Living in the Age of COVID-19: 3/28/20

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White Rainbow Root, 2008, Steve Tobin (Naples Botanical Garden)

I have been moved and angered by the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) for the people who are working in healthcare, trying to test people who think they have been infected and are scared, and people who are treating and trying to save people who are really sick because of age and pre-existing compromising conditions. I have been feeling helpless so decided to make masks after the leader of our sewing group at church circulated a pattern. Actually it hasn’t been that straight forward.

I became paralyzed as I read comments on the website for the pattern. There was a lot of discussion about what material could be used between the two layers of fabric and other links to follow for information. One site (smartairfilters.com) gave results of some research they did on different fabrics/materials that are readily available for improvised masks. When breathability was factored in they determined that pillow cases and cotton tee fabric were the best choice. Note: this information, like most information passed around the internet, didn’t provide enough information and there seemed to be holes in their research. But this is a crisis and sometimes we just have to do something, because something that may be flawed is usually better than nothing at all if there aren’t good options available.

The pattern suggested double layers of fabric with some kind of filtering in between. I have lots of quilt fabric, most of it very good, finely woven fabric, so I was ready to go. I tested double layers and found I couldn’t breath through it so I decided on a single layer. But then I wondered whether there was some way to hold another layer (coffee filters were suggested somewhere).

This is where I made a seismic shift. I decided to stop thinking and just do it. I have always been a thinker more than a do-er but they need masks now – not after I get all my thinking done. I am moving ahead using up all appropriate fabric that I have in Florida and will find people who can use them later. So far I have made about 20 of them this week and gave 10 to friends in our condo community. These don’t protect against COVID-19 as is but will definitely keep us from touching our face when we shop for essentials.

This project is good for me. As I have been sewing I have thought of the women who rolled bandages for the Red Cross during the Civil War and WWI. I have thought about victory gardens and rationing. I have shifted my thinking from how to make a perfect mask to how to be a good citizen. I have stopped myself from going out to public places because staying home may be hard for me but it is good for society. I have quieted my fears that leads me to buy more than I need this week because I want there to be enough for everyone to have some. Someone at the pool (observing social-distancing) said I should be selling the masks – but this isn’t the time to be making extra money I don’t need, its the time to be helping people. We are fighting a battle against a silent but deadly enemy that is so different that it is changing who we are in ways that we won’t understand for many years. I am wondering whether the health of our society requires we give up some of our personal rights and privileges for the “common good.” I’m think on this.

Let’s keep those rainbow roots watered.

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 Hurricane Named Irma visited Naples Botanical Garden

I felt a deep sadness, something akin to compassion, when we returned to Naples a month after Hurricane Irma ripped through. The damage to buildings wasn’t very evident except for blue tarps on roofs and furniture beside the road waiting for pickup. But there was so much evidence of foliage destruction with huge tree roots exposed and piles of dying branches lining many of the road. As we drove around the city I saw evidence of the beating the trees and plants withstood and I felt a deep sadness for them. This is such a lush and green environment and I know it won’t take long for everything to grow back but the heaviness of sorrow lingered for weeks.

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Going to the Naples Botanical Garden this season has also been painful – not in body but in spirit. The garden was hit very hard by Hurricane Irma and my first visit was when they reopened right after a massive three-week clean-up. I felt dazed as I walked around, frequently feeling disoriented in a garden I am very familiar with. I wasn’t able to identify what was missing but I knew things were very different.

As soon as the hurricane was predicted employees and volunteers started taking in the orchids and sculptures, the rare and special plants that could be moved. The damage to every part of the garden was extensive. More than 230 large trees were lost along with many shrubs and many shade loving plants that survived Irma but died in the harsh sun due to the loss of the large shade trees. Cleanup is still taking place 5 months after the storm. The debris pile covers more than 2 acres and is 6 ft. deep.

In the days following the storm, professional botanists from several large gardens came to help determine what could be saved and how to best respond, including the Chicago Botanic Garden, Missouri Botanical and the Atlanta Botanical. The regular volunteers and bus loads of volunteers from neighboring communities and states came to work on clean up and replanting. Over 100 fallen trees were saved by using props and pruning, bushes and plants were righted, plants that needed shade were transplanted.

In three weeks the garden was tidied up enough to open to visitors. But the work goes on.

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This is a young garden having opened in 2009 and I started my weekly Tuesday trek in November 2013. I remember thinking that the garden looked like a new garden and have enjoyed watching it mature, growing into a tropical lushness so different from the northern gardens I am familiar with. Last year I marveled at the maturity of the garden, the lushness of plants that were designed to compliment each other and create unique areas that were intimate and a feast for the eyes. Every trip included the excitement of going around curved paths to find new and unique blooming plants. Every trip to the garden, every image I attempted to capture was a learning experience.

