, I suppose.

Scroll down to the Archives to find “There’s Always One” from August 29, 2020.

Minimizing Is Not a Bra!

It is NOT “all small stuff”!

I know several people who will nod in sage agreement when I admit that I’m a person who falls easily into the trap of listening to and accepting other’s opinions about my life experience, often to my own detriment and peril. But I’m learning. Late in life and slowly, but I’m learning.

One such event occurred not long ago when, asked during a Zoom meeting about how I was doing (a question that, in this case, was not just the usual social nicety, but intentional), I commented that I felt I was just lurching from one crisis to the next. Another of the meeting attendees quickly chimed in, pointing out that, from the perspective of the universe and over the course of a lifetime, nothing I was experiencing was a crisis. Everything was “small stuff”; just a challenge to be met or a learning experience, not a calamity.

The critical individual lives 300 miles away. He was quite clueless as to what personal disasters I was referring, or what I, along with my family members, had been experiencing. I’m sure he thought he was helping me regain perspective by his comment. But his remark was, nevertheless, intentional minimizing: diminishing the importance of not just what I was experiencing, but my feelings about the situation. By doing so, he was also shaming me—letting me know that my emotions were excessive and inappropriate; “bad”, if you will. Leaving entirely aside the fact that his remarks smacked of the male habit of denigrating female moods (that’s a subject for another blog post), the simple truth of the matter is that feelings are neither bad nor good; it’s what we do with them that counts.

Amazingly, though (and this NEVER happens), I did not fall prey to his inappropriate comments. In what was, for me, an astounding feat of standing up to being bullied, I quickly snapped back, “Oh, bullshit!” My critic was visibly startled, for he is one of those self-assured, clever types whose comments are rarely challenged. For once he had no quick comeback. Some of the others in the meeting quickly diffused the incident by joking and laughter, and we all moved on. But I did not apologize, nor feel any need to do so. If anything, I believed his apology was owed to me.

To be totally honest, though, and much to my shame, I have to admit that I, too, have behaved this way to others in the past. I have minimized their experiences, shamed their emotional responses, and gifted them with my “superior” knowledge and understanding as to how they could better handle their personal pain and disasters. Not only does this behavior smack of narcissism, it is simply rude; rude, thoughtless, uncompassionate, and bullying.

When I face even more uncomfortable truths, I know that when I have minimized others’ experiences, I have done so as a self-defense measure. Minimizing puts a barrier between us and the problems or pain of another; it assures us that, even if we were to experience such an event, we would not respond to it with angst or tears. No, we are strong; we would rise above the situation! Minimizing props up our fine opinion of ourselves: “If I could get through what I have done without complaint, then you have no right to feel sad or anxious, or to speak your feelings.”

But when we muzzle another person, even those who are certifiable whiners, we diminish not just their humanity, but our own. Yes, there are those people who simply wail. There are hypochondriacs who moan about every real or imagined ache or pain. There are individuals in our circle of acquaintance who drive us half-mad because they refuse to take any action to free themselves from terrible situations, instead continually lamenting their misery. There always exist feeble individuals for whom life itself is simply overwhelming—even when it’s not.

But that does not indicate that we are free to diminish their experience. We can make the choice to acknowledge their distress without being enveloped by it. Rather than shame them, we can act with true consideration and compassion by responding gently: “I’m sorry you’re going through this”, or, “That’s a harsh series of events. I hope things will be better for you soon”, or even straightforwardly, “Is there some action you can take to resolve this problem—something that will help you feel better?”

In the final evaluation, it all comes down to courtesy. To minimize and shame another for their emotional reaction or admission of a problem is rude; it is aggressive and narcissistic; it is the behavior of a bully. Even worse, it is counterproductive. Rare is the individual who ever took her or his courage in hand, stood up resolutely, and solved a problem as a result of by being tormented and oppressed by those who should have provided support.

At some point in our lives, we all need encouragement and kindness. Kindness is never overrated. And true kindness never minimizes another’s need.

If you found this post interesting, you might also enjoy the essay, “Feeling Our Feelings”, which can be located in the Archived material from October 14, 2020.

Juneteenth

Why had I never been taught about these events?

