Hiding from the monsters

When I was very young, my brother used to insist that a monster lurked under my bed, waiting patiently for his chance to grab me by the ankle if I ever happened to venture out of bed at night. Consequently, I always tried to make sure I stayed tucked tightly under my covers all night. No monster was going to get me. And once I figured out that there was no such a thing as monsters, I wasn’t afraid anymore.

But as it turned out, monsters do exist. Today, a monster is stoking fear in millions of us. This invisible monster isn’t under the bed, but it has kept us in hiding from work, school, family, and friends for several weeks now. Here in Ohio and in all but nine other states, we’ve been encouraged to stay home to ‘flatten the curve’. There is reason to believe that this effort is working. But even if we are successful, it will still be weeks or months before we can feel any confidence that our lives can start to return to normal.

Right now, COVID-19 is growing exponentially. It isn’t going away by Easter, or anytime soon. This monster waits as patiently as any under-the-bed monster ever has. It only needs a second for a germy hand to absentmindedly rub an eye, scratch a phantom tickle under a nose, or smother a yawn. Then it enters though our mucous membranes, and we can begin to spread it to others without even being aware of doing so.

And now we have a White House that is not ruled by experts of any kind, least of all scientific ones. At the beginning of all this, Donald Trump denied the problem. Then he blamed the media and Democrats. Next, he said there was only one patient in this country; a few days later he admitted there could be five. He advised Americans to go on cruises, and compared COVID-19 to the flu. Then he said it would all be over by April, which obviously is not true. And it never had a chance of being true because the President refused to act quickly and responsibly.

When the President finally began to come around to the idea that he wasn’t going to be able to talk his way out of the pandemic, he did bring in a few experts. We all feel fortunate to have Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, but the President only seems to listen to them when he feels like it, which is not often. Then, after he has publicly agreed with one of their assessments, by the next day, or sometimes during the same press conference, he changes course and disagrees again.

If COVID-19 is the monster that is no longer hiding under the bed, then Donald Trump, his administration, the Republican Congressmen, and those nine Republican Governors who refuse to issue stay-at-home orders and continue to declare their fealty to him are the monsters in front of us. They all seem to have made a disturbingly easy peace with hundreds or even thousands of deaths here in America. They all drone on about not wishing to step on individual freedoms and their fervent distrust of big government, but the only thing they really care about is the economy. Everyone else is expendable.

COVID-19 was always going to take lives. But this Republican administration’s failure to act means the scale of America’s disaster is going to be much greater than it should have been. Trump and his minions made choices that gambled with the lives of Americans and their families. They treated us, and treat us all still, as disposable.

The world is at war with this virus. But the President for some unfathomable reason keeps refusing to get the necessary protective equipment to our health care professionals who so desperately need it. He keeps spouting unproven, possibly dangerous alternative theories for cures, things he “has a feeling about.” He touts these during his now-daily COVID-19 press briefings, which he emcees like some sort of political pep rally/popularity contest.

Imagine if the United States’ government sent soldiers into war without proper equipment; for example, if helmets were only distributed to every third soldier, or bullets were rationed to the platoons whose commanders were most accomplished at kissing the supreme leader’s butt. Would that be acceptable to everyone… to anyone?

There will come a time when we can quit hiding. But for now, we’re all going to have to keep hiding from the monsters: the virus that has escaped and the ones in the current Republican party and administration. We desperately need science and community cooperation to defeat the monsters we’re hiding from. So many lives are on the line; if only we had a President and an administration that respected academics and listened to science.

These are the times…

In December of 1776, Thomas Paine wrote in American Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Truer words have not been written. One of the central tensions of American life today seems to be the conflict between freedom and community, between individual will and the public good. Invisible and silent, the Covid-19 virus is forcing us to consider that conflict and what is really important in our lives. Infections and illness from Covid-19 are expanding exponentially, with no apparent end in sight. An unsettling uneasiness has settled over all of us. Are we carriers? Could we have accidentally exposed family, friends, or co-workers to the virus? Will we be infected? And if we are infected, will we die? We are living in a moment of devastating uncertainty. We have been told to practice ‘social distancing’ as a way to slow the spread of the contagion. In less than two weeks, most of us have become acquainted with ‘social distancing’. To me, it’s nothing short of remarkable that this catch-phrase has entered our vocabulary so quickly. I guess there’s nothing like a good pandemic to imprint something vital on our collective psyche.

