Change, Masks & Humankindness

How many Presbyterians does it take (you may have heard this one) to change a light bulb??

C-H-A-N-G-E???

I get to repeat this, having been a Presbyterian for about sixty years and being intimately familiar with our reflex opposition to change. However. The global changes of the past 14 or so months have given an entirely new meaning to things like the trauma of switching a word in some obscure hymn.

With the baby steps we are now taking into the New Normal, some of it looks pretty abnormal. We – I, at least –  created an interim sort-of normal and adjusted to it for a year. Wasn’t that normal? But now it does not feel normal to do normal stuff because we declared it not-doable for all those months of the old normal. 

The #1 case in point is the Mask Issue. Early on, I found masks to be a giant bother: hot in the sunshine, uncomfortable oftentimes, and impossible when trying to communicate with someone hard of hearing. Not to mention the regular panic over having forgotten the mask when already a half-mile out on a walk or – heaven forbid – about to enter a Walgreen’s. In my building, one could be sent unceremoniously back to one’s apartment if unmasked in any public space, although eating and drinking were indeed allowed once public spaces opened up. But still, masks remain the rule. They can be quirky, funny, political, decorative; Brian the concierge quickly turned them into fashion statements by appearing in matching mask and tie sets (he has five in all.)

But now. The CDC says it’s fine for the fully vaccinated to go maskless outdoors. Some governors agree. Some governors are thinking it over. Some governors still think Donald Trump is president and everything is a hoax anyway: virus, masks, vaccine, you name it, it’s all just a hoax, 580,000+ U.S. dead people notwithstanding.

There’s only one universal truth:

We need to be VERY kind to one another. We’re all on the same planet, and in the U.S. that includes people who are going to keep wearing masks for a very long time and people who absolutely refused to wear masks and now are more or less validated. And definitely unmasked.

Recently, while walking in a super-trendy area of San Francisco, about a mile from my home (which is in a good but hardly trendy area itself) I had my mask hung over my left ear while eating an ice cream bar. I was overtaken – within a few feet, certainly not a proper social distance – by an attractive, well-dressed white man who appeared to be in his 50s or early 60s. He was fit, maskless – and angry. As he strode alongside we both slowed (or, he slowed to match my already-slow pace) and he glared into my eyes.

“I thought we don’t have to wear masks outdoors,” he said.

“Oh,” I said, with a disarming smile that did not disarm him, “I just keep mine handy, in case I want to go into a store or something.”

“Ridiculous,” he said, as he began to walk ahead. Which was my clue to let it drop. But still seeking to disarm I added, “Maybe we’ll all avoid getting the flu!”

“The hell with it,” he threw back over his shoulder. “I’m getting the flu. I’ve had it with this expletive, expletive, expletive.”

So much for friendly passages.

I worry about the fact that this guy and thousands with similar sentiments and temperaments will continue to co-exist (and walk the streets) with mild-mannered sorts like myself. I think we need to find ways to avoid both shouting expletives and making inane comments that provoke others to shout expletives. Could we plaster the country with posters to this effect:

AHOY, MASK-WEARERS: You haven’t been vaccinated, and are being extraordinarily considerate of the rest of us. You have compromised immune systems and must be super cautious. You have terrible cold sores disfiguring your mouth. Thank you for wearing that mask!

AHOY, ALL UNMASKED : Happy to see your smile. Isn’t it lovely to emerge from the dark days. Thank you for being fully vaccinated which I’m sure is true.

TO EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE: Let’s just cut each other a LOT of slack until the world turns fully right-side-up again.

Remaining masked doesn’t have to mean I’m a snob, or a Democrat, or a generally bad person. Being unmasked doesn’t have to mean I’m a threat to your health, or a Republican, or a generally bad person. Several billion masks have been manufactured or created since early 2020 and it’s going to take a long, long time for them to go away.

In the interim, maybe we could take a collective deep breath. And try smiling.   