There are odd moments in our early education that will forever stand out in surprising clarity no matter how long we live. One of those moments for me was when, as a high school student, I turned the page of my history textbook to an illustration of the Trail of Tears. The illustration and the accompanying discussion of that horrific episode sent shudders down my spine.

During those years, the late 1960s and early 70s, the U.S. was coming smack up against the glass regarding its continuing abuse of the Native American population. The Red Power movement occupied Alcatraz and Wounded Knee; Paul Revere and the Raiders sang “Indian Reservation”. Claire Huffaker published the comic yet heart-wrenching novel Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian. Consequently, having read just that brief mention of their plight in my school textbook, I was saddened and supportive.

Circle the world on its axis thousands of times…. The summer of 2020 happened. Not just pandemic, but the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Abery and George Floyd. Racial protests and clashes throughout the U.S.

In the slow awakening of consciousness that followed, I read. I read, among other things, of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and Juneteenth—events of which I had barely, or, in the case of Juneteenth, never heard. Subjects that had certainly not been covered in those long-ago school history books. Stories that were, until that summer, touched on briefly, if at all, by major news outlets.

Again, I was shocked and saddened, but this time I also questioned. Why had I never been taught about so many events? Why had my schoolbooks not examined them, my teachers never mentioned them?

And then, the horrifying realization: because my teachers did not know.

In the Pale Island of my youthful existence on the southeast side of Indianapolis, I had, throughout my school years, not a single Black teacher. The parochial elementary schools that I attended had not one Black nun or Black priest. My high school did not have a single Black student until my senior year. There were no Black families in my parents’ housing addition until I was in my 20s; a local library had a single Black librarian, Ms. Inez Babbs, a close acquaintance of my mother.

There was essentially no one to teach me about Black history, because no one in my immediate vicinity knew. What little I learned came from occasionally catching a documentary on public TV, or reading a few scattered articles about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I existed treading water in a sea of ignorance, without even realizing that others were drowning.

Occasionally, the truth was brought home to me. Living three years in the American South during the early 80s awakened me to more racial prejudice than I had ever believed existed. I rode the bus to work for economic reasons, but mine was one of the few White faces; the seats were clotted with older Black women—maids, mostly, taking the bus to the homes of the affluent White families for whom they worked. The insurance agency where I found a job had to be forced by the head office in New York into employing its first Black agent.

But that was the deep south. When I returned to Indiana a few years later, I told myself that such things only happened there. My Northern home was different, I assured myself.

However mistaken that assurance, it seemed to be true. I spent the rest of my years of employment working for the State, where equal opportunity hiring was enforced, and fully half my coworkers were Black. Lowly office support staff myself, it did not occur to me how few of those Black coworkers were supervisors.

Ignorance is bliss, the saying goes. My carefully-maintained ignorance allowed me to go for years existing on my Pale Island, genuinely believing the untruth that racial equity was the norm. Today, though, reading and watching and educating myself on racial disparities, I am far more than dismayed; I am angry. Angry and appalled at how little I was taught, not just of Black history, but of that of all races. Even having lived through the Red Power events of the previous century, I knew little about the shameful treatment of America’s indigenous peoples. I learned of Angel Island, and the horrific behavior of Americans toward Asian immigrants, from a novel, not my schoolbooks. The history of the concentration camps of WW II had been thoroughly taught to me, but their counterparts, the American internment camps, were accorded only a paragraph or two; carefully glossed over. Anti-Semitism was barely mentioned.

Why was I not taught, I ask, and then I must, in shame, face the real answer. It was not merely that my teachers themselves did not know, or that they did not choose to know. It was that I preferred keeping my head firmly in the sand rather than face uncomfortable truths.

Education is, as I have pointed out before, not something one gets, but a gift that one gives to the self. Painful as it is, I am slowly educating myself on the history and reality that I have, for a lifetime, preferred to ignore. Becoming my own teacher is a shock to the system, but necessary, and is, in the end, that gift.

If this essay struck a note with you, you might also like “The Slave Cabin” from February 8, 2018. You might also find “A Cultural Heritage”, February 10, 2018, interesting, but disconcerting. Scroll down to the Archives link to locate them.