Two roads. . .
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
History repeats itself and our age is no different than other times when humanity has had to reset itself. We leave behind cherished ways of thinking, about how things “should” be done and find ourselves walking on a different path. Right now our country is facing racial unrest not seen since the 1960s Civil Rights movement; unemployment greater than the Great Depression of the 1930s; and a pandemic that equals that of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. It is not surprising we find ourselves stressed, restless, and lacking in that basic necessity of human survival — hope.
These issues before us are not easily managed and the world looks for leadership to show us a way to begin rebuilding some measure of what we feel we have lost. There is a long held belief that the world is always getting better, that life is improving in living standards, in length of life, again in that hope that life will be better for our children, for the generations who will follow us. That makes us vulnerable and our vulnerability makes us fair game for those who would divide us and manipulate our fears thus turning us against those of a different color, gender, economic class or part of the world. That manipulation is most often for personal gain as we have seen the disparity in our own country with the loss of the middle class and the financial power settling in just a few pockets.
Life is not easy and there are many voices that would pull us into other camps that breed dissatisfaction, and, yes hatred. Great thinkers for centuries have talked about a world where all people could work together for the common good and promote peace among the nations. Our own Constitution, a dream our founders thought had been realized with the settlement of this vast continent — to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility and promote the common welfare — has always been on display as a great and noble experiment. But the experiment is still in a trial stage and not looking too promising at this moment.
Jesus gave us two commandments to live by — just two — love God with everything in you and love your neighbor. The Great Teacher said everything hangs on these two rules. It is really that hard and that simple.
Poet Robert Frost wrote,
I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Former teacher friend with a tree business is digging out some of my bushes today that succumbed to blight last fall. I gave them this Spring to see if there was any life, but other then for a few limp green leaves they were done. My favorite was a strawberry hydrangea bush. Every year the cone shaped blossoms would start out a creamy white and end up an antique rose color. And they dried beautifully! I have several sitting in vases around my house from previous years. So it was heartbreaking to lose the bush. I also had white lilac and purple lilac bushes that went as well. Normally you can't kill lilacs, but this blight or whatever it was was a dangerous attacker. Other people have huge lilac hedges but these had lasted for only five or six years so this was the year, I guess. I also had a couple of berginia plants that reminded me of rhubarb, again not a favorite. So there will be some new bushes. Also lost a bleeding heart to the blight and had to replant that. It was very sad as the plants you labor over become part of the look of your house, your yard and you greet them each Spring and look forward to seeing them appear.
I have a couple of buds on my Winnipeg Parks rose bush. That is one of the first to bloom in the Spring and the last to go in the Fll. Then there are a number of day lilies, yellow and purple, a white hydrangea or Anna-Belle and some ornamental grasses which I enjoy. This year I planted more in pots, but there are Asian lilies, poppies, and some other odds and ends I threw in the ground.
I have the best friends. One built me a raised garden bed for my deck (the kneeling and bending isn't going too well this year). He made it out of scrap cedar and I told him it could be a buffet in my dining room it was so pretty. Right now I have potatoes, carrots, onions and tomatoes as well as some sun flowers growing well. By the time the season is over I should have learned a lot. I already had to replace the tomatoes as the first batch I lost in a frost.
Most folks around here are adapting pretty well to the Corona Virus restrictions. They are easing a little. Churches still are not rushing into worship -- just small numbers. Graduation was parents only, was outside, with the graduates sitting six feet apart. There are a few who rudely attempt to change the rules for themselves in the restaurants. Of course there are always some folks for whom the rules don't apply. As an old school teacher I have seen a lot of that before.
A cousin from the Anderson side of the family is attempting to put together a family reunion in Spearfish. People are still adjusting to travel restrictions and not sure what they will do. I can drive down, visit Cole and Margy in the process and then we will see what else transpires
Joe Biden, presumptive Democratic candidate made an appearance for the first time since Covid. He hasn't selected a Vice President yet. He promised it would be a woman, but there are lots of good choices Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, governors of New Mexico and Michigan. All pretty savvy politicians in their own right, but he has to be careful. Lots of disappointed Bernie Sanders' loyalists in the Democratic camp so Elizabeth Warren is a possibility if he is trying to keep them happy. We will see what happens. There is a lot to lose if he doesn't get the right one.
According to statistics there are 100,000 dead for the virus. The U.S. has the largest outbreak in the world. Staggering and scary. Epidemiologists say there will be a resurgence in the fall about the time our regular flu season begins. So we have that to look foward to. Adjusting to the virus is changing a lot of things around the world -- people are much more cautious, international travel will probably not be as widespread. Education is shifting to on-line both at the public school and college levels. More tele-medicine. The "new normal" we are all facing promises to shake things up for a long time to come.
Where to begin? The virus seemed to appear suddenly. Without warning we were in quarantine and wearing masks and cancelling all our haircuts, elective surgeries, church worship services, face to face visits with friends, handshakes and hugs. Gone. I am amazed at how easily we stepped into this new life. It wasn't what we wanted, but we knew it had to be. Because we could have church on the radio and live streamed, our pastor held worship to an empty church. Two other people and myself were the only ones in the sanctuary. I sat way to the back on one side as pastor delivered her message to an empty room. I did a funeral graveside with 6 people. No large gatherings allowed. Weddings are streamed to family and friends. Vacations to Europe are cancelled. The big cruise ships that were everywhere have been docked when they became floating virus breeders.
As the time progressed we have grown to accept most everything that has come our way, for the most part. There is now a vocal minority prompted by Trump that carries around loaded machine guns, demands businesses open and bad mouths any idea of a vaccine. Closed churches have suddenly become a cry for "religious rights" from people who mostly could care less about God's house and living the life we are called to live as God's people. The governors of New York, New Jersey, Washington and several other states have been real leaders in dealing with the pandemic in their own States and thus being effective for the rest of the country.
Shortages have been one negative of the quarantine. The first to go was toilet paper -- yes! Toilet paper. I walked into the grocery store and went to the toilet paper aisle -- empty shelves!! I really was amazed. People figured they might have to be quarantined for two weeks and they wanted to be sure they had plenty of what they needed. After a few weeks, investigative reporters told us there is tp for home and there is tp for work. Because no one was going to school (all online classes) and most people were working from home, the industrial tp was not being used and you cannot convert from industrial to home quality easily. Now we have tp for the most part, but it has taken awhile AND you do not take a supply of tp for granted. Ramen noodles, frozen pizza, white flour, yeast, and eggs have all at one time or another been on the missing list for a variety of reasons.
The worst shortages came when the U.S. realized we were unprepared for a medical emergency such as this and medical personnel were without gowns, masks and ventilators to help those in distress. The virus affected the lungs so ventilators were a must. Hospital emergency rooms and wards were full to overflowing and there were not enough nurses and doctors to stay alert to all those in distress. It was a medical super emergency. Lots of people were making masks, sewing them to help hospitals and other agencies where people were in need of protection.
The food supply chain has been stretched pretty thin the past couple of months. Major corona virus break-outs have occurred in meat packing plants across the nation. Many of these plants have been staffed by low wage, immigrant groups or large scale black or Latino populations. One word was in a plant in Sioux Falls SD there were 15 languages spoken. The virus has hit hardest in areas of high population density and is hard of people who are fragile elderly or anyone with pre-existing conditions. Because the food chain is being messed with, the chain has broken to the point of food surpluses being destroyed just as in the 1930s. Milk dumped on the ground, animals slaughtered rather then provided for sale. And everything is predicated on a chain that no longer exists or at least is broken. Food pantries are in high demand, many people are going hungry because they have no pay checks.
Within the more densely populated states nursing homes, Veterans' homes and prisons have had high numbers of deaths. State governors have been trying to get tests going. Tests are in short supply. Testing allows medical personnel to trace the virus, place folks in quarantine and hospitalize when necessary. So right now we are waiting for a vaccine which may take up to a year to produce and wear masks when we go out, state in when we can, and wash our hands and use a sanitizer.
The pandemic is world wide. France, Spain and Italy were hard hit. India is very bad. It started in Wuhan, China and then began to travel with people who were traveling. When the virus hit the U.S. it had a European DNA but that only meant it had been traveling for a time. People can be carriers and not be sick. The U.S. has the most cases, over a million and drawing more deaths daily. The disease started to appear in larger numbers in February. Some people in Glendive wonder if they had it earlier which could well have been. We would have said they were very sick with the flu. They were in the hospital with pneumonia and have had a difficult time getting strength and energy back.
The Federal government has been less than helpful. At first they tried to pretend the virus didn't exist, then when they could no longer do that, they said it would go away -- like magic. When there were medical shortages, the governors were told to take care of it themselves and figure it out. Then when some governors managed to get the supplies they needed the Federal Government hijacked them and took the supplies!! Trump is worried about the upcoming presidential election as are we all. Biden is the candidate apparent for the Democrats, because everyone else dropped out. Some elections were cancelled because of the virus. There is a real call for mail in voting these days and many are hopeful this can be a reality, although the Republicans say if they do it the Democratics will win because it is a way they can cheat.
Another effect of the virus and the shut down has been a huge rise in unemployment. There are more people claiming unemployment then did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. There has also been a drop in oil prices at the same time so many are out of work in that area. For Glendive the railroad round house closed and 85 people were transferred. This hit the economy of the town so hard. Most concern is for small, independently owned businesses like restaurants, bars, clubs, etc. They don't know if people will come out as they once did and no place that opens is allowed to pack the bar -- too many people -- too great a chance for the virus to pass around. No concert venues, movie theaters, sports events, tourist events and on and on it goes.
Where will it end, nobody knows.
In psychology and the cognitive sciences, perception is the process of getting, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. It includes the collection of data from sense organs through to the interpretation made by the brain. ... Perception is a lot more than just "information coming in”.
If wisdom comes with age, the whole notion of “perceiving” a situation and attempting to understand what is happening has taken on a different twist in my relationships with people. In youth what I perceived (saw, heard, touched, smelled) was my reality. It was “truth”. Other people had their own perceptions, but they couldn’t possibly be true when they did not coincide with my own. I remember my brother and I discussing a family event from our childhood. As I listened to my brother relate what happened, I remember thinking,’Oh, he’s got that all wrong. It happened this way.” And I proceeded to correct his errant notions. We went back and forth for a long time, neither of us giving up on our version of the “truth”, until we finally had to lay the discussion (argument) to rest knowing we were never going to agree.
It was the classic example of the perception of the “eyewitness” to a crime. You can have several people who see the same thing happen and then each one tells a different story. Everything we know we run through a filter of personal experience. All the traumas of our childhood; our relationships with our parents and other family members; health issues; unresolved grief. But the final step is the one most often forgotten — our experience is interpreted through our brain. It is in that massive machine inside our head all incoming information is interpreted, selected and organized before it becomes something of which we take ownership and becomes the way in which we see the world. As the definition says, perception is not just information in and information out. A lot has happened to the information while it has been stewing around in the juices of our psyche.
In all our relationships that notion of perception is huge. Long ago there was a book, Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars (John Gray, 1992). It dealt with the reality that men and women are different. We are not alike in how we see the world or how we deal with what happens in the world. Men and women have different skill sets. In business the good leader knows how to take those skill sets and help them compliment each other while still giving recognition to the uniqueness of each.
In marriage as much as possible there is no “his problem” “her problem” but rather a recognition of “our problem” and how we are going to deal with it together. When confronted with a difference of perception we immediately go on the defensive to protect and relate our “truth” of the situation while the other person does the same thing from their vantage point.
Too often neither side will back down. Personal perception of “Truth” has become so deeply ingrained in the person nothing else is possible. Compromise is the term we have created to attempt to deal with this seemingly impossible situation. How do we work with an alternate perception, until we can see some glimmer of agreement between the two points? This compromise requires a movement away from the drama of the great “I” toward the possibilities “we” can create.
