A Pandemical Day in the Neighborhood

Diary 3/23/20  A Pandemical Day in the Neighborhood Series

by Judi Bachrach

                       For Mr. Rogers

It all comes down to fear

of the Ultimate fear

along the way

no food

no shelter

no rank in the herd

no breath

loss of any or all of the above

action based survival

nobody can fix

that Life is the way it is

for you

or anybody you love or not

believe it or not

compassion is all we can be

won’t you be my neighbor?

Dairy 3/24/20

It’s a Pandemical Day in the Neighborhood

            By Judi Bachrach

  (for Mr. Rogers)

Standing 6 feet away

I think of you all

near and far

my neighbors

at home

working or playing

Perhaps now there is time

more time than we remembered

to be

a neighbor

won’t you be mine?

Diary 3/25/20

Pandemical Day in the Neighborhood

            By Judi Bachrach        

            (for Mr. Rogers)

The line at the dispensary

Respectful 6 feet apart

Allowing 5 people inside at a time

“Yeah, my left arm is numb

Inoperable cyst on my spinal cord…”

“PTSD.” Mumbled reply, “thank you for your service…”

“My son just got laid off yesterday

I guess liquor stores are now non-essential.”

Chuckles all around

“At least the governor was proactive.”

Silence. This is conservative Ohio

Nobody mentions the president.

My turn  

I am delighted I could get enough tincture

to last me until September

Back in the Care Center

I shed my mask and gloves

wipe down my rollator

put that coat and those shoes away

My home neighborhood serenades me

through my open window

Singing my own newly minted words to me

Guess the tune to this one….

I’ve been working in my own room

all the live long day.

I’ve been working in my own room

just to pass the time away.

Keeping Kendal well protected

Rise up so early in the morn

Keeping Kendal well protected

Let’s all blow our horn.

Keeping Kendal safe

Keeping Kendal safe 

Blowing our own hoooorn—

Keeping Kendal safe

Keeping Kendal safe

Blowing our own horn.      

Someone’s in the kitchen at Kendal      

Staff is still working I knoooow –

People who are working at Kendal    

Keep the new status quo.

And we thank you

Fee fi fiddly i-o         

fee fi fiddly i-o-o-o-oo

fee fi fiddly i-o

Keeping the new status quo.

Spring Anyway

Diary 3/21/20

Spring arrived with a morning dusting of snow. From a high in the sixties yesterday it dropped to the thirties today. Along with that came the first Covid-19 case in our country last night. Now nobody except vetted staff and service people can come onto our campus at all. If I decided to go to my daughter’s house in her neighborhood near Cleveland, I wouldn’t be able to return to Kendal. My daughter and I already presumed it would come to this.

She and her husband and their son are driving back from Austin, Texas as I write. Two weeks ago, they had taken the chance to go see Max’s grandmother who was staying at her daughter’s house in Austin before she returned to Bosnia. Now, because she is a new American citizen, his grandmother has chosen to stay here with her daughter and avoid being alone in her apartment in Sarajevo. Besides, if you think the American healthcare system has issues, try Bosnia’s.

 Likely, I will choose to remain here at Kendal. Just like everybody else, I can’t hug or hold my beloveds for some unknown period of time. We do have the option to be together if things change, but right now it seems easier and safer all around if I stay here. The rapidity with which we have all been adjusting to the new normal is astounding.

I have been busy staying in contact with everyone near and far. Friends from Kendalites living in cottages and apartments, friends from afar and of old, and my extended family are all touching in. Thank goodness this crisis has come about in the era of cyberspace. I feel very cared for and not at all forgotten. I started to read from The Overstory (see former blog) to my blind friend down the hall, listened to a radio program with a friend who lives down the other way, and am clerking Quaker meeting tomorrow morning (even though I not a formal Quaker member) because I am able and more than willing to focus for the seven of us here who will gather in the Care Center.

