Category Archives: Community

What is required of you? This one Thing.

The official Coronavirus Pandemic is now in its third week, and the US has become the center of the storm. This “foreign” virus has had no trouble making itself at home. If we persist in thinking of it as an immigrant, it’s one who quickly adapts to our all-American ideals, eagerly jumping into the melting pot, waving the flag and speaking in a familiar local dialect. Our country now leads the world in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19. As of this morning, over 140,000 Americans have tested positive for the disease, and nearly 2,500 have died from it.

Many of those now sick with Covid-19 are simply uncomfortable. Their symptoms are mild, like those of the flu or even an annoying spring cold during allergy season. For some, the worry over transmitting the virus to vulnerable family members in close proximity may be worse than any physical pain they feel. Others may endure greater suffering with more dramatic symptoms. Yet most, still, will recover. Approximately 137,500 Americans so far have survived Covid-19. Why not simply celebrate this figure? Why be negative? Why be such a Debbie-Downer?

This is why. Some of those who contract the virus, not only the elderly and infirm, but also the young and evidently healthy, will appear to be on firm footing, well on the road to recovery, when they take a sudden and unexpected turn for the worse. Breathing will become a herculean task. Those who have experienced these symptoms describe a terrifying sensation akin to slow suffocation, like drowning on dry land. Some may not survive without a ventilator, an apparatus that forces air in and out of the lungs. Hospitals have a limited number of these costly breathing machines. A quickly soaring number of Covid-19 patients therefore poses a real hurdle. Some New York hospitals have begun experimenting with a single ventilator for two patients, a solution that has been described as “not ideal.” As cases spike, especially in rural areas, local hospitals will quickly become overwhelmed.

This is why we keep hearing the mantra: stay home to flatten the curve. If we can lower the number of people who get sick and require hospitalization, we’ll all have a better chance of survival.

Another point worth noting is that some people who contract Coronavirus may experience no symptoms at all. At first, this might sound like a good thing. See: it’s no big deal! Maybe it’s even less of a worry than the common cold! But no. Think of what this means: if we continue to carry on as usual, we risk crossing paths with those who look and feel healthy, yet may be actively “shedding the virus.” We can pick it up from such a carrier and be totally unaware of having been infected. Our every action poses a very real risk to those around us. We have no way of knowing who may be hit hardest by the virus. Some “underlying conditions” may become apparent only in the face of an acute illness.

Let’s think of those battling the Coronavirus on the front lines, for whom even small routine tasks now involve difficult challenges, physical, mental and spiritual. For those in our medical communities, their faces bruised from the constant pressure of masks they may be re-using out of necessity, the threat must be all-pervasive. Let’s do the right thing for all those whose jobs put them in the cross-hairs of this pathogen, whether they’re treating the sick, cleaning hospital rooms, working as first responders, as police and firefighters, or in pharmacies and grocery stores.

Let’s do the right thing, for our community.

Let’s do the right thing, for those we love.

Let’s do the right thing, for our country.

What is this that our community, our loved ones, and our country require of us?

Simply this: when at all possible, stay home.

*About a half hour ago, Governor Ralph Northam issued a stay-at-home order for Virginia.

Springtime with Corona

Spring has been given the green light here in Northern Virginia. As I had hoped, we got a pass on winter. There were no significant accumulations of ice or snow to complicate travel or shut down the schools. The miniature daffodils in our yard, the first to appear, are bobbing their bright sturdy heads in the chilly breeze. The sun is shining. The Bradford pears are blossoming, and the cherry trees not far behind. Typically, the onset of spring brings with it a sense of hope, the promise of rebirth, the deeply calming assurance that life goes on. But this spring has been saddled with an unwelcome companion, a cloud of anxiety referred to as “the novel coronavirus,” (since the term coronavirus refers to an entire family of viruses, including some causing the common cold) and more specifically known as COVID-19. Yesterday the World Health Organization officially declared the outbreak a pandemic, due to its worldwide spread. Only Antarctica has yet to be affected by this new virus.