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Hut within bamboo stands in Asian Garden

I watched the initial gardens grow and mature while seeing new gardens being added, like the Florida Garden and the Orchid Garden. Although none the hard structures were damaged, so much of what I saw in my initial visits after the storm were clearly attempts to return some beauty into the devastation while the hard work of rebuilding the soft-scapes takes place.

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Before Erma this small corner had been a lush tropical retreat for me. Now the replanting and regrowing begins.

The focus is now “replant and regrow,” recognizing that nature is resilient. The garden has a leadership team that is creative, knowledgeable, and has built collaborative relationships with other gardens. The strength and talent of the people associated with the garden is evident that the garden received the 2017 Award for Garden Excellence from the American Public Gardens Association, being the youngest garden to ever receive this award. They are keeping a focus on six core commitments that allowed them to go from ‘open for visitors’ to ‘winning a prestigious award’ in just eight years as they engage in their regrowing efforts.

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According to the Board President, they don’t know how long it will take to regrow or how much it will cost, but they know what they need to do. The plants they need can’t be purchased at the local garden center or big box store. An employee told me that they had cuttings and seeds from some of the plants that can be used. They will also be exchanging plant material and seeds from other gardens in the U.S. and the Caribbean, and traveling to obtain seeds from the wild. Then they need to regrow the material for future placement in the gardens.

Their goal is to increase the number of rare, unique, and endangered plants. We know that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior so I am confident that visitors to the garden in the months and years ahead will be rewarded with new beauty. The garden leadership is also dedicated to helping local residents replant their landscapes, adding to the phenomenal beauty of this dot on the map.

I have been doing a lot of thinking since we returned to Naples after Irma. I was impacted by the devastation to my winter community but then I think of the devastation from hurricanes in Houston and Puerto Rico, the fires in California. I am humbled because my reaction to what Irma did to SW Florida must pale in comparison to what people experience when their homes are destroyed, basic infrastructure not repaired,  and loved ones are lost. I’ve been thinking of the takeaways, what values I think we need to hold on to as we face the natural and human disasters that seem to be happening more frequently.

Here are two basic takeaways for me:

  1. Nature, including both plant and human, is resilient. We can get beat up pretty badly and still come back to live a life of beauty.
  2. People play a huge role in how long it takes for healing to take place, and how successful the healing is. We need to do our part to help our planet to be healthy and to heal, and that includes the humans who inhabit the planet.

I have long believed what others before me have said in many different ways: We are only as healthy and happy and prosperous as those who are the least among us. We all have to reach out a helping hand to those in need, and sometimes we need to reach out our own hands to receive help from others. We are all in this together.

That means that we need to be concerned about what happens to the poorest and the smallest among us. Naples is a very wealthy community and had the resources necessary for a quick recovery – power was restored within two weeks. The community knew how to access resources from near and far. People appeared in Houston and California to give support and help. Workers came from far and near because they wanted to help, but also because they knew there was money to pay them, to cover expenses. That hasn’t happened in Puerto Rico. What happened there is a disgrace – especially as we hear of companies that went in to help but really ripped them off by taking money for services that weren’t provided. I feel the stain, the shame of what happens to those without a voice, without the power of money and prestige. I acknowledge and enjoy privileges that are mine, because I worked hard for them, because I happened to be at the right place at the right time, and through just plain dumb luck. But if I enjoy privilege without feeling a sense of responsibility to help others that are following behind me in life, I am nothing. I am a farce and lack moral integrity. I am a disgrace to those who paved the paths that I have been fortunate enough to travel.

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Another takeaway from Irma is a new-found sense of responsibility to the Naples Botanical Gardens. I have enjoyed capturing and sharing the beauty of the gardens during my winter stay but I think I will also be more sensitive to the growth of garden plants, watching to see how new designs are created with new plants. I feel a need to document the regrowth – maybe to let Irma know there is a human spirit here in Naples composed of an army of professionals and volunteers who are willing to work their hearts out. Fibromyalgia doesn’t allow me to volunteer for garden work but I can use my talent for seeing beauty and writing to document the “replant and regrow” facilitated by those who can do the physical labor. Stay tuned for many future posts and stories about my Tuesday morning observations.

Can I Forgive?

