I Dream A World

This year, on Martin Luther King Jr Day, NPR ran an interview with its poet in residence, Kwame Alexander.  Alexander noted that the poem “I Dream A World,” by Langston Hughes inspired Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech 58 years ago. He invited listeners to write and submit poems beginning with the line “I Dream a World.” From the submissions, he will take phrases and lines to create a community crowd-sourced poem embodying the listeners’ dreams. I was intrigued but didn’t enter the challenge.

Early on in the pandemic, a friend suggested that COVID may be a wake-up call to humanity. Social distancing might provide an opportunity for self-examination, reflection on the state of our crisis-ridden world, and imagining a better future. For some time, I have been struggling with how to express my dream for the post-pandemic world. A world presently plagued with poverty, injustice, racism, hate, inequality, sickness, war, and climate crisis. Though I can imagine a different, fairer, healthier world, my imaginings seem as naïve and unlikely Dr. King’s dream. After all, look where dreaming got him! Though I cannot make rational arguments to justify my vision for the future of the earth, and I am powerless to persuade others that it is viable or even desirable, I still dream.

The more I allow myself to dream, the more my desire for such a world grows and affects my words and actions. I hope that I will not let myself off the dreaming hook, that others will have similar dreams, and that change will be both imagined and created.

I Dream A World
  
 I dream a world
 Where each receives enough:
 Enough food to satisfy the body's hunger,
 Enough clothes for warmth or cool,
 Enough shelter to call a home,
 Enough learning to foster growth,
 Enough imagination to dream,
 Enough freedom to walk proudly,
 Enough work to impart dignity,
 Enough safety to banish fear,
 Enough respect to nurture hope,
 Enough hope to conquer despair, 
 Enough suffering to make one wise,
 Enough beauty to feed the soul,
 Enough love to fill the heart.
  
 I dream a world
 Where earth soaks up the gentle rain,
 The air is clean and clear,
 Where sea breeds and nurtures life.
 Where heat and cold are balanced
 And gently alternate
 Like night and day. 
 Where skies are black or blue,
 And stars and moon are bright,
 And sun warms, and shade cools.
 Where life is green
 And death embraces earth.
  
 I dream a world
 Where balance reigns 
 And justice rules
 Along with truth and love.
 I dream a world
 Where tender hearts are open,
 And open hands are giving,
 Where eyes are softly gazing, 
 And ears attuned to listening.
  
 I dream a world,
 Where perfection and failure
 Are not the nagging enemies of good.
 Where each unique being, 
 Each thing is treasured,
 Held in reverence and awe.
 I dream the change of hearts,
 Abundance shared by all,
 And lack no longer known.

 I dream of many friends,
 To walk with me this path
 Of letting go too much
 And wanting what's sufficient,
 So, all may have enough.

- Moriah Freeman
  January 23, 2021
   

One Word

Carolyn, a friend and blogger I deeply respect and whose posts I follow avidly, has recently revamped her blog site.  It’s now called Your One Word. The idea is that you select, through a process of inner listening, a word that will be a hallmark of your life for a year.  Hallmark is, for this purpose, defined as a distinguishing characteristic, trait, or feature.  It may be a quality or virtue you aspire to, a practice you want to embrace, or something you want to understand more deeply.  Through reflection, active noticing, perhaps even study, you will let the meaning of the word unfold in your daily life for a year, checking in monthly or even weekly to become aware of its effect on your thoughts, dreams, and actions.

Carolyn provides some helpful resources for choosing your word and working with it regularly.

My word for 2021 is REST.  My word for 2020 was “slowly,” but I was a dismal failure at incorporating it into my life.  Anyone who knows me will laugh at my 2020 choice because I do everything as fast as possible – walk, eat, exercise, clean, shower, dry my hair, read, type, cook…ad infinitum. One thing I learned from “slowly” last year was how fast is my usual pace.  I also observed others around me, particularly my partner, and noticed how graceful and gentle moving slowly is by comparison.