We have become so accustomed to the idea of constantly interacting with each other that the sudden lack of that interaction is jarring. I think some people feel more than a little lost. Hopefully most of us will find ways to cope… maybe with humor, yoga, meditation, or simply picking up the phone to speak with people we care about.

Hopefully we are all becoming more aware of the chasms between the haves and the have-nots, and I am not talking about the chasm between the one-percenters and the rest of us. The have-nots I am referring to are now forced to play a daily game of Russian roulette because they still have to go to work. Retired people like me can post endlessly on Facebook about the importance of staying home in our attempt to ‘flatten the curve’. Those who have been forced to work remotely can take to Twitter to wax on and on about the value of such work. But don’t forget that our society, and the comfort it provides, particularly in these trying times, only exists because of the people I am referring to as have-nots, those who work because they do not have the luxury of staying home or working from it. If they don’t work they won’t get paid, and if they don’t get paid, they can’t feed their children or pay the rent.

How sad that it takes towns and cities emptied by a pandemic to make those that we usually don’t appreciate visible. They are the people who keep our pharmacies and groceries open, the mailmen and women, the ones who clean the buildings to protect the rest of us from the virus. They don’t have cushy office jobs. Many of them do not even work full-time. Many have more than one part-time job… with no benefits, of course. Though we probably wouldn’t think of them as have-nots at any other time, today they are also the nurses and doctors fighting to keep people alive. All these people are integral parts of this game of life, the one that has overwhelmed us all in the past days and weeks.

We’re obviously grateful to them, but gratitude only goes so far. Will we do anything for them? What are we going to do to help those who cannot take the time off to stay home? Any intelligent person can see that a $600 or $1200 check from the government is nothing more than a cheap trick to win votes. It doesn’t matter how long this pandemic lasts, whether it is weeks or months. Either way, our daily routines have changed drastically.

We are stumbling into the full turbulence of this pandemic. There is already confusion, isolation, pain, suffering, and death. But we can hope that this state of affairs will provoke honest self-reflection, an increased effort to listen to others’ concerns, and maybe even social transformation? Maybe pandemic hardship can bring on pandemic change. Trapped in this unsettled moment between our past and our future, perhaps we can all take time to reconnect and, to quote T. S. Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

March 17

Kolton doing his famous standing back flip

Today, St. Patrick’s Day, also happens to be my oldest grandson’s 17th birthday. The day he was born was windy and unusually warm, with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees. By evening, when we got word that the baby had arrived, Todd and I gathered up 5 year old Mckinsey and headed to the hospital. At 9 pounds and 5 ounces, with a head full of the same thick and curly dark hair his Mom was born with, Kolton Riley was adorable (obviously!) and completely dwarfed all the other babies in the nursery. By the time we arrived, about an hour after his birth, he was on his stomach, lifting his head, pushing himself up to check out the world. I kid you not. He really did! I have never before, or since, heard of any other baby doing that so soon. Everybody visiting the hospital nursery wanted to see that baby and the Mom who birthed him without benefit of any drugs.

Seventeen years ago, our nation was three days away from entering a war with Iraq. Today our nation is facing a completely different type of war. And though we will not have any injuries or deaths on traditional battlegrounds in this war, we will lose people in our struggle. Last I read this morning, 85 people in this country have succumbed to this Covid-19, and I fear there will be many more.

Like nearly everyone I know, we are watching the news and waiting for whatever it is that comes next. Fortunately, more people are beginning to heed words of caution. But there are still many who refuse to believe anything is wrong. My daily FB feed is filled with Republican friends who are furious at the measures being taken by Governor DeWine and other state governors, insisting either that the media is exaggerating, or that it is a Democratic hoax. But things are undeniably radically different, whether one wants to face the facts or not. To me, it feels like the period of time after JFK was assassinated, with so much uncertainty, and more questions than answers.

During my years as a school librarian, dystopian books like The Hunger Games were wildly popular. Girls in particular were enthralled with Katniss, who saved her sister and her people. I remember a number of teen and preteen girls who found the thought of a dystopian society wildly thrilling, which I never quite understood. I doubt it still holds that fascination in times like these. In the words of Jim Morrison, “The future is uncertain, and the end is always near.”

