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 you 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…”

 

Image Credit:  Erin getting her vaccine    Image Credit: Bruneau-Grandview Schools, Rimrock High School    Image Credit:  Vampire Weekend

 

 

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