Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

First, the Good News

 "More than 70 million Americans have cast ballots, a pace that suggests highest turnout in a century." 

- BBC, October 28, 2020 (BBC.com)

Voting continues apace here in the United States, as people across the country mail in, drop off, or line up to cast ballots. We have already passed half of the turnout in the entire 2016 election and six days remain until November 3rd. That scale of civic engagement is refreshing and hopeful - and worrisome to those of us who care deeply about the results (tens of millions on both sides). Impossible to know how the early voters voted, and which candidates and issues are ahead. 

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are waging hundreds of legal battles in court to determine whose vote will count. "In almost every instance," says my morning update from the New York Times (NYT, David Leonhardt), "Democrats are trying to make it easier for Americans to cast ballots, and Republicans are trying to make it harder." My coffee boiled anew in my stomach as I read that sentence, and I searched my inbox for more hopeful signs.

Fortunately I came upon a thank you note sent from the folks at Vote Forward. As I wrote several weeks ago, I composed and sent some sixty letters through this organization. The letters were addressed to likely Democrats who had a spotty record of turning out to vote and were sent out en masse on October 17. Vote Forward had some awesome statistics listed in their thank you email:

    - 17,562,304 letters written by 184,059 volunteers

    - Total value of stamps purchased, supporting the USPS: $9.7 million

    - Total estimated words written: 643 million

A tale of successful citizen activism; fingers crossed that the letters, with their impassioned pleas to vote, have found their mark in battleground states across the country. Less than a week to go, time to volunteer wherever you can in order to make this election a success for the majority of Americans.




Sunday, October 25, 2020

Winter is Coming

 "Winter is coming." The tagline from Game of Thrones takes on new meaning these days as a tidal wave of COVID rises over the United States and winter storm warnings dot our phones here in Colorado. The exceptionally warm fall has given way to temperatures in the teens, and we look ahead to long months of weathering the storms inside.  

We snuck in an outdoor "Friendsgiving" meal with neighborhood families yesterday, on the one day of sunny, semi-warm weather between cold fronts. Teenage boys gathered in one corner of the yard, college girls in another, and the dads and moms segregated in well-spaced groups of four near the patio. Everyone added coats as the temperature fell and reluctantly called it when the sun started to slip below the hazy horizon.

Add an existential dread around the election to this mix of forecasts and you have a perfect storm of tension and uncertainty. I have little desire to do any of my normal activities and writing has fallen by the wayside. My one imperative is to drive north to Montana and rescue my mom from the snow, dark and cold. She hasn't yet acquiesced to the plan, but Rob and I can't help but feel that she would be safer here in the winter months, and would certainly light up our family as we self-isolate from November until early spring.

From now until daylight hours and spring seeds start to grow we'll have to do the hard work of cultivating hope and finding silver linings. The cold and snow today, for example, could provide a boon to overstressed firefighters by limiting the growth of the wildfires in the mountains near Estes Park. Time indoors and reduced work hours at the club could provide time to write my way into an actual book (instead of just talking about it). If my mother comes, her presence will be an outright gift to all and a boon to the children doing school remotely.  

We know that change is a constant, that however dark our winter the spring must eventually come. There will be a vaccine for the virus, there will be a light at the end of our tunnel and even though I'll get tired of pumping the handcart of hope fast and furious along those tracks, I bet we're gonna make it through.


 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Escape to Moab and Arches

 "Life's the movie. God's the director. The history books are the camera. It's live. Be you. Press record. It's on. Go."

- Matthew McConaughey in People, October 26, 2020


We escaped Colorado's Front Range to the magical valley and city of Moab, Utah, last week during the high schoolers' fall break. Leaving later than anticipated due to William's swim meet, we braved 50 - 60 mph headwinds and a freak snowstorm to drive through the Rockies west on I-70. By the time we arrived in Moab, the temperature had risen from 28 to 54 and we had left gale-force winds, forest fire smoke and daily routines far behind.

Waking up the next morning to a desert landscape we had driven through in the dark, we experienced Christmassy joy. Blue skies, bright sunshine and startling red and pink rock formations met us on hikes leading up from a Colorado River lined with golden cottonwoods. Hikers are a friendly bunch, and I marveled over how easily I could interact with strangers on a trail when politics stayed behind at home and the sunshine broke through the morning chill. Despite the expected complaints about hiking from our 14-year-old, the boys and I had a terrific day outside while Aden finished a final and a presentation online at the rented condo.

Aden's presence was a blessing as we never know how many family vacations we have left in the bank. She needed to escape the smoky air and draconian COVID-19 restrictions in Boulder, and we were delighted to scoop her up from the apartment and bring her with us, especially since she drove at least half of the trip. I love co-piloting with Aden and we relived many driving adventures from road trips past. A favorite memory from our endless drive through unpopulated Nevada kept us in giggles: the highlight of 200 miles of road was the big road sign that read "Trash Can, 100 yards" followed by the aforementioned can, rusted and tipsy but still proudly present.

Seeing a new place for the first time always strikes a bright note of adventure and freedom for me. That's why I put McConaughey's quote above this entry. Being alive means being "live" - the tape is rolling and we don't get any rewinds. The old normal isn't coming back, but we can still be true to ourselves and tackle the things we want to do, the efforts we want to be our legacy. I hope that road trips have become part of our family's DNA, that new adventures and places always call to the children, reminding them that even in a pandemic in this strange year of 2020 we can drive and hike through uncharted territory, explore new examples of Nature's prowess, and find eternal sources of joy and contentment.
 

Monday, October 5, 2020

We've Lost the Plot

Humans tell stories to make meaning of the random, serpentine twists of life. I always wanted my storyline to read “Naïve public school girl graduates from Ivy League School, joins business consulting firm, travels world, becomes famous exec and philanthropist (or maybe college professor). Instead, events swerved from business consultant to mom of three small children has complete autoimmune breakdown, writes her way back to sanity and health, self-publishes two books, builds strong family life with great kids but has no career to speak of.

That second set of plot points is harder to work into a coherent narrative. Until I could craft a positive, meaningful story out of those obstacles I felt lost. I recognize the same lost feeling in our poor, drifting country. What happened to the “greatest country on earth, the land of the free and home of the brave?” Does anyone think that storyline describes our descent into COVID madness, our White House hot-spot of infection or our snarling, divided populace? Lady Liberty’s light has gone out, and we have lost the plot.

Experts agree – there is no going back to “normal.” Until we construct a new narrative we’ll all feel a bit at sea. We don’t yet know the ending, of course; this year alone holds a pandemic, roiled campaigns and already-contested election. But perhaps we can envision the story we want to write. We need a timeout from headlines and deadlines to expand our imagination and write the resolution we want to read.

Mira Ptacin provided a great example of replotting her story in “I am Not a Housewife. I’m a Prepper,” her Op Ed in the New York Times (Ptacin).  Ptacin describes giving up her career for the pandemic as – not returning to the 1950’s housewife era – but evolving into a 21st century goddess teaching her children how to grow a garden and raise chickens, buy generators and prepare for any possible calamity.

