all of the selves we Have ever been
A friend of mine lives in a suburban neighborhood where the wildlife is becoming too friendly, some might even say BOLD. Despite repeated attempts to discourage them, the groundhogs have taken up residence underneath decks and porches and the deer walk right up to the front doors and ring the bells. The family pets do little to deter the wildlife, and that includes a pet pig that can moonwalk on command. It appears that the animals have taken up the lives we used to have.
My friend spent the first half of the pandemic trying to woo a groundhog out from underneath her back deck and then keep him out. Since I am not sure where all of this is headed, my friend shall remain anonymous. Let’s just call her Q.
Q began her interventions by placing a small fence around the groundhog’s front door. To no avail. The groundhog simply dug a bigger hole and went underneath the fence. Next, Q piled small stones around the entrance to the tunnel, but the creature moved the stones to the side, crafted a pair of gargoyles that looked remarkably like my friend, and went on inside.
Q thought the natural animal fear of a predator might work. Q got a large plastic owl and placed it at the entrance. The groundhog knocked the owl over, slapped it to the side, and spit on it before regaining entry to its groundhog digs.
Giving up on barriers, Q then tried appealing to the groundhog’s senses. Q sprayed the area with ammonia. Again, to no avail. Perhaps, the scent was no worse than the typical smells of a groundhog home. Q also tried sprinkling cayenne pepper at the entry, but it appears that the creature preferred life spicy. Shiny, spinning pinwheels were no distraction and may have been enough extra wind power to provide electricity to the underground tunnel. Q tried sleep deprivation as a discouragement strategy and kept bright lights focused on the groundhog’s home night and day. Q was pretty sure she heard the groundhog laughing at her. Desperate, Q left the groundhog a written notice of eviction and posted a Keep Out sign at the entrance to the hole beneath the deck. Q later found a tiny pair of reading glasses in the snow. The Keep Out sign was turned around with the words Live, Love, Laugh printed on the back. There was no response to the eviction letter.
Q then sprinkled baking soda around the deck to track the groundhog’s footsteps so that she would know when it left the tunnel and which direction it had gone. While the animal was out, she backed up the truck and filled the area with large rocks. Q says she hasn’t seen the groundhog since, but Q has no will left. If Q sees signs of the groundhog’s return, she plans to declare him a dependent on her income tax return.
Now the neighborhood is getting together on a Zoom call to discuss the deer problem—upping their game so to speak. My friend is eager to hear what the neighbors have to say.
This has me worried. We are all a little on edge given the politics, the pandemic, and the weather. I remind my friend of the lyrics to that old folk song, Home on the Range: …where the deer and the antelope play…never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.
We need that…
but I think it might be too late.
He told them I was valiant,
and that became my name. Prince Valiant
The house fell on us this year. Everything went wrong.
With a virus running rampant and restrictions in place, people were unable to travel. Some could not even leave their houses. We discovered that “there is no place like home,” is only true when there is somewhere else to go. Home, it turns out, is both a place and a way of life. No ruby slippers, no click of the heels, can take us back to the way it used to be.
It was a year that was tough on love and a year for tough love: weddings delayed, marriages strained, parent-child relationships taxed, children behind computer screens, older relatives behind glass windows. It is difficult to find love when gathering places are closed and we are masked and standing six feet apart.
This will be a different Valentine’s Day. The traditional holiday symbols of red hearts, paper doilies, perfumes, and chocolates have been replaced with face coverings, stockpiles of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and lavender-scented wipes. Chocolate is no longer reserved for a special occasion; it has become a daily over-the-counter medicine for a chronic case of hard times. The longer the pandemic drags on, the broader the definition of hard times becomes. In addition to the coronavirus, we’ve endured weather disasters and wild fires, social unrest, political upheaval, and insurrection. On Valentine’s Day, the snow is up to our noses. No wonder we’ve replaced “Have a nice day!” with “Stay safe!”
The words “Happy Valentine’s Day” can be a mouthful to a toddler learning to speak. When my children were that age, the words came out sounding more like “Happy Valiant Times Day.” I thought those greetings were innocent mispronunciations, but it turns out, children can be clairvoyant.
This year I am trading “Happy Valentine’s Day” for “Happy Valiant Times Day” with my childhood mental images of Prince Valiant and his Singing Sword undefeatable in a fight for a worthy cause.
