Random Covidisms: 63

  1. Yesterday was one of those days that gave me, as my three daughters would say, all the feels.

I had my sixty-third birthday, a day I had been anticipating with a sense of profound wonder, dread, longing, excitement and fear. As many of you know, I had already lived one day longer than my father back a few months ago, so that sigh of relief could be expelled slowly and softly and with gratitude. However, I had still not vaulted over the next hurdle, the official one, the birthday that would make me officially older than my father had ever been. He never celebrated his sixty third birthday. Yesterday, I did.

What did this mean to me and those who care about me? It meant that I am now older than the man who with my mother had a thought about me that lead to my being born and having time on this planet. I am sorry that he died young, but I am glad that he got to live at all. That is the reason I am here now. Unapologetically cosmic thoughts, I know, but you just can’t help having those thoughts about your place in the universe and what it all means at these monumental times. You just can’t. So, I am having them. I am sitting with them. I am thinking the thoughts and feeling the feels. I am sorry that my father never got to celebrate sixty-three. I am grateful and happy that I have been allowed to. In a sweet card that my mother sent me yesterday, she said ” I’m glad you reached 63 and can now look forward to growing older with Trina and enjoying many years of joy and happiness.” I think my astute mother summed it up for me while giving me permission as only mothers can. You made it. Now, move on and live your life. Don’t fear. Live. Thanks, Mom. You’re the best, and I love you.

2. COVID-19 is still rampant in our country, and the numbers are awful, but there are people out living their lives and being careful as they do. I drove to my office in Barnwell County in South Carolina on Thursday for the first time since March. It was very odd. The route I took was the same, but the landmarks were different. Timber had been harvested along one highway, leaving a broad vacant expanse that made me feel quite disoriented for a few seconds as I drove through it without my usual landmarks. Another stretch of trees and houses looked devastated, as if a bomb had gone off over them. I later found out that a tornado had touched down there, destroying most everything in its path since the last time I drove past that area. There were people in cars driving to their destination, stopping at stores, all along the route, and it all felt so normal, but not, sort of like being in a Stephen King novel. I just knew that the rabid dog or the possessed car or the Man in Black were going to come out of no where and undo my world.

When I got to the clinic I donned my mask, went inside, said hello to the few people who were physically working at that site, went to my office and closed the door. I came out only a very few times before leaving at five PM to return home. Meetings were on Microsoft Teams. Appointments were on Doxy.me or Doximity on my computer or my iPhone. Things at the office, my first time physically working there in seven months, were decidedly not normal. We are going through the motions, but the motions seem too scripted, too acted, too fake.

3. We voted yesterday, a very good way to start my birthday. The whole process took ninety minutes, was very smooth, professionally facilitated, and seamless. The wait in line in the already hot sun at 9:30 AM was something I have never had to do to vote before, much less voting this early. It was worth it. The sense of active participation in our government is palpable as you stand there with several hundred of your neighbors, all waiting to take part in this grand experiment that we call democracy. This is not a political blog, so I won’t go there, but let me just say this. We need to get back to decency. We need to get back to caring for one another the way we care for ourselves. (we talked about this is church this morning-see below). We need to get back to compromise. We need to get back to working for the things that benefit the majority of us, that lift and elevate all of us, not just the privileged few. If you have not voted, do so. It’s important. Exercise your privilege. Vote.

4. We watched a wonderful documentary last evening after an even more wonderful grilled filet mignon birthday dinner. The piece, Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You, was an uplifting look at life, relationships, growing older and contributing to the world using your talents and your need to communicate with others. If you like rock and roll, you will love this up close look at how Springsteen and the E Street Band make their fabulous music together. Even if rock is not your cup of tea, watch this for its take on life and love, grief and loss, paying tribute to those who have gone before and carrying on traditions that are timeless. It will be well worth your time, then listening to the album itself will just mean that much more to you.