At first, the outbreak was presented as a far-off concern for those of us in America. Easy to believe it was a problem for the Chinese only, where the virus initially appeared. Then it popped up elsewhere in Asia. Still comfortingly distant. But then a man in Washington state became infected, after returning from Wuhan, the city in China where the outbreak first began. Oh, snap! We forgot that our planet is actually quite small. And that as Americans we tend to have the freedom and the means to zip around wherever we like. After that, the virus began spreading quickly in Europe. Then on cruise ships. In Iran and Brazil. Then came the first American death, near Seattle, at the end of February.

At that point, the information we received became increasingly conflicting. The US had everything “under control.” The virus was being contained. Our response had been “pretty close to airtight.” Yet people continued to become infected, some who hadn’t traveled overseas. Others who had symptoms hadn’t been tested. There have been more American deaths. The stock market was looking good. The virus is no more dangerous than a typical flu. It is ten times more dangerous than a typical flu. Healthy, youngish people may test positive for the virus yet have no symptoms. They should continue to report to work. The virus will miraculously disappear once the weather warms up. Thirteen residents of a single nursing home in Seattle have died. There are plenty of tests for the virus. Anyone who wants a test can get one. The tests are beautiful. There are problems with the tests. They cannot be “validated.” The tests simply are not available. In Italy, the healthcare system is completely overwhelmed, and doctors flip coins to decide which patients live or die. Our US government’s response could not have been better. Our government’s response has been a hugely botched effort. The entire outbreak is a hoax. It’s a product of crazed media hype. Infections continue to mount. People continue to die.

Last week it might have sounded overly dramatic to say that the coronavirus outbreak is upending much of life as we know it, right here in the US. But not this week. Not now that many universities are making the switch to online instruction and advising students not to return from spring break. Not now that elementary and high schools are closing their doors, at least temporarily, across the nation. Not now that churches are increasingly encouraging their congregants to stay home. Not now that all NBA and NHL games have been suspended. Not now that late night comics and daytime talk shows have no live studio audiences. Not now that all travel from Europe to the US has been suspended. Or perhaps just some travel from Europe. Maybe it’s only Europeans who won’t be allowed to fly in, but OK for American citizens to come and go? Travel from the UK is fine and encouraged. And there will be no trade with Europe. There will be ongoing trade with Europe. Depends upon whom you ask. There is much fuzziness with regard to these finer points. Disneyland is closing. All is well. There will be no NCAA games. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have been diagnosed with coronavirus. This is all nothing but a “Panicdemic.” A fever dream conceived by a bunch of sissies. Broadway has gone dark. Your 401K will recover. The confusion continues.

Yes, all is well. Perfectly fine. Nevertheless, wash your hands. Wash them really well. Especially when you go to see your grandma.

On second thought, don’t go to see your grandma just yet.

The Timeless Message of Christmas, with Hope for the Future

It’s January 7th, 2020. The Christmas season is officially over. For our family, it was a happy and busy one. We felt fortunate to welcome our daughter home from college for an extended stay, as well as to have my mother living next door. I didn’t find the time for writing more than one quick Christmas post. But the message of Christmas is one to live by every day. And the gift of Christmas is persistent. It waits to be received, regardless of the time of year. So, a look back on Christmas Eve, and a look ahead, with hope for the future.

The familiar, expected beasts were all there at the nativity on Christmas Eve. There was the furry, gray-brown burrow, always a crowd favorite. The humble image of patience, fortitude and forbearance, this little donkey reminds us of the one that may have carried young Mary and her unborn child to Bethlehem many years ago.

Two fluffy sheep quietly munched on hay. The two goats took more curious notice of the onlookers around them. They remind us that ordinary farm animals likely witnessed the holy birth.