This post is for women. Male readers can continue to read but you will have a hard time relating to what I will be saying, unless you are a male who is of the wrong color, or nationality, or gender orientation, or religious heritage, or have a body that is somehow defective. But this essay is about me, a female, being wounded by this election. I think there are many women who have been wounded by Trump and I hope that telling my story will help them find their voice. I have compassion for the men who have been wounded, but I can’t tell their story. I only have intimate knowledge of my wound and am troubled because I don’t know how to heal and forgive.

This election created a cesspool of emotional turmoil for me. Many people would describe the election as a nightmare, but I had nightmares – something that hasn’t been a part of my sleep for many, many years. I have also been having memories intrude on my waking thoughts. Memories that I don’t want to rerun, but I can’t find the stop button. I felt assaulted by the words of Donald Trump and this assault triggered memories of assaults I experienced in years past. I have felt traumatized by his words that bragged about how he can assault women just because he has the power of fame. Just typing that last sentence triggered a swell of anxiety reactions in me. He scares me. I am afraid.

Trauma has a way of triggering memories of past traumas in our brain circuitry. Those of us who have lived long enough know that when we experience the trauma of losing someone we love, that trauma triggers memories of all our previous loses. There is a cumulative effect. I bet you have experienced how these types of traumas can pile up.

I experienced several assaults by men, some of them pretty heinous and some of them run of the mill assaults. I know other women who have experienced different assaults. When we come together I think the one thing that we find is that we share a common experience of how the assaults impact us. The trauma doesn’t go away, even if we have years of therapy to better understand that the assault wasn’t our fault, even if we have a phenomenal ability to use denial, even if we work hard to gain more power than the men who over-powered us, even if we move far away to create a new life.

All we need to hear is some man, especially a man who is running for one of the most powerful positions in the world, to say that he can do anything he wants, he can even grab us by the pussy. When this happens all our defenses against the memories fail us – because he failed us. And we feel fear – we know our daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and nieces aren’t safe. We don’t feel safe. Safety is a delusion for females when men think like this.

When I say I don’t feel safe, it is hard to say it in a way that fully defines and describes the multiple levels on which my sense of safety has been assaulted. Only personal stories can do that, even though those stories are so hard to tell.

When I was 14, I was raped by a family member. It wasn’t the first time, it happened 10 years earlier by the same person. But this time it had consequences reaching far beyond the shame and helplessness we feel when we are violated in this way. I became pregnant and an abortion was arranged. The whole experience was an assault, so much so that I blocked it from my mind for many years. Slowly I have let myself remember details, like going to the basement door in the back of the small hospital. It was owned and run by a doctor who I later learned did illegal abortions while law enforcement didn’t look, didn’t ask. I was lucky – my mother-in-law’s sister died as a result of an illegal, back-ally abortion.

They were doing something illegal so they were distant. They had a job to do and they didn’t want to know me. No one explained or comforted. I was put on a table and told to spread my legs. I was 14. I wanted to vomit from fear. It was painful and they took me home. Funny, but of all the memories the hardest ones were of going back to school in the Fall. Their problem was solved and I was all alone – having to face friends while clothed in shame and guilt. I was all alone because no one knew and I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t tolerate being more alone. I was living in exile in my familiar places, while fearing further exile. It was unbelievably hard.

It was hard, but the alternatives wouldn’t have been any better. My father didn’t make enough money for me to go to a home for unwed mothers in another city to wait for the birth, and give the baby up for adoption. My 14 year old body wasn’t capable of supporting another developing body – a child having a baby. There was no educational support for pregnant girls – they dropped out of school, dropped off the face of the earth. Girls who got pregnant were gossiped about – they were sluts, whores, bad girls. Parents of good boys wouldn’t let their sons date those types of girls. I don’t know if I could have gone back to school as a slut while holding my head high and getting good grades so I could go to college. You see, we were a middle class family, living in a middle class suburb. My parents taught us middle class values and I worked hard not to disappoint them.

I have those memories, along with being groped at the county fair and seeing a man expose himself as I opened our front door. I didn’t say anything because, well, I had heard people say ‘boys men will be boys men.’ This is why I find it so repulsive when men and r women diminish what Trump said on the bus by saying ‘boys will be boys.’ I have memories of men saying on television, during the cold war, that a woman could never be president because women’s monthly cycle makes them ‘unbalanced’ and thus not to be trusted with the nuclear button. This is why I find it so repulsive that Mr. Trump said that Megan Kelly had blood coming from wherever. This assaults all women, and reminds us of how our body has been degraded by men. How this degradation has been an excuse to keep us from accomplishing our dreams, of becoming successful, of becoming President of the United States.

