Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

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.