Is It Time for a Train Trip?

Newsflash:  Boise, Idaho has the worst rush hour in the nation and the fifth worst in the world according to an analysis conducted by Fleet Logging, a trucking industry website.  I find this hard to believe considering I spent a day trying to get around Boston on Interstate 495 last year. It wasn’t a very “wicked smaaht” idea to drive in Boston. We crawled and creeped past Beantown.  And don’t even get me started on the parking lot known as Highway 101 in Los Angeles. So, I’m all for President Biden’s infrastructure bill, especially whatever money can be thrown at Amtrak Rail service.

For the uninitiated, train travel is wonderful.

I began traveling by train years ago because I was afraid to fly. And, though my home is in the West, much of my extended family live in the East. If I wanted to see them, I needed to find a mode of transportation that didn’t require vodka martinis or Xanax pills. I was excited when I discovered the Zephyr train line goes back and forth between San Francisco and Chicago. Best of all, I could pick up the train in Elko, Nevada, just a few hours south of where I live. If you decide to use the Elko station though, don’t expect an airport lounge with cushy seats and Starbucks coffee. It’s an open-air, plastic shelter planted in a sagebrush patch south of town. Oh, and the return train stops in the middle of the night at 3:03 a.m.—that is, if it’s on time.

Despite those few downsides, I got hooked on train travel. When I was much younger I had to have a surgical procedure that left me feeling unwell and depressed for weeks. My husband finally suggested I get away for a while and take a train trip back east to visit family members.

I remember how restful and soothing the trip was for me.

Time seemed suspended the three days and nights I was on the train. I was so relaxed the rocking of the train kept lulling me to sleep. I tried to stay awake to see the beauty of Colorado’s Ruby Canyon whizzing past, or the mythic Mississippi River as we crossed over at the Iowa/Illinois state line. When I could keep my eyes open I read and knitted and chatted with other passengers. Every morning I woke up to the smell of fresh coffee coming from a coffee station in our car, and the rustle of a newspaper being slid under my sleeper door. Such luxury.

I’m not the only person with train on the brain. Two of the richest men in America, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, believe in trains and train travel. Warren Buffet’s company owns the largest railroad in North America, BNSF, and Bill Gates is the biggest shareholder in Canadian National, the second largest railway. Many in the business community, as well as regular commuters, are hopeful that a high speed rail line can soon be built in the U. S.  I rode a Bullet train myself, in France.

“Sir,” I asked the conductor. “Are we going more than 100 miles per hour?”

“Oui!” he said looking surprised. “We are going 320 kilometers!  In America that’s about (he paused, thinking) 200 miles per hour.”

If trains are the future, they also have a colorful past. At the peak of rail service during World War II the snappy song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” became iconic for its description of train travel:

You leave the Pennsylvania Station ‘bout a quarter to four,
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore,
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer,
Than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina…

President Biden “Amtrak Joe” didn’t leave a Pennsylvania Station but a Delaware one for over thirty years in his commute to Washington D. C.  Biden makes a good case that train travel doesn’t just ease traffic congestion, it’s also good for the environment. According to Treehugger.com, a full train beats planes and cars for lower carbon emissions—hands-down.  So train travel?  Nothing could be finer.

Image Credit:  The California ZephyThe Dome Car    Chattanooga Choo Choo

Where Do You Go To Grieve?

Where do you go to grieve?  As Easter approaches I’m reminded of the story of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, how he prayed just before his arrest and execution.  The garden was actually an olive orchard, probably with some fresh water source, a spring or well, nearby. No doubt it was private and quiet enough for praying.

Historically, people have often went to natural spaces like gardens and grottos to find comfort in times of suffering.

In 1965 I was just a young girl when my brother died in a swimming pool accident. The place I went to grieve was a large spreading oak tree in a field near my house. I remember climbing on a branch and crying.  After a while I calmed down and sang to myself a Beatle song I liked:  “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah…”

Fifty-five years later, this past fall, I lost another brother, this time to cancer.  It was not as sudden nor perhaps as tragic since Matt had the opportunity to live a full life.  Still, I had to get away by myself to grieve, somewhere outside in the open air, for death felt like a dark, stuffy crypt.  In southern Idaho there aren’t any garden oases like Gethsemane, and oak trees don’t grow very well in the desert. There is however, vast sagebrush plains and steep rocky canyons carved by the ever-flowing Snake River.

I struck out on a walk one late fall day shortly after Matt’s death.

Wiping tears away with my shirt sleeve, I was startled when a jackrabbit jumped out from behind some bitterbrush. My mind was so preoccupied with death, the first thought I had was my husband’s story about killing jackrabbits in the desert during an infestation. As I watched the rabbit race over a hill, I noticed the sagebrush was almost done flowering. I ambled over to a large sage and swept my hand over its crown.  Fine, yellow pollen dusted my palm.

I hadn’t planned to climb to the top of the canyon, but that’s what I did. I knew this trail well and had traveled it many times over the years.  It was hard climbing, stepping over sharp rocks and around animal droppings, mostly coyote or mule deer. It wasn’t long before I found myself panting and sweating. The red-twigged Russian thistle, a noxious weed non-native to Idaho, kept grabbing at my pant legs. Up ahead I could see my resting spot. It was a basalt outcropping about half way on the canyon wall, flat-surfaced and good for standing and taking in the river view below.

One time several years ago I stood on this basalt ledge and happened to glance down at my boot. There, half buried in the dirt, was a black sliver of obsidian. I took the toe of my boot and pried under it enough to see the sliver’s shape. How surprised I was to find a perfectly carved Indian arrow head, presumably used to hunt birds. It was a nice memory and the view on the basalt ledge that day did not disappoint:  beautiful as always.

Wiser people than I have considered this paradox we call life: blissful moments even in the darkest of times.

As I turned to head back down the trail, I felt noticeably better.  But I had one more significant discovery that fall day: I found a dried up snake skin just off my path.  Snakes can shed their skin more than once during a season.  I picked up the snake casing and held it in my hand thinking about the last time I saw Matt.  He was lying still on a hospital bed and I knew he’d finally slipped this mortal coil.  Like the women standing before Christ’s empty tomb, I realized, he was gone.

 

Image Credit: Oak Tree    Image Credit:  Diana Hooley photo/Snake River Canyon   Image Credit:  Diana Hooley photo/snake skin

Fowl play: Judging Meghan and Woody

The thing about chickens is, they have both good and bad character.  When I open the coop door and allow our chickens to roam the yard, they lurch along from leg to leg crowding and nudging me, wanting the bag of table scraps I have in my hand. They’re annoying and don’t know how to share with each other. They like to hoard, and they can be vicious and nasty in a fight. Still, chickens are generally good mothers, protective of their nest and amazingly, they turn all our leftovers: sour milk, brown lettuce leaves, and old cereal, into rich, yellow-yoked eggs.

Humans have a lot in common with chickens, including an unreliable character. Even Shakespeare had something to say about our shared shortcoming: “…tis but a base, ignoble mind that mounts no higher than a bird…”

Maybe it’s because of our fickle characters that we like to lionize or villainize others, placing people in categories of good and evil.

We easily and readily judge, anointing saint and sinner.  Look at the response to the recent televised dramas about the problems between Meghan Markle and Britain’s royal family, or, the Woody Allen-Mia Farrow abuse saga. Serious allegations have been made in these situations, but that’s not my point. What I find interesting is how much we enjoy passing judgement.  It’s the same with chickens. There’s always an effort underway in the coop to ferret out a bird that will become the sacrifice for everyone’s sins. She’s the chicken that gets pecked at. And once this happens, predictably, all the other chickens pile on until there’s nothing left of her but dried blood and tail feathers.

Certainly, justice is important. People do bad or criminal things and should be held accountable. But why do we relish the role of judge so much? The desire to impugn someone’s character and place blame is such a strong impulse (in both chickens and humans) that even friendships become susceptible.

People can’t deal with each other’s failings so they go to counseling to learn how to cope with “toxic” relationships.

