Thoughts on a New Year

The end of the last year and beginning of a new year involved an ice storm followed by snow. It really didn’t matter because we didn’t go anywhere and didn’t have guests driving on bad roads. It was a nice kind of quiet, giving me time to prepare some special meals with my daughter. I also sat observing what was happening outside and thinking about what is going on within my head. Occasionally I took some photos through the window because stepping outside was treacherous.

I was surprised at my strong reaction to the end of 2020. Usually the transitions to the new year have gone by without much notice in our home. Usually just a “Happy New Year” and a little kiss in the morning because we didn’t want to stay up for midnight. The other thing that surprised me was that, on the one hand, I couldn’t have been happier to see 2020 in my rear view mirror but on the other hand I was very much aware that nothing had changed between December 31 and January 1. I have strong hope that there will be governing stability with the new administration, righting damage done by the previous administration and moving forward by leading congress in creating economic, environmental, criminal justice and health care policy that solve our social problems. There is a lot to do and his cabinet appointments seem to be good picks for the job.

Then we experienced the attempted insurrection by a large group of thugs and traitors. We are proud of our freedom to publicly demonstrate, to let our needs and beliefs be known through physical presence. But that freedom doesn’t include threatening riots with fire arms and bombs, carried with the intention of threatening and harming others. It doesn’t include destruction of property and stealing. I was shocked as I watched it unfold, and I spent way too much time in front of the tv but I couldn’t walk away. I was horrified and angry at what I saw.

For my over-seas readers, be aware that we have the same far-right extremists that you have, those who want to destroy the government, want to protect white privilege, want to seize power for their own enrichment. We always have, but Donald Trump brought them out from under their rocks and out of their holes – told them it was okay to express their grievances that people of color and women were gaining too much power. Donald Trump and his supporters in positions of power (congress) fed them lies and told them they could fight, be violent. They told them not to trust or respect the institutions of our democracy and his followers wanted to hear this. They all worked hard to destroy truth and spread lies. You know the story, you have lived with this threat yourself.

As I hear news of our political crisis from the perspective of other countries, I am hearing a lot of caring and concern for the health of our democracy. Thank you for this. Please keep caring and know that President Biden and his State Department will quickly begin to reach out to try to mend fences and break down the walls that Trump loved to build. From what I have heard Biden has been highly respected around the world whenever he has traveled abroad in a professional capacity.

Here are some observations I have about our democracy from listening to hours and hours of very knowledgeable and brilliant experts with extensive leadership experience and doing a lot of reflecting:

The freedom of our press is very strong. What has saved me during the past five years has been the courage, intelligence, dedication, and truthful reporting of so many journalists. I am so exhausted that I am having a hard time writing this post, so I can’t comprehend how the journalists covering the White House, Congress, the election, the pandemic, and racial tensions can keep going. Some journalists were laughing that usually we see the President age as he goes through his time in office – this time it has been the journalists that we have watched aging before us. Our journalists continue to explore difficult news stories, make contacts with multiple experts and eye witnesses, and write endless articles and make multiple reports for tv news reports. Newspapers have provided excellent coverage and many are providing on-line free access to information about the pandemic (yes we are all still overwhelmed with a pandemic as the oldest democracy on earth has been assaulted). In spite of Trumps constant verbal assaults on reporters and news organizations, inciting his followers to make violent threats, our free press has held strong and flourished. Thank you.

Our Justice Department has been a mixed bag as Attorney General Barr became Trumps private pawn instead of being separate from the Executive Branch and working strictly for the citizens while upholding the Constitution. He will be gone soon and seems to be changing tune as he is thinking about his life after Trump. During this mess there were many federal judges at the state level who were making decisions based on the law and the Constitution – not on what Trump wanted. We do need justice reform because we have two justice systems – one for whites and one for people of color. I believe Vice-President Harris will work hard on that.

Our Congress has been crippled by almost all of those within Trump’s party either believing in all the evil that Trump is or have been to chicken-shit to stand up to his bullying. They have been spineless and lack integrity as they chose Trump over our Constitution and the well-being of our citizens. The Republican Party has lost power until the next election in two years. Hopefully we can heal and strengthen the moral compass of our government in that time. In my mind, this is the weakest link but I believe we have the best man for the job coming into power. He has years of experience working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

I am very hopeful that there are now many more people who understand the perils our democracy can face if we don’t stand up for what is right. I am hoping there will be enough social pressure against white supremacy and anti-democratic beliefs to force these traitors to our Constitution back into their holes as we work to make the justice system strong enough to prosecute them when they stick their head out.

I believe we have always been a bit too far towards personal freedom (especially for white males) and haven’t taken seriously the “justice for all” and common good of society. This stems from the DNA and personalities of the people who have come to our shores from the very beginning and the nature of democracy as our forefathers (white, male, and usually slave owners) defined it.

