“Oskar isn’t going to let you play with me anymore if you keep getting injured!” KitKat cried in dismay. I was holding my lower back—which I had seriously strained while going after one of her killer shots—and wincing in pain. I wobbled over to the benches courtside and slowly lowered my spasming back into a resting position. How did we get here?!
For the last few years, I’ve watched the meteoric rise of pickleball as a hobby. I saw tennis courts being converted to pickleball courts and listened to various friends and acquaintances talk about the joys of the sport… My interest was piqued, but I kept thinking, that’s for “old people,” right?
Still, I was intrigued. I had always wanted to become good at tennis because it’s a sport you can supposedly play into old age. In fact, KitKat and I took tennis lessons together in 2012 with the hope that we could play regularly. However, we both kinda sucked at it and were never able to reinforce what we had learned. That was the trouble with tennis, from my perspective: Finding someone to play with at the right level of play. If two people suck at tennis, the ball never makes it into play. If one is good and the other is bad, it’s a humiliating defeat. And it was clear to me that Oskar, with his PD would never be able to play me. Which brought me back to pickleball. I knew all sorts of people that played or wanted to learn—and everything I read about the “sport” reinforced that it was “easy to learn.” Heck, KitKat’s daughter even played pickleball in phy ed class, so maybe it wasn’t just for old people.
At Christmas, Oskar surprised me by gifting me a pickleball set of two paddles, plus balls. Now, I really had no excuse. When I mentioned this to KitKat (full of New Year’s ambition) she pounced on it. “Let’s take lessons! I know a place!” A few clicks and texts later, we were signed up for semi-private lessons with a pro at a local indoor pickleball club on the north end of town. (If uncoordinated me was going to learn a new sport, I wanted the unfortunate soul burdened with that task to be paid for their trouble vs. trying to learn from a friend.)
Surprise. We had a great time! Sure, we sucked, but we were able to understand the rules and play in just one lesson. A big improvement over our multiple tennis lessons that left us more frustrated than inspired. As our instructor explained, pickleball is easy to learn, but hard to master…as a result, it’s quite addictive. And we also found it to be a surprisingly good workout.
While I am now a staunch believer in exercise to maintain one’s health, I will confess that my typical routines don’t involve a whole lot of cardio, and pickleball involves enough movement to check that box. Also, as became apparent in the days following our lesson, pickleball also utilizes a broad set of muscles that weren’t seeing much action during my daily walks, weightlifting, Pilates or Peloton rides (refer back to the earlier “injury” that opened this story). Truth be told, I don’t exercise as often as I should during the winter (when the desire to “hibernate” takes over), so the fact that pickleball is both FUN and social was a big part of its allure.
Ironically (prophetically?), there was a whiskey distillery next door to the pickleball club. It all seemed like divine intervention. This was meant to be. We each had a very expensive Manhattan and brainstormed how we could keep the good vibes going closer to home.
As luck would have it, an indoor park just one block from my home has two pickleball courts available for early morning play. So for the past 5 weeks, we’ve been hitting the court for a weekly game or three. Up until last Thursday, we were fortunate enough that nobody else had reservations—meaning there was nobody to witness how bad we are. But this time an older (and likely more experienced) couple came to play alongside us.
This would require some player modification om my part, as I tend to swear a lot—and loudly—whenever I miss a shot (which is frequently). This lucky couple arrived in time to watch me wipe out while going after a shot during our first game. However, I was pleased to find that I didn’t break or sprain my wrist despite landing on it (unlike when I broke my arm two years ago while skating with KitKat—the genesis of her comment about me getting hurt whenever we go out to do something ambitious). I’m guessing I probably made the older folks feel pretty good about themselves when I hobbled off the court and abandoned the game.
The truth is, I can be oddly competitive about certain things, and KitKat is an infuriating person to play against. I know that she doesn’t have great control of the ball just yet, but she still manages to hit to the far reaches of the court more often than not, which is why I keep diving for shots I can’t make and injuring myself in the process!
Of course, KitKat has a slight competitive advantage—she’s been getting in additional lessons and games between our weekly sessions. A true convert, she’s indoctrinated her sisters, husband and friends, introducing them to The Dark Side and the addictiveness of a well-placed shot. Come to think of it, she’d make a great cult leader.
I’m planning on widening my circle of competitors once the weather improves and there are outside court options that don’t require 7:45 a.m. reservations. Unlike tennis, I think pickleball is something that Oskar could play…maybe not competitively though. I’m also planning to drag my sister along to lessons. My goal is to be able to intentionally do what KitKat achieves with a good dose of luck—and whoop her smarmy ass.
I’m already start to heal from last week’s pulled muscle and a conveniently timed snowstorm is giving me a bye for the week, so chances are good I’ll be back in play next Thursday—although this time I will remember to stretch more thoroughly…proving once again that you CAN teach an old Stormy new tricks.
The other day, I realized this blog is now in the “double digits.” That means that for more than a decade, KitKat and I have used this space to vent, confess and—hopefully, at least occasionally—to inspire.
Of course, there was no acknowledgement of this momentous occasion from me back in early January when the Blogoversary occurred. That’s because over the last five years our contributions have been extremely erratic, if not altogether absent, and frankly, I just didn’t notice.
Let’s face it: We’ve all been through a lot. As a world population, we’ve survived a pandemic. As a nation, we’ve survived an attempted overthrow of our government. And on a personal level…well let’s just say that, KitKat and I have each dealt with some personal challenges as well.
For a long while now, nearly every time I’ve thought about writing a blog post, I’ve had Writer’s Block. Blocked by an inability to articulate what’s on my mind. Blocked by sadness and frustration. Blocked by my desire to adhere to our “brand promise,” which doesn’t include veering off into angry political tirades month after month. (And yes, I know there have been several instances when that anger slipped through anyway!)
To be honest, I’ve been depressed. I still may be depressed, actually, but I think that I’m finally, FINALLY starting to come out of it. What’s changed? Well, my fears related to the pandemic and political environment have eased somewhat, but more importantly I’ve returned to a fundamental belief that is key to managing my own frustration: The root of all suffering is attachment.
When I first learned of this principle while studying Buddhism in college, it was like a lightning strike to my angst-ridden brain. Of course! It was so OBVIOUS! But understanding something and internalizing it are two very different things, and Stormy and KitKat are both so notoriously bad at bringing those two things into alignment that they even named this blog after their perpetual struggle!
During an argument with a friend last year, he reminded me: “People will always disappoint you.” And I realized that truly was my problem—I was attached to my rather high expectations of 1) what others should be doing, and 2) what I should be doing myself.
As a result, I was being disappointed on the daily… And that’s no way to live… So it’s personal growth time for Stormy, once again.
A few years back, I wrote about Stormy 2.0… Well, to be honest, I’m not sure WHICH version of Stormy I am today. We’ve been releasing updates on a 2-week sprint cycle for several years now, with multiple patches being deployed as needed to address bugs. (That Stormy is one buggy product!) Let’s just say that the only constant is change. But here is what I can tell you about me, and this blog, going forward:
I’ll drag KitKat along for the ride, because she’s been on a completely different yet parallel journey, and I believe she also has some new insights to share.