My therapist daughter tells me Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps clients view themselves and others through a more multi-colored lens, rather than black and white. One aspect of DBT is to recognize there are different truths about us all, and we are complex. History is full of flawed characters. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence with both eloquence and inspiration, yet he kept a slave mistress and died in debt.  Aviator Charles Lindberg exhibited great skill and courage in 1927 with his nonstop, solo flight across the Atlantic. Yet, Lindberg also was a racist, and widely reported to be a Nazis sympathizer.

I just read Kristen Hannah’s latest novel, The Four Winds, and marveled at what a compelling story she told of a family surviving the dust bowl and migrant labor camps in the 1930’s. Good literature usually moves you emotionally, and this book did that for me.  Even given this, I was acutely aware that Hannah’s book was historical fiction. The characters weren’t real. They were not rounded. They were one-dimensional, either good or bad. The protagonist mother was a long-suffering angel, and her boss at the migrant camp was unscrupulous and greedy (the MO, by the way, of several “tough” business leaders today).

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion in the media about the “cancel culture,” a social phenomenon involving judging and shunning. 

It’s not only a problem across the political spectrum (for both conservatives and liberals), but also in our communities and family systems where estrangements can occur.  It’s one response to people in our lives that we find intolerable.  Another might be, understanding. We may not be able to accept everything about another person, but pecking them to death is not a solution either.

Blog posts at: http://www.dianahooley.net, image credits: Diana Hooley, Meghan and Harry Interview, The Four Winds

 

 

 

Getting to Know Each Other Again After Covid

Some people thrived this past year during the pandemic, barely noticing the lock-downs, shut-downs, and shout-downs between the maskers and anti-maskers. Others were just “doing time” in their own home, a house arrest. And then there were the social butterflies forced to live less colorful more grey lives, pinned by a pandemic.

I spent this Covid year largely at my computer in my favorite outfit: yoga pants and a T-shirt.

Dressing up is now something from my distant past. I’m also less talkative. I grunt more. Movie star Sylvester Stallone said he preferred grunting as opposed to speaking in his portrayal of Rambo, an ex-military vigilante.  Stallone said the less dialogue the better—and that much can be communicated through grunts. So, I defer to Rambo’s wisdom.

Now though, with increasing Covid vaccinations and infection rates dropping precipitously, life as we once knew it may be returning. We’ll soon be able to eat at restaurants and see grandma face-to-face again. I have a friend who lives in British Columbia but her elderly mother is in a nursing home just across the border in the United States.  It’s been a year since she’s seen her mom. First the nursing home said no visitors, and then the Canadian border closed. I’ve wondered, after Covid will my friend and her mother have a happy reunion? Or will her eighty-eight year-old mother have grown too frail for a hug?

For some of us, a year is a long time.

Covid has changed us in many ways, including how we live and work.  It also may have altered the way we relate to each other. I took a walk with a neighbor this morning who told me that she suddenly felt like she’d become an introvert.

“I don’t know,” she said, “I just don’t have a longing to join in with my old groups anymore.  I’m a little lonely, but I don’t have the energy for socializing.”

Our social and emotional lives can experience Covid damage. Sciencemag.org (online, 3/16/2020) says chronic social isolation increases mortality by as much as 29%.  Apparently, just being social makes a big difference on our stress levels. The institutions and activities that bind us, churches, community organizations, and sporting events for example, bring us both pleasure and comfort.  Such activities connect us.  I haven’t sat next to someone in a movie theater or at my granddaughter’s piano concert in over a year. Superficially, I haven’t missed the togetherness, but Harvard sociologist Mario Small says being with others can give us a reassuring sense, “… that (we’re all part of) something larger…”

Now thinking ahead to post-pandemic, I’m wondering if we can pick up where we left off relationship-wise.  Last March I sat at a dinner table with my book club friends talking and laughing through the night.

Zoom meetings have replaced those relaxed, fun times, but tech can only go so far in giving us a sense of community.

I politely declined when my sister-in-law recently asked me to Zoom together with other family members. I’m all zoomed out. You can’t read body language on Zoom, and that affects the flow of conversation. Either you’re talking over someone else—or you sit there silent, smiling dumbly into the computer screen.

A good analogy for our year-long Covid withdrawal is the story of Sleeping Beauty. When we wake up will all our castles be overgrown with vines, as neglected as our social lives?

My best hope is to smoothly transition back into former relationships.

The military has a protocol for service members returning home after an extended deployment. They advise them to take it slow “reintegrating” with family and friends. Military.com (online) says, “That first kiss back can be an amazing one, but it can also be awkward (nine months or a year of no kissing can do that).”

So, to all my affectionate family and friends that I haven’t seen in a year, I’m as ready as you are to get back together.  But just so you know, a simple grunt “hello” is the only greeting I need.

 

Blog post at http://www.dianahooley.net.  Image credit: Rambo, and Friends,

 

A Valentine to My Old Baptist Church

I grew up in a Baptist church and the people in the church became my friends and my community.  Brother Griggs, our minister, gave the same message nearly every Sunday, pacing back and forth on the stage of the sanctuary and wiping his sweaty brow with a handkerchief. He was passionate about saving sinners.

Even as a young girl I recognized Brother Griggs was trying to help his congregation find meaning in this life, and hope for a heavenly afterlife.

That was the theme of a hymn we often sang in my church, a 19th century melody by Eliza Hewitt called, “When We All Get to Heaven.”

I didn’t go to many town or school events because my church had its own social calendar. Besides regular church services, every Sunday evening was Young People’s meeting. I sat in a pew with my girlfriends, Sandy and Rita, chewing double-mint gum while we passed notes about cute boys in our youth group. We sometimes played a game called “Swords Up” where we held our Bible (our sword) with two hands in front of our chest until our youth leader gave us a Bible verse to find.  Then we’d race each other to see who could flip through their Bible the fastest and locate the verse. On holidays our church celebrations were different too. For example, on New Year’s Eve while the “secular” world was drinking champagne, our church had a Night Watch service.

The women in the church brought in casseroles and chocolate sheet cakes, and we ate, sang, and prayed our way through midnight into the New Year.

Once a month we had Wednesday communion and foot-washing service. The communion was a solemn affair, but the foot-washing part was pure fun.  Long before spa pedicures the people of my Baptist church laughed and splashed washing each other’s feet. We were following the model of humility Christ presented in the New Testament when he humbly washed his disciples’ feet.

I no longer attend a Baptist church, but have many, many good memories. Some of my friends however, are less than happy with their evangelical upbringing. A woman friend said she was frustrated with the patriarchal teachings of her church and found it demeaning to women. Another man told me he could no longer see the relevancy of what he was taught in Sunday school. One complaint I never hear from my age group is how the church “politically” misled us. In the 1960’s and 70’s there was a distinct line separating our church and the rest of the world. We believed and followed Christ’s words in the book of Mark: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and God’s the things that are God’s.”  The church’s mission was spiritual, not political. Our eyes were to be set on Christ’s kingdom, not a temporal government or that government’s agenda.

Interestingly, the Southern Baptist church, the largest protestant denomination in America, has experienced a significant drop in membership the last 13 years (Associated Press, 6/2020).

Apparently, young people are moving away from Baptist churches. Newsweek reported (12/13/18) that a 29-year-old Connecticut man, Alex Carmire, left his church shortly before his pastor announced from the pulpit that the presidential election of Donald Trump was ‘a miracle of the Lord.’ Just a few weeks ago a Baptist minister in Texas tweeted to his congregation that our new black, female vice-president, was a “Jezebel.” Maybe in recognition of this growing trend toward politicization, Southern Baptist leader Ronnie Floyd recently said, “It is clear that change is imperative…We have to prioritize reaching every person with the Gospel of Jesus Christ…” (Associated Press).

Floyd makes a good point. The first line of “When We All Get to Heaven” reads: “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus…”  These words are far more potent and beautiful than any political philosophy or slogan. If the Baptist church wants to retain its influence, perhaps it should consider going back to the basics.

That message of love spoke to me as a child. It still speaks to me today.

