My Personal Journey of Evolving


The events that are unfolding across this country, and across the world, have me humbled and sad.

As I have cheered on the activists and protestors who march for Black Lives Matter, I have started to question my own history. I’ve been trying to think about all of the ways that I have failed to be anti-racist. I have spent my life in a white bubble, with virtually no black friends or colleagues, I am struggling to find my way, even as I commit myself to making a difference.

I don’t know what to say, or what to do. But I do have an analogy that is helpful to me, and that might clarify things for my white friends.

This story goes back to my very first days as a public school student. I was a nice girl. I was kind, and friendly and a good student. I followed the teacher’s directions.

When I was in first grade, I was friendly with a boy in my class. He was a boy who went to my church, and who was one of the members of my “advanced reading” group. I don’t remember really thinking much about him. We were smart. We liked to read. He had a constant grin on his face, and I thought that he was “nice.”

We were in the same class again in second grade. We were both good at math, although even at that tender age, I understood that he had a sense for the problems that I didn’t possess. We once again spent time together in the “advanced reading group.” We got to read the really good books.

By the time third grade came around, and I found myself once again in class with this boy, I had begun to notice that he was a little bit “different” from the rest of us. He still came to school every day with that wide grin, but I started to notice that his clothes were slightly out of style. I knew that his parents were a little bit different from the rest of the middle class suburban families who attended our church. His Mom wore clothes and make up that looked to have come from the 1940s. Unlike my own beautiful and stylish Mother, she always seemed, even to me, just a little bit desperate for friends in town.

I remember this boy for his continuing academic excellence, but my mind is even clearer when I remember his enduring cheerfulness and his pleasure at being in school.

He was tall. Taller than the rest of the third graders. He was heavy. He was physically ungainly and awkward.

This made him a target, as did his constant success and his never ending grin.

One of my clearest memories from my elementary school years is the time when our third grade class was asked to complete a “forward roll” in gym class. I remember the echoing sounds of the gym, and the benches that lined the room. I remember the smell of the gym mats and the recessed lights set into the ceiling.

Mostly I remember us taking our turns and doing our “forward rolls.” One after another, our nine year old bodies morphed into pillbugs and we rolled ourselves over.

All of us except one.

The awkward, roundly formed smart boy in my class. My one time friend. He was unable to complete the move. He tried. He tried again. He was alone on the mat in the center of the gym, the increasingly frustrated teacher at his side.

His classmates, including me, sat on the bench along the wall. I remember the snickers. I remember the giggles. I remember the boy on the mat, his cheeks growing ever more flushed, his grin becoming a grimace of desperation.

He never did complete that move.

We went back to our classroom.

And the snickers and giggles and jokes continued.

I remember that day, although it was well over a half century ago. I remember it because I didn’t do one single thing to make the situation better for this boy that had been my friend.

Nobody had ever told me, back in 1964, that bystanders are a part of the problem of bullying. Nobody had ever looked me in the eye and said, “When you see someone being mistreated, you need to stand up and call it out. You need to protect and defend the person being victimized.”

But you know what?

I knew it anyway.

I knew that what I was seeing was wrong. I knew that it was cruel. I watched the open hearted smile on the face of my friend turn into a desperate attempt to find himself a place in our small group.

I knew it, but I never said a single thing to make it any better.

So. I could plausibly tell myself that what happened in my third grade classroom was not my fault. I could tell myself that I was not a bully. I never said a single mean thing. I don’t remember joining in the laughter.

Who, me?

No, I am not a bully. I’m nice.

And for me that is the metaphor that I find relevant today, as I watch the Black Lives Matter protests that are unfolding everywhere.

The easy thing would be to reassure myself that I am most definitely not racist. I have never used that ugly N- word. I have never said anything cruel to a black person, or kept that person out of a job.

But if I’m honest, I’d have to admit that I have been a passive, complacent bystander for all of the six decades of my life.

I haven’t stood up for my non-white neighbors and fellow citizens.

I have believed that it was enough not to be mean.

I think back on my first grade pal, the boy who should have grown up to discover some advanced scientific ideas I couldn’t even pronounce. I think about my failure to pull him aside and tell him that a stupid forward roll was pointless and that he was worth a lot more than an “A” in gym.

I took no action. I was a passive observer.

This time around, as my fellow citizens are crying out in desperation, I need to find a way to take some real action. I need to do better. I need to be a better person.

I’ll do it. I’ll do it in the memory of my friend, the boy who was failed by this friend.

Trump’s Leadership Style.


Wait. Is there a leadership style??

You know, I used to be a teacher. I’ve spent a lot of time studying the different learning styles that people exhibit as they go through life. There is all sorts of research into the whole right brain/left brain approach. There’s the math/language description and the sequential vs. gestalt learner approach.

I’m fascinated by all of this. And the neurology that underlies these learning differences.

I used all of these different perspectives as I assessed and taught kids over the years.

I’m also very interested in the different “leadership styles” that are exhibited by those who take positions of authority. I have done a lot of reading, research and rumination on this particular topic. I became fascinated by the idea of leadership styles when I experienced a wonderful leader, a very good leader and an absolutely appalling leader within a five year period.

What I have learned through my personal experiences and my study is that we can often break leadership style down to two distinct patterns.

PATTERN #1: The micromanager. This is the supervisor/leader who double checks the number of paper clips that each department is using. It’s the school principal who wants to see which color sticky notes the teacher is using on her teaching charts.

PATTERN #2: The laissez faire leader. This administrator may very well set the tone for what the staff should do, but they will let everybody take responsibility for their own decisions. When things go really well, this leader points to the staff member who created the success. When things go wrong, this leader justifiably denies any responsibility. “I let them fly, if they crash, it’s not my fault.”

So what am I to make of the “leadership style” of our current president?

All I can say is……I dunno. I got nuthin’.

Every time I try to listen to Donald Trump, I find myself confused. Not only does he continuously torture the English language, he also constantly shifts from foot to foot in terms of his leadership.

Sometimes the President insists that he is the micromanager. “No one can handle this the way I can.” “No one knows more about XXXX than I do.” “I alone can fix it.”

But in his very next breath, he insists “I had no idea” about what was going on. “I take no responsibility.”

My head swims.

Today is a perfect example of Trump’s bipolar approach to leadership. First he seemed to state that he was the man-in-charge, the decider, the capo-di-tutti-capi. But almost immediately after that, he took the position of “I didn’t do it! I know nothing! Don’t blame me!”

It made me picture all of my elementary school students, who were so quick to place a forefinger on their nose when I asked, “Who dumped the paint into the toilet?”

Let me point out the actual quotes from the leader/notleader.

Last Friday evening, the District of Columbia was roiled by loud, sometimes violent protests. People were marching in the streets, heading for the White House. The DC police responded to the anger of the crowd. Tear gas was thrown, rubber bullets were fired, bottles and bricks were hurled. Fires were set not far from the White House.

In the midst of this scary outburst of rage, the Secret Service apparently did their jobs, and brought the President down to the safe room (or “bunker”) in the White House.

Of COURSE they did. For good or ill, he is the actual POTUS and his life has to be protected. So down to the bunker he went.

Naturally, his critics laughed and made fun of him. #Bunkerboy and #Bunkerbaby were trending on social media. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Then on Monday evening, Trump and his staff cleared out all of the peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park outside of the White House so he could stand in front of a historic Episcopal church and hold up a bible. The whole thing was horrific at worst and incredibly awkward at best.

So here is what the nominal “leader” of our country had to say.

In terms of having been taken to the bunker, to insure the safety of the President, Trump claimed that he only went down to the bunker “during the day, when there was no problem!” He claimed that he was there for only a “tiny bit of time”. Best of all, he is trying convince us that he went to the bunker just to “inspect” it.

As in, “I am a micromanager as a leader. My hand is in everything. I would never allow a room in the White House to just sit there unless I personally inspect it to make sure that it is up to my very high standards.”

M’kay.

But here’s where I get confused.

Today Trump was also asked about the way that his staff (our Attorney General, our Secretary of Defense) used tear gas, metal shields and flash-bang grenades to clear a park of protesters. Those peaceful protestors included several members of the local clergy. It was a full half hour before the curfew was set to begin.

Even so, police marched into Lafayette Park and forced out every single protestor/pastor/civilian. They did this so that Trump could march across the street from the White House, hold up a bible, and claim the moral high ground as our “law and order” president.

Naturally, since peaceful protestors and religious leaders dislike being shot at and pepper sprayed, there was an outcry against what had happened.

How did our “I’m the leader” president respond?

He said that he had no idea there were protesters out there in the park! He insisted that nobody tells him these things! How could he know?

Um,

Yes, this is the exact opposite leadership style from what Trump showed us when he claimed he was inspecting the bunker.

I mean, really.

Let’s think.

Is it actually possible that one man, one leader, could simultaneously be inspecting the room where he might someday be sent for safety, and yet not know that right outside of his window hundreds of protesters were gathered?

I don’t buy it.

Nuh, uh.

What I think is this:

This man has no leadership style. None.