Here’s to a new year and a new page in the on-going work of pursuing a “more perfect union.” We are all a work in progress.

Please keep yourself and your neighbors safe.

Reflections on the Day After

I was so relieved when the major news outlets began calling our election for Joe Biden. For those who don’t live in the U.S., it takes several weeks for every single vote to be counted and the results certified in every single voting precinct across the country so the election can be officially “called”. I’m not sure who does this official call because I don’t think anyone has ever said it or I didn’t pay any attention because it was already a given who had won. How elections results are announced or unofficially called is through special teams at each news outlet who use statistics from each state’s official source and do calculations of votes cast for each candidate and the estimate of uncounted ballets in each precinct – all put through a number cruncher until they believe there is no way the loosing candidate could catch up. They are very cautious, and sometimes get it wrong but mostly they get it right. This time they were being extra cautious because of Trump’s constant lying that the election process was rigged and the media couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth. As soon as the news source we were watching called the race, most other television and print news sources jumped on board within a matter of minutes.

I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and I wanted to be excited and jubilant but my fear of what lies ahead seemed to be an anchor holding me in place, not allowing me to join in the celebrations happening in cities across my country. The majority of voters said they wanted something new, were tired of the chaos, destruction, and lies of the current leader. This gives me hope but the truth I need to wrestle with is that almost as many people said through their votes that they like the way things are in our government. I don’t get it, but…

The first thing I noticed was that I kept taking deep breaths as I moved around the house, never far from the TV. It felt like I could breath again after holding my breath for the past four years. As I exhale I say to myself, “Everything is going to be okay.” I don’t have to worry about the next daily crisis for our government, our democracy, our people. Except for the next ten week until Inauguration Day.

I was also close to tears all day long. Not tears of joy, or tears of relief; but tears of grief and sorrow over how hard the past four years have been. I don’t have a personality that is prone to anxiety or fear – if there is a problem I find a solution or believe that someone in power will fix it. There are times when life has been difficult, times when injustice seems to outweigh justice. But 76 years of maturation has made me good at distinguishing between what I have control over and what I don’t. The past four years have been different, however, with what seemed like a constant of news creating overwhelming fear and unproductive rage. It will take me a while to lick my wounds and sooth on the balms that heals.

Right now I am too tired to think about how to heal. Right now I am so fatigued that my brain is mush and I’m getting kitchen burns through stupid mistakes. I feel the fatigue that doesn’t lift with a good night’s sleep or a healthy meal or a walk on an unseasonably warm, sunny November day. My daily anger and fear over the past 4 years has wore me down to the point where I can’t pretend any longer, I can’t convince myself that I have enough energy to do what I think I want to do. My attention span is about half a minute and my concentration is about half a sentence long.

I found joy listening to the speeches of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden last night. How wonderful it is to hear a president (elect) and a vice-president (elect) that speak in clear and understandable sentences; who have coherent and well thought out ideas based on science and the knowledge of experts about how to fix our problems. How wonderful to listen to people who are trustworthy, who don’t lie and repeat disclaimed conspiracy theories.

It feels like we, as a democracy, were sorely tested. So many of us were afraid the bedrock of our democracy, elections that allow all people to vote and all votes are honestly counted, was not going to hold against the on-slot of lies and voter repression attempts. But they did. We have proven that our great experiment of rule by and for the people is strong and enduring – even when there are attempts to undermine it by unsavory characters in our country and around the world. Our justice system has been corrupted but I believe it can be fixed and even improved to extend justice to previously disenfranchised groups. There are changes that may need to be made to our Constitution given the changes that have taken place since it was written in 1778. And once again there will be talk about whether the Electoral College that has failed in recent elections should be abolished so that election results are a more honest depiction of the will of our citizens. It feels so wonderful that once again we will be moving forward in our desire to create a “more perfect union.”

Thinking of Spring and COVID-19

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We are sheltering at home except for essentials here in southwest Florida. Some of our friends/neighbors have left for homes up north due to Covid-19 – one couple to Toronto because their insurance won’t cover Covid-19 treatment in the US and another couple back to Missouri because both have conditions that increase their vulnerability and they want to be near family and familiar doctors. We’ve been wondering when we should head home, doing a constant cost/benefit analysis. So far the benefits of staying in Florida are winning.

Friday marked the beginning of spring, but it wasn’t much noticed in Florida. Spring isn’t celebrated in Florida like it is in Michigan. It is hard to get excited about the awakening of nature in Florida because this subtropical climate doesn’t have a dormant season. Plants only slow down their growth a little in the dryer winter months and there are always some flowering plants to add patches of glorious color to the landscape. No landscape of drab blacks, browns, and greys here.