There were a few dogs, including Kiko, who was fortunate in meeting a kindly shepherd girl who allowed him to wander at will among the other furry creatures. Maybe those original shepherds brought with them a sheepdog or two? I’m not certain where the scholarship stands on this point. No shepherd would benefit from a dog like Kiko, who lacks the herding instinct as well as any semblance of a work ethic. Come to think of it, our dog’s interest in other living beings is confined largely to the smells they leave behind.

Sweet Delilah the camel, on the other hand, seems to truly enjoy social interaction with her animal companions, as well as with her human admirers. This year, as always, she snuggled enthusiastically with kids and old folks, and posed for endless pictures.

With such a remarkable menagerie so close at hand, the human presence may take a back seat at a live nativity. But those wearing the costumes of Mary and Joseph remind us that God chose to send his son to be born not to the rich and powerful, but to a couple who counted themselves among the working poor. Those dressed as shepherds recall the lowly field workers who were the first to be summoned, and by angels, no less, to receive the joyful, life-changing news of a savior’s birth. The so-called Magi, like their camel, would not have made an appearance at the stable in Bethlehem. These wealthy pagan astrologers from the East arrived months or perhaps even years after the birth, when Jesus and his parents were living in some modest home, perhaps in Nazareth. But they’re included in nativity scenes to signify that this baby, born to obscure observant Jews of the artisan class, is God’s gift to all people, regardless of heritage or ethnicity, and to all generations.

The point of the Christmas narrative, of course, is this baby. In our nativity, the newborn Jesus is represented by a mere doll, which, in terms of purely visual interest, cannot begin to compete with so much furry, four-legged charm. This unremarkable doll is an inadequate place-holder not simply for a real baby, but for a miraculous union of the human with the divine. The baby Jesus is, according to the Gospel of John, God’s Word, the Word through which everything was created, newly manifested in human form.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. –John 1:14

God loves us so much that he sent his son to live out the human experience as our brother and friend. Jesus pointed the way, through example, showing us how to claim our kinship with him and our inheritance as children of God. Jesus didn’t bring a message of complicated theology and countless esoteric rules to follow. The essence of his message, emphasized repeatedly throughout the years of his earthly ministry, is disarmingly simple:

Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. –John 13: 34-35

The essential message of Christmas is simple, too. God’s great love breaks down all barriers, of geography, race, gender, of social and economic class. We humans are skilled builders of artificial and arbitrary barriers, but there is not one that can withstand the sheer force of goodness that is God’s love. God loves us all. And he wants us to love each other.

He has created us to do so:

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. –John 1: 1 -5

So therefore, the light of God is present in all creation.* I like to think I can sense the divine spark shining within every humble beast at our live nativity, as well as in all our animal friends. What are they, anyway, but God’s beloved creatures?

That seed of holy light has been implanted in every one of God’s human children. With the kindness and compassion that have their source in God our Father, let us do our best to kindle the divine spark within ourselves. Let us nurture and share the warmth of that light with our neighbors, near and far. With those who look and think like us, and with those who don’t. Let us resist quick judgement, avoid pettiness, and act with generosity of spirit.

Let us love one another. We were made for this.

*This idea is explored powerfully and beautifully by Richard Rohr in his 2019 book, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe.

On Veterans Day, Honor and Remember

On this Veterans Day, on the Main Streets of small towns across our country, banners honoring currently serving military men and women continue to fly from flag-decked lamp posts.  Typically, these hometown hero banners wave from May to November.  In the charming Eerie Canal village of Spencerport, New York, they had been newly installed when we visited family over Memorial Day.  As the leaves fell, the weather cooled and the time changed, I wondered if the banners were still in place.  My sister-in-law Julie told me that they were indeed there along Union Street, and she sent some pictures. 

Spring and summer have come and gone.  Fall has all but made its exit.  In upstate New York, as Thanksgiving approaches, a gray icy chill descends. Snow, and lots of it, is likely on the way.  And still the soldiers gaze down on the streets of the towns they call home.  They’re mostly young.  They wear their dress uniforms.  What’s in their expressions?  Hope, apprehension, dread, determination, courage, trepidation, resolve, regret?   