So if we’ve lost the familiar plot as individuals and/or as a nation. we are free to imagine a new storyline. As a nation we may require new heroes and supporting characters, new tools to triumph at the climax of the action (which I pray is coming soon). As individuals we are the heroes of our own stories, able to vanquish the villain or the inner demon and claim our reward in triumph. We can do the same collectively for our country, imagining a new and better future where the good guys win, at least until the sequel.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Hope on a Post-debate Morning

 " 'Hope' is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all - "

- Emily Dickinson, "'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers"


Waking up this morning after a night spent tossing and turning, trying to banish thoughts of the cataclysmically awful presidential debate, I reached desperately for poetry or prayer to hold onto. Dickinson's wonderful lines on hope swam into focus and I repeated them fervently for a few moments as I poured my coffee. A good thing, too, because the morning dealt me two quick kid-crises. First William somehow inhaled a probiotic into his sinus cavity, an activity which resulted in copious amounts of water and snot on floor, counter and ceiling. Second, Aden called in a panic from her apartment in Boulder because she woke up from a deep sleep and "couldn't remember anything."

Overcoming the panic I felt at a 7:15am call from my college student who is under a stay-at-home order in virus-swamped Boulder, I reassured her that her wake-up experience was normal and wished for myself that I had that same experience, especially this morning. Now sitting at my computer, I scan headlines and try to quell my heartburn with more coffee as I review the piteous landscape that is American politics. On the BBC website, headlines read "Trump and Biden duel in chaotic, bitter debate" and "'The loser is us, the American people" and "Childish, grueling and an 'unwatchable fever dream' - how the world saw Tuesday's debate.'"

I can't bear to comment or to analyze more deeply. My one fervent wish is that such a debate never happen again. I pray that Biden's campaign decides to skip on the next two presidential debates. They would be the same, if not worse, and no one needs to re-live that torture.

Turning away from that scarring experience, I have to reach for hope, that elusive winged creature that  "never stops - at all-". Dickinson's poem shows her sympathy for those - like me - who wrestle with their demons and strain to find and cling to hope, but also throws down the gauntlet. We can't stop holding on to hope.  My family needs me to provide sinus spray and answer early morning phone calls (and who knows what the next crisis will be?) and without those fantastic wings of hope to lift me skyward, I would be flat on the floor this morning.  






Thursday, September 24, 2020

Vote

 Vote - formal expression of one's wish or choice with regard to a proposal, candidate, etc., from Latin votum "a vow, wish, promise to a god, solemn, pledge, dedication" (https://www.etymonline.com/word/vote)

The President will not commit to a peaceful transition if Joe Biden wins. Yesterday he said that the way to ensure peace is to throw the ballots out and have a "continuation" instead of a transition. (CNN)  He weighed in with the same sentiments today, saying he wasn't sure the election could be "honest." (nytimes.com). This should ring alarm bells loudly for every American who dissents. But don't let his empty threats discourage you; we need to turn our worries into solemn vows -  to vote.

Every vote counts and every electoral representative gathered provides another layer of protection for our democracy. We are in grave danger of losing our beloved democratic experiment to an autocrat and a tyrant who is using fascist tactics straight out of Nazi Germany to discourage his naysayers and incite his followers. 

But never think that we're stuck here, because we're certainly not. Trump is not strong, but weak. As Michelle Goldman said in the NY Times, "his strongman threats are scary" (Goldman, NYT) but never forget that he makes these threats because he wants to discourage us from voting.  He knows that we can remove him from office, legally and permanently. 

Your vote matters! Make a plan as to how and when you will vote, tell at least three other people about your plan and hold yourself to it. In this most important election of our lifetime, you must take a position or forever regret your silence.  Consider how close the word "silence" is to "science" - just one letter, an "l" vs a "c" -  transforms clarity into confusion, truth into lies. In the same just a few hundred votes can lose an elector, a county, a state.

We are all living on the knife edge between truth and lies, clarity and a muddy future. It will take all of us to tip the election towards the truth. Envision winning in a landslide, envision a year without Trump dominating the airwaves, the Twitterverse, the headlines - then make it happen. You don't need to argue, debate or coerce. We're not trying to win anyone over, we're just trying to win. So vote as if it's your last time, because if you don't make the effort, it may be.


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.




Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Hooray for the NBA

 "In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors will continue to work with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election to allow for a safe in-person voting options for communities vulnerable to COVID."

- NBA Statement, Friday, August 28, 2020

I chopped vegetables for yesterday's stew with uncommon vigor, as if the blows of my sharp knife could eradicate negative headlines from my mind, or separate certain persons from the White House. The news has been tense over the past few days and I went to meet friends for a walk in a rather uncertain mood.  

We began striding down the greenbelt, discussing two COVID cases at the high school, the difficulties of online class days for our seniors, and the harrowing issues arising with voting and the general election. Soon sweaty despite a welcome temperature drop (to the low 50's!), our voices rose as we recounted various challenges coming from defunding of the USPS, Republican efforts to wipe voters off the rolls, the limited number of polling places in certain (Democratic-leaning) areas and the lack of older people wanting to staff election polling places in this season of coronavirus.

Just as our optimism started to lag, one walker dropped an excellent piece of news on us, one that I had not seen posted on my usual sources. The NBA negotiated with the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) to resume the NBA playoffs after putting in place certain social justice initiatives, which include turning team-owned areans into voter registration and / or polling places. The large size of the areas provides room for voters to line up and process with less fear of contracting COVID-19, and their visibility and fan base should allow them to attract even non-traditional voters.

Here's a list of teams who will offer their arenas for voting as of today (9/1/20, per the NBA website):

- Atlanta Hawks: State Farm Arena

- Detroit Pistons: Henry Ford Pistons Performance Center (practice arena)

- Sacramento Kings: Golden 1 Center

- Charlotte Hornets: Spectrum Center (for early voting)

- Washington Wizards: Capital One Arena

- Houston Rockets: Toyota Center

- Los Angeles Clippers: The Forum

- New York Knicks: Madison Square Garden

- Indiana Pacers: Banker's Life Field House

- Utah Jazz: Vivint Smart Home Arena

- San Antonio Spurs: AT&T Center

- Dallas Maverics: American Airlines Center

- Los Angeles Lakers: Staples Center

- Cleveland Cavaliers: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse

Amazing that the NBPA has turned into a group of national leaders on social justice policy and action. The stunning halt to playoffs brought about by the Milwaukee Bucks refusal to play - due to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a police officer in Kenosha, WI - was followed by walkouts of players on every team. They were willing to end this strange basketball season in order to advance their cause.

It's all too rare these days to see protest followed by decisive action, but the NBA / NBPA agreement to provide polling and voter registration venues is both heartening and fortifying. Spurred on by this news, our walking group made plans to support voting efforts here in Arapahoe County, and in swing states where possible. After the walk, texts and emails flew as we searched for ways to support a fair and equitable election.  

Working to stay hopeful and inspired by the NBA, I put my knife away and turned my fingers to the keyboard. I applied to serve as an election judge here in town and reached out to local contacts. My friends researched needs of swing states and lists of actions at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU. Strange to find much-needed leadership in the NBA instead of the White House or the CDC, difficult to uncover the good truths often hidden by dark and tragic headlines, but we can do it, whatever it takes.


 


 


Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Name (Blame) Game

My siblings took great joy in sending me texts about Hurricane Laura as the storm grew to monstrous proportions and then sent southern states like Louisiana to the hurt locker. My brother John, in particular, sent sympathetic messages to my husband (copying everyone) saying that Rob knew what the wrath of this particular hurricane felt like.  I was actually more relieved than usual when the storm caused less damage, a lower storm surge and a smaller death toll than was predicted. I don't know how Katrinas feel these days but it can't be pleasant to have your name tied to a horrific, record-breaking tragedy.  

Which brings me to our family angst over the "Karen" memes because - you guessed it - my younger sister's name is Karen. Our brother James loves to tease her with the latest accusations hurled at Karens, while purporting horror at the damage done to her name. My sister takes it all with a grain of salt, but again, it's not really cool to tie such a burden to the names of innocents.

Next on the list of names to be abused is the nickname of my beloved mother, who has thirteen grandchildren to her name - that's right, tropical storm Nana could be making it's way to a coastal area near you. As my mother said, "What are we coming to?" when forecasters could bestow a grandmotherly moniker on a potentially wrathful storm.

I don't know what we're coming to, but I wish I had the strength of a benevolent hurricane and could flatten obstacles in my path. I was strangely, oddly relieved when Marco was the storm to falter and fall apart while Laura was the storm to gain strength - I didn't want any people to suffer because of my namesake but I envied her power (which I would use for good, of course).  I would blow the coronavirus into space, clear out air pollution from the Western wildfires, dampen the fires themselves, and at least temporarily restore some cool temperatures to the states burning up in the dog days of summer.

We all look to the powerful people and movements that are attached to our names and sometimes wish we shared that power. That we could attach only good affect and energy to ourselves and separate ourselves from the bad. But that's not true in real life or in fantasy, and we'll try to accept both good and bad with self-deprecating charm and a little humor. And for now we'll just keep a weather eye on Nana.




Thursday, August 27, 2020

A Different Shared Reality

 "Shared reality is the experience of having in common with others inner states about the world. Inner states include the perceived relevance of something, as well as feelings, beliefs, or evaluations of something. The experience of having such inner states in common with others fosters the perceived truth of those inner states. Humans are profoundly motivated to create shared realities with others, and in doing so they fulfill their needs to have valid beliefs about the world and to connect with others."

- "Shared Reality: Construct and Mechanisms" Current Opinion in Psychology vol 23 October 2018 Elsevier

"One of the biggest lessons I've learned covering the daily information wars of the Trump era is that a meaningful percentage of Americans live in an alternate reality powered by a completely separate universe of news and information."

- Charlie Warzel, "Welcome to the R.N. C.'s Alternate Universe" August 27, 2020, New York Times

It's no surprise that we have a scientific theory about shared reality, or that the study of shared reality theory has heated up over the past decade. If you watched footage from the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention, you can see that the two parties and their followers are not inhabiting the same reality. Each group clings to their interpretation of facts - or even different subsets of facts - and creates shared interpretations and beliefs while diverging more and more from the reality of the other group.

For example, let's look at just a few diverging messages from the conventions:

DNC - President Trump has failed the American people with a disastrous coronavirus response and many thousands more will die because of his continued ineffective policies.

RNC - President Trump triumphed over the coronavirus and now the pandemic is in our rearview mirror.

***

DNC - Trump's racist and sexist policies denigrate millions of Americans and are eroding the constitutional rights of women, dark-skinned people, LGBTQ communities and others.

RNC - Trump loves women and all dark-skinned people and can demonstrate this love by having members of diverse groups speak at his convention.

***

DNC - Police departments need better training and hiring practices and more money should flow to social services than to policing.

RNC - The radical left wants to completely defund the police and allow minorities to bring anarchy to the suburbs.

***

Take as a given that I am biased toward facts used by the DNC, the evidence supports only those claims.  There are no facts (based on my daily reading of five different newspapers) that support any of the RNC's conclusions.  But sadly, that does not detract from the reality shared by people watching the RNC. They share their reality with other viewers of FOX News and proponents of conspiracy theories on social media. Warzel, from the NYT article, called this group a "meaningful percentage" of our population.

The realization that our country is split into different human tribes, making sense of the world in different shared realities, makes my stomach ache. The divide seems large when you realize that the person next to you sees what you see but interprets it in radically different ways. I can't bear to watch the RNC as it hurts me to see what I consider to be lies propagated on innocent people. For me, misinformation and misinterpretation of facts threatens not only my family and my country but our entire planet.  I don't know what to do about this, except to try my best to defeat Trump in the coming election.  Even if we start with that propitious beginning, our work to unite the country will have just begun.





Sunday, August 23, 2020

So Hope for a Great Sea-Change

 "History says

Don't hope on this side of the grave

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.


So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that further shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracle

And cures and healing wells."

- Seamus Heaney, "The Cure at Troy"

When I was a junior at Harvard, Seamus Heaney was my poetry professor. I had no idea then how influential Heaney was as a poet and how his far-reaching verses would echo through the years in the words of world leaders. Their emergence in Joe Biden's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, as Biden finally accepted his party's nomination for president, took my breath away. The verse "and hope and history rhyme" put my own earlier words about escape plans to shame and prompted me to quickly re-evaluate both my current attitude and my prospective actions.

The seeds of a solution have been planted in the soil of America's discontent, and we pray for a light to penetrate the darkness even as we must be the hands that water and cultivate the soil. I signed up to write get-out-the-vote (GOTV) letters to voters in a swing state.  Urging the recipients only to vote and not whom to vote for, the stack of letters is piling up on the side of my desk, waiting until late October when I'm due to send them out.  

I've emailed the US Postal Service Board of Governors several times to demand a repeal of the removal of mailboxes and sorting machines, reached out to my congressional representatives to ensure a fair vote. We have donated to campaigns both national and local, pledged to write personal postcards to swing voters in Colorado. I will help people get to drop boxes at the November election, help at the polls if necessary, and continue writing letters to voters. 

The United States moves now like a heavily-freighted cargo ship through stormy seas. The ponderous forward motion belies a hefty momentum that will make it hard - but not impossible - for us to change course. Some of the containers we carry hold weighty mass like pride, grievances, anger, blame. We may have to off-load some of this cargo before we can slowly begin to turn our massive ship and avoid the obstacles that now line our path.

I owe a debt of thanks to Biden and Seamus Heaney for plugging me into a hopeful energy that will be necessary in the coming months. While I was too late to understand the greatness of my poetry professor in time to relish his physical presence, I won't be late to recognize the precious - and precarious - nature of our democracy and my role in preserving it.




Thursday, August 20, 2020

Escape Plans

 "My fortune told me I'm on the wrong road

"Well life's a game, yeah I need the cheat codes

And I hate the snow

But I think I'll dye my hair and I'll move to Alaska.

Last couple of months kinda been a disaster

Tell all my friends I'm asleep if they ask ya

Sorry I had to move to Alaska."

- From lyrics to "Alaska" by Little Hurt

It's been faintly apocalyptic out here in Colorado over the past week in a state besieged by fires and the resulting smoky haze which renders sunrises and sunsets spectacular but prohibits comfortable outdoor breathing. Worries over the safety of firefighters and displaced people leads to worries about the coronavirus in crowded shelters. California has over 300 fires burning and I read their authorities have asked the entire population of the state to be ready to evacuate. The entire state? Where would they go?

Everywhere I look people are designing escape plans for themselves and their families. We made one with our college sophomore daughter, whose backup plan is our basement. She's now moved into her apartment in Boulder, meeting with friends and trying to navigate an impossible line between being social and being safe. She got her two free masks from CU and is planning a meeting with her two roommates to discuss their rules around visitors.

