Friday, April 3, 2020

Just Hope and a Vision

Well, it's Friday, if you're keeping track, and despite rays of light and moments of hope, it's been a tough week for the world. I've been stumbling about online trying to find inspiration for a blog post that would "deepen the argument for being alive" (2020/02/deepen-argument) and bumped into a post from the Harvard Radcliffe College Class of 93 page that might fit the bill.*

The post consists of a black and white photo of Nelson Mandela, clothed in a white prisoner's uniform and staring out between the bars of his prison-room window. The expression on his face is somber, his unused smile lines sinking down toward his low jaw.  The words below the photo, only this:

"In isolation for 27 years. No family, luxuries, phone. Just hope and a vision. We can do this."

Can we hold fast to the tightrope of hope and build a vision for a better world? Mandela did both for 27 years of imprisonment, a mortal who transcended human needs and limits to emerge as a brilliant light, his glow not dimmed but refined by his time of waiting.  Just hope and a vision. We can do this.

* Thanks to Damon K. Roberts for the post and inspiration.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Donating Blood

Nurse Sandy reclined my chair so that I stared up at the white tile ceiling, clenching a squeeze ball every five seconds and praying that my puny veins would continue to yield blood. She turned to William, about six feet away from me, and began the process with him. "You didn't get your veins from your Mom, that's for sure! You'll probably be done before her."

"Yes, he beats me at everything," I said, reflecting on my inadequate veins and low hemoglobin count, which barely met the threshold for blood donors. My faint concern was multiplied by leaving home quarantine. It felt odd to be in a room with so many people unrelated to me and to let the nurse within my new preferred personal perimeter of 6 feet.

"Thanks for coming out today," she said to both of us kindly, as William's blood raced down the tube and my monitor beeped in alarm at my diminished blood flow.

"We wanted to help," I said, "and it's the only thing we can do to support our healthcare providers."

She adjusted the needle in my arm and increased the pressure on the blood pressure cuff. "I think you're going to make it, Laura. I was worried, but I think we'll get there.  You know, it's funny, we've been packed the past two weeks - so many donors that we don't know what to do! I'm not sure if it's the same with other states, but folks here in Colorado really come out to help."

Though super-grateful to live in a state with so many helpful humans, I did feel somewhat deflated (literally and figuratively). We had been nervous to venture out from home, to enter the big room with  6 nurses and 6 - 8 donors spread out around the perimeter. Though hand sanitizer and clean gloves were everywhere, and I watched Sandy clean my chair before I sat in it, it still felt foreign and perhaps even foolhardy to be there. Was it an empty gesture?

But then I finished, and William started feeling faint. Sandy rushed over some ice and cool cloths and gave him some apple juice as he finished donating his pint. Worry overtook my selfish concerns and I sat near him and ate Cheetos while he slowly recovered. The nurses said, "Next time, eat more. It' a cheat day when you donate because we're taking 700 - 800 calories from you."

Wow! For me that's a great reason to follow their instructions not to workout, and for William that's a head's up that he needs far more calories before giving blood. When I asked him why he refused to stop, he said, "Because no matter how bad I was feeling, the people out there who need this blood are feeling way worse."

And just like that, my worries (temporarily) slipped away.
Stay well and safe.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Turning 49

It's a bit of an anticlimactic birthday, turning 49, just one year away from a big milestone, celebrating via text, Facebook and Zoom. Yet I've never been more grateful to see another day, let alone another year. My gratitude multiplies with the well-wishes of family and friends who are themselves well, who are trying to help health care workers by staying home with good grace and positive attitudes.

Seven or eight years ago I fell ill with strange autoimmune issues that went undiagnosed for a long time. Emerging from the pain and fear of that illness, I resolved to rest in gratitude and remember that health and well-being - for myself and my extended family and friends - were truly the golden ring. For the most part I retained that life lesson, but should I ever forget, the experience with COVID-19 has for sure highlighted and underlined the gift of health, the gift of life.

What a gift to see crow's eyes form and grey hairs sprout, to feel new aches when I climb of bed but to stretch and exercise until they (temporarily) go away. I'm also grateful to be quarantined in a tree-filled suburban neighborhood where we have room to walk six feet apart, work in the garden and watch birds and squirrels through our kitchen windows. Space that gives rise to the far-fetched notions of cultivating chickens (not allowed by the HOA), planting a victory garden (in clay soil that desperately needs amendment), and re-landscaping the front yard (obvious physical limitations).

Putting aside dreams of living off the suburban land, my real birthday wish is for everyone to prioritize their health and wellness and that our country prioritizes the health of all its people, especially the health care workers who are risking their lives for us all every day.

Stay safe and well.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Pet Therapy

In a strange yet lovely sign of the times, the city of New York is running out of dogs and cats to adopt. Shelters in the city have reported a 10-fold increase on adoption in the past two weeks (Newest shortage).  When humans are cut off from other humans and our social, pack-animal needs can't be met in the usual way we are trying to make the best of a bad thing by doing a good thing.

I wrote earlier in the week about the solace provided - at least to the humans - by our birds at the window birdfeeders. Our cats also provide unlimited humor and comfort as they alternately growl at the finches, shadow box with one another, and come clamoring for pets at our ankles throughout the day. Our animal friends are so focused on the moment and their immediate needs that they cannot help but practice mindfulness 100% of the time.

So focused on the here and now that worry doesn't enter their headspace, so content with the little things - food in the bowl, water from the faucet, a warm bed in front of the fire - that their satisfaction spreads to us. Allison Glock writes for CNN (Grandparents - Glock):

"We will need to find our purpose in the minor things, I tell my daughter. The moments. Moment by moment. We will need to become more like dogs, giddily hopping into the car when we have no idea where it's heading. And in those long, vacant hours, free of clutter and busyness and traditional validation, we will have to learn how to sit with ourselves and discover the glory and meaning in that stillness."

We need a contagion of satisfaction, of joy in the little things, to battle the contagion of fear that spreads in advance of this illness. It seems that New York, and many other cities like it, have discovered that pets can transform some of our quiet moments into joyous ones. If there are no pets at your place, a walk outdoors can reveal the unchanged patterns of birds and squirrels. They are still free and serve as reminders that - at some point in the future - freedom will also be ours.

Stay well and safe.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Birthdays in Quarantine

My nephew turned 10 on Tuesday and our extended family gathered via Zoom to sing to him and extend our wishes. Earlier that day, his Massachusetts extended family had driven by in an impromptu parade, holding signs out the car windows to say happy birthday. He had a cake and presents, a wisely-chosen Harry Potter Lego set that had already been constructed by late afternoon.

Today we host the next birthday as Daniel turns 14. I texted my siblings and their families asking them to text Daniel their birthday wishes in lieu of another Zoom meeting. They complied readily and my son's face lit up with joy when he saw the list of unread birthday wishes on his phone. His brother and sister had written their wishes into his birthday card last night, more lovingly than usual, and Daniel's face and glasses were streaked with tears when he lifted his head from that card this morning.

Joy and love exist in quarantine, birthdays and other milestones still occur.  In keeping with this love and positivity, I want to share a short list of good things happening around the country. It's copied from an anonymous Facebook post and verified by news sources. Lots of love motivating generous acts  in the country and around the world, let's make them multiply.

"In the UK, nearly 5,000 people volunteered to help the most vulnerable. In NY, 1,000 people offered to come out of retirement to help health care workers - in the first 24 hours of the request. People are stocking grocery shelves all night and letting old people shop first. Carnival Cruise line aid “We can match those big Navy Hospital ships with some fully staffed cruise ships” GM, Ford and Tesla said "hold our cars and watch this; we can make those ventilators where we were making cars." Restaurants and schools said, "We’ve got kitchens and staff; we can feed kids.” Churches are holding on-line services and taking care of their members and community. NBA basketball players said, “Hold our basketballs while we write checks to pay the arena staff.” Construction companies said, “Here are some masks for the medical staff and doctors”. Breweries are making sanitizer out of left-over ingredients."

Stay safe and well and take heart.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Kyrie Eleison

Did you know that you can text someone a Spotify playlist? I didn't, and I feel like a big goof for texting my siblings to have them find me on Spotify and then look for a certain playlist to download. Now I can just send it!

This discovery came courtesy of a swim friend from my Masters team. He sent out an 80's playlist and I listened to it during my long walk today. The sun shone on the last of the snow and the creeks were full of the snowmelt, chickadees and hatches chirped like crazy, except when one of our local hawks flew overhead. In my south suburban snowglobe it's a paradisiacal day, one where the only signs of strangeness are the number of people on the trails on a random Tuesday morning and the way those people carefully avoid one another by providing six feet of space upon passing.

As I walked west toward the snow-capped Rockies, one of my old favorites came through my headphones. I was 14 years old when "Kyrie Eleison" was released and, like many songs that first hit us during our teen years, it brought back vivid memories. Driving to swim meets, hanging out with friends, long afternoons holed up in my room, these memories flashed through my consciousness. Then the meaning of the words came through on the song's persistent chorus:

"Kyrie Eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie Eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie Eleison, where I'm going, will you follow?
Kyrie Eleison, on a highway in the light."
- From "Kyrie Eleison" by Mister, Mister

Kyrie Eleison means "Lord, have mercy." I grew up using this phrase every Sunday during Catholic mass. The words are appropriate now for all of us, for our country and for the world. Lord, please have mercy on us down this road that we are traveling, this highway that seems dark and not light.

Of course, I cried again (only my second time today, though) before switching over to different thoughts and a bubble-gum pop tune from the same era. But if you want to check Spotify for Mister, Mister's song, it's a good one for now. I can even text it to you.

Stay well and safe,

Monday, March 23, 2020

One Tribe, Music Monday

"One tribe, one tribe
One tribe, one time, one planet, one (race)
Race, one love, one people, one (and)
Too many things that's causing one (to)
Forget about the main cause
Connecting, uniting"
- Black Eyed Peas, "One Tribe"

Listening to this song on my walk yesterday, I felt my heart beat heavier against my rib cage. How true this is now,  the differences between people are dwarfed by COVID-19. The disease only emphasizes how similar we are and how the survival of one depends on the survival of all. (If you want to listen and watch Black Eyed Peas, go here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5E_yFyGDjM.)

Music surfaces all over my Facebook page and William's Reddit as groups of people around the world unite in song from their socially distanced positions. We've heard Italians singing and playing instruments in their windows and on their balconies, Spaniards singing for health care workers, students in Boston chanting "Lean on Me," citizens of Chicago belting out "Living on a Prayer" (OK, that was just my sister-in-law in my niece, but full points for trying), children's choirs harmonize virtually in a performance that moved from in-person to online. Amazing.

On this sunny Monday morning in Colorado I am grateful for my family bonding time, grateful that our family game of Hearts ended in laughter and not tears (a first), thankful for Rob and William's long walk together yesterday, for doing yoga with Aden and for Daniel's virtual bonding with friends in their communal Minecraft game. I want to add music to our personal daily mix, both to join the global chorus and to get lost from the thoughts in my own head. 

Wishing you a Musical Monday. Stay safe and well,