 

Blog Post at http://www.dianahooley.net and images: Church and Politics

Can Our Farm Save the Planet?

It’s a puzzle.  The problem is our livelihood and lifestyle. My husband and I are farmers living on the Snake River in Idaho who enjoy the fresh smell of cut hay and hearing the cows calling their calves. Our life is rich and rewarding, yet because we pay such close attention to things like weather, we know it’s getting warmer. Spring is nudging earlier and earlier and we need the deep freeze of winter to kill pesky bugs and build mountain snow packs to fill our reservoirs for irrigation.

I’ve asked myself, what can we do to help slow climate change?

But the very act of growing crops accounts for nearly a quarter of greenhouse gases that causes global warming (www.environmentreports.com). Every time a farmer cultivates or plants his ground, he stirs the soil and releases carbon into the atmosphere.

“I’ll tell you what you can do,” my adult son Sam advised me. “Two words: carbon sequestration. There’s lots of research out there supporting the fact that farmers can help climate change by not working their ground so much. Then the carbon in the soil gets left alone. People need to farm differently. I’ll text you some web sites to look at.”

I wanted to see Sam’s research because I was writing an article for a magazine about farming and the environment. Many farmers are currently limiting their tillage (as my son advocated) because it saves money, time, and improves soil health. They leave old corn stalks, dried weeds, and manure on the ground over the winter to increase soil fertility. Leaving their fields undisturbed also happens to sequester carbon. When I first came to the farm forty years ago farmers disced and ploughed the ground bare, waiting for a spring injection of chemicals to make it fertile.

Using farm ground to bury carbon has become such a popular idea. . .

. . .that the Microsoft corporation, food giant General Mills, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, have said they’re willing to pay farmers for sequestration.  Who’d have thought the “Wolf of Wall Street” would show any interest in Coyotes from Country Lane?

Despite the increasing interest in Ag carbon markets, scientists are beginning to argue for caution.  Did I mention the word “puzzle?”  The puzzle here is that though farmers can use methods like minimum tillage to keep carbon in the topsoil, it’s not stored there indefinitely. Any kind of tractor work, planting a crop for instance, will release carbon from the topsoil.

In order for farm ground to be a true carbon sink the carbon has to be stored deep, at least a meter, where it’s more stabilized.

“Okay Dr. Baker. I just have a few questions.” I was talking to John Baker on the phone. Baker was a professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/St. Paul and a soil biologist for the United States Department of Agriculture.

“Did you say you’re an Idaho farmer?” Dr. Baker asked me. I suddenly realized how odd it must be for him to sit in his office surrounded by computer screens and data and get a call from a farmwife in Idaho.

I explained to Dr. Baker that I was writing an article about farmers and the environment.  We talked a little about farming in the west before I finally got to my central question: can farm ground be used to keep carbon out of the atmosphere?

“Well, I’m giving you a ‘qualified’ yes on that,” Baker said. “I mean farmers have to be able to sequester carbon deeper in the soil—where it will stay. They not only have to limit their tillage, but they need to plant, and then leave alone, deep-rooted cover crops that pull carbon lower in the soil.  If this happens, then yes, farmers definitely can play a role in mitigating climate change.”

When I hung up the phone I was surprised at how relieved I felt. Dr. Baker is an authority. If I understood him right, the pieces are all there. We in the farm community just have to start putting the puzzle together.

 

Image credit:  Diana Hooley, Hooley farm      Image credit: The Wolf of Wall Street 

Image credit:  Diana Hooley, wheat planted on old corn field using low till

What We Don’t Know About Our Friends and Neighbors

I was visiting with my neighbor Bea in her home when she suddenly turned toward a table in the corner and said, “I want to show you something.”

Bea walked over to the table and picked up two large, clear plastic bags each containing a colorful quilt in them.  “Look what I’ve been doing this winter!” she said, pulling the quilts out of the plastic and proudly draping them over her arm.

I was amazed at Bea’s quilts, their beauty, their crisp seams, and the colorful designs.

