June 5, 2020

Today, June 5th, is National Doughnut Day. However, it’s not really about the doughnut. It is a day that honors the women from the Salvation Army who served on the front lines of World War I. The Salvation Army “lassies” made home cooked meals, including doughnuts, for the soldiers fighting in Europe. The doughnuts were made in hot oil inside the metal helmets of the soldiers. The “lassies” were the only women who served on the front lines except for military personnel. So, as you run to Dunkin’ for that celebratory doughnut today, remember it’s not really about the doughnut.


Working together apart

Recently I helped out a friend who is a columnist on workplace management issues in a business journal. She had received a question from a reader about how to maintain esprit de corps on a team that pre-COVID-19 worked together face-to-face in the same space. Now, of course, post-COVID-19, they are trying to figure out how to work together apart. The question asked how to restore the sense of esprit de corps that now seemed missing. It was a really good question. I decided to share my response to it here because it applies to a wide variety of businesses and organizations facing similar issues at this time. I hope it is useful to you as well.

The “esprit de corps” of a team is an intangible part of team culture. It is, like so many other effective work processes and elements of culture, dependent on the relationships between team members. In the good ol’ “normal times” (pre-COVID-19) those relationships were established and tended to on a daily basis through real-time, in-person, same shared space interaction. Therefore, when you got into team meetings, there was not a need to do as much relationship building because it was being handled outside the meetings. The strengths of Zoom, WebEx, Google Meet, Skype, and the other virtual meeting utilities is that we can still have real-time, in person interactions. However, what is missing is the same sense of shared space and physical presence, as well as the opportunity and time to build and tend to relationships outside the meeting space. 

So, what can you do about that since the virtual work environment is likely here to stay for quite some time?

  1. Slow down – allow extra time in your meetings for people to simply hang and chat if they wish. For example, start meetings 15 minutes early for people to gather and chat and/or keep the virtual room open for 15 minutes after the meeting. My spouse, who teaches online Spanish courses to groups of adults, has found it amazingly effective to allow her students this time to connect with one another. She has seen friendships continue to grow and a clear sense of group cohesion emerge. Alternatively, build into your meeting schedule some semi-structured interaction (see items #3 and #4 below). 
  2. At the same time, be sensitive to the length of the actual work portion of the meeting and remain open to the possibility of disruptions. Remember that you may have employees working at home but now they are also childcare providers and substitute teachers. If children do intrude in the meeting, keep a sense of humor and be gentle. Avoid shaming anyone with comments, eyerolls, or body language. Make your actual business meetings as long as they need to be. Generally, I do not have meetings longer than 2 hours in length. I prefer to keep them much shorter if possible. If you can make the meetings easier and friendlier to attend for those employees who are managing caregiving or teaching at home, it will benefit the whole team. 
  3. Introduce a “conversation starter” for use in the hang out times, until people begin to feel comfortable connecting on their own in the virtual space. For example, I facilitate a weekly group comprised of people from Hawai`i to New York, Ontario to Southern California, who did not know one another until I brought them together. In the first meeting of the group I introduced this conversation starter, taken from the conversation game Vertellis: What was the best compliment you ever received? During the first two or three weeks I introduced the question, but then participants began to offer conversation starters. Now, we don’t really need them, but people still like to do them, so we have one each week. It is a simple way of getting to know one another better. 
  4. Release your inner silly person. These are extraordinary times. Everyone knows that everyone else on the video conference is sitting there in their pajama bottoms, golf shorts, and, god forbid, underwear anyway, right? In this small way, everyone has already released their inner silly person in secret. Let’s take it up a notch by doing something silly together: for example, have everyone wear the same colors on a call; have everyone show up wearing their favorite hat and briefly explain why it is; set aside time for people to share “knock knock” jokes in the chat area; have everyone bring their favorite coffee or tea mug and explain why it is their favorite; and, have everyone use an alias on the video conference – the name of a famous person they admire, an actor, a well-known person in your field, etc. Here’s one I have used in at least two different groups. I ask members go to the website Public Radio Name Generator and generate their own favorite public radio name. Once in the Zoom conference (which is my preferred platform) they change their names to their public radio names. We go by them for the duration of that meeting.

COVID-19 has been an unprecedented disruption to how we do business and work together. I do not believe it will be easy to move into the emerging new normal. We have to dare to be different. Several of my clients are reporting to me that they are actually beginning to feel energized as a result of the lockdowns. They are creating, innovating, and learning new ways of doing their pre-COVID-19 work that they never would have or could have considered before. Frankly, we will be sleepwalking into disaster if we simply try to apply the “best practices” and “the way we do things around here” from the past in the new normal to come. I hope these suggestions will help you not only create a greater sense of “esprit de corps” among your team but also create an upgraded culture of innovation.


devin stone commentary

I stumbled across this guy, Devin Stone, earlier today. I found myself fascinated by his YouTube commentary on the events that took place earlier this week at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC. After listening to it, I did some research. He is a trial attorney in DC and also has a company, Legal Eagle, that helps people survive law school. The commentary that caught my attention is below. It is about 18 minutes long but I found it really interesting and I hope you will as well.


for your reflection

With appreciation to Hope Crenshaw of Teen Health Mississippi for drawing my attention to this bit of poetry of hope. Learn more here about the poem and its the author, Leslie Dwight.


spanish classes filling up…but there is still space!

Clemencia Vargas, my spouse, is still receiving registrations for ¡Charlemos con Clemencia!, Spanish classes taught in the communicative style. Classes begin for the Summer session on June 15. About half the available seats filled up in less than a week but there is still room now. If you’ve been following this blog even sporadically over the past three months you’ve probably met Clemencia here already. Her website now includes some testimonials so you can get a sense of how her students feel about her classes. The Summer session will include students from Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and, of course, Maryland. If you have a couple of extra minutes today, we invite you to watch this video about the benefits of learning Spanish.


Follow up…

Yesterday I encouraged you to consider a contribution to Teen Health Mississippi to help with the organization’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for youth. However, I did not include information on how to donate. Doh! Here now is a link to Teen Health Mississippi’s donation page. You can use the comment box to designate your gift to the Emergency Relief Fund for youth. Thanks!


Chickenman – Episode 49

The Wonderful Weekend White Winged Warrior is still suffering from amnesia and the delusion that he is, in fact, a real chicken. His efforts to lay an egg in the Policie Commissioner’s office have, so far, been unproductive…thankfully!


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep working for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 4, 2020

Today is June 4, National Cheese Day, an homage to fromage all day long! (So…I guess…that means…you know…it is also a day to cut the fromage?)

Tianemen Square to Lafayette Square

Today is also the 31st anniversary of what is known in China as the June Fourth Incident. Here in the U.S. we know it as the Tianamen Square Massacre.

At this moment we have a stand off between Federal forces and protesters in LaFayette Square in Washington, DC. Frankly, it is a bit difficult to tell the two apart. Take a look at the two pictures below. The first is Tianamen Square. Your clue is that this is now an iconic photo from that standoff which you’ve likely seen before. Of course, if more mature leadership doesn’t prevail in the White House, the second, from just outside LaFayette Square, could also become iconic.

Source: Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/126732527; Photo by Jeff Widener
Source: Retrieved from Bloomberg.com, June 4, 2020

As the protests at Tianamen Square were building in the Spring of 1989 I was getting ready for summer camp. In June I was at camp. No, not as a camper but as the director of the summer youth camping program. It was a Quaker camp and, as Quakers tend to be, we were very conscious of what was happening in the world, even while we were retreating from it at summer camp. Of course, in 1989 we didn’t have Smartphones nor did we have much access to the internet so we couldn’t stay connected 24/7/365. We did, however, have access to the daily news. We followed the protests and standoff in China with grave interest. Our interest turned to horror as the massacre began on June 4th.

