Day 74 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

At one point, he laughed and said, “Tom, you are the whitest white boy I’ve ever known!” We both laughed, because some truth makes us laugh when it slaps us upside the head.

Thursday, May 28, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under Cover of Shame

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

Given all that is happening this week in Minneapolis, New York City, and, recently, in Brunswick, Georgia, I need to write about race – specifically the dynamics of white racism toward black people. I have never felt fully competent to offer a meaningful opinion on race. Even more, as a white male I wonder if I even have standing to offer an opinion given the horrific history of white male oppression of minorities and specifically black people which continues even to this very day. Let’s face, white men, we’ve blown it…again…and again…and again and we keep blowing it. Still, to remain silent is to ignore the racism in our country and to become complicit in it. While I often refer to this blog as being full of “drivel,” race is not a drivelous matter. For this reason I will move forward with this blog on race, but carefully, thoughtfully, and respectfully. I will save drivel for tomorrow.

A Little Context

My father figure gave me my first education about race. I vividly remember him often saying this: “I don’t so much mind the n****** and s****, but its the g**** that really get to me.” Unfortunately, that racist perspective defined or informed my view of nonwhite people and race for many years. Growing up in very rural Iowa, inhabited and surrounded by white, Anglo, Northern European people like myself, I had little life experience to challenge that understanding.

Only one time did I ever see black people in my hometown. In fact, they visited our home. It was a woman my mother worked with at a department store in a city about 20 miles away and her husband. They were out on a drive that Sunday afternoon and decided to drop in on us. My parents were wholly unprepared and I thought one or both were going to have strokes. They quickly ushered the couple into our house, all the time looking about to make sure the neighbors hadn’t noticed. We had a very awkward visit which I very much enjoyed. I was, after all, just at that age when teens enjoy seeing their parents suffer.

An Awakening

There was a time in my life when I was like Amy Cooper. Not long after I left my hometown I was working for a religious youth organization in a larger city in Iowa. I was meeting with a group of white youth in a park and we were playing volleyball together. A group of young black men came up and asked to join the game. My conditioning told me they were probably dangerous to the white youth, so I ended the game early and segregated my group from them by moving on to a Bible study activity for just them…the white kids. How ironic, eh? I have always felt embarrassed and ashamed of my actions that afternoon.

Though my social conditioning told me one thing, my conscience told me another. I began to wonder why I acted that way toward those young black men and, over time, the lingering shame I felt opened me to exploring it. At just the right moment of my life and career, two people helped me with my growth. One was Kevin, a black man who worked with me at a nonprofit organization in Iowa. Kevin was on my staff and by getting to know him, I got to know myself better.

A Transformation Begins

Both Kevin and I attended a diversity training sponsored by the local YWCA, but at different times. He attended it first. I attended it the next time it was offered. When I finished it, I came back to the office and was telling him all about my experience and what I had learned. At one point, he laughed and said, “Tom, you are the whitest white boy I’ve ever known!” We both laughed, because some truth makes us laugh when it slaps us upside the head. Even as I remember this and write about it today, I still smile with appreciation because his candor was so genuine, so refreshing, and so right on.

This week I saw this video going around on Facebook and it reminded me of Kevin. If you haven’t seen it, please take a moment to watch it. If you click on the image below, it should take you to a Facebook page where the video appears.

The other person who helped with my growth was Al Vivien. Al’s father is C.T. Vivien, a close associate of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, a Presidential Medal of Freedom Honoree by President Obama, and the creator and founder of the diversity work and organization Al leads today. Al was the facilitator of that diversity training I attended.

It would take many blogs to describe that experience as it was one of the most momentous and transformative of my life – hence my rush to share it with Kevin. I will only report now that I gained a lot of content but knowledge alone was not enough. The knowledge only provided context for me to understand what I experienced. It was the experience that Al facilitated – the experience of being skillfully transported, for a few hours, into a black man’s life – that impacted me.

Still, it was my friendship with Kevin that actually prepared me for what Al would teach me about the common humanity of blacks and whites. The stories we shared about our lives, the conversations we had, and the experiences we shared as co-workers prepared a place in my soul where Al’s message could be received and embraced. I have not been the same since.

