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.
Just saw my first robin. Eating up fallen birdseed with a huge flock of sparrows!!
Did you ever think a roll of toilet paper would be considered an exchange item or part of a barter system because of its value?? As I viewed the shelves at the grocery stores here in town empty of toilet paper and hearing the same stories from kin in St. Paul and Las Vegas and Rapid City, I admit to being a little dumbfounded with it all. The least of things is now a necessity for survival. When I couldn’t get any the other day I got to think about Kleenex and paper towels (although friends warned me about plugging the plumbing (Caution)) and then my mind jumped to stories of the “old days” when the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog served the purpose, according to my parents. Actually I do remember using outdoor facilities at the ranch and seeing a catalog available for the necessities. Toilet paper — who would have thought??!!
I remember reading about a book from 1722 called A Journal of the Plague Year. It was credited to Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe) but there was some hesitation about actual authorship. It was written about the bubonic plague in Europe which made a run through Europe in the 1300s and 1400s and then again in the 1600s. The bubonic plague was caused by an abundance of rats and mice who carried ticks that led to the disease which is much different than what we have today. But a pandemic nonetheless, killing over a million people or so it is thought.
I am jotting down a few notes just when I experience something unique. My brother was shopping at Walmart in Las Vegas and said the shoppers were crazy. The majority of folks will not be quarantined. It might be wiser not to go out to eat as much as we normally do and the washing of hands has always been a wise habit. I can remember my mother saying, “Wash your hands when you come home from school or down town. You don’t know who has touched that.” I always wipe my grocery cart off and I am fussy about clean public rest rooms.
I guess it is all a matter of what you feel comfortable doing or not doing. Big hugs and constant handshakes, maybe not be so much anymore. “Discretion is the better part of valor.” The whole scenario which is playing out world wide is another wake-up call that life can turn on a dime. Where a few weeks ago we were all involved in a political election year, suddenly all that seems rather unimportant compared to being well or sick. It is also a good wake-up call for the federal government to not be “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to the wellbeing of all our citizens. Something like this creeps up and suddenly all bets are off not knowing what to expect or where this is going to go or when it will end. The Boy Scouts are right in their motto “Being prepared”. It is something we expect of our government — to be watchful and monitoring the world around us. Helping us deal with matters and issues we don’t understand or cannot control by ourselves. That is what we expect of our government, this is the role and function of government. This epidemic may influence governments around the world to a greater degree than we realize. Those in power had best tread carefully when the people speak.
I have been reading Erik Larson's new book The Splendid and the Vile which chronicles the blitz of London. This picture is from the frontpiece of the book. It says much about people and their love for reading and the undying lure of books.
For some reason I have had three words rattling around in my head: compassion, pity and empathy. If you look up their definitions, they share similar meanings. They would be considered synonyms. I can’t quite use them in the same way, however, for some reason for me, they differ in meaning by degree. They have different places they are used best and should be used under different circumstances. To each his own, but to me each one wears a slightly different hat.
“Pity” has a shallow ring to it. I am always reminded of (NRSV) James 2.15-16: “15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” Feeling pity for someone means I feel sorry for them, but even more to the point I am glad it is them and not me. To pity someone there seems to be a “better than you” situation. I think we pity people who have what we perceive as character deficiencies. It is a word I seldom use. It seems to have a “nose in the air” feeling to it.
I am better with the word “compassion”. To feel compassion you have to get more into the skin of the individual involved. When there is a death in someone’s family I try to show compassion by really attempting to sense how they feel. To use compassion means it is not about me. I would hope people would see me as a compassionate person, who truly feels pain for others in their distress.
Then there is the word “empathy”. Actors try to become empathetic to the characters they are portraying. They have to get under their skin, to become that person as far as it is possible. It is perhaps the closest we come to the saying, “walking a mile in their moccasins”.
“Empathy” is the most difficult of the three because I can never truly know what it is like to be another person. My skin is white. How could I possibly know what it means to be black. Years ago there was a book entitled “Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus,” meaning neither sex could truly understand the other. There are some things in life you just have to accept. There is no way I can truly understand the parents who are refugees in Syria and must watch as their children are freezing to death in a humanitarian crisis. True empathy may be taking off your warm coat and giving it to someone who is suffering from the cold, thus putting yourself at risk. We must be very careful to never say the words “I know how you feel.” Every person, every situation is different and we must never presume to know.
I think the best we can hope for is compassion. “I am here for you. No, I don’t know what you are going through, but you hurt so therefore I hurt.”
I am not so sure I want involvement with the word “pity”. There is nothing I have done to be the person I am. I am not better than anyone else. If I am blessed with health, intelligence, and security then in compassion I am to share.
Words do have meaning. Words are powerful and we must be careful how we use them. A word has life when it is spoken or used in communication. What we convey by those words depends on how we interact and communicate with the people to whom they are addressed. So it is better to speak little and listen before we speak.
The eternal search throughout history seems to be the search for an honest person; someone who will stand by what they believe regardless of the consequences; someone who will speak truth to power, maintaining their integrity. Mitt Romney was such a man this past week. The news said there were four listeners in the Senate chamber when he spoke, but his words were recorded and now the whole world knows what he said:
As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.
Romney’s humility extended beyond his vote when he concluded
I will only be one name among many, no more, no less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong. We are all footnotes at best in the annals of history, but in the most powerful nation on Earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that distinction is enough for any citizen.