What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? I avow my faith that we are marching towards better days. Humanity will not be cast down. We are going on swinging bravely forward along the grand high road and already behind the distant mountains is the promise of the sun.” (Winston Churchill)
After reading The Splendid and the Vile by Eric Larson, I better understand the horror of the blitz over England.The courage of ordinary people was amazing. There was no talk of returning to “normal” because the “new normal” was what they were living through in that moment.
These days I find I have a great deal of time to consider what is the “new normal”. It will be different for different people. There will still be families and caring for each other. We will still have communities to operate, economic issues with which we have to deal. Although the function doesn’t change, the form may. The 9/11 bombings in 2001, changed our sense of security. The world was no longer the safe place we thought it to be. Now a simple unclaimed package was a potential bomb threat. I bought an airline ticket at the last minute due to a change in plans and I was red flagged and checked multiple times until I reached my destination. Terrorism and terrorist attacks became a part of the world scene. The idea of terrorism is to spread uncertainty and fear and it certainly has.
As we gradually find ourselves thinking about the future, we first have to remember those hundreds of thousands who have died from the virus around the world. In my mind I will always have the picture of the mass graves filled with unclaimed bodies and for the poor in New York City in 2020, reminiscent of the mass graves of the victims of plague throughout the world at various times in history; the unmarked graves of those who were incinerated in 9/11, and the millions of victims who disappeared into the gas chambers and ovens of the concentration camps of Europe. This generation will be identified as those growing up and living in the time of the pandemic and it will be a defining moment in how we see ourselves and what we become for the world.
One of the issues of the quarantine has been communication. On the positive side the creativity of religious leaders, school teachers, business and government leaders and a host of others to use the Internet in a positive way to do business and stay in touch has been and will continue to amaze. The floodgates have opened on a myriad of ways to meet together across distances, to learn outside the classroom, to pray and do charitable works together as a distant faith community. The scientific community has come together across borders and oceans to find a vaccine and researchers are sharing and working together in ways that only mean good for the world.
Our political process and government will be in transition. The democratic process was thwarted by the end of primary elections during this time. The use of fear, conspiracy theories, and power grabs are ways of controlling the election process unless every voter is alert to that most precious of gifts — a fair and honest vote.
In economics, the “slush” fund that was headed for big business and the money grabbers will now hopefully go to independent businesses and the unemployed. During this crisis our federal system has been bent and is close to breaking unless we all become more aware and let our leaders know we are aware. We have seen the virus hit minorities, those in prison, those in elderly care centers and the poor the hardest. When businesses re-open there will be a ‘restructuring’ . The economics of the pandemic will take a long time to shake out and there will undoubtedly be a painful re-ordering.
All of this is why we have to be there for each other as this “new normal” becomes a part of our everyday. This is the season of resurrection to new life to hope and a promise of a better world to come. We must pray this will be so.
None of it is funny, but there is a sense of amusement at human nature in this situation which is “unnatural” to our species. Because we are watching television and using the internet there is so much more coming across our screens and into our thoughts. One piece of humor said, “I always said I would clean my house when I had time. Now that I have time I discover that wasn’t the reason. I just don’t want to do it!” Visiting with folks via e.mails and texts there is a real sense of boredom at the mundane chores which confront us. Author Kathleen Norris wrote a series of essays once on the Spiritual nature of the quotidian or (everyday) things we have to do. But right now, I don’t think many of us see the “Spiritual” nature of the work before us in this place in which we find ourselves.
I painted my guest room the beginning of this week. I decided it needed to be done and I have nothing but time, so I bought paint and started the process. It is amazing how much larger the room seemed as I stood, paint brush in hand, ladder in front of me. Edging between the ceiling and the wall and between the base boards and the wall were a real challenge. After hip surgery in late November I am still not totally balanced and need something to hang on to when going up and down. My vision is not the greatest for things up close and delicate and getting down on the floor to clean paint spills takes a lot of serious thought. I made it however, and by the time I re-arranged pictures and got rid of a few things, it was quite an achievement. I have a second room to do, but I will approach that further down the road. I see it as another good exercise in down-sizing.