It’s only natural that this blog will continue to evolve along with its authors, and if there’s been one recurring theme on this blog, it’s been this notion of constantly reinventing ourselves. But detaching ourselves from previous expectations—about ourselves and others—doesn’t mean that we can’t still have some fun along the way.
We must embrace everyone who is willing to vote blue in 2022 or we won’t have any independence to celebrate next year
I saw this on Twitter and thought it encapsulated the way a lot of us are feeling on this holiday.
It’s hard to celebrate our country’s independence when the Supreme Court has been taking a sledgehammer to Americans’ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Everyone knows that we’ve gotten off-track as a nation, although people may argue on when we jumped the rails: Was it when Trump was nominated? When Trump won the 2016 election? When Trump falsely claimed voter fraud? When Trump incited an insurrection at the Capitol?
Maybe you think Trump was the culmination of something that began much earlier. Should we go back to “weapons of mass destruction” or Reagan’s “trickle-down economics” to pinpoint the beginning of the end? Should we go all the way back to when European settlers first stole land from Native Americans or to when slave traders brought Africans against their will to this country?
I’m sure a compelling argument could be made for any of these examples, but assigning blame isn’t going to solve the problem at hand. We’re in a full-blown constitutional crisis and what happens in the next few months will literally determine whether we continue to live in a democratic country or one that is ruled by a minority faction of Christian, white-nationalist fascists.
So, where do we go from here?
Here’s another recent tweet that spoke to me:
My goal isn’t to thoroughly depress everyone on a holiday weekend. We can still reclaim our country, but it requires working together to ensure that Democrats win as many seats as possible in 2022, so they can pass the laws needed to help shore up our fundamental rights. And then we need a repeat victory in 2024, to make sure it sticks.
To succeed, we must:
Make sure we impress upon everyone we know how important it is to vote blue. We need to make sure friends, family and acquaintances understand HOW, WHEN and WHERE to do that.
Encourage everyone to double-check their voter registration status. (Even if they’ve lived in the same place and voted previously, many people—yes, even in Minnesota—are finding that their registrations are disappearing as various communities clean up their voter rolls. Don’t take it for granted that you’re good-to-go.)
Accept anyone who is willing to finally turn away from the GOP to join in the fight for democracy. Even if you personally dislike them, think they are hypocrites, want to say “I told you so,” etc., refrain from alienating those who finally want to do the right thing. Welcome them back from The Dark Side and reinforce their decision.
Let go of individual objectives and get behind whichever democratic candidate has the best chance of winning a given race. In some races, this may mean that dyed-in-the-wool liberals need to back a candidate who is more centrist, since we need conservatives and independents to help tip the scales in our favor. We can’t have another presidential election like 2016 where Bernie syphoned votes from Hillary, because we literally won’t be able to recover from it. (And if you think Hillary wasn’t liberal enough to earn your vote in 2016, then you’re REALLY not going to like a Trump or DeSantis “presidency” that continues into perpetuity.) At the same time, we need to make sure that those we elect understand what’s at stake and will vote accordingly (unlike Manchin and Sinema, for example).
This Independence Day, it’s imperative that we (the sane, ethical majority) work to eliminate the current, imminent threat facing us before we go back to our petty bickering about what’s a fair tax rate for the wealthy, whether student loans should be forgiven, and how to get inflation under control. There will be plenty of time for arguing those finer points of policy after we’ve secured our basic human rights, but to do so right now is akin to rearranging the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic.
Those seeking power in the GOP have demonstrated a complete disregard for democracy, so it’s going to take all of us—working together—to ensure that we still have a free nation to celebrate next year and for many years to come.
On Friday, as I was anxiously counting down the final moments of this dismal year, I got the news from my husband that Betty White had died. “Really?!” I asked, while already fully believing it was true… After all, I was well aware that people were looking forward to her 100th birthday in a couple of weeks, and it’s really not a stretch to wrap your head around a 99-year-old dying rather suddenly.
My next thought was, “Well, that’s just apropos for 2021. Another good and positive force in the universe…dead.”
The previous day, I had been visiting another Betty—my 94-year-old mother—in her memory care unit, where she’s been since the pandemic first started. (Her memory had been waning for a period of time before we were able to forcibly move her from her assisted living apartment to memory care in 2020. I can’t tell you how lucky we were to get her into a care unit immediately prior to everything locking down.)
On the day I visited Betty G. (aka Mom), her dementia had her very confused and weepy. Her younger sister (her only sibling) had died a couple of weeks earlier, and she remembered that loss and was feeling it acutely. Since my dad died in 2017, she’s lost numerous other loved ones of her generation, and the few that remain are mostly incapacitated in memory care units and nursing homes, unable to visit with an old friend who would greatly benefit from it.
As my mom sobbed on my shoulder, I hugged her and told her that she was okay. I told her she was safe and cared for in her apartment and that even if she didn’t remember our visits, we were visiting her regularly. I reminded her that she had spent Christmas Eve with me and my family and Christmas Day with my brother and that we would continue to see her and take care of her. Over and over, she thanked me for being a good daughter and told me how much she loves me.
This may not seem that remarkable, but it really is. If you’ve followed my family saga (and unfortunately anyone who has had to interact with me over the last 10 years has heard versions of it), you’d know that we’ve gone through hell and back with our aging parents. I first wrote about this here in 2013. As my dad’s dementia progressed, we wanted my parents to downsize and move from their house to an assisted living community where my mom would have help caring for my dad. She flat out refused. Over and over again. We tried hiring in-home care. She fired them. To say this put a strain on our relationship is an understatement. It felt like we were at war.
After numerous health emergencies, we finally had an intervention with my mother (and got a social worker to moderate the discussion). This is referred to in our family as the “Ill-Fated Meeting” or IFM for short. It ended with my mom basically telling us kids to all go to hell, that she regretting having us and didn’t care if she ever saw us again. I’m not exaggerating. She hit us. She spit at us. I had never seen anything like it. She more or less told us that we were irrelevant, that she valued her possessions more than her relationship with her children, she didn’t care about the impact her behavior had on the rest of us, ad nauseam.
Afterward, in shock, my disowned siblings and I went to the local bar and consoled each other while dredging up the worst memories from our childhood. My mom had always been a very controlling person while raising us, and we all had our personal issues with her. For me, it was lack of support in me wanting to go to college and a very outdated view on women’s roles. Her only aspirations for me were to get married and have kids. She would have supported me becoming a “stewardess” for a short career before marriage (but only because she thought that was a glamorous occupation and was hoping for some travel benefits).
Anyone who knows me will laugh at the image of Stormy as a flight attendant (so much for the “friendly skies”). However, I was lucky compared to my older sibs who experienced an even more domineering parent. My sister can tell you about a Battle Royale that erupted over addressing envelopes, for example. By the time my younger brother and I were teens (numbers 8 & 9), my mother had nearly “given up” on child-rearing, so we had considerably more freedom than the older kids.
After the IFM, my dad’s health continued to deteriorate. With each hospitalization, we’d try to get the hospital to intervene and require that he be released to a care facility. They had a note in his medical record that my mom’s insistence on caring for my dad alone was bordering on “elder abuse,” but we were helpless to change it without going to court and claiming her incompetent. Finally, after a terrible 91st birthday in which my weakened father fell multiple times, we kids hired an ambulance to transport my dad to a nearby senior facility and had him admitted to hospice. We drove my mom over to be with him—with no intention of letting her return to their home.