On the other hand, the first day of spring can seem like a cruel joke in Michigan. We don’t rush into spring in Michigan, the photos featured on this post were taken middle of May last year at Hidden Lake Gardens in the southern-most part of the state. For people in Michigan, the first day of spring is a celebration of hope that spring will really come – some day soon. I grew up hearing that “March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.” I remember years when we observed that march came in like a lamb and out like a lion. Yes, we have had some really big snowstorms in late March and April.

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When I use my logic, I know that our quality of life is better where we live in Florida than where we live in Michigan. Here I have sunshine every day, our livingroom and diningroom are open to our screened lanai so I hear birds all day long, I have ready access to plentiful fresh fruits and vegetables at the market a mile down the street, I have daily access to our pool and a great neighborhood to bike in, and I can always drive into the Everglades if I need to run away for a day.

Through my writing I am realizing that it is my grief that is driving my desire to go north, even though my head says I’m better here. I feel a deep loss from loosing church services at a church that feeds our soul, my weekly visits to the Naples Botanical Garden, not having the miles of beautiful beach available for a morning visit or an evening sunset.

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I miss not being able to go to my favorite family-owned restaurants for a cozy, fun meal with Jim and I worry about the financial viability of these restaurants and other small businesses I frequent. Most of all I worry about the service staff that we have gotten to know, who now are facing an uncertain future without sufficient income. Their faces pop into my head and I want to help them but don’t know how.

If I look inside myself, I feel a very heavy heart and a soul that is weeping. Life as I knew it is being shaken, the ground has shifted so it no longer feels stable. It is real for me, as Jim just left to go to the drugstore for some items. I know that he is more likely to get sick because he is a male but I also know that cabin fever attacks him much more quickly than it does me. When he gets home I’ll remind him to wash his hands long and well. I feel sad about our (all of us) loss of security. We don’t know what will happen and no one likes the feeling of loosing a sense of control – maybe that is why people are hoarding toilet paper.

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I remember reading about a study a long time ago, of depression in old people living in nursing homes caused by the almost total loss of control. In one study they gave each resident a geranium to care for and in another they gave them a bird in a bird cage that they needed to feed and clean up after. In both cases the people were given control over something and their moods improved. They became happier people better able to handle the stress of aging within their living environment.

I can take control of several aspects of my life even though the threats I encounter come from a little known virus that is raging through our population and experts are projecting will get much worse before it gets better. Thanks to our freedom of the press and excellent access to social media I can gain a sense of control by informing myself of facts. I listen mostly to MSNBC because I appreciate the army of experts that they interview throughout the day. I read the Washington Post and get updates from the New York Times. I refuse to accept the propaganda of a deep state that is out to get us. The deep state consists of thousands of government employees who have dedicated their lives to making sure citizens are helped by government services. I refuse to be one of the people who believes that facts are fake news. I refuse to be someone who doesn’t listen to news because “experts” are saying something different and they don’t know who to believe. If I am going to maintain some control I need to make decisions – and to make decisions I need information. I need information from multiple sources and to think about who is trustworthy – based on their education and work experience. Over time I have learned that I can’t trust our president but I can trust journalists who tell us what they have learned and who they learned it from. I trust experts while always questioning motives and bias.

I gain a sense of control every time I make a decision to wash hands, stay home, and abide by other guidelines given us by the CDC and experts on infectious deceases and pandemics. I know I am in control when I eat healthy meals and do what I can to get good sleep to keep my immune system strong. I know I have some control over the outcome of this pandemic when I reach out with a phone call, a written note, or through social media to share assurance or comfort or just fun conversation with people I know. I know I will be able to cope with isolation by keeping active with knitting, quiltmaking, editing photo files, working puzzles, exercise, reading and maintaining safe social contact with others.

I have a plan and I know I will do okay during this shitty time (no I didn’t buy extra toilet paper). Do you have a plan? How can you maintain a sense of control?

Blessings and stay well.

 

A Real Holiday Season

This morning we were treated to a beautiful snow fall. A flake bumped up against the window over the sink to get my attention – saying, “Here we come.” A few minutes later I realized that there were lots of flakes falling – some of them dancing on upward drafts, not ready to fall to the ground where they would soon melt.

Snow and cold seem to be an important part of the Christmas season, at least for those of us who grew up in the northern regions of our country. I remember the excitement of hearing the knock on our door, running to open it to our guests because my childhood anticipation of the forthcoming party had reached its peak. I remember the scent of cold coming in, relatives handing presents to me for under the tree as they stomped the snow off their shoes, took off their boots, unwrapped scarfs, stuffed mittens and hats in sleeves, and handed to outstretched arms piles of coats to put on beds. All completed to chants of Merry Christmas from everyone to everyone. This ritual was also reversed every year as we went to homes of friends and family. The teeth-chattering cold in spite of being bundled up, the snow, the lights of the Christmas tree in the front window welcoming us in even before we got out of our car, and the crunch of snow with each step. Ah, and the foggy eye-glasses as soon as I entered the house. This is what I’m remembering of my Christmas’s past.

