Roadblock

A screeching, beeping monster clawed a mountain of dirt from my front yard, pirouetting in a repetitive mechanical dance.

In a surprising moment of consideration, the monster’s keepers preserved my ratty, overgrown boulevard garden, which fringed the gaping hole where sidewalk used to be. As if that garden is worth the care they gave it! They didn’t know I’d gladly be rid of the hosta and daylilies.

Workers in neon green coveralls appeared waist deep in the front yard. Urban prairie dogs. Do they like standing in holes, dirty and damp? Being where the rest of us don’t go? Searching for a pipe—hidden—but not exactly a treasure. 

Weeks later, cars still charge up to the roadblock in disbelief, apparently thinking, You can’t stop me, I’ll get through. Some seem to contemplate launching à la Thelma and Louise over the one-foot precipice into the scraped dirt and escaping, only to accept reality, veer into a nearby parking lot, and cut through the alley. Back on their way.

That’s how this summer, or really this whole year, has felt because of COVID. We’ve hurried toward the life we wanted, only to see—again—not here, not now. Go around, adapt, try again.

At night it’s peaceful. No clattering buses driving by. No thumping bass from passing cars or snatches of song from cyclists.

Silent orange hazard lights blink like fireflies.

Farewell to Masks?

I don’t enjoy wearing a mask. The elastic turns my ears elfish. Wearing my glasses cocked to hold down the mask alters my vision. And whoa, somebody’s breath sure stinks inside this mask! You’d think I’d be ecstatic that the CDC has said that in many settings, vaccinated people like me no longer have to wear a mask or distance. 

Instead, I’m discombobulated. Not quite ready. I understand the rationale behind this policy change, but am struggling to process it.

COVID has been a harsh teacher. The randomness of who got deathly ill or who experienced long term debilitating effects kept me careful. My sister, who is a respiratory therapist, told me stories of her grueling ICU shifts. Awareness that COVID was real and deadly became a form of low-level anxiety. Unwinding that daily concern will take time. 

When a friend I rarely see said she’d be in town and asked if we could go out to dinner, my immediate reaction wasn’t yippee! It was, I’m not sure. Am I ready to eat inside a busy restaurant? Could we do patio dining instead?

I do love hanging out unmasked with vaccinated family and friends. Masked, you learn to look at people’s eyes to see if they’re smiling or preoccupied. Now the full range of our expressions is visible. 

Nevertheless, I’m not throwing out my masks. After 14 months of caution, I recognize the risk is reduced but not gone. Besides, although the state of Minnesota rescinded the mask mandate, Minneapolis and St. Paul have maintained it for a while longer.

Yet I remind myself that the point of living through a pandemic is to be alive. Fully. Masking narrowed my vision and limited my sense of possibility. After more than a year of looking inward, turning outward again will be good. 

Healing Thoughts

What do you say when acquaintances mention on social media that they or someone in their family has a major health issue? Often, I see some version of this phrase, “Sending you healing thoughts.” I’m curious about this trend.

In recent years prayer seems to have morphed. People used to say, “I’ll pray for you,” meaning I’ll ask God/Yahweh/Allah to intervene on your behalf. Now when trouble strikes, the default phrases often are, “Thinking of you. Sending you healing energy.” 

I wonder if the change comes from a wish to be respectful of another’s spiritual beliefs, however informal or nontraditional those might be?

Or maybe people say those things when they aren’t sure of the recipient’s religious beliefs or if old-fashioned prayer will be appreciated.

Perhaps our language of concern has changed because fewer people practice the faith they were raised in. Judging from statistics, that’s a lot of Americans. Church membership is declining.

For formerly religious people, “Sending healing thoughts” may be more accurate than saying, “You’re in my prayers.”

Or perhaps social media just doesn’t feel like the place to mention something as personal as religious beliefs.

As a no-longer-practicing Catholic, I’m likely to say, “Sending you strength.” As if I can (I have no idea how or why this would work, but I want it to). At very least, I hope my friend will hear my sympathy and concern. 

Have you noticed this shift? How do you respond when you learn an acquaintance is dealing with a health issue?

Walking to Nowhere

My father walked forty-five minutes a day. Whatever the weather, whatever kind of workday he had had, he headed out to do his exercise. Quintuple bypass surgery in the days when your chest was sawed open, scared him into obeying his doctor’s instructions. Walk or wake up one more time with tubes coming out of unexpected parts of your body. 

He didn’t have walking shoes, special clothes, a pedometer, sunscreen, tunes playing in his ears. Just good leather shoes, a hat, and a watch to keep him honest. He didn’t drive anywhere to change up the scenery. He just walked. For decades.

After a career of office work that meant little time on my feet and lots on my seat, I’ve joined the crowds walking daily to nowhere. I put some time in on asphalt streets and concrete walkways and some on a simple treadmill. I don’t know if special shoes are any better than his thick soled leather tie models. An athletic tracker on my wrist provides feedback that is nice about my heartbeat and steps. Podcasts fill my mind while I wander about. 

This is how many people in non-physical jobs today fight weight gain, arthritis, general aches, aging. It’s what we substitute for not using our bodies the way they are meant to be used. We walk around neighborhoods, on lake or park pathways, with our dog, maybe with another person. We feel good about piling up our miles and wearing down our shoes.

I’m behind for the day and kind of crabby about putting aside writing projects with due dates in order to do my steps. Curse the pandemic, I miss playing with my granddaughter, machines at the gym, sweating through a dance class and swimming. On the other hand, I’m alive and walking my way to vaccine and herd immunity and the opportunities to get back into an active community. Thanks for the lesson on resiliency, Dad.

Reflections: January 20, 2021

Before 2016, I had never understood how fragile our democracy is or how much it relies on norms, assumptions, conventions, and goodwill.

Today, I’m choosing to be hopeful.

Tomorrow, all of our country’s problems will still be here, but I want to believe that because most Americans deeply love this wonderful but flawed country, we’ll keep working to improve it.