I am 68 now, and I’m tired, in general, and in particular of going fast. So, without moving too far from last year’s aspiration, I chose “rest” for 2021, or rather, it chose me.  Already, with Carolyn’s help and inspiration, I am learning about what rest means for me.

I want to share with you the list of questions that arose when I began to explore my word:

  • What is the definition of rest? What are some synonyms?
  • How does rest show up in my hobbies: photography, writing, coloring, card design?
  • How is rest affecting my chronic pain?
  • Has rest helped me to move more slowly?
  • Am I struggling against something? Can I stop and rest?
  • When I have rested, what have I noticed?
  • Does rest help me to let go?
  • How are rest, solitude, and retreat related?
  • What three memories of rest can I recall this week, this month?
  • Have I seen examples of rest in nature? In others? What can I learn from them?
  • How are rest and saying “no” related for me?
  • How are rest and mindfulness related?
  • And, for the sake of this blog, how is rest related to “respect?”

For me, rest has an essential relationship with self-respect.  It gets at a part of my nature that has always been troublesome – my difficulty setting limits.  Limits on my workday’s length and intensity, limits on my care for others, limits on the physical demands I place on my body. Getting older, if you pay attention, can teach you vital lessons about limits.

This year, I hope to practice self-respect by discovering what rest is and incorporating it into my physical, mental, relational, and spiritual life.

Is “one word” calling you?

COVID Sacrifice

Wearing a mask during the COVID pandemic is a sacrifice. Some are willing to make it and others are not.  Many who refuse to wear face coverings say they are exercising their personal freedom – their ability to make choices without taking anyone else into consideration; their right to choose what is important to themselves, regardless of what authorities say is necessary for the greater good; and their right to disregard what scientists have told us about how the virus spreads.

Those who choose to wear masks for their protection and the safety of those around them, often do so at significant personal sacrifice.

For instance, those who are severely hearing disabled and who rely on lip reading to understand another’s speech, cannot do so when masks are covering lips. Therefore, they are at a disadvantage in social gatherings.  They haven’t a clue what others are saying.  They are aptly described as “out of it.”

Those who wear eyeglasses are also at a disadvantage.  Their glasses steam up, especially outdoors in the winter cold.  The seeing-impaired are constantly adjusting their masks to minimize steaming.  Many have chosen not to wear glasses outside at all.  I am among those, and the outdoor world is now a constant blur to me.  I don’t recognize neighbors when I meet them on the street and have to rely on the sound of voices to identify approaching figures. I can’t see what my dog is sniffing, and I miss seeing colorful sunsets clearly.  I admit blurred vision has a certain charm – occasionally.

Those with breathing difficulties also make sacrifices by wearing masks.  They are continually short of breath. I don’t have this problem, but several of my friends who have asthma, COPD or congestive heart failure are struggling with this sacrifice.

For these three groups, the inconvenience of wearing masks is prolonged by those who refuse to do so.  The duration of the COVID pandemic will be determined, in part, by how carefully and sacrificially we observe the CDC’s public health recommendations: wear a mask, stay six feet apart, don’t gather indoors in groups of any size for extended periods of time, and wash your hands frequently.

Which will it be for you?  Personal freedom? Or personal sacrifice?

Deep Listening

The other day, a friend asked me to join a conversation group to discuss ” how to reach out” to those with opposing political views. I confess we are both liberals and those to whom we might reach out are radical conservatives – the far right. As the following cartoon satirically depicts, post-election, some liberals express a desire to “heal the divide” in our drastically polarized country. 

This aspiration sinks right down to the personal level where friends and families, neighbors, and co-workers hold opinions on opposite ends of the spectrum. Four years of the Trump presidency and the vitriol of the 2020 election have split apart some close relationships. Many, mostly liberals, believe it is time to mend our families, communities, and the country’s torn fabric.

The issue is not a burning one for me personally.  I do not know many ultra-conservatives, and I do not plan to plow into the company of Alt-right strangers waving an olive branch in my hand.  With the two to four I do know I have an amicable relationship, which does not include talking about our political views.

I have erected some barriers to protect myself from those whose political, social and economic views differ from and oppose my own. Frankly, many of them scare me.  I am afraid of everything from awkwardness to physical harm. But, I feel, given the opportunity in a setting that feels safe, it would be closed-minded and rude not to engage with those who differ. 

Why? On a microcosmic level, I acknowledge the interconnectedness and interdependence of us all.  I know we are more alike than different.  I know we all suffer; we all want to have enough, be happy, and be free. 

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, nominated for the Noble Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suggests an uncomplicated approach   He encourages responding to those we might consider enemies or opponents, because they have the potential to cause us harm, by listening deeply and compassionately:

 “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

And:

“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less.”

Listening deeply involves letting go of my need to be heard and of my preferred outcome. One must have no other agenda than listening to understand. Deep listening eschews judgment, labeling, denigration or mockery. The listener is patient, calm, open-hearted, receptive, and compassionate.

I do not deny this is a tall order, but I tell myself I must begin somewhere with someone.  If I do not, the healthy unity of differences, the tolerance and respect we desperately need in relationships, communities and nations will be an empty and vain hope.

Creeping Normalcy…in a retirement community

I have not posted to the series “Diary From a Social Distance” in many months. The novelty, even of a pandemic, and the insights it might offer each of us, have gradually faded into the background of daily life, no matter how restricted. I offer this poem, written over the course of the summer and early fall, as a final post in this series. An historic US election will take place in less than a month and, regardless of the result, will, perhaps, give birth to a new series of posts under the umbrella of “respect.”

Creeping Normalcy

Normalcy is creeping back into our lives.

It is hard to resist.

All my resolutions to live

By the lessons learned during

These past months of pandemic,

Are donning fresh feathers and

Getting ready to fly out the window.

Sick of “social distancing” guidelines,

An impromptu cocktail hour

Has sprung up on the patio.

Technically, chairs should be

Six feet apart and masks should be donned,

But even without a tape measure, I can

See that the chairs are nudging closer.

And masks are dangling from one ear

Or bundled beneath the chin.

A nose peeps out, to catch a breath

Or lips to speak a word unmuffled by a covering.

Others have dispensed with masks all together.

After all, how can you consume a cocktail

With your lips held prisoner by a mask?

The staff, hoping I suppose to set good examples,

Wear their masks avidly and sit at great distances

For their lunch breaks on the patio.

At the beginning of this long ordeal,

When I would step outside my door in early morn,

To begin my daily round,

I would be shocked by the quiet – the absence

Of traffic humming in the distance.

Now, not only do I hear it at

Rush hour, but when I drive to some “essential” errand

I notice a “normal” number of cars on the road. 

In pandemic’s early months, the streets were quite deserted.

Though I have not dined in a restaurant,

But only ordered take out,

Or shopped in any store,

Except a pharmacy or a supermarket,

I felt emboldened by the warm weather

To meet friends outdoors and walk

Among the budding trees,

Six feet apart, of course,

En-masked for sure.

Now that nearly seven months have passed,

And we are reminded frequently that not one single

COVID case has plagued our retiree sheltered lives,

We feel a sense of invulnerability.

We think, why not eat inside at the “Dolphin”

Shop with crowds at Walmart,

Go to church, a wedding, or a funeral.

Let those who live in congregate housing

And those who live in cottages co-mingle, we implore,

To do jumping jacks and yoga,

Play bridge and ping pong,

Meditate and talk!

But no, the risk is still too great

Until we vaccinate.

The prime concern as winter comes,

And holidays are round the bend

Is contact with our families.

We’ve seen them “en plein air,”

So to speak, in summer months.

Cold gradually prevents that luxury now.

The staff is searching for a way

For us to see those we love in cold and snow.

A special room, a special shield,

Hygienic cleansing, no touching please!

Enormous effort, expensive too.

Reminding some of TV scenes

Of prisoners on either side of

Touch-proof glass

With hands outstretched, and eyes engaged.

What seems acceptable and normal now

A year ago

Would have been unthinkable.

This normalcy has crept upon us

Each day, each week, each month.

So now, the temptation is oh-so-keen

To abandon caution,

Let down our guard.

But no! En garde! My friends.

A little more patience and sacrifice

Is required of us still.

Our strength and ingenuity will help us

In this battle against virus and the flu.

Get your shot, wash your hands,

Wear your mask, stay six feet apart.

We will prevail!

And though the virus spreads and kills,

We’ll do our part on our small front

To end this Plague, and stem this Tide

Of loss and grief,

Inhumanity, and vicious Pride.

Moriah Freeman

October 10, 2020

Cleansing or Transforming?

I’ve been mulling over the ideas behind this post for several weeks.  I don’t want to be considered crazy, and I do not write with the authority of a scientist, historian, or prophet.  But the notions I am about to share will not stop pestering me.  They come to me several times a day, every day. They insert themselves into my conversations, my reading, my walks in the woods, and my early morning reflections. They have driven me to the internet to see if anyone else is having similar ideas, and to conversations with friends to try them out on others.

I find the notion that Mother Earth is “taking vengeance” upon us humans through the Coronavirus, somehow appealing.  Since we have been too obtuse, lazy, arrogant, and greedy to read the signs of the Earth’s suffering, perhaps we need to be knocked over the head with a plague of biblical proportions. Enter COVID 19.  I am not the only one that finds the idea that the Earth is cleansing herself attractive.  However, nowhere on the internet could I find any science to back it up while several articles debunk it. So, I bow to the scientists.

Well, if not cleansing, how about transforming? I believe that everything is interconnected.  I wouldn’t exactly say that there are no accidents. Instead, I’d say that at any given moment, the conditions are right or wrong for something to happen.  Understanding the conditions that make an event possible is a powerful predictor and can be an effective deterrent. It wasn’t a deterrent in the case of this viral pandemic, but here’s hoping we may have learned a little something.

For instance, take the recipe, a prescription used by thousands of novice bakers during the pandemic to make delicious meals and desserts that may temporarily soothe our anxiety about the present and the future.  The baker who follows a tested bread recipe exactly will have a relatively good chance of creating conditions resulting in a delicious loaf of whole wheat bread.  If she is slipshod in following directions, the result is less likely to be satisfactory. 

Of course, there are always conditions over which she has no control.  She will not be baking the bread in the same oven that the recipe’s author used.  Nor will she be doing her baking in the same area of the world with the same atmospheric conditions.  But, as they say, “Thems the breaks!” You work with what you’ve got and learn from the results if adjustments are needed.

For a long time, we humans, highly-evolved thinking beings, have been creating the conditions leading us to this critical moment in our history – The Coronavirus Pandemic. Sometimes we have done so unwittingly, sometimes with complete knowledge of the inevitable effects of our drive for dominance and our greed. We have asserted our authority over the Earth, conquered the sea, ascended into the air.  We have used our planets’ resources, and one another, for our enrichment and to bolster our personal and national power.  The ingredients of our recipe have been combined and baked, and the COVID-19 loaf has finally emerged from the oven.

A monk at the Buddhist monastery of Plum Village in France offers a YouTube talk on the Coronavirus pandemic and calls the spread of COVID-19 across the globe a “Noble Moment” in our history.   He’s nuts, right?

He says that a “noble” moment is an opportunity to wake up, a teaching moment, a moment of suffering that leads to healing.  It is both painful and liberating.  It reveals our fragility and vulnerability, and it awakens us from our arrogance and self-absorption.

The global nature of the pandemic both proves and strengthens our interdependence. It is no respecter of persons, social class, race, nationality, or religion. However, its effects will be disproportionally severe for the poor, the underprivileged and the elderly – those who are the most vulnerable among us and whom we discount so easily in our drive for more power and wealth.

Some philosophical outliers like me have dared to posit that Mother Earth is cleansing herself through the pandemic – bringing us to our knees for our sins.   If the Coronavirus is not Mother Earth, punishing us for our crimes against her, or cleansing herself from the effects of those crimes, is it possible that the current necessary conditions for our survival against this virus (social distancing and staying at home) have at least given us an opportunity for a “global retreat.” 

Rather than rushing to get back to our routine, busy, transient lives, can we see this as an opportunity for a global stepping-back – stopping, standing still, looking, and listening deeply?  We who do not have to worry about losing our jobs or our businesses, about feeding our families, caring for the dying, or mourning our losses from COVID, are being offered an unprecedented opportunity for insight and clarity of vision.  Can we embrace this chance to reflect on ourselves, our desires and needs, our relationship to others, and the natural world? 

Can we ask ourselves the hard questions such as: What do we need for a life of safety, health, happiness, and well-being?   How much is enough food, clothing, shelter, education, freedom, self-fulfillment for me?  Is it possible for everyone to have enough?  Do I want everyone to have enough? Are those of us who have more than enough willing to make some sacrifices in the name of equality?  And if not for equality, for interdependence and collective well-being?  Can we admit that our hubris has brought us to this point and that the pandemic has the potential to be a global wake-up call?  Perhaps not a wake-up call sent from on high or from the earthy wisdom of our planet but inevitably shouted to us by the conditions that we have created.

Will I ever take travel for granted again?  Will I stop eating meat and move to a plant-based or at least a humane vegetarian diet?  Will I put the brakes on my at-whim consumption? Will I consider what is necessary for my happiness and well-being and shy away from excess? Will I work toward systemic as well as personal transformation?

I believe the Earth is badly in need of cleansing, but we, not she, are the potential cleansing agents.

Simple Comfort

In Maine, where Governor Janet Mills has extended our “Stay At Home” order until the end of May (with the exception, it seems, of getting a haircut, whether you are man, woman, or dog,) it is still early spring.  Yesterday the temperature was above 60 degrees F for the first time this year.   Tiny leaf buds adorn some of the trees, and we have not yet moved from daffodil to tulip season.  The air cools down considerably in the late afternoon and remains cool until mid-morning. 

The new youth minister at our local Episcopal Church asked families this morning (via Zoom, of course) what is helping them to get through this time of social distancing? Having no children, I did not attend that virtual church service, but I would love to have heard the children’s responses. 

Had I been there, I would have waved my hand enthusiastically to tell everyone that I have invented the very best homemade (from scratch) hot chocolate. The hot chocolate season is certainly not over in Maine, and I, being a chocolate fanatic, drink it all year long.

I’ve thought many times since our first retirement community Coronavirus Bulletin came out on March 10, that I would like to share my recipe with my readers in hopes that they might find this delicious drink comforting and something to look forward to daily.  (Being disciplined, I limit my intake to one a day.)

So, here goes:

1 tsp Hershey’s Cocoa (Special Dark)

10 turns on a salt grinder (Coarse Sea Salt)

½ tsp Stonewall Kitchen Sea Salt Caramel (or any caramel sauce you can find)

Hot Water

Half and Half, Cream, or Whole Milk (Nut milk also works)

Put the cocoa in a large mug, grind in the salt and pour in hot water.  Stir vigorously.  Add the caramel sauce and stir again.  Add any kind of cream or milk to taste. If you like very dark chocolate, you can drink it without any dairy.  I have tried adding a teaspoon of peanut butter as well, and it gives a mild “peanutty” taste to the chocolate. The peanut butter doesn’t melt entirely though, leaving a residue at the bottom of the cup when empty.

I started making my own hot chocolate when I realized two things:  1) how much sugar is in the hot chocolate mixture you buy in the store; 2) a diet low in sugar can reduce inflammation in muscles and joints and thus reduce pain. A lot of experimentation led to the recipe above.

What brings you comfort during the long days, weeks, and months of “social distancing?”  It can come in small and unusual ways.  I have spent hours standing at my computer with a mug of hot chocolate on the desk near my right hand during the last eight weeks.  It has accompanied me as I have read and written emails, made cards for friends, drafted poems and blog articles, colored mandalas, and participated in Zoom meetings. (To be honest, the Zoom cocktail hours involve something a little stronger.) 

How are you caring for yourself during the pandemic?  What little treats are you allowing yourself?  What calms nerves, lifts spirits, brings insight, and makes you feel at ease.  What awakens you to the present and prepares you for the unknown future? What is your “simple comfort?”

Walking Meditation

About six weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to practice social distancing, a small group of residents at my retirement community began a weekly meditation session. The activity fell under the umbrella of “Health and Wellness,” and the meditation we practiced was purely “secular.” Each week the same core group of meditators gathered for half an hour of sitting (or lying down) in silence and stillness, focusing on our breathing and relaxing our bodies.

Proof that we found it helpful lay in the fact that we kept coming back. Some of us were new to meditation, and others had practiced for years, but meditation is an “equalizer.” We are all beginning again, each time we sit in silence.

In early March, the decree came down from on high (the management) that we must not gather indoors in groups of any size, we must stay six feet apart at all times and, eventually, wear face masks. The cottagers were told not to come to the main building where the apartment dwellers live. So, reluctantly our little band of meditators “disbanded.”

Before “social distancing” became the rule of thumb, I invited the group to try walking meditation. But while we could gather indoors, there was not much interest in it. Then, as hints of spring began to appear in the world around us, as we became tired of long days inside, I asked again if anyone would like to join me outside for a meditative walk. This time it appealed.

We gather on the open patio behind the main building. Fortunately, two paved paths lead off in opposite directions from this central point, bordering the large triangle of lawn on which we play croquet in the summer. The paved walkways are safer for those of us who are unsteady on our feet, and those who use canes or walkers.

We begin at 1:15 p.m. each fine day (but not during rainy weather.) The small masked gathering of five or six seniors stands quietly in a large circle with the appropriate distance between each. A singing bowl chimes three times, and we start off at a snail’s pace, down the left walkway and back to the patio, down the right walkway and back to the patio. We again gather in a circle, hear three more chimes, and end by bowing to each other and offering the greeting “Namaste,” “the light in me honors the light in you.”

Such a simple practice, but one that we find meaningful and helpful during this stressful and tumultuous time. Focusing on the breath as we walk gently on the earth awakens us to the present – to what we see, smell, and hear, to the warmth of the sun and the touch of the breeze on our faces. We thank each other at the end of the walk. At first, the “thank-you’s” were accompanied by smiling lips, but now, we see only smiling eyes above our face masks.

I don’t know what my fellow meditators experience during our daily ritual.  For me, it is a welcome break in the middle of each day.  My days are not exactly “busy” anymore, but they’re still full and purposeful. Our walking feels like an anchor that holds me secure amid all the uncertainty around me. I take deep breaths and allow my “self” to sink into my body. As my mind quiets and my body awakens, my senses are heightened. I see more clearly and hear more acutely. My brain stops whirling like a dervish, and my time-conditioned mind drops into the timelessness of “now.”

The enormous pine tree in front of me waves in the breeze with a “whishing” sound. The birds chirp, and so does a brave little chipmunk who is determined to warn us away from his territory. We notice first the crocuses, then the daffodils, and eventually tulips leaves and tiny red buds on trees that will soon flower in glory. I totter along, wondering at how unbalanced I feel when I walk slowly. I hear the gentle scuff of feet behind me. I disengage from planning. I stop analyzing and dissecting the circumstances of my life. Someone told me that other community members look down at us from their apartment windows. I wonder what makes them stay inside. We are an open invitation to a simple and mindful pause in the middle of the day.

No matter how slowly we walk, the meditation ends too soon for me. I ask myself, again, to carry this slow “nowness” into the rest of my day.

What sustaining rituals have you created during the Coronavirus pandemic? What new practices are your anchors at this time of worry, fear, political confusion, isolation, loss, unemployment, poverty, sickness, and death? If you have found some inner peace and reassurance during this time, can you carry it forward into the future? Can you join it to the various awakenings experienced by many others in this unprecedented situation? Might it be a “change-agent” for your life after COVID-19 is vanquished?

So might it be.

Adding Insult to Injury

Last night it snowed in Mid Coast, Maine.  This morning we awoke to about 6 inches of the heavy wet stuff, the kind that bends and breaks very soft birch tree trunks and lowers laden pine branches to the ground.  Yesterday it was an early spring day in southern Maine, and today it is again full-on winter.  Those of us who were finding consolation amid the Coronavirus pandemic by the promise of spring – crocuses and hyacinths blooming, daffodils almost ready to burst forth in their glory, forsythias on the brink of yellow buds – have had our hopes dashed in a matter of hours.

Daffodil in the snow

But that’s not our only loss.  Many Maine residents awoke this morning to find they had lost power during the night, a regular occurrence when the snow is heavy and wet, and most of the power lines are above ground.  When I checked at 7:00 a.m. today, over 200,000 customers of Central Maine Power (CMP) were experiencing outages.  The most extensive CMP customer base is in Cumberland County, where I live.  There are 166K CMP customers here, and as of 2:45 p.m., 7,819 remain without electricity.  In my town, 1,357 homes are still without power.  Ours is not one of them, thankfully.

Here ’til May!

Power outages are inconvenient and annoying at any time, but now they compound the already high anxiety we are suffering due to the COVID-19 epidemic.  Many households, like us, have stocked up on groceries and have refrigerated or frozen large quantities of food to tide them over during the “stay at home” phase of the disease curve.  When I told my spouse this morning about the extent of outages in our county, she exclaimed, “Thank you, Jesus!” Not one of her usual utterances. She is enormously relieved that we have electricity.  She has stuffed our tiny freezer with carefully planned and rationed meals to last us for a month or more.  Imagine the distress and angst for those who awoke this morning to find their store of frozen food on the way to defrosting. 

Furnaces and heaters are not working. Hot water is lukewarm, on its way to cold.  And, of course, no one can take shelter with friends or family at this time.  We must stay away from one another, at home in our cold houses, losing hundreds of dollars worth of food.  Since many people have lost jobs and the federal stimulus package has not yet delivered its meager assistance to the average family, replacing that food when the power comes back on may be, at best, a stretch economically, and at worst impossible. 

Around us, a day ago, we saw lawns beginning to green and woodland paths dry enough for walking, one of the few safe activities at present. Now we see huge piles of dirty snow that we can expect to marr the landscape until, perhaps, May 1 or longer.  In 2020 Maine will have two mud seasons! Who would blame a Mid Coast Mainer for feeling his or her spirit crushed?  It’s just too much! 

But don’t feel too sorry for us.  We are incredibly resourceful.  We have to be to love living in Maine.  The snow will melt, the hardy daffodils will survive, and eventually, the power will come back on.  As of today, there are 586 cases of COVID-19 in Maine.  Seventeen people have died.  Our stats are low compared to other states because Maine reacted early to put measures in place to protect our population. Our public officials learned from other areas of the US further ahead on the disease curve.  Also, we are a mostly rural state with a low population density.    

Though it may seem that the April 9, 2020 snowstorm has added insult to injury (or perhaps injury to injury), it was an incredibly beautiful wonderland outside my window when the day dawned this morning.  Courage Mainers! Onward!

Let’s all improvise!

I pulled up in front of my local Post Office at 7:45 a.m.  I wanted to be at or near the front of the waiting line when it opened at 8:00 on this Saturday morning. I had debated in my mind about whether I should risk going out in public after the “Stay at Home” order issued by our governor, Janet Mills, on April 1st.  Could I consider this errand something urgent and essential, or was I putting myself at risk unnecessarily to mail this small package to my friend in Cambridge, MA?

My friend is very ill.  She was taken to the hospital by ambulance the week before COVID-19 exploded in Boston, so near to death that the emergency room staff placed her on life support.  When extubated a week later, it was a miracle she began breathing on her own and, within a few days, was discharged home.  During her hospitalization, someone stole the watch I had given her for her birthday. She was heartsick at its loss. Over the phone, I promised her I would give her another one just like it, and this morning I was venturing out to put the new watch in the mail.  Why, my significant other asked, was I risking going out in public now, instead of waiting until the pandemic winds down? I fear my friend is near death, and I want her to know how much I care for her.  The watch is a symbol of that care.

When I arrived at the PO, a postal worker was struggling to raise the US and MIA flags on the pole in front of the building.  She was wearing a mask and a latex glove on her right hand.  She complained that wearing a mask is difficult if you also wear glasses because they fog up.  She had a hard time seeing to hoist the flags.  I commiserated.  I was not wearing a mask, but I do wear glasses, so I am well aware of the phenomenon.

Another senior citizen stood in front of me at the door.  We were careful to say six feet apart, but we chatted pleasantly for a few seconds and then began exclaiming at the horror of the Coronavirus pandemic.  As we waited in the lobby for the inner doors to open, the flag hoister emerged from some inner sanctum with a roll of paper towel and a spray bottle of cleaner (sanitizer, I presume.)  She commented that the PO was not able to provide any disinfectants, so she was bringing her supplies from home to clean the door handles and counters as best she could. I thanked her warmly for her service and said I appreciated her efforts to keep us safe.

A few others entered the lobby.  Two men wore face masks.  The one six feet behind me had a neat diamond-shaped mask that covered his nose and chin with the upper and lower points of the diamond and fit snuggly to his cheeks.  I thought this looked particularly effective and asked him where he had found it.  “China,” he said. “We know people in China, and they sent us a supply. I am here to mail some to friends and family.  I’d better not broadcast that, though.  Someone might steal the package. Imagine, we are getting this stuff from China!”

At exactly 8:00 a.m., a male postal worker opened the inner door and invited us to approach the counter.  He wore a brightly colored and patterned face mask that was hand made.  I noticed there were bright yellow stripes on the floor to indicate where to stand on line keeping the prescribed distance from other customers.

While the woman at the front of the line mailed her parcel, I looked around at the sales counter.  A plastic barrier, held in place by blue painter’s tape, rose from the counter to the ceiling.  Small openings were cut in the plastic wall to allow for the passing of boxes and envelopes.  It certainly looked jerry-rigged to me, as if postal clerks had assembled it in a hurry with scraps of materials at hand.  I supposed it would be minimally effective in protecting the workers behind it. 

When it was my turn to approach the counter, the clerk apologized for the wait.  I assured him there was no problem. He asked the usual questions about my parcel: “Anything liquid, fragile, perishable…any lithium batteries?” I owned up to the watch and the possibility of a lithium battery in it, but that was not problematic, he assured me. Then he asked new questions: “Any hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes?” I said, “No,” but wondered what would have happened if I had said yes.  He was all business, trying to keep the line moving, so I dared not ask.  Are there penalties for attempting to mail our new “contraband” across state lines?  My parcel was not big enough to contain toilet paper, so he did not inquire about that.

The dreaded moment came when I was required to insert my credit card into the machine.  How I wished I had worn latex gloves! I had a small package of 10 at home that I had purchased a while ago for use while housecleaning.  They, too, are contraband now, along with masks and anything that sanitizes. 

Transaction complete, I thanked the clerk profusely and exited quickly.  I did not return my credit card to my wallet.  When I reached the car, I pulled a small bottle of hand sanitizer from my pocket and rubbed it on my hands before touching the door handle or the steering wheel.  When I arrived home, I carefully wiped off my wallet, my credit card, the car keys, and the doorknobs.

I told my spouse about the experience. I wondered at the Federal Government’s decree that Post Offices provide an essential service and must, therefore, stay open, while leaving the postal workers to fend for themselves and improvise as best they can to protect themselves and their customers. 

“It’s a crazy world out there!” we seniors say to each other as we pass on our campus streets, breathing fresh air through improvised masks, and feeling relatively safe.  Next time I venture into that crazy world (not any time soon, I hope), I will wear a face mask (we have those blue industrial ones used for woodworking) and two of my precious stash of latex gloves.

Masked and Gloved!