Let Freedom Ring

Let Freedom Ring
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Monday, September 21, 2020

And When My Time Is Up, Have I Done Enough?

"And when my time is up, have I done enough?

Will they tell your story?"

- "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" from Hamilton, Lyrics by Lin-manuel Miranda 

"Fight for the things that you  care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you."

- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice

The news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death was a body blow to me and many others across the United States. On Friday, I sobbed into my spaghetti sauce at the news, received via text from my politically active friends. Reactions ranged from the terribly sad to shocked to horrified at the implications her passing will have for the Supreme Court and for our country. For a brief moment it seemed that all would be lost and visions of Senator McConnell and President Trump gleefully celebrating in some remote office danced in my head.

Sorrow, anger, loss, admiration and envy swam around in my chest. Admiration for an amazing life well-lived and envy that no one could doubt that Madame Ginsburg had done enough with her life. She adjudicated well and fought until the end, until the first day of early voting in four states, the blessed first day of Rosh Hashanah, before she succumbed to the persistent cancer that has dogged her last years. Now, finally, she can rest. Across the country, good people mourned the loss of a civil rights icon and role model, and I mourned along with them, feeling not only the loss of an amazing woman but sorrow and frustration at my lack of agency in this fight. 

One grief has the ability to bring back others and, like a magnet, her loss drew feelings of sorrow related to the pandemic as well as to losses of careers and opportunities that have accumulated in my life. If there's no one left to save us but us, will that be enough? When this fight ends, if indeed it ever does, will people be able to say that I did enough?  What stories will they tell, what verdict will they render?  

It's time to rise to the example set by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, to fight with calm determination and dogged persistence for the rights of all people now and into the future. We are now the leaders and have no time yet to rest or to mourn. I'm grateful for the time for do more and will try to make the most of it, as she did.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Decorate the Lifeboats

 "Life is a shipwreck, 

But we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.

Life is a desert, but we can transform our corner

Into a garden."

- Phrased by Peter Gay, summarizing Voltaire's "Candide"

Our family's COVID-19 "school" ship (scholarship?) broke upon the shoals of several outbreaks this week.  The first crash hit when our high school alerted us to an outbreak of COVID among seniors who attended off-campus parties over the last two weekends. Due to the reckless behavior of these kids and the parents who allowed parties, 14 staff and 146 students are quarantined for two weeks and 1,585 students have had to move to remote learning for the same timeframe. While grateful that my boys are neither sick nor quarantined, I'm most thankful that my senior was not at one of those illicit parties. My kids will lose opportunities to learn, but they haven't taken away the opportunities of others.

Our poor boat took on more water at the next collision, which hit later last night when CU Boulder asked all students, on campus or off campus, to abide by a two-week stay-at-home order. Cases have risen sharply in Boulder, driven by (you guessed it) house parties off campus. I spent a long time texting with our daughter, who is re-shaping her already limited social exposure to abide by the guidelines. One of her roommates is going home (for two weeks or the duration, we don't know) and the other has tentatively planned to stay. They are only supposed to go out for medicine, food, solitary exercise, or class. My daughter has no classes in person so her outdoor activities will be few.

What do we do when the world comes crashing in like so much bitter saltwater, when the floor drops out beneath you and all plans have to be revamped to take into account the sinking ship?  According to a friend, you decorate the lifeboats and hop on board. She wants twinkly lights on hers and I would add flowers, cats, and some bright paint to mine. We're going to be paddling our lifeboats for a while, so had better make them as uplifting and comfortable as possible while we sing our blues away.

I'm not surprised that our school ship sank, it lasted a week longer than I had anticipated. But we were just starting to hope that things might go our way, had enough confidence in the students (and parents) who followed the rules that I though "just maybe....". I know the teachers and administrators were in that same boat (sustained metaphor intended), which makes the sorry situation of off-campus parties even more bitter.  And so we're off paddling in our flotilla of hastily decorated junks, singing loudly and off-key,  hoping that the storm dies down soon.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Vanquishing Nightmares

For the last three nights I have been abruptly awakened in darkest hours by a horrific nightmare brought on, I would guess, by virus-related stress and exacerbated by the news out of the fire-stricken West Coast. Old friends and family members in California post pictures of an orange sky, or exclaim about seeing sunshine after a week of blackout smoke. I wake up shouting "NO!" and reaching over the covers for Rob to reassure myself that everything is still (mostly) OK. 

On Saturday morning, after one of those broken nights, I sat in my parked car facing out toward Lone Tree Parkway as I waited for Daniel to finish his taekwondo class (masked, of course). An endless parade of pickup trucks boasting huge American flags and "Trump 2020" signs passed in front of me, honking wildly and gathering volume as more vehicles added on to the back of the line.  My blood pressure and heart rate rose as I watched my fellow citizens claim the flag for Trump, for his reckless policies that have led to over 190,000 deaths in our country, policies that have rolled back protections for the environment and exacerbated the climate change that is wreaking havoc on the West and Gulf Coasts via fire and hurricanes.

If Trump supporters have claimed the flag and made it their own I have only myself to blame. I am conflict-avoidant and internally focused, an introvert, allergic to phones and to pointless driving. Though I am unlikely to start or participate in a Biden-Harris parade around the neighboring town, I can still 'wake up' from my internal state, shout "NO!" in a voice that can be heard, and make my strong views known. 