This was in December of 2017. Dad went straight into hospice and we moved my mother—completely against her will—into an assisted living (AL) unit. We had given her a week’s notice to prepare, but she must not have believed we’d actually defy her because she didn’t pack a single thing. Since she refused to cooperate with us, we decided which of her belongings to move with her. (And believe me, deciding what items from to move from a three-bedroom house stuffed with 70 years of accumulation was no easy task). We didn’t move her car along with her. Having seen her vulnerability to scams and increasing confusion around how to use her computer, we didn’t let her have that either.
My mom was furious. She threatened to call the cops. She threatened to call a lawyer. We told her that there was nothing legally stopping her from moving herself back home, knowing that she didn’t have the mental wherewithal to pick up the phone and coordinate such a move. It was basically every senior’s worst nightmare of their children dictating their future, and we didn’t want it to be that way. We literally had no other options.
My dad was in hospice for two weeks before he died of congestive heart failure. My mother was devastated. They had been married for 70 years and had met as teenagers. My dad was a wonderful man. Her loss (and our loss) was profound.
For approximately two more years, my mom lived unhappily in her AL apartment. We would visit her, but the visits would often devolve into screaming matches with her insisting that she wanted to move back home. Her memories were completely distorted. She couldn’t recall any of my dad’s falls or hospitalizations, or her own hospitalizations for that matter. She didn’t recall the years of us begging her to choose a senior apartment, so we wouldn’t be forced into doing what we ultimately were forced to do. In that stage of her early dementia, her recollection was that she and my dad were doing just fine living on their own and were blissfully happy until her terrible children intervened with the intention of taking control and running off with all their stuff.
An aside on that: My parent were solidly middle class people raising nine children. They couldn’t afford to send any of us to college. They had no valuable possessions that we were waiting to get our hands on. Cleaning out the house was a painful process that took us over a year to complete because we were so disheartened and depressed about the situation. We each took a few items that were sentimental or useful (you can never have too much Corningware in my book), but if my mother knew how many truckloads of her valued possessions ended up at Goodwill or in a dumpster, she would have been appalled.
As my mother’s dementia continued to progress, we had to forcibly move her again into memory care (with more threatening to call the cops on us, etc.). Due to these experiences and the resulting strained relationship with her kids, half of my siblings don’t visit with her on a regular basis. Yet, she has no recollection of all this ill will and their negligence is breaking her heart.
Well, you’re probably thinking, this Betty story is depressing as hell. What’s Stormy’s point?
Here it is. We all get to choose which “Betty” we want to be.
Watching various tributes and retrospectives of Betty White’s life, a few themes emerged as to what made her so beloved. Granted, she had a phenomenally long and successful career, but that’s not why so many are celebrating her life. Instead, it’s because:
Betty White lived, right up until the point where she died. This is no small feat. My mom has mostly given up and is literally counting down the hours until her death. Although she has some crazy longevity in her family and triple-digits are not out of the question, I doubt she’ll make it another year simply because her will is gone.
Betty White kept a positive attitude. She had sorrow in her life, but chose to look on the bright side and embrace living while she could. My mother now tries to be pleasant and to take her situation in stride. She regularly tells me that she thinks she’s in a nice apartment and that the caregivers are very nice (which is a big improvement from earlier when she referred to it as “a fancy prison”). Unfortunately, it’s hard
Betty White had a great sense of humor. She wasn’t afraid to look silly or undignified if it could make someone laugh. She knew that humor isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity for coping with this ludicrous world. My parents both had good senses of humor (that comes with raising nine kids, I guess), and it makes me smile when my mom is able to crack a joke, despite her situation.
Betty White wasn’t afraid of the future, she was realistic about her aging and made necessary accommodations but continued to be curious and optimistic about the world. My mother was in denial about the fact that she and my dad were aging and couldn’t continue to do the things they had always been able to do on their own. She thought her kids were out to get her for suggesting that they prepare for their old age. It’s not uncommon for older people to look with confusion and disdain on new technology and changing attitudes and think “the world is going to hell in a handbasket.” My mom is firmly in that camp and, as a consequence, is anxious to leave this world (the source of so much frustration and pain) behind.
Betty White was an advocate for those without a voice. Whether standing up to racism, embracing the LGBTQ community or tirelessly working for animal rights, she understood that the best way to endure the tragedies of this world is by working to eliminate injustice. My mother volunteered in many ways when her kids were young and has a strong sense of justice. I think her influence led to me wanting to adopt Blossom. Unfortunately, both she and my dad had an old-school view of retirement—it was all about playing golf and having fun. Later, her sense of purpose came from caring for my dad. However, that also caused her to withdraw from the world and left a huge void after his death.
Betty White made friends across all age groups and walks of life. Even after her husband and childhood friends were all gone, there were still plenty of people (and animals) to bring joy to her last few years. My parents gravitated toward a senior trailer park in Florida, where they hung out with their lifelong friends. They were away from the family for half of the year and never became that close with their many (30) grandchildren or great-grandchildren. My mom constantly grieves the losses of her childhood friends, parents, sister and my dad. She has only her children as companions and mourns the ones she doesn’t see regularly. It’s a sad existence, particularly at times like these when her senior community is experiencing a Coronavirus outbreak, and I’m not allowed to visit.
I have a habit of looking both backwards and ahead this time of year, and I want to end this blog on a more upbeat note. There’s a silver lining in this story, and that’s my personal relationship with my mom. For many years—about a decade—I was so stressed over the situation with my parents/mom and so exhausted from the fighting that I was secretly wishing it would end (and could only envision one possible ending). Yet I knew that my overwhelming feeling, upon learning of my mother’s death, would be one of relief. And that realization made me feel terrible.
Fortunately, as my mother’s dementia has progressed, she has reverted into the more nuanced person I knew growing up. She’s still not perfect, but she’s SO MUCH better (and nicer to me) than in the days of the Ill-Fated Meeting. (In fact, I may be the only child in this world who is actually grateful for her parent’s Alzheimer’s.) These days, she no longer accuses me of lying or gaslighting her when I recall something that she’s managed to block out or simply doesn’t remember. She’s incredibly thankful for my visits and tells me over and over how much she appreciates me and loves me. She now gives me hugs and kisses every time I see her. (I’ll confess that, as one of nine kids, I NEVER got as much parental affection or attention as I would have liked from my mother. It just wasn’t her style. My dad was the affectionate parent, which is part of why losing him was such a tremendous loss.)
What’s tragic, though, is that she often laments her plight—saying, “I never thought I’d end up this way.” This is ironic because we kids not only saw it coming (as though it were an out-of-control locomotive barreling down the tracks), but we TOLD her (multiple times!) this is what would happen if she didn’t work with us to make arrangements for later in life.
So the silver lining that I mentioned is this: Now, when my mother finally does pass away (and I’d be surprised if she makes it to another new year), I know my feelings will be different than five years ago. I think I’ll still feel some relief, and reassurance that she’s with my dad and no longer sad and frightened, but I know this: I will miss her as well.
Looking back on the last, most difficult, decade with her, I now have a different perspective. I believe my mom was under an enormous strain caring for my dad, but as part of the “Greatest Generation” was committed to taking it all on herself. I also believe she was seeing evidence of her own forgetfulness and was terrified about losing control. And she projected so much anger on us kids that I just couldn’t see past it. We should have done more to help her, despite her refusal and her protests. I actually wish we had forcibly moved them earlier than we did, so that she and my dad could have had additional care and some higher quality time together during their last few years of marriage.
In cleaning out my parents’ house and belongings, it also became apparent to me that my mom had some significant undiagnosed mental health issues her whole life (ADD/OCD/depression and who knows what else). Again, mental health wasn’t something people of her generation talked about. You were just expected to cope the best you could. Given these challenges, I think she really tried to do her best in raising us, even if we feel like she sometimes fell short. Raising nine competent kids is an incredible feat.
So, my hope with this New Year’s blog is to get you to think a little about your own future. Some of you may be nearing retirement, some of you are just starting to raise kids, some of you may have horrible relationships with your aging parents and feel alone in that. (I assure you, you’re not.) What do you want your future to look like?
I’ve inherited some of my worst traits from my mom. Like her, I can be very critical. Like her, I have a sharp tongue” and often say things I regret. But over the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about which “Betty” I want to be, and I encourage you to do the same.
I will continue to love and honor Betty G. and make her last days as pleasant as I can. But for my own future, I’m choosing to be like Betty White.
I swore to myself that I would move on from politics and start posting about other pressing matters, but after last week’s siege on the Capitol as the grand finale of the #StopTheSteal rally, I had one last thought (or maybe it’s two thoughts?) that I wanted to share.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m deeply disturbed by the number of so-called Christians that have been supporting 45, particularly those who continue to support him even after last week’s insurrection. I understand that many of them claim their pro-life beliefs compel them to support the Republican party, and that the end justifies the means. But unlike the boats that sank in this summer’s Trump parade, that argument doesn’t hold water. At this point, supporting Trump for his anti-abortion stance is akin to excusing those who kill abortion doctors because they’re sacrificing one life for many. The right-wing violence demonstrated over the last week shows that these self-proclaimed pro-lifers are now aligning themselves with the very types of people they claim to oppose.
The end does not justify the means. Period.
The “Christian” segment of Trump supporters is led by the white, evangelical Christians. I’ve always been leery of evangelists, because in my experience many of them focus on the wrong things—turning evangelism into a contest for salvation points or, worse, using it as a get-rich-quick scheme. (Incidentally, for a really thorough and thoughtful discussion on evangelism, I recommend this article.) For my agnostic friends who aren’t inclined to read that, I’ll put it more simply: I believe that the absolute, most-effective method of evangelism is not just to share Jesus’s words, but to model his behavior. It seems obvious, but it’s rarely done. Instead, many Evangelicals focus on more obscure parts of the Bible to try to browbeat the “unchurched” into submission. Case in point: Do you realize that Jesus never said one word related to LGBTQIA-related issues or abortion? Nope. He did, however, very clearly instruct us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I don’t believe Jesus wants abortions to happen, but I believe he wants us to solve that problem through compassion and by taking care of one another—not through fines and penalties. He gave us the tools we need to solve the problem using cooperation, kindness and generosity. All we have to do is get to work.
This browbeating—which is increasingly being reinforced with physical violence—is one of the many ways that Christians who support Trump are actually driving people AWAY from Christ. And they will need to answer to Jesus for that, because that’s the exact opposite of what he commanded.
Granted, aspiring to live like Christ may be difficult task, but it’s also the only sure-fire way to draw people to him. His example on this earth—and the fact that he’s still such a large part of our daily conversation two thousand years later—is a testament to his “irresistibility.” The truth is, it’s hard to resist the overwhelming pull of compassion that Jesus demonstrated: feeling understood, being challenged to be the best version of yourself, yet knowing that you are forgiven for your short-comings and are still a beloved Child of God. Who wouldn’t be drawn to that kind of energy? The unfortunate reason more people haven’t experienced that is because most Christians are really bad about actually living Christ’s example. (I include myself in that indictment, although I continue to try my best.)
In other words, I think Evangelicals should stop haranguing people to accept Christ as their personal savior and start showing them what Jesus stood for instead. I guarantee they will win more souls for Jesus with that approach…no conversion therapy necessary.
It’s like the ridiculous, so-called “War on Christmas.” There IS no war on Christmas. Like Jesus, Christmas is too darned irresistible. That’s why you occasionally see Hindus and Jews capitulating to their children’s request for a Christmas tree. They may not embrace the Christmas story about a virgin giving birth to the Son of God (which, spoiler alert, didn’t actually occur on December 25th), but they often can’t resist the trappings: the lights, the tinsel, the carols, the sentimental movies and peace-on-earth-good-will-toward-men. The only thing that some non-Christians request of their Christian neighbors is to acknowledge that not everyone celebrates Christmas and to not react to the phrase “Happy Holidays” as though it’s a curse. Which, if you think about it, is not an unreasonable request to make of someone whose faith compels them to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
“America First” is a race to the bottom.
And there’s another corollary to this that applies to a troubling policy that many conservative Christians are embracing: (White) Nationalism. Jesus made it very clear that salvation was for all nations, not a select few. The USA isn’t “special” in terms of being God’s favorite—as much as it may pain some Evangelicals to hear that. Moreover, this line of thinking is short-sighted and stupid. The pandemic has shown us that no country can afford to stand alone during a time of crisis. It took researchers sharing information globally to identify the virus and how it spreads. Likewise, multiple vaccines could not have been developed in record time without international collaboration. Climate change is another example: We ALL will suffer its effects—no matter how many walls we build or security checkpoints we put in place in an attempt to secure our borders. Our economic stability is also dependent on global cooperation. In short, we need to be a nation focused on “win-win,” not “win-lose.”
“America First” is not only a misguided and dangerous philosophy, it’s also unnecessary. For those who insist it is needed to spread democracy throughout the world, I would respond that our Constitution is a beautiful, sexy thing… the envy of many. And the promise of what our democracy could be (but admittedly has not yet achieved) is nearly as irresistible—in terms of government—as Jesus is to religion. Therefore, if we can just model a democracy where all men and women are truly created equal, with equal protection under the law, and equal opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then we won’t NEED to sanction other governments in an attempt to move them toward democracy. It will happen organically. In the same interconnected world described earlier, other nations that are exposed to the freedom and justice of the United States will eventually demand the same. And the Vladimir Putins and Donald Trumps of this world will be limited in their influence and power.
We just need to focus on two tasks to bring about real change:
1. Love thy neighbor as thyself
2. Strive for equality and justice for all
The challenge before us is these are both “Easier said than done.” It may not happen overnight. However, if we rise to the challenge, I guarantee it will happen.
On May 2, 2011, Oskar and I were watching TV when programming was disrupted by breaking news: Osama bin Laden had just been killed in a secret raid. I turned to Oskar and high-fived him (!) and then I was immediately ashamed. I had just high-fived my husband over a man being murdered—what was wrong with me?
Like all Americans, I had been devastated by the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and viewed Osama bin Laden as Public Enemy #1. My gut reaction to his death was a rather base reflex triggered by all of the anxiety he had caused me and my fellow citizens. As a Christian, I condemn evil in all its forms, but I also know that it’s not my job to condemn another human being (even if that human being does evil things) OR to celebrate their death. I was able to forgive myself for what I considered a very human reaction, and I prayed that in bin Laden’s final moments as the raid was occurring, he somehow recognized his sins and was able to make his peace with God.
