REAWAKENING

The seed catalogue advertised Mosquito Shoo Geraniums as a guaranteed, easy to grow repellant.  I had been considering signing up with an exterminator to douse the house with an anti-mosquito treatment. However, my children agreed that this “plant plan” sounded much more environmentally friendly. I ordered two bushes.

The spring rains have begun, a few perennials are beginning to emerge among the already present wild violets and dandelions, and the breeze carries the scent of flowering trees and bushes. I look over my small patio and visualize it as a canvas; the flowers I will plant are my pallet. Potting hurts my back, so I want hardy species that will survive into fall. I visit the local nurseries, thumb through seed catalogues, and consider my options.

So I wonder, amidst all this life in bloom: will I be an annual or a perennial?

REBIRTH

A hint of red glow

Brushed by sun on fairy wings

A field of purple

Jasmine scents the air

Leaves unfurl from winter sleep

Birds sing the sun awake

Seed catalogues arrive

Flocks winging north overhead

Bees buzzing loudly

REBIRTH

A hint of red glow

Brushed by sun on fairy wings

A field of purple

Jasmine scents the air

Leaves unfurl from winter sleep

Birds sing the sun awake

Seed catalogues arrive

Flocks winging north overhead

Bees buzzing loudly

As One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

“We don’t use volunteers,” the supervisor of the VA support services unit told me, dismissing my interest in counseling returning veterans on college choices. Of course you don’t, I thought as I left the office and headed across Main Street to the courthouse. How could you protect yourself from whistleblowers?

I was still fuming when I went inside the county clerk’s office, took out twenty-five dollars, and handed it to the clerk to register to run for the county school board. I had to do something with myself, and it was the last day to register to be a candidate in the May primary. I had no plans for a campaign, or even a desire to campaign beyond going to speak at League of Women Voters events. I thought that might be fun, but I wasn’t going to invest money in a campaign for fear I would vest my ego as well.

That was three and one-half years ago. No one was more surprised than I was when, in May of 2018, I won the election. In fact, I had gone to bed early on election night and was a bit miffed when the phone woke me at 11:00 p.m. It was the local paper wanting a comment. “You get comments from losers?” I asked. “No.” The man’s voice didn’t conceal a slight chuckle. “You won.”

Now, via a virtual board meeting, I will tender my resignation—a year early. I have relocated out of state and can no longer remain active on the board. Actually, in another two weeks, I will begin a new position with the local health department, assisting seniors and minorities to register for COVID-19 vaccinations. Just as before, I have to do something with myself…something with purpose.

They say that age is a state of mind. My state of mind is anything but seventy-eight unless I am restricted to my house with nothing but daytime TV to occupy my time. I can take only so many virtual tours, listen to so many Great Courses, read so many books, and make so many crafts. Real life demands real hands-on purpose. I hope that I am transitioning from one very fulfilling job to another.

Transitioning

The text said, “I just learned that Bruce transitioned yesterday. What a blessing he was in my life. No news of service or memorial.” A few moments later, the phone rang and I heard my friend’s voice say, “Sorry. That was cold to tell you in a text; thought I better call.”

I thanked her, hung up, and went to find a sympathy card in my basket. Anything to deal with the numbness brought on by the news. Bruce was a larger-than-life personality. Scholar, Renaissance man, athlete, and the kindest person I knew. Vigorous, humble, and confident, he was comfortable with everyone, holding court at Saturday breakfasts with the local intelligentsia. The dementia started almost as soon as he retired. He fought it every way he could until he told me one day, “I am no longer me.”

While we lived in the same college town, I saw him often, and then visited whenever I could; but those occasions became more infrequent over time. Finally, I resorted to finding colleagues to deliver a bag of White Castle hamburgers every few months.

I’m at peace with Bruce’s passing for his sake.