What he has is a self-preservation style. He finds it perfectly plausible to claim that the nation is under so much threat that he needs to call out the military to restore order, while at the same time claiming that he is totally unaware of the huge crowd chanting and singing right outside his window.

What I think is that Donald Trump has no concept of truth or fact. He pulls and shapes reality to fit his personal needs and denies the existence of any event that he dislikes.

That is no kind of leadership.

Peace Without Justice?


The picture above is not a picture of me. I’m a chubby, grey haired white grandma. The picture above is not one of my sweet grandchildren. They are three little white kids, with white skin.

But these two are the people on my mind today. Everyone who shares the same tone of skin has been on my mind. Every fellow citizen of mine who shares the same curly hair has been on my mind. Every American who wakes up in the morning as part of what I’ve grown up thinking of as “the minority community”, that’s who is on my mind.

Last night I watched the news. I saw people marching, shouting, protesting in the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I saw fire and tear gas and glass breaking.

“Oh, no,” was my first thought. “Oh, no.”

I’ve seen this scene before. I’ve seen an unarmed black American dying at the hands of an American police officer or at the hands of a self-appointed patriotic vigilante. I know what happens. It’s a repeating playbook. At first white America reacts with outrage at the death. We shake our heads and tell ourselves with great sincerity that “something must change.”

Then the friends, neighbors and family of the dead black American take to the street. They are joined by other angry, horrified, sad, terrified black Americans. They are loud. They are profane. Someone throws a rock, and tear gas flies. A fire is set, a building it breached, people take things, damage is done.

And the reaction, every damn time, is “I understand that rage, but rioting is not the way to make change.”

I agree!

I’m a nice, middle class retired teacher lady living in a small, rural town. I don’t think burning buildings is a good idea. I don’t think that violence is a healthy choice.

But as I lay awake in my bed last night, I tossed and I turned and I pictured beautiful young Americans like the two pictured above. And I asked myself,

“If violence isn’t the right path, then what is?”

Should our black fellow citizens stage sit-ins in public places? Just some quiet, passive actions to show that people are unhappy?

I realized that those actions have already been taken. Some half a century ago, brown skinned Americans sat down on busses and at restaurants and in public offices to show that they wanted to be treated equally. That held sit-ins. They were entirely peaceful, even when they were dragged to jail.

Black Americans are still being murdered in public by the police and those who wish they were police. So that technique doesn’t work.

Maybe, I thought, we should find some highly educated, highly successful, brilliant brown skinned fellow citizens to speak up and express the unfairness of our racial situation.

Ah, but that, too has been done. Over and over and over again. Martin King, Malcolm X, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, Angela Davis, Medgar Evers, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and on and on and on. Great artists, great leaders, great orators, true American treasures.

But dark skin can still get an unarmed American shot to death for jogging.

So what could our African American brothers and sisters do to express their pain? We don’t want violence, but….what?

Remember when this young athlete decided to peacefully and silently protest the deaths of so many black Americans?


I do. I remember the reaction when he knelt during the National Anthem. The President of these United States of America went public in his attacks. He said that the football player should have been suspended for quietly protesting the deaths of his fellow Americans. The Vice President walked out of a football game when Colin and some of his teammates knelt in gentle protest.

So.

Peaceful protest has achieved…..nothing.

There were “Black Lives Matter” marches and signs and protests. The answer was a rush of “Oh, yeah? Well, Blue lives matter!” and “All lives matter!” Both of which completely missed the point, and neither of which did anything to stop the flow of blood on our streets.

George Floyd was still murdered right there in broad daylight on an American street, surrounded by American citizens who watched in horror as his life was snuffed out by an American white guy in an official uniform.

I tossed last night, and I turned. I found no answers.

I don’t know what it will finally take for this country to break out of its racist history and begin to move forward toward a just and loving place where every single American life is treasured and valued and protected.

I pulled the sheet up over my shoulders last night, looking for some comfort on that steamy night.

Suddenly I saw the face of Tamir Rice in front of me. I saw his smiling, little boy face. I thought about my white sons playing guns one sunny day at Universal Studios, with none of us giving it a thought.

I saw the face of Treyvon Martin, walking on a rainy night with a pocket full of skittles. I thought about the days when my teenaged boys and their white friends would walk the streets of our little town at all hours of the night, and how once in a while the police would pull up beside them and urge to go on home to bed.

I thought about how I’d feel if they had been killed. I thought about how I might feel if I’d spent my lifetime asking, begging, praying and working for justice for people who look like my children.