Unfortunately history does not abound in people of great virtue or honesty, so when they do appear, it is important their words be remembered. It is in literature we see evidence of this search for the greatness of truth. Percy Bysshe Shelley in his poem “Ozymandias” describes a desert scene of desolation wrought by a man who refused to listen to his conscience and instead turned to greed, power and corruption:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
There is nothing left of his kingdom, only emptiness.
And Rudyard Kipling spoke clearly of the vanities of human power. Romney can remain true to what he believes as a Republican, but he felt he answered to a higher truth.
If you can keep your head when all about you others
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
There is nothing that can destroy an honest man or woman. We wish our leaders at every level of power, and the promise of our children could take on this value and keeping it alive and burning ever brightly.
It’s a grey day on the prairies today, at least in my corner of the world. After nearly a month of almost Spring-like temperatures today we see snow. Sometimes the later winter storms can be the worst. A lady in town told me her daffodils were breaking through the soil last week. They might be close to the house and planted on the south side of the house, but green buds the first of February? We all said tell them to go back into the ground, “It’s way too early.” Sometimes the rule of thumb out here is no planting until after Memorial day. But people get “spring fever” when the milder weather arrises and all of us have had to replant our flowers due to a late frost.
So today is dull, no sun. Really pretty quiet after the hoopla of Super Bowl (A Glendive native played for the 49’ers so everyone was excited.). There didn’t seem to be much talk about the trial of the President. Glendive is a small town and no one wants to get on the wrong side of their neighbor. Of course we are in red country but the blues hold their own. After the acquittal some see it as “the second coming” others are sure “Armageddon” is around the corner. I expected the outcome because of the Republican Congress, but as much as I am NOT a Trump fan I distrust Pence even more.
I read an editorial in our local newspaper from a man who served many years in our state legislature on the Democratic side of the aisle. His opinion was that both political parties are to blame for the chasm separating people in this country. He had some good reasoning on both sides encouraging people to use common sense (shades of Thomas Paine), and work for the good of the country. I believe the Constitution calls it “the common welfare.”
It’s unusual to hear a strong Democratic voice out here on the plains. When I was growing up there was the not-to-be forgotten Mike Mansfield from Butte who led the United States Senate with such quiet leadership that he is heralded as one of the greatest. And Montana gave Lee Metcalf and John Melcher to serve in the U.S. Senate to name a few. The States surrounding us are solid red — North and South Dakota and Wyoming. The common expression during election time is I’ll vote for anyone who is not a Democrat or a Republican. But we live together pretty well recognizing, I think, that we need each other.
I think more than any political candidate we share common wariness of too much money and power. We like people who are practical and down-to-earth. Most of us are “by the bootstraps” people and we admire hard work, taking responsibility for your mistakes, and wanting to be left alone to live and let live. It isn’t perfect and sometimes we prefer to stick our head in the sand and just tell people and issues to go away.
That doesn’t work anymore and perhaps this election more than any in a very long time, “We, the people” have to stand up and be heard. We have to speak truth to power, greed, and corruption. We need to get the balance back between the judicial, executive, and legislative branches. Too much has been done for the rich and well-born. The idea of entitlement belongs to no one. Out here we believe in equality. No one is better than anyone else.
tI was looking through my photo stock today trying to find a picture more appropriate to our winter, 2020. This is as close as I could get -- an open river. The Yellowstone has not frozen over yet this year, although there was a minor ice jam earlier when the Civil Defense director was watching the level of the water. It was close to flood stage, but not enough to evacuate. She was surprised to have the problem in January.
Discounting a few frigid days around Thanksgiving and then for about a week in January, the winter has been incredibly mild. People keep waiting for the "other shoe to fall", i.e. February and March lie ahead, but as most people agree, every day with temps in the upper 40s is one day closer to Spring. A friend in southeast Wyoming says they are concerned about drought and of course, unless we get later rains, a winter without snow is not good. My cousin in Sioux Falls says their concern is flooding in the Spring. I think the Mid-west has piles of snow. My brother in Las Vegas talks about chilly low temperatures and once this year the temp in Vegas and in Glendive were the same -- go figure!!
In the rural areas of the world the big topic is always weather -- we live by the weather report and every conversation eventually comes around to that topic. Tuesday of this past week it rained so of course we had lots of ice -- not pleasant at any time.
I had another visit with a friend today which wove its way around the subject of Tim Babcock, governor of Montana at one time and a home-town boy here in Glendive. My friend and I were discussing the fact he was governor because of the death in a plane crash of the former governor although Tim was later elected in his own right. We also had a governor, Ted Schwinden who was from Wolf Point, but elected politicians from the eastern rural areas are hard to find. Babcock was a Republican which was also surprising as Montana frequently elects governors who are Democrats and who get elected because the western part of the State is more Democrat.
The public school administration is attempting to build a new elementary school. Two buildings need to be torn down due to aging infrastructure. The two buildings will be replaced with one as the school age population has also dropped. The mill levy is a tough sell for the community. The question is how much can you do to bandaid a school together? And yet the taxpayers have a say in all of it as well. This year I think more than ever I am hearing of institutions that are struggling. Medical facilities are in a world of hurt, churches of all denominations struggle to keep pastors and pay the bills and of course business and economic development groups all over work so hard to bring money into our small towns.
The political situation does not inspire confidence and with an election year looming before us everything promises to become more contentious.
So out here on the prairies we will enjoy the Spring-like weather while it lasts. I don't think many of us would trade places with the bigger cities so we continue our co-existence with the land and our love affair with this time and this place.