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.