Holding space for emergent occasions

I’ve been itching to write posts on light topics, to immerse myself in the inconsequential, but I have a few thoughts gnawing at me, like a splinter that needs to be removed.I just need to take a breath and be present, acknowledging losses as well as the grief and trauma felt by those left behind.

Some of the losses are worldwide—more than 3.3 million people have died, according to the NY Times (and I’ve heard this is an undercount). I sometimes see photos of people in Covid19 memorials on different media outlets (PBS NewHour, for example). It hurts to see their smiling faces, caught in a better moment. It is almost puzzling, this moment where you think, “But they were fine then….”

There are also losses closer to home—one of those human landmine moments occurred here in Boone, when a tortured young man committed homicide and suicide, including two members of law enforcement sent for a welfare check. Many of us know the families affected in one way or another, including neighbors shaken by this event, reminding us that tranquility is sometimes an illusion.

A young man on a motorcycle died in a car crash a few weeks later.

Others leave us with less fanfare, from age, from illness, from some other long-simmering challenge. Or due to ancient malice, the recurring flash points of war or violence exploding around the world.

I know it’s a bit dusty, but what makes the most sense to me comes from John Donne’s devotions, which I transcribe this way: No one is an island, entire of itself; every human is a piece of the continent….Any death diminishes me, because I am involved in humanity. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

That is, whether I know the person who died or not, each death is a loss to us all. We need everyone. I may connect or feel a loss more strongly depending on how I relate to or how well I know the person, but each death matters no matter who dies, or why, or how. It feels sometimes as if people try to build some kind of distance from these deaths, maybe even pick a side, feeling sympathy for one death but not another. I understand the impulse, but I think this too diminishes us. The experience of grief can vary, but it exists nonetheless. We are part of everything that happens, no matter what stories we tell ourselves.

I also find comfort in these dusty readings too:

Do not go gently into that good night by Dylan Thomas.
We may know death is inevitable, but we never have to accept it.

And Thomas’ Fern Hill, expressing joy and sorrow at the speed with which our days fly past.

A blog without moss

It’s day 2357 of the pandemic. (Just kidding, who’s counting?) My teens ask me where their father is.

There are several likely answers. Putting in more time on a major volunteer project or grocery shopping again because he’s eagerly embraced the hunter/gatherer role during the months when we feared All Things Indoor. His age placed him at higher risk, but oh the heady freedom of leaving the house to get groceries. Now that we’re all vaccinated (phew), we all leave the house more often, even to go Indoors Elsewhere, almost as if that’s a normal thing to do.

Instead, I say, “Your father gathers no moss.”

Blank stares, a few blinks.

“He’s a rolling stone that gathers no moss,” I explain.

“That means nothing,” says one teen.

“What?” says another.

“You know, he can’t be pinned down. He’s always on the move.” Since he bore the role of full-time father for the eternity that was early childhood, this statement is not without some irony.

“Why can’t you just say that?” another teen says, shaking her head.

“Nobody says that,” the first says.

My teens aren’t fans of proverbs and cliches, I guess. In their defense, it is not necessarily one of the more helpful analogies. I mean, stones rarely roll. Sure, there’s probably an avalanche now and then. And I’m certain none of those rocks are gathering moss during that short span of time. But then again, a lot of rocks that don’t move don’t gather moss, either.

Still, I’m a fan of such sayings, just as I have moments when I love words like epistemology. I know it’s annoying when the word or phrase is unknown. But once you get your head around them, it’s a nice shortcut rather than explaining the whole history behind it (which, if you are curious about the history of the rolling stone proverb, there are helpful explanations on Wikipedia and the free dictionary that are probably accurate).

All this to say, I always feel a bit apologetic when I post on my blog because it’s so random when I do (not to mention what I write). Sometimes I post regularly. Sometimes I post on predictable topics. Sometimes, not so much. Now technically, I think my blog gathers tons of moss. On the one hand, like cobwebs when I neglect it for months on end. On the other hand, I’ve apparently posted 146 times on my blog. That’s about five times more than I would have guessed. So by one reading of the proverb, this blog is taking root. The one who is not gathering moss is me, the blogger, because I regret to inform you that I have no idea what you might see appear on this page. I have a little time this summer and the desire (perhaps) to blog more often. I have a growing list of ideas and fragments to post. Is there a guiding theme or platform at work here? Nope. I’ve never been one to pick one idea or topic and stick with it, though a few tend to come up more often for me (time management, writing, democratic values, reading, my favorite tech, for example). But don’t hold me to it. I’m not sure that saying this helps anyone who stumbles upon my blog at random. I guess I’m mostly saying sorry, not sorry. I’m just a rolling stone…

“Stop it,” the kids say.