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We fly back to Michigan to be with family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each year on the evening before we leave, we say goodbye to Naples by going for my favorite meal at one of my favorite restaurants, fish and chips at the Old Naples Pub on 3rd Street South in the oldest area of Naples. We went for early supper, as the sun was getting low over the Gulf of Mexico just 4 blocks away, but the temperature was still a balmy 80 f. We ate outdoors, with smiles because it was so perfect.

Christmas decorations had been put up during the previous week so we decided to go for a walk down 3rd Street after we had finished sharing a piece of key lime pie.

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What I see every year is a jolt to my emotional memories. Poinsettias don’t seem to belong with tropical plants – outdoors no less (even though my brain knows they grow into large shrubs in people’s yards). We smiled, enjoyed and laughed as we talked about how different Christmas feels in sub-tropical weather.

Driving home we went down 5th Avenue South just because we could. In high season, when we get back, it takes forever to drive this two-lane, 7 block shopping district because of the cars and people. In November we breezed through, with windows down and sunroof open.

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I hold these memories in my heart and smile, as I am now preparing for a real Christmas with cold and hopefully just a little snow. I have a poinsettia on the kitchen counter and no palm trees with lights wrapped around their trunks. I’ll see the palms in a few weeks.

It is strange how we come to believe that traditions should be the way we have always known them to be. One of the advantages of traveling and spending time in different locations has been learning that even the simplest activities of daily living can be different when people live in different climates, have different faith stories, are a part of a different culture. When I took students abroad to study culture I learned that culture learning requires an open mind, an ability to identify similarities and differences without judgement, an eagerness to explore and understand.

I wish you a holiday season in which you have the opportunity to explore and learn customs that are different than your own and that this experience brings you increased joy. I also hope you find a way to maybe assimilate a little bit of different into what you find familiar and comfortable.

I would love to read your stories if you write them into a blog and leave a link in the comments. Please do!

Thinking of Thanksgiving and Advent

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It has been almost two weeks since the U.S. Thanksgiving but I am still thinking about my thankfulness this year. I’m still thankful for those things close, my day-to-day world. I have a wonderful family with lots of grandchildren and even four great-grandchildren, two who are celebrating their first birthdays. I’m so thankful for the joy each and every one of them brings to my life. I’m thankful that Jim and I made good decisions in our earlier years, living below our means as our incomes increased so we could build our retirement funds. I’m thankful that we can afford to have a comfortable lifestyle while still able to help children and grandchildren as they need it. I’m grateful for our gathering last week-end to celebrate Lona’s first birthday, for the great food presented by daughter-in-law Natalia. I’m grateful that Jim and I are still relatively healthy in our mid-seventies and anticipate with great joy the coming together of our children, and their children, and a fourth generation child on Christmas Eve. I’m thankful for the friends of our children who will join us so that we have the blended chorus of phrases spoken in both English and Russian, and laughter that binds people together across cultures and ages.

Yes, I am thankful for the people who are a part of my life story, the people who make up my personal world. But this isn’t what I’ve been thinking about as I have been moving from Thanksgiving Day into the season of Advent. I can feel my mind and soul working hard to grapple with my emotional turmoil, to prepare my heart, mind and soul for the coming of the Christ Child, struggling to gain a greater understanding of what the Advent of the Christ Child means for how I live my life.

I’m in the 50% to 60% of the people who believe that our country, our democracy, is in great peril. This is a frightening time for me and I feel a responsibility to keep abreast of the daily news. What I am thankful for, from the bottom of my heart and with all my mind, are journalist. Even though they are verbally assaulted and receive death threats on a regular basis, they still go after the story. They are diligent in making sure their information is verified by multiple sources, sources they have nurtured by being honest and trustworthy with the sources. I am thankful for professional organizations and news outlets that take truth in reporting very seriously and sanction those who don’t abide by the ethical standards of journalism. Consequently, journalists take the responsibility to relay truth and be honest about their own bias very seriously as they report information (we all have them and must all be aware of our bias when evaluating information). And they persevere in searching for the truth, raking through the muck, sorting through the messiness of conspiracy theories and fake news. When I have to take a news break I wonder how they persevere.

Yes that is what I’m thankful for, but what does it mean as I move through Advent? If I am to celebrate Advent with integrity, it seems like I should explore what it means to believe in the coming of the Christ Child, to believe, trust, and live by what I have learned from the story of Jesus’ life on earth.

As I sit here struggling for words that heal and guide me, all I feel is deep anger… no rage – in response to the lying and the bullying that has taken place in our government over the past week, the past three years. I want to fight back. I want to write in such a way that my words make a difference. I want my words to land on ears that are open to hearing so my words touch hearts and change behavior. I want to scream Elijah Cummings words, “We are better than this.”