all of the selves we Have ever been
This pandemic, shelter-in-place experience has been like a see-saw ride.
One moment I am up high in the air, my behind slipping and sliding while I hang on tightly, both hands clenching a tiny handle. I am frightened but energized and telling myself that I am not afraid, I can do this, even though all of the power and control is in the big butt on the other end of the board.
If circumstances keep me high up in the air too long, I feel helpless and angry and want to be let down. When my position is released too quickly, I hit the ground hard and a shock goes up my spine zapping me in the head. My entire body vibrates. I want to get off but I am too dizzy to stand. Then the ride begins all over again. I am caught in an endless cycle of up and down—from “I can do it” to “I can’t take it.”
Last night was a sleepless one. I was stuck in the “I can’t take it” arc of the circle.
The trouble started with the governor’s two o’clock afternoon news conference. Governor Mike DeWine amended the previous day’s order requiring all citizens to wear face coverings when out in public buildings as the economy re-opens. After hearing from many people, the Governor said the wearing of face masks is now a strong recommendation and not an official order. From the follow-up questions of reporters, it was easy to tell that a storm would be coming, people taking strong positions on each side of the face covering discussion. I remained troubled the rest of the day.
As I lay awake into the early morning hours of a new day, I turned on the radio and heard a late-night radio talk show host stirring a pot of anger and contempt aimed at the state government and the recommendation.
To me, it seems like a small request in an extraordinary time. The entire world and the world economy are shaken and threatening to dissolve. And yet, wearing a face mask is too much to ask?
I struggle to understand it. I realize that there are people who suffer with lung diseases like COPD, emphysema, and asthma. These folks may not be able to wear a mask when every breath is already hard work. There are people who suffer from claustrophobia and memories of trauma, individuals with autism who cannot tolerate the change or sensory experience. I understand that. I have held a lot of those anxious, sweaty hands in my lifetime. They will not be donning face masks, not because they won’t, but because they can’t. I believe in exemptions of mercy.
Ironically, the TV program, The Masked Singer, aired last night. It is a show that is growing in popularity. The game is to guess the real identity of the masked singer. Now the singer is not just wearing a mask but an elaborate costume as well. Clearly, people will wear a mask, even a cumbersome costume, for fun. That goes for Halloween as well. No one complains. Of course, it is voluntary.
But we live with many mandates about what we can and cannot wear. These mandates have been dictated by fashion, custom or health and safety. The first thing that comes to mind is the mandate, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” I don’t see any shoeless, shirtless protestors outside the governor’ office.
I have problems with my vision. I cannot operate a motor vehicle without corrective lenses. It says so right on my driver’s license. Makes sense to me.
No matter how miserable my clothes might feel, I cannot go out in the world buck naked. It is not called freedom; it is called public indecency.
I cannot carry my handbag into a crowded arena no matter how beautiful or expensive the bag. If I want to attend the concert or sporting event, I have to conform to safety guidelines.
I am patted down at airport terminals because of a small wire implant in my breast. This is inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing, but do I make a scene and demand my rights? No, I am grateful that the safety technology is sensitive when I am about to climb 35,000 feet in the air with people whose motives I cannot know.
Many of us are accustomed to wearing identification badges or uniforms to work. We may be required to wear a safety vest or steel-toed boots. If we want the job and the safety, we conform.
Sometimes we tolerate miserable things for fashion or custom alone. In past history men wore robes and powdered wigs. I doubt that was comfortable in a world of lice and no air conditioning. Ask women about corsets, girdles, bras, and Spanx. You will get more than a fashion statement.
Add to the list removing guns or concealed weapons before entering a public building. If you send your child to school without a coat in freezing weather, someone will call protective services. We don’t wear shoes on the ice skating rink. We are asked to cover tattoos and wear hearing protection at work or at the firing range.
In times like these, I look to doctors for science and advice and to little children for magic and wisdom. The doctors think wearing a mask is a good idea. Young children from pre-school through early elementary school engage in critical socio-dramatic play, better known as dress-up or make-believe. This beautiful form of play is so important to human development and the experience of empathy. Children are trying on roles to better understand how the world works and what it feels like to be another person in other circumstances. Among the personas they try on are those of their parents and teachers. Children are trying to emulate—to gain some of the super powers they believe grown-ups contain. They practice for a time when they will be in our shoes.