It touched all of us – directors, counselors, staff, and youth. To process what we had witnessed, we decided to have an activity in which counselors and youth together would create posters and artwork to symbolized our care and concern for the protesters and solidarity with them.

I wonder…would any of us then ever have believed we’d be at a place today, in 2020, when we are holding our breath and hoping we don’t have our own LaFayette Square massacre? I wonder, too, what will we remember and memoralize about this day on future June Fourths?


View the Webinar: Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership

On June 2nd I joined Liz Weaver for a conversation in a Tamarack Institute webinar. If you were not able to be a part of the webinar live (it was over subscribed!), you can still view it here. Be sure to check out the other webinar resources from Tamarack Institute. Co-CEOs Liz Weaver, Paul Born, and their staff have been terrific partners with Tenacious Change LLC over the past few years and I feel honored to have been able to do this webinar with them. I love their work and their thinking! If you haven’t met them before, now is the time!


stories of covid-19

Hope Crenshaw, PhD leads Teen Health Mississippi in Jackson. On March 13 & 14, as the country was beginning to go into “lockdown” because of COVID-19, I was with Hope, her Board of Directors, and staff in Jackson and we were working on a new strategy plan for the organization. As we met we had no idea how severely COVID-19 would impact everyone and everything.

One of the things that leaders do in the midst in crisis is consider how their mission fits with the need of the moment. As Hope and her team saw COVID-19 roll into Mississippi they began to think about the needs of the youth they serve and develop a plan to help.

They quickly recognized that the impact of the pandemic on youth was not a priority for planners. Yet they knew that closures would mean that many youth would lose their seasonal and part-time jobs. For these young people the jobs meant they could save for college, help out their family, or even just simply eat. Though Teen Health Mississippi is an organization with the mission to provide youth with full, complete, and honest sex education, they knew the lack of income might also put some young people at sexual risk.

In response Teen Health Mississippi started the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for youth. Their goal is to award at least $100,000 in emergency relief to Mississippi youth. To date they have received nearly 4,000 applications for help and they’ve awarded over $7,000 in assistance to 125 of the neediest youth. As they consider the applications, here is what they are learning about the youth who are applying:

  • 63% are experiencing food insecurty
  • 41% are experiencing homelessess
  • 32% lack the proper technology for distance learning to stay in school

I know the needs are great at this time everywhere. You may already be doing a lot in your community to help meet the needs created by COVID-19 and to help right the wrongs of racial injustice. Still, I ask that you consider helping Teen Health Mississippi if you are able. In 2020 the State of Mississippi remains the poorest of these United States. For this reason, their need may be even greater than the rest of the country.

I have had the honor of working with Hope, her staff, and her board for over 2 years now. I know them very well. I can recommend them and this cause to you without reservation. Clemencia and I are planning to make a contribution to this fund to help them get to their $100,000 goal. It won’t be as much as we’d like to do, but it will be something and it will help. Thank you for your consideration.

To learn more about Teen Health Mississippi, visit its website, of course, but also learn more about the fund:


A clarification

A few weeks back I invited you and other readers to this blog with the promise that it would not be a partisan space. It may not always seem that way because I have been pretty outspoken, especially in the midst of the protests, against the presidency of Donald Trump. Let me explain: I do not consider criticizing Trump to be a partisan act, even though he identifies as a Republican (well, at least right now…he has changed his party affiliation five times since 1987).

There is a big difference in speaking out against the presidency of Trump and against or for any political party. History is going to report that Trump was not a Republican but a self-absorbed demogogue who would align himself with any party so long as he thought there was a personal benefit. He’d be a Democrat today if he thought it would have a greater benefit to him.

The realization that Trump is not a Republican is a fact that many Republicans are coming to, such as those in the Lincoln Project and Republicans Voters Against Trump, which launched its first national ad last week.

Why do I speak harshly about Trump at all? Why not just ignore him? Well, I’ve tried doing that. Unfortunately my conscience won’t let me. The line I use to describe my consultancy, Tenacious Change LLC, is this: Animating people, organizations, and communities to lead change for the greater good. This is a mission anchored in a clear ethical and moral understanding of our purpose in this world. It is to work for the greater good of all and that also requires us to stand for the greater good. To do anything less is to live an incongruent, divided life. Therefore, when I see the lawlessness of the president and the harm that is being done to so many by Trump, it is no longer ethical or moral for me to remain silent.

I mentioned in a blog last week that I have a diverse group of friends and, yes, that means politically as well. In my circle of friends, colleagues, clients, and collaborators most identify as either Republicans or Democrats but some have different political leanings from these. I hold ideas and viewpoints in common with each of them and I care about each person. I must confess though that I care a bit more for my Republican friends at this moment because I believe many of them are suffering deeply over Trump.

To be clear, when I write about Trump, I’m not writing about all Republicans. I know the differences among the Republicans. I know there are those who are just as appalled and disgusted by Trump as I am. I know there are those who follow him because he is an accomplished liar and they’ve been truly deceived into following. I know there are those who mistakenly yet truly believe he represents Republican values. I know there are those which are merely his “toadies” and who are following him to get whatever promises he has made to them. I know there are those who feign followership because they know they can use his inexperience and incompetence to their advantage.

I also know all of this may seem like splitting hairs to some of my readers. However, I can see a clear distinction and will do my best to continue to make that distinction in this space.


Chickenman – Episode 48

Uh, oh, Chickenman struggles to regain his memory after a big bump on the head. Even worse, the Police Commissioner is trying to help him. If it seems that only Ms. Helfinger has a clue about anyting in this series, you are right.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing you mask, and keep justice, peace, and health in your heart.

Tom

June 2, 2020

Today is National Rocky Road Day in celebration of that wonderful ice cream treat. If you don’t have any of the tasty treat you can make your own. Just add almonds or pecans, mini marshmallows, and chunks of semi-sweet chocolate to your favorite ice cream. Enjoy!


Chickenman – Episode 46

Benton Harbor is forced to reveal his secret identity as Chickenman when his shoe store is robbed. Thanks to a stuck zipper, he is kept out of harms way, but he is still missing some change.


Advice your mom gave you for a pandemic

On Mother’s Day I posted some advice that a mom would give her children when they were young that would still be good advice in a pandemic. I asked people to share some of their ideas. This one came in just the other day from a reader in Hawai`i but with a slightly different slant: Advice from your mother that you shouldn’t follow during the COVID-19 pandemic:

See a penny, pick it up; All the day you’ll have good luck.

See a pennny let it lay; You’ll have bad luck all through the day.

I thought of it when I was at a bus stop the other day and saw a penny on the ground. All my life, I’ve picked up those pennies. But that day, I left it.

Judith, Kaneohe, HI

I could never imagine it

My son and I meet for the first time. We couldn’t talk so we just stared at each other.

When I first met my son, I could not imagine what life would bring to us or bring us to. In the first moments of our first meeting we were both speechless. For his part, he hadn’t yet learned to talk. For my part, I was overwhelmed.

As he grew I introduced him to many of life’s greatest pleasures for an infant and toddler – oatmeal, piggy back rides, pancakes of various varieties, and “All Star Baby Wrestling” which always found him on top of my chest pinning me to the mat. He would giggle hysterically.

Later, as he went off to pre-school then “real” school, we would play more sophisticated games and I would read to him. In fact we made it through all seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. He has since read them for himself a few times over.

We had the usual father-son run in’s, complete with temper tantrums. Mine didn’t last quite as long as his, usually. The Famous Tantrum, that still gets told – with only a little embellishment – at family gatherings or other events where we “tell tales” on each other, is the one that occurred in Target.

