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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,889

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COVID Stories

There is "the COVID story", and then there are COVID Stories.

"The COVID Story" is news. It's case counts. It's science reporting. It's slapping down rumors and conspiracy theories. It's exposing the stupid, venal mismanagement, and occasionally it's celebrating some selfless heroism here or there. It's the "big" story, and it's important, and by and large, it's what the media gives us.

The media is not giving us many COVID Stories, though.

I understand the challenge. Here in America there have been more than six and a half million cases. For each case, there is at least one story and, more likely, many. Stories ranging from the deepest of painful tragedy to heart-lifting triumph, and all between. Sublime stories, ridiculous stories. Deeply significant and important stories. Trivial stories, pointless to anyone but the one(s) who experienced them.

How do you capture all that?

I can't begin to imagine, but one thing I do know: In the sharing of stories there is healing, change, connection-- all the things we need most right now. We may shrink from sharing so much pain, as the teller or the reader/listener, but the sharing process is necessary and denying it will only delay what is needed.

No, I'm not saying everyone has to experience all of those millions of stories, nor that everyone must turn their story into something to share with all and sundry. Not all at once, not now. The raw pain can overwhelm, the anger and frustration can block connection rather than promote it, sometimes.

But ultimately we must all share our COVID Stories, with those we love, with strangers, with each other. We must re-knit the fabric of our community, our commons, our caring about each others' well-being, and our understanding of how others' well-being enriches us and enhances our own well-being.

We may need to do it in stages- after all, for some of us the stories are still happening, continuing to unfold.

And when a story is shared, we can acknowledge it. We can hear. We can let the story teller know we hear. "Oh, that sorrow touches me, too." "Thank you for sharing your gratitude/your hope/your strength." "Stay strong, you are not alone."

Sharing our stories is not a demand for help or action, it need not tax us beyond our strength to hear/read those stories. We do not have to rush out and try to make it better or offer advice or solutions. Just listen and acknowledge and connect. That can be difficult enough, but it is utterly necessary and it will bring rewards ultimately.

Here is a COVID story from me:

My mother is very elderly. Her physical health is good and she has had a long and productive life that has included almost 50 years in recovery from addiction to alcohol and pills. She has been a spiritual light for many.

But that light is dimming. Even with more than 40 years of recovery, the effects of addiction on the brain have contributed to a relentless march of short-term memory loss, inability to focus, and creeping dementia.

At over 90, the last five years have brought her loss after loss, as her elder siblings have passed, and friends in her age cohort have passed or lost the ability to stay in touch. She's always been sociable and deeply reliant on her network of friends and 12-Step program comrades for her sense of identity and accomplishment. And the friends who remain to her, her younger family members, and her 12-Step "family" were generously and joyously supportive of this, even as she went through the painful transitions of losing her independence.

She lost her ability to drive, but an AA friend provided a reliable weekly ride to her home meeting. She lost her best friend from childhood, but that friend's daughter became a frequent visitor and often helped her with shopping and errands and social time.

She had a health crisis last fall but younger family rallied around and her physical health, at least, recovered wonderfully. But the trauma of hospitalization exacerbated her cognitive difficulties and increased her problems with her lifelong mood disorders. It was another painful trauma when she had to move out of her home to an assisted living community.

Our hope was that she would be able to participate in structured activities, find friends- including some who had moved from her independent living housing community before her. A local AA group was investigating the feasibility of doing a regular meeting at the assisted living apartments. She was looking for a new home group in the neighborhood, and when the weather permitted she was walking in the new neighborhood.

But that was in January.

Then came the lockdown. And weeks of isolation.

Her hatred for her new apartment became a driving obsession. She thought moving might help.

The daughter (my older sister) who lives nearest and is her primary caregiver, moved mountains and bent steel bars (metaphorically speaking) to find her options and help her make a choice, and with high hopes, she moved a few weeks ago.

Into another locked-down community, because that's all there is.

She's getting worse. Her cognitive function is decreasing, the dementia is gaining ground. Her short-term memory loss has progressed to the point where if I call her on the video phone in the afternoon, she can't remember that we spoke in the morning, and says, "Oh, I'm so glad you called, it's been so long since we talked!"

She is a gallant fighter. She is getting help, but her care givers- my sister, the geriatric NP who is now her primary health care specialist, friends and family- struggle with how much she needs and the logistics of trying to meet those needs in the face of lockdown, social distancing, etc. She would doubtless be losing ground much faster without all we can do.

But I can't help but think that if we had a competent, caring government, the worst of the pandemic would be over by now. Lockdowns would have eased, resources would have been made available to improve the situation of vulnerable and forcibly-isolated elderly people. The rest of us would not always be trembling on the edge of exhaustion and racked with anxiety. There would be some hope. There would be some optimism. There would be a sense that there will be solutions, and we will find them.

She might have access to more resources, more ways to socialize, things that would keep her from feeling the desperation of lonely isolation and the grinding anxiety of living in [Redacted]'s America.

She would probably still have difficulty, not all the cognitive decline or dementia would be staved off.

But she would enjoy life more, for longer. There would be more for her to do, more interaction available, more services, more help. More respite for her caregivers. More dignity. More serenity, however episodic.

Others have had more painful, sudden trauma, loss and suffering, I know. But this slow torment is also a COVID Story.


On the gifts given to American Presidents...

There is a long and interesting history behind the giving and receiving of gifts to and by U.S. Presidents. Official policies have changed and evolved several times.

Policies on gifts to other Federal Employees are quite clear, by law the definition of "nominal value" is updated every three years so that diplomats on foreign service are clear on whether they can take a piece of gifted art with them when they leave their posting, or procurement officers in various departments, etc., have clear guidance on whether that mocha latte' brought to the meeting for them by a friendly wannabe contractor can be accepted.

But for Presidents, things are different. As their official role requires them to be the official recipient of nation-to-nation gifts, they are exempted from many of the statutory guidelines.

(The Resolute Desk, for example, was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes.)

Most recent Presidents have sidestepped the question by voluntarily following, in a modified fashion, the rules for senior officials- they accept gifts graciously with personal thanks and "on behalf of the nation" thanks, and then they are referred to the Office of Protocol at the State Department for review. Most of the really valuable ones end up in a national museum. Many of the less-valuable but interesting, quirky, somewhat 'personal' ones end up being donated to the retiring President's nonprofit Presidential Library. A few very personal ones are taken with the retiring President, the "of nominal value" ones simply noted, the more valuable ones reimbursed to the nation at market rate.

I hereby prognosticate that in January of 2021 we will see the beginning of a tedious and annoying new process in Federal law as the cleanup gets underway and our overwhelmed and weary lawmakers grapple with the stupid and hitherto-unnecessary problem of restraining a kleptocrat in Presidential office. Of which hopefully we will never have another, but...

This is why we can't have nice things, right?


I have occasionally written here about my retired Marine Dad.

He did not serve very long, but he served long enough to become a Marine.

That is a thing it's hard for people who aren't family members or other Marines to understand.

Every one of our armed services has their particular culture and the comradeship and support they provide one another is lifelong. No disrespect at all to the other services.

Marines, though... there's an intensity to that identity that may have started out as deliberately cultivated to increase unit cohesion and maintain morale, but once it gets under the skin, inside the Marine, it takes on a life of its own.

Back in civilian life my Dad had difficulties settling into a job and couldn't really find a career path that worked for him more than a decade... when he started writing. Not the kind you get paid much for. When she was angry at him Mom would refer to him as "Peter Pan". I get that, but I can also see, now, from a distance, the things that contributed to his inability to settle into anything that would bring material success in the civilian world, and finally resulted in the divorce.

There were two responsibilities, however, that he never shirked. He never missed a birthday or Christmas with his kids, while he lived.

And he never missed the funeral of one of his Marine buddies, while he lived. No matter what it cost.

And sometimes it cost plenty. That was an element to him losing more than one job- whether he'd accrued paid time off or not, if there was a buddy being buried, my Dad told the employer he'd be back after the funeral, if the job was still there. Sometimes it wasn't.

He traveled to California, Texas, Nebraska, and South Carolina that I know of. In a beat-up car if he had one, on the Greyhound if he didn't.

He died of lung cancer before I was old enough to talk about it with him. I wish I could hear more from him about why it was so important to attend the funerals of those "losers" and "suckers"... the ones who served with him.

The armed forces of the United States of America are neither simple nor monolithic. They're a vast and complicated interlocking set of institutions with one purpose: To put themselves in harms way, when necessary, to keep not just their own families and communities safe, but to keep safe a nation organized around the idea that we all matter because we all matter.

They are not perfect saintly idealists, their leaders are not endowed with Higher Wisdom. They have many other reasons for being there- a job, a career, a desire for adventure, self-empowerment, interest in the technology, logistics, the institution itself. There are some not very admirable people in our armed forces, some whose choice to serve was influenced by not very admirable motivation.

But they all have in common one overriding awareness: They have made the commitment to place their skills, their well-being, their lives if necessary, at the call of their fellow-citizens in the person of our civilian government leadership.

I cannot imagine how they must be feeling right now, knowing that their civilian Commander-in-Chief thinks that those of their comrades who made that ultimate sacrifice are "losers" and "suckers."

I cannot imagine what my retired Marine Dad would say about it, to his other comrades, around the grave site of one of their buddies being laid to rest.

Oh, wait. Actually, I CAN imagine that...

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