Thoughts on Memorial Day 2021

Yesterday in our Zoom Quaker worship, a visitor introduced himself at the rise of meeting. He said he was a veteran, soon to leave the military and chart his next steps. He said Memorial Day was hard for him and his fellow soldiers for the painful memories it evokes of their experiences of war and of friends they lost. He asked us to remember them and be aware that this day is hard for them. He didn’t have his video turned on so we couldn’t see his face. If we’d been in person, I would have wanted to go up to him and welcome him, perhaps offer him a hug. I hope he will return.

His voice echoes inside my mind today. His words fill my heart. Where did he serve? What was the experience of war like for him? What motivated him to join the military? What do the next steps look like for him? I had never stopped to consider what this holiday would be like for someone currently in the military.

We’ve been having endless wars for a long time now. Quakers have a long history of doing what we can, at least to aid the victims of war.

We recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the American Friends Service Committee, formed after WWI for that purpose.

During the Vietnam War, a soldier from Ft. Bragg hitchhiked to Chapel Hill Friends Meeting, saying “we need you in Fayetteville.” In response, several Meetings joined forces to establish Quaker House in 1969, one of the few such programs to survive to this day. Quaker House counsels soldiers, runs a GI Rights Hot-line, offers therapy for those suffering from combat trauma, does workshops on domestic abuse, and much more.

When my son was a teenager in the mid-2000s, there was talk of bringing back the draft. I helped start a curriculum for our young Friends to learn about Conscientious Objection to war and decide if they wanted to write a letter declaring this position. Many, including my son, have done so.

From time to time we have visitors to Friends Meeting in response to national/international events. I guess it’s our reputation as a Peace Church that brings them. When the US goes to war, our benches often hold new friends. When they introduce themselves, they might say they have a brother or son or father in the military. They seem in need of comfort, of a community that would understand their fear and worry for their loved ones. If we can be a container for their grief, I’m glad.

On this Memorial Day, my thoughts are with this soldier who visited us yesterday. May he find comfort and peace.

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Who Am I Now?

What kind of fiction do you write?

I was attending the North Carolina Writers’ Network spring conference, held virtually, and this question came to me during the “picnic lunch” where we were divided into break out rooms. I had just met the woman who asked this question.

I was not prepared for this question and felt at a loss. It has stuck with me over the following days. I realize now she probably wanted to know if I wrote novels or short stories. I could have easily answered yes to both. It seems silly now that I didn’t say that, but I am new to thinking of myself as a writer. I learned in an NCWN workshop how to answer: what is your novel about? with a one sentence pitch. But this question flummoxed me. I even forgot to say I write poetry.

In my forty years as a clinical social worker, I had gotten my spiel down pat. My answer to a similar question would have been I do psychotherapy for individuals, couples and families. I specialize in Imago Relationship Therapy. I could then speak for twenty minutes about the theory and practice of what I offer. It did take a long time for this description to evolve into something I could recite in my sleep. I gradually came to view myself as a psychotherapist, experienced and confident in what I did.

In 2016, I retired and entertained another question: who am I now?

This inquiry had begun three years earlier as retirement approached and I began seeing fewer clients. As an English major at William & Mary, I had always loved literature. I was always reading a book. Fiction, non-fiction, best sellers, mysteries, sci-fi, memoirs, I read them all. And always the question bubbled up from inside. Could I write something like any of these? In 2013, I went to a five-day silent retreat at the Southern Dharma Retreat Center in the NC mountains, something I had never done and wasn’t at all sure I would like. I mean, five days of silence? My intention was to carve out time to contemplate what I wanted to do in retirement. The experience started out strange but by the end had begun to feel like a luxury. I loved it. I came away clear that I wanted to write.

After I got home, I took a Fiction Writing class then a NovelWriting class. The novel writing class morphed into a writers’ group that met every two weeks. We named ourselves Novel Gazers. I found a folder with three chapters I had written long ago and forgotten about. I reread them and was surprised to find they were pretty good. I began to write chapter four. And I was off.

Instead of therapy conferences, I began to attend workshops and conferences of the NC Writers’ Network. There, I met other writers in the local literary world. I read books about writing. I learned a lot.

My former consulting room turned into a writers’ nook. On one desk, I kept my laptop. There I could gaze out at green trees and bushes in the back yard, my eyes glazed over as words, phrases, and scenes materialized in my imagination. On another desk, I had my desktop computer for household bills and accounts and everything else. In between, I had a rolling chair.