(Wo)man’s Best Friend in Pandemic Times

Photo by Daniel Frank on Pexels.com

One more strange thing during the dark days of Pandemia was my sense, much of the time outdoors, that I may have been the only person in San Francisco without a dog. Crossing the dog play area while doing my par course thing at Mountain Lake Park, skirting the similar space in Lafayette Park, or walking along any of San Francisco Bay’s limitless varieties of woods and beaches – I have felt acutely dog-less. Despite having had and loved a long list of family canines; I am currently without. And in recent times that has seemed particularly unseemly.

“You want to know how to stay busy in a pandemic?” my daughter Sandy said to me, early on; “get a puppy.” Scooter had joined her household as lockdowns were just beginning. Although theirs is a multi-dog household that leans toward rescues, Scooter was chosen because he was a purebred Catahoula Leopard Hound, and in a sense a replacement for Blue. Actually, no creature could replace Blue, who had been at my son-in-law’s side for 17 years before succumbing to cancer and the vicissitudes of very old dog age. In one of his countless obituary remembrances someone wrote, “Blue taught all the dogs at the lake how to be dogs.” But eventually Scooter, a multicolored Catahoula with one brown eye and one blue, was chosen to join the family.

While I was a continent away from the growing Scooter, I followed his progress throughout the pandemic on Facebook and on countless videos as he learned (more or less) where to dig or not dig, what to chew or not chew, all those niceties of canine upbringing that are far easier to watch online than to teach onsite. But they kept me entertained and Scooter’s family busy.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ringo-5.25.19.jpg
Ringo at rest in the garden

Two other dogs close to my heart were central to pandemic survival for their human moms and, by extension, me. Unlike young Scooter, Ringo and Delilah are both certified old dogs. I am partial to old dogs. This is partly thanks to my excellent late husband Bud’s book Old Dogs Remembered, but also because, well, we understand each others’ aches and pains and geezerly stuff.

Ringo, 14, whose official name is Ringo Dingo Django Durango, or RD3, was not partial to me in his youth. He customarily started barking about the time my car entered the driveway, and didn’t stop until he had sniffed and grumbled for at least five minutes. But we soon became cordial acquaintances, and by his middle-age and my confirmed geezerhood we were fast friends. One of Ringo’s primary daily occupations is patrolling the exquisite rose garden spilling down the hillside from his home. The back-breaking daily work involved in keeping the roses, fruit trees and other flowers flourishing perhaps doesn’t require Ringo’s attendance. But I’m satisfied that his company helped get my friend Margaret (the Ringo-namer and chief gardener) through the pandemic and constantly able to post beautiful photos of blooms to get me through.

But briefly back to Scooter. Sadly, Scooter went way too far in providing diversion from the pandemic. Several months ago, just before his family was heading back to the east coast from a winter vacation, Scooter went missing in the Wyoming forests near Jackson. No amount of searching, calling, whistling or pleading to the canine gods could get him to appear. So the family went mournfully home, finally accepting, at the end of the four-day drive (drives with large dogs take time) that he was likely dead of hypothermia in the sub-zero snows. Hypothermia, we all agreed, would not be that terrible because you fall asleep before you die. (Please don’t try to clear that up with scientific fact; it’s a comforting thought.) But the next day came a report of a Scooter sighting.

Thus began the most exhaustive search and rescue operation in this reporter’s long history of tracking operations of every sort. After flying back to stay with generous friends, Sandy took to getting up at 5 AM in order to ski out and fry bacon on camp stoves in areas where a sighting was thought to have occurred – the smell of frying bacon being something most of us, including dogs, as it happens – find worth following. No luck. She left articles of family clothing inside comfy kennels in the snow. Game cameras positioned near foodstuffs got some excellent photos of foxes – but no Scooter. Flyers were posted. Rewards offered. Drones flew around the forests to no avail. Even with the remarkable assistance of a Boise-based nonprofit called Ladies and the Trap, whose fit and determined volunteers devote themselves to finding lost pets and reuniting them with their humans – no luck.