History repeats itself
Fast-forward to last night: I read that Hope Hicks, a close aide of Trump’s, had tested positive for Covid-19. My immediate gut reaction was a mixture of excitement and hope, thinking: “Maybe he’ll get it and this nightmare will end!” Then again, as with the bin Laden incident, I felt ashamed.
This morning, I awoke to the news that my wish had come true when my sister texted me, “Is it wrong to say I hope he dies? Or at least gets very sick?” I responded, confessing that I had had a similar thought the previous night. Then I reflected on the whether it was morally justified to wish for some kind of karmic justice… After all, Trump is not an innocent victim of the coronavirus the way that millions of others have been. He has had top epidemiological experts advising him, access to the latest data/research, any precautionary equipment (tests, PPE) that he could possibly need, and a whole team of sycophants willing to cater to his every whim, and he has willfully chosen not to utilize any of these resources in a responsible manner. Furthermore, as a result of his negligence and his lies, 200,000 people have died.
So, my thinking is that if the virus is among us and someone is going to catch it—or even die from it—then there is a certain poetic justice in it being him. But, looking at the situation from my Christian perspective, I can’t “celebrate” that, in the same way that President Obama never celebrated the death of bin Laden, even though he was the one who ordered the raid. Instead, I will follow the lead of both Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi who have exuded admirable class when they—honestly, I believe—express concern for those GOP members afflicted with the virus and pray for their recovery. Because that’s what decent human beings do in a civilized society. (Frankly, I’m not sure I would be able to display as much grace as they have, had I undergone the many personal attacks they’ve had to endure from Trump.)
Was I guilty of giving oxygen to hatred?
And that last sentence sums up my biggest issue with Trump. The thing that I hate most about him is that he has exposed my own hatred. I really loathe the man. I hate his policies, his greed and his racism, yes, but more than that, I hate the way that he makes a mockery of our democracy and plays Americans—even his most devoted followers—for absolute fools. And I hate the fact that he has done irreparable damage to my relationships with people who fail to denounce him. Because, by accepting (or even tolerating) his lies, his white supremacist ideology, his fascist dictator-like posturing, his condemning of the media, his threats of violence if the election doesn’t go his way—they have lost all of my respect. I can never look at them the same way or continue to have a social relationship with them.
And I hate myself for hating him so much. While I recognize that “hating the hater” is not the same as “being a hater” (after all, as we learned in math class the double negative cancels itself out) holding that kind of hatred in one’s heart is a poisonous proposition.
I realized earlier this week that I’ve been generally unhappy for a very long time. Yet when I examine my life, most things in it are going pretty well. I have a supportive spouse and family, I’m financially secure, I live in a comfortable home, have good health, etc. While I don’t like dealing with this pandemic any more than the next person, I’ll freely admit that it’s affected me much less dramatically than it has many people. In fact, I consider myself fortunate in many ways. So, it didn’t take me long to identify the source of my unhappiness: Trump. Or, perhaps more specifically, the hatred and chaos that he thrives upon and brings out in other people.
And then I had another realization: I have just one life and, for-better-or-worse, this is it. Yet each day I’ve been giving mindshare over to this horrible person who doesn’t deserve an ounce of my respect, let alone any of my waking thoughts. Consequently, I had been giving oxygen to the hatred that he thrives upon. Worse, I’d been letting him steal my happiness in the same way he’s been trying to steal the election. And then I got determined… I’ll be damned if I let him steal my joy!
Instead, I vowed to redirect my election anxiety into optimism and positivity. So, while I won’t wish a Darwinian death upon the cause of my unhappiness, what Ihope for—and will pray for—is that this experience does two things:
1) Wakes up the 1/3 of the population that thinks this virus is a “hoax,” “just like the flu,” or “will disappear” so that they start wearing their damn masks and stop undermining the rest of us who are trying to get this pandemic under control (so we can avoid further needless death and rebuild our economy), and
2) Gives 45 an excuse to bow out of the race (for health reasons). As a classic narcissist who is facing the near-certain humiliation of losing, this would allow him to save face. I don’t even care if he resigns while proclaiming that he has been the Greatest President of All Time. I just want him gone. Gone—so we can shore up our badly battered democracy, control the outbreak of this virus, begin to recover our economy, and provide basic human rights and justice for ALL Americans.
However, since we can’t be confident this will happen, we have to double-down on the original plan of making sure Biden is elected—and preferably by a landslide so as to minimize any post-election violence. My dream is to make this a reality:
If you have NOT yet voted, PLEASE DO SO. And vote EARLY, so there is time to straighten out any possible registration or postal issues. 2020 has been one for the history books. But we need to do our part if we’re to succeed in containing the chaos to just this one calendar year. If you have any questions about HOW to vote, WHERE to vote, how to register, etc., send us a message and we’ll help you determine a safe voting plan.
It’s nearly August and the Coronavirus continues to spread, largely unchecked, in America. Likewise, on social media, the mask debate rages on. (I bet other countries are surprised to learn that there even IS such a thing as a mask debate in this country. But that’s the topsy-turvy, Alice-in-Wonderland version of the US we’re living in, sadly, during this Trump administration.)
In 2015, I did a blog post on the topic of “Living Fearless” because that’s long been a motto that I try to live by. Which is why I get so annoyed by anti-maskers who believe that those of us advocating compliance with masking mandates are “living in fear.”
Basement dwellers and other myths
“I feel sorry for them, cowering in their basements…afraid to go out and live their lives,” they write…while congratulating each other for their bravery in “standing up for freedom.”
Let me just say: No, no and NO. This is not an accurate assessment of anyone I know who is an advocate of wearing masks.
Speaking for myself, I can assure you that I’m not living in fear of catching the Coronavirus. While COVID-19 cases range from asymptomatic to annoying to deadly, I believe that my catching it would be more likely to result in inconvenience than hospitalization. However, all of the evidence has shown that it’s quite contagious, can be transmitted unknowingly, and can have long-term and lethal consequences in some instances—particularly for people who aren’t as healthy as me. Therefore, I consider it a moral imperative that I take sensible precautions to protect others.
Let’s repeat them together:
Fear is not my motivation for these actions. But having a healthy respect for science and a willingness to be inconvenienced for the sake of other people? Guilty as charged. In other words, I plead guilty to being a considerate human being.
Let’s baaaaaaaaand together and beat this thing
Another annoying response to any online mask debate is the troll who will invariably respond with this gif:
Running a close second to the Haha emoji in its ubiquity, the implication is that those who follow these public health rules are sheep and not free-thinkers. Again…no.
Sure, a lot of respected leaders are asking people to wear masks. But do you know why? Because they work. And sometimes, knowledgeable people share their experience for the greater good—so others don’t have to learn the hard way. It doesn’t mean that the people who follow the lead of experts aren’t capable of making a decision on their own. It means they are exercising common sense. Take the old stick-your-tongue-on-a-frozen-flagpole gambit. You can ask 20 intelligent adults if this is a good idea and chances are not one of them will recommend it. So, are you a sheep if you follow their advice, or are you…maybe…just…wise?