It has not been easy weathering this medical, social and political apocalypse. For the past year we’ve focused on the worthy causes of staying alive and protecting the lives of others. It has meant many days of isolation, fear, loss, boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion, and financial uncertainty as chaos overtook the spaces where we once lived in peace. Many lived terrified each day with nothing to think about except how the rent would get paid or where food might be found. Even as people took action to preserve their health and safety, they wondered if they would live to see their grandchildren again, if they would ever work again, or have the simple pleasures of going to a restaurant or trying on new clothes. They wondered if they would ever again feel comfortable going to a concert or using a public restroom.
Throughout the past year, we dangled from the windows of our old world: drive-throughs and grab-and-go restaurants, curbside pick-up-and-delivery, kisses blown into the wind, hands pressed to glass…it has been a daring, no-contact battle. We never imagined the determination it would take to follow the not-so-simple health and safety guidelines, the courage it would take after 365 days of solitude to stay home one more day, the dedication that would be necessary to show up at the computer and do the homework.
Those who were able to do so kept working and serving others—steering wheels and syringes, grocery bags and boxes became the new Singing Swords doing overtime.
This year, our hearts were tested and the contents exposed for everyone to see. This year made it evident: to give your heart, you must first have one.
May history look back on this time, look back on us, and remember that we were kind, generous, cooperative, selfless, determined, and brave. May they call us valiant.
For the millions of people who lost loved ones this year, this holiday is especially for you.
Happy Valiant Times Day!
History…is a larger way of looking at life. It is a source of strength, of inspiration. It is about who we are and what we stand for and is essential to our understanding of what our own role should in in our time. History, as can’t be said too often, is human. It is about people, and they speak to us across the years.
-- David McCullough, The American Spirit
It seems Abraham Lincoln has been doing a lot of talking lately. In our time of dramatic social strife, it has become popular for politicians of every stripe to invoke the name and words of Lincoln who warned us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. While Lincoln’s words remain brilliant, offering insight and direction, I sometimes find myself offended by the name-dropping. Some of those invoking the late President’s name need to clean up their acts if they want to associate with Lincoln.
Ask a child to name a president, and the child will likely name Washington or Lincoln. They are both memorable, one for being the first to hold the office, and the other for not becoming the last. They were leaders at remarkable moments in history. I doubt there is a person of my generation who did not cut out at least one construction paper silhouette of either president.
Lincoln’s words come back to us at this time of division both nationally and within the Republican Party, but Lincoln remains appealing for many reasons. Foremost, he was one of us. He knew difficult times. Lincoln came from humble beginnings, and his family moved several times. Lincoln knew how to do hard physical labor. Though his parents were illiterate, Lincoln was determined to be self-educated and was known to walk miles to borrow a book. He knew the pain of childhood grief. His biological mother died when Lincoln was nine years old. He had the disappointment of a marriage proposal declined, and later, experienced a break-up of a relationship with Mary Todd that left Lincoln depressed and despondent. After the two reconciled and married, they had four children. Only one child lived to adulthood. Lincoln lost his share of elections before winning the White House, and throughout his life, he continued to suffer recurring bouts of depression. His wife, Mary Todd, also suffered from psychological problems and, after Lincoln’s death, she was declared insane.
When I think of Lincoln, I think of someone very human. I think of intelligence, faith, humility, compassion, endurance, and resilience. Lincoln’s brand was authenticity. He understood the importance of words carefully chosen and delivered in the right place at the right time. In the absence of Twitter and social media, he had many timely and memorable things to say. He was an influencer who has stood the test of time. Ryan Holiday in his book, The Obstacle is the Way, wrote: Lincoln’s words went to the people’s hearts because they came from his, because he had access to a part of the human experience that many walled themselves off from. His personal pain was an advantage.
Despite the gravity of the times in which he lived, Lincoln maintained a sharp wit and a sense of humor, qualities that we can sure use now. Described as tall, lanky, homely, emaciated-looking, awkward, and downright ugly, Lincoln said: If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?
Honestly, Abe. We love your face! Happy Birthday.
It is National Wear Red Day,
a holiday to remind us to take care of our hearts. With Valentine’s Day approaching, we might want to clean up and lose a few pounds—the traditional, pre-holiday ritual.
I am a big fan of red. With that in mind, I search my wardrobe for something festive to wear. I come out of the closet with a hat, a shawl, and a purse--too bad I’ve got nowhere to go.
Undeterred by my dull wardrobe, I will not be limited by my outer wear; I decide to rely upon my rich interior life and think red thoughts. Since I am undertaking this exercise for my health, I exclude reflections on Communism and politics from my mental celebration of National Wear Red Day.
Red is a hot, dominant, and potent hue. It is the color of fire and of blood. Viewing the color red can increase a person’s blood pressure. Red can shore up confidence, enthusiasm, and courage. Red is the color of love, passion, energy, and action--the color of Valentine’s Day.
Red can also be a symbol of danger. The Devil wears red. “Seeing red” leads to anger and violence. Red is a universal warning sign to STOP!
While my mind registers the meaningful contradictions expressed by the color red, red has always been a symbol of hospitality for me. The red carpet is rolled out to honor powerful and important people. And it is rolled out when we welcome guests and loved ones into our home.
Throughout my childhood, my Uncle John and Aunt Janet rolled out the red carpet for us at their home in Cadiz, Ohio. In a world of subdued tones and avocado green carpeting, John and Janet’s house had a red living room—red carpet, red furnishings, red glassware. It was magic. The room was alive, greeting people as they entered the front door. A kid could tickle the keys on the piano that sat in front of a big window. Sunlight illuminated the many books and magazines that lined the shelves. Photos of loved ones occupied the table tops.
This family gathering place encompassed an old farm house on a dead-end street. The sprawling acreage contained shady trees, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a basketball hoop, and a horse grazing in the front yard. The dining room with its extended table was the largest room in the house. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and pets kept things lively. The Kennedy’s compound at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts had nothing on us!
There is a saying, “Hospitality is a form of worship.” Uncle John and Aunt Janet showed us that. They opened their home to us at any time. They were perpetually focused on our needs. Their home was a place to be free and to be connected. They had good hearts, and they knew what was good for ours.
On this National Wear Red Day I remember why I love the color red and the importance of having a good heart. The proper thing to wear today is my heart upon my sleeve.
It is Groundhog’s Day. Nothing new.
We’ve been living the same day for more than a year. Just when we thought that hope had arrived inside a syringe, epidemiologists advise us that we are not nearing the end of the pandemic; we are at the beginning of a new variant-inspired phase that could be worse than anything we’ve experienced thus far.
Happy Groundhog’s Day.
I am waiting for social media to light up in outrage that Punxsutawney Phil got to see his shadow this morning when the rest of us have been social distancing, afraid to even look in a mirror.
How do you know that you have been effectively social distancing for a year?
You know you’ve been socially distancing when--
1. Taking out the trash is an outing.
2. You think of the curb outside your home as a nightclub.
3. You ask the neighbors to blow their leaves into your yard so you can rake them up.
4. You replace the plumbing just for something to do.
5. Moving your car from the street into the garage is a road trip.
6. You schedule a time to talk to yourself.
7. You send yourself emails.
8. You eat food right out of the package--and that includes salad and baked beans.
9. Telemarketers have stopped calling because you talk too much.
10. You make a telehealth appointment to see how the doctor is doing.
11. You forget how long it has been since you last showered.
12. You put 14 miles on your car all year, and it will be 214.8571 years before your car needs an oil change. You go ahead and book the appointment.
13. You forget how to eat with a fork.
14. You salivate when the doorbell rings.
15. You buy stuff online just so you can return it.
16. You are arrested for trimming the neighbor’s shrubs.
17. You walk stray dogs.
18. People think you are making fun of them when you say have a nice day.
19. Someone gives you the finger and it feels like a friendly gesture.
20. You long for a church sermon about the annual fund drive.
21. A workout is sitting up straight.
22. You forget to wear pants.
23. A fire drill is a nice get together.
24. You turn yourself in for removing the tags from your mattress and sofa cushions.
25. You’ve binge watched everything including your home security camera footage.
26. You are jealous of your friend’s dentist appointment.
27. You realize that smell is not coming from the litter box…
28. When someone asks where you live, you give them your IP address.
29. You don’t realize you are still in your pajamas until you spill coffee on yourself at the convenience store.
30. You are willing to do hard time just for a hug.
If you can identify with the above, then you’ve been social distancing. I am hoping Punxsutawney Phil is right—just six more weeks of this.
Happy Groundhog’s Day!