Can you hang out in a friend's open garage without a mask and still be allowed in your boyfriend's rental house the next day? How many unmasked friends do you allow in your own apartment? Somewhere between zero and five people, perhaps? If the answer is none, it's a lonely existence in the heat of summer or the cold of winter. But fear creeps in. CU Boulder has already had 11 positive tests for COVID-19 among the first-years moving in. Colorado College, down the road in Colorado Springs, has had to quarantine 155 young people due to the erratic actions of one individual who tested positive and exposed most of the dorm. It's been over 93 degrees here for ten days and next week holds more of the same; not a fun time to be quarantined in an apartment or dorm without air conditioning.

I heard Little Hurt's song, "Alaska," on the radio this week and grabbed on to it for a hot minute, formulating my own escape plan. "Yes," I thought, "let's move to Alaska."  Previously I had my hopes set on New Zealand, but they don't want us and are now fighting a new outbreak of the virus, so perhaps Alaska instead?  Shortly after fixing on my new and entirely unrealistic design (I have seasonal affectedness disorder and could never stand the dark of an Alaskan winter), I heard that our current administration plans to drill in the Arctic. There goes another paradise.

It didn't help my mood that William hung out with friends last Friday and found out the next day that one of his buddies had a 103-degree temperature. The friend's fever and aches lasted all weekend and while we waited for the results of his COVID test William quarantined to his room over the garage. It's a big room, so not a bad escape, except that it doesn't have its own bathroom. We got to see William only briefly as he stealth "shopped" in the kitchen with a mask on or dined with us on the porch at a healthy distance.  Thank goodness the test came back negative, and William got to go to his first day of senior year, but the worry takes a toll.

And yet, a few moments of joy highlighted the week. Daniel's first day of freshman year went smoothly, and he's already completed his algebra homework for the week. William got to swim in a small competition last night and did well - and I got called in as a volunteer so I watched him swim his 100 fly and 200 IM - a joy for me. The speeches at the Democratic Convention have been good, though sobering, and I finally have time to write some letters to get out the vote. I am grasping at one thread after another these days, feeling my way forward by the Braille of hope, moving not toward Alaska or New Zealand but to some future where we won't all need an escape plan.





Thursday, August 13, 2020

Restoring Life Force in the Mountains

 "Now I'm thinkin' about her everyday,

On my mind atypical way

Are you a life force?

Thinking about her everyday

On my mind atypical way

Are you a life force?"

-Lyrics to "By & By" by Caamp

We had a wild few days in the Colorado mountains.. Between Friday and Sunday we camped with five families up at Burning Bear campground, sleeping, hiking and dining at 9600 feet. Lying in our tent in the early morning I could see the pine trees energetically thrusting their way skyward, reaching toward the blue heights remarkably unmarred by clouds. Chipmunks and squirrels chirped and scolded us throughout the day as they plotted to dive into our bread bags and garbage. The warm sunshine baked pine needles and released that irresistible scent which always moves me to go into the woods.

Evenings rendered spectacular starlit skies and low temperatures. Twenty or so people sat around the campfire, tended by one of our Eagle Scouts, and hung their heads back over the edge of camp chairs, looking for shooting stars and marveling at the Milky Way. As the mercury dropped, we lost a little of our social distance, edging our chairs ever-closer to the warmth of the fire and putting out embers that shot high and landed on our fleeces or long pants.  Old camping memories were re-told and new memories shaped in games of twilight corn hole and flashlight tag high up on the dark rocks of the mountain.

On Tuesday, having barely unpacked the car and restocked our hiking gear, Aden, William, Sean and I rose at 3:15am and drove back up past Burning Bear to the Mosquito Range, where we climbed four linked mountain peaks over 14,000 feet. We hit the top of Democrat as the sun rose, casting a bright light on rock surfaces and warming our bones a little in the 40 degree temps. We left that summit before 8am and pushed on to the next three, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross.  Finished with our top of the world roaming, we started descending on the sliding, shifting terrain of Bross by 10:15am. 

Our descent was highlighted by the appearance of two jet fighter planes which swung in a loop over Democrat, higher than the peak but so near to us that I crouched down and held onto the rocks where I stood to watch safely. The boom of the sound barrier's breaking roared immensely large in the open space we occupied, and we cast our eyes for miles in all directions, thrilling to the immensity and beauty of the Colorado mountains. 

Headlines and horror stories were far below us, covered by forest fire haze or just erased by the magic of mountains, the beauty of space mostly untouched by humanity.  I say mostly because Coloradans are a hardy bunch and even at 5:45 am there were many cars parked on the rutted dirt road at the base of the trail, and a steady supply of hikers mounted the rocks behind us as we hiked. William even ran into two former CCHS swim teammates as we all rested in the saddle below Democrat.

When I heard the song "By & By" on the radio yesterday, the line "are you a life force?" resonated with me, especially strong in the aftermath of our Rocky Mountain adventures. There's an aphrodisiac associated with physical effort and open spaces, the removal of technology and the presence of good friends. Being close to the life force present in mountains, trees, running water and social bonds - all so necessary now to fight back against the depression and exhaustion that goes with the ongoing pandemic - has fueled my tanks and buoyed my hope. Now we're ready for whatever new adventure comes our way.



Friday, August 7, 2020

Back on Campus

As August creeps along it feels more and more like living in a fan fiction rewrite of the movie Contagion. Anxiety builds and people focus on long-shot hopes of a vaccine even as children and teachers are sent back to school without one.  COVID-19 stats are positive enough in our county that my boys will go back to school two days a week starting August 17. I trust the superintendent's numbers and admire the thinking the district has done around safety measures and logistics, but I'm deeply worried. It's hard to know where to put my trust: in my children's behavior? face masks and improved air vents? God?

My youngest son is going to be a freshman. We haven't taken him to school to show him around the campus - we won't even have his schedule until August 12 so will have to wait until then to locate his classrooms. How will he meet people when everyone is wearing a mask? You can't see anyone smile under a mask, though I am all in favor of his wearing one 24/7. During his two days on campus he will have to negotiate lunch and his "off" periods (today's equivalent of study hall), and we are waiting for further instructions on how he should manage those. Choir is one of his electives, but we understand that they can't do choir this year, so what will replace it?

My senior wrestles with the idea of getting back into a schedule, managing deadlines and beginning his college applications. Hardly anything seems real; he even asked me if he should be stressed out or if he should just continue to go with the flow. Not knowing how to feel strikes me as perfectly normal, but from what I recall from my own senior year and from his older sister's, he should definitely be a little more stressed. Not that I want to add any pressure to his already strained life, but you still have to meet deadlines and apply to college on time.

In the face of the 2020 back to school quagmire, we are going camping this weekend. Higher altitude, lower temps, space and distance will all be required to calm our frayed nerves. Hopefully some campfires and toasted marshmallows will soothe our souls and put us in the adventurous mindset we'll need to get back on campus.


 




Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Good Trouble

"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way."
- John Lewis, U.S.  Representative from Georgia 1987-2020

We had planned to have my father's memorial service tomorrow. Today my family, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles would have been winging our way toward Polson, Montana, preparing to celebrate Dad's life and swap stories with loved ones. Though we unanimously agreed to postpone the celebration until a time when we can gather together safely, it's a bittersweet week. COVID has stolen family gatherings from so many across the globe, it leaves a hollow ache, just one more symptom of the pandemic.