However, this was the second time in as many days that I heard the word “transitioning.” Another friend, whom I hadn’t seen or heard from since the pandemic began, also texted. In her message, she wrote, “I’m hanging in there, a day at a time. A couple of weeks after Bill transitioned, I got a big puppy, Sammy Small.” I inferred that she meant that her husband, Bill, had died, but I wasn’t at all sure. I had not heard that news so, before I responded, I checked in with some mutual friends who confirmed my guess.

Transitioning! It is not a word I am familiar with as a euphemism for “died.” I Googled it—of course I did. It refers to a term in palliative care, active dying. My friends used it to describe someone who has transitioned from this life to another. It’s a comforting way to think about death as a journey to something beyond. Unfortunately, I don’t share that belief. For me, death is the culmination of being. If I throw a little karma in there, I guess I’d like to believe a good life deserves an easy death—but, unfortunately, that is not generally the case.

So I try to live my fullest every day, to ease those I know “in transition” while I can, and comfort those whom they leave behind. I celebrate their lives and cherish their memories.

He passes away

Leaving this life for the next

Behind we stay sad

His is a journey

Ours is an enormous loss

He is free from pain

There was no goodbye

We send wishes on the breeze

He sends nothing back

We wait our turn now

Perhaps we will join with him

Perhaps we will not

Haiku

I thought I would feel different. Lighter somehow, younger somehow, more energetic—somehow. But I do not. I have no lasting negative side effects from my second vaccination, but there has been no miraculous elevation in my spirits, either. They soared after the first one. I felt a huge mix of relief peppered with a little guilt, optimism, and great expectations. Trump was defeated, Biden was sworn in, and I had my first vaccination. 

However, in the weeks and days since, Trump has been acquitted; my neighbors still have Trump banners hanging from their porches and signs littering their yards. People are still dying from COVID, and the world is not safe for humans or the planet they are supposed to protect. 

It feels like the shot is giving us a time-out rather than a cure. Something impermanent and vague. I remember feeling invincible at eighteen, impatient for life’s adventures. Sixty years later, I feel tired, unmotivated, and afraid of death.  

Maybe if the sun would shine.  

America

People learn to love

Trump is acquitted by fools

People are dying

Eighteen

Feeling invincible

Impatient for life’s journeys

Now I wait for death

The Shot

It feels like a time-out

Something impermanent, vague

Rather than a cure

Expectations

Later I feel tired

Maybe if the sun would shine

I would feel its glow

Good News

Trump was defeated

I had my first vaccination

Biden was sworn in

United We Stand

As far back as I can remember, I have loved seeing those huge parade flags streaming over a new car dealership, flapping in the wind. I liked hearing the clink of the chains and ropes that tethered the giant stars and stripes to the miles-high flagpole. I even remember feeling pride. However, I also remember that long ago I wished for a world without borders, without nationalism or xenophobia. As a Jew born in the midst of the Holocaust, I saw those attitudes as evil—as contributors to genocide and suffering.

When I think of Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand“,   I think about a global community fighting climate change, discrimination, slavery, and greed (as well as COVID-19).

However, in this post-Trump America, I also see a need to unite under the flag. Not in some MAGA malevolent hyper-patriotic way, but in a way that claims this country as ours, all of ours. I understand the reasons for taking a knee in protest against actions and policies that use the flag to divide rather than unite us, and I am not speaking against that kind of demonstration. What I am suggesting is that each and every one of us flies the flag; we must rescue it from the white supremacists, the xenophobes, and the isolationists and give it back to all Americans.

The government should distribute flags to every family counted in the 2020 census. Let’s not wait till the Fourth of July. Let’s not let the flag become a symbol of intimidation, disunity, and hate. When the flag once again becomes a symbol of hope and promise for all, it will really become a symbol of America.

Quiet vs. Noisy Immune Systems

The CDC had been putting out alerts for weeks about the possible side effects of the second vaccination. “New data on the Moderna and Pfizer novel coronavirus shots show that most people experience mild reactions after being vaccinated, particularly after the second dose. These reactions commonly include pain at the injection site and fatigue, headache, myalgia, and chills.”