She told me one quilt was called “The Disappearing Four Patch.”  She’d seen the pattern on a quilting TV program: “Fons and Porter’s Love of Quilting.”  The other quilt was a collage of antique pink and yellow-themed blocks, and was sewn in a garden star pattern.

I marveled at Bea’s craftsmanship especially since I’m not a quilter myself, and left Bea’s house thinking about a book I read once, The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham.  The book was about a man who searched the world for the meaning of life. He eventually found his answer in India where he watched a woman weave a blanket. He thought this was our purpose: we’re each a colorful strand of thread making a contribution to some universal pattern. I was disappointed in the book’s conclusion.  The book was a bear to read, and I was looking for something a bit more mystical.

Bea is not the type of person I see quilting.  My image for that comes from my mother-in-law who was an excellent homemaker and spent years cooking and sewing for her family.  Bea’s been a homemaker among other roles, but to me she’s never looked or acted like one.  For example, I’ve never seen Bea wear a dress much less an apron. She seems most comfortable in an old T-shirt and jeans.  Often I’ll see her in a pair of muck boots working in her half-acre yard moving irrigation pipes or firing up her tractor mower. She has short hair and brown, leathery skin, and she spent years weighing potato and grain trucks at a local farm scale house.  Bea’s always been so practical, I just never knew she harbored so much creativity.

Who we are inside, our talents and thoughts, can be a big secret to the world.

We can be like Russian nesting dolls.  Layers need to be uncovered before you actually find the core of us, and it’s only in how we express ourselves, what we make, do, or say that you catch a glimpse of our inner life.  Sometimes that core can be surprising—and sometimes disappointing, even shocking.  For example, Abraham Lincoln was described by opposition newspapers as “…the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs, arms and hatchet-face ever strung upon a single frame…”  Furthermore, these newspapers said Lincoln’s speeches were “illiterate compositions…interlarded with coarse and clumsy jokes…” (medium.com). On the other hand, Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was characterized as “… young, handsome, and well-dressed in a preppy kind of way (Quora.com).”

Appearances aren’t the only possible deception in the package of who we are.

I was struck by this fact watching the fall-out from the riot last week in Washington on television.  NBC news reported that many of the participants were simply regular people, teachers and truck drivers, some even held jobs that contributed to public safety, like firemen and former police. The old axiom that you can never judge a book by its cover is amplified here. You can’t even judge a book by its plot or characters. You have to go deep to the theme, what animates the person.  For my neighbor Bea, surprisingly, it’s quilts.  For others, apparently, it’s something far more dark and angry.

Blog post at http://www.dianahooley.net and credits:  garden star pattern    The Razors Edge    Capitol riot

 

Reading about the Universe on New Year’s Eve

There’s a room upstairs in my house where I store things: my old skis, high school yearbooks, family photos.  Everyone has a place like this.  I foraged around in this room and noticed my personal journals on a shelf, journals I’d written in over a life time.  I rarely reread my old journals.  Writing in them was enough.  But I leafed through a few out of curiosity and was surprised by what I found.  I knew things in 1993 and 2001 and 2010!

It occurred to me that I’d never given my younger self much credit for wisdom.

I’ve always thought wisdom and the knowledge that undergirds it takes years to acquire.  It’s the wheelhouse of the very old—but it seems I was wrong.

For example, the last day of February 1993 I was anxious for spring and the weather wasn’t cooperating.  I wrote: “The temperature outside is 20 degrees—and falling!  Forget global warming!”

Apparently, decades ago I knew about climate change.

I knew about it long before Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth, or young Greta Thunberg’s climate protests.  In 1993 I was a high school reading teacher and a busy mother of four.  I remember grading papers until late in the afternoon, and then picking up my kids from after-school sports.  On the way home we ate take-out Little Caesar pizza in the car.  When did I find time to read about trapped greenhouse gases?  And, where did I read about it?

I wrote an entry in my journal in 2001, the day before the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York.  Interestingly, my topic was life and what it meant to live.  I’d just had my first colonoscopy, and I wrote: “I’ve reacted to this colonoscopy with disabling apprehension…I barely got through it…what with fear and anxiety over cancer, tumors, polyps, biopsies.  How many times will I have to live through these horrid experiences?  And then, THEN, Dr. Williams gave my colon a clean bill of health and told me she’d see me again in ten years.  My spirits went up like a kite.

I wanted to shout to the sky, ‘I’ll live!’—as if ‘living’ is solely dependent on physical health…”

In 2010 I wrote something in my journal that reminded me of a book I’m currently reading about Einstein and physics.  I barely made it through high school physics so I was intrigued to find out if The Dancing of the Wu Li Masters could explain the universe to me.  The author, Gary Zukav, wrote, “…all of the things in our universe (including us) that appear to exist independently are actually parts of one all encompassing organic pattern and …no parts of that pattern are ever really separate from it or from each other.”

The Wu Li Master’s book soothed my grieving spirit this fall when my brother suddenly died, and I felt permanently “separate” from him.

Weirdly, in the spring of 2010 I speculated about how the laws of the universe and the elasticity of space and time might have something to say about death and dying on earth. I wrote:

“…there (are) all kinds of stories:  the story of childhood with its myth and magic; the story of adulthood with its passion and suffering; the story of old age with its death and loss.  But the mitigating factor in old age, in all of life, is the story of the universe, of time and space.  This is comforting to me because in the face of our cruel natural world, there’s a much bigger reality: time and space…”

When I finished reading my journals I restacked them back on their shelf, glad I took the time to revisit my younger self.  My journal writings turned out to be hopeful letters to the future me, that white-haired lady living in the year 2021.

 

Image Credit:  The Universe       Image Credit:  Dancing of the Wu Li Masters         Image Credit:

 

I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die…

Erin, my daughter’s friend, is in the first wave to get the Pfizer Covid vaccine here in Idaho.

She’s on the front lines working as a nurse practitioner in the cardiology unit at our local hospital.  I like her attitude. After getting the vaccine she laughed and offered to roll all over her friends to help them with herd immunity.  Lucky Erin. This vaccine can’t come quick enough, not only to stave off further infections, but many people are experiencing the very real problem of Covid fatigue. They’re sick of dealing with the virus and either actively defying health restrictions or passively ignoring them.

“Oh Covid’s everywhere,” a woman told me matter-of-factly this past week. “My daughter and her husband had it. My grandson had a fever for a couple of days.  It was no big deal.  They all survived.” This woman is planning a large family gathering at Christmas.

That’s the thing about Covid: for most people it is no big deal.  Some people are even asymptomatic, something that presented a problem in a school district near my home.  National Public Radio reported that asymptomatic carriers in the Bruneau-Grandview school district in Idaho may have fostered community spread of Covid.  Mask wearing is not popular among students, parents, or staff in this district, said NPR, and, “…there’s also this sense of, well, this is just how it is going to be.”

But the sense of inevitability, that we’re all going to get Covid, is not supported by the facts. After eight months of dealing with this pandemic, and probably largely due to preventative measures, only 5% of people in the U.S. have been infected according to statistica.com.  So why are people being so fatalistic?

Throwing your hands in the air and giving up is one response to ambiguity, or as the Bruneau-Grandview Superintendent noted, the unpredictability of the Covid situation.

Here’s a virus that’s known to be deadly for the elderly, but occasionally kills young people.  It’s often little more than a bad cold, but can send some people to the hospital fighting for their lives. There was no question in the Middle Ages if you became infected with the plague. Those infections resulted in fatality.

The maddeningly, arbitrary nature of the virus is at least partly responsible for our mixed responses to it.  The reluctance to take Covid more seriously has been blamed on either lack of leadership from the White House, or the moral failings of people more concerned with their personal rights than their community responsibilities.  But it’s difficult to bring out the Big Guns and always stand at the ready for months on end when the enemy is as unreliable as Covid.

When I taught school I had a front row seat watching human behavior, what motivated students and what did not.  Also, what made students give up and quit trying.  Later, in my role as an educational researcher I investigated reinforcement schedules, how to time rewards to keep students working and trying.  Too much uncertainty in a situation or outcome, and students lost interest.  It’s no different with this pandemic.