(Spoiler Alert: Here’s how that would turn out for ya.)
I believe that what so many people are interpreting as fear or herd mentality is in fact exasperation and frustration. Most Americans were under a stay-at-home order from mid-March through the end of April and even longer. We collectively sacrificed our relationships with friends and family, our jobs, our children’s schooling, our ability to see our aging parents. We missed out on weddings, graduations and funerals. Lives were lost. Businesses were shuttered. It was a huge sacrifice, but we started to flatten the curve…and see the light at the end of the tunnel…
…But then we opened everything up much too quickly and in the span of a few weeks, erased most of the progress we had made.
Those who are advocating for the three common-sense measures (one more time for the guys in the back of the room)…
…are doing so, not because they are scared, but simply because they are tired of all this. They want to get on with their lives. They want to save our economy. They want the kids to be able to go back to school. And they want their friends, neighbors and relatives to lead long healthy lives. How to manage this pandemic is no mystery. Dozens and dozens of countries—even many third-world (or as Trump called them “shithole”) countries—have successfully handled it using the steps above.
In fact, people in those countries are somewhat confounded by the fact that America is doing so poorly when we have so much relative wealth compared to many of the countries that have beat this thing. They actually pity us for our poor leadership and our cut-off-our-nose-to-spite-our-face stubbornness.
So, to circle back to the theme of this blog, I ask you: Who is scared?
Is it the Frustrated, Exhausted Working Mom or Dad, juggling Zoom meetings and online classes, conscientiously limiting interactions with others, wearing a mask, and washing her hands?
Or is it the Don’t-Tread-On-Me Individualist defying public health recommendations and harassing shop owners who are trying to protect their employees and customers?
I contend that the true “Scaredy Cats” are the Don’t-Tread-On-Me Crowd. They are doubling-down on the mask issue because they are too scared to learn that all of their outrage and anger—at science, the media, and our liberal governors—has been misplaced. Too scared to discover that they’ve been contributed to the loss of lives and livelihoods for tens of thousands of innocent Americans.
If the latter group truly believes that this is all just a “plandemic,” and wants to refute my scaredy-cat claim, then let’s settle this debate with a Triple Dog Dare: There is a very easy way for you to prove yourselves right. Just follow the mandate for eight weeks and see what happens.
Many public health officials agree that with uniform compliance it would take only 6-8 weeks to turn things around. So let’s try it. If it doesn’t work and I’m proven wrong, I will be the first to admit it here. Go ahead, America, I dare you!
Have you ever known something but also not known it at the same time? That is, you intellectually know the facts around a subject, but emotionally or philosophically it takes you a while to connect the dots? I had that experience last week and when the realization hit me it was a revelation, so I thought I would pass it along to anyone else who might be struggling with this same issue.
Social Engineering via Social Media
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with social media since its inception. I have a very large family, as well as a network of friends and acquaintances that span the globe, so I love the ability to stay in touch via a simple and cheap communications tool. Cute baby photos, friends on vacation, funny memes from old classmates… that’s all lovely. I’ve also created group pages for my church, my condo association, and other families who have adopted from Blossom’s orphanage in China. I enjoy having a way to communicate with members of these various groups on topics of mutual interest. Lastly, as a marking professional, I also appreciate social media as an inexpensive advertising medium that lets you target specific audiences with ease.
However, what I HATE about social media is the way it turns seemingly rational human beings into abusive bullies and allows horrible people to connect with like-minded dirtbags who validate each other’s twisted views. And, when you add in Russian trolls and others who are actively and intentionally stirring up trouble in our country to divide the populace…well, let’s just say that checking one’s newsfeed becomes an exercise in blood pressure management.
Thankfully I have naturally low blood pressure, but the anger and vitriol spewed forth on Facebook have caused me to abandon my account several times in the past. I find it very difficult to not confront those spreading misinformation or abusive, racist statements, so I often find myself in a protracted online debate with someone whose mind I know will never be open to reason or facts. Yet despite this, I feel compelled to try. (Nevertheless, she persisted!) I feel that to leave these statements unchallenged is to appear to agree with them—the last thing I want.
These online conversations usually end with the other party giving me the “Haha” emoji (which I’ve concluded is the universal response for ignorant trolls who can’t think of any other way to counter a sensible argument). Invariably, these exchanges always leave me feeling drained, discouraged and, frankly, hopeless about the state of our country. At times it seems like the bad people far outnumber the decent people, which is a very depressing thought indeed.
And of course, that’s the point.
It was during one of these threads—about whether to mandate masks in our state—when a commenter posed a seemingly innocent question, “Who decides which comments are ‘most relevant’?” I believe they were noticing the default Facebook setting that displays relevant comments and implying that relevancy was determined by the “liberal elites” who manage our governor’s Facebook page. So, I ignored the implication and replied literally: “The Facebook algorithms.” This was followed by another baiting question, “But who designs those?” So I went into a high-level explanation of how the algorithms work. Now granted, algorithms are more complex than the explanation that follows, but I think it’s important for all Facebook users to understand the basics:
They’re in it for the money, honey…
Facebook is not free to use because Mark Zuckerberg is a philanthropist. The company makes money by selling ads to marketers (like me) to get them in front of potential customers (users like you). The beauty of the platform is it lets marketers target certain personality profiles and keywords based on information provided by the users—the groups you belong to, the pages you follow, the businesses or locations you “check-in” to, hashtags you use, things you post about, the comments you make on others posts, etc. The more specific the targeting, the more effective it is (and the more valuable it is for the advertiser).
If this strikes you as an invasion of privacy, you really shouldn’t be on Facebook. It exists to monetize your personal information. I know that and it doesn’t bother me. I don’t post truly private info, and if I’m going to be bombarded with ads online anyway, I would rather they be relevant.
Wallflowers need not apply
In order for Facebook to understand who you are, it needs you to engage. In other words, if you log on to Facebook and scroll through your feed, but never join a group, never like or comment, etc., Facebook has no real way to know who you are and subsequently can’t market effectively to you. (In other words, it won’t know what kind of ads to show you.) It’s the social equivalent of standing in the corner at a party.
Some people—KitKat for one—take this wallflower approach (ironically, in real life she is the first one on the dance floor). Because KitKat is also a marketer, she needs to understand Facebook, but she’s chosen to only observe on Facebook and never engages personally. Consequently, KitKat doesn’t stress out over social media the way I do. 😉
How to be relevant
Facebook wants and needs you to be an active participant in order to create the targeting data it needs to feed the algorithms. One way it does this is by trying to serve up the most interesting information, so you keep coming back for more. This is where the “Relevant Comments” come in. Although my troll friend wouldn’t believe it, there is no Democrat sitting in a Facebook cube that is marking every left-leaning comment as “relevant.” However, each time someone “likes” a comment, replies to a comment or tags the poster of a comment, it increases the relevance of that particular comment.
As I mentioned in the intro, I knew all of this already. But when I was explaining it to the online troll the understanding suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks: I had been making the problem worse!
Each time I replied to a negative comment or misinformation, I actually increased the relevance of that comment. In other words, I was directly contributing to the process that prompts the Facebook algorithms to deem a comment “relevant.” As a result, I was causing it to be shown to more people via their newsfeeds—which is the exact opposite of what I wanted to be doing.