I didn’t need to read CDC alerts, just tune in to the family’s weekly Zoom gathering and listen to my siblings, nephew, and nieces. David, my eldest brother, who is eighty-three, had no side effects with either the first or second vaccination. Brother Nat and his wife suffered all of the above-cited reactions and more. Nephew Elliot took Benadryl prior to his shot and Tylenol after it. He had no adverse symptoms.

So, I began preparations for a lie-in on the day following my second Moderna vaccination. I had my shot, didn’t feel it, had no redness at the site, and patiently waited for the onslaught of reactions. When bedtime arrived, there were still no reactions—none. Morning dawned without reactions—none. 

A grey, dull, misty day greeted me. Because it was dreary and uninspiring outside, I decided to make use of my post-shot survival plans and stay in bed. I took a Tylenol to be proactive, charged my phone so that I could monitor the latest impeachment activity, cooked a lovely rib-eye steak with an apple and garlic chutney for lunch, and prepared to retire to my bedroom for the rest of the day. It was a good thing, too, since I developed a migraine headache—not the worst I’ve had, but bad enough to put me to sleep for several hours.

My niece, Michelle, who took her shot five minutes after me, suffered chills all night and is abed with a miserable headache. I text Michelle happy emojis to keep her spirits up, and I alerted all my nervous septuagenarian friends that serious, unpleasant reactions are not inevitable. I am not a DC superhero, just a human with a quiet immune system response and a firm believer that 24 hours of nasty is a small price to pay for avoiding intubation and possibly facing death.

The moral of this little blog: Get your vaccinations. If you can’t navigate the system, ask for help and be persistent. This is not a matter to be left to fate. Do not tempt her. Karma is a bitch and does not appreciate being in charge of your decisions. Say yes, and in the words of Yoda, “Do it!”

Per Aspera ad Astra

In correspondence with a fellow writer, she said that she was considering writing a novel about the experiences of certain women during WWI. I told her that I seemed to do best writing from my life experience rather than research. I think that means I have a limited imagination, or perhaps I am just too lazy to do the required research. In any case, I keep churning out blogs, hoping my perspectives and interactions offer something useful to my readers.

I do read newspapers, and I listen to NPR. I keep up with world events, especially in places where I have friends. One of those places is Russia, where news of Navalny and large street protests fill the airwaves and news cycles. One Russian friend was sanguine about both the protests and the pandemic. In fact, he closed his email with “Per aspera ad astra,” meaning “through hardships to the stars.” Despite the unusually cold Russian winter, maybe there will be a democratic spring. Perhaps, despite the expected temporary after effects of the  second Covid-19 vaccination, there will be an infection-free spring worldwide (or at least a respite).

Nevertheless, just as it’s impossible to silence the election deniers here, as well as the anti-mask wearers and the anti-vaccine disciples, Putin will squash the protests in Russia, and we will continue to watch people die of the virus and stay incarcerated in our homes.

I may not be as confident about the future as my young Muscovite friend, but I did discover a new mantra: “Per aspera ad astra.” This morning, I put aside post-vaccination concerns about feeling aches, nausea, and fatigued, and I went for my second shot. I joked with the nurses, smiled at other masked elders sitting in the line of cars, and faced my destiny. I hope our democratic leaders will do the same.

When COVID Pushes You to the Edge and the Kindness of Strangers Brings You Back

My hair looked like it was combed with an egg beater. More precisely, it reminded me of a particularly poorly constructed robin’s nest under our deck, which was so badly put together that the babies kept falling out and crashing to the patio below. (We eventually constructed sides to hold the nest together, and momma bird learned to fly over the barrier and care for her remaining chicks.) However, I had a massage scheduled for 1:00 p.m. that usually included a scalp massage. I wore no makeup, a waste when you have to cover your face with a mask, and I was dressed in my COVID incarceration uniform—baggy sweats and a loose cotton top.

I decided to leave the house early, post some small valentine gifts I had made in my abundant spare time, and make a quick stop at the grocery store. It was there, while walking up the frozen food aisle, that I began to covet the idea of a cone of homemade ice cream. There were two ice cream parlors in the area, both serving pricey and delicious treats. Both were also very infrequent destinations, as I am always on a diet. One was on the way to my appointment, the other a mile in the wrong direction. I decided to stop at the nearest one. When I pulled into the parking lot, I observed several people coming out, laughing and talking. Oh good, it must be open. The temperature had climbed to 70 degrees, and it was almost ice cream weather.

Oh, no! When I reached the doors, they were locked. A sign proclaimed that winter hours were 2:00-5:00 p.m., Monday-Saturday. The sweet shop was connected by a small parking lot to an upscale grocer, that contained a café, and gift shop. I went there to look for ice cream in the freezers. The shelves held gallons of commercial brands, but nothing small.

I walked over to the café. “Can I help you?” the clerk asked, smiling. “Oh.” I said, not able to keep the desperation out of my voice. “I’m just so tired of being stuck inside. I only want a bit of ice cream, but the sweet shop is closed and you have nothing small in the freezer.” Her smile got wider. “I think I can help you with that. Just give me a second to find Jennifer. She has a key to the shop.”

We marched towards the side door where a young woman, presumably Jennifer, joined us. She walked me to the shop, unlocked the door, and met me at the counter. She began lifting the lids to all the cartons of ice cream and gelato. “Stop!” I said, alarmed by her effort when all I wanted was the smallest amount. “It’s okay,” she replied. “I’m opening up in an hour or so. Have you picked a flavor?” I wanted, craved, coconut chocolate almond. Because there was none, I chose chocolate swirl and watched her scoop out three large servings into a small cup. “I can’t eat all that!” I exclaimed.

“I know,” she said. “I’ll put back one scoop of this and give you a scoop of another flavor. What shall it be?” How doing that would reduce the amount, I could not fathom, but I shook my head in agreement and pointed to mint chocolate. Two scoops of mint chocolate went on top of the chocolate swirl. My stomach flopped over at the sight of all that lactose and sugar.  I reached for my wallet and the single $20 bill, since I was sure that this little treat would not be cheap.

I had the bill in one hand while reaching for the ice cream with my other. She was handing me the cup with one hand while raising her other hand like a stop sign. “No charge for you. Have a better day. Enjoy your treat,” she said as she came around the counter and began to walk towards the door.

“I have no one to share this good fortune with,” I said. “You need to share events like this.”

She smiled, opened the door for me, and locked it behind us. She headed across the parking lot to the store and I got in my car. The sun was shining, my car windows were open, and a warm breeze caressed my face. I ate every drop of ice cream. What I really savored, however, was the unexpected kindness of strangers. What a great day!

The Black Church and Me

Shirley Wilson joined the Atlanta Police Department at the same time that I did. We were both divorced and each had two young daughters. We became friends during our stint at the academy and shared the trials of being among the first policewomen in the department. (I almost used the word “force”—but that’s a story for another blog.) Shirley asked me to attend her daughters’ baptism, to be their g-dmother. I hadn’t personally attended any baptisms, and certainly none in a Black church. The size and depth of the baptismal font on the dais took me by surprise because the ones I’d seen in movies were like fountains. This swimming pool was to a fountain what a steamship is to a rowboat. I bordered on panic when the pastor submerged each girl fully under the water. And then they emerged.

They emerged to shouts of joyous hallelujahs, cries of “praise-be,” and more hand- and body-shaking than I had ever seen on the wildest roller coaster at Six Flags amusement park. The congregation’s response was deafening and exhilarating, and I got caught up in the spirit and the love.