Yes, I am afraid. I am afraid for my daughters Carol, Sharon and Natalia, for granddaughters Emily, Sarah, Lindsay, Maggie and Allison, for great-granddaughter Eevee. I am afraid that the degrading words of our President-elect will give his followers permission to say what he says, to act as he says he has acted. His supporters seem to believe his behavior is okay – I don’t. I am afraid that females will be deprived of basic reproductive services as our Vice-President elect destroys Planned Parenthood. I am afraid that our reproductive freedoms will be taken away through the appointment of Justices. I consider myself pro-life but defined as supporting a life of dignity and opportunity and justice for all people both born and unborn. And sometimes we have to make really difficult choices. Life is messy.

Yes, I am angry. I am angry at Trump supporters who are calling me a crybaby. I am angry at Trump supporters who are telling me to shut up. Yes I have cried but I’m not going to shut up. I will not support the new administration’s policies if they are destructive to who we are as individuals and to our country. Trump will not be my president.

Yes, I am angry and I am not ready to forgive Trump and his campaign team for their degrading and dangerous stances about women, Blacks, LGBT, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, the physically challenged, the press, science, and others I can’t think of right now. I am angry about the people he brings to the table – I was taught that people are defined by the company they keep. I am not ready to forgive him for inciting violence at his rallies because he loves the roar of admiring crowds. I fear for people who this man, his associates, and his followers hate so much. I know forgiveness is difficult but also know how to do it because I have forgiven the men that assaulted me. Forgiveness comes only when we know there is honest repentance and a desire for forgiveness. Honest repentance can only happen when a person is able to take responsibility for their acts, understand how their actions hurt others, experience the guilt of having done wrong, and face their victim wearing the cloak of shame. This hasn’t happened. Trump doesn’t apologize because Trump doesn’t admit to doing wrong.

Once upon a time I felt helpless, but not any more. Even if I am able to forgive with time, I will not forget. I will be vigilant. I will be listening and watching. I will be speaking out and acting. I have made a donation to Planned Parenthood in Pence’s name (click in honor of) and having the notification sent to him at the White House so there will be some transparency. I have notified companies that carry Trump products that I will not purchase from them until they make a public statement that they have dropped Trump products. And as the issues change I will look for ways of supporting other organizations that can do what I can’t do because of age.

The United States will only be as great as its citizens. Let’s make sure all people are protected and supported.

 

Elegance in the Back Alley

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I love this image – it was taken in a back alley, behind the main street of the town where I live. I had to fight a garbage truck to get the space I needed to frame it. Someone has created a very elegant entrance in an area of the city that isn’t described as elegant very often.

I love this image because it seems to be a visual metaphor for life, at least for many of us, at least for me. I was in therapy many years ago and realized that I was carrying around a lot of shame and guilt. I was conceived out of wedlock, by two youngsters who did the right thing, got married, and lived together for better or worse for over 50 years. Somewhere along the way of my growing up I determined that it was my fault that they had to get married. I took on this burden when I was small and they were unhappy about being married and were taking it out on me. There is more to that story but not important to this story.

This belief that there was something bad about me ran so deep that it felt like I had to break apart my world to get my mind around a different way of thinking. My adult mind used the logic that I couldn’t be responsible for an act that took place before I existed. As an adult I shed the shroud of shame I had carried for practically my whole life. It was like a rebirth.

I had never been conscious of carrying this burden, but I know I’m not alone. Every family has “secrets”, things they believe to be so bad, so naughty, so ugly that no one speaks about them. There is an unspoken rule that this part is private – but everyone in the family knows, deep within their soul, the garbage is there, and they believe they smell of the garbage. Even after the secret is taken into the light of day, laid out on the table to be scrutinized, it is hard for us to see beyond our shame to find our real beauty. Carl Rogers recognized that we put up a facade because we believe if others see who we really are, they will be repulsed.

And as we carry our burden, how hard it is to be strong and noble. How hard it is to stand in the light when we want to hide our face in shame. How hard it is to believe that anyone could love us when we are standing in garbage. And being loved, believing we are loved, is absolutely necessary for us to flourish.

I don’t blame my parents or society or God or fate. Life just is. I’m thankful there were people who loved me even when I couldn’t believe them. I’m thankful there were people who believed in me even when I couldn’t believe in myself. I’m thankful that I was born with intelligence and resilience so I could pretend to be okay even when I wasn’t. I’m thankful for the capacity for emotional healing. I’m thankful for all the ways we can have integrity in the back alleys of life. These back alleys don’t define us, but they keep us humble.