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.”

Sometimes the Way Isn’t Clear

I decided to participate in Which Way Photo Challenge this week because I’ve been listening to people who have the experience to understand the mess our country is in (scientists and career public servants). I have been searching for those people who can give me hope that there is a way out of the climate crisis that is causing carnage around the world; the racial and ethnic inequality that has been the elephant in our history; the Covid-19 pandemic that about a third of the country, the third that is listening to our president, believes is no bid deal; and the upcoming election in a little less than a month that will determine the fate of our country and impact the world order. Is there a way out of this mess?

I listened to Joe Biden’s speech given at Gettysburg yesterday. For those of you in other parts of the world, Gettysburg is where a major battle in our Civil War took place, a war that was being fought to defeat the southern states that wanted to leave the union in order to maintain their slavery economy. The war being fought for the soul of our nation, and that was the message of Biden’s speech. I felt myself relaxing as I listened to him because he sounded very presidential, he talked about being the president for everyone – even those who don’t agree with his policies. He talked about wanting to hear everyone, and work with people on both sides of the isle in Congress. He talked about not having to think in either/or terms: We don’t have to destroy jobs to have clean energy – clean energy will create jobs under his policies. We don’t have to choose between law-and-order and racial justice – we can support our police forces while making the justice system and economy work for all people. It brings tears to my eyes to think of a time when people of color won’t have to teach their children how to be invisible so they don’t get shot or incarcerated. It brings tears of joy to my eyes to imagine Native reservations and Hispanic communities that are thriving economically so their people can be productive and live lives that are healthy and safe.

I am exhausted by the chaos created by this administration – the everyday defiance of common sense decency and integrity. It exhausts me to see our covid-infected president take off his mask before entering his residence where he could infect hundreds of career workers who serve him. I am livid that he tweeted that all Republicans should stop negotiations on another monetary aid bill that our families and small businesses need so desperately. I am exhausted by his lying and all the people who either believe him or don’t have the courage to call him out, who are afraid of him or think they can gain power and profit by allying themselves with him. This administration has exhausted me so much that I have a hard time keeping my faith that the other problems can be righted. Maybe that is their strategy.

But yesterday I did the most important thing that a citizen of a democracy can do – I voted. And this year, for the first time in my life (or at least in the past 30-40 years) I voted a straight ticket. Now all I have to do is hang on for the next month as we grope our way through the fog of pain, fear, despair, and anger along the road to a better way. We are a strong country and it is time for every person who cares about others as much as themselves to do what needs to be done. Make sure you vote for Joe Biden, even if you don’t agree with his policies. What you will be voting for is decency, honesty, and thoughtful/intelligent policies. And then pick a better candidate for the next election.

Living in the Age of COVID-19: The President Should Sew Masks

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I finished 60 masks and took them to the Jackson Friendly Home last week. This was a fun project and one that I have an emotional motivation for. First, I believe that having cloth masks will become increasingly important as people start moving and mingling more. Second, I have warm memories of the Friendly Home and an appreciation for its heritage.

When our children were young we picked up a lady who lived at the Friendly Home and took her to church every Sunday. We became friends and our daughter shared a memory of Miss Thatcher when I told her where I took the masks. Sharon visited Miss Thatcher and when they went to her room, she brought out a “big” box of greeting cards she had received over the years, gave Sharon some scissors and paste and told her to have fun. Sharon says she was so excited and was contently busy for a looooong time – and then they went around to visit Miss Thatcher’s friends. Sharon loved seeing what each woman had in her room, walking around looking at everything as the friends chatted a bit.

The Friendly Home is a low-cost housing for women over 65 with meals and some assistance with tasks of daily living. My husband says it was started for widows of the Civil War. I’m going to have to research more of its history.

I still have some masks in various stages of development for the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. I’ve set them aside for a little while so I can focus on a wall hanging I’m making for our Florida residence. Piecing quilt tops provides me with the delusion that I am in control – I become obsessed with getting colors and composition and construction perfect.

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This is when I had 3 1/2 inch blocks laid out on a felt board – when I was studying it and changing blocks, then studying it a little longer. I slept on it and changed a couple more in the morning. When I thought I was satisfied (it was perfect) I started sewing the blocks together in rows, making it a little closer to being whole. With the sewn rows back on the felt board I sat and looked some more and added another row of pieces to the top and side so the pattern created a balanced composition. Adding new blocks to the pattern resulted in some small pieces that were no longer working in the already finished parts. Some of the blocks that weren’t working were already sewn in a row. Sometimes making things right means that I have to take apart a section and rearrange it.

I wish I had the same power over my country as I have over my quilt projects. This virus seems to making the broken parts more glaring. I see reports of how society isn’t working, and I feel the pain and fear over and over as new populations are impacted and ill informed people in power are making really stupid decisions and doing really stupid things.

My disdain for the parts of our country that values greed is growing. My disdain for people who are self-centered and mean is growing. I long for a world that works for all people. This pandemic hits everyone so some people believe it is a leveler. They believe that with the covid virus no one is special and privileged. Look, it has even struck the White House.

But this isn’t what I am seeing. As I am making sense of the carnage of the virus I see the disproportionate number of people who are afflicted both medically and economically are those who have always lived on the way outer edge of privilege. They are the people who the government feels may need to die for our economy to be healthy. These are the people who serve others, who take care of the privileged. These are the people least likely to have health care, or trust the system enough to go for help. These people are considered ‘those people’ over there, on the edge, not worth helping because they can be replaced.

Yes, the president says that some people may need to die for us to rebuild a strong economy before the next election. That’s what he needs, and he needs it fast. Maybe he needs to learn how to quilt, or sew masks for the people who work in the White House.

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.”