As he grew into a teen, it was obvious already that he was going to be a pretty good guy. He was fun, funny, caring, and curious. School was never easy for him but he was an extremely smart, disciplined student, and he persevered with wonderful success.

I got to see him fall deeply in twice. The first time it was with the woman he married last September.

In all the time my son was growing up I could never imagine it would be necessary to tell him how to act if he was ever stopped by the police. In fact, I didn’t…because I didn’t have to. He has always been, like me, generally quite polite, respectful of authority, and very white.

That brings me to the second time he fell in love. He is a social worker and he was working in child welfare. He got three very young black children assigned to his caseload. From the moment he became their caseworker, he was smitten. I knew because he couldn’t stop talking about them. We’d meet for dinner and all he could talk about were the three children – the diapers he had changed in Wendy’s, the ice cream he bought and which got dropped in his car, and the funny things they would say to him. His tiny car was outfitted with car seats and he transported them throughout the area to their appointments, supervised visits with their birth-mother, and back to their foster parents.

The first victory he had with them was finding a foster home placement where all three could be together. If you are familiar with child welfare social work, you know that sometimes children have to be split up into foster homes due to no fault of theirs. My son worked extra hard to find a family that would take all three, and he did.

When it was determined that their birth-mother was no longer able to safely care for them, assure their well-being, or help them grow and develop normally, parental rights were terminated and the three were adopted.

My son’s second victory, and theirs, was that the children were all adopted by that same foster family. For a social worker, this was hitting the trifecta of child welfare work: three kids saved from a dangerous situation; placed in the same foster home; and adopted into the same forever family.

What the children didn’t realize at that time, though, is that they got far more than just that family. They got my son and his future wife. Since that adoption my son and, now, daughter-in-law have continued to stay in touch with the children and their family. They visit on holidays and birthdays, with gifts in tow.

Last September, when my son and his wife got married, the three children were at the wedding. Besides the bride and the groom, they had the most important roles in the wedding. They were the flower girl and ring bearers.

We had not actually met them until the wedding rehearsal last September. We understand how he was smitten now because we were smitten by the children and their parents. My son and his spouse do not have biological children, but they are not childless. And, of course, that means we have grandchildren!

Unfortunately, the parents of these three beautiful children will have to do what I could never imagine doing with my son. They will have to teach them how to be black while playing, walking, shopping, running, driving, and simply living.

It is not something my son, his spouse, or I can ever teach them because we do not know the experience of living while black in America. Even more, we could never imagine it.

And that’s the problem isn’t?

We can never imagine it but we can care more. We can care more and watch the horrific videos on the news of black, Latino, Native American, Asian, and other minority and marginalized people experiencing that which we can never imagine. Onto their faces we can transpose the faces of people we know and care about and then ask, “What if that person were my son, my daughter, my mother, my father, my friend…how would I feel? How would I react? What would I want to do?”

When I saw the video of George Floyd under the knee of the Minneapolis cop, I saw the father of these three children. As I continued to look, I could see the face of my friend Kevin. As I looked even closer I could see the faces of those three children who are now a part of our lives. I could never imagine my son in that position, but I can imagine them.

Our limited imagination continues to make us white folks sick. And that means the pandemic of racism continues to infect the America we have created for our benefit…for our privilege…for our white privilege. Our recovery depends on our ability to see more clearly. It depends on our ability to imagine the unimaginable in other’s lives.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your masks, and keep trying to imagine the unimaginable.

Tom

Day 76 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Tomorrow will be my last in the series “Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place.” In it I’m going to reflect on this 77 day journey and give you a sneak preview of what happens next. I hope you will join me.

Saturday, May 30, 2020 – Live to Blog…Humbled by Beauty and Love

We had coffee again this morning with Alonzo and Starlee. They were camping in one of the most beautiful spots in the world this weekend and we connected on Zoom via their cell phone. The connection was remarkably good! Many people wouldn’t think the place they are camping is so beautiful. There were no mountains, no waterfalls, no beach nothing at all very exotic. However, there were no signs of human existence in their line of sight or within earshot, the stars glow and dance in an endless night sky, and they are serenaded by a symphony of nature sounds we could hear and enjoy even over Zoom. The Great Plains is a place of extaordinary beauty that too many people simply fly over. It has a kind of beauty that is so humbling. In a thousand ways it points to something so much greater and more significant than us. Thank you, Alonzo and Starlee, for sharing the sights and the sounds of where you are sheltering-in-place this weekend.


A Follow-Up on the Day 74 Blog

On Day 74 of this blog I wrote a posting about my own ongoing journey out of racist conditioning. In that posting I told the story of my friend Kevin and his role in my journey. I don’t believe Kevin knew he actually had a role until he and his spouse, Julie, read the post. He was simply being a friend and colleague to me. Actually, that was probably more powerful than any intervention he could have dreamed up.

My follow up to that blog is to share, with their permission, Kevin and Julie’s responses to it. Each sent me notes via Facebook messenger shortly after reading it. I asked if I might share these with you because I realize the blog leaves people to wonder, “What of Kevin?”

As you will see, Kevin is less expressive than Julie but he is thoughtful and makes his words count. Julie is eloquent and heartfelt in her response. However, what each wrote to me touched me deeply and, frankly, reduced me to tears.

From Kevin:
Nicely said. Being aware is good. Living your life with the works of caring to make a difference is another. You are living your life with the works that prove you are and have made a difference. I still have work to do in this area myself. Blessing to you Tom! And thank you!

From Julie:
Tom, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated the article you shared with Kevin this morning. In 28 years with my beautiful black husband there have been so many occasions when I have witnessed racism and white privilege.

I have experienced emotions that range from anger, to frustration, to sadness, to pity for such ignorance. I am about as closely related to the black experience as a person can be. And yet, at the end of the day, Kevin’s skin is still black, and mine is still white. Friends who I love say things like, “I don’t see color,” which, to me says one of two things: The person is blind – or they absolutely DO see color! Otherwise why make the statement? I love you, Tom, for being in the struggle. Recent events shine a bright light on the fact that racism is alive and well and on the rise. I am so grateful for your honesty and your willingness to admit your struggle. It brings me to tears to hear a voice that speaks to the reality of the struggle. We hear these voices so seldom.

A book that has enlightened my mind and encouraged me to stay in the good fight is Tears We Cannot Stop (a sermon to white America) by Michael Eric Dyson. Perhaps you have already read it. If not, I highly recommend it. I have offered to lend my copy to several of my white friends. To date, not a single one has taken the offer. Not one.

Thank you again, Tom. You have given me hope today…I confess that I often feel pretty hopeless in the current environment. I have said more than once in the past 3+ years: I would not be surprised to see a burning cross in our yard. I would be terrified, mortified…but not surprised.

Sending love to you and Clemencia.

Thank you, Kevin and Julie, for being our friends, for being so congruent in your lives, for your humbling love, and for letting me share it here.


A Couple of Nudges

Nudge #1: In just a couple of days I’ll be doing a Tamarack Institute webinar with my friend and colleague, Liz Weaver, who is Co-CEO of Tamarack. The webinar is titled Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership and it will feature a conversation between Liz and me exploring these topics, with an opportunity for you to be a part of the conversation as well. The webinar is happening on Tuesday, June 2 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM Eastern via Zoom and it is FREE! Please act today to register for it. You sign up here. When last I heard, over 400 webinar seats have been filled, but there are still plenty available.

Nudge #2: ¡Charlemos con Clemencia! is now receiving registrations for the Summer Session, June 15-September 4. This is Clemencia’s website and teaching Spanish to adults is her baby. I admit that I’m a bit biased when it comes to how I view her skills. Still, I’ve spent a good portion of my life in front of audiences as a trainer, workshop leader, and public speaker and I know what it takes to do it well. (That is not to say I have always done it well, just that I know good when I see it.) Clemencia is good! She is one of the best I’ve seen in front of an audience. Learning Spanish with Clemencia is an experience.