5. We went back to the Church of the Good Shepherd for in person worship for the first time since March this morning. Just like my drive to Barnwell this week, this trip to the sanctuary we love to worship with others was anticipated with joy. The services are limited to only forty eight parishioners (the sanctuary holds many times that in normal times), everyone is socially distanced (we sat in a pew by ourselves, at least six feet away from all others) and all are wearing masks. We were able to wave to friends at a distance and even spoke to a couple but it was nothing like normal times of meeting and greeting. Although there was wonderful organ music by Jim Nord, the congregation is not allowed to sing at all. Communion consists of going up one by one to the priest, receiving the bread and then exiting the sanctuary. No common cup is allowed. The service is short and sweet. Once again the pandemic has altered our day to day lives to the point that we are going through the motions and grateful for it, but we are certainly not getting the richness of experience that we got before COVID-19.

So, my friends, I have now lived sixty-three years on this planet and my mother has given me permission to move on and live many more happy ones! I intend to do just that, starting today. May our post-COVID-19 pandemic life continue to be filled with celebrations, music, worship, friendships, creativity, love and connections that enrich us, nurture us and give us myriad reasons to live life to the fullest. Happy Sunday!

Costco-vidisms, and Other Musings

I ventured out this week to get the tires on my car rotated and balanced at our local Costco. Now, I have been working at home most of the time since mid-March, with some time doing telepsychiatry and one clinical day on Fridays at the main mental health center office in Aiken. Other than that that, I have rarely ventured out at all, even to the grocery store, as my wife is the self-proclaimed “Food Lady” and does not require much of me in that department except for the occasional breakfast omelet making or steak grilling. I parked my Mazda 3 at the tire center side of the store, walked toward the entrance, donned my mask and got out my Executive Membership card, flashing it at the store employee as I made me way inside. So far, so good. What I saw shocked me, and at first I did not know why.

I could tell almost immediately that the store was different from the last time I had visited it, months ago. To my left, the wall made of fence-like material that usually held numerous, ads, signs and bolstered the stacking of merchandise, was free of any encumbrances at all. Clear. See-through, Airy, one might say. The height of the stacked merchandise on that side of the entryway was much lower than usual. To my right, the large screen televisions were socially distanced from each other. Granted as wide as these TVs are, they could be side by side and still be six feet apart from each other. Everything looked far apart, like one of those nightmares I used to have as a kid when everything looked over-sized and huge and menacing. I walked around to the auto service area, noticing on the way over that the rows of tables and chairs usually placed between the checkout line and the food court were all gone. Completely gone. I walked up to the auto checkin-checkout station and saw the high Plexiglas barriers that surrounded the desk and cash register area, little cutouts for exchange of paperwork and cards. After dropping off my keys, I made my way further into the store, back towards the seafood and wine and rotisserie chickens.

I was struck by the amount of merchandise that was NOT in the store. Granted, there was enough of just about everything you would come to Costco to buy, but there was not the excessive, pallet-driven environment of twenty four packs of everything, large bottles and over-sized boxes that made one frantic to overbuy while at the same time calculating available storage space back home. Huge fans whirred overhead. The entire upper third to half of the store itself was empty, clear, productive of good, proper airflow and circulation. I found the few items I needed, checked out, and walked towards the food area. My beloved vanilla-acai swirl, a treat reserved for tire rotation time, was no more! I was saddened by this loss in a silly, heartfelt way. Not having a seat to sit on or table to sit at, I stupidly walked towards the cardboard box corral, looked at my watch and figured that I could stand there for the remainder of my thirty minute wait time to get my car back. Which I did.

Why did this visit to Costco unnerve me? I got what I came for. I was not disappointed in the customer service at all. It dawned on me that this was the first time that I had decided to do out and experience the “normal” retail world in some time. At home, things are now routine. I work, eat, sleep, play, rest, relax and do almost everything else there. It is safe. I am healthy there. I do not feel threatened there. My world has not significantly changed there. Out in this new world, this world of distance and less stuff and six foot markers and Plexiglas everywhere, it is decidedly not normal any longer. I came to the realization, more vividly, that it may never be again. I went back to my home, calmer, more relaxed, feeling safe, but knowing that I will have to keep venturing out into this hostile landscape that some folks tell us will potentially get much worse before it gets better.

 

We have been attending church virtually for many weeks now. The Church of the Good Shepherd has learned, as we all have, to pivot with this virus, to use time and technology and virtual everything to stay connected with its parishioners and to try to keep us connected with each other. We have enjoyed “Good Morning Good Shepherd”, followed by a worship service that was at first quite traditional in its presentation, but that is now full of video and music and readings by parishioners and lovely tours around the summertime Summerville campus. We have even started having outside baptisms again, complete with baptismal font in front of the entrance to the church, masks and appropriate distancing and hand sanitizing.

Today’s service was especially poignant. The opening hymn admonished us to fight the good fight, run the straight race, cast care aside, and know that “Christ is all in all to thee”. Wise words of counsel in these very uncertain times, but oh so hard to do without much effort these days. Robert Lowry’s “How Can I Keep From Singing?”, sung in melodious tones by alto Rebecca Brune, was lovely beyond measure. Watch and listen to another wonderful version of this song here

Thro’ all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing; it finds an echo in my soul-how can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that refuge clinging; Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?

 

Sometimes we need a little perspective. Watch this video if you feel that you are being put upon, that you are too stressed, or that we are facing more than any people have ever been forced to deal with and bear. It may change your mind, or at least put you into the river of time in the appropriate way and to appropriate degree. 

We rode our bikes on the Greeneway this afternoon in an attempt to get outside and do something physically good for us, as we love to do when we can. We ride this trail at least once a week now as times permits and always enjoy it. There are walkers, dogs, bike riders, in line skaters, singles and families using this wonderful community resource. It was very hot and humid today and we struggled on the uphill/out portion of the path, pedaling hard and getting a good workout. As the turnaround was in full sun, we rode a few dozen yards back up the hill and stopped to the side of the path, thought still on it and as out of the way as we could get, to drink some water and get ready for the trip back down to the start of the ride and the car.

Two other riders, one a middle-aged man and one a young man, rode towards us soon after we had stopped. With plenty of room to pass us on the opposite side, the older man called out in what I thought was a jovial tone, “Don’t stop in the dance floor, now!” They went on their way, down the short hill to the turnaround, then he came back past us, not really acknowledging us at all. The younger man, after turning around further into the neighborhood just beyond the end of the Greeneway, came back up the hill towards us as well. On the opposite side coming towards us, a family of five was walking along the path. As they arrived beside us at almost the same time that the young man was getting ready to pass us, he had to slow and stop to allow them to walk a few more steps past us so that he could safely whizz past us himself. This might have taken ten to fifteen seconds. We turned towards him and quipped that we needed to cool down a bit more before starting back and were sorry that he had to wait a few seconds to let the family pass. In an exasperated and exaggerated gesture, he lifted his head and rolled his eyes several times, sprinting past us on his bike, not saying a word. 

Now, as far as I know, the Greeneway is a community resource that is available to all, kids, families, novices riders, older riders like us and more. There are expected rules of trail etiquette, including allowing users of all skill levels to utilize the trail, and not blocking access or ability to pass for other users. When we stopped for water, we certainly did not mean to cause any impediment in access to anyone using the trail around us this afternoon, and the family that walked past us and engaged in friendly conversation certainly understood that. The young man who so rudely rolled his eyes at us and then sped past without a work of any kind, did not. 

If you are that young man in an Andy Jordan bike shirt who was so inconvenienced this afternoon that we shaved fifteen seconds off your out and back time, I apologize. I would only ask that you remember these things:

  1. We are in a global pandemic. Everyone is stressed. Everyone needs an outlet. Ours today was riding our bikes on the Greeneway with a heat index of 105. We meant no harm to anyone as we enjoyed that activity today. 
  2. My wife and I are in our sixties. We are happy to be able to get out and physically challenge ourselves in this way for exercise. You are not in your sixties. I would ask that even when you are displeased, that you respect your elders when showing that displeasure. 
  3. Lastly, I would hope that in this time of great stress for us all that you would develop a little more patience and show grace to those who are navigating this time with you. 

 

Tomorrow is a new week. I wish for all the peace and good fortune and grace that we are all going to need continuously as we move forward through this global crisis.