Scooter

In the end – or perhaps it’s still the late-beginning, or the middle – no one knows Scooter’s whereabouts but Scooter himself. Unless he has a secret admirer and protector. His family has settled into a three-possibility resolution: He did indeed die, quickly and relatively painlessly, of hypothermia in the Wyoming snow country. Or. Someone took him in and began to love and care for him; someone unaware of (or uninterested in) the microchip beneath his skin or the rewards posted for his return. Or. He will, one day, mysteriously reappear. Stranger things have happened, say the Ladies who Trap – and others.

And meanwhile, all along there has been Delilah the Wise. Delilah lives in Southern California with her family, which fortuitously includes my cousin Jan (we have Virginia roots; cousins extend in Virginia to the 7th in-law generation at least.) Jan, a comedian, keynote speaker, comedy writer, and author, was available – thanks to the virus cancelling every gig she had lined up – to help Delilah find her voice.

So. “Good morning, everyone! Delilah here,” said Delilah, brightly, on a regular basis, via Facebook and thanks to the miracle of modern video-manipulation. “I hope you’re enjoying the day.” (Or words to that effect.) Delilah was consistently anxious to get us all through the darkest days. Early on (3/26/20 to be precise,) this was one of her suggestions:

“Today we’re going to play a new game! It’s called Guess What’s in That Zip-Lock Bag in the Freezer! All you do is dig wayyyy back into the back of the freezer and pull out all of the zip-lock bags. So far, Jan has found one full of orange stuff, and another with, umm, chicken bones? Just eat whatever is in it! Enjoy your dinner and relax. Let me know how it goes.”

Thus did Delilah get us through week after tedious week. Sometimes it would seem even too much for Delilah herself – at which point she would scramble to the end of the sofa and commence digging a hole all the way to China. At last report, she had not yet made it through, but if a virus variant returns she may get there. Delilah, who her family says is perhaps a “pugzu” – some sort of pug/shih tzu mix rescued years ago from the Burbank Shelter, is somewhere around “12-ish” in dog years. With age clearly comes wisdom.

The author with Delilah

So with apologies to playwright John Patrick, to whom the original version is first attributed:

The pain of the pandemic surely made us think; what else was there to do? Thought makes us wise. And wisdom – especially the wisdom of old dogs – makes life bearable.  

This essay also appears on Medium.com

Going From Vaccine Envy to Vaccine Guilt

Getting my first shot, from a dancing nurse

Recently I joined the ranks of the vaccinated. A great relief for an octogenarian, which I have been for quite some time. But, as has been or will be true for most citizens, about the time I rolled my sleeve back down I was beset by other emotions: guilt, angst and a nameless fear for my fellow citizens and the country at large. Not unlike the feeling one has when walking back to a warm home for dinner on a rainy day – and passing a motionless figure huddled in a doorway.

America is facing yet another division between the haves and have nots, the entitled and the shoved aside, but this one is a division between life and death. Here’s how that plays out, from the vantage point of one newly-vaccinated. I am also among the Haves: white, upper middle class, living in an expensive assisted-living facility. We the elderly are, of course, among the most vulnerable. Many of us have underlying health problems; all of us have the problem of being old. Which means we tend to die faster and in greater numbers if we get covid-19. It is admittedly scary to be old in a deadly pandemic. But should I be first in line? Should I have been ahead of my granddaughter’s teacher? Already my granddaughter has lost the experience of a normal senior year in high school. My friends’ grandchildren have lost other school years. How can we possibly weigh the safety of our own health against the hopes we have for our grandchildren’s future? If we simply concentrated on getting every teacher vaccinated and schools made as safe as possible, this might give our children and grandchildren at least a modicum of educational normalcy. Most of us would at least give that some thought.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

But then again. Why shouldn’t essential workers be at the front of every line? Those driving the buses, cleaning the streets, making it possible at least for our cities and country to function. The janitors and cooks who make it possible for medical personnel to function. The vast majority of these bottom-level workers are Black or brown, so the vaccine divide feeds straight into the ongoing divide of racial and economic inequality. Even given the technological challenges of many seniors, most of us in the middle class at least have the skills and resources with which to check around for vaccine availability. But should that put us in line ahead of the less-advantaged who make getting in line possible? What about childcare workers? Millions of parents depend on these generally underpaid women (they’re almost always women) to look after their children. If childcare workers are somewhere far back in the line, their own lives are in jeopardy and the ripples of disrupted lives among their small clients and wider families are incalculable.