Okay.

Fast Forward to February

So I haven’t posted on my blog since the start of November, and in my defense, November was a head trip, not to mention December and January.

I had hoped to breathe a sigh of a relief after the election ended, but I was afraid to post even that much because there were so many signs of trouble ahead. It was hard not to worry that the many lies repeated across right wing media and by certain politicians might lead to violence. I knew I would (rightly) sound paranoid if I said as much, but it made it hard to say anything on here.

And so tragic events ensued on January 6. It is hard for me to watch reports and videos of what occurred, though I did yesterday for the impeachment trial. I have to agree with commentators that this is an event that grows more horrifying the more you learn about it. 

Here’s my confession: ethics, morals, and ideals all matter to me. I believe that we should do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, even if I strive to bring empathy and compassion to try to make sense of all the factors at play in any morally troubling situations. So my horror at what culminated on January 6 is matched by my horror that Republican Senators might not convict the worst actions ever taken by an American president against his own country. There is no line in the sand for the majority of them, apparently. They choose power and party over country, again and again and again. For too many, the ends justify the means, no matter how bloody or destructive. They would prefer to see this country burned to the ground than share power. Their actions are an affront to the core values of democracy and justice.

I’ve heard that some people are leaving the GOP to form an alternative center right political party. I can only hope they succeed. Center right would not describe my politics, but I recognize the value of differing opinions and points of view as long as we always condemn and reject lies, hate, prejudice, violent rhetoric, and any kind of take-no-prisoners mentality. It would also be great to see an end to bad faith arguments, though that might require a massive change in our culture to allow more time to think, gather information, and engage with nuance. 

At any rate, I did meet my Nanowrimo self-imposed goal of writing 50,000 words by the end of November. I find the daily writing goal of Nanowrimo so helpful for me, but I am aware that this approach isn’t always a positive thing for other writers. Plus, as I mentioned, November was intense, so I didn’t want anyone to think they should be doing anything but hanging in there. 

Anyway, it’s February now. The new year has brought hope in multiple forms including promising changes in federal leadership, not to mention vaccines on the horizon. It’s also brought more near misses and a few direct hits in terms of Covid19 in my circle of loved ones, so I am keenly aware that some people might lose the race just as our country begins to cross the finish line.

Still, I remain a glass is half full type, so I will focus on what lies around the corner. Where I live, this is the moment when winter drags on and drags us down. But better weather is inching closer. It’s February. Hang on.

So other than everything, how is it going?

Even before the pandemic, I wouldn’t always treat the question, “How are you?” as an empty exercise in good manners. If the right person asks and there is something to complain about, my answer was almost never “Fine.” Still, I also sometimes answer “Great,” in a hearty voice, mostly to show how happy I am to see the person again (or at least, the box with their face in it on my computer screen). But given the state of things in the U.S. right now, that answer seems off the rails. Who can be doing great when record numbers of Americans are contracting a disease that carries a risk of permanent disability, even death? And the risk of passing that fate to others, carrying the weight of that knowledge forever? Who can be doing great when record numbers of Americans are unemployed with every option running dry and the U.S. Senate is dominated by a man only interested in legislation that will protect businesses when they carelessly expose their employees to the disease?

Meanwhile, an election year that has been a decade long inches to a close, as voters choose between someone who has the potential to conduct a FDR-like Presidency or someone who will help us find out what would have happened if Gollum didn’t bite the ring off of Frodo’s finger. (Well, maybe we’re already finding out. I read today that the current administration is trying to undermine Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Human Rights Watch. I guess I should know better now, but it still feels so disorienting to imagine the people who orchestrate these policies. What can it be like to be so deeply indifferent to human suffering?)