And I realized that if I had done all that, and yet my sons, my nephews, my friends, my neighbors were still being recklessly killed while jogging, shopping, sleeping, sitting in a car or committing a misdemeanor?

Well. You can be sure that even with my creaky joints and fading eyes, my grayhair and my wrinkles, I would absolutely, positively march my old white ass out there and set the world on fire.

No justice? No peace.

Image: “Beautiful man” by rigogarcia1575 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Lily of the Valley


When I was about 8 years old, I discovered the huge swath of lily-of-the-valley. They were growing all along the driveway at my grandparent’s house.

The house was in a relatively urban town just outside of Boston. As I look back at it now, from the vantage point of my current rural life, it seems like a house in a big city.

But it was the home that my grandparents bought after leaving the inner city life of Boston during the Great Depression and the Second World War. For them, as immigrants from Sicily in the days of the Industrial Revolution, this house was like paradise. It had a porch, a yard, and even a garage.

I remember that the right side of the house, the side away from the driveway, had a fence to separate it from the neighbor’s. I remember that fence because it was lined with a row of lovely roses, each one carefully pruned and shaped, each a different shade of red or pink. They were gorgeous, all of them, and my grandfather was so proud of them. His bride, my Nana, was named Rose, and he grew them to show her his love.

But even more than the roses, I remember the blossoms that grew along the neglected driveway on the other side of the house. It was a long, narrow path, marking the border between the houses on that suburban street. My grandparents’ side of the drive was line with huge, towering, pines. They were spaced about 20 feet apart, and each had a strong, straight trunk. I thought of them as guardians when I was a child. I felt that each one watched over our Nana and Grampa and the home that held our family’s heart.

I loved those big trees.

And then one day, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I wandered out to where the trees grew. It must have been early May. I found thousands and thousands of tiny, perfect, beautiful white blossoms, each one dangling along a thin green thread.

The smell of them was intoxicating. I had never in my life seen or smelled or even imagined anything so perfect. I remember that I picked one delicate stem, so carefully, and ran inside to my Nana.

“Nana! What is this? Where did it come from??”

She told me that it was called “Lily-of-the-valley” and that someone had planted a few of them at the edge of the driveway before she and Grampa had bought the house. She explained that they were a kind of “wild flower” and that they’d spread along the entire length of the drive, making a sweet carpet under those huge pines.

I was amazed, enchanted, captivated. “Lily-of-the-valley” was such a magical name! But where was the valley? I could only see the thin strip of land along the driveway. I saw no valley.

But I imagined one.

I created an imaginary valley full of grass and wildflowers and those gloriously fragrant bells of lilly.

For the next decade, at least, I went back to revel in the glorious magic of those little blossoms. I played along the drive when I was a girl. I imagined tiny fairies, dressed in silver gossamer, dancing under the lilies. As I got older, I’d pick a bouquet of those fragrant blooms, knowing that their magic was fleeting.

I remember holding my baby girl, my first born child, and showing her the rows and rows of beautiful lily-of-the-valley.

And when my Nana died, at the accomplished age of 99, I went to her house and I dug up some of those tender flowers. I brought them to my house, in a more rural part of Massachusetts, and I put those ten little shoots into the ground.

Flowers can be a legacy. These are surely a reminder and a marker of my Nana and her life.

My garden is now full of lily-of-the-valley. They burst into bloom at the same time as our lilacs, filling the air around our house with pure heaven.

And every time I walk along my walkway, I think of Nana. I think of those big pines, and of the fairies that I imagined making tiny houses under the arching stems of those lily-of-the-valley.

Yesterday I brought some shoots of those glorious flowers to my daughter, in the new home that she has made for her young family.

I love knowing that my Nana’s love, and her grace, and her natural strength and beauty, will pass through me to my daughter, and hopefully then to hers.

I lie in my bed tonight, breathing deeply, taking in the perfume of those magical blooms.

Life goes on, and on and never stops.

The lily-of-the-valley is my proof.

My Name is Karen. I’m Sorry.


I always used to describe myself as a warm, friendly teacher lady. I always thought I was “nice”. My students used to tell me that all the time! “You’re a nice teacher,” they’d say.

I believed them.

For years, my favorite things in life have involved cooking, sharing and eating good food and growing pretty flowers. I don’t like to make a fuss, or complain. If something is amiss with a restaurant order, I don’t send it back; I eat it and pretend it was fine.

I swear, I’ve always thought of myself as pretty likeable.

Welp, I’ve finally been set straight about my many character flaws, thanks to the miracle of social media.

In the past couple of months, Facebook has informed me that I, and all who share my unfortunate first name, are a bunch of nasty bitches. There’s even a Facebook Group dedicated to dissing us!

We are just AWFUL.

According to multiple posts, I’ve learned that Karens drive SUVs all over town. They are overly critical of their kids’ teachers, coaches and therapists. They believe they are entitled to all the good things in the world just because they are universally white, upper middle class, educated and suburban.

Karen’s complain. A lot. They complain on Snapchat and Instagram, which they apparently love. They post pictures of their expensive breeder-raised dogs when the groomer fails to get the face fluff just right. They post outraged images of their left pinky nail when the salon leaves a tiny ding.

They seem to enjoy being outraged.

Twitter has a hashtag called #KarenStrikesAgain. Holy horrifying!!

Twitter told me that, as a Karen, I’m a racist! I had no idea….I can’t think of a time when I did anything racist, but what do I know? I’m only a Karen. I don’t have any ability for self reflection.

Or so I’m told.

Look:

Yeesh. I cried for days after Tamir Rice was murdered. He was just about the age of my students. I wrote letters, I wrote blog posts, I was horrified.

I’m so sorry!

I didn’t know that as a Karen, I’m partially responsible for all of this racist violence.

I don’t want to waste my time trying to defend myself. I mean, I think we’ve all had enough of the hyper defensive reactions of the snowflake in the White House.

So I’ll just say this.

I apologize from the bottom of my heart for my self-centered privileged self. Even I don’t like Karens now that I know about us.

But look at this picture. Does this woman look like a person who would complain about a salon? Or a dog groomer? Does this look like the face of someone who thinks she’s better than you?

I think not!

She looks, if you ask me, a little ridiculous. (Although I did always like that sweater.) She looks like a person who would eat the cupcake after her grandson licked off the frosting. She looks like the owner of two mixed -breed mutts who she tosses in the bathtub when they get too grimy.

She looks, to me, like a nice lady who laughs at herself a lot.

So. I am herby announcing that I am changing my name. I think I look a lot like an Annie. I’ve always loved that name. No more Karen for me. I reject the entire persona!

Annie.

Annie Shiebler.

Nonni Annie.

It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

I Just Can’t Do This Anymore


For almost five years I have tried to write about the insanity that is the American political system. As a student of history, a news junkie and something of an activist, I’ve always found the machinations of government to be fascinating.

From my high schools days on the “Model UN” to my college degree in Soviet Studies, I’ve been excited to discuss politics with friends, relatives and strangers. I loved the debates, even when they got heated. Exchanging ideas, presenting facts to each other, back and forth and back again. I used to learn something with each discussion. I worked hard, if not always successfully, to keep an open mind.

Back in 2015, I was writing for an online publication called “Liberal America.” Rather obviously, we had a lot to say about the prospects of a Trump Presidency. I thoroughly enjoyed writing these pieces, because they expressed my political views and even let me earn some money by writing.

After the election, I kept on writing and was submitting to a variety of sites. Once again, I wrote to point out what to me was so glaringly obvious: that Donald Trump is totally unfit to serve in any public office, much less the Presidency.

Now, at last, we find ourselves in the final few months of Trump’s term. Our long, chaotic decline as a nation has been well documented by real journalists in thousands of ways. Facts about Trump’s inept handling of international relations, his attempts to bully Congress, the hundreds of instances of corruption and graft….it’s all there in black and white.

So why doesn’t it seem to matter that the whole world can see exactly how dangerous and ugly this administration is?

Trump still has the support of more than a third of American voters. The Republican Party is still protecting him and backing him up, even though at one time most of them were horrified at the idea of him winning.

How is this possible?

Because Trump has performed a miracle. He has undone the truth. Facts no longer have any relevance. As Trump apologist Kellyanne Conway famously stated, they have their own “alternative facts.”

This administration started out by lying about the most obvious of facts (the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration) and has gone downhill from there. They lie freely, openly and with complete seriousness and they do it every. damn. day.

How do you fight that?

How do you continue to respond when facts have no meaning anymore?

I can’t do it. I can’t keep it up. I am worn down, worn out and exhausted. So, it seems, is the Democratic Party, whose entire campaign seems to be “at least we’re not Trump.”

If you’ve ever engaged in a conversation with an angry toddler, you will recognize the overwhelming fatigue that comes with trying to convince someone of something that they refuse to see.

“I didn’t eat the cake that was on the table!”

“But you have chocolate frosting on your face.”

‘NO I don’t!”

‘I’m looking at it. I see the frosting. And there are cake crumbs on your shirt.”

“No, there aren’t! I didn’t do it!”

After a few rounds, you end up grabbing the kid, washing their face and sternly saying, “Don’t eat dessert unless you ask me first!” You recognize that you are engaged in an argument that cannot be won.

That is exactly how American politics feel to me now. We point out that Trump was completely nuts when he suggested injecting disinfectant into humans to kill Covid19. The response? “Oh, he just said we should study it. No big deal.”

What the absolute hell! No, it should NOT be studied!

We write about the flagrant inappropriateness of Ivanka and Jared having their fingers in every aspect of government, when neither has been elected, appointed, Senate approved or vetted. The Trump apologists simply turn the facts around on us. “Look at Hunter Biden!” they cry. Or, “What about Hillary’s emails?”

And the worst, the most egregious warping of reality happens every single time Trump and his enablers hear something that they don’t like.

“FAKE NEWS!!!!” they scream in unison. Fake, false, a hoax, all made up!!

But we can see the damn frosting on his face. We can smell the chocolate on his breath and count the crumbs on his shirt. There are photos, there are tapes, there are Tweets to prove that what we say is a FACT.

They never respond with facts. They respond with insults, lies, and Trumpian pseudo-reality.

I can’t do it anymore. I can’t argue with these angry toddlers anymore. I’m out.

I’m going back to writing about things I understand and can process. Like global pandemics, the inner life of children, and the magic of the natural world.

Image:“File:Goran Gatarić, Woman At the Dock ll, 40×50.5, Oil on canvas.jpg” by Tomicmilos90 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

I Got Back Out There


I have never thought of myself as an anxious person.

I mean, sure, I’m afraid of spiders. And of murder hornets (have you SEEN those things?) I don’t like to drive too fast or engage in dangerous sports (like snowtubing.)

But I’ve never been afraid of the world itself. I love to travel I always enjoy talking with new people, and having novel experiences.

I’ve always been relaxed about illness and contagion. I was a teacher for years. I didn’t worry about catching things.

In fact, I never understood germophobes. I used to feel superior to people who were constantly fixated on their helath. I have scoffed at hand sanitizers and those who carried them. I used to laugh in the face of the common cold.

Not. Any. More.

Since the great pandemic of 2020, I have developed a new and suffocating appreciation for agoraphobics.

My last grocery store trip was on March 7th. When I checked out and dumped the bags in the trunk, I assumed I’d be back in the veggie department within days. I barely gave it a thought as I left the parking lot.

Ha.

Since that completely unmemorable trip, I have not stepped foot inside of a single retail establishment. Not one.

Given my fixation on the news and the lack of anything else to do while stuck at home, I’ve become a walking encyclopedia of COVID facts. I know how many people are sick, how many are on ventilators and how many have died. I know about the tests and the promising treatments. I watch the experts on C-Span debating the likelihood of the virus mutating into something worse.

Naturally, the more I’ve learned the more focused I’ve become on staying safe. I have been absolutely determined to avoid any possible chance of catching the deadly plague and passing it on.

I am now the queen of handwashing and I have the hangnails and chapped knuckles to prove it. I disinfect my mailbox, my doorknobs, my phone, my purse and the bottoms of my shoes. When my husband goes out for supplies, I make him strip down in the doorway and run to the shower. I put on gloves and wash all of his clothes. We throw away the bags and packages, washing our hands while we do it. Then we put everything away with disinfecting wipes in our hands.

You will not be surprised when I tell you that in the past few days I’ve come to realize that I am now nuttier than any fruitcake.

Last week I offered to share some of my giant stockpile of food with a friend (I am not hoarding…I am buying in bulk. And sharing), but when it came time to drop the lentils off at Linda’s house, I was too scared to go.

And that scared me. I didn’t like the wimpy little chicken that I was becoming.

So I decided last weekend that it was time to get back out there. I made a plan to the grocery store on Wednesday of this week. I made a list. I put it in the order of the aisles, so I could move through the store as fast as possible. I got my mask ready.

By Tuesday, I was starting to fixate on the shopping trip. Would I accidentally touch a tiny spit speck and get the disease? What if I passed it on to my brand new grandson? Or to my daughter? Or my friend who delivers our mail?

“Maybe I shouldn’t shop,” I started to think. “We have enough food.” Sure, my sane self answered, if you want to live on lentils, rice and pasta.

I am sixty four years old. I have been married for almost 43 years, and in that time I don’t think I’ve ever missed a week of grocery shopping. And now here I was, living in fear of my local PriceChopper.

This was ridiculous.

On Tuesday afternoon, I decided to take charge of my paranoia. I knew that I waited until the next day, I’d be awake half the night worrying. So I grabbed my mask, and my list. I took a box of sanitizing wipes.

And off I went.

At first it was glorious. While I’d been safely quarantined in my own yard, the azaleas had bloomed! The magnolia blossoms were starting to appear! Life was still going on!

I got to the store, grabbed my disposable wipes and headed in.

It was horrible.

There were people without masks, walking RIGHT past me. They were BREATHING on me! My skin started to crawl. People were trying to stay apart, but when four of you want to pick out a bunch of bananas, it’s hard to stay 6 feet away from each other.

And the shelves were so bare.

This is where the toilet paper used to live.

The strangest items were missing. There was a huge amount of bread available, but absolutely no flour, baking soda, or cake mix. The meat department was fully stocked with everything in the world, but you couldn’t find a frozen pizza.

It was weird. It was scary. It felt like a very bad dream. In spite of the masks worn by every employee and most customers, I still felt those invisible microbes bouncing off of my skin.

In spite of the spacing at the register, and the way the cashier sanitized the area between each shopper, I still felt exposed. The giant plexiglass spit guard between me and the young cashier should have felt protective, but instead I just felt like I couldn’t breathe.

And the worst part of all for this chatty woman, was the lack of connection with the people around me. We couldn’t share smiles. We couldn’t casually read each other’s faces to see who was looking open and friendly.

Oddly enough, people barely made eye contact.

I didn’t chat with the bagger as I usually do. I didn’t offer to help him. I paid silently with my disinfected credit card. I practically ran out of the store and rushed back to the sanitized safety of my own little space.

I’m glad I pushed myself to get out there. I am.

I’m still scared. And creeped out. And sad.

But at least now I know I can do it, and that I have to do it more often.

Now as long as the murder hornets stay away, things might turn out ok.

How the Virus Has Altered My Soul


“Morning Light on the Books” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Here I sit, on Day 50 of my personal lockdown….quarantine….social isolation. It’s raining outside. Again. It’s nearly May, but it’s still very cold outside my window. The thermometer hasn’t touched 40 degrees yet.

I’m cooking.

I’ve been cooking for 50 days. Baking bread, desserts, bagels and high energy bars for my daughter, who is nursing a 10 pound newborn. Working on my vegetarian recipes in the face of some food shortages and in anticipation of more.

I’m OK. The initial feeling of terror has receded into the dull ache of constant worry. I’m not lonely because I’m with my husband of 43 years and I am able to see my daughter and her children who are part of my isolation crew. My children are healthy. My siblings and my Mom are OK at the moment.

It’s OK. Right now, its OK.

But I feel like someone other than the me I’ve known for 64 years. The sense of the surreal is no longer only about the world around me; now I feel surreal myself.

I can’t read.

I always been an avid reader. I love to read. I was the second grader who got into trouble for sneaking a book into the girl’s bathroom and forgetting to come back to class. I was the young woman who read every day on the subway, relying on an internal sense of time to help me recognize my stops. I was the woman who read a book while I was in labor, and read while I was nursing my kids. I have been known to read while making dinner, stirring the pasta, reading a paragraph, adding some salt, reading another paragraph.

I used to read National Geographic and professional journals while making middle-of-the-night bathroom visits.

I’m a reader.

So why can’t I read now?

I have started three different novels and have abandoned them all. When this all began, I was in the middle of a non-fiction book on American politics. I’ve barely turned a page since then. I have two magazines that I haven’t even opened.

It feels as if my mind has become a dragonfly. I drift across the surface of the lake, touching down briefly here and there, then flitting back into the air.

I can’t concentrate on the characters in my book, because my thoughts are flitting around too fast. Did I feed the dogs? I should start the marinade for the chicken. I hope my sons are holding up, working from home. Do they need anything? Is the baby sleeping better? And I can’t forget to turn the compost.

I’m also a writer. I process everything, usually, through writing. My many political rants, my deep feelings about my family, my days as an elementary school teacher. I write about it all, when the world is in its usual state.

But now that inner flitting dragonfly is keeping me from completing a thought. I have short stories started and set aside. I have articles on politics, history, food, family, all sitting silently in my Google Drive folder.

I don’t feel like me.

Some day, in a future that’s getting harder to imagine, life will feel normal again. We’ll go back to shopping, meeting friends for dinner, going to the beach and the mountains. When that happens, I hope that I can morph back into myself.

The woman who reads and writes and can hold an idea in her head for longer than a minute.

Until then, I think I’ll go online and make a bulk order for black beans and look up some Mexican food recipes.