Yesterday I was serenaded by two friends. Room numbers were posted next to our windows from the outside so that other residents could stop by and window chat. I wrote a song to add to their repertoire. Our version of “Let it Be” could have used some help. Happy spring to you and yours no matter what else is going on around you.

Covid-19 Song: We Must Build a New Way
(to the tune of Sweet Betsy from Pike.
Oh do you remember Sweet Betsky from Pike?
Who crossed the wide prairie with her lover, Ike,
With two yoke of oxen, a big yeller dog,
an old Shaghai rooster and an old spotted hog.
Chorus:
Singin’ Oorally, oorally, oorally ay, Singin’ oorally, oorally, oorally ay.)

In two thousand and twenty comes Covid-19
Across the whole planet on droplets unseen.
Many thousands have sickened, and thousands have died,
The infection has quickened, a pandemic worldwide.

Chorus: Let us rally together, let us rally today,
For a healthier world, we must build a new way.

Long before humans the virus was here
A model for change not a model for fear
Adapting forever as a way to survive
We can all do the same, so we all learn to thrive.

Chorus: Let us rally together, let us rally today,
For a healthier world we must build a new way.

We can’t gather for work we can’t gather for play.
We are learning to live staying six feet away.
If you just lost your job, with no money to pay
How will you manage to go on day to day?

Some leaders are clueless, and some have been strong
Each country is struggling to fix what is wrong.
The life we just lost while denial held sway
It is time that we rally to build a new way.

Chorus: Let us rally together, let us rally today,
For a healthier world we must build a new way.

This song has no ending, it is just the start.
We still have our heads and our hands and our hearts.
We all are connected, now that much is clear,
Let’s work hard together, let’s overcome fear.

Chorus: Let us rally together, let us rally today,
For a healthier world we must build a new way.

Two Points of View

My nephew from New York, who teaches at a private school in New York ,reached out to me as we are both navigating the dramatic changes in our lives. He asked if I would like to do a shared writing project together. This is our first effort and we are glad to share it with you.

                                 The Horrible Limitations of Being a Seagull

 You’re not dying, and you feel horrible about it.

            The sun is shining, the food is plentiful, and the wifi isn’t even password protected. You turn on the news to see the world all but burning, yet you look out the window at the waves gently lapping against the manicured beach, a seagull lazily skimming the surface for an afternoon snack. A gentle breeze—did you leave a window open or was that the air conditioning kicking back in?—raises the smallest of goosebumps on your forearm. The dull thwacks of a ping pong rally penetrate your subconscious; you decide that the seagull had the right idea and head for the mini-fridge.

            There’s privilege, and there’s guilt, and there’s the combination of the two that you’ve felt your whole life. This is something more, though. A chest-constricting, palpitation-inducing darkness that makes your old uneasiness look like the preadolescent bad dream that it was. You’re in the big leagues now, kid. And it’s time to stop thinking of yourself as a kid.

            Actually, as long as you’re going to be mature and take this whole thing on directly, you should probably drop the transparent distancing technique of the second person and own up to that aforementioned privilege. Stop hiding behind the “you”. When the world’s problems can be likened to tiny ripples in the not-yet-boiling water in the pot on the stove that will soon house the pasta that your children will eat for dinner yet again because they can not be bothered to try anything new this month, the second person is appropriate. When that pot of water has been forgotten about for over forty minutes despite the pressing red coils of the spiral beneath it, and the lid is rattling as the air bubbles gurgle, push, throb, higher and harder than anyone in their right mind would allow them to, the second person is unseemly.

            There is a virus snaking its way around the globe; it is killing people, destroying economies, generally wreaking havoc and destruction everywhere it goes and against everyone it touches. The people who are theoretically in positions to stop it are ineffectual at best. The person holding the most levers that could maybe, possibly, hopefully slow the damn thing down is a selfish, disgusting lout whose most pressing instincts leave him consumed by the twin evils of profiteering and blame abdication.