Here in Northern Virginia, Kiko and I spent some time in a small cemetery near our home on this unseasonably warm Veterans’ Day.  The customary sounds of a suburban autumn–the leaf-blowing, tree-trimming, power-washing, and traffic–they’d fallen silent for a while.  Kiko surprised me by not insisting on trying to venture out into the street beyond.  Instead, he settled on a hill.  Beside him, flags decorated several graves, as did one little pumpkin.  Except for the occasional rustling of a falling leaf, the stillness around us was deep and comforting, like a blanket.   

Veterans Day here in America evolved from Britain’s Armistice Day, first observed on November 11, 1919, to commemorate the cessation of fighting in World War I, which had occurred a year to the day before.  It has come to be known as Remembrance Day in Britain.  President Eisenhower changed the name of the US holiday to Veterans Day in 1954, designating it as a time to honor all our military men and women, including those who fought in World War II and Korea. 

Veterans Day serves as a reminder of the very human cost of war.  May we be resolute in our honor of those who have served and now serve in every branch of our military.   May we remember that, as the seasons change, our soldiers yet remain far from home, in remote and inhospitable locales, often perceived as the enemy even when their mission is dubbed a peacekeeping one.   Many hometown heroes banners are likely to be removed soon to make way for Christmas and holiday decorations.  Let us not forget the ongoing sacrifice when those bright young faces no longer look down on us from Main Street flagpoles.  And may we use the power of our vote to demand that we reflect on the past and learn from mistakes.  May we elect representatives who seek to comprehend, and when possible, avoid, the truly inestimable cost of war.   

Back in the leafy green of May, when the hometown heroes banners began to fly over Spencerport, NY

 For my Memorial Day post from Spencerport, see here.   

Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn, 2019

Last year, Slim and the pack managed to fit in a quick road trip to Charlottesville on Halloween afternoon to mix with the University of Virginia community during Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn.  This year, due to the threat of severe thunderstorms, the event was postponed until November 1.  While the Skeleton Crew wasn’t in attendance, our daughter was, and she sent some photos.  

The evening was clear, chilly and gorgeous in the wake of the previous night’s heavy rain.  It attracted a big crowd from the university and the town. 

Since the 1980s, the University has invited Charlottesville families to bring their children to trick or treat at each of the rooms on the Lawn and the West Range.  These are the historic student accommodations dating from Jefferson’s original plan for his University’s Academical Village.  Candy is donated by many student organizations.    

The Rotunda, glowing like a lantern in the dusk. 

Our daughter and a friend. 

The moon rises.  Twilight deepens.  Time for little ghouls and goblins to head home.  If my college experience counts for anything, I’ll assume that, for the students, Halloweekend festivities were only beginning.    

For last year’s post on Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn, see here

 

Is That the Light of the School Bus, or the Coming Apocalypse?

Another thing about the early-morning bus traffic outside our windows:  it has become a source of extreme anxiety for Kiko.  The school buses in our neighborhood have a white flashing strobe light on top.  I’m not sure if the light is new this fall, or if Kiko’s fear of it is new.  Whatever the case, the bright intermittent glare slices through the darkness, looking very much like lightning.   Kiko takes it as a sign that a monster storm is coming. 

Toward the end of the last school year, he typically snoozed soundly until well after full daylight.  It took a while to rouse him for the morning walk.  He tended to resist my various entreaties until I rattled my keys and told him, “OK.  You stay.  I’ll go on without you.”  It was only the threat of being left behind that prompted him to relinquish the warmth of his bed, stretch and amble slowly toward the stairs. 

