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 https://choosedemocracy.us 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?

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/17/opinion/2020-election-voting.html?searchResultPosition=1
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 https://choosedemocracy.us. 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 www.wagingnonviolence.org.

Also check http://www.activistforlife.org.

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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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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Slowing Down and Sitting

I didn’t realize what a hectic life I’d been leading until it stopped. You know the stereotype of the retired person who finds herself busier than ever? That’s me. In my former pre-coronavirus life, I spent much of Sunday with Quaker Meeting related activities, leaving before 9 am and getting home by 2 pm or so. Monday meet with my fitness trainer at the gym. Come home depleted and sometimes spend all afternoon recovering. Every other Monday afternoon, meet with my writing group at the library. One Monday evening a month, attend a committee meeting. Tuesday morning Chinese class at the Senior Center. Tuesday evening choir practice. Thursday morning yoga class. One Thursday evening a month, book group. You get the picture. Busy. That doesn’t even count lunches with friends, other social gatherings, grocery shopping, laundry, and all that.

Then group activities were canceled, and we were instructed to stay at home. All the time. With none of these group activities to break up the time. From too much to nothing. Like dropping a huge boulder I didn’t know I’d been carrying. Lots of time to sit around and….do what? Anything I wanted.

I began to read the news online. Filling myself with the horrors we are all facing. Not enough tests, insufficient Personal Protective Equipment for health care workers, people losing jobs and also losing health insurance. The stock market plummeting. The President saying “I don’t take any responsibility at all” and “My authority is total.” The daily lists of how many confirmed cases, how many hospitalizations, how many deaths. My home county didn’t have any. Then we had one then two then day by day the numbers increased. We read advice to stock the pantry with nonperishable food. We did. We bought quantities of every kind of bean and bags of rice and boxes of pasta and jars of pasta sauce. Toilet paper disappeared from grocery shelves.

Without the gym to go to, I sat around a lot more. I did my usual 10 minutes of morning yoga and our twice daily walks with the dog. But otherwise I sat. I learned to consume less news because it was all bad. I sat over new writing projects. I sat and wrote in my journal. I sat and played solitaire on my iPad. I sat and watched funny YouTube videos. I sat and sipped tea over best selling novels. I sat and talked to friends on the phone.

Easter morning I got up from breakfast and could not straighten up. I felt stiff and then I felt pain. I hobbled around until my spine could unbend itself most of the way. I took a walk to see if movement would help. I rubbed Arnica Gel into my lower back. I took ibuprofen. I went to bed hoping to sleep it off. The pain got worse. Monday morning early I called my Swiss Chiropractor. The first appointment he had was Thursday. Thursday! The receptionist said she would talk to him and see if he could work me in earlier. She called back and said come Tuesday at 9:30 am. Whew!

Tuesday morning I donned my mask and drove to Dr. DuBois’ office. I felt strange driving and realized I had not driven in two full weeks. Somehow I got there. The receptionist wore a mask and gloves. Dr. DuBois greeted me wearing a mask. After asking the details, he applied hand sanitizer and exam gloves and began the assessment and treatment. My blood pressure was off the chart. He said it could be the ibuprofen and/or the pain. I vowed never to take ibuprofen again. He said acetaminophen wouldn’t affect my blood pressure the same way and would help some. But the best treatment was to apply ice as often as possible and sit no longer than an hour. And come back later that week. I did it all and each day have slowly felt better. Was it due to sitting too much? Yes. Did it have anything to do with my osteoporosis? No. With my age? No. He had been seeing a lot of this lately in people of all ages and conditions.

I am amazed that too much sitting can cause this much pain. Pain is a good teacher. Lesson learned. Take heed.

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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Health Care

The medical clinic where I am a patient sent out an email notice that they were limiting nonessential treatment to give priority to treatment for the coronavirus. I wasn’t sure what that would mean in practice. Fortunately, I don’t have COVID-19 but I have had need for health care for other conditions. Here’s my story.

On a recent Saturday afternoon when Dave and I were walking our dog, Paddy, I started to feel pain in my left eye. The pine pollen was thick and, when the wind blew, it swirled in a cloud around us. I have no idea if that contributed to my eye pain. It certainly kicked up my allergies. A few hours later I noticed my eyelid was swollen. It got more painful that evening and the next day. Sunday night I took a photo. Dave helped me load it on my laptop and resize it to send to my doctor with a note on their online portal.

Monday morning I called the clinic. Dr. V, my primary physician, wasn’t there but I was able to get a 9 am appointment with a doctor new to me, Dr. W. It was quiet in the waiting room when I arrived. The magazines on side tables were gone. Only one check-in window of the usual five or six had someone behind it. When the nurse escorted me back, I passed an office with a sign “Video session in progress.” Dr. W examined me and diagnosed allergies. She advised me to go home and change my sheets, take Zyrtec and antihistamine eye drops and start washing my hair in the evening to wash out the pollen. After I left, I got the recommended OTC allergy medicines and went home to follow her instructions.

Soon thereafter, I was surprised (and impressed) to receive a call from Dr. V. She had seen the photo and thought it was a stye. I told her I’d been seen and diagnosed with allergies.

My eye got steadily worse. The pain felt intense. I thought allergies were itchy, not painful. Gradually the entire area around my eye seemed swollen. I posted another photo on the clinic website. The next morning I called again. I still couldn’t see Dr. V but got an early appointment with Dr. M. He called and suggested we do this over the phone rather than having me come in again. I told him I had posted two photos. He looked at them and asked me to post another. He wanted to rule out Shingles. Shingles? I had suffered through the two Shingles vaccinations a few months before. Each one gave me three days of flu-like symptoms. You can still get it, he told me. Dave helped me take another photo, resize it and post it. Dr. M responded with a message saying I had probably had a stye and now had periorbital cellulitis. He called in two antibiotics to my pharmacy. He recommended that I aggressively apply hot compresses to my eye as well.

Ah! Relief was on the way. I started the antibiotics that day as well as the hot compresses. In a day or two, my eye felt noticeably better. Thank you, Dr. M.

But a few days later, my left ear began to feel clogged. I had a drippy nose and was sneezing a lot. I tried in vain to unclog my ear. If I did succeed in getting it to open up, it quickly clogged again. I felt like my head was full of cotton. I sent another message to Dr. V. I love being able to do this. The next morning, I got a call from Dr. V’s nurse, offering me a video session with her. Yes! We set it for 10 am. She instructed me to get on their website 20 minutes ahead and answer a questionnaire. I did and soon was talking to my doctor by video. She told me my eye looked good and I looked beautiful. Aw, she’s so sweet. I love my doctor. I told her about my clogged ear and drippy nose and we were back to a diagnosis of allergies. Allergies are terrible this year, she said. She wrote me a prescription for Flonase and instructed me to take Zyrtec. Well, I already had a new bottle of Zyrtec so I was set.

She said the clinic was doing more video sessions because of coronavirus. Do you have cases? I asked. Not yet, she said, but we expect we will and we don’t want anyone else to come in if we can help it. Ten days later, my eye looks almost normal. Even better, my allergies are much more under control. I was relieved to find I can still get health care for other conditions.

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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Connecting Remotely

In this strange new world of sheltering in place, I am exploring the modern world of remote connections. I have participated in Quaker worship using Zoom and in a Voices Chorus rehearsal using Zoom. Next week my book group will meet using Zoom. I enjoyed seeing the familiar faces of friends on my laptop screen. It’s perhaps a poor substitute for in-person visiting and does take some getting used to, but it’s the best we have for now.

At first I was skeptical of holding silent Quaker worship via Zoom. I mean, sitting in silence in a room full of Friends is one thing, but doing so with my laptop on the coffee table in front of me is another. Nevertheless, Dave and I sat on the couch and clicked the link our host had sent. This time was an experiment with the Ministry & Worship Committee and a few others for a trial run. As people joined, their smiling faces popped up on the screen. We were welcomed and given instructions. Run your cursor over the screen to view the mute button in the bottom left corner (it looks like a microphone). Click on it to mute yourself as we settle into worship (you will see a diagonal red line appear across the microphone). If you have a message to share, click the mute button again to allow your voice to be heard, give your name and your message. Then mute yourself again and settle back into silence. All properly muted, we began to center down. I closed my eyes and was surprised how much like worship in the meeting room this felt. A Friend spoke and her face moved to front and center of the screen. Others were arrayed in small squares along the top of the screen with an arrow indicating how to access the rest of the lineup. I opened my eyes to watch her face as she quoted Teresa of Avila, a message of being of service to others. I settled back into silence. One couple had apparently not figured out how to mute themselves so I could hear shifting in the chair and other noises from their room. Sadly, when one of them felt moved to speak, she muted herself. Then we were cut off. The Zoom free session is 40 minutes long. We had miscalculated.

Lengthy email conversations followed in the next few days. We decided we liked this method of worship enough to open a low cost basic account to allow a longer time. An invitation went out to the Meeting as a whole to join us next Sunday. And we’re off.

The next experience I had was with a Voices Chorus rehearsal via Zoom. Our Voices president, with a premium Zoom account, set this up for us. Our conductor and accompanist gathered at his church while the rest of the small group of 16 joined from their living rooms. He used his Verizon phone hot spot to get online, and we began. Dave and I sat at the dining room table in good light with music in hand. Because there is a time lag of a few seconds, we were not able to sing together. We each muted our sound and sang along as Stephen conducted. Of course I, a soprano, was singing next to Dave, a baritone, and had the challenge of holding my part while hearing his part. I discovered a button at the top right of the screen that let us go to gallery mode. This gave a mosaic of small squares of faces of those on the call. Even if we couldn’t hear each other, I enjoyed seeing the faces of my fellow choristers. Singing for me is soul food. Despite being unable to hear the group as a whole, I found it refreshing. After we worked on several pieces, we all unmuted ourselves for evaluation. We agreed this is better than nothing. We will invite the entire chorus of 100 people for next Tuesdays regular rehearsal. This should be interesting.

Ah, technology, what a gift. To see our friends while we self-quarantine at home. A fellow singer called this a choirantine and gave us all a good laugh. Another friend told me that Zoom is our new best friend. I agree.

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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: May the Forest Be With You

Sheltering at home has its challenges. Even sleeping later, we accomplish our morning routine with lots of time left to fill. I read the newspaper (yes, I still get the paper) and read several sites online. The news is, shall I say, far from uplifting. It is downright depressing. When I consider the problems with adequate testing for corona-virus, my blood pressure rapidly elevates. The WHO had test kits we refused. South Korea took them and managed to test 10,000 people a day, allowing them to track the spread and quarantine appropriately. They are far ahead of us in containing this pandemic. Instead, we are all shutting down, staying home, and engaging in endless social distancing as people lose jobs and restaurants offer take out only. Don’t get me started.

Fortunately, as I checked my email, I found a newsletter from Michael Yapko, Ph.D. When I was in practice as a clinical social worker, I attended several of his workshops and trainings in Erickskonian Hypnosis. I learned a lot from him. Reading his words, I got reminded to focus less on these overwhelming problems I have no control over and turn my focus to what I can control. Ah, yes! I knew this.

I start with tidying the kitchen. How do all these little items accumulate so quickly? I throw away used napkins and tea bag envelopes, empty the dish drain, wipe the counters. Then I notice my droopy plants and water them. I pause to admire my work and notice I feel better.

Yesterday the phone rang at 8 am. “Are you expecting me today?” It was Toby, our house cleaner.

“Yes indeed!” I replied. I figured a clean house was top priority these days.

She was grateful. “A lot of my clients have cancelled.” When she arrived, she immediately washed her hands thoroughly in the sink and set to work. We are all symptom-free and kept the recommended distance from each other. Now we have a clean house. When I bid her adieu at the from door, I saw blue sky and felt warm temperatures. What a nice day!

I asked Dave if he wanted to go for a walk in the woods. Paddy, our 90 lb. Black Lab mix, heard the word “walk” and began dancing. We piled into the car and headed out to Whitfield Road. The first entrance to Duke Forest had a half dozen cars lining the road so we chose the second with one car. It’s my favorite hike and leads to what I call the Magic Forest where there’s a concrete bridge across New Hope Creek and high bluffs across the stream. I’ve been coming out here forty or more years. I feel like I’m in the mountains far away from civilization. We passed a couple pushing a stroller on their way out. The tiny toddler hollered “Doggie!” as we passed. Timid Paddy panicked and tried to pull Dave away from the eager little one. He’s a natural at social distancing. We barely saw anyone else. What a lovely place to practice social distancing. Trees were mostly bare but beginning to bud.

We left the main trail at the concrete bridge, stepping over roots and rocks, to walk along the creek. The path was clearly marked with blue circles on the trees. Paddy got his nose stuck several times, delirious with the smells he found. Green leaves peeked up along the trail. Dave thought these were called trillium, but neither of us has a memory for plant names. Whatever they are called, we enjoyed seeing them. The water gurgled over rocks in the shallow water. Then we came to a quiet expanse of creek with not a ripple on the water. We paused a moment to let our souls expand then paused another moment when we reached more gurgling water.

By the time we turned back, I was warm enough to have to take off my sweatshirt and carry it. At home, Paddy made a bee-line to his water dish. Next time we must remember to bring his collapsible bowl in addition to our water bottles. This had been a soul-refreshing break. All my troubles seemed to have faded away inhaling the fresh air and listening to the song of the forest. I felt happily tired and ready for a long nap.

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