I hope you will check out the website, watch the other two brief videos in which Clemencia explains how the classes work. We invite you to consider whether you, or someone you know, is ready for an experience in learning Spanish.

The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 43 – The Winged Warrior is called upon to help the Mayor of Midland City retrieve a valuable possession which has been lost…is that stolen?

The View from Jeff

Jeff explains: I’m not sure if the shields are 100% germ proof, but they are at 65% sound proof. As a result I find myself unintentionally talking over them (at 6’3” I am tallish enough to not have stuff designed for my height).

Tomorrow – Day 77

Tomorrow will be my last in the series “Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place.” In it I’m going to reflect on this 77 day journey and give you a sneak preview of what happens next. I hope you will join me.


Stay safe. Be well. Keep calm. Keep washing your hands. Keep wearing your mask. And keep coming back, especially tomorrow to learn what is next.

Tom

Day 75 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

We are fighting two pandemics simultaneously. One is COVID-19 and one is racism. Through science and medicine there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the former. There appears to be no light but a deep, dank, never ending tunnel for the latter.

Friday, May 29, 2020 – Live to Blog with A Little Good News

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

Today we learned two things. First, overnight there were no new COVID-19 deaths in Prince George’s County where we live. Second, the County Executive is going to move our county into Stage 1 opening on Monday, June 1. Both are good news…but only “kind of” thanks to my doctor. 🙁


On Doctor’s Orders

This has been a week full of telemedicine visits! First, it was my opthamologist on the 26th. Then, it was my primary care physician today. I’m rather enjoying seeing the natural habitats of my physicians. In one case I watched a partner/husband/grown child come and go through a door behind the doctor several times. Finally, the doctor went to a different room. In the other case I could hear small children in the background. It is nice to see that all these folks who command such respect and who are often so aloof in their professional settings are also moms and dads with dogs, cats, and kids, who some sometimes “bomb” into Zoom.

My opthamologist has been monitoring a situation in my left eye that will eventually require surgery. Actually, it is time for surgery – but because of COVID-19 they are using their surgery suite only for emergencies. Bummer! Instead I have to go to an optometrist to get a new prescription that should allow me to see a bit better until I can have the surgery. The opthamologist typically does refraction (testing) but isn’t right now because the office doesn’t easily accommodate physical distancing. That is true. The exam rooms are tiny.

My primary care physician was following up on my annual exam (which is in October or November) and to order a follow up blood test just to make sure I still have blood. We also had a good conversation about how safe it is for me and Clemencia to go out, since our age puts us at risk and we both also have underlying conditions (Stupidity is not one of our underlying conditions, just to be clear.) Unfortunately, it was in this conversation that she broke the not so good news…because of our risk factors, neither Clemencia nor I should go out immediately once we enter Stage 1 of reopening on Monday. We should wait two weeks until about June 15th.

Her rationale was actually quite sound and I wanted to pass it on here. COVID-19 can be carried for days by people who are infected but do have not symptoms. It takes about two weeks from the point of exposure for symptoms to occur. Therefore, by waiting two weeks after reopening before venturing out, we will have a much better idea of how safe it is. If the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths spike within two weeks of reopening, then going out is not a wise choice. So, there you have it. Prince George’s County will re-open on June 1, but the Vargas Klaus House re-opening will not be until June 15. Of course, these re-opening dates are contigent on whether Stupid People decide to follow the rules and guidelines set out by the County Executive.


Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership…There Still Time to Sign Up!

Next week I’ll be joining my good friend and colleague, Liz Weaver, on a Tamarack Institute webinar titled Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership. The webinar will be on Tuesday, June 2 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM Eastern via Zoom and it is FREE! All you need to do is sign up here.


Registration is Open – ¡Charlemos con Clemencia!

Are you ready to learn Spanish? Not Spanish to pass an exam, but functional communicative Spanish. Communicative Spanish is the Spanish most English speakers need to be able to simply chat with the people in their communities whose first language is Spanish. It is great for teachers, social workers and public health professionals, and anyone who wants to connect more easily and better with their Spanish-speaking neighbors.

Clemencia of ¡Charlemos con Clemencia! is, of course, my spouse whom you’ve gotten to know through this blog. Be sure to ask about the special bonus lesson in Colombian Lip Pointing! To register for the Summer Session (June 15-September 4) visit www.charlemos.net. Cost is $85 per person for the whole summer session of 12 classes. Multiple class times are available.


The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 42 – A youth organization representative attempts to recruit Benton Harbor (aka Chickenman) as a youth leader. Until he has to look for Benton in the Chicken Cave.


What’s Next?

Our days of sheltering-in-place are coming to an end this weekend. My Monday, June 1 posting of Stories of Covid-19 and Sheltering-In-Place will be my last. Well, unless, of course, things turn for the worse over the weekend and we get locked down again.

However, I have something in mind and I will debut it on Tuesday, June 2nd. I knew this lockdown would have to end sometime so I’ve been preparing for it. I hope you like what’s next! Stay tuned!


In Reality…and Thank You.

First, thank you. I’ve had some very sweet and kind responses to yesterday’s (Day 74) blog. I had two responses that were especially powerful to me and I will be sharing them soon. I have secured permission from the writers. They are currently reviewing the piece I have written to introduce them both to you. When they have given me the go ahead, they will appear in the blog. If you read yesterday’s blog, I think you will find these quite interesting.

Now, in reality. We are fighting two pandemics simultaneously. One is COVID-19 and one is racism. Through science and medicine there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the former. There appears to be no light but a deep, dank, never ending tunnel for the latter. The pandemic of racism in the U.S. is hundreds of years old and today it is even more obvious than ever. In 2016 Will Smith, an interview with Steven Colbert said, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” Today the filming continues to confirm the reality of racism. While both pandemics are blazing away in our country – quite literally in some cities – the President is AWOL. There has been no comment about the 100,000+ dead of COVID-19, there has been only withdrawal today from the World Health Organization. In the midst of a pandemic? Really? There has been no comment about the protests and fires in Minneapolis (and other cities as well) except for threats of greater violence on Twitter, which Twitter had to sanction.

Mr. President, like I wrote earlier this week, we need you NOW to be the best version of yourself. Is this it?

Is this all you’ve got?


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and, please, do everything YOU can to keep yourself and others safe in both pandemics.

Tom

Day 73 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

For every Stupid Person who ignores the rules that keep all of us safe, another person cannot enjoy the freedom that Stupid Person feels they alone are entitled.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under a Sunny Cloud of Disappointment

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

Clemencia threw me out of the house today. Well, it wasn’t THAT dramatic! Actually, she invited me out of the house to go golfing. The golf course I play has been open since May 15th but I’ve been reluctant to venture out because of our risk level and the incredible spread of the pandemic in our community. However, with her encouragement I decided go play golf.


Join Liz Weaver and Me for Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership on June 2nd

I’m honored to be joining my good friend and colleague, Liz Weaver, on a Tamarack Institute webinar titled Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership. The webinar will be on Tuesday, June 2 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM Eastern via Zoom and it is FREE! All you need to do is sign up here.

Liz is the Co-CEO of the Tamarack Institute, an amazing social and community change organization based in Waterloo, Ontario. Their work on poverty reduction in Canada is extraordinary and if you don’t know them, you need to know them. Liz and I have collaborated on articles and projects in the recent past, but this is the first time we’ve done a webinar together. Anytime I get with Liz by phone or on Zoom, I always learn something new and come away with a stronger “can do” spirit. I’m honored and excited to be doing this webinar with her. Please check it out and please plan to join us. (P.S. Liz told me today that there are currently over 400 signed up. Come on in! The more the merrier!)