My grandson long ago lost his baby fat. He’s a slender six feet two inches, and he still has that thick, curly dark hair just like his Mom. He is a good-looking kid, if I do say so myself, but he is also smart, thoughtful, and kind. He always hugs me hello and goodbye, but I didn’t get my hug today because we figured it would be better not to go see him. Obviously, he doesn’t remember the day he was born, but I am sure he will remember this particular birthday. Happy birthday, Kolton. Enjoy your day. And I fervently hope that your next birthday and all the birthdays that follow will not be as full of fear and uncertainly as today or the day you were born.

Decades from now

Decades from now, the late winter and early spring of the year 2020 will be a period of time covered extensively in history books. The world’s, and more specifically, our nation’s reaction to the Covid-19 virus, which by then will have been exhaustively researched and discussed, will feature our President at his worst. History will remind people that the more than 14,000 documented lies that the President had told by then were nothing compared to his bungled, selfish reaction to Covid-19.

History will show that by mid-January, when the virus first showed up on the West Coast, the White House insisted that only the government would be allowed to supply testing kits. And then those kits were defective, so that the results were not reliable. It took several weeks before the WH Administration allowed any private companies develop their own kits. And the number of companies allowed to develop kits was restricted. Then, kits didn’t get sent out to where they needed to be. By Monday, the 8th of March in 2020, it had been weeks since the illness first broke out in a nursing home in Washington State, the one where 28 residents who had the virus died. During all that time, 65 employees of that same nursing home had symptoms, but tests were never delivered, though they had been requested for weeks. (On Tuesday, March 9, those tests were finally delivered to the nursing home.)

President Trump’s answer on Wednesday, March 11, was to read an emotionless speech from the teleprompter, misreading a few sections and therefore misspeaking about Administration plans. Those future history books will show him as the fraud many of us knew he was for decades. His goal was not to help people who were suffering, and the many more who would soon be suffering. His goal was to prop up the big banks and his friends, all those billionaire one per-centers.

Yesterday, Friday the 13th, 2020, (how appropriate!) the President declared the pandemic a National Emergency. He refused to take any responsibility for failure in testing and the federal government’s slow response to the crisis, and he assured the American public that tests will be coming within a MONTH! (There are theories that the President doesn’t want people to be tested because the numbers will be through the roof, and that would show the public how bad the virus really is.) Trump’s lack of leadership in this public health crisis will be defined by death and enormous economic fallout.

Everyday life in America changed this week. People who thought the whole thing was a ploy by the Democrats and/or the media began to pay attention Wednesday and Thursday when schools began to close and sports abruptly ended. Many are still pooh-poohing the whole idea of widespread catastrophic illness in America. But more people are paying attention as more and more doctors and scientists speak out. We are all worried about the people we love. In the past few days there has been much discussion about the importance of “flattening the curve”. After seeing that phrase a few times, we begin to realize that we, or someone we love, might be part of that curve. It’s sobering, and more than a bit scary.

I read this week that here in America we have 2.8 hospital beds for every one thousand people. How will hospitals cope if they are inundated will seriously ill people? That brings us back to that whole “flattening the curve” thing. Sadly, it could come to the point that decisions will be made in hospitals over who is well enough to be worth saving, and who to simply let die. I know that I am not the only one who fears that this whole situation could rapidly evolve into that type of Spanish Flu event. I think that even if our nation suffers nothing remotely close to that worst case scenario, it’s going to be bad.

So, while keeping a safe distance from other overwrought shoppers, stock up a bit. But don’t strip shelves. Get what you and your family need and save the rest for others. Stop hugging and shaking hands for awhile. Listen to science and distance yourself from others in the days and possibly weeks ahead. Maybe call your friends on the phone instead of going out to eat together.

Out of an abundance of caution, Todd and I have decided to self-isolate for awhile. We’re not ill or showing any symptoms of being ill. If you know us, you know that we are not exactly social butterflies. Party people we’re not. But we’re passing up on a couple of recent invitations because of all the uncertainty, and the fact that the virus is far more dangerous for those over 60; sixty is in the rear view mirror for both of us.

Remember the 80’s TV series, Hill Street Blues? In it, the character, Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, used to say at the end of roll call, “Hey! Let’s be careful out there.” I urge all of you to do the same. Good luck. I wish you and your families well.

When?

When Elizabeth Warren dropped out last Thursday, my first thought was to ask, again: When it will ever be the right time for a woman president? My second thought was that this could well mean I will never see a female president in my lifetime.

Elizabeth Warren is a fellow Baby Boomer. She is a little older, but we both grew up in a time when abortion was illegal and not that many girls went to college. I was the first girl in my family to attend college. If I mention that now, I get a look. You know the one. It’s the one that says: She really is old.

I’ve seen that look, and the accompanying scorn that was often voiced when Elizabeth Warren’s name was mentioned. And then I would hear the person say, “I just don’t care for her.” If asked why, the response was vague. Sometimes, the person simply parroted Trump’s preferred mockery, referring derisively to her as ‘Pocahontas’. If pressed about Warren’s policies, that person had no comment, likely because he/she had no clue what they were. However, more than one person offered: “Her voice is so shrill.”

Really, that’s the reason you don’t like her??

Baby Boomer women thought they could make big changes. And…don’t get me wrong… many of them have. But my fellow women Baby Boomers and I told our daughters and granddaughters they could do anything. They believed us. And many of our daughters and granddaughters have done lots of wonderful things. But the depressing reality is that not one of them has become President.

In my opinion, Elizabeth Warren was the smartest and most competent of the entire field of all twenty-three candidates. I think she had the best understanding of what our economy and our country need, from her research and her own life. She knows how to get things done. She proved this by dreaming up a federal agency to protect consumers from financial abuses. The she got it enacted, and set it up. She had plans, lots of them.

But, we will not have a female President in 2020. Having adjusted my expectations yet again, now my hope is that Joe will select a woman to share the ticket with him. And then, maybe in a few more years….

In the meantime, P L E A S E… Vote BLUE!!!

Late February

It’s late February and the sun is shining here. I took the above picture late last week, during one of our rare-for-this-season snows. Currently, it is a cold 22 degrees, but it has been a very mild winter. In fact, January was the warmest in recorded history. The climate is changing, and not slowly either. Yogi and I ventured to the woods again this morning. He loves to explore the woods and I enjoy watching him.

It’s been so mild that some of the grass in our yard stayed kind of green all winter. I try to embrace each season, particularly since I retired. I walk, carry firewood to the house, etc; in general I try to get outside and move around and exercise every day. Much of the time I enjoy winter as much as I did when I was a kid, but, truthfully, by late February, the winter season always begins to wear on me.

One advantage, if one can call it that, with a mild winter like this one is that when it has snowed, the snow hasn’t remained on the ground for long; the temperatures have warmed up again within days and the snow disappears. During many of the winters here in Ohio, the world is transformed into an ocean of clean whiteness early in the season. It keeps snowing, the temperatures remain cold, and then, over days or sometimes weeks as winter hangs on, the snow banks begin to melt, revealing snowplowed gravel, cigarette butts, bits of plastic and the like. Even people who don’t care for snow enjoy it when it’s new. But when it’s been around for awhile, dirty and full of detritus, it’s ugly. But this year the snow usually melted within a few days when the temps bumped back up, so we never saw the ugly part.

It’s supposed to be quite a bit warmer by Saturday, and into next week, which sounds pretty darn good to me now. But I would guess that we are almost certain to get at least one more snowfall. And that always seems a cruel trick to play on those of us who just want winter to end and spring to begin. T.S. Eliot wrote that April was the cruelest month, but he never experienced an Ohio February or March.

While I am waiting for Spring, I think I will head back outside. I need to check Pete’s water, and toss him another flake of hay. Then I think I’ll head to the woods again, this time by myself. I know the woods will be quiet, with the exception of bird songs. The air will be cold and crisp, and it will smell incredibly fresh. I plan to enjoy the serenity while I am watching, waiting, and hoping for Spring.

February, 2011. Lots of snow; the boys were so little!

Thought for the day

I have never understood why people talk nicer about someone after they are dead. Why? Did the bad luck of dying make them a better person? If you’re an asshole when you’re alive, you’re still an asshole when you’re dead, right? Personally, I think people like to cover their bases. In case God is listening in, people figure they had better say something nice about the deceased or God might throw some bad karma their way.