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to prioritize vaccine distribution by age drew an immediate outcry from the disability community. How can this sizable demographic, which seems perpetually destined to fight one battle for survival after another, not be at the front of the vaccination line? Mobility problems beset many in this community; others have compromised immune systems that make them dangerously vulnerable. My lungs are compromised from being old, but they weren’t helped any by those years I smoked in my teens and twenties. Considered in this light, it seems hardly fair that I should be in line before my disabled neighbor.    

It is also hard not to take the vaccine guilt business onto the global level, a peripheral part of the giant divide. America First isn’t going to cut it with this virus. I am enormously relieved to be vaccinated, and now I want my friends and neighbors – all of them, rich, poor, Democrats, Republicans to get vaccinated just as fast as humanly possible. If we reach herd immunity in the U.S., though, and the virus continues to rage across Africa, its mutant cousins are coming for us. Offering support for getting the vaccine into Ethiopian arms is less an altruistic wish than a matter of self-preservation. Would I have given up my dose for someone in Ethiopia? Or for anyone in the above demographics? Probably not. But this should not excuse me from wrestling with what is a national, universal ethical dilemma.  

2021: The Year of Apprehension

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com – In remembrance of New Years Eves past

The COVID-19 pandemic, the battered democracy, the turbulence of racial and economic struggles – this is definitely the Year of Apprehension. We’ll probably all survive. Even if a lot of people continue to suffer and die and need our attention.

Given the difficulty of looking ahead, I dug into the archives for a look back. New Year blogs – and a bunch of New Year stories that pre-date the era of the blog – turn out to offer many bright spots and a little reassurance.

New Year’s 2000 – That one was fun. Remember the Y2K problem? The Millennium Bug? Computers everywhere, unequipped to deal with this new digit coming after 1999, would be crashing and burning and taking us all down with them? My husband and I actually attended a somewhat subdued New Year’s Eve dinner party at which one of the other guests was an official of a global engineering company which will remain un-named. He spent the evening with an ostentatious black box at hand – during dinner he did get it off the table and into his lap – because of mysterious dangers that might need his immediate attention at the stroke of midnight. We followed that stroke across time zones. Our highest moments of hilarity were speculating about exactly what that black box was going to do to us all when he pushed his magic button; our engineer friend was not amused. The covid bug does make the Y2K bug seem quaint.

Photo by VisionPic .net on Pexels.com

When New Year’s 2009 arrived I was heavy into brain exercise, having become a participant in a brain health study not long before. That piece reflected on the proliferation of brain health studies – New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the University of Texas’ Center for Vital Longevity to name two – specifically targeting the aging population. The resultant general recommendation was for everyone to plunge into word games and math games and we’d all be fine. Having still never found the time to get into games of any sort, I guess my brain just continues to muddle along.

In 2010, as the year turned, I was still preoccupied with brain stuff: esoteric questions (and some more fancy studies) about the passage of time. It was a sort of “Where in the heck did ten years go?” rumination. Considering the fact that the past year has seemed at least thirty years long, this perspective also makes past issues seem quaint.

For many of the in between years I included a favorite poem, just because poetry seems a good way to start a new year. So for these troubled times I offer the first and last few verses of Ian Frazier’s priceless holiday poem “Greetings, Friends!” in the December 28 issue – back in that old year – of The New Yorker.

Friends one and all! Let us unmute,

Excite the timbrel and the lute,

Make merry with our pots and pan

(The hour is seven, so we can),

Shout from the balcony or lawn

For joy at what will soon be gone,

And praises sing for what is here:

The end to this undreamt-of year!

Frazier goes on for 70+ poignant and hilarious lines, rhyming in friends and neighbors and people we know of or wish we knew; and finally winds up thus:

Let gladness rise, despite, despite;

“Love one another” routs the night,

And kindness is a folding chair

We carry with us everywhere.

In depth of winter, prospects brighten;

Mighty streams of light will lighten

The miles ahead, and goodness reign –

Once more, the angels’ grand refrain!

Thanks, Ian Frazier, and everyone who helped us though the old year with reminders that grace and humor still abound.

Happy New Year, and welcome, 2021!

Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata on Pexels.com



This essay also appears on Medium.com

How to Stay Sane in 2021

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Everything is not either all bad or all good,” observed my friend Oli. “There’s a little bit of good in things that are bad, and a little bit of bad in things that are good.”

This was after a discussion of how COVID-19 is affecting the entire country, in ways almost too numerous to face. Oli tends to get deeply involved in conversations of these sorts.

“For example, take pollution,” he said. “Since we’ve been staying home more, pollution has fallen dramatically.” Other observations were possibly less significant, but still to the point: “Noses aren’t as cold as they used to be, thanks to mask-wearing.”

Oli is seven years old.

This issue is way beyond “Out of the mouths of babes . . .” Surviving the weeks and months ahead – vaccine or no vaccine – is going to take a good bit of creative effort. As someone who has not seen her family for well over a year, who has had moments of panic and nights of insomnia over exposure to the virus – real or imagined – and who suffers from hug-deprivation to a major extent, I do not look forward to more months and months of masking, distancing and observing every precaution 24 hours a day. Because I live in a senior housing facility I will probably be an early recipient of the vaccine, but little will change other than perhaps feeling a little personally safer. Too much remains unknown, too many people will continue to sicken and die well into the (otherwise surely happier) new year, but these vestiges of the old year need to hang out with us until a new normal evolves in the new one.

So how to get through it with our sanity?

I think Oli is onto something. Finding ways to counter the sadness, the feelings of isolation and desolation, the sheer continuing disorientation of the months ahead might just be easier if it’s possible to discern a little good within the bad – while minimizing the bad that clouds the good.

This site, over the past few months, has featured brief glimpses into the struggles of aging, the pleasures of city walks, the art of communicating while masked, San Francisco city life and California wildfires, and one of the many great losses of 2020: Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Looking back, there’s one common thread: good was always found alongside the bad.

RBG’s legacy is wide and lasting. Amid the horrors of the wildfires there were extraordinary acts of kindness. Masks can’t keep strangers from interacting with eye-messages. Outdoor dining might just become a permanent fixture across the U.S. as it’s long been elsewhere: think Parisian sidewalks. Even among the sequestered elderly, friends and laughter make life livable. And most recently, with the remarkable convergence of Jupiter and Saturn just before the solstice, there was proof that no amount of stress on earth can eliminate the wonder of the universe.

Thanks for noticing, Oli.

Happy New Year to us all.  

This essay also appears on Medium.com

Talking With Eyes 101

Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

I am a hopelessly public social being. The annoying kind who says Hi there! and Good Morning! to every passerby on the sidewalk or the park trail. Who stops perfect strangers pushing strollers to comment on cute toddlers in puffy snowsuits. At random moments I’ve been known to walk up to frazzled moms in grocery stores whose small boys are demolishing the place and say, “One day he’ll be 26 and he’ll send you flowers for no reason at all, and you’ll know it was all worth it.”

So now, along with all the rest of you, I am silenced. Who can toss out a muffled Hi there! before the passerby has long passed? Masked strangers in their faces have to be pretty scary for toddlers in strollers. Increasingly isolated from friends and family by the coronavirus itself, we’re getting more isolated from our fellow masked humans by the day.

In the interest of brotherhood and sisterhood, I offer the following solutions:

The raised eyebrow hand salute. Starting about  a yard or so from the passerby, raise both eyebrows simultaneously with the hand nearest the passerby, palm out. Works every time. Nobody even opens his or her mouth (risking the escape of those scary droplets) but you’ve acknowledged your fellow human, and your eyes have done the Hi there thing.

The eye-laugh. Trust me on this. The eye-laugh says Hi there, friend! If you actually (silently) laugh behind your mask, your eyes get friendly. Passing humans see a friendly passing human, which encourages us all to believe there is still humanity and friendliness in the world.

Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash 

The open-eyed head tilt. If you don’t feel like laughing, you can try opening your eyes wide and tilting your head toward the passerby. This is the most abbreviated of Hi there!s. But interestingly enough, it often evokes an eye-laugh from a passing stranger.

Thanks to the ubiquity of Zoom gatherings, our colleagues and pods – friends & family & such as qualify for frequent contact – still recognize the bottom halves of our faces. The rest of humankind, though, are consigned to eye contact alone for now. When we’ll all be able to wander around unmasked again is an open question that only the very brave or very foolish are likely to try answering.   

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex summed it up nicely in an op ed published recently by the New York Times: “We are adjusting to a new normal where faces are concealed by masks, but it’s forcing us to look into one another’s eyes – sometimes filled with warmth, other times with tears. For the first time, in a long time, as human beings, we are really seeing one another.

Anne Lamott Hates COVID-19

Fran & Annie onstage, 2015

Probably most of us hate COVID-19. But when it comes to identifying the reasons why, Anne Lamott can condense them into a few very well chosen words. In this season of poorly chosen words – face masks represent “a culture of silence, slavery, and social death,” or carefully chosen no-words, if you watched the Amy Coney Barrett hearings – Lamott’s words have the effect of a lemon verbena air spray.

“I miss the recognizable world,” she says. “the casual warmth of the old world. I used to hug and kiss everyone, and you can’t hug and kiss anyone when you’re standing in your little circle. I miss hugging and kissing everyone. It was so carbonating, and uplifting.”

Maybe that’s it? We are all just finally uncarbonated.

Photo by Sam Lamott

“I miss skin,” Lamott says. “People’s necks to burrow in. I miss people.” May we all please have someone’s neck to burrow into soon.

I first met Anne Lamott when she was leading a writers workshop at Book Passage in Marin in 1993, finishing up work on Bird by Bird, arguably the first book to propel her toward becoming a Household Name writer beloved by uncounted millions. But this was pre-fame. I’d been a newspaper & magazine writer forever. My new, Final husband The Great Encourager brought a small ad into the kitchen one night and said, “You ought to try fiction. This workshop could help. And you’ll love Annie.” Which was an understatement.

“I miss the beloved community of my church,” Lamott says. Many of us have beloved communities – faith communities, book groups, yoga classes, those places where we burrowed into someone’s neck, or touched someone’s hand as we settled in. If we are lucky we have a bunch of them. But they’ve all gone virtual and we can’t reach out and touch anyone.

Lamott and I put our faith communities at the top of the list of beloveds: mine for fairly traditional, progressive, urban Calvary Presbyterian in San Francisco, hers for much smaller St Andrew Presbyterian in Marin – a remarkable assemblage of God’s people for which this writer cannot find an adequate descriptor so you’ll just have to follow the link. Several times in past years we’ve done fundraisers for St Andrew at Calvary, which have been highlights of my performance career. (Essentially, I say, “Hello, Annie. What about . . .” and she picks it up, and 30 minutes later we get a standing ovation.) Recently St Andrew was doing a little budget-boosting with a pop-up marketplace of Black Lives Matter T-shirts and totes, and I had a brilliant idea about promoting that; but like most of my brilliant ideas it was too shrimpy and too late. If you’d like to send a contribution now, though, that’ll be fine. There’s a donate button on the website.

But if you’re missing all of the same things? Is there no hope? Anyone who knows Anne Lamott knows there is hope. And joy abundant, light to overcome the darkness.

“We’re doing what we can with what still works,” Lamott says. “I am so excited to see people I know even with their masks on. You do the litany: ‘Is everybody okay? Are you voting in person?’ There is a lot of gentleness. I study this. People let other people go first, first in line; people are bringing their better selves to the arena.”

“Grace,” she adds, “is like letting other people go first.” So these are some of the things Lamott loves, things that bring joy despite everything COVID has thrown at us:

“I love church by Zoom. So many people with physical challenges couldn’t get there, and now I can see them on Zoom. I love seeing the little kids.

Photo by Sally Tooley

“I think a lot about what the virus has given us. It has slowed everybody down. Made everybody do a deep dive into who they are. Before, most of us were so confined by our busyness, so confined by the things we were good at. But now we’re saying ‘Who am I without my rituals? Who am I without racing from place to place?’”

Lamott also sees a lot of practical goodness resulting from the pandemic. “Everybody’s going into their worst drawers to clean them out,” she observes. “There’s a huge amount of free stuff on the sidewalks. We went to a free library place and came away with forty books to give to shut-ins and older people.”

And the blessings. “The opportunities for service are just huge,” Lamott notes. “Phone calls still work. There’s an awareness of what does work.”

Speaking of which, Lamott fans will be glad to know she’s not been idle. Her new book, Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage will be out in March. “Do you know that twilight is at dawn and at dusk?” (No, I actually did not.) “I learned that,” the author says with Lamott-like awe. The new book – now in the publishing phase, meaning the author can rest – promises enlightenment and inspiration.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 “can’t steal the warmth and goodwill that we have for each other,” Lamott says. She is reveling in the fall colors that underlie that warmth and goodwill, and invites us all to go anti-COVID by paying attention to those colors, listening for birds like the golden whistler currently making its brief annual visit to her backyard, heightening our awareness of the seasons.

COVID may have numbed us with isolation and inconvenience, but Lamott believes it has brought us something else. “There’s an awakening to the beauty.”    

Covid-Chaneling Punxsutawney Phil

I think I know how Punxsutawney Phil feels. He emerges from a comfortable dark hole, looks around at the universe, makes a decision about how the future might look and returns to his comfortable dark hole.

The thing about it is, Phil only has to do this once a year. We above-ground types are being asked to do it over and over, and it can be trying for the average citizen. Meanwhile, pity the poor mayors and governors who are – in the total absence of national leadership – trying to advise us. Punxsutawney Phil has, at least, an Inner Circle (don’t look at me, this information comes straight from Phil’s Wikipedia page) to advise him about the forecast. We’ve got Anthony Fauci. But God only knows (and She has an awful lot on Her plate these days) whether science and reason will or will not be allowed the microphone.

(This space being mildly committed to avoiding overt political statements, I will skip right over the resemblances between Punxsutawney Phil and that other prominent American who sometimes pokes his head above the black hole of despotism and stupidity he inhabits, sniffs the hostile atmosphere and sinks right back into a comfy chair to watch Fox News.)

But out here in the real world. San Francisco, for instance.

Shadows in the park

California, having successfully addressed the coronavirus early on, recently proclaimed semi-liberation day. Announcements of Phase I re-openings were made. Everyone prepared to emerge from whatever dark hole of confinement he or she had been inhabiting. Then apparently way too many citizens of the Golden State threw caution (and masks, and social distancing) to the winds. Infections are running rampant, restrictions are being re-imposed, plywood that had begun to be removed is being nailed back in place. It is beyond bewildering.

So, much like Punxsutawney Phil after a lonnnng hibernation, recently I ventured out of the dark assisted-living hole I inhabit. Authorized to go for an unsupervised walk to restore my health and sanity, I set out, due uphill, for Lafayette Park high atop San Francisco. Here is how it went:

Blocks 1 and 2: Everything’s fine. But when did I get this out of shape?

Block 3: OMG, a person not wearing a mask is walking right toward me. Do I step into the traffic to avoid his germs? Should I call 911?

Block 4: See that lady walking into the apartment building a few yards to the left? She is coughing. Coughing. I summon my diminishing strength to sprint across the street before the light changes.

Block 5: Thank heavens, the park is in sight. At least all those steps at the entrance are shallow enough that I can probably still handle them. And there aren’t a whole lot of contagious-looking people hanging around. It’s important to be out in the sunshine. I need to keep that in mind.

Block 6: But here they are. CROWDS. How do I know whether that group all smushed together over there is really a family? If I take my usual uphill path, can I maintain six-foot distance from everybody? All these happy people, what’s the likelihood they are asymptomatic covid-positives? Anyway, don’t these people know about masks? The view of the Bay is spectacular.   

Going home it’s all downhill.

This essay first appeared on Medium.com, interesting site I’ve been writing for these past few months. You might want to check it out too.