June 3, 2020

Today is Wednesday, June 3 and this is Repeat Day. Today is Wednesday, June 3 and this is Repeat Day.

other voices

Today I’m bringing other voices into The Daily Drivel. However, what they have to say is not drivelous. I appreciate their thinking, the clarity of their speech, the beauty of their voices, and their prespectives.

The first voice is that of my son, Jake. Yesterday, at exactly the same time I was writing my blog about him, he was writing in Facebook. I reached out to him early yesterday evening to review my blog before I posted it. He approved of what I had written and, as you will see below, it was aligned with what he also had written. I have also asked and received his permission to share his posting to Facebook. Here’s what he wrote:

The second voice is that of Stephen Colbert, the host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. Colbert stands in the long, honored tradition of the court jester who could deliver bad news to the king with impunity. The mantle of the jester rests today on the shoulders of many stand up comedians, including Colbert. Colbert’s monologue on Monday, June 1st was speaking truth to power in a more serious way than is typical for him. It is 12 minutes worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

The next voices are musical. I have selected them because they are songs that I have always associated with healing, compassion, love, and unity. All are in short supply at the moment, but we can’t blame the pandemic on that.

I will forever appreciate the performance delivered by John Legend in the Easter 2018 live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was one of the most powerful and beautiful performances on any stage I’ve ever seen. If you’ve not seen it before, take time to find it and watch it now. It is relevant to these times. However, the voice of John Legend comes with a different message today. His rendition of the Simon & Garfunkel song Bridge Over Troubled Water is like a healing balm. You hear it in his voice and in the voices of the audience who join him on the chorus.

At the risk of redundancy, the next voice is Chris Mann singing the same tune. Mann’s COVID-19 song parodies have been featured here already but this is no parody. It is a beautiful a capella version which appears to have been posted just today by Mann. Don’t be distracted by the (too many) images of Mann in this video because the music is incredible. Just listen, you don’t have to watch.

The day after Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States I was at Dulles International Airport to catch a flight. There were throngs of people there who were going back home after having attended that historic event.

I joined a long line of people trying to buy coffee and so did a small woman who was right behind me. I knew it was going to be a while so I decided to do what I always do: strike up a conversation. The two people ahead of me were friends and already chatting. I didn’t want to interrupt. The woman behind me appeared to be alone and she smiled back when I smiled at her. I remember it seemed to me she was dressed too casually for an older woman – sweat pants, sweatshirt, and a baseball cap – who exuded a certain fine dignity and style. Still, she seemed a likely candidate so I started a conversation with her.

We talked for about five minutes and then I realized something was familiar about her. When she realized that I was recognizing her she stopped the conversation. She leaned toward me, fixed her eyes on mine, and said, “Yes, you know me.” I leaned toward her and said, in barely a whisper (in case I was wrong), “Dionne Warwick?” She nodded. For the next 25 minutes we had the most wonderful conversation.

The next musical voice is that of Ms. Dionne Warwick. This video was filmed in March 29, 2019, ten years after that serendipitous conversation at Dulles. She is older now but her music is timeless. This is one of my favorites from her songbook. When the song was written in the early 60’s it was first offered to her by the songwriters, but she turned it down. Eventually she did record it twice though. First on an album. Then, in 1996, she recorded it as a single.

It is also a timely song. Some may feel the sentiment may be a little sappy but remember that it was originally recorded in the midst of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Those were not sappy times.

Marvin Gaye‘s is the next voice singing Abraham, Martin, & John, a song that was made famous by Dion in 1968. It is a tribute to the memory and work of Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy and Gaye’s rendition is powerful. These men had a powerful impact on our country. They were each imperfect people – a fact which Mr. Trump should take comfort in – but they usually were still able to put the country and the greater good before themselves – a fact Mr. Trump should allow to convict to his soul.

The final voice belongs to that of Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer. Though Seeger did not write This Land is Your Land (it was written by his contemporary Woody Guthrie) he probably did as much to popularize it. A little known fact about Seeger, except in Quaker circles, is that he was good friends with Friends and we, therefore, lay a bit of claim to him.

There are two things I really like about this song. First, it’s origin story. Guthrie wrote it as a critical response to Irving Berlin’s nationalistic anthem, God Bless America. You’ve got to wonder what he might have written had he had to endure endless renditions of God Bless the U.S.A.

Second, its possibilities. Frankly, I am not a fan of the musicality of our national anthem. It is hard to sing and the music is lousy. Seriously, can you ever think of any rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that didn’t make you want to check your phone or go to the kitchen for more salsa? I didn’t think so. Me neither. (Do you know how risky it is to hold this view and live so close to Baltimore where it was penned?) However, This Land is Your Land is a wonderful candidate to be our national anthem. The music is fun and it is immensely singable, right? Maybe that is why it is one of the first songs taught in grade school music class. The only thing standing in the song’s way of being our national anthem is it’s aspirational message of unity and inclusion. Uh oh. That could be a problem, huh?

This Land is Your Land is also in the long, proud tradition of protest songs. Maybe it is a good option for today’s protesters who still want to raise their voices. Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie would be proud!

(P.S. If you aren’t really sure this is a protest song, be sure to read Woody Guthrie’s original 1940 lyrics in Wikipedia. Actually, this version incorporate a number of those original lyrics. Listen carefully to Seeger’s call and response, you didn’t learn this version in grade school!

Chickenman – Episode 47

The final voice belongs to Chickenman but not because he has anything important to say. Besides, today he has amnesia and can’t remember what to say. It’s because we still need to find reasons to smile and laugh in the midst of everything else that is happening.

Take time and care to laugh as well as cry; pray for hope as well as justice; speak in whispers as well as shouts; listen to music as well as speeches; and sit in peace as well as march for peace. All are okay. The balance keeps us healthy, it keeps us sane in an insane world.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep remembering to stay in balance.

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 61 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

In barely a month, during the worst days of the pandemic so far, there has been a 10% drop in the number of Americans who said they are likely to get the COVID-19 vaccination once it becomes available.

Friday, May 15, 2020 – Live to Blog Amidst of a Lot of Noise

Besides the political and societal noise about COVID-19, we are also dealing with a lot of actual noise today in our house. Rather than face thousands of dollars of repairs to keep our HVAC system limping along, we decided to take a deep breath and replace it. The installers are here today. They are making good progress and some great noise! All is normal.


Will a Vaccine Really Matter?

Tweets don’t usually disturb me. Until today. It disturbs me for two reasons. First, I tend to trust the source. Second, the content is frightening.

The tweet came from David Brooks, the New York Times columnist who is often identified as a conservative and a Republican. I first started following him on the PBS News Hour where he squares off each Friday with Mark Shields, a progressive Democrat. Over the years I have enjoyed their thoughtful and thought provoking debates. They remind me that civil discourse, and even agreement, is still possible if people are willing and able. Brooks’ The Road to Character is one of those books that I’m quick to recommend to people and, of course, I recommend it to you. When David Brooks speaks, I tend to pay attention. This morning I paid attention to his Tweet:

The graphic he shared is scary. Look at it closely. In barely a month, during the worst days of the pandemic so far, there has been a 10% drop in the number of Americans who said they are likely to get the COVID-19 vaccination once it becomes available. Responses to Brook’s Tweet included the usual rants and snarky comments but there was one that stood out to me because of its analysis.

What @lbbayer, and respondents, are revealing is the lack of trust many people have in “current leaders” generally and in Donald Trump specifically. No surprise there. Part of our great partisan divide in the U.S. is the lack, even absence, of trust that people in one party feel toward leaders put forth by the other. Regardless of who started the fight, in the end, all will lose. The leaders will lose because all will have drawn the ire of the people. The people will lose because of failed leadership.

There are two things our leaders do not understand, or, if they do, they don’t care about at all…which is even more frightening.

First, leadership is not about being ahead, or “the head,” of people. It is about walking alongside them without concern for what is in it for self. Consider what Lao Tzu wrote millenials ago:

Second, trust is fundamental in motivating people to embrace change. Stephen Covey wrote “Trust is the glue that holds everything together.” He is also credited with the concept that change happens at the speed of trust. In the midst of this pandemic, until American’s can trust their leaders to make decisions in the best interests of we the people as whole (and not special interests), communicate transparently and honestly, and act with integrity, we will not make much progress against COVID-19.

We not only have a pandemic of COVID-19, we have a pandemic of mistrust.

Recently I’ve heard economists, scientists, and public health people agree on a single point: the economy will not come back until we bring the virus under control. This is because most people are too afraid to go back to work, patronize restaurants, theaters, bars, shops, stores, and other businesses until they feel it is really safe to go out again. Though we remain under stay-at-home orders here in Prince George’s County until June 1, we expect to be avoiding public places for a very long time to come.

Our country and society has been dealt a devastating blow in terms of both health and economy. It is important right now that we be able to believe our leaders and trust them. Our capacity to recover depends on it. Unfortunately, our leaders do not appear to have the moral courage or capacity to do the one thing they must do: together sow truth to let the seeds of trust grow.


Why Wait? Have Heapin’ Bowlful of Some Good News!


The Adventures of Chickenman

Now that Chickenman has been completely dissolved by the Chicken Dissolver, what will it mean for crime in Midland City?


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep demanding the truth of fact and science.

Tom