            Some of the chapters in the history books seem to be as bad as this; one or two were probably worse. But make no mistake about it: this is no time for cowards to hide behind the second person.

            I’m not dying, and I feel horrible about it.

Surthrival*

I am thriving over and above and in addition to, survival itself. Living in the Care Center of a continuing care retirement facility called Kendal at Oberlin (Oberlin, Ohio) I am safely ensconced in a lock down due to Covid-19. At 68 years old with degenerative disc disease and a past history of MS, I live in the Assisted Living area. I am younger, more mobile, and mentally alert than many of my neighbors. P is 102, Q is turning 100 next month, while others are between their mid 80’s to 9O’s. In one direction my hallway is filled with the most independent of us, and down the other side and turn left at the T intersection, some are nearly blind, totally deaf, in early stages of dementia, post stroke, socially disinterested, and/or owning a host of other ailments. Powered wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers are the norm.

Ohio has a governor who was proactive in establishing restrictive guidelines early on. He was determined to do his best slowing down the transmission of the virus giving hospitals a chance to accommodate what is potentially becoming an overwhelming crisis. Nobody goes in or out of here unless vetted daily (staff and service vendors) and visitors are only allowed for loved ones in a terminal situation. The first two days of fluid protocols were tough. Initially we couldn’t eat together anymore, (trays delivered to our rooms) then we couldn’t leave at all for our usual groups or committees or walks outside, and then the no visitor edict came down from above, applying even to spouses who live just on the other side of the closed doors. Keep your six foot distance at all times and wash, sanitize, and wash your hands again.

After adjusting to my lack of freedoms, I discovered I am simply grateful. Grateful to be cared for and very grateful for cyberspace through which I am able to contact my family and friends. This gratitude is amplified by knowing there are millions affected by this virus for whom the pandemic is already both a health and an economic disaster. The ripple effect of lost jobs as more venues are shut down, as students of all ages are staying home with their families, as lost plans of future expansion are rendered null in this new world- is staggering. The financial effects may last even longer than the rising and falling statistics of contagion we are daily stunned by.

How protected I am. How newly aware we all are that the potential for death and radical change is always present. Now this awareness has a new name in the package of a small virus, insisting that we are all interconnected, and that draconian changes in our lifestyles in major ways can possibly save, not just you and yours, but eventually, all planetary creatures.

May more of us find ways to support surthrival for everyone, everywhere.

* The prefix “Sur” means: over, above, in addition.

Messenger

Diary 3/14/20

Who knew it could be a virus that carried the powerful message of “we are all connected and that yes, you can and will need to change your behaviors on behalf of everyone’s wellbeing?” It wasn’t the messenger we were looking for. We’d rather have some strong, charismatic, aware person to lead us forward into the future with benign and realistic authority, but it is the one we have before us. The organism carries a heavy burden. It doesn’t promise safety or false hope. It is a force to be reckoned with and may help denial to take a big step back. It brings fear front and center to face person by person, state by state, and country by country as we go. Hate and false blame apparently does not work to stop the advance of the illness. Lives will continue to be lost. The ripple effect of lost income may last even longer than the peak of infection rates, as massive disruptions continue.

I think many of you have already received this poem. I have gotten it from several sources today, but I will pass it on here. Blessings to all.

Pandemic
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Reaching Out

Diary 3/12/20  

            Kendal’s watchwords are: calm, proactive preparation. At our regular health forum for the entire community yesterday afternoon, Covid 19 was the only topic of discussion. The doctor who is our medical director, the head of our nursing staff, the staff infectious disease specialist, and the chief health services officer were all on hand to inform us of the changes we have established for this month though things may change daily if necessary. As they did overnight. That turned out to be our last large community gathering for a while.