So it surprised me, this September, to see my little dog wide awake in the pre-dawn darkness, alarmed and panting, in extreme go-time mode.  He’d pace rapidly on my bed, leap off to circle the room, stand on his back legs to peer between the curtains at the window.  Then he’d hop back atop my bed and attempt to settle in among the pillows.  During a storm, real or imagined, his usual place toward the foot of the bed offers no comfort; he has to be up near the headboard.  But even this offers no comfort, and he starts the entire process again.  Once I realized that he was seeing the lightning that presaged a powerful storm, I understood.   

At the start of the school year, Kiko’s trepidation began with the approach of the first bus and its flashes of light.  He’s come to anticipate the threat well in advance.  By 5:45 at the latest, he’s up and on the move, much the way he begins to fear a thunderstorm on a vaguely cloudy afternoon.  On weekends, when no buses are running, he’s making his anxious rounds well before 6 AM. 

It’s notable that Kiko has no fear at all of the school buses themselves.  On the contrary, he seeks them out.  For many years, our morning and afternoon walks began with time spent at the bus stop with my daughter, neighbors, and their dogs.  Still today, if given the opportunity, he settles in for a period of rest and observation near her old stop.  He seems to enjoy watching the bus doors open and the kids exit.  Many of the neighborhood children have come to expect to find Kiko waiting to be acknowledged and adored.  He’d sit directly in the path of the bus if I’d let him.  He has no dread of the thing that can actually harm him.   

I find it sad that my twelve-year old dog is discovering new causes for anxiety.  Shouldn’t he be growing wiser with age and experience?  As I considered this question, I found myself contemplating various scenarios in my life and that of my family:  what if this happens?  Or that?  Or, more ominously yet realistically, what will I do when this or that happens?  

And just like that, I knew the feeling.  My dog has outgrown the false invincibility of youth.  He’s grown into the vulnerability of age.  And so, I realized, have I.  A wave of pessimism swept over me.  Kiko is lucky, at least, I thought, in his faith that if he keeps searching, he can find a place of absolute safety.  He need never face the stark truth that there’s no hiding from many of life’s storms. 

In the last week or so, though, it seems Kiko has been a bit less worried in the mornings.  He continues to leave his spot near the foot of my bed well before daylight, whether it’s a school day or not.  But the pacing and jumping have lessened.  This morning, I awoke to feel his warm little form nestled in the curve behind my knees.  From my perspective, he was an image of perfect, cozy tranquility, curled up like a  fox.  Maybe his fear has vanished, I hoped.  Then suddenly, as the first bus of the day rounded the corner, the room was suffused with white flashes.  Kiko sprang to his feet, bounded off the bed and galloped from the room.

But he didn’t rush back in.  When I got up a while later, he was lying at the top of the stairs.  He didn’t appear to be alarmed.  He ran past me back into my room, where he found an overlooked mini-treat from the night before.  He gobbled it up, then looked at me expectantly, as if to say, “Got any more?”  He ran back to the top of the stairs in the way he does when he’s happy and frisky, anticipating the upcoming walk. 

At least today, my silent little dog, the four-legged reflection of my hopes, dreams and fears, is not gripped by terror of an unknown Apocalypse.  He’s just excited about the promise of a new day.  Suddenly, I felt the same way.  And from the window, I glimpsed a beautiful sunrise. 

Kiko does his power napping in the mid-day sun these days since he’s become such an early riser.

We Hold these Truths. . .

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

May our country continue to uphold and live by these words, as powerful today as when they were composed in 1776. 

 Let there be liberty and justice for all!   