So much is going wrong that I feel like a character in one of those movies when the asteroid is about to hit Earth or space invaders are filling the sky, shooting laser beams at anyone who is in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Yet unlike those movies, instead of uniting to stave off the asteroid or aliens, we are supposed to find ways to go about business as usual. Ding! My phone reminds me of my next online meeting. Kaboom! Somewhere outside my window, another one bites the dust, stricken by disease or economic despair.

I don’t know what will happen on Election Day. I’m hoping for the FDR-like guy to win, of course, preferably surfing a wave of blue. No matter who wins, a long winter lies ahead. And rebuilding the Shire may take a lifetime.

Seven months in

On March 23, 2020, I recorded the following numbers on my blog: 

341,500 identified with Covid19 worldwide; 15,187 have died. 33,018 identified in the U.S., and 428 have died.

Today, Sunday, October 11, here are the numbers:

Worldwide: Over 37.2 million cases: over 1 million deaths.
US: Over 7.7 million cases; Over 214,000 deaths.

I know we don’t have a way to process these numbers—to understand the significance of it all. I don’t know how to make sense of one death, let alone numbers at this scale. 

There was an interactive graphic on the Washington Post that let me try to connect, for a moment, with the scale of grief: 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/national/coronavirus-deaths-neighborhood/

Currently my own county has become a hotspot, and I keep reviewing in my mind how to be safer, after months of trying to be safe. How to help my children make sense of being careful even if there are people around us who aren’t.

One of the challenges, of course, is that the threat of Covid19 is not simply death, though there have been far too many. It is one of risk. Every case contracted carries the risk of more. Just look at where we were in March versus now. Every time Covid19 spreads, it doesn’t mean the person who got it will die. That person may not even experience symptoms. But they might spread it to someone who will. And these numbers don’t tell us how many people will deal with long term consequences of an illness that can harm organ function, even brain function, in ways we are not yet prepared to measure.

I stare into this landscape of grief, not just for the loss of lives but in some cases, for the loss of empathy, the numbness and indifference that some people embrace as an armor against it. I know that we still should avoid doing anything that isn’t 100% necessary. We should still embrace social connections but physically distant—ideally around 12 feet apart, outside, masks on. Or online. We can complain about life on screens but accept that this might keep us safer than the alternative.

I will keep doing what I can to be safe, and I will keep hoping that others will find their way to do so, too. It seems as if too many people prefer to fight over problems, rather than fix them. And this time, the solution is to take care of one another and to be safe for one another. How odd, too, to think that we may be saved not by some miracle vaccine or expensive treatment, but something as cheap and simple as wearing a mask.

One month (or so) in

I have wondered how to take stock of one month (or so) of the pandemic and ongoing extreme social distancing measures. There are the good parts—my family and I have fallen into something of a routine, finding ways to get things done, work, chores, hobbies, and various diversions. We’ve found ways to connect with friends and family online and (at a distance) in the neighborhood.

The hard parts, of course, are watching what seems like so much incompetence and avarice by the U.S. executive branch and its enablers in the Senate, versus the valiant efforts by people at all other levels, regardless of political affiliation, to rise to this challenge. As someone who cares deeply about protecting and exercising the right to vote, I am still reeling from what took place in Wisconsin. Truth to tell, the hardest part of this pandemic hasn’t been social distancing, nor even worrying about how everyone will recover from shutting everything down (as frightening as that can be), but the pain of reading so many reports on all that is going wrong, of the pain and suffering caused by the illness and by the economic hardships, and simultaneously the horror of knowing that there are people whose only reaction is to figure out how to grab power and money in the midst of it. There are no monsters in fiction that come close to the cruelty and depravity on display in our country right now (and alas, similar patterns are emerging in countries led by autocrats around the world). I am a bit ashamed to admit that this still surprises me. I like to see the good in people, and I believe in the radical embrace of hope in the face of daunting odds. Yet what I am forced to witness these days beggars my attempts to describe it, let alone absorb it.

I have heard that emailing our representatives in Congress is as effective these days as calling, and as a writer, email has always seemed easier to me than calling. If you care about the vote as I do, and you happen to be a citizen of the U.S., please consider emailing your representatives (or filling out their website forms) urging them to

-Pass a fourth Coronavirus relief package that includes at least $2 billion in “safe election money” and protects the U.S. post office
-Require states to invest in expanded vote by mail and early voting
-Ensure that in-person polling locations have the resources they need to operate safely and efficiently

(talking points provided by Vote Save America)