Several of us, as we have talked on the telephone, have chuckled at our vision of The Attic here in town when things do open up again. If every person who has said they were cleaning corners and closets and basements follows up on that mission, the volunteers will have enough sorting to do for months to come. The used furniture room at Zion Lutheran Church will be another place to take household items if cupboards and linen closets were on your list of chores. But for now the bulging plastic bags and overflowing boxes sitting in the basement or garage will sit patiently until all of us are ready to start moving around again.
Being housebound is enough of a challenge when you are alone. I cannot imagine parents and children cooped up in the house these many weeks together, especially if one or both parents are trying to work from home. When we kids were home in the summer time, in the “old days”, mother would tell us to “go outside and play” with the neighborhood kids. Now of course you can’t do that and the library where we spent many wonderful hours is also beyond our reach. Fortunately I have books stockpiled on that shelf where sit all the books I have been going to read, but never get to.
I also do jigsaw puzzles. Several years ago I discovered jigsaw puzzles ‘on-line’. I think it is the greatest invention ever — what are the two greatest frustrations about jigsaw puzzles on a card table in the living room — one is losing pieces and the second is what to do with the masterpiece when you complete it! On line puzzles are every size from 50 pieces to 500; you never lose a piece of the puzzle; you can enlarge the pieces if they get too small; and when you are done you simply push “delete” and its gone. I’ve gotten hooked on the 150 piece puzzles. I can do them in about an hour if all goes well. When I am done, I like to study the puzzles of famous paintings and other vintage pictures.
With the ice and snow gone I have enjoyed more walking and the people going past my house to Makoshika Park is really phenomenal. It is fun to watch the parade each day.
Well, we know we are pretty well going to be social distancing until the end of April. After that, who knows? Any re-entry into the stream of life is going to be painstakingly slow. Life will be different after these months, like 9/11, our lives will be forever changed. Handshakes, hugs, tight crowds, huge affairs or Mardi Gras? But, one day at a time.
After a nice long walk in Makoshika Park. Enjoyed being out in this time of Corona virus. We are so fortunate living where we do and I am blessed to be able to be walking so well after my surgery the end of November. Prayers for all the unfortunates and the first responders. (April 6, 2020)
I am wondering just how long folks can handle our current isolation with trying new recipes, searching online for long-lost friends, trying to find unique ways of occupying the kids or the dog or cat or the spouse. We are not geared to entertaining ourselves too well. In the days gone by, isolation was the way life was. You worked all week and then if you were like my grandparents on Sunday, grandpa would put on a clean shirt and shine his shoes and he and grandma would go visiting. And then you came home to a week of routine chores -- baking bread, washing clothes, plowing fields, tending cattle and so it went. That sense of community that was a part of their lives was supplemented by an occasional church service and programs at the school in their township. In these days people are working from home, finding their entertainment on the internet and contacts are via various internet sites.
I was reading some articles from the NYT this morning and their prognostications of the coming days are grim. No one knows what is ahead, but the emotional stress on people in the midst of crowded hospitals and moral and ethical choices no one should have to make raise stress levels to the max. Economists say the economic fall-out world wide is going to be far-reaching and long lasting. As Bette Davis said in one of her classic lines, "Hang on, everybody! It's going to be a bumpy ride!" There are many with inner courage who pronounce, "We will get through this." And I am a believer, but not before we are going to have to make some sacrifices and adjust to a new "normal".
I am especially concerned about the Third World Countries where poverty has already caused huge problems of disease and death and many of the poor suffer from underlying health issues already that make them fair game for any disease that comes along. The World Health Organization has said we are fighting a world war. Survival is what we are dealing with right now, until the scientific community can get a handle on the virus and how to deal with it. We need science more than ever and we need the wise men and women who work with the newest tools and discoveries. One researcher said it was so great the way scientists were trading discoveries and theories and working together to help the world.