The Need to Keep Moving Forward

Today it would be easy for me to pull a muscle patting myself on my back for how far I have come. I have a diverse group of clients – white, black, Hispanic, Latino and Asian. I live in a black majority county in a very diverse neighborhood. I have a very diverse group of acquaintances and friends. My Colombian spouse does not self-identify as a white woman.

However, I know my early racist conditioning was continuous and strong. I cannot and should not ever forget that that is how I learned to be. If I do, then I risk falling back because the racism of our culture today rivals that in which I came of age. Yes, we have a pandemic of COVID-19 that is stressing everyone and makes all things seem worse. It still cannot hide the pandemic of racism in the United States that has silently infected the souls of us white people througout my lifetime.

One reason I decided to tell this part of my story is so that people who care about me will hold me accountable when I fail to do it myself. You see, I’m a pretty nice guy. The “me” most people know today is very different from the “me” of years ago. They probably don’t know this racist past of mine because they have never seen it. At least I don’t think they have, except Kevin who is incredibly insightful and authentic, and was brave enough to call it out.

I know I’m responsible for my own life and for being the person I am. In asking others to hold me accountable I’m not asking them to be responsible. I’m just saying that I’m human. I can make mistakes. I can fail. When I do, I want people who care to snap me back on track. That’s all.

I do not want to be Amy Cooper, or the cop who strangled George Floyd, or the cops who watched him die, or the man who shot Ahmaud Arbery, or the man who instigated the shooting. I do not want to be a person who inflicts any level of pain on another person because they are black or a member of any other minority in this country.

As much I do not want to be that kind of person, I have to live daily in the knowledge that I am not so far away from it. My social conditioning, combined with our current racist environment, can call forth aspects of my still unconscious racism in the Unknown region of my Johari Window.

There are two kinds of deadly racists in our country. The first are those who know they are racist and are proud of it. They are the ones who show up in places like Charlottesville. They are dangerous but, frankly, not as dangerous as the second kind. The second kind are the socially conscienced unconcious racists. They are the people who think they are not racist and tend to deny its existence today, preferring to believe “we are better than that.” They are the ones who stand by and do nothing while racism kills people. However, afterward, they do stand around with friends like themselves and lament how bad things must be for “those” poor people. I do not believe I will ever be the first kind, but I am never far enough away from being the second.

If white folks were being honest, I think my reality is close to theirs. This, I believe, is what Don Lemon was trying to school Chris Cuomo on last night on CNN. This is a 9+ minute video clip from the start of Don Lemon’s show, as Chris Cuomo was “passing off” to him. It is a powerful, honest dialogue between two men who claim to be, and who I believe, are friends. Take the time to watch it now, and I’ll pick this up on the other side with a couple of questions.

Okay, thanks for watching the video. May I ask you a question: If you are a white person, did Don Lemon’s comments get under your skin? Did you feel for Chris Cuomo who was squirming just a bit? Did you squirm just a bit yourself? Did you feel even a little offended by Lemon’s comments? If you are a white person and answered yes to any of these questions, then you still have work to do.

You are not alone, though. I’m there with you. I still have work to do because I don’t like the alternative if I don’t remain attentive. In fact, all of us white people have work to do…lots of work…continously. The roots of racism – especially white racism toward blacks – run very deep in our country. We cannot allow ourselves to believe it isn’t there. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking we have, or can, iradicate it from our beings. These beliefs and delusions continue to kill black people and others who do not look, or sound, like us.

It is past time for us to wake up into the reality of our delusion.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and, if you are white, keep searching your soul for the unconscious racism that lies within. We only become better when we are willing to confront the problem and heal the illness.

Tom

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

Day 63 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

When I first started this blog…62 days ago…I wrote these words to explain why I was writing it: I’m mostly doing this for my own sanity and well-being. In fact it is more true than you might have imagined when you first read it.

Sunday, May 17, 2020 – Live to Blog from the 4th Wave

#alonetogether

Zoom had a system wide problem today. Can you believe it? We attempted to join our Quaker Meeting for Worship at 9:00 AM but to no avail. FYI, there is a service you can sign up for with Zoom that will alert you if there is a current issue with Zoom. For those of us who depend on Zoom these days (that’s pretty much all of us, right?), it is an invaluable service. You can sign up here.