There was a third desk I didn’t need. It had two file drawers and several other drawers that hadn’t been sorted and cleaned out in years. On the desktop were slots full of cards, envelopes, and other miscellaneous items. As I opened drawers, pulled out folders and went through them, I found poems I’d written and didn’t remember. I stumbled onto stories I’d written for a Fiction Fundamentals class I’d taken in 1995 that I’d forgotten about. I found stories and poems friends had written and with them memories of sharing writing over lunches and evening glasses of wine. I found the first poem I had ever written, dated the year I turned nineteen. The answer to my inquiry could not have been clearer.

I am and have always been a writer.

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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Vaccinations

Once the vaccines were approved, and group two (ages 65-74) was allowed to sign up, my focus turned to finding how to make an appointment. Some people may be wary of being vaccinated, but we aren’t among them. At every Zoom gathering, vaccinations became the first topic covered. One friend revealed that his wife had signed them up with fourteen county health departments and eventually one came through. Another disclosed she got online with UNC Healthcare at the end of each workday in case appointments had opened up. They eventually did, two hours east. They had a lovely drive through the country, a pleasant contrast to being at home every day in lockdown.

We signed up with our local Orange County Health Department to no avail. This site began to post the numbers: a supply of 700 vaccines, 1600 on the waiting list. These numbers are not exact, but you get the picture. I widened my search to several surrounding county health departments and added Duke Healthcare to my frequent search of UNC Healthcare. Some had waiting lists, some required checking back regularly.

In early February, I attended a committee meeting of the Chapel Hill Friends. As usual, we began by sharing vaccination successes and failures. One friend had gone online mid-afternoon and was told he and his wife could come at 4 pm that day. They dropped everything and went. Another, a geriatric care manager and nurse, seemed surprised we were having such difficulties. “Call this number,” she said. “I easily got one of my patients an appointment.”

The next morning I called that number. It turned out to be UNC HealthCare Vaccine Scheduling. It was a different number from one another friend had used successfully a few weeks earlier. One I had tried and heard the voice mail say, in effect, “No way.” Dialing this new number, I sat on hold for over an hour. It felt like a miracle when someone answered. After she determined my eligibility, she asked “Can you come tomorrow?”

“Yes yes yes yes yes!”I exclaimed. “Can my husband sign up to come with me?”

“What’s his date of birth?” she asked. Before he could get to the phone, she had begun the process.

We got to the vaccine site, the Friday Center in Chapel Hill, located 15 minutes from our home, with time to spare. The parking lot was packed. We entered to follow a well-organized line of people, first having our temperature taken and one of their masks given to us, then moved on to the next health care worker to be given the usual questions to determine we weren’t symptomatic and hadn’t had any recent vaccines. The lines were marked by the familiar portable ribbons on stands that snaked around to the next station where a friendly person behind a computer found us in their data base, checked any possible underlying health conditions (we had none), filled in a form that would let the next person direct us into the proper line (Moderna or Pfizer, first vaccine or second) and from there into the room with semi-private arrangements of tables and chairs, and a nurse with another screen to fill in and a needle to inject into the arm we chose. The needle was long, but the jab was quick. Band-aid applied, she escorted us into a large room with chairs positioned six feet apart to wait 15 minutes to ascertain if we would have a reaction. We had none and were released, card in hand indicating our next appointment and wearing the button declaring “I took my shot to UNC HealthCare.”

I floated out, feeling a huge weight had been lifted off me. I could see the light shining ahead. My arm was barely sore. I wanted to celebrate somehow. A day or two later, I went to Metropolis, my favorite store, and came away with an absolutely gorgeous dragonfly necklace made of sparkling Swarovski crystals of blue, green, yellow, red and pink with matching earrings. I wore them every day.

The four weeks until our second jab dragged on. Meanwhile, appointments opened up at all the other places we’d signed up. We diligently read the emails and texts and got off the lists to make space for others. Our turn finally arrived and we drove back to the Friday Center to navigate the impressively organized lines a second time. We’d been warned there might be side effects with the second Moderna vaccine. But we felt great being fully vaccinated. I wrote “fully vaccinated” on a label to affix to the button we’d been given after the first dose and posted a photo of it on social media. The warm sunny day matched our joyful mood. Side effects? What side effects?

The next morning we awoke feeling not so great. Dave had a fever of 100.0 F. My entire left arm ached as did various muscles and joints. We both fell into a state of listless fatigue. Fortunately, we had nothing much on the schedule and could lie around for most of the next few days. I gave myself permission not to attend the Zoom poetry writing workshop I had signed up for that evening but ended up going and enjoying it. I felt better than Dave who considered not attending a Zoom committee meeting late that afternoon but did check in. The friend running the meeting had also had her second dose and admitted she wasn’t fully functional. It was a short meeting. Friends in attendance who had had their second doses a few weeks earlier offered reassurances that feeling crummy would only last 24-48 hours.

They were correct. Our energy slowly returned, although my arm stayed sore longer than I expected. Dave’s fever disappeared, and we crept back into our regular schedule. In a few days, two weeks will have passed and full immunity achieved. The Centers for Disease Control recommended folks could then socialize indoors without masks with other fully vaccinated friends. I expect we will all be wearing masks for a time (I have accumulated a collection of fashion masks) as the scientists study the emerging variants, as the vaccine supply accelerates and until all adults are persuaded to be vaccinated.

What a concept—visiting with friends across the table rather than on a tiny screen. I’m ready.

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I thought I had it figured out. We would get Covid tests and gather for the feast at our home. My son and daughter-in-law, Dave and myself. A group of four, well under the Governor’s recommendation for inside gatherings of no more than ten.

Dave gave reluctant agreement. He had made himself a Covid-19 expert, spending time reading science articles online and keeping up with the evolving understanding of this terrible virus. His science background made it easy for him to read high level scientific studies with in depth understanding. He knew how dangerous this disease can be.

To protect us as well as possible, he studied ways to improve our home ventilation. We had a UVC anti-bacterial/anti-virus light installed in our furnace. For our dining room, he ordered a UVC Light Sanitizer with HEPA filter that covers several hundred square feet.

I visited our local health department web site to explore opportunities for testing. Calculating the time to get results, we made appointments at the site closest to us. DIL worked hard to rearrange her tutoring students to allow her to quarantine as much as possible after the test. She did have a couple of doctor’s appointments. I wasn’t concerned about those, knowing how careful medical offices were about safety protocols. My son got tested on the UNC campus, free to all students.

Having Thanksgiving together was looking good. The weather was even cooperating with a predicted high close to 70F. We could possibly eat on our screen porch, an even safer situation.

I turned my thoughts to the menu. Our local Weaver Street Market Coop had organic turkeys and all the trimmings available to order online for curbside pickup. Unfortunately, we waited one day too late to get the smaller turkey I had been eyeing. A sixteen pound turkey was what was left. Dave kindly encouraged me to order some prepared sides. We ordered their delicious-looking apple pecan stuffing, cranberry relish and a vegan pumpkin pie. I would cook the turkey and make gravy, prepare sweet potatoes and green beans. For rolls, we would use Sister Schubert’s Yeast Dinner Rolls from the freezer. We had a plan.

Meanwhile, the pandemic was surging all over the country. The Centers for Disease Control were issuing severe warnings against gathering with anyone outside your own household. These warnings accelerated as Thanksgiving approached. With my heart set on being together, I did my best to ignore them. My son didn’t.

Monday evening, he called me and spoke in a serious tone. He was deeply concerned an in-person gathering would be too risky. As I listened, my spirits sank. He spoke about the CDC’s continuing warnings, the rapidly climbing number of cases, our status as senior citizens at greater risk. His words became a pep talk. The vaccine is coming, our isolation is temporary, how terrible he would feel if either one of us contracted the virus. These last words penetrated. I acknowledged that if he felt responsible for us getting sick or worse, he would never get over it. I certainly didn’t want to catch the virus. I felt awe for this young man, my son, now in his thirties. Our roles had reversed. He was now advising his mother. Regretfully, I realized he was right. Dave, of course, was in 100% agreement. My son proposed we have a Zoom Thanksgiving.

We did. We set up a Zoom link and had the same group together that we’d hosted the year before. Dave’s children and grandchildren from Cleveland joined the four of us as did my sister from Roanoke. We opened Zoom on my laptop at 2 pm in the kitchen while completing the last of the preparations. Then we easily moved the laptop and the food to the screen porch where it was indeed warm enough to dine.

With Zoom open in front of us and the feast spread out before us, we filled our plates and ate. The four households talked back and forth for a couple hours as if we were seated around our dining room table. We discussed the dishes we’d made as we enjoyed them. We shared the news of what we’d been doing, how the kids liked being home schooled by their mother (they liked it), and many other things. We brought our cats to our screens to show off. This was our first Zoom meal. It was much better than I had expected. Holidays with Zoom are preferable to taking the risk of holidays in the ICU. I was converted. It was a very happy Thanksgiving. As the post-holiday Covid cases increase at an alarming rate, I take comfort in knowing that we made the choice to stay safe.

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What to Do If There’s A Coup: A Webinar by George Lakey

Thursday September 17, 2020, Dave and I attended a webinar led by George Lakey on “What to do if there’s a coup.” Over 700 people from 34 states attended. It was excellent and encouraging. Of course, I hope there will not be a coup but, with what’s coming out of the White House lately, we can’t be sure. It’s better to prepare for that possibility and not need it than to be surprised and unprepared.

For those of you who don’t know George Lakey, he’s a Philadelphia Quaker who has written ten books on non-violent direct action and led over 1500 workshops in five continents. I met him at the Friends General Conference Summer Gathering years ago. Not only is he a very nice guy, he’s smart and experienced, deeply spiritual and skilled.

George opened with good news, based on the research of Stephen Zunes, professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco. Zunes is recognized as one of country’s leading scholars of US Middle East Policy and of strategic nonviolent direct action. Lakey reported that Zunes studied 12 coup attempts. Eight of the 12 were beaten back by non-violent protesters who didn’t prepare. His research indicated if they had prepared, more coups might have been overturned. This is truly good news.

Lakey outlined four ingredients in successful resistance to coups:

1. Wide-spread participation,

2. Alliance building between concerned individuals and groups throughout,

3. Maintenance of non-violent discipline, and

4. Clear conviction among all not to go along with the coup attempt.

He gave an example. In 1988, when the US was used to running Latin America, Nicaragua showed signs of resistance. President Ronald Reagan sent troops to Honduras to prepare to go into Nicaragua. The American people in great numbers gave a pledge to resist and prepared to go into the streets. The US backed down and didn’t invade.

Lakey suggested a pledge for us today: to vote and not to recognize the result of the election until all votes are counted. If a coup is attempted, we will prepare to go into the streets in protest. He referred us to the website to declare this pledge. This website will serve as a clearinghouse for information, training sessions and much more as November approaches. If there is a coup and we’re wondering if this really is a coup, there will be a signal there.

George acknowledged this will take inner strength. He invited us to close our eyes and recall a tough time in our own lives we faced and overcame and as a result found the inner strength we needed. This newly discovered inner strength is with us now for whatever lies ahead. He encouraged us to share this memory with someone later. Had this workshop been in person, I imagine he would have given us a moment to share with someone sitting next to us.

He went on to talk about the strategic challenge. Our goal is to hold on to Constitutional order rather than change something. We need to anchor ourselves in the traditional reality of which we approve. For example, to count all the votes.

He warned us about the temptation to focus on the right wing of the current polarization and instead advised us to pay attention to the center. It’s the center’s weight that determines the outcome. If the center chooses democracy, we win. Whatever actions we take must play to the center: to those who care about stability, the managers, the conservators, those at the top who like to run things. We need to join those who like stability.

He told a story about the Soviet Union in 1991 when there was a coup to move that society to the right. Gorbachev was taken into custody. But Boris Yeltsin, President of Russia, an example of a local manger, a conservator, a politician, called down the coup. He called it anti-constitutional. He supported the center and the coup was defeated in four days.

George pointed out the coup timetable is shorter than other change movements. Usually just a matter of days are needed to undo a coup.

He suggested the target of our actions should be the political class, elected officials at all levels, mayors, town council members, county commissioners, and on up the hierarchy. In the US, political power is diffused. To mobilize the center, we ask them to refuse to accept the election result until all the votes have been counted, to make a pledge to that effect. Many will say yes to such a pledge. If not, we come back or camp out in their offices, etc., until they do. As to which elected officials to start with, do what’s easiest. If you know some of your local officials already, start there.

He addressed the risk of violence from the other side as we’ve seen happen in Portland. Those wishing to do violence want a big crowd. Don’t get a big crowd. Get a small group and visit the offices of elected officials. Consider reaching out to people outside your usual network. You’ll make new friends and widen the effort. As to timing, he suggested the day after the election as the best time to ask for a pledge not to accept the election results until all the votes have been counted. People will be in a state of high anxiety. The pledge will be seen as a reasonable request.

In the Question & Answer period, there were more questions than could be answered in the time we had. His daughter, Ingrid, helped cull and condense the questions.

What about armed militias other than the military? We have a great resource in the civil rights movement. He recommended we watch the film “Freedom Song” with Danny Glover. It’s historically accurate and instructive. Engage with violent people non-violently. Andrew Young, was church pastor in those days, heard the Klu Klux Klan was gathering in the woods and preparing something. He gathered the bravest in his congregation to go with him to the KKK and talk. It worked. People who arm themselves respect courage. However, this kind of conversation should only be done in a sizable group. But don’t underestimate our power. We have here an opportunity for us to expand, discover our courage and act from love.

What national coordination is currently happening? A lot of new alliances are forming daily between different organizations. A very hopeful sign.

Remember that the government agencies that have been subverted (ICE etc.) have inner divisions. Adopt an open attitude rather than see them as enemies. People inside these agencies are often unhappy. They are watching.

What about the bipartisan election commission proposal by Dan Coats?
It’s a good idea. Support it with Congress.

How much training in non-violent direct action do you need? It’s good to have some training. Soon you will have access to it through George and his colleagues will offer two four hour training sessions via Zoom. Pendle Hill has an upcoming training as well.

What does it mean to shut down the government? George told a story of 1920 Germany which was also polarized. Wolfgang Kopp led a coup. He went to the center government offices to take over and create a proclamation. No one was there. A wide spread strike was in effect. Two days later, the coup was over. The power of non-cooperation is great.

Find out what the center has on its mind, talk to them: managers, bank officers, local elected officials. Read the mainstream newspapers (Wall Street Journal for example). One time of recent non-cooperation, a strike, was when high school students walked out of school on Friday to protest the inaction on climate change. A one day strike can work and save your job. During WW II the Danes took a one day strike when occupied by the Nazis.

What about retired people? Root for the younger people. When an older person does something, it’s a big deal. Retired people have time to prepare. Be creative.

What if Trump wins? We’ll be in better shape to stop him from destroying things.

Read George Lakey’s articles at

Also check

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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Bridge the Gap

As the Presidential election approaches, I find myself concerned about the polarization in our country. Reading the news, watching videos of violent clashes at protests, I feel sad and I wonder what it would take to bridge the gap between those who so passionately and sometimes violently disagree. Is there anything I have to contribute to this endeavor?

It’s easy to find fault with the other side from where I stand. I can easily sympathize with those who hold the same values and beliefs as I do. I express myself to my like-minded friends. I write letters to my representatives in the US House and Senate. Doing all this makes me feel better. I’m doing something with the anger and frustration and moral outrage that I feel.

But it doesn’t really address my longing to bridge the gap. Perhaps it even fuels the polarization.

As I ponder, I look inside to find what inner resources I might have. Ah, maybe, to bridge the gap, I can draw on my decades of experience counseling warring couples. The job of a couples therapist is not that of a judge, to sit high above and render opinions about who is right and who is wrong. Rather, it’s to help the two people, who first came together in love, learn the skills to dialogue, to listen and mirror and validate and empathize, to understand if not agree. And to come to some sort of (imperfect) common ground. It’s the hardest thing we humans ever do: recognize the other’s reality as different and equally valid. What matters in this process is listening deeply to the feelings of the other. Most people want to feel heard and validated more than they want whatever they want. If they don’t feel heard, they naturally say it louder and louder, dig their heels in rigidly, struggling to be heard.

Is this what is happening in our country now that causes such polarization?

During the Iraq War, I found myself on the firing line. My teenage son and I were visiting my first cousin and his wife, relatives I love and have known all my life. They live in my hometown and knew my now departed parents well. That connection is a comfort. They are conservative Republicans while I have always been a liberal Democrat.

In their van on the way to visit their adult children, they brought up the topic of this war which to me was immoral and illegal but to them was a great victory. They enjoy fierce debates. What I wanted was a pleasant time with family. My son and I made a half-hearted attempted to engage. When one of them made a nasty (to me) attack on my son, I got riled up. But I didn’t really want to come to verbal blows and tried to calm the waters by suggesting we agree to disagree. They kept going until my son said, “Everyone where we live is liberal.”

“Oh,” said my cousin, as if they hadn’t known that. We stopped talking politics and went on to have a lovely visit with the rest of the family.

Since then, I have avoided talking politics with him. Last year his wife died. We attended the memorial service to celebrate her life. This year he’s stuck at home alone due to the pandemic. I call occasionally to check on him. We share family news but usually nothing more. The bond of family love we feel is strong. I cherish it and want to maintain it.

But what if I put on my curiosity hat and asked an open-ended question such as “how do you feel about the upcoming election?” and just listened. Listened to the feelings beneath his words. To understand not to persuade. I wonder if that would be a practice step before trying to bridge the divide with strangers? A small step for sure and a scary one. I feel my stomach knot up as I contemplate doing this. But it might be a way to begin.

The hardest part would be to contain my own reactivity, to avoid getting hooked to argue for my point of view. Some of the things happening in the world today are to me just wrong, very wrong, even immoral. Separating children from their parents at the border. Undoing the environmental regulations that give us clean air and clean water. The lack of national leadership in handling the pandemic. And many many more. Some deep inner work to center myself would need to come first.

Listening, however, does not mean agreeing. And I am genuinely curious to learn how my cousin, who I know to be a loving family man, feels about these things. Maybe we are not as far apart as I imagine. I’ll never know unless I open the topic and listen.

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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Healing Words

Being at home during the pandemic is not too bad. My motivation to avoid catching it could not be higher. We can order our groceries online through Weaver Street Market, our local health food coop, and pick them up curbside at the appointed time. If need be, I can see my doctor through telemedicine. My dentist observed strict safety protocols including being interviewed the day before for symptoms, swishing with some sort of disinfectant the moment I climbed into the dental chair, having my teeth cleaned with a hygienist wearing a face screen. I felt safe. I even ordered some new Teva sandals online, picked them up curbside with a 30 day window for return if they didn’t fit. They did. I love them. Everything else happens on Zoom and gives a bit of social time with friends.

Protecting myself from the onslaught of horrifying and enraging news is not so easy. I value being an informed citizen. I know it’s not healthy to pay too much attention to things I have no influence over, but it seems they are everywhere and overwhelming. From time to time I express myself on a particular issue by calling the offices of my representatives in the US House and Senate. At least this is something I can do.

But I found myself lying awake at 3 am too often worrying. Worrying about the US Postal Service which needs to handle the great numbers of mail-in ballots sure to come. Worrying about the lack of national leadership which could have made this pandemic a much different story in the US. Worrying about how many of my fellow citizens will die before it’s all over. Worrying it will never be over. Worrying about the election. Worrying about how many people will believe Trump’s lies and vote for him. Worrying about the fate of our democracy.

After one too many of these sleepless nights, I decided to consult my doctor. Via telemedicine, she reviewed all the aspects of good sleep hygiene, most of which I know and practice. She gave me a prescription to try. I did, and it helps.

Then in my daily meditation, I began to reflect on ways to uplift my spirits. Years ago when I was in clinical practice, I became fascinated with psychoneuroimmunology, the mind-body connection. I read a lot, attended workshops, studied hypnosis and used it successfully with my psychotherapy clients. I became clear I wanted to take a bit of a break from the news and read something uplifting. On my shelf, I found a book I couldn’t remember reading that might help. It’s an old book, 1993, but fascinating. It’s Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine by Larry Dossey, MD. He’s an internal medicine physician and a leader in the inquiry into mind-body healing. Who knew there was so much scientific research on the healing power of prayer? He defines prayer more broadly, more like what we Quakers call “holding someone in the Light.” Reading it was slow going because he described the research in detail, and I’m not used to reading scientific research these days, but it resonated with me, both stimulated and soothed me.

It left me with a thought I hold close to my heart: there are greater forces working in the world than what comes out of the White House. Yes, there are. Thank goodness.

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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: The Limits of Distraction

Playing with our kittens may be delightful, snuggling with them comforting, but they’re not enough to distract me from the heartache I feel now in the aftermath of yet another murder of a black man by police. This time in Minneapolis, this time by a police officer kneeling on his neck. George Floyd, already in handcuffs, cried “I can’t breathe!” and he died.

In horror I felt drawn back into the world as I watched the complete video of George Floyd’s death in police hands, heard bystanders cry out for police to stop, saw a white woman recording the scene with her phone. Then the protest rallies in Minneapolis began and in cities across the country and around the world. Our so-called leader hid in his White House bunker then came out for a photo op holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, ordering peaceful protesters to be cleared out of his way with tear gas to allow him to walk there from the White House undisturbed.

It brings to mind another such time when I was coming of age in 1968. I turned 21 that June. I was home for spring break from William & Mary when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and cities erupted in protest. There was violence and looting then also. Safe in the DC suburbs, I watched TV in similar horror to see my home city burn. I returned to campus, to Shakespeare class with Professor Robert Fehrenbach at noon Monday, to have him dismiss class with words of not wanting to be isolated in an ivory tower and inviting us to join a vigil on Duke of Gloucester Street happening at that moment.

I recall five years earlier watching Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington from a distance. At 16, it didn’t occur to me to attend, and I doubt my parents would have allowed it, fearing for my safety. But I read about it in the Washington Post and saw the photos around the Washington Monument, huge crowds extending around the reflecting pool. I was a naive and idealistic young white girl full of enthusiasm for the civil rights movement. My heart went out to the black people fighting for their rights. At that time the only black person I knew was the black maid who came once a week to clean our house. The schools I grew up in had yet to be integrated. I remember water fountains labeled “white” and “colored.” I knew this was wrong.

I might have been naive and uneducated but I could read and I was eager to learn. James Baldwin became my teacher. I inhaled his stories of the lives of black people and had my naivety punctured. I heard and understood the anger black men felt. I imagined they would laugh in my face or spit or ignore me if I offered to help. And what help could I offer? I was not only young but unskilled.

After I graduated college in 1969, ready to change the world, I joined the National Teacher Corps, part of LBJ’s War on Poverty. The Teacher Corps sent me to Little Rock. There I had my first experience with integration in the group of 30 or so Teacher Corps Interns. I met my first middle class black people and through them continued my racial education. They were eager to share and invited us to attend a Black Shriner’s Dance. Four of us white people went to dine and dance with a huge crowd of black people. This was my first time to experience what it felt like to be in the minority. I confess it felt strange and uncomfortable. All those black faces and us four white faces. I could imagine what it was like to be black in America but only a tiny bit. Our black friends did not want to kill us. They felt supported by our attendance. But I realized, if that had not been true, we would have been outnumbered and vulnerable. It was a wake up call.

Today I grieve for my country and its 400 year legacy of slavery. We made some progress in the 60s, but it is far from over. And now we have a leader who has fanned the flames, giving encouragement to white supremacists who seem to be coming out of the woodwork, and threatened to use US military against peaceful protesters. The demographics are changing and the white men in power don’t like it. In a few years white people will be in the minority. In my adult years, I have been blessed with some wonderful friends, black and brown, all colors of the rainbow. I celebrate this diversity. To those white men who want to remain dominant, your days are numbered. The November election is coming. A new generation is watching you. They are taking the reins.

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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: kittens!

The search to adopt a kitten was long and arduous. We filled out endless application forms with rescue organizations yet never heard a word. We learned that, due to COVID-19, the county animal shelters would only allow pets to be adopted by residents of that county because they did home delivery. Weeks went by. In early May I got a tip from a friend to check Craig’s list. On May 4, I found there an add for three kittens in Roxboro, about an hour away. The add had a photo of three adorable fur-balls curled up together and a phone number. I called immediately and talked to a man who told me they had found these kittens abandoned, presumably the offspring of a female cat whose body they had found, perhaps killed by a car, they weren’t sure. Anyway, they took them home and nursed them for several weeks. He thought they were 8 weeks old and ready to be adopted. We made arrangements to drive to his house in two days to see them.

Dave and I wondered if it would be smart to take two of them. He said he had always done so in the past and found they could take out their energy on each other. I quickly warmed to the idea and texted the man that evening to say we might want two. OK he replied.

Ah, how exciting! We relished the distraction from the endless stream of depressing pandemic news. Everything was being politicized. Right-wing groups were having protests of the stay-at-home orders in many places. The Congress was fighting over rescue bills and allowing big corporations to receive more help than small businesses. People were losing jobs and, consequently, losing health insurance. The PBS News Hour profiled the stories of those who had died and interviewed medical professionals about the heart-breaking experiences they were having. Many spent long days caring for hospitalized patients only to come home and live in the basement to avoid infecting their small children. Testing was not widely available nor were there enough ventilators or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The President was more focused on the November election than on what the public health experts were advising. We felt grateful that our governor here in North Carolina was paying deep attention to our head of public health, Dr. Mandy Cohen, who said we must follow the numbers as we decide how much and when to open back up. I paid enough attention to the news to be reasonably informed from quarantine at home, but most of it I could do little about. I felt eager to find something I could do something about.

Give me kittens, please!

Before we drove to Roxboro, we amassed a few supplies in preparation. We got cans of kitten food, food bowls, a mat, some toys, a litter box, some litter to fill it. Just the basics. We got ready.

The day before the kitten visit, I had a follow-up tele-medicine appointment with my doctor. I asked her advice about appropriate precautions. Her first advice was “don’t get kittens now” but added “you must decide the level of risk you are willing to take” and “wear a mask and do not go inside anyone’s house.” Dave and I discussed what to do to stay safe. I texted the kitten man. He assured me his wife would bring the kittens outside. We felt relieved and decided to proceed.

We donned our masks and left with plenty of time to find their home out in the country, our cat carrier in hand. When we arrived, a woman and her middle-school aged son came out properly masked carrying three kittens. There were two gray tabby females and one black and white male. She handed us one of the gray tabby kittens and the black and white saying they were buddies while the other gray tabby was kind of a loner. We quickly decided to take these two and snuggled them into the cat carrier. She gave us some bags of food and some toys and even a kitchen towel they had slept with to give them something familiar to go with them. The exchange took about 5-10 minutes. We applied hand sanitizer and left. I sat in the back seat with the cat carrier full of kittens.

On the way home I called our veterinarian so see if they could work us in earlier than the first appointment we had scheduled six days hence. They were able to see us the next day. At home we brought them to the guest room we had turned into the “Kitty Palace.” It had a double bed, dresser and book shelves and plenty of room for a litter box and kitten bowls. We put a baby gate in the doorway to prevent Paddy, our 4 year old black lab mix, from helping himself to kitten food. Paddy kept watch outside that door at all times as we went in and out.

The vet visit followed strict pandemic protocols. We called upon arrival. The masked vet tech came out to interview us and take the cat carrier of kittens inside. We were free to wait or run errands for the hour or so it would take. The vet called to report the results of her exam. The kittens each weighed 2 lbs which meant they could get their first shots. They would need antibiotic eye ointment for 10 days to treat conjunctivitis from upper respiratory infections common in wild kittens. They were tested for feline leukemia and other diseases (the next day we learned the tests were negative). The vet agreed that they were not only healthy but adorable.

Three weeks later, Fiona and Galloway have taken over our house and our hearts. Paddy keeps a close but respectful eye on them. We are all becoming good friends. Because Dave and I married late in life, this is our chance to be parents together. We love our babies and marvel as they gallop around the house, stalk and wrestle each other, and find cozy spots to curl up and rest. They have learned what “dinner” means and come running when I call them. They have found every crevice we didn’t know we had to hide in. They are a joy.

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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Bright Spots

The spring weather has been delightful. The blue sky has never been so blue. Chapel Hill, North Carolina where I live is not near any big factories or the other usual sources of pollution. The lack of cars must be the reason. We have all been under stay-at-home orders and driving only for the bare necessities for weeks now. What a difference that has made in the air. When we take our dog for his twice daily walks, we revel in the blue of the sky and the green of the budding trees.

On a recent walk, we discovered we are not the only ones. Added to the usual hopscotch pattern drawn on the sidewalk were several jokes. Silly questions such as:

What do you call a fake noodle? An Impasta! We laughed as we walked on.

Why did the scarecrow win an award? Because he was outstanding in his field! I imagined this was the work of children but I don’t know. The jokes were all clean and silly. I pulled my phone out of my back pocket and took photos.

Why did the duck fall down on the sidewalk? He fell in a quack!

Want to hear a joke about construction? I’m still working on it!

What did the ocean say to the beach? Nothing, they just waved!

What is a squirrel’s favorite way to watch TV? Nutflix!

Why was the stegosaurus a good volleyball player? She could really SPIKE the ball!

Humor is a good ally during these strange times. The news is usually so depressing that I can only tune in so much. I depend on the late night comedy shows that I can access during the day via YouTube to keep me informed and keep me laughing.

To give us another bright spot at home, we have decided to adopt a kitten. Our four year old lab/mix dog, Paddy, has been around cats a bit. When my son and daughter-in-law first moved here a little over a year ago, they and their two cats lived with us for five months. Charles and Bubumi stayed upstairs at first but gradually came downstairs to explore. Paddy found them fascinating. They were less impressed with him. They all seemed to get along reasonably well.

I have had a number of dogs and cats together over the years. I learned that they adjust best when one is a baby. The adult animal instinctively understands the kitten or puppy is vulnerable and to be protected. Therefore, we are searching for a very young kitten.

We are not the only ones wanting a new pet. Our local animal shelter only showed two adult cats on their web site. I widened my search, typing kitten into Google. I have thus far found only one young kitten with an animal rescue organization. An adorable 8 week old black female domestic short hair kitten available to take home in two weeks. I showed Dave who agreed we could apply. This is quite a process. Besides name, address, phone number, date of birth, they require two references, the name of our veterinarian and how long we have used this vet, questions about our experience with pets, how many people live in our household, other pets we currently have, has our dog had experience with cats and on and on. On the web site, they said it could take up to 48 hours for them to contact us for the initial interview, given the pandemic and their reliance on volunteers. The interview will be done remotely. If we are selected, the kitten will be placed with us for a two week trial period. Whew!

We are doing our best to dampen our enthusiasm in case someone else got there first or, for some strange reason, someone else is found to be a better choice. We filled out the application, asked a couple of friends to be references, and now we wait. And wait. And wait. If we don’t get this kitten, we will keep looking. There is surely a kitten in our future.

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