The Golf Outing That Wasn’t

When the golf course reopened on the 15th of this month I drove over to see how they were handling the re-opening. I was really impressed. No one was allowed in the club house. Golfers with memberships checked in on one side through a window and those who paid by the round signed in and paid at a window on the opposite side of the building. Everyone was required to wear a mask and everyone did. Distancing was practiced quite well by everyone. You could share a cart only if the person you were sharing with was someone who lived with you (e.g., spouse, child, family guinea pig, etc.). They were carefully following the protocols established by the state and the county. Remember, the golf course is in Prince George’s County which is the hottest COVID-19 hotspot in the hotspot that is all of the Metro DC area. Ironically, it is located less than a half-mile from the state’s COVID-19 temporary morgue, which you’d think would be a powerful reminder.

From that experience I decided it would be okay for me to try to play when the weather was warmer and I had a free day. That day was today. Early this morning Clemencia asked if I planned to go golfing. I was a bit non-committal because even though I did, I have been concerned about the risk and, even worse, bringing the virus home to her. When I got dressed, though, it was in golf shorts and shirt. By noon I was strongly leaning toward giving it a try. By 1:30 PM, after I had finished the “must do” work items for the day, I was actually anxious to go. Sensing that (well, actually, she caught me wearing my golf shoes in the house), Clemencia invited me to get out of the house. After I asked her “But are you sure?” about seven times, I finally left.

The parking was nearly full at the golf course, which was surprising for a Wednesday afternoon when most people are working. But, then, I realized many people were not yet back to work. In all, I was glad the golf course was getting the business.

However, as I got my equipment out of the car and started walking to the club house I began to notice the absence of masks, the absence of distancing, and the abundance of really Stupid People. I saw people whom I strongly suspected were not related sharing golf carts. I saw people standing and sitting around the club house in groups and without masks. To get to the check-in window I would have had be in the midst of them.

Then there was the straw – you know, the one that broke the camel’s back? One of the golf course maintenance workers was disinfecting the cars (which was good) but his mask was at or under his chin. It made for a lovely decoration but it was non-functional as a mask.

Without hesitation, I walked back to my car, loaded my golf bag, and drove back home. It was a deeply disappointing experience. I’m happy to report, I didn’t cry like a baby and pitch a tantrum. But a tear did trickle silently down my cheek.

What’s really amazing and which really infuriates me about this time we are in is not just that there are Stupid People – but that many are also selfish, self-centered, and seemingly entitled. For every Stupid Person who ignores the rules that keep all of us safe, another person cannot enjoy the freedom that Stupid People feel is their entitlement alone. Golf is not the only sport with Stupid People though. Tennis, pickleball, and basketball all have people who find ways around the rules to get on the court and play their games. This makes the also prime candidates for the Stupid People Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, while Stupid People think only of themselves…

Today, at about 5:00 PM Eastern, the death toll in the United States from COVID-19 hit 100,000.

After all the Stupid People I saw last weekend in the news who were on the beaches and at parties, after all the Stupid People I saw at the golf course today, and after all the Stupid People I heard about this week, I am losing hope that we will get out of this without a death toll rivaling the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 (which was 675,000 by the way).

God help us? Maybe. But maybe we could help God out by being less stupid.


The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 41 – Join Chickenman as he christens the new Midland City Hall…kind of.


Song Parody Wednesday!

Cheryl from Pennsylvania, and avid reader of this blog (or so she says…oh, wait, maybe I paid her to say that?) wrote me to say how much she likes the song parodies. So, Cheryl, this is for you and everyone else that likes these as much as you and I do.

Let’s kick it off kids with Chris Mann, whose song parodies I’ve featured before, a singer and musician who came in 4th in the 2012 season of “The Voice” (another reality TV show I’ve never watched). Mann is originally from Wichita, Kansas where he turned down a really great offer to be a lineman.

This is a first time in the Fabulous Five for the Holderness Family. They are, well, a family that specializes in making music and music parodies and a bunch of other stuff. Strangely, they seem to make a living at it. More power to ’em!

The Kiffness, from South Africa, is no stranger to this blog though he does seem to be a little “stranger” than some of the other performers featured here. But then, they are all just a bit strange in their own way. This a fun one gang!

Whoa, look at that, the Holderness Family has another in this week’s Fabulous Five. I’m not really a fan of Disney music but this was fun to watch. I loved the costume changes midsong!

Finally, rounding out our Fabulous Five for this week is Raúl Irabién, from Mexico, who does one of the best COVID-19 parodies of Bohemian Rhapsody (my favorite song) that I’ve seen. Irabién has a terrific acapella group Invoca you can check out as well.

Why stop at five? Here’s a bonus parody from Randy Rainbow, perhaps the most prolific and political of the song parody-ists. (Is that a word?) And remember, DO NOT ingest household chemicals!

Stay safe, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep an eye on the numbers as they go up. They aren’t stopping anytime soon.

Tom

Day 72 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

At about noon there was a knock on our door. I looked through the peephole and didn’t see anyone. I assumed it was a delivery left in front of the door as it is usually done these days. I opened the door and there they were – Bert and Ernie sitting there looking up at me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020 Live to Blog from the Laundry Room

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

Thank you for allowing me to stray from the drivel track yesterday. I had to get it off my chest. I’ve been thinking a lot about character and ethics recently – for reasons I’ll explain below. Now, back to the drivel.


Idiocy Abounds!

When we last heard from Bert Left and Ernie Right, they were refusing to come in off the deck. There has already been so much loss and sadness in our world that I had been waiting for the right moment to tell you that Bert and Ernie had been lost. Last Friday morning I went to the deck to try to coax them back onto my feet but they were gone. There had been a strong breeze all Thursday and well into the night. I assumed they had been blown off the deck and were lying about somewhere in the Maryland National Memorial Cemetery, about a 100 yards from our house. I didn’t want to trespass over the holiday weekend but decided I’d go hunting for them today.

But I didn’t have to. At about noon there was a knock on our door. I looked through the peephole and didn’t see anyone. I assumed it was a delivery left in front of the door as it is usually done these days. I opened the door and there they were – Bert and Ernie sitting there looking up at me.