The Care Center area where I live is the most affected as we house the most elderly and health compromised residents at Kendal. The breakfast venue directly across the hall from me has closed, as will the nearest dining area. Meals will be brought to our rooms. Eating together is one of the most likely ways to spread the virus- a warm open mouth is an irresistible invitation for infection. Singing together is likewise not a good idea. The rest of the Kendal community can no longer come through our halls on their way to elsewhere in the sprawling facility. Entrances to the outdoors from our end of the world are locked and the inside hallways leading to the larger facility have been closed with unlocked doors. Many nearby cottage dwellers now have a much longer way to go around to get to the main entrance of the building.

Vendors and service people will be checked at all entrances for a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath before they receive the all clear sticker to deliver their goods and services. Staff and families coming from the outside must do the same. Our Oberlin Quaker meeting is held in another building on our campus and no one from town can now attend, nor can folks from town use the pool or use Kendal to meet for other ongoing projects. The children’s Early Learning Center down the hall is closed after tomorrow, as are all Ohio schools for early spring break or longer. In Ohio, gatherings of more than 100 people are banned, so there will be no more all community events in our own auditorium until further notice.

lf the number of cases escalate locally, which I fear is likely, we are doing our best with more intense personal handwashing hygiene entering and leaving any room-I haven’t forgotten to wipe down my cell phone and rollater handlebars. Perhaps our efforts will at least make it easier for local medical establishments to deal with a potential influx of ill people if we can slow down the spread of Covid19 on our end.

Today in the Care Center, it is very quiet. Because I have friends from the larger community who often dropped in to see me, I will now have to stay in touch via cyberspace and phone. This situation is nudging me to do more reaching out than I am used to, and since I am a little stronger, I can do this. For some of my Care Center neighbors in their 90’s and the woman down the hall who is 102, the change of routine is anxiety producing and very disorienting. They don’t have computers to Skype with and a couple of them are largely blind. Visitations and resident volunteer support will drop off and we worry about isolation for those who depended on them for contact. I will reach out to my elder neighbors more often than I have done in the past as I can no longer attend my usual meetings or lead my meditation groups.

The entire staff is on high alert and well educated as to their new duties which will undoubtedly increase as time goes on. I am slowly dealing with these adjustments. We will wait and see. The whole world is adjusting, and waiting, not just my tiny corner of Kendal in Ohio with our calm, proactive preparation. Making more of an effort to safely reach out to others is now incumbent upon all of us wherever we live.

Dancing with Life and Death

3/10/20

Politics and the coronavirus are doing the tango. Nothing grabs control of our emotions like a renewed threat of mortality (it is always there). For a while, the raging political scene fueled by America’s primary season was subsumed by Covid19. Inevitably, they are now entangled. Who will calm our fears? There are many of our fellow planetary citizens for whom science has supposedly taken a backseat to denial. Current leaders are aiming to control the outcomes of an unknown and unpredictable entity. As that is not yet possible, they are at least aiming to control public opinion and the economies that are being manipulated by fear. Reality will win this contest as it always does. Some countries have done better than others to react in a practical and timely manner. A strong urge towards denial may or may not be shattered as factual evidence of people you personally know are affected.

Oberlin College has just declared it is going to remote teaching as have a number of other schools. Kendal has Oberlin students volunteering here- getting partial scholarships in return for their support in various areas. This action from the college will have an immediate impact on the whole town of Oberlin as many people are employed there. Except for overseas students, the rest of the student body will return home, which will create different family dynamics. I think of seniors graduating, final concerts canceled at the Conservatory, friendships disrupted, and teachers adjusting to an entirely different way of preparation and teaching. I am not clear whether this is for the rest of the spring term or not, but it sounds as if it is.

I have both friends and family already impacted in terms of their current and future travel decisions for work and play. Because I live in a densely populated senior retirement facility, we are all aware of what might happen should the virus migrate to us from the three cases found in the neighboring county of northeast Ohio. Kendal has protocols already in place to prevent importation of the disease via staff, residents and visitors. We are in close contact with the state and local county health systems and hospitals. Kendal even has a (single) negative pressure room where the air does not circulate throughout the facility for quarantine purposes. I am told there was a bad flu season at Kendal a few years ago. It was also a rigorous handwashing, no touching, staff face mask/glove wearing, quarantine time for many residents, especially for those who were living in the Care Center as I now do. Most of this population already has compromised immune systems and it houses the most elderly among us.