I miss Dad. Jules Clavadetscher was an advocate for good trouble and would have loved the above quote from Mr. John Lewis. Dad never backed away from a head-on tackle in high school football, a challenging rock face on our summer hikes, or a tough stance on a thorny issue. His rock-solid moral compass and mind for research (so many folders of his research!) never led him astray during his decades in business or while serving as city council member or mayor for Polson. 

Some of his decisions were unpopular. His co-workers at Nissan weren't thrilled when Dad decided that his Massachusetts office would not accept luxurious gift baskets from dealers - too much lobbying tended to muddy the waters, he thought. He decided after much debate to approve a new WalMart in Polson, over many objections (including my own). I don't think people's objections troubled him much. He held fast to standards of his faith, to the moral code he developed throughout his life, and his love for my Mom and the five of us. 

Nearly every day I think of how Dad dismissed Donald Trump as a possible spokesperson way back in the 80s. Some ad agency had proposed that Nissan hire Trump for an ad campaign and my Dad immediately nixed the idea. He knew the man was a crook and a shyster over thirty years ago and never changed his mind.  Dad, if you're reading this somewhere, you're still right, and could you please do something cosmic to help us out down here?

All jests aside, I'm pondering how and when to get into my own good trouble as the election nears, COVID rates rise, and our unmoored executive - the exact opposite of my Dad in so many ways - leads our country to the edge of a cliff. Dad supported my participation in the Women's March in 2017, and he would support any one of us getting into good trouble now. Once I figure out what to do, I'll dedicate it to his memory, an active witness to the superb life he lived.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Let Freedom Ring

"My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims' pride,
From every mountainside let freedom ring."
- From "America" by Bebe Winans

"Look how close we are to the top," Aden said to encourage her younger brother. No matter that the mile left to us was straight up through a shifting scree field, followed by a long stretch up treacherous boulders. We all felt optimistic as we gazed at Mt. Sneffels, the fourteener we had come to "bag." Coloradans consider climbing mountains over fourteen thousand feet a bit like a treasure hunt, and many of us carefully count - and recount - the number we've climbed. Only the rare and celebrated few have climbed all 58 of them.

I shared Aden's overly optimistic prediction that we would all soon be at the summit. The hike had been lovely and sun-kissed and the lack of oxygen hadn't hurt anyone thus far.  The worst problem we had faced was a horde of ravenous mosquitoes at the shores of a mountain pond full of snow-melt. Otherwise, we had moved quickly through bright green fields filled with yellow, white, deep purple and hot pink wildflowers. The San Juan mountains rose all around us, calming us with their permanence, their stability.

That stability was deceiving. We started up the scree field, sliding downward as our feet scrambled for purchase on bigger, buried stones. At first I wielded poles, stabbing them into the surface like ineffectual toothpicks trying to hold the sliding layers of a birthday cake. We soon resorted to hands and knees, scrabbling like beetles on the muddy ground. I heard a guide say to his helmeted guest, "Good thing it rained and the ground is wet. If this was dry you wouldn't have a chance to get up it."

I glanced up at him and made a stab at humor, "So you're saying it's my lucky day?"

He looked down at my bare head and ungloved hands; I could tell he was thinking I was unprepared. "Yep. But you might want to get a move on. The clouds are rolling in."

Sure enough, the first wisps of cloud were starting to filter through the saddle at the top of the scree. William had already made it through that saddle and embarked upon the boulders. Aden and I were close enough to make an attempt but Rob and Daniel seemed too far down. Figuring that they had each other, we kept pushing, one painful foot at a time.

In the end, William made it to the true summit. Aden and I stopped at 14,060 feet, declining the chance to rock-climb through a narrow chimney and gain the last fifty feet. We yelled for William to tell him we weren't coming up - that he should come down - and waited a scary few minutes for his voice to return in echoes, "I'm coooooming."

It's a bit lonely, cold and threatening at the top of a tall mountain, despite the gorgeous vistas laid out around you. Sharp peaks, highlighted in snow fields, stand out in every direction and green valleys threaded with waterfalls lay far at your feet. It's hard to deny the beauty of our state and our country out here, far from the virus, far from politics or policing dilemmas.

Yet I couldn't stop thinking about the peril we Americans are in. Our president and attorney general gave the order for Border Patrol SWAT teams and Federal Marshals to invade Portland last week, ostensibly to keep federal property safe but more likely to provide a made-for-TV show of force to bolster 45's sagging poll numbers. Caught in the dynamic are innocent Americans, peaceful protesters who have been tear-gassed, snatched off the street, interrogated without due process, and beaten.

My father, uncle and father-in-law volunteered to fight to protect this nation and it's notion of liberty and justice for all. My father's time in Vietnam was most likely the cause of his death last year, as Agent Orange exposure led to his disease. He volunteered to fight for freedoms and liberties, not so that corrupt leaders could endanger people for ratings.

As I stood near the top of Mt. Sneffels yesterday, holding my slightly inaccurate sign, I kept hearing the lines from "America." That was partially because I had written the line "from every mountainside let freedom ring" on the bottom of the sign in blue marker, but also because I am convinced that we must fight now for our ideals. The next four to six months will be difficult for all of us, caught between the virus, a threatened and dangerous executive branch, and a spineless Congress.

Who will protect us? We will. Like the Wall of Moms, of Fathers, of Veterans that nonviolently protect protesters in Portland, linking arms and standing up to heavily armed federal soldiers, we must be the heroes that we've been looking for. It will be difficult, this last mile, like the climb up a mountain, but we can do it. We must.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Beyond Good and Evil

"Our survival as a species depends on our ability to recognize that our well-being and the well-being of others are, in fact, one and the same. The problem is that we are taught behaviors that disconnect us from this natural awareness. It's not that we have to learn how to be compassionate; we have to unlearn what we've been taught and get back to compassion."
- "Beyond Good and Evil," Marshall Rosenberg, interviewed by D. Killian, February 2003
In The Sun, June 2020 "One Nation, Indivisible"

By the end of today, Aden will have worked twenty hours over the weekend, lifeguarding at our local pools. Since early June, when they opened, the pools have raised the number of bodies allowed in from 25 to 50 and then from 50 to 75. In the midst of a July heatwave, Aden has been guarding amidst a crush of 75 unmasked bodies, and dealt with many more angry people who could not or would not follow the procedure to make a legal reservation.

Though just enforcing the not-so-punishing rules of the pool company and HOA, Aden has been verbally attacked by people who decry her guidance, who bemoan the difficulty of the reservation system, who pretend guests are family members, and who assert that they "have never been treated like this in 20 years!"

To which Aden responds calmly that these are just the rules and she has no control over them, but can she help them make an appropriate reservation?

Rob and I feel much more anger than our daughter. I want to say to the woman who has lived here for 20 years: "Have you ever been in a pandemic before?"  To the people who say the child's friend is actually the child's father (a little girl supposedly named "Steven"):  "How is it OK to teach your children to lie?"  And to everyone who yells at my child while not wearing a mask, I want to say, "Stand six feet back and stay there!"

We are all frustrated and angry. Times are difficult and worse storm clouds are forming on the horizon. But we can't devolve and treat each other this way. We can't attack lifeguards for trying to follow the rules, resent teachers for wanting to be safe at their work, rebel against mask mandates because mask-wearing is inconvenient.  We need to take care of each other, do the right thing, and recognize that only our connectedness and mutual responsibility can save us.