This type of play also helps children to understand and work out their own fears and concerns. Children delight us with this play and with their portrayals of the adult world. A child putting on a mask might feel like grown-up or a surgeon. Children understand that the dress, costume or uniform helps to distinguish who is who…who is the doctor, who is the lineman, who is the helper and who is the bad guy. This makes the world feel safer and more manageable. It helps grown-ups too.
In our current circumstances, we are not wearing masks to conceal, but to reveal. These masks or face coverings gives us membership in a special community much needed during a terrible time that calls for solidarity and not contempt.
Every day young servicemen and women, many still teenagers, put on heavy uniforms and tight-fitting boots. They strap on equipment, weapons and ammo that weigh in excess of thirty pounds, and then they go to a shack or a tower and stand guard for twelve to fourteen hours surveying the land, seas and skies for enemies. My mask is so light that its weight is imperceptible. I can strap it on for them so that they do not have to worry about catching missiles from the enemy and COVID-19 from me. I can wear a mask for the ER workers and first responders who are taking the heat of this viral fire. I can wear it as a memorial for the people who have died and will have no funerals, and to acknowledge the sorrow of the families who have had no opportunity to say goodbye.
I consider my mask to be a greeting card to all of those who are taking chances because they have to. It is a message to my neighbors that their lives matter too. It is an example for my children. I want to do this is for all of them, especially when there is so little else that I can do. Masks are power. Power to the people.
A mask is a new badge of honor and courage. Please wear one. Do it simply or do it with style. It supports safety, health, and life, and it supports the economy too.
I grew up with a famous masked hero. He survived an ambush that killed his fellow Texas Rangers. Let’s adopt the moral code of the Lone Ranger, who survived a terrible assault and went on to do so much good in the world:
I believe that to have a friend,
a man must be one.
That all men are created equal
and that everyone has within himself
the power to make this a better world.
That God put the firewood there
but that every man
must gather and light it himself.
In being prepared
physically, mentally, and morally
to fight when necessary
for what is right.
That a man should make the most
of what equipment he has.
That 'this government,
of the people, by the people
and for the people'
shall live always.
That men should live by
the rule of what is best
for the greatest number.
That sooner or later...
we must settle with the world
and make payment for what we have taken.
That all things change but truth,
and that truth alone, lives on forever.
In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.
I make a note to check my rewards program points.
Except for gasoline rewards, I often forget about points or cash back rewards accumulating on my various accounts. I suspect the banks and retailers count on our forgetting so that they can keep the programs rolling at a minimum of expense while maximizing the promises that bring in new customers.
These digital rewards programs can be personally lucrative, but I prefer the old days when you got something tangible in your hand or found a surprise inside your purchase.
A popular rewards program in our house was trading stamps. We collected S&H Green Stamps and Top Value Stamps. S&H Green Stamps were the, uh, green ones. The Top Value Stamps were yellow. Though we collected both brands in our household, the Green Stamps seemed more popular in our neck of the woods. We mainly earned our stamps at the grocery store and gas station, but there were other retailers who participated in these programs.
The small stamps came in different denominations. The strings of stamps were perforated so the collector could easily and neatly tear the stamps apart to fill the small squares on the pages of the collector’s book. The paper stamps had an adhesive on the back that was activated by licking the stamps or wetting them with a sponge.
Sticking the stamps to the pages of the collector’s book was the point at which children were invited to participate in the program. We licked until our tongues were green, and we were happy to do so. The books contained 24 pages and required 1200 points worth of stamps to fill. The collector could then go to a redemption center or order from a catalog. It was said that S&H Green Stamps produced more stamps than the U.S. Postal Service and had the biggest catalog of all catalogs. It was pretty exciting stuff. We were part of something BIG.
We fantasized about redeeming those books of stamps, and we enjoyed visits to the redemption center to scout out the merchandise. We tried to imagine saving enough stamps to get a new gas range or even a boat! It was more likely that we would end up with a new lamp for the living room, but we children felt like we had contributed to the acquisition and enjoyed the excitement of shared effort and anticipation. We also shared our stamps with friends and neighbors to help them reach the bigger goals. Maybe one of them would get the boat and we could claim a role in their success!
Back then, smaller rewards sometimes came with a product. Breeze powered laundry detergent gave away bath towels inside the box, and Duz detergent, not to be outdone, gave free drinking glasses.
Banks got in on the act as well. When I first graduated from high school, my bank gave dishes for each savings deposit over $25.00. With the help of my co-workers and friends, I collected an entire service for 12 of Enoch Wedgewood china dinnerware. I’ve eaten from those plates, bowls and saucers at every meal for more than 40 years.
Kids had their own rewards programs. Bazooka bubble gum came with a tiny comic inside the wrapper. The wrappers could be saved and sent into the manufacturer for fun prizes like a baseball mitt. Boxed cold cereals often came with prizes as well. Prizes might include a chintzy row of stickers or a rubbery wall walker. Better prizes included muscle cars or actual small records. Cracker Jacks contained prizes too. Most of them were rather lame, but then again, the box was pretty small. You might find a whistle or a small paper game. I was always eager for a decoder ring.
There were other programs that involved combining saved box tops with a small amount of cash. With these programs you could purchase great things of good quality like a set of silver spoons. I still have a beautiful cut glass condiment serving dish with a sterling silver lid and spoon as well as a sturdy stainless steel and wood set of grilling tools, and a recipe box complete with recipes.
Print magazines often ran ads for inexpensive mail order items. These were not actually “rewards” unless you counted the fact that you would not have known about the deal without first purchasing the magazine. It is hard to believe that people would just tear out the corner of the page with the order information, place some actual cash into an envelope, and drop the order into the mail. Most of the time, the product arrived at your door in a few weeks.
Unbeknownst to parents, this route led to some shenanigans by children—no different than the internet age. An older friend who is now a retired police officer once made an inexpensive but significant purchase from an ad in the back of a gun magazine. When he was nine years old and his good buddy was twelve, the two saw an ad for a bazooka. For a few dollars the bazooka could be theirs. The ad stipulated that the purchaser had to be twenty-one years of age. The two boys figured that together, they had twenty-one years between them, and so they filled out the order form, slipped their cash into an envelope and waited. The bazooka actually arrived. Now we are not talking about a stash of bubble gum here. We are talking about an actual portable, recoilless, anti-tank rocket launcher weapon!
The boys loaded it with a baseball. The bazooka accidentally went off in the family living room shattering the front window and blasting through the side of a passing city bus. Miraculously and thankfully, no one was injured, but in a few minutes the police were knocking on the door. The boys tried to pretend no one was home. Didn’t work.
Also miraculously and thankfully, it was a time when kids who did stupid things without ill intent received a talking to and maybe a trip behind the shed. They did not get life in adult prison or the electric chair. Like I said, this man became a career police officer. I guess he learned his lesson and knew which side of the bazooka and the law he wanted to be on.
While the rewards and the shopping experiences share many features in the 3D and the digital worlds, I still prefer the tactile, three-dimensional experience. I like the visual, hands-on effort, and the mounting anticipation. I liked being included in a shared family experience. The points or rewards were never out of sight. We were constantly adding green stamps to our little books and studying the product packaging and magazine ads. Our favorite soaps and cereals became the ones with prizes inside. Shop to win. Eat to win. Wash to win. The point was you were always a winner and constantly surprised.
The sun is radiant in the sky,
and a strong cool breeze parts the curtains. The fresh air encircles me as I snuggle under a warm blanket with a cup of hot, aromatic spiced tea in my hand.
Brilliant sunshine in a dark time.
A cool breeze in hellish circumstances.
Sweetness in a sour spell.
I would like to take credit for the wonderful things in my own life, but I know that my good fortune has often been the result of luck, timing, kindness, and the unmerited favor of heaven--the divine assistance plan also known as Amazing Grace. I was blind but now I see.
With so much that can go wrong, maybe the miracle is that so much goes right. I ponder the events of just this past week.
Waiting out the coronavirus storm, a stimulus check appeared in my bank account on Wednesday. My fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear?
I watched a segment on the national news last evening as New York Governor Cuomo shared a letter from a 74 year old retired farmer. Living far away in Kansas with a wife who is missing one lung and has illness in the other, the retired farmer sent a single, clean N95 mask to the Governor. The farmer asked that it be shared with a New York hospital worker. A humble offering from someone who gave all that he could. A person with a disposition to kindness. How many other examples have we seen during this pandemic? Tears filled my eyes. Amazing Grace!
My phone seemed to ring and ping continuously yesterday as friends and family checked in. How sweet those sounds that saved a lonely wretch like me! They honor me with years of friendship that have given dignity and meaning to my life. Amazing Grace!
At the daily news briefing, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine shared his excitement about the coming availability of coronavirus testing in Ohio. He celebrated the ingenuity and investment of the people who have made not only testing possible, but the reopening of the Ohio economy as well. This is a noble man on a mission. He is determined! His actions and character fill me with hope. He has brought us through many dangers, toils and snares.
And now Grace will lead us home.
It seems to me that a hot shower
is the universal antidote to everything.
Showers are cleansing, of course. The hot water relaxes tired, stiff muscles. The sound of the falling water eases the mind, and then there is the aroma therapy that comes from pleasant smelling soaps and shampoos. For a few minutes there is peace on earth and a little privacy too. Perhaps the nakedness forces us to shed everything else, gives us a clean slate, and while the steam opens the pores and the sinuses, it also seems to open my mind.
Why is it that my most profound thoughts occur while I’m in the shower? It is this experience that makes it hard for me to believe that the world’s greatest discoveries occur in the laboratory. Can it be that the answers to life’s big questions do come to people in the shower, but no one wants to be subjected to on-the-spot reporting or to go on CNN wrapped in a towel?
Did the light bulb go on for Edison while he was in the shower? How many times did a dripping wet Einstein race from behind the curtain trying not to forget, repeating to himself “e=mc²… e=mc²… e=mc²” as he scrambled for a pencil and a sheet of dry paper?
Or...can it be that the world’s geniuses really are different from the rest of us in one important way--they can be showered with inspiration while fully clothed and on dry land?
Sadly, there will never be any proof that I was a great thinker. All of my best ideas went down the drain.
I have a friend who carries a pocket knife,
a Swiss Army Knife to be exact. After all, the Swiss are known for their precision.
No, the Swiss army knife is not made of chocolate. It is an actual brand of pocket knife first introduced to the world by the Swiss military. I find this interesting since I didn’t know that Switzerland had a military, the country being neutral and all. Maybe the Swiss require an army to protect all of that fine Swiss chocolate. Or maybe the country is still on edge from that 1968 Super Bowl when NBC switched to its regular programming with only 65 seconds left to play in the game. No one saw the Oakland Raiders make two touchdowns in nine seconds to beat the New York Jets. Frankly, I am surprised NBC is still in business. And what was the regularly scheduled program that led to such a debacle? It was the movie Heidi, the children’s story published in 1881 by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. It is a touching tale about an orphaned girl who is sent to live with her cranky grandfather in the mountains of Switzerland. It’s a classic made much more famous for upsetting the Super Bowl broadcast of 1968. I remember watching Heidi that day while my father fumed. It is the event that put Switzerland on the map for Americans of that era.
Anyway, the advertisement says that the Swiss Army Knife now comes in thousands of combinations of sizes, tools and colors, including pink. There are 33 tool choices including two different size blades, five different screwdrivers, a corkscrew, can opener, bottle opener, wire stripper, tweezers, toothpick, key ring, fish scaler, nail file, wood chisel, and pliers. That is not all. And it fits into your pocket.
I’m not much on bulging pockets, and such a device can make it hard to get through the security that is everywhere. I carry a purse that usually contains tweezers, small scissors, toothpicks, a key ring, floss, and nail file. I can’t say that I have a hook that can hold up to two hundred pounds or a metal saw, but I am crafty when necessary, and I don’t usually put things on a hook that weigh more than me.
At home, the basic tools of my trade are not many or colorful unless accounting for the occasional loss of blood. I have a small paring knife and a hemostat. If you are not familiar with a hemostat, it is a surgical tool that looks like a pair of scissors. It is used in surgical procedures to control bleeding. No, the hemostat was not left in or on my body following a surgery. My parents worked in the medical field, and interesting things could be found around the house. The hemostat left home when I did. I keep it in my toolbox. It is handy for grabbing things and holding on tight. It is helpful when small things go down the bathroom sink drain or when trying to get a roll of tape started. In most instances, it is a much better choice than needle-nose pliers. And it can stem the blood flow when I get to using my paring knife in non-traditional ways.
I store my small paring knife in the kitchen, but its use is not reserved to that room only. I purchased the paring knife when I was 19 and moving into my first apartment. It fits my hand perfectly, and we’ve pretty much grown up together. With years of almost daily use, we know each other well. We have a style and rhythm to our work. It is practically a Mary Poppins act where I open the drawer and the knife jumps out and gets to work. After all of these years, the knife, which has never had any maintenance other than cleaning, is still solid and sharp. Sure, I use it for chopping and cutting in the kitchen, but it is also a screwdriver and a scraper. The tip can be used to pry apart or hold things in place.
While some folks like to have a separate, bona fide tool for every use and are proud of their collection, I enjoy the creativity of making do with what I have, and it is cheaper and less cumbersome. The challenge calls out my inner MacGyver. Maybe it is a woman-thing. I have a female friend who loves to do her own home improvement projects, but she reports that most of the projects have been paid for by her health insurance. I have to admit that sometimes my own projects have me in stitches.
When I was in third grade
we had a special program at school one day.
It was about telephones. Not all students had phones in their homes. This class intended to introduce children to the rotary telephone. We practiced placing calls, answering calls, and basic telephone etiquette. In addition to the proper words to say in greeting, we had to have some lessons on polite use of a party line. Back then not everyone had a private telephone line. Some had shared service. A person might pick up the phone to dial and find that there were other folks already talking on the line. Of course, the courteous thing to do was hang up. There were other more interesting options such as joining in the conversation or silently gathering intel on fellow citizens, hence the special lesson. No mother wanted some eight-year-old smarty-pants eavesdropping and dishing dirt on the neighbors.
This telephone education curriculum was put together by Bell Telephone, THE telephone company. Each student was provided with a thin booklet explaining the history of the telephone and discussing potential advances. The information in the booklet described a future in which callers would be able to see each other while talking on the phone. A sketch was provided of a large desktop phone with a small square screen. That seemed far-fetched, like having a television in your phone! Even a few years later, we found it silly when the bumbling spy, Agent Maxwell Smart, made calls from his wrist…the old wrist phone trick…on the show Get Smart. It was unimaginable that a wrist phone would be in our future or that one day we would carry a palm-sized phone in our pockets that would do computing, face time, GPS, games, and movie streaming.
There have been other unimaginable events that have actually occurred in my lifetime.
I remember overhearing the conversations of adults after Dr. Christian Barnard completed the first heart transplant in South Africa in 1967. Unimaginable! And was it ethical? Would this really be allowed to go on? People feared that they would be struck over the head and dragged off to some dark alley where black market organ traders would rip out the hearts of the unsuspecting and leave them for dead. No one could have imagined a time such as now when 3500 hearts would be transplanted in a single year or that other organs would be harvested to save lives. And all of this is done in hospitals with sterile surgical technique. Many of us know or live with someone who has had an organ transplant. People are casually asked at the BMV about their desire to donate. No black market, just long lines. And no longer inconceivable or scandalous.
In 1969 I watched on a black and white television screen as the first man walked on the moon. Eleven others have done it since then in living color. As I write this, private entrepreneurs are preparing for tourist travel in space. Our children will go to school with other children whose parents and grandparents have walked on the moon, and in the future, our kids may travel in space on spring break. People are already signing up. No longer unbelievable.
What once we could only imagine has now become ordinary. We’ve grown accustomed to our technology and the speed of change. We don’t imagine, we expect new and futuristic products to roll off the line with frequency.
We seem to have the ability to create and prepare for the things we can imagine. (Although I am still waiting for the Maxwell Smart shoe phone. Sorry about that, Chief.)
Now faced with a virus that has the power to take us back in time to the Middle Ages, it is mind-boggling to realize that our best remedy is as simple, as difficult, and as low-tech as staying home. It seems like a Stone Age intervention leaving some people incredulous, angry, impatient, and unbelieving. Perhaps, in the long process from rotary phones to iphones, from automobiles to aerospace travel, we have become smug and lost our regard for the past and what it has to teach us. We failed to plan and to prepare—to imagine and to believe.
As we hunker down
it is fun to bring out the board games, watch old movies, enjoy some snacks, and fill some of the silence with good tunes.
Perhaps this quiz will provide fresh ideas for celebrating some of the enduring discoveries of the past decades.
Here are the answers to Wednesday’s quiz: