When Tragedy Reminds Us We’re All In This Together

In the summer the Snake River is sluggish-looking and seems to meander. There’s mossy patches and the water level is lower.

People forget this river is a Snake with a bite.

Beneath its dark surface lie swift undercurrents funneling through deep passages. In fact, the Snake River at Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge in the North American continent. It still lures boaters and swimmers, especially when the temperature climbs above one-hundred degrees.

On a recent Sunday evening I was sitting on the couch reading next to my husband when we heard loud, frantic banging on our front door. A young Mexican man, maybe in his late teens, stood on our welcome mat, dripping wet in cut-off shorts. He began speaking rapid Spanish and gesturing wildly with his hands.

“Mi amigo, mi amigo…please, please!” he pointed toward the river running behind our house. Seeing our confused faces he became even more agitated, sweeping his hands over his damp head.

Dale turned to me and said, “Call 911” as he hurriedly slipped on his shoes. I watched him lead the young Mexican to the back of our house, over an embankment, and down to the water’s edge.

“What’s your emergency please?” the operator asked me after I gave her my name and address.

“I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t speak Spanish, but I think someone is in the river and in trouble. We need help—right away!”

I was so frustrated. Why didn’t I learn to speak Spanish?  In the backyard I looked down the embankment but couldn’t see my husband or the young Mexican through a thick stand of elm trees. I went to the other corner of the yard to get a broader view. The river was flowing thirty feet below me, but there was nothing to see from this angle either, just pelicans fishing. My cell phone was in the house so I walked back inside to check it, thinking the sheriff might call.

Minutes later the front door flew open, and my husband strode past me leaving the young Mexican again at our doorstep. He was crying now, his head bowed and shoulders shaking. I touched his arm. He looked up at me with a tear-stained face and murmured something in Spanish.

Though we didn’t speak the same language, I still said, “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.”  He nodded as if he understood.

“I think there were three of them,” Dale told me as he handed the young man a glass of water. “Evidently, they work on the farm across the river. One boy stayed on the riverbank while he and his other friend tried to swim across. His friend only made it to the island. He yelled at him to stay put on the island, but the kid jumped in the river anyways. There’s no sign of him.”

It turned out to be a terrible tragedy, the missing boy drowned. This was his second summer in America. He worked as a farm laborer and hoped to take money home to Mexico. His aunt and uncle lived in the area.

For the next few days I solemnly watched through the bay window as the search and rescue team trolled the river for the boy’s body. They parked their motor boats just above the island. That island was a canoeing destinations for my family. Years ago we named it “Knife Island” because if you look down on it from the top of the river canyon, you can see it’s shaped like a knife with a handle. What a fitting metaphor, Knife Island, the island that cuts and severs.

We finally got word the third day after the boy went missing that his body had been found. I sighed with relief thankful for the closure.

He wasn’t a family member or friend, he wasn’t even from my country, but I still deeply felt the loss of his young life.

Thinking of islands I was reminded of that famous line from medieval poet, John Donne: no man is an island, we are all part of the continent, all part of the main.



I Began to Feel Better When I saw the American Flag

This is a love story that begins with heavy petting, but actually has very little to do with physical affection. One night in 1974 when I was a student in France I was standing on a deserted street corner with a boy I thought I liked. After he kissed me, “like” turned to love. French kissing in France can do that to you.

“Why won’t you come with the rest of our class to Switzerland?” he asked me. It was the Christmas holidays and several of my classmates were going to the Swiss Alps to have fun in the snow, drink wine, and eat French bread and cheese fondue.

“It sounds great, but I want to see the museums in Florence (Italy),” I said—which was a lie. What kind of college kid would choose to look at lifeless paintings over being with their friends? It all had to do with a deep-seated insecurity I had about relationships.

I didn’t know if I could trust this guy, and I needed some space to get past my infatuation.

When I stepped out of the train in Florence, I felt shaky and feverish. Maybe I’d picked up a few germs French kissing? A sharp, cold wind sliced through me as I struggled down the street with heavy suitcases looking for a cheap pension. The second night in my motel room the innkeeper knocked on my door to see if I was all right. He must have thought I looked a little pale when I checked in. I crawled out of bed and through the cracked door whispered, “Malata! Malata! (Sick! Sick!)”

A day or so later I finally felt well enough to look around this interesting European city. I saw the famous statue of David at the Del Academia and sauntered through multiple art museums. Everywhere was cement buildings, pavement, and crowds of people. It was a pleasure to finally walk to the top of the Fortressa Belvedere at the edge of town and peer over the wall to the Italian countryside below. Rolling hills were covered with vineyards, and I felt wistful thinking about farm fields back home.

By Christmas Eve I’d spent eight days roaming around Florence by myself. I was beginning to feel desperately lonely.

That night, hungry and restless, I went looking for a market to buy some food, but nothing was open due to the holidays. One small kiosk was still selling a few groceries so I bought a can of sardines and a package of cookies. I wondered what my family was planning for their Christmas dinner.

A light snow began to fall as I walked back to the motel. Up ahead I noticed a large white building, a substantial structure, possibly a government building with pillars and cornices. Lights were just flicking on in the building, and I was surprised when an enormous Christmas tree in a tall window suddenly lit up. This was the first Christmas tree I’d seen in Florence. As I drew closer I spied a flag flying off the balcony, and gasped to see it was the Stars and Stripes. This building was the American Embassy.

I didn’t know if I was lovesick or homesick, but just then I had a fierce longing to be back in America.

I’ve read of all countries and people, Americans are the most patriotic. I missed those “fruited plains and waves of grain.” Oh, how I wanted to hear someone say in that simple American way, “Hi, how are you?”

So, I went to the train station. Some of my school classmates talked about visiting Florence over the holidays. Who knew? I might run into one of them—or anyone American. I was standing on the loading platform when I saw him, that boy I liked too much. He came toward me and didn’t bother with a greeting like, “Hi, how are you?” Instead, he just grabbed me, and wrapped his arms around me, and gave me the best hug of my life.


Image credit: Florence, Italy        Image credit:  Embassy flag

Why I Walk Under a Full Moon in June

The old Navajo woman sat on a wood stool in front of her weaving loom, her hair threaded with grey and pulled back into a “tsiiyeel,” a hair knot. A heavy turquoise and silver studded chain hung from her neck. She was in her finery to meet me, a young white woman working with her missionary friends on the reservation. I watched her gnarled hands move the shuttle stick down again and again, tightly compacting each strand of wool. Before I left, she smiled and gave me one of her small woven blankets. She explained the significance of this blanket, and pointed out the loose threads at one corner to allow all the evil to escape.

I still have that little Navajo blanket and look at it occasionally, touching the geometric pattern, important symbols in Navajo myth. A friend once told me: people matter, not things. And yet, certain things do matter, sometimes a great deal.

Objects, both animate and inanimate, can have special spiritual significance to us.

We notice them or hold them in our hands, see pictures of them or hear about them, and have an emotional reaction. The world speaks to us through these symbols in a personal way. They enrich our lives or give us comfort. After my mother-in-law died, my husband planted a white rose bush in her honor. He enjoys smelling the roses and swears they have a fruity scent, a raspberry-like smell, something my nose never picks up. But his mother, Doris, loved raspberries and always grew a healthy patch of them in her garden every year.

The moon is an important symbol for me.

My birthday is this month, in June, and though I don’t believe in astrology I’m aware that my astrological sign is Cancer. As a Cancer, I’m considered a “moon child.” Coincidentally, my name, Diana, also has something to do with the moon. I’ve never really liked the name Diana. It has too many syllables, so family and friends shorten it to “Dee” which makes me sound like a gum-smacking truck stop waitress. I’ve tried to regain some dignity by telling people the name Diana is actually the Roman translation for the ancient Greek goddess, Artemus. And, surprise, surprise—Artemus happens to be the goddess of the moon. Though lots of people like seeing a beautiful full moon, I make it a point every June to take a night stroll when the moon is full. As I walk I watch my moon shadow and listen for any moon eaters about, the deer that like to browse in bushes and trees nearby.

For many northwestern and Alaskan Indian tribes, deer are emblematic.

They’re considered totem animals, signifying direction and guidance because deer see so well even in the dark. I’m reminded of The Deer Hunter, one of the first movies produced about Viet Nam after the war. I’ll never forget the scene where Viet Nam vet, Michael, makes the difficult decision to go back and search for his best friend, Nick, who’s gone missing in Viet Nam. When Michael makes up his mind, he’s hunting in the Allegheny Mountains. He finally corners a beautiful stag, shoots, and misses the deer. Then he drops his rifle and yells to the open skies, “Okay…okay!” It was as if the deer, with its penetrating stare, reminded Michael of his obligation to find Nick.

Above my kitchen sink, on the window shelf I have a smooth, polished stone the size of the palm of my hand. My friend Gail gave me that stone when my husband and son were both about to undergo surgery, my son donating one of his kidneys to his father. Gail told me it was a “worry” stone, and that I should rub it whenever I was afraid or anxious. The stone seemed like a pretty rock to me so I sat it on the window ledge. Then one morning I held the stone up while I dusted underneath it. It was warm from sitting in the sun and pleasant to hold. I rubbed my thumb over the top of it…and felt soothed.


Image credit:  All images by Diana Hooley


What’s That About Lazy People and Free Money?

“No one wants to work anymore. They just want to draw unemployment or cash their stimulus checks,” the guy fixing my garage door shook his head disgustedly. His comment was in response to me saying I was having trouble finding someone to pour a cement pad in my back yard. The garage door guy was young and strong with dark brown hair. Why did he act like such a grouchy old man railing about shiftless people?

Watching him poke and pull at the hinges of our garage door I wondered whether he’d cashed his stimulus check yet—and what he did with it.

Did he rip it up and throw it in the garbage—or did he go out and buy some chrome attachment to trick out his motorcycle with?

Apparently, my garage door friend is unaware that money isn’t the only reason people work. Despite being flooded with money, over two-thirds of million dollar lottery winners still want to keep their jobs according to www.stat.berkeley.edu. Studs Terkel said in his oral history, Working, that “Work…is a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread…”  Many of us work not just to pay the bills, but because it gives our lives purpose.

Maybe my garage guy was angry because he’d seen all the headlines about thousands of unfilled job openings this spring. Job vacancies soared to over 15 million according to NBC news, much more than pre-pandemic levels.

It’s being called a vaccination job boom because vaccinations are making it safe to go back in the workplace again.

This month The Guardian reported that people might not be scrambling to fill these new jobs because, well, they just don’t feel like scrambling. Though employment opportunities have quickly sprung up, many of us are still trying to recover from the chaos of Covid.

Covid’s impact on our working lives cannot be understated. This past year uncertainty was the new normal. Some people were laid off or lost their jobs entirely. Others had to find new ways to work. Though my adult children managed to stay employed throughout the pandemic, they still had pandemic work challenges. My son-in-law, who’s an engineer, had to move his office home, and like many others, watch the kids or the dog while he worked at his computer. One day I asked him how it was going, and he told me, “It’s okay, but I miss my colleagues at work.” My son, who’s a teacher, didn’t know from one week to the next whether he’d be back in his classroom, or if he’d have to Zoom lessons to his students. In the middle of the school year he told me he was temporarily “out of work.”  The school district abruptly announced an extended winter break due to Covid.

Though employment (or lack thereof) was a traumatizing experience for some this winter, others were grateful to have more time and space to reconsider job and career goals. My nephew Andy is a very different young man compared to the garage door guy.

Andy’s not lazy or money-grubbing, but his minimum-wage, pizza delivery job was a dead end—and he knew it.

This past Covid year Andy was able to finish up some college course work online. He texted our family a picture of a letter he’d just got in the mail:

“Dear Bronco Nurse, Congratulations you have been granted conditional acceptance into the Nursing Program at Boise State University beginning Fall, 2021.”

Now that I think about it, the garage door repairman’s comments may have been politically driven, he was so harsh and judgmental. Really though, most things in life aren’t about politics—gainful employment not only has to do with making a decent living, but also making your life happy and fulfilled.


Image credit: Lazy Man     Image credit: Help Wanted      Image credit: Working





And Then My Heart With Pleasure Fills

Forsythia, gaillardia, penstemon, and euonymus. It’s springtime and I’m struggling once again to talk plants and flowers. I have to repeat their names in my head over and over in order to remember them. Sometimes mnemonic devices work, but though “harrow” sounds like “yarrow,” a piece of farm equipment does not make me think of this fern-like flower.

Some people have a preternatural memory when it comes to flower names.

I have a friend (a little unassuming lady who wears sweaters with pearl buttons and goes to Mass every Sunday) with an amazing skill. She knows the language of philosophers and princes. She speaks Latin. Just point to the big yellow flower next to her neighbor’s fence and she’ll immediately say, “Helianthus.”

Sometimes I think I just have a memory block where flower and plant names are concerned. Then I get flustered at my lack of recall, which only makes things worse. We all deal with selective memory though. According to research (exploringyourmind.com) we tend to remember the things we care deeply about and find meaningful in some way. When I was much younger and took a night school class I had a reading professor who often gave poor, unfocused lectures. Not long after I took his class, this professor left the teaching profession altogether and began selling luggage at a store in the mall. He may have been a bad instructor, but he did tell our class one thing I’ll never forget.

He said, “If you want to remember a word, ANY word, you have to develop a relationship with it.”

Though I like plants and flowers, their beauty and fragrance are only for a season. As Robert Frost once wrote in a poem about the impermanence of both life and spring flowers, “Nothing gold can stay.”  Which brings me to an area I have a year-round investment and interest in: books. My daughter-in-law asked me last week if I’d ever heard of a novel called The Overstory. She told me she was curious because she saw the title in her e-library account. I read The Overstory a couple of years ago when it was first published. The content of that book immediately flashed in my mind. I told Amanda the book was a collection of stories all having to do with trees and the impact trees have on people’s lives and the health of the planet. Not only was I able to summarize the book despite having read it so long ago, but I even remembered the author’s name: Richard Powers.

My hippocampus clutches at all things literature.

So though I can’t remember the name of that blue, stalky flower (delphinium), I can distinctly recall stories about flowers. In Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, the protagonist, a pioneering miner, finds out his wife’s cheated on him with a friend, and rips out all the rose bushes he’d planted for her next to their house. Larry McMurtrey’s novel, Lonesome Dove, is about a couple of tough Texas rangers. One of the rangers, Gus, has a lady friend who repeatedly plants flowers around her house only to have them die, subject to the merciless wind and drought of the Great Plains.

Though the genus names for flowers easily escapes me, I often do remember their common names, like daffodils for instance. And again it’s through the lens of literature, prose and poetry, that my memory is enhanced. Who can forget poet William Wordsworth writing about taking a nap and dreaming of daffodils dancing in the breeze:

For oft upon my couch I lie,

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye,

Which is the bliss of solitude,

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the Daffodils.


Credit Image:  Daffodils    Credit Image:  The Overstory

How to Deal With Vacation Disasters

I was driving to the coast when I hurt my back. If you’re of a certain age, and you sit in a car seat long enough, you can end up with a back problem. “Great,” I thought, “a week of crab-walking the beach.”

My back going out was the bad news, but there was some good news too.

I was able to quickly locate a grocery store and buy a bottle of Ibuprofen and a bag of frozen peas. I popped two Ibuprofen in my mouth with a big gulp of water, and I placed the cold peas behind my lower back in the driver’s seat. Soon, I was on the road again and feeling better.

I love going to the ocean—as only someone who lives inland can. It’s always a shock to drive over that last coastal hill and see the broad, blue Pacific stretching before me, a massive infinity pool, no end in sight. I rolled the car window down to smell the humid air and hear the waves crashing against the shore. A line from a nineteen-oh-two poem by John Masefield came to mind: “I must go down to the sea again…”

My vacation rental was a cottage on a crested hill up at least two flights of stairs from the parking lot. With my back still stiff and sore, the wisest course was to take several trips loading my luggage up. Fortunately, there was a hand rail. I took a few steps at a time carrying my first load, occasionally rubbing my aching back against the railing like a cat does its owner’s leg. When I finally got to the cottage stoop I plopped my bag down, and with my camera strap hanging off one shoulder, entered the key code to unlock the door. I tried the code several times, but the door wouldn’t budge. Below me I heard someone coming up the stairs.

“Hello!” he called. “Are you the renter?”

“Yes!” I said, “I can’t seem to get this door unlocked. Can you help me?”

“I know it’s a little tricky,” the man said as he came up beside me on the stoop. He demonstrated how to double-tap the code in to get the door open. “Do you want to try tapping the code again while I’m standing here to make sure you get it right?”

He seemed very thoughtful, though a bit scruffy-looking. His long hair was braided down his back and his face had several piercings. Apparently, he was part of the cleaning staff. He was back to take pictures of their cleaning job to send to the rental agency.

I carried my big suitcase up last. I pulled and dragged it over the lip of each step. The cleaner/photographer came out of the house when he saw me struggling and said, “Oh jeez! Stop!  You’re going to hurt yourself. Let me help you carry your suitcase.”

“Thank you!” I gasped. “I’m not usually such a cripple, but I hurt my back on the way here. I didn’t realize my rental would be up two flights of stairs.”

“Yes, people want an ocean view so these hills are covered with rental houses. You might want to take an Advil for your back. I know when my back goes out that’s what I do.”

I nodded as the photographer disappeared into the kitchen to take one last photo. Once I heard him leave out the back door, I opened a couple of windows facing the ocean, and then fell on the sofa, exhausted. I stared dazedly at my pile of belongings on the floor in the middle of the room. My eye lids grew heavy, and I was on the verge of napping when it occurred to me something was missing. I got up from the couch and began rifling through the luggage pile.

It was my camera! I carried my camera up the stairs on my first trip. It was gone!

I paused a moment as realization and disappointment washed over me. The nice photographer stole my camera. Of course he did. That was the bad news. I stood up slowly, careful with my bad back, and felt like crying. Then, an ocean breeze blew through the window, and I heard the distinctive cry of sea gulls. There was still some good news. The sea was calling… I could go down to the sea.


All photos:  Diana Hooley

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,