I will try to remember this, too, and promise to stay away from the pool when my child is working. I will cultivate my sense of one-ness with the individuals who yell at my daughter if they can just take a moment to calm down (and social distance) when they talk to her. We're all on the same team.



Wednesday, July 15, 2020

I Can Handle the Truth

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
- John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn"

LTJG Kaffee: "I want the truth!"
 Col Jessep: "You can't handle the truth!"
- Dialog from "A Few Good Men" (1992)

Since my last blog questioning whether or not we should send our kids back to school, several things have happened. Los Angeles and San Diego Unified School Districts announced that - due to "skyrocketing infection rates" in California - they would not resume school in person.  Their statement said (in part): "Those countries that have managed to safely reopen schools have done so with declining infection rates and on-demand testing available. California has neither." (EdSource)

Later that same day, LA county public health officials left open the possibility that some schools and districts within the county could reopen, if they followed new guidance. Safety protocols would require social distancing and face coverings.

Meanwhile, down the road in Orange County, the OC school board voted 4-1 to approve a return to school for all students. In its guidance, it advised against masks and social distancing, saying that mask requirements are not based on science.  In response to that edict, the largest districts in Orange County, including Santa Ana and Irvine Unified, stated that they will not comply with the school board's vote and will start the year online.

My head is spinning.

What is the truth? Medical experts now say that wearing a face mask is essential to stop the spread of the virus. On July 14, the LA Times wrote "Masks offer much more protection against coronavirus than many think" (masks lower exposure). Not only do they help protect others from your emissions and droplets, but they protect you from others, reducing your viral load even if you are exposed to an infection.

Increasingly, politicians of every stripe are encouraging mask-wearing, mostly to keep our economy intact. Without masks, the virus will rampage through the population like it is currently doing in Arizona, Florida, Texas and California. If we had all started wearing masks in March or April, schools might safely open now.

Though the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the above-mentioned states are horrifying, at least we currently know the truth about their situations. Soon we may be entirely in the dark. Our federal government has ordered hospitals to send virus information to the Department of Health and Human Services instead of the CDC.  CNN says "the move could make data less transparent to the public at a time when the administration is downplaying the spread of the pandemic, and threatens to undermine public confidence that medical data is being presented free of political interference" (CNN Data). Gee, whiz, you think?

We can - and we must - handle the truth.  Our country is in trouble. Face masks are one of the only tools we have against the spread of the coronavirus and must be worn if we are to avoid long-term, complete shutdowns. Even with masks, teachers and students should not be asked to heroically throw themselves into the breach created by our ineffective and immoral federal government.

As Farhad Manjoo writes in the NYTimes, "parents and teachers would be wise to reject any invitation to unnecessary heroism. I don't want educating my kids to be a heroic act of American defiance -- I want it to be ordinary. And I'd rather not sacrifice my children's teachers, either, so that America's economy can begin humming once more" (Times, Manjoo).

If only we had a few good men and women at the top who could help us. Given the woefully inadequate supply of these leaders and the avoidance of truth at the highest levels of government, it is up to all of us to uncover the facts, determine how to living safely in accordance with them, and refuse to believe those who lie.  Follow the truth and it will (please, God) set us free and keep us safe.

Monday, July 13, 2020

To School or Not to School?

"Move everything outdoors -- as much as possible and much more than has been done already."
-Megan McArdle, first in Washington Post, (Move everything outdoors)

Rob and I felt our concerns about school mounting last week as the numbers of COVID-19 cases rose in Colorado. Our governor, Jared Polis, had to close down bars again. At this juncture we received a reminder email from our school district; we have to choose online-only or in-person education for our high school boys, and our decision will determine the entire year's process. That's a weighty call, and though both our boys asked for in-person learning, we are constantly evaluating the risks and benefits.

The Cherry Creek School District has worked hard and done a fine job in planning ways to make the school year less dangerous for teachers and students. The in-person plan includes new vents and airflow processes for classrooms, block scheduling of classes with no visits to lockers, mandatory mask-wearing, and one-way hallways.  I have no complaints with their efforts and admire their leadership, but they are not working in a vacuum. The virus problems in our country, and our state, indicate the situation will be dangerous despite their best efforts.

I haven't let the boys congregate anywhere inside for four months. William swims outdoors and socializes outdoors in backyards or basketball courts. We get nervous when Daniel gets too close to his baseball teammates in the dugout - but that's still outside. The vast majority of my friends are still working from home, and all meetings are conducted virtually. Why, then, would we decide to send our kids to school to sit and breathe in the air conditioning with twenty of their peers for three hours at a time? If it hasn't been safe at any point between March and July, it's not going to be more safe come August 17.

The only solution I can see is to take the classes outside. Rice University bought huge tents and plans to hold classes in these covered spaces. New Yorkers may see the children studying outside in stadiums or streets shut down for that purpose. Here in our district we could use parking lots, football stadiums, quads, tennis courts, baseball and soccer fields. The situation is far  less than ideal but far safer than having the students sit indoors. To again quote Megan McArdle, "We're long past hunting for ideal solutions, we're now hunting for adequate."

So I'll submit my request to move classes outdoors for as long as possible and hope that it resonates with someone at the district. We have five days to decide where our children will learn this year, five days to assess our own risk tolerance and determine how to roll the dice.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Revive the Revolution

What started as a summer of hope and opening (hopening?) has become more narrow and bleak, as if the incinerating heat of July has bleached optimism from me as it bleaches green from our yard. The Fourth was particularly poignant this year, as Aden, William and I discussed our mixed emotions around our embattled country.

As any parent, teacher or coach knows, it's hard to watch a family-, class-, or team-member stumble; it's painful for the one who falters as well as for the whole group. In the same way, it's painful to witness our country's missteps around containment of the coronavirus, shocking to watch the blatant acts of racism committed on our streets, humbling to recognize that we have grown up with, and are part of, systemic injustices.

One headline gripped me as I wrestled with the Fourth, practically rippled across my web browser like an inspired banner: "Let's Finish the American Revolution. Our nation's founding was a mess of contradictions. We must push America closer to its ideals." (Finish American Revolution.)  In a powerful op-ed for the New York Times, Timothy Egan wrote that "it will take an imaginative projection of  the best instincts" of our nation's founders to help re-create a shared narrative for our nation, one that speaks to the high aims of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and understands the flaws that their authors - and our nation - embodied.

Egan lists some of the contradictions in our founding fathers. Nine presidents held slaves, and only one (Washington) freed them all in his will. Roosevelt warred against Native Americans but evolved, says Egan, to become the first to add universal health care to the list of our fundamental rights (another right not recognized, but that's another blog). Jefferson, a slave-holder, wrote "all men are created equal." He may not have lived the truth expressed in that phrase, but perhaps now it's time - and our turn - to embrace this biblical belief and make it real.

As Senator Tammy Duckworth said in her powerful editorial response to Tucker Carlson's baseless  accusation that she lacked patriotism: "...while we have never been a perfect union, we have always sought to be a more perfect union -- and in order to do so, we cannot whitewash our missteps and mistakes. We must learn from them instead." (NYT Duckworth)

Since its inception our country has sustained a tension between the vision of what it wanted to be - what it could be - and the difficult and painful realities of its existence, predicated on the robbery of land from native inhabitants and the slave labor of people brought here in chains. Now is our chance to finish the revolution, to revive not only our vision for our country but our concrete plans to make those dreams reality.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Respect Science, Respect Nature, Respect Each Other

Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed for the New York Times (Friedman in which he argued "respect science, respect nature, respect each other" should be Biden's bumper sticker for the 2020 campaign. The phrase was suggested to him by environmental innovator Hal Harvey in their correspondence. Friedman argues this statement "summarizes so simply the most important values Americans feel we've lost in recent years and hope to regain from a post-Trump presidency."

I love this line and feel my mind drawn to it like metal filings on a long bar magnet. Respect science: follow medical advice surrounding COVID-19 and protect the earth and its inhabitants against further climate change. Respect nature: repeat the mandate to protect our earth and its inhabitants by pursuing green energy and conservation policies. Respect each other: welcome everyone to the table, listen to different opinions, protect the vulnerable, prioritize human dignity.

Harvey's words went around in my mind as I hiked the Tanglewood Trail outside Bailey the other day with Aden and Heidi. We climbed four miles up a quiet, forested route alongside a stream, with yellow daisies, purple columbine and pink primroses dotting the hillside. Few hikers joined us on a cool weekday morning and those we saw provided social distancing as we passed. The noise of rushing water and our own deep breathing was drowned out only by the wind through the trees. The strenuous climb made me grateful for my health and the beauty of the mountains made it easy to commit to respect for the earth and all its living and nonliving components.

It's a bit harder to remember down here in the suburbs, where the heat and noise of civilization contrasts against the quiet and cool spaces at 11,000 feet. Headlines rush at me and incite me to fury. I have to go back in my mind to our hike, the memory of marmots gamboling about the snow-fed pools at the top of our trail, the echos of woodpeckers' beaks hitting pine, the natural waterfalls and plank bridges we crossed. I wish we could have a national hike, a day when everyone could take a time out in nature and rededicate energy to respecting our biology, our natural world, and our communities. Maybe then we could re-embrace our national values and get our country back on track.


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Rare Peace and Quiet

I am alone in the house for the first time in three-and-a-half months. The quiet surrounds me and brings my heart rate down; I feel like laughing. When I called my mom we had forty minutes of uninterrupted time, no shouts for car keys, demands for food, or random cries of "Mom, Mom!" interrupting the rhythm of our discussion. With Aden and William at work, and Rob and Daniel driving through the Chicago suburbs, my home is my kingdom once again. It brings back dusty memories of routines circa February, 2020.

Thinking seems doable again in the silence, poems might even be possible. My hat is off to all parents working in a full house and producing actual intellectual output; I have been busy and checked many items off to-do lists but I have not spent much time in deep thought. There isn't much point in "going deep" if you're going to get yanked back to the surface with the barbed hook of adolescent needs. Having my family close has been a gift of enormous magnitude, but I have paid the price in functioning brain cells.

The quiet costs more than a little worry, however, as Rob and Daniel traverse several states in the old black Acura. Rob has to pack up his corporate apartment in Chicago as his company will terminate its lease. Rob wanted to make the trip in person rather than have a friend pack up and ship his belongings. I think he's hoping for a socially distanced meeting tomorrow so that he can see co-workers for the first time since early March. Then the boys hope to travel on to Ohio to see Bill and Connie.

Our travelers stopped over in Omaha, Nebraska last night. Rob said the hotel in Omaha was virtually empty, as were the city streets outside the College World Series baseball stadium. We were all supposed to be in Omaha last week for the USA Swimming Olympic Trials, so their stopover was bittersweet. Instead of watching the first four days of hopes and dreams realized with fast swimming, loud music and fireworks, I received a picture that Daniel took for me, a big road sign reading "US Olympic Trials Postponed until 2021."  We can only hope.

My dynamic duo are using copious amounts of hand sanitizer and avoiding elevators and indoor spaces whenever possible. That's one big worry: to protect themselves. The other issue is protecting the ones they visit, particularly Rob's parents. When Rob and Daniel left home they had runny noses, and though the symptom is likely due to allergies, I told Rob to monitor the situation closely. The boys are supposed to spend the Fourth with Rob's parents, but under no circumstances will they bring a bug with them.

Such strange times we live in when we struggle to see co-workers and loved ones, weigh the need against the risk. I'm conducting the same inner debate over whether or not to go to Montana to see my mom, weighing the desire to be with her against the risk that doing so might bring trouble in her direction. As the inner debate rages I will take a few moments to appreciate the rare quiet, say a few prayers for the safety of my travelers and offer up a request that we might all feel some peace in our rare quiet, private moments.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Wrestling with Reality

William and I visited Duke and UCLA yesterday, a feat of bi-coastal viewing enabled by magical new virtual tours. The fresh-faced tour reps associated with each university gave a real-time presentation while showing photos of campus markers and reflecting on favorite traditions and events that may no longer happen. Attendees asked questions in the chat boxes and received responses from the tour leaders or facilitators, but these young people can't know the answers to our most significant questions: what will life look like in fall 2021? Will "college" still be possible?

Who knows what form college will take this year or even next year, but our older kids need something to grab hold of as they traverse a journey out of the valley of despair up to the next peak of achievement. CU Boulder rearranged all their classes for the fall semester, switching times and classrooms in order to provide socially distant spaces for small classes and moving large lectures online. Aden now has three classes that overlap, but the university will continue to tinker with schedules through July so there's really no point in worrying.

With work, swimming, significant others and outdoor contact with friends, our older kids are navigating this strange time reasonably well. On the other hand, our fourteen-year-old struggles mightily. Baseball is finally back, and one in-person taekwondo class per week, but otherwise his week is empty and he is too young to get a job. So we "hire" him to paint the back fence, mow and edge the yard, assemble patio furniture, tear up the tower of cardboard boxes that seems to grow each week. That doesn't meet the insatiable and important need of teens to bond with peers, and our efforts to ration phone or screen time have not worked. We're tapped out and concerned.

A dear friend asked me yesterday what I pray for in these confusing days, if I pray for the virus to end, for a vaccine, for the kids' school to resume. I had to admit that I don't pray for any specific outcome - the future is too murky for me to see. Every night I sit with my gratitude journal and force my pen to enumerate our blessings, which flow easily enough once I get started. I don't know what the future holds or even what to ask for, but if I rest each night on gratitude I can find the strength to get up and embrace whatever virtual or true reality comes the next day.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Juneteenth Anniversary

Rob and I married on June 19, 1999 in Lake Tahoe, surrounded by family and close friends, all of us oblivious to the Juneteenth holiday. If my history books named the holiday or its significance I do not remember. It's likely that my books and teachers didn't even cover this historically relevant occasion, when "Major Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Texas, to deliver General Order No. 3, proclaiming emancipation" (New Yorker, Jelani Cobb, 6/29/2020 ).  The Civil War had been over for two months and the freedom of enslaved people in Texas had been delayed two and a half years by whites who didn't want to share the news.

Two and a half years of additional enslavement, separation from family, and work without wages certainly lend a bittersweet tinge to the Juneteenth celebration of freedom. When Rob and I married we never had to worry about being forcibly parted, nor about our children being born into servitude, their lives hanging in the wind of a master's whimsy. We've never experienced the grinding intolerance and hatred that generations of black Americans have faced. Our sons do not have to learn elaborate methods of self-protection and defense from police officers.

Black Americans who persevered in observing Juneteenth along with Memorial Day and Independence Day (which was not a true day of freedom for black Americans) in the calendar of summer holidays inspire awe. To hold onto history and celebrate the tenacity and strength necessary to wait not just two and a half years but for four hundred years for true freedom - that's both remarkable and a national shame.

Our country seems to be embracing Juneteenth in the year 2020, 155 years after the original event, elevating it to a statewide holiday, a paid day off, a proposed National holiday. It's past time for our country to elevate emancipation of enslaved peoples to holiday status, but also to reckon with the grievance of having enslaved peoples in the first place.

I'm abashed, surprised and grateful to discover this connection between our anniversary and American history and consider it one more motive to learn more about the history we glossed over in school, appreciate the heroes that we failed to mention and praise the days that we are just now celebrating.





Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Fifty Nifty

"Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies;
Fifty nifty stars in the flag that billows so beautifully in the breeze."
- Ray Charles, "Fifty Nifty United States"

The list of states where coronavirus is on the rise reads exactly like the bridge of the "Fifty Nifty" song which names every state in alphabetical order: "Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California... ." Colorado comes next in the list but the illness isn't spreading here (though our governor is keeping a sharp eye on neighbors Utah and Arizona). Full stop at Colorado, my friends, where luck and outdoor lifestyles have so far kept us off COVID-19's most wanted list. Fingers crossed.

This song has been stuck in my head over the past few days and I decided to look it up and write a few words on the subject. I was quite startled to learn that Ray Charles crafted the lyrics, but with a quick Google search I found not rhythm and blues great Ray Charles but a whiskered, grandfatherly, white Ray Charles who apparently  also sang the theme song to the TV show "Three's Company."

I learned Charles' lyrics in fifth grade chorus at Thurston Elementary School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The lyrics are somehow unforgettable and they surfaced in my brain when my oldest child learned and performed to the same song thirty years later.  Memory's grip held me strongly enough that I was jolted during the fill-in-the-blank line when you name your favorite state and the children said Colorado instead of Michigan.

Now the poor states are strung out in repeated tallies of protests, police overreach and COVID hotspots, a chorus lacking cheer and sunny patriotic images. Current headlines render the quaint lyrics of "Fifty Nifty" unbearably antiquated and reminiscent of a time - not when everything was better - when everyone had their heads in the sand.

But certainly the fifty of us (along with Puerto Rico, who should be a state if they still want to be) are somewhat tired of being held off with promises of unity and coherence that fall flat. As each governor fights desperately for his or her own people and tries to craft "Survivor"-style alliances with neighbors, the fabric that used to unite the North to the South, the East to the West, wears mighty thin.

The round number fifty and the phrase "fluttering flag" create pretty pictures and smooth sentences, but they are just words. We need actions to help unify 330 million diverse actors, to bridge gaps and build safety nets and scaffolding to better things. We need a plan to defeat COVID-19, to heal the wounds of slavery and racism, and to imagine a better future for every individual in every state. Until the leaders emerge or until we become the leaders we need, we'll continue to hear roll call and pray no one's calling our name.


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Action and Healing

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity."
- Amelia Earhart

"The love of the family, the love of the person can heal. It heals the scars left by a larger society. A massive, powerful society."
- Maya Angelou

Over the past week, personal statements against racism have sprouted like spring dandelions in the windows of my browser. From Joe Biden to the Rock, NFL to Ben and Jerry, organizations have either leapt or been pushed to make statements against systemic racism and specific racist acts in this country. At a personal level, I've been moved by my cousin's participation in New York City protests via bike, foot and surfboard.  Our neighborhood staged a mini-rally at the local park, and our high school principal sent a personal and thoughtful message to the student body and their families.

Daniel and William came with me to the rally at Willow Creek Park, which was attended by 150-200 masked individuals of all ages and backgrounds. The crowd proceeded slowly around the green space, periodically stopping to let bikers through or to acknowledge the cheers and supportive honks of passing cars. "Black Lives Matter" signs and "Think, then Vote" slogans bobbed above our heads as we chatted with neighbors and collected flyers recommending books, movies and websites to deepen our understanding.

Most moving were the comments after our parade. A young black woman spoke of how emotional the past month has been for her as she acknowledged for the first time the pain of racist comments and actions that she had previously swept under the rug. She said the first racist incident occurred when she was six, in first grade, when her white seat-mate refused to share books with her because she was black.  Her two small children clung to her legs as she thanked us for being present, for dealing with the truth of America's racism and for trying to do better. The group's (white) organizer spoke to her children afterward, telling them and all children of color present "they matter, they are important, they are loved." The two women embraced in the middle of our circle and my boys were silent and thoughtful as my sunglasses mysteriously watered.

Our principal's message, too, ventured into the deeply personal. Though our high school has made efforts to embrace diversity and create equal experiences for all students, Mr. Silva acknowledged that his incoming daughter would face different summer and school year experiences than her good friend, also an incoming freshman, who is black.  The young man has chosen to stay home over the past month, seeing friends only in an environment that he can control. He and his parents have determined that even casual trips to the gas station store or ice cream with friends could be fraught with peril.

Listening to the experiences of people of color and to the introspective admissions of friends and relatives about their guilt and angst and determination to do better has moved me to do more. My children and I have new books to read and discuss. We have new organizations to sponsor and new legislative priorities to support with our local representatives. We have new friends and neighbors to get to know - and to start to love. Loving actions done with tenacity can hopefully lead to healing.


Saturday, June 6, 2020

Liberty and Justice for All

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon, we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy."  - Dumbledore, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (based on the book by JK Rowling)

"Here's one delusion: that we can escape slavery. We can't. It's scars will never fade. When you saw your mother sold off, your father beaten, your sister abused by some boss or master, did you ever think you would sit here today, without chains, without the yoke, among a new family?" Everything you ever knew told you that freedom was a trick - yet here you are."
- Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad, Character of Lander 

There's a scar on my leg where I cut it on a rusty nail as an 8-year-old. It's faded now, but showed up ridged and narrow for decades. Because of the rust, the cut didn't heal cleanly, thus the scar.  In contrast, the deep divots in my hands caused by a mountain bike crash took a few weeks to mend but, due to frequent and liberal applications of Neosporin and soapy water, they're healing without a trace of injury.

In the United States of America, where generations benefited from the abduction and enslavement of people from another continent, slavery is marked by sore scars over wounds that have never healed. Slavery has never been reviewed under the light of truth or cleansed by admissions of guilt - just poorly bandaged by three hundred and fifty years of lies about the superiority of white people, the limitations of black people, the inevitability of social injustices. 

The scars of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, imprisonment of black men, voting restrictions and generational poverty of inner-city families still hurt everyone in this country, and in reading about the protests this week, it seems that the majority of Americans now feel the pain. Maybe, if we can hear the truth from our black brothers and sisters about racism, if we can bow our heads under the weight of the guilt and then be cleansed by our confession and desire to change, the scar can finally heal.

Scars signify not only injury but triumph over the pain, healing over the original damage. Can we overcome the legacy of slavery and speak more to healing and unity than to woundedness?

We're a long way from triumph at the moment, more like dealing with fresh wounds every day. If white people can do the hard work of admitting privilege and preparing to give up the unearned "edge" that our white skin provides, perhaps we can move forward. Our Pledge of Allegiance ends with "One Nation, Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all." That has never been a valid description of our country, only an aspiration. Perhaps, some day, the words will ring true.