  • Ernie: Hey, bonehead! It’s about time you opened the door.
  • Me: Bert! Ernie! I thought you had been lost! How’d you get here?
  • Ernie: Nah, we ain’t lost. We know exactly where we are.
  • Bert: The Uber driver dropped us up here. Nice lady! But you should give us a key, you know.
  • Me: Uber driver?!? What were you doing in an Uber?
  • Bert: We had a little trip.
  • Ernie: Yeah, we got tired of just hanging on the deck and we definitely did not want to get back on your smelly feet.
  • Bert: So we went on a little trip.
  • Me: Oh really? How’d you get off the deck?
  • Bert: We just wiggled out of the clips and the wind carried us gently to the ground. Then we called an Uber.
  • Ernie: And the Uber took us to Ocean City, baby!
  • Me: Wait…you’re telling me you went to Ocean City? To be the beach? When did this happen?
  • Ernie: Real early Friday morning. We had all weekend at Ocean City!
  • Bert: Yeah, all weekend, bonehead, and it was great. You should’ve seen all the gorgeous yoga and tennis socks over there! Hey, Ernie, what was that cute little striped number’s name again?
  • Ernie: You mean Chloe? Or was that Maria? No, wait, it was Keisha, yeah, that’s right…Keisha! Oh man, she was somethin’ bonehead, but she wasn’t your type, you like wool socks.
  • Me: Are you guys telling me you spent the whole weekend on the beach?
  • Bert: Yeah, what’s it to you, bonehead?
  • Me: What’s it to me? You’ve got to be kidding! What’s it to me? Tell me something, did either of you geniuses wear masks and keep six feet apart from people?
  • Ernie (giggles): Hey, Bert, did you wear a mask and keep your distance from Keisha?
  • Bert (giggles back): Oh, yeah, Ernie I stayed just as far away from her as you stayed from Yvette.
  • Bert and Ernie erupt in laughter.
  • Me: Okay, I get it. So you did the same thing alot of other Stupid People did over the holiday right?
  • Bert: C’mon man, you’re really too uptight about this thing. I mean, jeez, it’s not a big deal. Look Mr. Trump doesn’t wear a mask and he’s always getting close to people.
  • Me: I really don’t care what Mr. Trump does because he doesn’t live here. You do. And now you can’t come back in the house until you quarantine for 14 days.
  • Ernie: What? What are you talking about? Where are we going to stay?
  • Me: I don’t know, but I can’t bring you into the house just to take you to the deck. You’d probably just wiggle free again.
  • Bert: Hey, that’s not fair!
  • Me: You know, I’m getting really tired of you two complaining that things aren’t fair for you. What’s fair for me and Clemencia? We are doing everything we can to stay safe and avoid infection. Then you two pull this crazy stunt. You are no different than some of our neighbors who don’t wear masks. You are the same as all those other people we saw in the news who went to parties and the beaches who didn’t wear masks and didn’t keep a distance. You are selfish and self-centered. And now, you leave me no choice.
  • Ernie: What do you mean no choice?
  • Me (lowering a plastic bag to the floor): Get in the bag. You’ve ruined it. I have not choice now but to wash you.
  • Bert: No you can’t do that! We are living beings! We are you!
  • Me: No, you aren’t me. I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier but I’m not stupid. You were safe here. You blew it. Get in the bag.
  • Ernie: No way! You can’t do this!
  • Me: Yes, I can and I will. You now pose a risk to us. In the bag. And if you don’t get in it willingly, I’ll nudge you in with my shoe.

By 1:00 PM Bert Left and Ernie Right were transported from the washing machine to the dryer. They were good friends to me and I miss them already. I’m very sad, though, for their stupidity. They were, too, in the end, apologizing profusely to me. Still, they had to be washed and disinfected. To be clear, I did not spray them with Lysol nor soak them in Clorox. They just needed a good washing. In fact, I think they appreciated it. I swear I heard Ernie say to Bert during the wash, “Hey, Bert, this ain’t so bad. In fact, it is little bit like that roller coaster we rode on last Saturday.”

If the opportunity arises for them to return, they’ve promised me they will. The next time, though, I hope they will be a little nicer to me and bit more humble. But we’ll see. For now, rest in peace in the sock drawer, Bert and Ernie – March 16, 2020 to May 26, 2020. Aged -I mean really aged! – 72 days. They will be missed but their stench – and attitudes – will not.


Pondering Character

Character and ethics have been on my mind a lot during the pandemic. I’ve been reading a couple of books and finishing up a long-over due project, which probably explains why.

One book I’m reading is a textbook entitled Ethical Leadership: A Primer. It is a college level book that examines and compares a variety of ethical theories. It is not the light reading I do at night before bed…but it is very interesting.

The other book I’ve been reading in a rather meditative way is David Brooks’ The Road to Character. It is a great book for reflective reading because the book is a reflection by Brooks on what he has learned about character. Brooks is a New York Times bestselling author, a writer for the New York Times, and a regular commentator on the PBS News Hours on Fridays. When I attend Quaker Meeting I sometimes need meditative reading material to help focus my mind and quiet my spirit. The Road to Character has been very good for this purpose.

The other thing that has been causing me to ponder character and ethics is work I’ve done recently to finish a project I started over two years ago. It was the WWJD Redux Project. I decided to self-fund a study to understand more clearly how people view the leadership of Donald Trump in light of the ethical and moral lapses he has been accused of. The study was accepted for presentation at the 20th Global Conference of the International Leadership Association meeting in West Palm Beach, Florida in October of that year. I had promised, as I was doing the study, that I would send the results to everyone who participated. However, that promise got away from me in the busyness and business of life. Over the past few weeks I shot a video of that presentation and am now am making good on the promise. This link, WWJD Redux Project, and the one above, take you to the project page on the Tenacious Change LLC website where you can find more information. If you are interested in watching the video presentation (its roughly 29 minutes in length), you can watch it on that page or below on the Tenacious Change LLC YouTube channel.

If you take time to watch the video and learn about the study, I’d be interested in hearing what you think. It is still relevant to our time…perhaps even more so in the midst of this pandemic.


A View of COVID-19

This image was taken from the website of the Johns Hopkins project that is tracking COVID-19. The view is of “Cumulative Confirmed Cases” worldwide. There is an old expression that seems appropriate here…let’s say it together: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”


The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 40 – Chickenman has followed the Teddy Bear into a party in the hotel, only to discover he is at a costume party hosted by the Teddy Bear. The Teddy Bear is, in fact, Scarfce O’Banyon, a highly respected Midland City dentist. When it was time to unmask, though, Chickenman found himself in a difficult position. But could he just fly the coop? Or just fly?


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your face, keep wearing your mask, and, please keep being smarter than Bert and Ernie.

Tom

Day 71 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

I am a political person but I strive to be fair. I try to vote for the person, not the party, though my leanings are clear to most people who know me well. In trying to keep this blog as apolitical as possible I have weighed this question carefully: Would I be writing this regardless of the person and party of the President? The answer is yes because character and ethics are transcendent.

Monday, May 25, 2020 – Live to Blog on Memorial Day

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

Today is one of, if not, the most solemn Memorial Day in the history of the United States. The death toll for COVID-19 is nearing 100,000. It is possible that it could reach this mark before the day is through. It does not seem ethically or morally right to spend this day as we have spent so many other Memorial Day holidays – with outings at the beach, family gatherings, barbecues, or a day on the golf course. For this reason, today’s blog will be different from anything I’ve written before. Tomorrow I will return to serving the usual hot steaming cup of drivel.

Golfing in the Midst of a Forest Fire

I have spent this day reflecting on what it means to have lived to witness the death of nearly 100,000 people in my country in only 86 days. The first COVID-19 death in the United States occurred on February 29th. Since then the pandemic has been a wildfire burning through the country. When we calculate the numeric average, we find Americans are dying at the rate of 1,162 per day. Let’s put all of this in perspective:

Despite this devastation before your eyes and mine, our President appears to be unconvinced of the severity of the situation, uncommitted to full disclosure, and unwilling to model behavior that shows understanding and builds confidence in his leadership. All in all, Mr. Trump is simply golfing in the midst of a forest fire. For this reason, I’ve decided to make today’s blog an open letter to Donald Trump.

I am a political person but I strive to be fair. I try to vote for the person, not the party, though my leanings are clear to most people who know me well. In trying to keep this blog as apolitical as possible I have weighed this question carefully: Would I be writing this regardless of the person and party of the President? The answer is yes because character and ethics are transcendent. By the way, if the following letter speaks your mind, please feel free to share it with others.

A Letter to President Donald J. Trump

May 25, 2020

Dear Mr. President,

Should you ever see this letter and take time to read it, thank you for considering its message.

Mr. President, our country needs you to be your best self in this moment. I do not know you at all and so I do not know you well enough to know who your best self would be. I want to believe that your very best self is:

  • A person who genuinely cares about others more than you care about yourself.
  • A person who deeply grieves the loss of 100,000 souls and has shed tears, as so many of us have already, for those we love who have died in this pandemic.
  • A person who is self-confident enough to show us the grief he feels.
  • A person who is strong and brave enough to speak the truth about the nature of this pandemic, even if it is not popular with your political base or anyone else.
  • A person who trusts the public health and medical expertise that is availalble to you.
  • A person who is humble enough to admit when misteps have occurred, errors have been made, and failures have cost valuable time and lives.
  • A person who is willing to use his words and actions to for healing in our country.
  • A person who is willing to knit together the partisan political divides that keep us from working together as effectively as we could and as we need right now.
  • A person who understands the power of example.
  • A person who understands that leaders “go first” in setting that example by publicly following the counsel of rigorous science and our country’s finest public health and medical experts without complaint, pushback, or ridicule.
  • A person who shows no favor in who gets equipment, testing, treatment, and vacinations (when they become available) and how quickly they receive them.

All in all, Mr. President, we need you to be each of these things and more. We need you to be the very best idea of what it means to be fully human. I know it isn’t fair to put all of this on the shoulders of one person. However, that is the burden of the presidency in the United States. That mantle is a heavy one. From what I’ve observed in my lifetime, only those who are capable of being their best selves, and who are willing to be so most of the time, are able to carry it well. However, they don’t carry the burden alone. They enlist the support of the country and they do so by calling on us to similarly be our best selves.

We need you to be this best self and so much more at this time, Mr. President, because the majority of people in the United States have very little confidence in your honesty and most do not trust you. I know those are harsh words and I apologize if they offend. May I, however, illustrate them with a brief story?

Each week during the pandemic I have been meeting with a group of people for mutual support via Zoom. Last week we were talking about when a vaccine realistically might be ready. One person commented, “If the President announced it was ready today and that I could get innoculated, I don’t believe I would. I’m not sure I can trust anything he tells me to be true anymore.” Everyone in the group, yes, including me, agreed. None of us are anti-vaxxers but we don’t know that we can trust anything you say right now.

Mr. President, we need to be able to trust you. We want to be able to trust you, even if we didn’t vote for you or plan to vote for you in the Fall. Why? Because our lives may depend upon it.

But our trust has been broken. I know personally how hard it is to restore trust once it has been damaged. It is very difficult to repair and sometimes it can’t be fixed, especially when there has been so much destruction and grief related to it. However, we must always try.

You must try, Mr. President. By trying to repair trust you may actually save many lives. How do you try?

  • Start by speaking truth with humiliy, kindness, and compassion.
  • Call a truce on all political wars and be the first to walk to the middle of “no man’s land” with your arms extended and hands open.
  • Find it within yourself to believe the press and the Democrats have better intentions that you can imagine. Remember, just as you feel hurt by them, they feel hurt by you. Everyone is feeling wounded and sore right now.
  • Give us an example to follow in deed and speech. Wear your mask in every public appearance.
  • Keep physical distance between yourself and others in your public appearances and news conferences.
  • Only promote the treatments and solutions that your public health and medical experts tell you are viable when they are available.
  • In fact, step back and let them speak their truth.
  • Avoid denegrating the press. Though the American press is not perfect, they strive more often than not to be accurate and fair. They are still our best source of information.
  • Avoid all appearances that you or your friends may be benefiting financially during or from the pandemic.

Finally, from one golfer to another, put your clubs away for a while, please. There will be plenty of time to play golf in the future. Right now though, on this Memorial Day weekend, it appears disrespectful and, even more, highly insensitive. It suggests you don’t care at all about the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths we may be reaching today or tomorrow.

Thank you for your time, Mr. President. I wish you success in turning things around because our lives may depend upon it. I don’t know that there is anything I can do for you but I do promise this. If you will release this best self to help us, I will meet you with my best self.

Mr. President, stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask every day, and keep trying to be the best version of yourself that our country needs.

Respectfully,

Tom Klaus

Day 70 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Do not imagine for a moment that they are asleep…though I must admit a couple of folks do look very relaxed.

Sunday, May 24, 2020 – Live to Blog (kind of) from Quaker Meeting

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

We attended Quaker meeting again today via Zoom. I’ve been impressed with how seamlessly people have adapted to the new environment for Meeting for Worship. Thanks to Zoom, Clemencia and I have been able to attend Quaker meeting more than usual. She’s a bit camera shy so she sits off to the side but I am usually on camera to represent us both. Besides, being on camera is my incentive for avoiding nodding off.

So, Can You Gather with God Over Zoom?

This is the question the New York Times asked on Friday, May 22. To answer it they focused on unprogrammed Quaker meetings where Friends (the other term often used for Quakers) gather for worship. The article in the New York Times is filled with photos of Quakers sitting in silence with their eyes closed. Do not imagine for a moment that they are asleep…though I must admit a couple of folks do look very relaxed.

What Quakers all around the world are finding…no, rediscovering…as a result of their Zoom worship experiences is something we learned from George Fox over 300 years ago in his Journal:

The Lord showed me, so that I did see clearly, that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people’s hearts … his people were his temple, and he dwelt in them.

George Fox, Journal, 1694

Quakers have held since the beginning of their movement that God inhabits the hearts of people, not buildings or other sacred places. You can imagine this did not endear them to the Church of England, which the Quaker movement initially sought to revive and reform. In more recent years we may have drifted a bit from that ideal as our ancient Meetinghouses have caught the attention of various historical societies and become state and national historic sites. Our own Meetinghouse is a beautiful 200+ year old building which seems to breathe on its own infused by the lives of so many who have gathered there over the past two centuries.

The Zoom experience seems to have reminded us that God’s real address in our hearts – not at 17715 Meeting House Road, Sandy Spring, Maryland 20860. While many churches and faith communities around us seem anxious and distressed about whether they can worship outside their buildings, we are rediscovering one of the original tenet’s that sets Quakers apart from many other groups. We don’t need a building to commune with God because God is present in our midst whenever – and how ever – we gather in worship.

This in one of my favorite depictions of Quaker worship. All wait in silence yet one person, a woman, is hearing the still small voice of God. It is unclear, of course, whether this is a message for all, or a message for her alone. Throughout our history, the voice of women in worship has been welcome and encouraged. This painting is by James Doyle Penrose, 1864.

So when we gather we sit silently and listen for that of God within us to speak to us. Sometimes the messages we receive in this gathered meditation are to be shared aloud with others. Many times, though, the messages speak very individually and personally to our condition in that moment. In the years I have attended Quaker meeting I have rarely spoken in worship. However, I have been spoken to many times through messages from others and by the still small voice of God that whispers to me in the hush of the Meeting for Worship.

When I learned of the New York Times article today in the announcement period that typically follows Meeting for Worship, I wanted to capture a picture of our meeting to share with you. Taking pictures in Meeting for Worship is something we do not generally do nor do we allow. Fortunately, a Friend offered a way for me to capture a photo that was agreeable to all. Friends who did not want to be pictured in a screenshot were given a few seconds to turn off their cameras. When it seemed every one still on camera was fine with having their picture taken, I grabbed the screen shot below. Thank you to my friends and Friends at Sandy Spring Friends Meeting in Sandy Spring, Maryland for participating in this photo and allowing me to post it here.

On May 24, 2020 there were more than 40 Zoom sign-ins for the 11:00 AM Meeting for Worship with Sandy Spring Friends Meeting. Because several couples were on camera, attendance was likely well over 60. This is a sampling of those present.

The Passing of a Friend

A few weeks ago I shared with you that a friend had passed from complications of COVID-19. She was special to us because she was among the first people we got to know at Sandy Spring Friends Meeting when we first started attending. Actually, we met her at the Passion Bakery Cafe after Meeting for Worship where she and we loved to eat. It is less than 200 yards from the Sandy Spring Friends Meetinghouse making it a convenient place to stop for lunch after Meeting. In my previous posting I did not give her name.