For the Hometown Heroes on Memorial Day

Over Memorial Day weekend we visited my husband’s family in New York state.  Early on Saturday morning, when we woke up in Spencerport, a picturesque village on the Eerie Canal, Kiko and I headed out for our first walk.  My little dog was even more headstrong than usual.  If I attempted to turn left, he was determined to go right.  When I preferred right, he insisted on left.  Occasionally his obstinance resulted in a dead stop, as he splayed his legs and I tugged, to no avail, on the leash.  Our progress was slow and laborious.  The constant battle of wills made it difficult to properly appreciate the gracious old homes of Spencerport.  I was annoyed with Kiko, who clearly cares nothing for architecture, or for beauty in general.  How disappointing.  I tend, however irrationally, to expect more from him.  And because I’d given in to his choices, we were heading in a direction that I didn’t intend.  But up ahead, on South Union Street, I began to see the entrance to Fairfield Cemetery.  We’d passed it yesterday driving in.  To me, it looked inviting.  Kiko evidently felt the same way.  For the first time that morning, we were in agreement.    

Except for the exuberant chirping of a great variety of birds, all was quiet.  No sounds of mowing, cutting or leaf-blowing disturbed the serenity.  

Many of the graves were marked with small American flags.  I realized, with some chagrin, that I’d almost forgotten, at least momentarily, the significance of the long holiday weekend. 

As Kiko and I wandered the shaded, grassy pathways between the rows of gravestones, I noticed that we now walked together in easy step.  My stubborn dog had managed to bring me here, against my will, to this peaceful spot, to contemplate the cost of peace.  I thought of the old poem of achingly sad remembrance, of poppies waving in Flanders fields, between the crosses, row on row.  And of the vast and ever-growing expanse of white markers in Arlington Cemetery.  Not long ago, passing by that hallowed ground on the way to Reagan Airport, we saw the solemn spectacle of a horse-drawn caisson bearing a flag-draped coffin. 

Memorial Day reminds us to remember and honor the many lives lost in service to our country.  Consider the teenagers, who, like my Uncle Bill, traded the drudgery of 1940s farm work for the unknown adventure of World War II. My Uncle returned from the war.  Too many others did not.  Think of the young people who drew a final breath in the swampy fields of Vietnam.  Be grateful to those whose civic duty cost them their lives in the Gulf War, in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in exotic locales most Americans would be hard-pressed to pronounce or locate on a map.  Acknowledge the sacrifice of those who died fighting a shape-shifting,  ill-defined enemy in our war on terror.   

And may we give some thought to those who managed to evade death on far-flung battlefields, only to return home to find the challenge of readapting to civilian life unsurmountable.  The deep wounds of war, mental, emotional, and physical, are near-impossible to comprehend for those who haven’t served.  Some who fought in Vietnam returned to a society that seemed to regard them as the enemy.   Let’s pray for those who survived the war but could not survive the trials of day-to-day life in the very towns they had once called home.   

As Kiko and I walked back from the cemetery, we were reminded that the service and the sacrifice continue today.  Along Union Street, every lamp post was decorated with a banner bearing the image and name of a current member of our armed forces.  Let us not forget the dedication and bravery of such hometown heroes, whether we know them personally, or not.  Every day, our brothers and sisters risk their lives in harsh conditions so that we may enjoy the day-to-day comforts of home and the fundamental, essential freedoms we often take for granted.  May we recognize the human cost of war and elect representatives who truly comprehend it, as well.  May our military men and women feel strongly supported during their deployment. 

That morning, I imagined the military men and women of Spencerport engaged in difficult, dangerous, uncomfortable work in a hostile environment.  I wondered if their families would gather soon in nearby back yards on this holiday weekend, keenly missing a son, a daughter, a father, mother, brother or sister.  I pray that our hometown heroes will be warmly welcomed back again in the near future, by a country that respects their service and provides the restorative care they need.  May we honor in memory those who paid the ultimate price in battle, and may we treat with compassion and dignity our soldiers who make it home. 

. . . Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light;

Protect us by thy might, great God, our King. 

America, words:  Samuel F. Smith, 1832; Music: Thesaurus Musicus, 1744

Vote 2018

For the first time, my mother and I went to the polls together.  She’s a new Virginia voter.  We spent three hours at the DMV in early October to trade her Georgia driver’s license for an official Virginia ID card, so a little rain on election day couldn’t stop us. 

Let your voice be heard.  Go vote!