Dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us


Who can use the term “gone viral” now without shuddering a little? Who can look at anything any more — a door handle, a cardboard carton, a bag of vegetables — without imagining it swarming with those unseeable, undead, unliving blobs dotted with suction pads waiting to fasten themselves on to our lungs?

Who can think of kissing a stranger, jumping on to a bus or sending their child to school without feeling real fear? Who can think of ordinary pleasure and not assess its risk? Who among us is not a quack epidemiologist, virologist, statistician and prophet? Which scientist or doctor is not secretly praying for a miracle? Which priest is not — secretly, at least — submitting to science?

And even while the virus proliferates, who could not be thrilled by the swell of birdsong in cities, peacocks dancing at traffic crossings and the silence in the skies?

The number of cases worldwide this week crept over a million. More than 50,000 people have died already. Projections suggest that number will swell to hundreds of thousands, perhaps more. The virus has moved freely along the pathways of trade and international capital, and the terrible illness it has brought in its wake has locked humans down in their countries, their cities and their homes.

But unlike the flow of capital, this virus seeks proliferation, not profit, and has, therefore, inadvertently, to some extent, reversed the direction of the flow. It has mocked immigration controls, biometrics, digital surveillance and every other kind of data analytics, and struck hardest — thus far — in the richest, most powerful nations of the world, bringing the engine of capitalism to a juddering halt. Temporarily perhaps, but at least long enough for us to examine its parts, make an assessment and decide whether we want to help fix it, or look for a better engine.

The mandarins who are managing this pandemic are fond of speaking of war. They don’t even use war as a metaphor, they use it literally. But if it really were a war, then who would be better prepared than the US? If it were not masks and gloves that its frontline soldiers needed, but guns, smart bombs, bunker busters, submarines, fighter jets and nuclear bombs, would there be a shortage?

Night after night, from halfway across the world, some of us watch the New York governor’s press briefings with a fascination that is hard to explain. We follow the statistics, and hear the stories of overwhelmed hospitals in the US, of underpaid, overworked nurses having to make masks out of garbage bin liners and old raincoats, risking everything to bring succour to the sick. About states being forced to bid against each other for ventilators, about doctors’ dilemmas over which patient should get one and which left to die. And we think to ourselves, “My God! This is America!” …

People will fall sick and die at home.  We may never know their stories. They may not even become statistics. We can only hope that the studies that say the virus likes cold weather are correct (though other researchers have cast doubt on this). Never have a people longed so irrationally and so much for a burning, punishing Indian summer.

What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus. Some believe it’s God’s way of bringing us to our senses…Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

~ Arundhati Roy, from “Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’” in Financial Times (April 3, 2020)


Notes: Photo: Arundhati Roy via bbc.co.uk. Quote Source: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels

 

Moved (By the Greatest Show on Earth)

NEW YORK — Ovations are on pause in the theaters and concert halls and stadiums of this city. But they haven’t ceased. They’ve just moved into the streets. Like clockwork, they happen, every evening at 7.  Up and down Manhattan — and probably the Bronx and Staten Island, too — cheers ring out from apartment towers and brownstones, along with the sounds of rhythmic chants, applause and whistles. The denizens of this city of ordinarily high-decibel levels kick them up an ample notch at this hour for the doctors and nurses and technicians and administrators and custodians of the beleaguered ICUs and ERs. The new urban ritual, which is catching on in other cities, coincides with the shift break of hospital staffs, when medical workers emerge from the covid-19 war zone into the open air, to go home for a spell or smoke or eat or otherwise decompress…The tumultuous reception accorded the hospital workers, though, is no cry of despair. It is an impromptu curtain call, of multitudinous thank-yous, from a vast audience rooting for everyday heroes. It’s New Yorkers joining in a chorus, singing out in solidarity: “We are here.”

~ Peter Marks, from “The nightly ovation for hospital workers may be New York’s greatest performance” (Washington Post, April 6, 2020)

Driving I-95 N. Free the Bird in the Net.

Cervical spondylosis, was his diagnosis. December 19th. And the start of 30 days of physical therapy.

And a maniacal routine of daily stretching exercises. And tracking the activity on an IOS App. Because that’s how Obsessive’s roll.

The slow heal arrives. Then Relief.  And the bliss of pain-free days. Ah yes, Youth returns. A few days of lolling in Full Gratitude…I’m as Good as new!

This is followed by the suspension of physical therapy. The total cessation of daily stretching supplements. And the IOS App is dumped into a folder with other apps left to Die.

Then we have a slow roll back to habits, to Life, to Work, and The Return to Sedentary World.

It’s late yesterday afternoon. The commute home. I gently turn my neck to check for traffic in my blind spot, and find its motion restricted, followed by a lightning dart down the shoulder and down the arm. It’s back. Heaviness sets in – Mood darkens.

I return my attention to traffic, and sit frozen in place. Puffs of breath working to provide relief.

And, I replay The Week Day. [Read more…]

Driving I-95 S. With Kerouac.