Nora Caplan – A Friend to All – 1927-2020 – Source: Washington Post, May 22, 2020

On Friday, May 22nd the Washington Post ran a wonderful article about our friend Nora Caplan. I hope you take the time to read it. It is quite brief. The article did a wonderful job of capturing her as we knew her. What I didn’t know until I read the article is that Nora was a native Midwesterner like me. She grew up in Springfield, MO, just a few hours south of where I grew up in Southeast Iowa. When I read that in the article I immediately understood her friendliness. We Midwesterners are, often to a fault, very friendly. Nora’s friendliness left a mark on us. It assured us it would be a good thing to return to Sandy Spring Friends Meeting. She left us on April 25, 2020 at the age of 93.


For Dog Lovers…

Ever wonder what your dog does when you aren’t at home? This dog owner, training his new Labrador puppy, Lucy, to handle being alone at home, wondered what would happen when he took Princess (his other dog) out for a walk but without Lucy.

The View from Jeff

Jeff Logan is my friend and was my cohort-mate in the doctoral program at Eastern University. He lives in Calgary, Alberta and is a cartoonist, educator, linguist, and co-pastor’s a Baptist church with his spouse. He has graciously allowed me to share some of his cartoons here. Enjoy!

Jeff explains: I thought of this joke while sleeping and thought it was hilarious… Woke up and realized it’s just a mediocre pun based on the word “admit.” But it still made me laugh.

The Adventures of Chickenman

How about a double shot of Crimefighting Chicken Goodness to “celebrate” Day 70 of our sheltering-in-place?

First, we have Episode 39 of the original Chickenman. He has finally found the Teddy Bear he has been tailing. But what will come of that?

Next we have a cartoon version of an early episode of Chickenman from animator Michael Wahlberg. Enjoy!

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep the faith – in whatever ways you express it.

Tom

Day 69 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Of all the graves we visited I think there was only one that I associated with a person I knew anything about – Uncle Will. I don’t recall if I ever met him, but I was named after him…or so I’ve been told.

Saturday, May 23, 2020 – Live to Blog from Just Outside a Cemetery

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19

Happy Memorial Day! Really now, doesn’t it sound just a bit odd to wish someone a “happy” Memorial Day? How about this? Have a “Reflective Memorial Day.” No, that doesn’t work. How about, have a “Memorable Memorial Day!” No, too many “mem” sounds. I’ll keep working on it and get back to you.


The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 38 – The Wonderful White Winged Weekend Warrior has followed the Teddy Bear to a hotel. Now what?

Cemeteries and Memorial Day

We have a spectacular view of Maryland National Memorial Cemetery from our bedroom, kitchen, and my office windows. We actually enjoy the view though Clemencia started refering to it as a “park” to avoid creeping out our visitors.

We not only love the view but we like the location for at least one reason that is extremely pragmatic: nobody will be building anything else on that site in our life times. It also means we have a sound buffer between us and busy U.S. Highway 1.

Memorial Day has become just another vacation day for many people, however, for me it has always been associated with cemeteries. When I was very young, and had no choice about where I was made to go with my parents, Memorial Day was when we loaded up the car with flowers and started making the rounds to visit the graves of various dead relatives.

To appease me, we’d turn on the radio and listen to the Indianapolis 500 as we drove from cemetery to cemetery. At that time the race was still being held on Memorial Day rather than the Sunday before. It was a hot, sticky, dusty, and smokey trip. Generally, I hated it and would have done anything to get out of it.

It was hot and sticky because Memorial Day in Iowa is often very hot and very humid. Cars were not airconditioned at that time…at least not the cars my family could afford.

It was dusty because my parents seemed to have an aversion to driving on anything but back roads. Back roads in Iowa were, at that time, graveled with a rock that created a thick, bright white chalky dust when you drove over them. It is not an exaggeration when I tell you that a car driving fast down an Iowa road in that era looked like it had a vapor trail similar to the one you’d see on the occasional jet flying overhead. That chalky dust got everywhere, including inside the car. It was really tough to breathe.

Add to it that my dad was a smoker – Camels, unfiltered. We couldn’t lower the windows because of the dust from the gravel. We had a most fatal choice – suck in dust or suck in smoke. Usually it was the smoke.

Of all the graves we visited I think there was only one that I associated with a person I knew anything about – Uncle Will. I don’t recall if I ever met him, but I was named after him…or so I’ve been told. I got my middle name from him – William. I got my first name, Tom, from my dad – whose given name was Carman Chester. I guess he preferred his nickname, Tom. Go figure, eh?

As I got older I became a Scout (Cub then Boy) and got to hang out at our hometown cemetery on Memorial Day. In our town we’d have a Memorial Day parade that ended at a small Veteran’s Memorial in the heart of the cemetery. All of us Scouts would march in the parade then, once at the memorial, line up and stand at attention during the ceremony. The ceremony usually included a brief speech from the Commander of the local American Legion chapter, followed by one of the older Scouts reading Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Then two trumpeters would play taps. One would be next to the memorial and the other would be about 100 yards away elsewhere in the cemetery playing the echo part. It was, as I remember, quite beautiful.

Remember that Memorial Day was usually really hot and humid? That produced an fun side show at the ceremony. We’d watch the other Cub and Boy Scouts to see which one passed out first from the heat before the end of the ceremony. Really…they did. It was nearly as cool as the next thing that would happen.

But the really exciting part came at the very end. All of the veterans from the American Legion, who had marched in the parade with their guns, would fire off a 21 gun salute. That would signal a mad, but dignifed, dash by the young Scouts to collect as many spent rifle shells as they could before the Scoutmaster whisper/yelled at them to get back in line.

In my teens, when I worked for my dad at the cemetery as a grave digger and mower, we would prepare that same cemetery for the ceremony. We’d put in long hours making sure the cemetery grass was nicely cut, all of the grass around the stones was trimmed, and the gravesites were readied for the flowers that families would deliver.

My dad absolutely hated the clean up period after Memorial Day as the flowers began to rot and stink. It was his job to clean up all of the flowers and, before they had gotten bad enough to remove, to mow around them. It irritated him so much that, before he died, he put in his last instructions that there were to be no flowers at his gravesite. There never have been. However, Boomer did make a wrought iron hook which he put next to dad’s grave so that flowers could be hung from it. This meant the cemetery groundskeeper could easily mow or weed whack around it without disturbing the flowers.

Long funeral services also bothered my dad so he also made us promise that his would not be more than 10 minutes in length. It came in at 9 minutes, 18 seconds, if I remember correctly. Yes, I timed it. It seemed the right thing to do.


Memorial Day 2020

As I reflect on Memorial Days of my past, I can’t help but wonder what this Memorial Day is going to be like. With 96,983 reported dead at this moment from COVID-19 in the United States, it looks like we could hit 100,000 right on Memorial Day.

The exceptional cruelty of COVID-19 is that spouses, partners, family, and children could not be with their departed when they passed. In most cases they cannot even gather with friends or a support system to grieve, process the loss, or celebrate the life of their deceased.

What will Memorial Day be like for these survivors? Where will they go to remember the departed when many of them are not yet even in cemeteries?

I don’t have an answer but I do have a suggestion. If you know your departed one’s favorite space, and if you are able go there safely, go. I can’t help but believe that they will be there already in spirit. When you are in that space, tell them everything you wanted to say to them before they passed but never had the chance to – even if all of it wasn’t loving. Closure is about love and truth. The most fortunate of us get to bring the love. The least fortunate of us need to bring the truth. For the vast number of people between those two, it may be a mixture of both love and truth. The most important thing is that you do closure in a way that works for you. The departed is at peace. You are the one remaining. Do what you need to do so you can let them go, if only eventually, and live the life you were meant to live.

To everyone who has suffered a loss due to COVID-19 I am sending you a virtual hug and doing what we Quakers always do: holding you in the Light.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep remembering your departed and what brought all of us to this time and circumstance.

Tom