I occasionally went to Black churches after that, especially when I lived in Richmond, Kentucky. There was no Jewish temple there, so I had joined a Unitarian-Universalist fellowship. Sunday morning services were more like Chautauqua lectures, and the hymns resembled a chamber music concert. Then a colleague of mine, who was pastor of the “quiet” Black church downtown, invited me to attend a service. He said it was quiet because it wasn’t a Holy Roller church; however, it was anything but quiet by UU standards—or even Jewish norms. The choir was magnificent . . . as were the hats the ladies wore. When I entered, I was greeted as a friend, as a member of the community. I could go there for comfort, for joy, for hope. But I also visited this church for another reason.

Every now and again I hosted a pair of Japanese exchange students who came to Eastern Kentucky University for six weeks, during which time they stayed with a host family over one or, time permitting, two weekends. They would arrive bearing a hostess gift, generally wrapped in paper that immediately told you they were not from the neighborhood. The paper was always subtle in color and design—entirely different from the bold, bright paper we Americans use that almost always has a design theme that gives away the occasion. Not so Japanese paper. I loved those little presents and I loved those weekends, when I would always take the students to the Black church.

I had two reasons for taking them there. The first was that it was a beautiful experience both musically and visually, and we didn’t need a ticket. Secondly, and more importantly, most often these youngsters came to the United States and my university without ever having met a Black person. Their only knowledge of Black Americans came from whatever movies, books, and TV shows they happened to come across growing up in Japan. I seriously doubted that I wanted to leave those images go unchallenged. Taking them to the Black church provided a visceral experience that demonstrated the true dignity and character of Black Americans.

It was my gift to them.

Police Reform

I was an Atlanta, Georgia police office in 1974 in the midst of huge civil rights reforms. Police shootings were down, recruitment of women and minorities was up, and “shoot/don’t shoot” policies were being churned out by the dozens. Discussions about Affirmative Action and EEOC were required across the country from schools to prisons. The Warren Supreme Court was handing out rulings supporting prisoners’ rights, and we cops were memorizing arrestees’ rights as stated in the Miranda decision. The fight against white supremacy was in over drive.

Where did all that white supremacy hate go? It didn’t dissipate or disappear; it just went underground, disguised and allowed to fester. Personally, I think that, within a decade, we began to see cracks in the sincerity of white liberals and white folks in general to stay the course. The consequences of the civil rights movement began to negatively affect both wealthy and poor white Americans, and they came to resent its reality. The Reagan presidency, starting in 1981, saw the beginning of the end of the civil rights experiment and the erosion of its short-lived progress. While explicit atrocities against racial and ethnic minorities were less frequent than they had been, lawsuits began to unravel public and private policies regarding anti-discrimination; ultra-conservatives were elected into office; military surplus found its way into civilian law enforcement agencies; and dark money funded hate groups and legal challenges to affirmative action.

The KKK might not be holding parades down the South Side of Chicago, but police shootings, the dismantling of affirmative action, barriers to gun research, and the rise in white supremacist and hate groups—to name but a few of the obvious examples—have risen again to alarming levels, based on the argument that the social contract implicit in the Constitution was created by white people for the sole benefit of white people.

Thus, I understand the calls for defunding police, police reform, and even the elimination of police departments. Under the social contract, we support the right of law enforcement to enforce laws and rules while giving up certain rights in exchange for protection of our basic civil rights and safety. When government fails to provide that protection for all of us, we are reluctant to obey its rules. Police have come to be seen by many as a tool of white supremacy. I don’t believe they are, but I do believe they can be used for this purpose if not reformed.

Police reform, yes; elimination of police, no.  Functioning police forces are essential for a functioning democratic society. We have overburdened policing with contradictory missions, unrealistic expectations, and both unworkable and ineffectual oversight. We have failed policing as policing has failed society. As we discuss and implement changes to the role of police in America, let us not in our frustration over-reach in our reactions and lose what is essential and repairable. Let us not forget the women and men who daily risk their lives to keep us safe. Let us give them clear and unambiguous guidelines while relieving them of tasks that we should assign to ourselves and our social institutions.