Yesterday, Sunday afternoon.

No rush hour traffic. No meetings. No conference calls. No deadlines to hit. No work tomorrow.

No lower back pain. No shoulder pain. No bite from cervical spondylosis. Body at peace.

I exit down the ramp onto I-95 South and head home from running an errand.

I’m driving directly into the sunset.  It is of such indescribable beauty that it triggers Mind to think of God. And then, No God. And then, Heaven. And then, no Heaven. And then, my late Brother.  At which point, I kill the heat and lower the window to let the late winter chill fill the cabin. Need to feel alive.

Lori introduced me to “e·phem·er·al” (adj.) /əˈfem(ə)rəl/. Lasting for a very short time. Fleeting. Passing. Short-lived.

And to “e·the·re·al” (adj) /əˈTHirēəl/. Extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world. Beautiful. Graceful. Delicate.

And I reflect on how few of these moments, I have. Not chasing. Not rushing. Not anxious. Not obsessed by Next.

And Lori again, this time with “epiph·​a·​ny” (n) /i-ˈpi-fə-nē/.  An illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have understood what Kerouac meant.  It wouldn’t have registered. But here it is, slowly seeping in.

Bless and sit down…and you will realize you’re already in heaven now. That’s the story. That’s the message.”


Notes:

  • Photo: I-95 S. near Exit 10. Feb 16, 2020. My shot.
  • Post Inspiration: “I used to think it was great to disregard happiness, to press on to a high goal…But now I see that there is nothing so great as to be capable of happiness; to pluck it out of “each moment and whatever happens.” ~ Anne Gilchrist, The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman (Source: Brainpickings)
  • Post Inspiration:  “To love beauty is to see light.” — Victor Hugo
  • Kerouac quote: Thank you Whiskey River.

 

Running on Christmas Day. No signal.

At 8 pm last night, I agreed with myself I wouldn’t post, wouldn’t share, wouldn’t clutter up Christmas Day with stuff on this blog.

But no, that wasn’t possible Now.  So we’ll keep it short.

I hadn’t run in weeks, but the pull to get outside, was out-of-body.  You need to get out. Today. Now.

30° F feeling like 26° F.  Sun bright and beaming.  It was high tide at the cove, a flock of Canadian geese, 25 or so, were floating at the base of the break wall, offering me their moment of silence.

He used to follow this blog, comment on certain posts.  I could feel His finger reaching for the “Like” button towards the End when he was no longer up to offering comments.

Forgiveness is not a strong suit.  Actually no suit I wear at all.  I had to stop at mid-point on the run. Toxicity from the anger made another step impossible.

Anger burns for the Health Insurer, who silently collected his premium payments, and then provided notice that coverage wasn’t provided as promised because of an exclusion.  And then to stick the knife deeper, terminated coverage retroactively for a month, causing a scramble by the Care providers demanding payment from Him, shuffling Him to a hospital, and that hospital shuffling him to another for lack of confirmation of Insurance Coverage, and this second one pressing for transfer to permanent skilled care.  “We needed to provide him with a sedative.  He’s really anxious, struggling to breathe.” And you wonder why he’s anxious?  The cauldron boils over.  Anger also burns, for those who took a vow with my Brother, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, only to let him fight alone in sickness. [Read more…]

Lightly Child, Lightly. (Part I)

Three Advil every three hours wasn’t taking the edge off.  The pain was ripping thru my left shoulder and rolling down my arm.  And during sporadic moments, there was relief.  And, I would breathe. But the storm returned.

Resistance to professional evaluation had run its course. It was time.

A five minute wait in the waiting room.

X-Rays of shoulder prior to examination.

“Shirt off please.”

Doctor steps in.  “Resist here.”  “Push back there.”  “Is it tender here?” “Or here?”

“Sports injury?” As he looks at the bone protruding on the left shoulder.

He continues.

“I’d like to get x-rays of your neck. Your shoulder pain, it’s a red herring.” [Read more…]

Riding Metro North. No Wings.

Tuesday.

Low 30’s F.

Walking to catch the 6:16 a.m. train to Manhattan, irritated that I have a late jump, and finding a seat is now a 50% probability. $15.25 for a ticket, and I have to worry about getting a seat.

I’m 1000 ft away from the stairs to the platform, and the cyclops eye beams through the morning fog illuminating the track.  This is followed by a short horn blast signaling its arrival at the station.

It’s 3 minutes early.

I run.

I catch the train.

NO SEAT.

I stand for 55 minutes.

I’ve started a new book by Niall Williams titled “This is Happiness.” And this ain’t bloody Happiness. [Read more…]

Running. With Bro.

I’m sitting in his chair, a padded wheel chair at the side of his bed at the Rehab Center.

He’s sitting up on his bed, but bent over, trying to catch his breath.

Oxygen is flowing from a tank down a tube through his Trach.

My eyes are never far from his heart rate monitor.

It’s a lime green digital read out, being fed stats through a line connected to his index finger.

120.
122.
118.
123

A heart rate equal to a light jog.

Not a 10 min, or 15 min, or 30 min jog.

A 24 x 7 jog.

Running. Running. Running.

He coughs, interrupting the signal. The machine flashes yellow alerts, and fires a piercing alarm to the Nurse’s station.

Then silence. [Read more…]

Flying AA 5240. With Grace.

It’s a head cold that won’t release.  Thurs, last week, I wake with a scratchy throat, a cough, and a certainty that this, this thing is sliding, and sliding fast. And it does. And it did. And it’s still here.

I take inventory.

Air travel. Hands laid down on arm rests, where hundreds of others set down exactly in the same spot. American’s Clean-up crew, not enough of them, mop up major spills. Most arm rests sit untouched by the cleaning rags, or maybe they are touched, with the same rag passing from one arm rest to the other to the other. Petri dishes, waiting.

Airline club. I brush away crumbs of food on the seat and the arm rest. Coffee cups, soiled napkins, all sit stacked on the side table. One cup, 3/4s full, has a lipstick tattoo, and a fingerprint, a thin film from hand lotion leaving traces of her DNA. I shift in my seat, the freshly painted Quiet room can’t hide its fatigue from the thousands that pass through the day. It groans, Give me your Tired, Your Hungry, Your Rich, all sequestered in this Oasis a few minutes before boarding. Passing our crumbs, paying it forward.

Long term rehab facility. Walking down the hall. Avoiding a stare in each room. Ventilators pumping oxygen. 24×7. Pumping. Pumping. Why is she here? Why is he here? Does she ever get out of bed? How does she not get bed sores?  I turn the corner to my Brother’s room. A roll of the dice and he’s here. Here. Inside. I’m Outside. His roommate. A Veteran. (?) Amputee. It’s Veteran’s Day on Monday. Our eyes connect. Good morning I offer. He never responds. He has no bowel control. The Help pulls the thin curtain. It’s OK Sir. No problem. Just turn a little to the left. The smell of disinfectant fills the room, and burns its tracks.  On the flight home, someone has passed gas, the smell detonates in the cabin, the young lady in the seat next to me buries her head in her sweater and whispers: “Disgusting.” I’m brought back to Rehab. Just turn a little to the left Sir.

It starts in the head, the slow drip of fatigue slides like lava and builds, from sinuses down to the toes.  DayQuil every 4 hours. NyQuil before bed. Bed. Sleep. Work. Bed. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

This morning. I flip open the smartphone. 26° F, feels like 22°.  And it arrives. Why now, I can’t explain.  Anne Lamott’s ‘mystery of Grace.’  Mucous secretions streaming. This air I breathe. This thick comforter, and the warmth that it offers. This miracle of being here, in this moment, in all of its fog.  I’m Grateful. For all of it.

And, I’m not moving, not from here. Not from this spot. Not today. Not until noon.


Photo: (via Endless Summer)

Walking Cross Town. Small gestures with big tailwinds.

Late to bed Tuesday night, following long return flight from Phoenix.

Late jump Wednesday morning.

4th morning train to NYC.

Light misty rain.

And, Terry Tempest Williams continues to lay tracks.

In the end, it’s rarely the large gestures that count, it’s the small ones.

My antenna is up.

On train, a middle aged man gives up his seat for a lady. She’s not young. Not old. Not pregnant. He just does it. And stands for the entire 55 minute ride.

At Grand Central Station, Construction worker, hard hat under his arm, looks behind as he crosses the threshold of the exit, sees me coming, holds door open. I was several yards back. Let’s say 10 yards back. Rare occurrence. It was a conscious act.  Everyone is exhausted with political attacks, the lack of civility. How about some decency today?

And the gestures, small, keep coming.

Flight to Phoenix. Elderly lady sits in aisle seat. Not her seat. “Would you mind taking the window seat.” She gestures asking him to lean closer: “I have a bladder problem.” He slides across and takes the window seat. “No problem.” She exhales.

Susan out for a morning walk in Phoenix. She returns to tell me “the most unbelievable story.” I roll my eyes. Can’t wait to hear this.  She comes across a lady walking “Sunny”, a Golden Doodle.  Lady asks where we’re from. Susan explains. “Here to visit my husband’s younger brother. He’s hospitalized and breathing with the aid of a ventilator.” Lady pauses to assess the receptiveness of her planned gesture.  “I’m sorry to be so forward, but would you mind if I said a Prayer for him and for you.” And then proceeds to reach for Susan’s hands, and Prays.

I walk across Fifth Avenue. It’s 7 a.m. E.S.T. and 4 a.m. in Phoenix.

He’s sleeping now, machine pumps oxygen into his lungs.

I stand waiting for the cross walk sign to turn.

I look up, light drizzle brushes my face, three flags flap over a major hotel entrance.

I inhale deeply, and then exhale, and this Agnostic fires up his own Prayer.

Breathe Bro. Breathe.


Photo: Mine with smartphone. At Times Square yesterday morning, at the end of my cross-town walk. NYC awakening.

 

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