Probably we need to start wearing masks in this country as the virus continues to spread. More than ever we need to be sensitive to the needs of the people around us. As do most folks I fear for those I love rather than worrying about myself. My family all lives in larger cities while out here in Eastern Montana we have practiced social isolation for a long time. I noticed I was looking at license plates the other day and wondering about some I saw from Washington. A clerk in a gas station convenience store was more adamant that travelers should keep moving. Now Governor Bullock has put a travel ban on people crossing our borders. The spread of the disease is insidious, you can't see it, you don't even know if you have it yourself. You can be a carrier and that is frightful in its own way.
As a species we have always had to deal with epidemics of various kinds. Now we are going to have to live with epidemics like this for a long time to come. One vaccine is not going to wipe out the disease world wide as long as we have people traveling to all points of the globe. It will be a reality in the lives especially of generations to come. Being alert to the maintenance of our basic freedoms; upholding the rights of all human beings; maintaining a sense of justice and compassion are the real new "normal". President Franklin Roosevelt at another time of great panic in the world said, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." The inhumanity we humans practice comes most often from fear. Caution is very important, but it must be part of a larger picture. This is not about the color of a person's skin, their gender, their age, or if they are rich or poor. It is about preservation of the species and some sense of compassionate relationships in the new world in which we daily find ourselves.
The social isolation imposed on us since the Covid-19 appeared has not been too bad. I am a bit of a loner anyway and since my hip surgery in November I have been sticking pretty close to home. However, human nature being what it is, I admit to not minding staying home when it is my idea, but when someone else tells me to, that is a little different. On the lighter side I got to thinking I perhaps needed some human company when I was almost homicidal over a squirrel who has been devouring my bird feed when I am not watching. I am perhaps reaching a dangerous level of too much time alone with nature? At these junctures I am very grateful for the phone calls and points of contact with family and friends.
I live on the road to Makoshika Park and that has been busy. The wildness of the park is perfect for people to walk, hike, walk dogs, run and be far away from people. I see mommas with baby buggies, families walking kids and the dog, bikers. We are fortunate it is Spring and the weather is cooperating so we can be outside. Living in Montana, especially eastern Montana these days is a real plus. Social isolation and distancing is what we do best. I was so pleased when our Governor Steve Bullock put directives into place early on in the hopes of getting us ahead of the game as a state. He raised our awareness and that has been a good thing. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also shown a lot of leadership with the huge problems he has in New York. I am beginning to think there should be a “draft Cuomo” movement for the Democratic nomination. Other governors as well have really accepted the challenge of leadership and those states who have governors like that are fortunate indeed.
It is difficult to believe there are still people who fail to see this epidemic for the great danger it is. There are even some who seem to shrug their shoulders and say, “Yes, some will die, but it is more important people keep working” or “let’s not overdo the assistance package.” They fail to recognize this is a “new normal” and this year of the Corona Virus 2020 will be a turning point for us as a nation much as was 9/11 2001. Those people who lived through the flu epidemic of 1918, the drought and depression of the 1930s and World War II and Viet Nam were marked for life. Experiences like these change the way you look at the world.
One author, Wanda Urbanska who wrote Heart of Simple Living, outlined some ways our perspective can change for the better. Her book outlines four tenets for critical times — environmental stewardship; thought consumption; community involvement; and financial responsibility. Part of the change comes because we now have “time” to think, to just be, to spend time with ourselves which is not a bad place to be. “Humans have peace of mind, freed time, and a sense of belonging, self-worth and accomplishment when we have taken frugality up with the same passion with which we sought wealth. The desire to survive may stir that passion in us when we fully realize that doing more of what we have been doing is fatal.”
Air pollution levels in Italy have dropped significantly since people must stay home. Even water pollution has eased in some places. While fighting the epidemic and doing what we can to save lives, could the epidemic be an indicator that we will perhaps take a second look at how we live and think and act and adjust that indicator for the betterment of our society and the world.
This prayer was passed on to me today. It comes from the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
for those who are ill
for those with little access to health care
for healthcare workers
for those who feel isolated
for those who are in unsafe places
for those who are anxious or worried
for leaders facing difficult decisions
for those who continue to work in challenging settings
for those driven by greed of careless disregard
I Thessalonians 5.16-18 --For we will rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances.