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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Life in the Time of Coronavirus

I can sleep as long as I want. Nothing to get up for anyway except the usual morning routine of washing, dressing, making coffee, walking the dog. Dave feeds him while I cook breakfast. While we eat, we listen to NPR describe the ongoing crisis in parts near and far. When breakfast is finished, I move to the recliner in the living room with my tablet and read from various online sources further developments. Dave cleans the kitchen and soon joins me. Before long, I have had enough news. It all blurs together into one comprehensive crisis with true leadership coming mainly from local and state public servants.

“Shall we meditate?” I ask. It has become our morning habit: to light a candle on the bedroom dresser and sit in our chairs by the two windows on either side of it. He starts the online timer for twenty minutes and we settle in. A few slow deep breaths bring me to myself. I am tired, deeply tired. The past two months have been full of unusual family stress, people dying, getting sick, marriages breaking up or not, offering what help I can, waking at 4 am with worry. I feel grateful for my ever patient trustworthy mate. Maybe a time of retreat will be good. Inside my mind, I repeat the familiar phrases, focus on those closest to me: May I be well, may I be free from suffering, may I have the ease of well-being, may I be happy, may I be free from all forms of danger and harm.

Later I have a hair appointment. My hairdresser and I have an email conversation about whether to postpone my hair cut. I suggest continuing with thorough hand washing by both of us. She agrees. After all, this is her livelihood. My hair has already been washed so it doesn’t take long. She wets it just enough and snip snip it’s done. Then blow dry and pay. I use a card rather than cash. She provides a wet wipe for me to clean my card and hands. I even wipe my phone screen which is over due. We wish each other to stay well and I leave.

Over lunch, we decide to give a donation to the Interfaith Council for Social Services. We recognize our privileged position. We are retired and comfortable. The homeless, the poor and hungry people in our community will surely be hardest hit by this crisis.  I go online to their website and in a few clicks I’m done. It’s so easy.

I’m 72 now and enjoy time after lunch to rest. I write in my journal my reflections of the day then pick up my latest novel. I don’t really nap but, if my eyes grow heavy, I close them. The novel I’m reading is a sad one, The Gathering by Anne Enright. I don’t mind at all when I sink into a brief oblivion. Maybe it will end on an uplifting note. I’ll find out soon, maybe tomorrow. I’m almost finished. Then I’ll choose another. With one click, I can buy it on my Kindle. It’s so easy and, yes, another sign of my privilege. And yes, humans have been through such times before. I reflect on the mystery of being taken down for a time by something we cannot see.

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Fifty Shades of A Female Fantasy

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has turned out to be quite a phenomenon as it explores a hot topic (pun intended). Since the movie came out, there have been even more reactions to the story of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. Reading a few of these, I’m not convinced that those reacting have read any or all of the entire trilogy. I myself might have been dissuaded from reading it by all the negative hype if a therapy client of mine hadn’t told me about it. I had read part of the first book and put it down because it was–how shall I say this–quite erotically stimulating. (It also reminded me, a post-menopausal woman with a sleepy libido, that I’m not dead yet. Hooray!)

When my client mentioned it–even said she owned the books and was reading them for the second time– I asked her to tell me more. “He changed his entire life so he could be with her,” she told me. Wow. I picked them up again. I have just finished reading the third book.

This story is a female fantasy, or, in other words, a wish, a longing, a dream for one’s life. They come in as many forms as there are human beings. When a dream becomes a fantasy it gets filled out into a story. It’s not something you actually expect to come true but it sure does feel good to imagine.

Female fantasies are often about relationships. Think about a mistreated stepdaughter forced to sweep the cinders on the hearth while her two stepsisters go to the Prince’s Ball . Through the magic of her fairy godmother, she goes to the ball, meets the prince and—you know the rest— they get married and live happily ever after. Yes, a fairy tale.

Or Anastasia Steele, an inexperienced, new college graduate who meets Christian Grey, five years older, handsome, fit, rich and very interested in her. Contrary to what you may have heard, they do not begin an abusive relationship. When he learns that he would be her first sexual partner, he sets aside his BDSM practices and suggests they begin by making love. Melting at the thought, she agrees. Her first sexual experience leads to her first intensely pleasurable orgasm and then to several more as the night goes on. Now she knows what all the fuss is about! Yes, it is a fantasy. A woman’s first sexual experience does not always result in even one intensely pleasurable orgasm. But wouldn’t it be great if it did?

Thus they begin to negotiate what kind of relationship they might have. He presents a lengthy legal contract for her to sign her agreement to engage in a dominant-submissive relationship with him, which is all he knows. Bewildered and despite her nearly overwhelming desire for him, she refuses to sign. What she really wants is to get to know him better and have him as her first regular boyfriend. That could have been the end of it, but they each find the other fascinating. So they continue to talk.

Finally, she decides to try it a bit, to let him do what he wants to do. He gets carried away and hurts her. Ouch! She breaks off the relationship, making it clear she will not be his submissive, and goes home. For five days they don’t see each other. Both are miserable. In his misery, he rethinks his whole way of relating. To him, there is something special about her. He doesn’t understand it but he can’t quite walk away. He decides to give up his BDSM habits, if that’s what it will take to win her back.

Just as the prince pursued Cinderella, he pursues her. He begins to enter her world, offering to escort her to an event he knew she planned to attend: the opening of her friend’s art show.

Reluctantly over time, he answers her questions about his past. She learns he was severely abused as a child; his mother was a crack whore with a violent pimp. He has scars on his chest he won’t let anyone touch. After his mother died, he was adopted by a wealthy family and saved from that destructive environment. As a teenager, however, he was seduced by one of his adoptive mother’s friends and taught to be her submissive. Their dominant-submissive relationship lasted years. He is a deeply wounded man.

And here is another aspect of a female fantasy: will Ana be the woman whose love heals his childhood wounds? Hearing all this, she is filled with compassion for him. As he trusts her with more of his story, they grow closer. He lets her touch him—physically and emotionally— in ways no one ever has. She comes to understand that his controlling tendencies operate as a protective defense. She loves him but she is not a woman to be controlled by a man. As she asserts her independence, they struggle.

And next another aspect of a female fantasy is revealed: Christian is a man willing to seek help. He has a psychiatrist and even gives Ana his permission to meet with him. She wants to know how wounded is Christian, can he be healed? Dr. Lynch reassures Ana, advising her to be patient and to give Christian the benefit of the doubt.

He protects her from danger, something women also fantasize about:  from one of his former submissives who has a psychotic break and comes after Ana with a gun and from Ana’s boss who tries to sexually assault her. Their relationship continues and deepens as they deal with these crises. Christian strives to protect her, providing her with security in the form of his trusted bodyguards. At times she rebels from being guarded, believing he is being over-controlling, which leads to more danger and more exciting reading.

To repeat: this story is a female fantasy. And what do many women (okay, what do I) fantasize about? A marriage proposal. Christian realizes he needs to propose to her to keep her in his life. Completely taken by surprise, Ana tells him she has to think about it. Eventually she says yes. They announce their engagement at his family birthday party. His family—parents, brother, sister—respond with great joy and embrace her as one of the family. His mother’s evil friend— whom no one knew abused him as a teenager— is at the party. She scoffs at their engagement, which exposes to his family the nature of their former relationship. As a result, she is banished.

The fantasy continues: they have a wedding and a three week honeymoon in Europe. He buys her a beautiful home with a beautiful view of the water and renovates it to her specifications for them to live in. She becomes strong enough in her own power to confront the interior designer, a sexual predator, who makes a play for Christian.

Throughout this story, they have frequent and mutually pleasurable lovemaking sessions. The author leaves little to the reader’s imagination and seems to want to demonstrate that women do enjoy erotic passion in a monogamous relationship. (Yes, we do.) Ana’s love becomes the salve that heals Christian’s wounds and transforms him into a loving family man. Ana’s sexuality blossoms under his erotic attentions. Her confidence and personal empowerment grow under the lamp of his love and care.

And so they live happily ever after. It’s the perfect fantasy. I submit that its popularity stems from this fantasy aspect. Women enjoy reading a story that shows their fantasies can come true, that love will last, will heal our wounds and provide a sanctuary where we can grow and be loved for who we really are. When I read this story, I look at my partner (now my fiancé) and remember that he truly is my dream come true. After disappointment and heartbreak, divorce and life as a single parent, I have found the shelter of his arms. And I want to pour my love into him as he pours his into me and watch amazed as we both blossom into more of who we really are. And I want to cherish the time we have left in this third chapter of life and enjoy our love in the way we both like best.

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It’s that time of year again!

 

 

 

 

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” goes the old song.

 

But is it? It can also be the most stressful time.

 

Your to-do list gets longer. Besides the usual work and chores of daily living, there are gifts to buy, cards to write, Christmas tree to buy and decorate, outside Christmas lights to hang if you’re to keep up with the neighbors, boxes of dusty decorations to pull from the shelves and find a place for, special baking and cooking, parties to attend or host. The list goes on and on.

 

Christmas asks the questions: “Where do I belong? Who is my family?” The season propels you down a dark chute of memories of every other Christmas you’ve ever had and of images of whom you spent it with who may be long gone.

You recall that moment as a child when you woke up, sat on the top step of the staircase with five steps to a landing with a window then five more steps down the opposite direction. You saw reflected in that window your dad downstairs assembling your bicycle and you knew finally with certainty what you had suspected–that Daddy is Santa Claus!

As an adult, you may recall, as you lift an old ornament from the box, that little boy who turned an old jar top into an ornament with paper, scissors, pipe cleaners and glue who is now grown and, sadly, living too far away to come home.

That sudden cold snap with its dusting of snow may remind you of your first Christmas with your now ex-wife and the delight of being snowed in together, long before it all went so terribly wrong.

Or you recall the special oyster stew your mother made on Christmas eve and miss her terribly even though she’s been gone ten years.

Or you recall after your parents’ divorce how you had to divide your time between them and feel again the loss of the parent who is missing.

Our personal connections are fluid and ever changing. Awareness of what you now lack in the belonging department gets amplified at the holiday season. Family members grow up, move away, divorce, get sick, die.

 

Right now, an elderly cousin of mine is in the hospital following a serious stroke. He can’t talk or swallow. His family members are engaging in “hospital watch,” praying he will make it and spending their days at his bedside. This is not the Christmas they expected but it is the Christmas they have.

 

Choirs sing of peace on earth and good will to all. Yet the world seems sadly lacking in peace and good will: drones in far away places still hit their targets (and innocent bystanders), congress still engages in partisan bickering without doing much of anything constructive, and millions are still unemployed.

 

Just like my mood as I write this, it gets darker and darker for longer and longer as winter approaches. And the anticipation of visiting family is not always joyful.

 

If your elderly mother won’t stop harping at you for leaving church 40 years ago, you probably don’t want to go see her anyway. “Mother, I am a Buddhist now, get over it!”

 

If your parents have the same argument every year about when to get the Christmas tree– your dad wants to get it Christmas eve as tradition dictates, your mother begs him to get it earlier so you won’t be late for the Christmas eve service again! And they escalate til they’re yelling with no resolution in sight. So you not only get to church late but everyone is angry and upset when you get there. If this is your family, you might long for a gripping mystery novel and a closet to hide in.

 

Or perhaps Uncle Henry will predictably get soused and corner you after dinner, breathing bourbon breath on you, and demand to know why you voted for that Muslim from Kenya who should be impeached. And you’ve given up trying to explain your views so you declare an urgent need to use the bathroom where you lock the door behind you until he passes out.

 

Add your own scenario: there are many.

 

What is a poor soul to do?

 

Sit down right now wherever you are and take a slow deep breath. Then another and another. Feel your heartbeat gradually slow down as you do this. Close your eyes and remember—it may be dark outside and the dark memories of past holidays may be seeping steadily inside you, but the days are actually getting longer. Once we pass the Solstice around December 21, daylight slowly increases. It’s a paradox—the coldest days lie ahead but the light is slowly returning.

 

Turn your attention to what gives you light and joy and love. You get to choose.

 

Interesting fact: our brains are wired to notice bad things instantly (important because sometimes bad things can kill you). But it takes our brains 12 seconds to notice the good things. So you must be a good bit more intentional if you are to let the good things register. (Read more such fascinating tidbits in Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, Ph. D. and Richard Mendius, M.D.)

 

What gives you light?

 

What gives you joy?

 

Who do you love?

 

Take 12 seconds to notice.

 

Then sing another song: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”

 

12.16.2013

 

 

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