The Fourth Wave

Victor Tseng is a medical doctor working in a VA hospital in Georgia. The first thing you may notice about him from his picture on his LinkedIn profile is that he looks young. He is. When you examine his LinkedIn profile closely you’ll see that he started university at age 13 in Washington State in 2003 and graduated in 2007 in bioengineering with honors. His minors (or maybe additional degrees?) were in music composition and mathematics. On his Twitter feed (@VectorSting) he featured this illustration titled the “Health Footprint of Pandemic.”

Illustrated by Victor Tseng, MD. Follow @VectorSting on Twitter

Fiona, a friend and colleague from Canada, first shared this illustration with me. From the first time I saw it, it resonated with me. A health segment on a local television station in Denver featured another medical doctor who used Dr. Tseng’s illustration and explained it in breater depth. The video of this segment is less than four minutes in length and is worth watching to more fully understand the meaning of this graphic.

The first three waves have specific implications for the health care system. If we escape the health challenges presented by these three, the 4th Wave remains as a threat to all of us. However, we all can have an impact on the 4th Wave, too.

The 4th Wave is about the adverse impacts of trauma on people. We can expect that the various traumas associated with the pandemic will be so significant for many that they will experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for some time to come. In some cases the stress of the pandemic will impact the brain health (language many are beginning to prefer over the term “mental illness”). These may also be exacerbated by the economic injury many will suffer as well as burnout, among first responders, essential personnel, and, more generally all of us, related to the stress of simply enduring the pandemic and “getting by” day to day.

There are two things about the 4th Wave that I’d like to highlight.

First, the 4th Wave does not happen after the first three waves. It actually begins in the midst of the 1st Wave – right now. Since it has already started, it means we are actually living in the midst of two waves.

Second, while it is principally our health care system that is tasked with mitigating the impacts of the first three waves, each of us can help mitigate the impact of the 4th Wave.

Our mitigation efforts may be as simple as checking in on people whom we know well to find out how they are doing and how we can offer them support. For example, a committee at our Quaker meeting has been doing this by phone. We received a call a couple of weeks ago from a member of the committee asking how we were doing and if there was anything we needed. A pretty simple act, huh? I reported that we were fine (we are) and still Clemencia and I really appreciated the call. Also, Clemencia and I both host weekly Zoom groups of people we know and each time we gather we always do a round of check-ins.

Another way we can help mitigate the impact of the 4th Wave is to reach out to people we may not know as well but whom we are concerned about. These may be the neighbors we know by sight but have never really talked with. They could be the people who pick up our garbage, deliver our mail, deliver groceries or prepared meals, mow our lawns, and clean our buildings. When we reach out to these folks the conversation may start a little differently. Instead of saying, as we would to those we are closer to, “I’m calling to check in…” we might say something like, “You’ve been on my mind recently and I’m wondering how you are doing and if there is anything you need that I can help you with.”

If we want to take our involvement up another notch, we can even find ways to help people whom we don’t know at all but who are in significant need. We can do this by volunteering with organized groups and service organizations. With the economic injury that is being sustained by our country there are a lot of nonprofit organizations which could use our hearts and hands, as well as our donations. These include organizations serving homeless populations, jobless people, disabled persons, immigrants, and those who are struggling with brain health issue (mental illness). These organizations, as we navigate the 4th Wave, will need our help now more than ever.

Because of the stigma of mental illness it may be most difficult for us to reach out and help those struggling with brain health issues. My friend and colleague, Patrick McNamara, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who worked on the front lines for many years. Today he is the President and Chief Executive Office of Palm Health Foundation in West Palm Beach, Florida. However, he retains and acts on the lessons he learned in the field.

Recently Patrick was a guest columnist for Stay Thirsty Magazine in which he recounts those lessons from the field which inform his work today. I’ve known Patrick for over two years and have been privileged to work with him and his staff at Palm Health Foundation. I have seen for myself how he lives out these lessons in his professional role. It is an excellent column and worth reading, especially if you want to make a difference in addressing the 4th Wave.


On a Very Personal Note about the 4th Wave

I was knocked down by the 4th Wave after the national trauma of 9/11. I was vulnerable already because I have had throughout my adult life a formal diagnosis and an informal diagnosis related to my own brain health. My formal diagnosis is PTSD resulting from ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). My informal diagnosis is a mild case of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). It is an “informal” diagnosis because it is one that I’ve made of myself based on my training as a mental health therapist. It is expressed by “checking” behavior, particularly in the kitchen. It is not unrelated to my ACEs as I can trace it back to a time when my father, an alcoholic, tried to cook while drunk late at night and, on several occasions, nearly set the house on fire. My anxiety, of course, is that a fire could start in our kitchen putting us all at risk; hence my checking is related to making sure nothing in the kitchen can cause a fire.

Irrational? Of course it is…now. However, one of the things I have learned about PTSD and it side effects, including some OCD, is that it is a normal response to abnormal circumstances. Overtime we learn to manage the PTSD. We do this by learning that the anxiety and behaviors of PTSD originally served the purpose of self-protection and preservation. Even more, we learn over time that we don’t need them any more. We also learn to spot and avoid the triggers, the things that remind us of the trauma and which can throw us back into it. However, some triggers are not always known.

The 9/11 tragedy was a horrific trigger for my brain health issues. It set into motion a series of personal events that included rapid, extreme loss of business revenue, ultimately the loss of my business and bankruptcy, and – even worse – a total loss of my sense of self. I fell into a personal hell that was deep and frightening, made deeper and more frightening because of the decisions and choices I made in that period. The losses I sustained in family and other important relationships were staggering. Though I have received grace and forgiveness from many over time, the sense of shame and disappointment I feel with myself remains at a very deep level. They fuel the nightmares which occasionally haunt me in the darkest hours of the night. My journey into that hell and back is one I never want to make again. My former father-in-law kindly explained it to my son as a “break down.” At the time, I wasn’t very appreciative of that interpretation, but I now know it was accurate.

When I first started this blog…62 days ago…I wrote these words to explain why I was writing it: I’m mostly doing this for my own sanity and well-being. In fact, as you now understand, it is more true than you might have imagined when you first read it. My understanding of my own brain health issues has continued to expand and grow over the past 19 years. When the trauma of this pandemic hit, I knew I would face a similar trigger to what I faced in September 2001. I did not want to be unprepared this time. I knew this blog would be a therapeutic intervention for me and it has been.

I know. This seems a very personal thing to share with you in a drivel blog. I share it fully expecting that the stigma which exists around brain health (mental illness) may drive a wedge between me and some who read this blog. That would be unfortunate. I also expect, though, that it will connect me even closer to some readers.

I began to think about sharing all of this when I first saw Victor Tseng’s illustration a few weeks ago. I wrote earlier that it resonated with me. Even more, it spoke to my condition and described something I knew was true from my own experience. I chose to share it now because I know the reality of the 4th Wave. I felt compelled to raise the alarm as strongly as I can to get your attention to say five things to you:

  1. It is real.
  2. We are not waiting for it to hit, it is hitting many already.
  3. Realize you can also be taken down by the wave, even if you’ve not previously had a brain health challenge.
  4. If you feel yourself going under the 4th Wave, do not wait to seek the help of counselors or friends who can help you set an anchor.
  5. Be aware of those around you who may be getting pulled down by the 4th Wave and consider how you can help.

If you need help connecting to local resources, let me know and I’ll do what I can.


Now Back to Our Usual Drivel

The spread of Covid-19 is based on two things: 

1. How dense the population is. 

2. How dense the population is.

With appreciation to Cynthia

The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 32, the Maternal Marauder takes her son, Benton Harbor, the now Invisible Chickenman, to see Dr. Marco Polo to try to restore him to visibility.


The View from Jeff

It’s Sunday, which means another comic from Jeff Logan to start the week.

Jeff Explains: I always get a great farmers tan in the summer – I think it is a genetic disposition from my prairie upbringing. I think that there will be a new addition to the usual tan lines from wearing masks. Although it snowed today so we may be a ways off from beach attire!!

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep aware of the 4th Wave.

Tom

Day 35 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

All of the golf courses in Maryland are closed. Philsophically I’m not opposed. I understand. It is for the greater good. Unfortunately for me…and more unfortunately for my neighbors…it means I have to stay in shape by hitting drives from our 4th floor deck.

Sunday, April 19, 2020 – Live to Blog from No Where Near the Golf Course


If I can just manage a full swing, I’m pretty sure I can clear the houses.

Not really…but sometimes I do fantasize about it. We live about a block from a park…a very quiet park…actually, its a cemetery. Clemencia likes to refer to it as a “park” so it doesn’t creep out anyone. But, hey, let’s call it what it is…a cemetery. Still, I’m thinking, I should be able to launch a good drive from the deck that clears the houses between here and the “park.” One thing is for sure…once it clears the houses it probably won’t hit anyone in the “park.”


Reflections on My First Job: Gravedigger

Speaking of cemeteries, my first paying job was as a gravedigger’s assistant in my hometown. My dad happened to be the town’s gravedigger so, yes, there was a bit of nepotism in the work place. Of the various job’s I’ve had over my lifetime, it is the one that tends to turn heads when I mention it.

Elmwood Cemetery – Where I did some of my best grave digging work.

The tools of the trade were short-handled drain spades and digging shovels. Of course we didn’t use the fancy terms. We just referred to the former as a “spade” and the latter as a “shovel.” The spades were actually used for digging the grave while the shovels were used for removing the loose dirt from the floor of the grave.

Once we measured off the width and length of the grave, we’d start digging. The width and length was not the same for every grave. It varied slightly by the size of the vault that was going to be put into the hole. However, the depth was always the same. We would go down four spade lengths, which would be a little more than five feet or at about six feet, depending on whether the spade had a 16 inch blade or an 18 inch blade.

The grave would be dug in layers. The first could be the most difficult because we’d have to cut through the grass and its roots. We’d use a file to sharpen our spade before going to work on the first layer. A sharp blade made it much easier to cut through the grass root system. Iowa has incredibly rich top soil so you knew the grass root system could be formidable.

A bit more ominous view of Elmwood Cemetery. Not quite sure what that light is, but I don’t think I’d want to find out.

Except in winter when it was more than formidable, it was nearly impossible. Iowa winters can be cold and the ground can freeze very hard and deep. Especially in the winter, it would have made a lot of sense to use a backhoe but, as I remember it, the use of a backhoe in my hometown cemetery was not permitted. When it was really, really cold, we’d borrow kerosene heaters to use at the cemetery. We’d set them up over the outline of the grave. Overnight it would usually soften the ground enough to let us at least get a good start. Then we’d keep the heaters running to keep us warm.

Even in the cold though, once you got one spade down, it was normal digging through the next three. I was always fascinated by that. Sometimes it felt so cold that I couldn’t imagine the ground wouldn’t be frozen all the way to the center of the Earth. However, that wasn’t the case.

The toughest part of the digging was as you neared the end. First, you really couldn’t have two people in the hole digging anymore because they would continuously bump into each other. Then you usually began to run into clay, sometimes by the third spade but mostly by the fourth spade down. Also, you had to throw the dirt much higher to get it out of the hole. It got really, really bad if you hit water which sometimes happened.

So, there you have it! Your daily dose of mostly useless information. I hope that it never becomes useful to you.


And Now a COVID-19 Message from the Von Trapp Family

The Adventures of Chickeman – Episode 4

Chickenman (aka Benton Harbor) flies to Minneapolis but stops in at an airliner to ask for directions.


And now, to start off the week right, Some Good News with John Krasinski

You really want to watch the full 16 minutes of this episode. Especially if you are a “Hamilton” fan like Aubrey. Enjoy!


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep clear of Stupid People.

Tom

Day 28 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

In the time of COVID-19 some are learning that human connection can be maintained, even strengthened, through technology, others are learning that technology alone was never enough. Still, we are learning again about the need for and power of human connection and relationships.

Sunday, April 12, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under an Easter Basket

We are in the midst of a challenging paradigm shift. It it is difficult and it is painful. Yet it was inevitable because of the tenacity of change. We will get through it and thrive if we rise up to the challenge with equally tenacious spirits.

The Tenacity of Change

I love consistency. No, I crave consistency. And I crave routine. As I approach my birthday and my annual review of life as a whole, I am reminded that nothing has been consistent or routine about my life. No matter how hard I have tried to make it that way, not in the past year, not in any of the previous years. What I have learned, though, is that change is the only constant in life.

This is the tenacity of change. No matter how much we deny it, run from it, hide from it, or pushback against it, change is still there. It is a constant for individual people, groups, organizations, countries, societies, and cultures.

COVID-19 is a virus which is physically deadly to humans. It is also a cultural virus which is rapidly changing our understanding of who we are as individuals, how we have related to one another, and how we have related to our planet.

  • Who we are as individuals. Our social distancing also invites us to be more reflective and instrospective. In the quiet of our lives – which sometimes now sounds deafeningly and painfully quiet – we can more clearly hear those voices of conscience, insight, and spirit that usually have a hard time getting our attention. When permitted they lift a mirror before us, allowing us to also see ourselves more clearly. As a result, we are reconsidering what is really important to us.
  • How we have related to one another. Most people are thinking differently about one another in small ways, such as being more considerate in stores and even on the road. In other ways some people who still have income are helping those whose income has been lost or severely impacted. For example, some gig economy housecleaners receive payment from clients even though COVID-19 concerns prevent them from actually doing any cleaning. Some stylists and barbers continue to receive payments for cancelled appointments by unkempt clients. Others are volunteering – to help with COVID-19 patients, to sew masks and gowns, to deliver needed groceries and medicines to those who are too vulnerable to go out of their homes, to provide companionship to those who are alone by convening groups and classes via video conferencing. On a grander scale, even some ceasefires have been proposed.
  • How we have related to our planet. About a week or so ago Clemencia and I were walking the Girls at night before bed. At nearly the same moment we noticed it. The planet Venus was shining like a beacon in the West like we had never seen before. We began to look around the sky and realized we could actually see stars too. We realized how clear the sky was and we wondered if stay at home orders and the closing of nonessential businesses could be making that much of a difference. We learned on April 9th that it is making a big difference…pollution over our house is about 30% less now than it was a year ago at this time. We have even noticed the difference with our noses. COVID-19 is giving us a unique and powerful view of what our consumption has been doing to Earth.

COVID-19 is teaching us who we have been but we it is not yet clear who we want to be in the future, or who we will choose to be.

Being Tenacious About Change

The choices we make about who we want to be are important for defining the new paradigm of our society and culture. Change does not stop simply because we don’t want it to happen or don’t want to participate. The change that is done to us, without our participation, often feels scary and threatening. To have the change we want we must particpate in it intentionally and thoughtfully.

Change is a threat when done to me, but an opportunity when done by me.

Rosabeth Moss-Kanter

When we participate in the change willfully and intentionally, it does become opportunity for us. Post-pandemic we can continue to choose to be reflective and thoughtful rather than impulsive and compulsive. We can continue to treat one another with dignity and respect in the spirit of peace, or we can take our conflicts off pause and pick them up where we left off. We can continue to hoard and squander the resources of the Earth or we can protect them and use them sparingly in a spirit of equity.

We are being tenacious about change when we welcome it as an opportunity and intentionally participate in it. Even more, our rationale for participation in change as an opportunity should be to become better as people and to find ways to do better by others and with others. I’ve never been very good good at preventing change or running away and hiding from it – whether it comes as the blessing of providence or the curse of a pandemic. Hence, I’ve found the wisest course is to embrace it and participate in it for my own good and the greater good of others.

Nothing will be the same once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed…regardless of whether that happens in eight weeks or eighteen months. We will have been changed, our relationships will have been changed, and our world will have been changed. Some of the changes will be wonderful, some a bit weird, and some will be tragic. Still, the change is here and it is happening now.

What lies before us now is this question: Will we intentionally, consciously, and thoughtfully participate in the change to make the new paradigm better for everyone than the old one?

One of the most important things we can take from this experience with the pandemic is about the value of human connection and relationships. It is one of the most important lessons we can use to inform how we participate in the change and what the new paradigm looks like. While some are learning that human connection can be maintained, even strengthened, through technology, others are learning that technology alone was never enough. Still, we are learning again about the need for and power of human connection and relationships.

The power of relationships is not something new to me. It is something I learned many years ago but too often forget nonetheless. It is still important for me to recall and it is one of the first and most important things I share with new clients:

We are still a long ways from turning the corner on COVID-19. However, it is not too early for us to be thinking ahead. It is important for us to be thinking now about how life might be different and how we’d like it to be different. The relationship we choose to have with ourself will influence the relationships we will have with others and our world as a whole. We are celebrating Spring in the midst of a pandemic that is changing everything. However, we can still seize the change as an opportunity by tenaciously engaging in the process of relationship building as the most important work we can all do in this time.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and, please, consciously participate in the change to make the new paradigm better than the old one.