Finally, for some people the rewards for wearing a mask and social distancing has been too long in coming.  They’re just tired of it all.

So am I.  I’m tired of Covid too.  I miss our movie group party this holiday season, and hugging my dear, elderly mother.  I’d like my daughter to spend Christmas Eve night with us, but I’m not sure who she’s been around at work, and whether she’s been exposed.  I thought about the situation we’re in the other day listening to some alternative rock music on the radio.  The lyrics of one song said it all as far as I was concerned.  The ironically named group, Vampire Weekend, sang: “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die…”

 

Blog posts and photos: Bruneau-Grandview, Rimrock High School     Vampire Weekend

at http://www.dianahooley.net

 

 

Feeling Good this Christmas

“Do you know what’s in plum pudding?”  Andrea, my daughter-in-law, asked me as she read the recipe from her cell phone.

“Just a wild guess, plums?”

“Half a pound of kidney fat, and get this, you have to cure the pudding for a year before you eat it.”

“Yummy. Kidney fat is one of my favorite things.”

Andrea’s planning a Charles Dicken’s Christmas feast, but I have my doubts about a 150-year-old meal.  Lots of people are going “retro” this Christmas and looking to the past for holiday inspiration.  For example, I’ve read there’s been a run on live, fresh Christmas trees.  Apparently, plastic trees have lost their appeal despite the fact you can shake them open like an umbrella.  Another sign of Christmas retro: the 1946 movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, is currently in the top ten list of most-watched movies.  As I write this, the sixth most-streamed song this week (according to Rolling Stone magazine) is Dean Martin’s 1959 hit, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.

One oft-cited theory about our fascination with Christmases of the past is that we all long for a “simpler” time.  Not everyone agrees with this thinking though. I knew a man once who grumbled about fireplaces and wood stoves, the old-fashioned way to heat homes at Christmas.

“Why would anyone want to chop wood when we’ve got central heating?” he asked me.

Every time I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life I want to live in that quaint,1940’s town of Bedford Falls where everyone knows everyone else, and predictably, there’s a good guy, George Bailey, and a bad guy, the deceitful banker, Mr. Potter.  Though people and life are much more complex than that, at Christmas especially, we still look for a hero, someone as pure and good as a babe in a manger. We want to BELIEVE. We don’t want to deal with ambiguous leaders who lie worse than Mr. Potter.

Christmases of the past have a certain aura. They always seem so gilded with joy. Maybe because the ones we remember the best, are those of our childhood.  My mother tells the story in the 1930’s of wishing for a doll she saw advertised on a can of Clabber Girl baking powder. With enough Clabber Girl coupons, the doll was free. Mom told me she was thrilled when she discovered the Clabber Girl doll under the Christmas tree.  I remember being five-years-old and excited for Christmas.  I lay on my top bunk straining to hear Santa’s sleigh bells. One of my husband’s fondest memories is the Christmas he got an erector set. Happiness is such a bright, twinkling star. We want to follow that star no matter how distant and unreachable.

Our nostalgia this Christmas probably has a lot to do with the current pandemic.  We relate to Dean Martin crooning: “Oh, the weather outside is frightful…” –because with Covid, the weather’s not the only frightful thing. The pandemic has left many of us craving a safer, more comforting past.  But, that’s our fantasy.  Charles Dickens lived before antibiotics when a simple cold could mean death.  It’s a Wonderful Life was made during WWII.  And, Dean Martin was popular when Russia threatened the U.S. with nuclear attacks.  Even that first Christmas was not safe.  Mary and Joseph, like all Jews, lived under Roman oppression.

No matter what happens in the world, it’s good to remember that Christmas really happens inside of us, in our heart and our head.  For some, it only takes a old movie or a song to get into the Christmas spirit.  For others, it’s a kidney-fat pudding from the 19th century–and to the pudding crowd I say, “Bon appetit!”

Image Credit:  It’s a Wonderful Life  Image credit: Christmas Past      Image credit:  Plum Pudding