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.

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.

Grateful

Diary 10/8/19

This is a few minutes of a dance piece that a senior dance student from Oberlin and I performed for this past April ‘s Kendal community event, Spring Fling.

I look sorrowful and full of longing in most of it, but end with a grin as butterflies surround us. The end of the actual longer piece indeed had gorgeous butterflies flitting thickly through the air from a clip of a copyrighted film from another photographer which cannot be shown here. You just have to imagine them glowing in all their ephemeral beauty.

It is a sharp reminder to see myself as I was then to compare with how much harder it is for me to sit and move now. Then I was still in recovery from my laminoplasty three months earlier. The symbolism of me emerging from a cocoon was not lost on my audience. Perhaps there will be another emergence of wings after my next surgery. We shall see.

Here are the words of a song I wrote last month. The words were originally written for a poetry class last fall, but the melody driving the original lyrics was not what I wanted so I put the poem away. Watching the Ken Burns series on Country Music a few weeks ago, suddenly inspired a  tune to carry them, which I am sure came from a compilation of any of the hundreds of songs mentioned or featured in his movie. The poem took on a waltz rhythm; rewriting the lyrics as they wedded to the melody. I am so grateful that creativity has a means to be shared at Kendal. I got to sing this song at our bi-monthy gathering called Song Swap, led by a professional folk songstress that resides here with her musical audio-visual technician husband.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

                                                By Judi Bachrach

1)When I was younger, I fed the hunger

to become Somebody that the world could see.

Now I am older, I am much bolder

And daring and caring to simply be me.

Chorus:

Two sides of the same coin

laughing and crying and living and dying

the rainbow of aging is always engaging

with who we really are.

2) Loved ones are leaving, teaching me grieving

my broken heart I am learning to bear.

When I open to sorrow, I open tomorrow

an opening heart has much more love to share.

Chorus:

3) Times I still wander, times I still squander

this gift I am given of being alive.

Time is unending, I am befriending

A body that’s old with a spirit that thrives.

Chorus:

Perfection

5/23/19

Today is one of those perfect late spring, early summer days. When I am too much indoors, I crave getting outside. My eyes need to look out over long distances, my lungs need to inspire and expire fresh air, my skin needs a touch of sun, and my whole being hungers to be magnetized by the quality of stillness and life on the observation deck of the vernal pond off Buttonbush Bridge.

It is warm and sunny and very breezy. There is very low humidity, which is rare around here. Once my scooter wheels rumble over the wooden decking, I pull into the corner by the fence, and turn off the motor. The wind is strong, whooshing the leaves of all the trees surrounding the pond. We know that trees communicate with one another in an arboreal community. If there is a threat from parasites, it has been observed that one tree will take on the assualt so that other nearby trees may continue to thrive. They “talk” by chemical messaging through the fungal “internet” of tiny filaments. Around the pond in this environment, I imagine them singing out loud to one another. I may not understand the words of their language, but I gladly share the gusts of song as they are wildly dancing.

The pond is rippled into a million sparks, snapping along the surface. Leaves, seeds and small twigs are carried into the dark brew. There is the lone goose egg left behind on Mother Goose’s abandoned nest. The water rose so high from rain this year, that underneath the diminishing nest circumference, the excess water most likely suffocated the goslings in their eggshells. I saw the gander mating with her two weeks ago, but they seem to have left this pond. Perhaps they will raise another clutch elsewhere?

When I settle down more into the rhythms of the pond life, I now spy two turtles sunning on a mound of slithery weeds. The sun beats down on their glistening black shells and a tiny plop turns my attention to the larger turtle disappearing into the brink. The younger one pokes out its head and tries to gain puchase on the slimy surface to follow suit. It starts to gain traction but slithers down sideways, and then, it is also gone.

The breeze quiets, and a tiny maple seed pod perfectly helicopters all the way down to the weeds beside me. A frog trills. Birds dart around and dip in and out for a fluttering bath.

I finally arrive at pond silence. I close my eyes against the hot sun, allowing the whispering air to cool me. I am christened by gratitude. I am overcome by a deep sorrow for the inevitable destruction we have invoked for our dear great planet. I am lying at the bottom of the pond muck. I am transformed into food for invisible organisms. I am subsumed by silence, nested beneath the clay bottom of this pond, in this moment.

Another resident arrives, pushed in a wheelchair by her grandson who I am told is an oboist for the Philadelphia? orchestra. I couldn’t quite hear her as the wind carried her words away. He is young and fresh-faced, and clearly loves his grandmother who is so proud of him.

Whose Dance Is It Anyway?