Am I fearful of this virus? Well, I am less concerned for my family because they are young and basically healthy, though my friends and I are all in the same vulnerable age bracket. Max, my three-month old grandson, recently had a random fever for a few days. His parents were planning a trip to Texas which they would have abandoned if necessary. His fever was gone in time, and in fact, his immune system is stronger than ever with brand new antibodies. They flew to Austin to visit family and close friends. After hearing about the near proximity of the virus in Ohio, they are now concerned about me and thinking of what it would be like for me to live at Kendal in an emergency situation.

May it not come to that. May an early and continuing warmer than usual spring season help to slow down the progress of the viral transmission everywhere. Death and life are forever tango partners. For myself, I see that I am always dancing with death though my deliberate emphasis is on the living well side. I could envision scenarios of “what if” but do not spend much energy dwelling on them. I am slowly learning that I am able to focus my attention on loving what is right in front of me. Sometimes I remind myself when I am hard at work daydreaming, that I need to be here, wherever Here is at that moment. I am using the word “need” to focus. I need to not fall, to pay attention to what someone else is saying, to slow down and chew my food, to read the book more carefully- whatever I am doing needs me to pay attention. If I am not truly needed, perhaps I might better turn my attention to something else.

I do not know how I might react to a dire circumstance because fortunately, I am not yet facing one. Dancing with life and death needs me to be here because this is where I am.

Decay and Renewal

Diary 2/19/20

I finished reading Richard Power’s The Overstory and was stunned when I put it down. It is a long novel, but not a single word is superfluous or misplaced. It is essentially about trees and their place on our planet and subsequently our place in relationship to them. The book itself is written as organically as a growing organism, as seed by seed, sapling by sapling is planted in our minds and hearts, by a large diversity of human characters who interact with trees in their branching and sometimes intersecting lives. The evolution of our human existence becomes inseparable from those trees and forests that Powers so eloquently describes. His devotion to our education is based on sound science but is taught to us through sheer poetry. It resonates as only Truth and Beauty can and continues long after I closed the book. I cannot wait to read it again, though like any book of wisdom, I need some time to integrate what I have been touched by so deeply.

Given the arc of both still surviving long-lived trees today and their entire species’ impact on our own appearance on this planet, the novel’s view of human beings is given a tender but painfully realistic treatment. Our ignorance is evident historically and the impending crisis of willful denial is neither sugar coated nor used to punish us for our participation in the slaughter of our planet and vital interconnections with all living things. Powers gathers the latest research about the adaptability, intelligence and communication systems that trees use in an entire ecosystem. It is a delightful and amazing experience to discover that what we may have intuited while walking in the depths of the woods, has been confirmed to be true. We are being shaped by trees as much as we have historically endeavored to shape them solely to our own purposes.

I am not able to walk in the woods of my old home. But I can still close my eyes and summon sitting in the silence of the sixty acres we once stewarded: the smells, the sounds of birds and stream and rustle of small creatures, and the uplifting sense of awe of life being lived through a New York Catskill mountain forest. It was filled with decay and renewal at every turn. Further down the same road from my adult home, I remember as a child, spending hours next to a rotten log, fascinated by the tiny new sprouting “trees” of moss, one-inch lakes filled with tiny wriggling creatures, and the discovery of an orange salamander like a full-sized dragon stilling under my gaze. This is embedded as part of my every breath, my gift of being a planetary citizen.

Translating wisdom into action is difficult for humanity. We are terrible at embracing the many changes we have wrought, at guiding them with regard to our future legacy. Hope is in our preparing the soil for the next generations. It seems to me that irrepressible Life will be lived, whether or not we insist on being the center of it all- decay and renewal at every turn.