Tom

Day 26 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Friday, April 10, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under a New Haircut!

Today I gave myself a haircut! A COVID-19 haircut! And they said it couldn’t be done! (Well, Clemencia, the Girls, Bert, Ernie, Beto & Enrique all hinted that it was a fool’s mission.) Nothing stops a subborn fool from Iowa!


Tom Gives Himself a Haircut

Before My DIY Haircut

I couldn’t stand it anymore. It just couldn’t grow wild any longer. It had to come off!

Of course, that is not how I’ve always felt about my hair. When I was a teenager I really wanted to have long hair and dreamed of wearing it in a ponytail. Didn’t happen…mostly because my hair was too thick to actually tie into a ponytail. Also, it may been a little too risky for life in a tiny town in rural Iowa in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Today my hair is not as thick; but the few strands I have wouldn’t look so great in a ponytail now. Plus, it really bugs me now when I can feel my hair start to touch my ears.

When in doubt on how to do something, go to YouTube. I found a couple of good DIY videos there but my favorite was this one.

You don’t have to watch the whole video now. However, if you are sitting there wondering what you are going to do with your hair, you might want to invest the 11 minutes, 38 seconds it takes to watch it. I learned a lot and I basically just followed this guy’s instructions. However, I did not cut mine quite as short as his.

As I was finishing my haircut Clemencia came into the bathroom to watch me snip the last few strands. I asked her what she thought of it. She looked at me for a few seconds, smiled sweetly, and then asked, “You like wearing hats, right? And you have a lot them?” Sigh. Strike one.

A few minutes later, I made a sincere, heartfelt offer. “Mi amor, really, if you’d like to have your hair cut, I’d be happy to do it for you. It’s easier than doing it yourself and I’ll be very careful.” Clemencia started laughing and she laughed till she was crying. Strike two.

I decided not to risk striking out.

So, I’ll ask you – since I won’t hear you laughing anyway. How do you think it came out? Here are three views.


In Reality…We Keep Hitting Sad Milestones

Today we hit another milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic. There have now been over 100,000 deaths worldwide. At the country level, only Italy has more deaths now than the United States…barely. By tomorrow it appears the U.S. will have caught up with Italy and assumed first place. I’m not going to say anymore about this at the moment. The reality of the moment speaks for itself.


A Quaker Meditation

I’ve mentioned that Clemencia and I are members of a Quaker community in Sandy Spring, Maryland. I grew up as a Methodist, became a Baptist, and eventually settled in the Religous Society of Friends (Quakers). Clemencia, as many growing up in South America, grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition. My first affiliation with Quakers was in the Friends Church, which is a part of the Society of Friends that looks more like traditional Protestant Christianity. In the Friends Church there are paid ministers (pastors) and the worship services utilize music, corporate prayers, testimonies, and sermons. Over the years, though, I grew more comfortable in the unprogrammed Quaker tradition. Unprogrammed Quakers have no paid ministers, no liturgy, and no music in our worship service but we do have a whole bunch of silence. Occasionally the silence is broken by someone who feels led by the Spirit to share a (hopefully) brief message. Clemencia and I feel at home among unprogrammed Quakers because of the style of worship and the values of Quaker faith and practice (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship).

Though Quakers don’t go in much for big celebrations of religious holidays, there a tradition which has emerged at Sandy Spring Friends Meeting for Good Friday. Each year there is a meditative experience offered at our Meetinghouse titled “Meditations on the Meaning of the Cross.” This year, of course, it cannot be offered live because of the pandemic. One of our members, however, did a video recording of it. It is based on the Stations of the Cross, or Way of the Cross, but it is infused with Quaker faith, philosophy, and values.

For many whose faith is within the Christian tradition, Easter week is one of the two most important in the year. This weekend it not possible…nor is it even responsible…to meet in worship together. For this reason, I’m including the link to our Meditations on the Meeting of the Cross below. It is not a Hollywood production but it is sincere and authentic 38-minute meditation. Whether you are of the Christian faith, another faith, or no faith, I think you may still find this to be a useful, calming reflective experience in the midst of a troubled time.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, and keep washing your hands, and, please, keep wearing a mask. In this way you protect yourself and others.

Tom