Diary 4/16/19

So much has happened since my cervical stenosis was relieved through surgery. I still have pain and weakness from pinched nerves in my lower back that is due to “mild “stenosis and bone slippage at L4-5. I saw my spine doctor just before I flew to NY last Thursday evening. The good news is that he said he didn’t think the discomfort would get any worse than it is now. I can live with it as I have been for a long time. Actually I can’t truly summon what it would be like to be totally pain free. As we age, most of us identify with many aches and twinges we never had before. I am not at all alone in this. The doctors would not operate again for at least another year. We’ll see if recovering atrophied muscles in my back might stabilize my spine. I am working on them to do just that.

My butterfly dance is in the digital “can”. I wish I could post the low resolution version of it here but since the photographer used gorgeous copyright footage of butterflies for the credits, I cannot. Originally, he was going to superimpose them over us dancing. The piece turned out to be compelling enough to stand on its own legs. Well, on Martha’s legs and on the legs of my “emerging from cocoon” chair where I am sitting throughout the five minute piece. The manifestation of an idea into a film has been a delightful process. It is a tribute to Kendal and all that it offers, that I could so easily collaborate to create this. Whenever it comes out, I can at least post the link for Kendal’s two minute promo version of the highlights.

The other minor miracle is that I flew to NY for a whirlwind weekend to attend my friend Phyllis’s eightieth birthday party. The whole first day was about seeing people who would not be there. They were so kind to drive in to see me. I wished I had time to see more folks but it was too much to do any more than I did. The next day was all about being with my two darling daughters and saving my energy for the evening celebration which was terrific fun and deeply moving. I basked in the well deserved love that Phyllis’s family and friends showered her with.

Emilia drove us back to the airport early Sunday morning and there ensued a tangled travel story. I will not add to the detailed repertoire of airport woes we all can trot out. It was actually weather related as there was “extreme fog” in Manhattan that morning. Driving into the city was eerie- you couldn’t see the top of the bridge overhead and only the very tops of the tallest buildings emerged from the gray mass before us. We had fortunately changed our flight to an earlier departure and it turned out to be the ONLY flight that wasn’t eventually cancelled. The last scheduled flight to Cleveland left at 5:00 P.M. After three very sore hours of sitting before our plane finally departed, I can’t imagine how I would have made it if I had to spent the entire day in that most uncomfortable airport. I returned to a local Ohio tornado warning, but no wicked witches were killed at Kendal on Sunday evening.

The point is that I did it at all and, yes, it was extremely fatiguing, but not devastating to my body. It means I can occasionally go to see Marion in upstate NY and not have it all on her to come see her family in OH. Of course, I had Emilia to buffer everything- I could not have done it without her. But to spread my wings even this much was an unsuspected possibility two months ago.

I have been pondering all month. How do we arrive at this exact point of time? Would I have created that dance if someone hadn’t years ago recorded that particular piece of music for Richard on a CD? Did it begin when I first read Chuang-Tzu’s Taoist writings in my twenties? Or when I danced to my mother’s guitar playing as a toddler as that one cute photo attests to? How did I end up here at Kendal? All of our hundreds of seemingly random choices conspired to bring us to this hour of this day in this circumstance. Eldering offers us the time to reflect on how we chose any number of threads to weave the tapestries of our lives. How did it all transpire? Whose dance is it anyway?

Undaunted Daffodils

It has been snowing lightly all day. Despite that, “April, come she will…” The daffodils will withstand this day and emerge as proof that tomorrow is the first day of April, no fooling.

Despite the slow nature of my recovery, my body is recovering. Some days I walk accumulatively about 3/4 of a mile. Some days I sit for two meetings, my my meditation group, and then dinner. Remembering my former life of consecutive actions filling a whole day is amazing to me. Today is not one of those days. After walking carefully on the well salted, but icy path to Quaker meeting and back, I am tired. I take my cues from my body for the need to move or to rest, and today is all about resting as the snow lazily drifts down.

The “Butterfly Dream” dance I mentioned in the last blog has gone through many iterations. The marketing folks at Kendal want to use the film for a promotional blog since it features me collaborating with an Oberlin dance student. Our intergenerational connections are important to residents here and that includes the children at the Early Learning Center down the hall. They, too, will be filmed chasing “bubbleflies.”

For the Kendal blog, I was asked to cut my piece down to three minutes. Then two minutes, then back to five again by the videographer. He said he would film the whole piece then edit it down to two minutes for the promo. He is really masterminding the film that will be shown at the Kendal Spring Fling event. He managed to get permission to use a gorgeous slow motion video of butterflies from the Cockrell Butterfly Museum in Houston that he can superimpose on us dancing. The last five minutes of Adagio for Strings will play as he plugs in the voice over of the parable prerecorded beautifully by my friend, and then he films us dancing. He will edit down the highlights for the two minute promo. In our many email exchanges he has been creative, inspired and very professional. I believe he will do a masterful job for both films.

Like the daffodils, this dance is my small plot of undaunted buds, ready to adapt to the changing weathers and emerge as colorful harbingers of spring.