I Still Love You, My Grown Children



It’s the night before Easter. I know, we aren’t exactly practicing Christians. We haven’t followed the whole Catholic thing for decades.

But this is the night before a holiday. It’s the night when I used to put out the pretty eggs that you all had colored the day before. I’d get the baskets ready, adding the eggs, and the jelly beans and the chocolate bunnies. Dad would make a huge arrow out of candy on the floor of the hallway, as if you didn’t know that you should come into the living room to find your treats.

He and I would spend an hour hiding chocolate eggs and jelly beans all around the house. In the morning, you three would get up, all excited. You’d find your baskets and hunt for candy. There would be laughs as one of you located a chocolate egg in a shoe or inside of a Kleenex box.

Breakfast would consist of candy, hard boiled colored eggs and a slice of cassatta, in keeping with our Sicilian tradition.

When you were little ones, we’d go to Grandma and Grampa’s house for a dinner of ham, and pasta and more candy. The cousins would all run around, the aunts and uncles would talk, laugh, argue about politics and drink wine.

I miss all of that.

I miss the morning hugs. The sweet pajama clad three of you with your baskets in your hands. I miss the big dinner.

Mostly I miss the feeling of joy and celebration.

Spring is the idea of renewal, rebirth, returned hope. Spring is the time of flowers and trees bursting into life. It’s when our gardens are still dreams and our thoughts are all about warm beach days and barbecues with friends.

Spring lets us ignore the truth of our lives for a bit. Easter is the definition of that forward looking hope.

This spring is so different, though. This Easter feels like something unknown.

We don’t know when or if there will be a rebirth. We are beginning to wonder if the true rebirth will come without humans. Will there be lambs, and chicks and baby birds and buds on trees, but no humans anywhere to be found?

We don’t know. We are living our lives in isolation now. Living in fear of an enemy we cannot see.

But it’s the night before Easter. My dear children, my adult children, I am sitting here tonight thinking about those Easter Baskets, and that candy and those hopeful springs.

I miss you.

I wish that you were here for some eggs and some cassatta. I wish that you were here for some ham, and some potatoes. And for some hugs and some laughs.

I love you all just as much as I did on your very first Easters.

Easter is about hope and renewal. It’s about a better future.

I miss you.

Happy spring. Happy renewal. Happy hope, my dears.

I still love you so.

Living in Suspended Animation


“amber mosquito” by Oregon State University is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

When I was very young, perhaps 11 years old, I went on a field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. We saw all kinds of exciting wonders there, and I was enthralled.

But the exhibit that stuck in my mind all those years ago was a collection of ancient insects trapped in golden drops of amber.

I remember standing in front of the glass case, looking at the tiny, delicate wings of particularly beautiful little insect. Perfectly preserved and saved in time for us to examine tens of thousands of years after it had been caught.

I tried to imagine what it had been like for that little creature, moving through its everyday life, searching for food. Or simply enjoying a sunny moment on a tree branch. I pictured it sitting still, for just a tiny speck of time, not aware that a drop of tree sap was poised to drop from the branch right above it. Perhaps unaware as that drop first reached its head, still thinking of food or safety or procreation. And then, in the time it took for that tiny being to take a breath, it was encased in sticky sap. Unable to move forward or back, unable to escape.

Left to simply wait as the sap cooled, hardened, aged, turned into the gleaming jewel of amber that a wide eyed little girl was now examining.

For years after that trip, I wondered about that little winged insect. “What if the amber could melt away, and he could be alive again?”

What if.

I thought about that amber the other night, as I stood on my deck, looking out into the silent woods around me. Could something that was held in suspended animation, one wing lifted for flight, ever come back to the life it had known before?

I have now been inside my own house, except for my daily solitary dog walks, for 23 days. I am in suspended animation, like nearly every other human on this little blue gem of a planet.

I didn’t see it coming. Not until it was too late. On the last day that my grandchildren were here with me while their mom was at work, I had no idea that when I sent them home I would not see them again for weeks. I had no idea that we would first be told not to work, then not to socialize, and finally not to leave our homes.

The new coronavirus is our drop of sap. While we were all thinking about our next meal, our work deadlines, or our upcoming social events, it hung there above our heads. It wasn’t until it had dropped down onto us and encased us in its sticky depths that we realized we were caught.

Caught like that ancient fly, unable to escape, unable to save ourselves or those we love.

We are living in a state of suspended animation. All we can do is hope, and pray and trust in something bigger than ourselves.

All we can do is hope that this time the drop of amber will somehow melt, and we will all be free once again to embrace our boring, mundane, gloriously joyful lives.