If you’re an 80s kid, you might understand this analogy: “Feeding the trolls” is like feeding your Gremlins after midnight. It causes all hell to break loose.
But as the lightbulb went off in my brain, an even brighter realization occurred: I was overestimating the number of bad guys! There were far more “good guys,” but the nature of our collective interactions were giving the bad guys more visibility than they deserve! So, the question then became: Should I be addressing trolls at all? And if so, how? It turns out there’s an easy way to work around the relevancy algorithms and still fight for truth and democracy…
Never directly comment on a negative post. (I would make an exception for dangerous misinformation, but then only comment to discredit it—by linking to accurate information—not to start a debate.) If you see a negative comment on an otherwise positive or neutral thread (particularly if it’s a news source), don’t click on the angry face, sad face or the aforementioned “Haha” emoji. Also important: Don’t tag the person who made the negative comment so you are replying directly to them. All that will do is increase their comment’s relevance. Instead, click like/love on as many of the positive comments you can to increase their relevance and thereby drown out the negative voices.
Here’s a simple example:
Misinformation Marvin: Masks don’t prevent COVID-19. They increase transmission by 50%! Health experts agree!
Concerned Carly (clicks angry face on Marvin and tags him in reply): Misinformation Marvin, They actually DO help reduce the spread…Do you have a source for that statistic?
Having participated in conversations similar to the above, I can tell you that chances are Marvin’s next comment will cite a blog post by some obscure ex-professor who was fired from his teaching job for being a rabble rouser. Then, Carly will try to point out that it isn’t a credible source, and the exchange will go downhill from there until Marvin ultimately resorts to clicking on the “Haha” emoji.
A better approach…
Misinformation Marvin: Masks don’t prevent COVID-19. They increase transmission by 50%! Health experts agree!
Concerned Carly (does not click on Marvin’s comment or reply, but posts a new comment): I see that some people on here (like Marvin) are spreading misinformation; however, here’s a legitimate source that explains how masks actually DO help reduce the spread…[Links to reputable source]
As mentioned earlier, in addition to not commenting directly to Marvin, Carly should also click on every comment that supports her argument and/or cites credible sources. This will raise the relevance of those comments which, in turn, will increase the likelihood that they will show up in others’ feeds.
I call this approach “slaying Medusa” because the essence of it is to attack from the sidelines and not look directly into the eyes of the troll. It may be true that “eyes are the window to the soul.” But in the case of the typical troll, that soul is a black void—and you don’t want to view it directly, lest it turn your heart to stone. Commenting indirectly to trolls and reinforcing the positive posts directly is a simple way you can keep the focus of the conversation on fact-driven, compassionate, democracy-loving people and take the microphone away from those who are trying to damage our country and sew divisiveness.
By elevating the positive conversations and shining a light on true, factual information, we can inspire those who are on the fence about the next election to do the right thing for America. There are three critical months left before November 3rd. Let’s do everything we can to control the trolls—and particularly to get the “Troll in Chief”—out of office!
The proliferation of people calling out entitled middle-class white women—“Ok, Karen!”—has reached epic proportions lately. Granted, we’re all a little short on patience these days…what with the Coronavirus pandemic still raging across much of America, civil unrest that some days seems to be bordering on civil war, and a so-called “president” who denies the former and foments the latter. Really, it’s no wonder people are short-tempered. Yet, a lot of this tension seems to be being taken out on middle-aged white women named Karen.
Important Note: I’m not taking issue with calling out women who take their privilege for granted and use it to make life miserable for others. I’m taking offense with hijacking the name itself and turning it into a derogatory term.
The name “Karen” peaked in popularity in 1965 (the year I was born). As a result, I know a fair number of Karens and, truly, none of the ones I know embody the Let-me-speak-to-your-manager, anti-vaxxer/essential oil, racist soccer mom stereotype. So, when the trend toward labeling these women as “Karen” emerged, I would cringe a little each time I heard it—feeling bad for my friends that shoulder the burden of that moniker while thanking God for my own boring name.
What if we suddenly started calling every racist, “Amanda”? Or every homophobe, “Mackenzie”?
What’s surprising to me is that the negative branding of Karen has largely been at the hands of Millennials and Gen Z. These are the same generations who are quick to defend the underdog in nearly every situation. They’re generally more conscientious about political correctness than previous generations—using the right pronouns, including trigger warnings in their social media posts, and reminding others to not use the “r-word,” “gypsy,” or other violations of courtesy. Yet, the same people who would swoop down in an instant to defend a victim of body-shaming will think nothing of implicating thousands of innocent women whose mothers happened to choose a popular name.
As I mentioned earlier, I have no problems with calling out bad behavior or putting an entitled harpy in her place. If people referenced an odious fictional character in these situations (like using “Scrooge” to describe a cranky old miser), I’d be fine with it. Even the “Okay, Boomer” thing is different, because it’s directed at a whole generation. But to single out one name that so many women share—women who don’t necessarily act in the way that is associated with the name—seems unfair. What if we suddenly started calling every racist, “Amanda” or every homophobe, “Mackenzie”? I think there would (rightfully) be an outcry by the very same people who are so casually branding annoying women as “Karen.”
In the fast-moving world of social media, these kinds of cultural trends come and go rather quickly, so hopefully the whole Karen phenomenon is on its way out. And granted, in a world where black men are being murdered on video, wearing masks has become politicized, and our country’s leader encourages division while committing treason, the hurt feelings of some random women named Karen may not be very important. Those issues are far more serious and more important to solve. Like those Big Important Matters, it helps to put yourself in the other person’s shoes: consider racism from the perspective of a young black man, consider the pandemic from the perspective of an immunocompromised person, consider how your vote could help unite or further divide the country… But unlike those other problems, this one is super easy to fix: The next time you find yourself in a situation where you want to call out some middle-age, entitled white woman who is acting badly, go for it. Just call her by her own given name and leave poor Karen out of it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After posting this blog, I read a suggestion online that these types of entitled women should be called, “Ivanka.” It’s brilliant. While Ivanka is not a fictional character, a lot of us wish she was—and she embodies entitlement in a way that few others will ever surpass. As far as I’m concerned, Ivanka it is.
When the Coronavirus pandemic hit the US in full-force, KitKat and I—like others around the world—went into “stay-at-home” mode. With additional time on my hands, I figured “There’s a blog post in all this…” However, I couldn’t figure out what to write about. I know that, compared to a lot of other people dealing with this situation, I’m very, very fortunate. Because—in addition to those who are literally dying from this pandemic—there are many others who are living through incredibly stressful scenarios. To name a few:
Going to work each day in healthcare without adequate PPE.
Being stuck in their homes with an abusive partner.
Not being at the hospital bedside of a loved one struggling with COVID-19.
Providing “essential services” at close to minimum wage and putting oneself at risk.
Facing sudden unemployment with no emergency savings.
Trying to work while supervising school for small children in a too-small apartment.
Small business owners struggling to keep their business alive despite being deemed “non-essential.”
Having a compromised immune system and being terrified to go outside or get necessities.
Being homeless with no way to protect oneself from illness.
Living alone and facing incredible loneliness.
Not being able to visit one’s elderly parents for risk of infecting them.
Actually, the last one of these is the only one that applies to me, but that’s a story for later. KitKat is dealing with a couple of these challenges as well, but both of us are relatively lucky as far as these things go. After living in this Brave New World of Global Pandemic for a few weeks, however, a theme has emerged that I’d like to touch on. It’s about resiliency.
You’ve probably seen memes similar to this one:
The implication seems to be that today’s youth are a bunch of wussies** compared to previous generations—particularly compared to The Greatest Generation. It’s easy to see where this perception comes from when I think of some of the haircare-related memes and messages floating through my social media feed lately:
I can see the humor in these and have even “shared” a couple. However, the underlying message—Do NOT try to cut or color your hair yourself!—annoys me.
While I appreciate the skills of a good hairstylist as much as the next person, we’re not talking about doing brain surgery on yourself here. If you’re adhering to the mandate to stay at home and find you can no longer stand your gray roots, then by all means—use a box dye and color your own hair. The world will not come to an end. In fact, millions of people who can’t afford or aren’t willing to pay for in-salon color do this all the time. You can’t pick them out on the street and, as far as I know, nobody has died from it (but you might want to Google “hot roots” first). Same with cutting your own hair. Plenty of people do it. And if you don’t like the results, hair grows back. Once this pandemic is over, you may decide to continue with the DIY or you might appreciate your hairstylist even more. But either way, you’ll learn that you can survive a temporary salon shutdown—and isn’t that empowering?
I’m not using this example to pick on hairstylists. My point is: You can do whatever you need to do to get through this. Of course, you can! I believe that this generation is no less strong than the ones that came before us. We just haven’t had as many opportunities to exercise our resiliency.
Another example: Technology. I’m one of those people who can’t live without my smartphone. But you know what? I actually could if I had to. Heck, I lived successfully for 30 years without one. I know it can be done. And, while it’s certainly a nice-to-have when quarantined, it’s also possible to live without cable TV or online streaming. One of my favorite stories involves Lucky telling me how her friends in middle school pitied her because our family was ‘too poor to have cable.’ I informed her that we could easily afford cable (we had just taken the whole family on a not-inexpensive trip to China and Japan) but chose not to have it. Her mind was blown.
Another example: Cooking. Restaurants are closed and while many people are ordering takeout/delivery to support those establishments, there are others who are fretting because they don’t know how to cook. Here’s a thought: Rather than doom yourself to Kraft mac-and-cheese and frozen dinners, try cooking. It’s really not that hard and it actually gets easier with practice. Many of you have the time, so what better way to use it than developing a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life? Again, it’s not likely to kill you. Even a bad meal can usually be eaten—and you learn better from the mistakes than the successes. Julia Childs herself advised, “Learn how to cook. Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun.”
Give it a shot! There’s no better feeling than know you have the ability to indulge your every culinary whim. In fact, tackling something that you find daunting is a sure-fire way to build resiliency and gain confidence in your ability to withstand challenges. And couldn’t we all use that kind of mental boost right now?
I referenced The Greatest Generation earlier. My parents were both of the GG and I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices they made. However, I don’t believe that they had some special strength imbued in them that skipped subsequent generations. I think their bravery and resilience were just qualities that they honed through use. They had to regularly flex their resiliency muscles to survive the tough times they lived through.
As I mentioned earlier, the last item in the earlier list of hardships applies to me. On March 7th we moved my elderly mother into Memory Care and the following week, her senior living community—like others around the country—banned visitors. During the window between move-out and visitor-ban, my sister and I were cleaning out Mom’s apartment when I came across some items of great sentimental value—my dad’s letters to his parents and my mother during World War II, when he was a 17/18/19-year-old serving his country. It was fun to read his letters and hear my dad’s voice in them. (My dad had suffered dementia for many years before he passed away in 2017, so this was a new glimpse into the man whose loss I had long since grieved.)
When one thinks of a war-time letter, it’s easy to romanticize the dedication to the cause, the call-to-duty, the patriotism, etc., “Dearest Mother, tomorrow I face my greatest challenge. Defending my country against the evil threatening our very democracy. I pray that God guides my feet and instills bravery in my heart as I meet the deadly foe…” or some such noble prattle. That’s not what these letters contained. Here’s an actual excerpt from my dad writing to his step-dad about serving on Guam (where he guarded Japanese prisoners as well as “important provisions”—like beer and cigarettes):
“There was one other question you asked and that was what I did in my spare time. When I’m not on watch, I’m either sleeping, eating, laying down or sitting down. I’ve given up all forms of exercise except walking and that’s essential. When I first got here, I used to throw the ball around a little, but this climate wasn’t made for that, so I gave it up. It’s really too hot around here to do too much of anything. Don’t misunderstand me ’cause it’s not that I’ve grown lazy, just too much heat.”
My dad’s other letters likewise contained evidence of boredom. He wrote about the tedium of Navy life, exchanged comments about topics pertaining to friends and family back home, and begged for more mail to break up the dull routine. In one letter that made me smile, he asked his mom to find him a lighter because his stopped working (like many of his peers, my dad smoked cigarettes when he was young but fortunately had quit by the time I came along).
Again, I’m not minimizing my dad’s service or anyone of his generation. Harold, my mother-in-law’s partner, was a ball-turret gunner during WWII. He flew 35 combat missions over Germany, so to call him brave would be a serious understatement. Yet, I suspect his letters back home were probably as unassuming as my father’s, simply because that’s the kind of man Harold was. Heroic, yes, but modest and humble. He just did what was required of him at the time. And when it was no longer required of him, he happily went back to farming.
Both my father and Harold had hard childhoods. Both lost their own dads when they were young children. Both grew up in poverty. No doubt, these earlier life challenges helped build within them the resiliency that later served them well in dealing with the challenges of WWII.
And our time is now. We’re all being called upon to help defeat a common threat and to succeed, all of us need to do what is required. There is heroism in that, too, even if all we’re required to do is stay away from each other. By helping each other get through this crisis, we are building our own resiliency. And let’s not overlook the true heroes among us. The healthcare worker in New York City who shows up each day despite not having adequate PPE is no less heroic than Harold flying those combat missions over Germany. These brave, selfless people are serving others despite a very real threat to their health. We all owe them a debt of gratitude, and we certainly owe them the respect of adhering to social-distancing guidelines so we don’t overwhelm (or further overwhelm) our local healthcare systems.
This pandemic got me thinking of my favorite passage from the children’s classic, “A Little Princess,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The main character, Sara Crewe, contemplates whether she is actually a decent person or whether it just appears that way because she’s lived a charmed life and has never had her character tested:
“Things happen to people by accident. A lot of nice accidents have happened to me. It just happened that I always liked lessons and books and could remember things when I learned them. It just happened that I was born with a father who was beautiful and nice and clever and could give me everything I liked. Perhaps I have not really a good temper at all, but if you have everything you want and everyone is kind to you, how can you help but be good-tempered? I don’t know how shall I ever find out whether I am really a nice child or a horrid one. Perhaps I’m a hideous child, and no one will ever know, just because I never have any trials.”
If you’ve read the book, you know that after Sara says this her life becomes rather wretched—testing her in ways she never could have expected. Yet she perseveres in dealing with her new challenges without becoming “horrid” or “hideous.” She discovered—like many of us are learning now—that the only way to build resiliency is by practicing it.