Those of us in the "silent majority" that Trump claims, but which actually belongs to the nation's moderates on both sides of center, need to re-claim our flag and our nation. We can't avoid vocal displays of patriotism just because they seem connected with the president and his supporters. Election season is growing tense, along with every other situation that has hit us in 2020, and it's time to step up to the plate.  In addition to the letter-writing and phone-banking I do at my desk, I need to put out my signs and be visible.

At this tipping point in our nation's history we have to make our voices heard and let our flags fly. Focused action and saying no to people and policies that hurt us might be the only way to vanquish the nightmares.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Legacy of Lies

""When you get those jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game."  - Toni Morrison 

Starting about a week ago, forecasters for Denver weather made national headlines by predicting a major cold front and storm system would move into the area - extinguishing our early September heat wave and threatening our pipes and plants. The news was not entirely welcome here, our fame for the winter storm warning more annoying than flattering, but the advance notice gave us time to wrap the pipes in towels and garbage bags, unhook the hoses and move our more fragile plants indoors. The preparation saved some minor heartache.

Imagine how much better the country's response to the COVID threat would have been if the president had told the truth and prepared us for the reality of the virus? After reading about the interviews 45 gave to Bob Woodward, and listening to the tapes - which Trump knew were being made - it is obvious that Trump knew the truth about the virus and lied to the American public, ostensibly to avoid panic but really to "protect our shipping industry, our cruise industry, cruise ships, we want to protect our airline industry."  Priorities were big industry and the stock market, not human life. (Quote from the NYT, Sept 10, 2020, Michelle Goldberg).

Our current president is obsessed with the idea of his legacy. He willingly gave 18 interviews to famed author Woodward, whose first book about the president was scathing. 45's fascination with the history books and what they will say about him drove him to hide the truth about the virus - that it is much more deadly than the flu, passed on through airborne transmission, and harmful - even deadly - for young people. His misguided belief was that a strong stock market and continued profits in the pockets of rich cronies would somehow protect him from the penetrating regard of historians and future citizens. It's ironic that our country's failure to counter the virus effectively has continued to strangle our economy, as if the invisible market forces recognize the value of human life more than our president. 

The president is not the only American who thinks a bank account will be their legacy, who confuses being rich with being important, power with lasting regard.  As a country, we seem to prioritize possessions over people, condemn protesters if property is damaged while ignoring the real cost of human life.  Human capital is the real prize of any country, the driver of innovative solutions, a network of resources on the ground to grow families, communities and neighborhoods. 

As Morrison said to her students, the point of power and freedom are to share them. The legacy of any human life will be shaped by the lives we touch, by how we make people feel, by how we include other people in our own prosperity.  The history books will not be kind to our current president or to the movement that supports him. He leaves a legacy of lies that has killed almost 200,000 Americans, beloved mothers, fathers, grandparents, children. How could anyone think that a record stock market could outweigh that human toll, that fleeting economic prosperity could balance out the immense loss of a nation? 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Spectating in the Time of Coronavirus

We eyed the ladder set up outside the chain-link fence, wondering whose it was and if it would hold our combined weight. The announcer's voice called the event before William's and we stood on tiptoe, holding the fence just below its menacing barbed wire, scanning the area for our son. Other parents stood at safe distances along the fence, perched on chairs in the back of their trucks or climbing trees, like Daniel, to get a glimpse of their son or daughter preparing to dive into the pool.

While my heart hummed with gratitude just to hear the sounds of a meet - the starter's beep, the cheers of the swimmers, the splash of water at the start - it was difficult to be so close and yet so far. The shallow old 50-meter pool is located on the grounds of a repurposed military base surrounded by dry scrub and dust. At 6:30 pm it was 98 degrees in the shade. Sweat dripped down my legs as I contemplated vaulting over the barbed wire.

But I digress - the point of mentioning the flat, scrubby surrounds was that the pool builders had to construct a four-foot high concrete wall around the pool to keep out trash, leaves, animals, and various other invaders. So we were distanced from the racing by the concrete wall, a wide grassy open space where the swimmers sat in their own deck chairs, and our fence nemesis. In my thirty-six years of swimming I have never seen anything like parents climbing a ladder and holding on between the spikes in barbed wire to watch their kid swim a 50 free. (We never climbed the fence as its popularity shut us out of timely use).

Despite the incongruous location and the heat, the young people swam amazing times. They seized the rare opportunity to compete with other high-caliber swimmers, put on their speed suits and kicked it into gear. We saw two swimmers make Olympic Trials qualifying times, a rare and exciting feat. (When I say "we saw" I mean that we heard it happen in real time). William swam six best times over the course of two days and enjoyed hanging out with his team and with guys from other teams that he only sees at competitions. We recorded the sounds of his walking out to the music as the top heat  in the 100 fly, and watched the ten seconds of swimming that we could see from our vantage point.

Swim coaches and staff were amazingly organized and they followed every social distancing rule and requirement - health and temperature checks in the morning, different times for teams to enter and warm up, separate places for swimmers to sit socially distanced on the grass, and masks on deck for all coaches and officials. I'm so proud of our sport, our athletes, coaches and parents. There hasn't been a single instance of a swimmer testing positive for COVID through swimming in our state. My fingers are crossed that the kids can keep practicing even as the weather turns colder and outdoor pools are taken off the table. We parents will watch through windows, fences and live stream if our kids just get a chance to train and compete.