Politics and other awkward stuff

Groundhog day — for gun violence

The American nation mourns .

Another day; another mass shooting. This week, San Jose was the site where a resentful, ex-employee opened fire on his coworkers, something that’s become far too common in our country. It illustrated, once again, that we never know what hides beneath the surface of anyone. We rarely notice the anger, depression, resentment, embedded racism or religious bias behind a neighborhood teen’s grin or that ‘harmless’ crank’s frown. And we seldom can predict what eventually propels a person to grab a gun and take target practice on unsuspecting other humans — until it’s too late.

You just don’t know.

From El Paso to Dayton, Newtown to Orlando, mass shootings are part of the American gun culture. In 2020 alone, 611 mass shooting events occurred in a year when a pandemic was raging. They say the flip side of anger is fear and COVID-19 certainly was a year for that. Even so, it’s hard to imagine such calculated, heinous acts of violence incited bye the scared and afraid. Yet, terrorists are definitely frightened, just not in the way you think. You see, for them the bogeyman is not something that goes bump in the night but fear of poverty, of being passed over or being unseen or unloved. It’s also the ‘tired, hungry, and poor’ bogeymen that giant green lady in the NY harbor welcomes — the ‘other’. And, because not everyone who is prejudiced, scared or feeling helpless becomes a mass shooter, mental illness if often the root cause. After all, no one who purposefully commits mass murder is in their ‘right mind’.

I’m often afraid, too, and I know I’m not alone. I’m afraid, not of immigrants but of ‘shadow’ Americans, of homies who are religious fanatics and sycophant politicians, who’ve rained hateful diatribes like confetti grenades. I’m afraid of walking into a Dairy Queen or a shopping mall to see cocky, right-to-carry assault rifles worn ‘just because’ . Or people claiming to be patriots, ‘good guys with guns’, who wave the flag with one hand, just ready to be triggered. That scares me.

I have grandsons – 5 of them. I know all about the sometimes crazy video games (though my kids keep tight rein on what the nuggets can play). But to blame mass shootings on those games is both absurd and short-sighted. When I was a kid, my brothers played with cap guns and toy rifles, pretending to be soldiers, cops or bad guys. To my knowledge, my remaining brother never grew an interest in shooting up a theater.

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View from the Shoe

What’s Old — is New Again.

2020 was one hell of a year. But, if you’re waiting for a sparkly new one to start, well, you might have to wait awhile.

Image by iStock Photos

An unrelenting pandemic. Shocking violence in the US Capitol. Devastating forest fires. Desert locusts. Murder hornets and the craziest, scariest year of politics anyone has ever witnessed. No wonder we’re jonesing for whatever will stop our brains from melting, even better something to ground our souls. It doesn’t seem to matter what the calendar says. From everything we see and read, 2021 looks a lot like the same stuff, different day.

With COVID-19 still raging across the nation, especially after holidays where masks and mandates were often ignored, the virus isn’t even close to being controlled. The early days of 2021 make clear the real loss of jobs, businesses and savings, as well as the scope of food insecurity in our land of plenty. In the face of all the grief, loss and disillusionment, we badly need to find the flip side – and hope it’s a whole lot better.

“The world is on a bumpy journey to a new destination – and a new normal.” Mohamed El-Erian

In a country where a pandemic is still a runaway train, every day is a challenge. Vaccines are here, but hardly everywhere. Oh, sure they’re rolling out but more like a stagecoach than an Acela. In fact, even after you get the mighty jab, you’ll still need distance, masks and hygiene to complete the COVID puzzle. To people who have hissy fits over mask wearing, get the heck over it – now. We all want our lives back. But, living ‘normal-ish’ again will take a lot longer if we continue to set virus forest fires by still living large instead of adhering to pandemic mandates. It’s more than time we understand the simple fact that what hurts one, hurts all. If we don’t, a spanking new, COVID free year will be a long time coming.

So, what do we do in the meantime? When everything seems bleak, even the smallest positivity seems a heavy lift. It’s weird to feel torn between yearning for family hug marathons and being Pollyanna-resigned to the nest of my house but, there you go. What would a positive reset look like? And what could we do to help it along? We could start with thinking out of the box —and outside of ourselves. Nengajo might be a cool first step. Say what? Cousin to our Christmas cards, this nifty Japanese thank-you custom is a nice way to show gratitude. Sent to friends and family at the beginning of a new year, these colorful notes express our appreciation for all they’ve done to look out for us with kindness or help during the shitshow year we just put to bed.

“What the new year brings to you may depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.” Vern McClellan

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Grief is Grief, Holiday Madness

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

. . . and every day. When you have a seriously elfed up year, that’s pretty much how you roll.

Image by iSTOCK photo

There’s no way to candy cane sugarcoat this. If you were hoping for a ‘ho ho ho’ holiday, you’ll have to wait a year. Though hopefully we each found our share of happy moments, the year itself was an epic suck. Of course, we’ve all had a few-less than merry Christmases. In fact, many have seen some pretty tough entire years. But this one was definitely uncharted territory full of mask mandates, scary death tolls and toilet paper wars. One thing is sure, the year was certainly one for the books — and the holidays are its last chapter.

Will this be the year that creepily cheerful Elf-on-the-Shelf goes on strike? Who could blame him if he did? No matter how the halls are decked with sanitizer, the double-jointed imp might take a pass, leaving tired parents to explain why the obsequious little tattletale never showed. Then again, they might be a tad relieved that the little sucker decided to snooze the season out. Traditions die hard but, but given the year, if a sprite does show, I suspect it will be Chuckie.

No one ever promised a holly, jolly sugarplum world. Even the most glittering of holiday trees hide their share of crawly things among the branches — just to keep you on your toes. Somewhere, along life’s highway, Christmas carols hit a sour note, and our innocent beliefs in magical reindeers and sleighs go the way of childhood. This year, though, you have a hall pass from DIY’ing the perfect holiday. It’s just not that kind of year.

“There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief and pain and I’ll be happy Christmas once again” The Eagles

I have a pretty good idea about holidays that somehow aren’t all that. When my husband died a few years ago, two months before Christmas, it topped my list of terrible, no good, very bad times. This year, thanks to COVID-19, many will suffer their own heartbreaking holiday. To those who lost loved ones, every year thereafter will be Christmas 2.0. There’s no way to sidestep life-changing grief; no magic wand to erase a pandemic. But, I suspect those grieving loss this year from that pandemic would be the first to say, give every precaution your best shot. Giving up a holiday group hug for one year, skipping the major feast and trading in mistletoe for a mask, don’t seem like the biggest ask. Compared with a deadly viral alternative, missing one Norman Rockwell holiday seems like a piece of cake. Okay, maybe not fruitcake because that’s too easy, but you get the message.

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Holiday Madness

Oh, QUARANtree, Oh, QUARANtree . . .

istockphoto.com

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” Charlie Brown Christmas

I had some badass Christmas trees. In fact, one year my husband and I somehow dragged home a colossal 9 1/2 foot Frasier Fir, which was definitely a back-breaker but the best tree ever. The next year everything changed. When my guy died a few months before Christmas, it was hard to find merry anywhere. So I did the only thing I could do – I adapted. I made things manageable. I kept the most priceless traditions, launched some new and pitched the rest. First up – downsize all my supersize expectations – including the tree. A few things, however, were non-negotiable, and none more important than my eclectic collection of well-loved ornaments.

“Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard or too sad when you’ve got a Christmas tree in the living room.” Nora Roberts

Seriously, how could I part with Pinocchio from my Florence honeymoon, or the sequined, glitzy chatzkas lovingly made by my once grade school nuggets? And that lumpy stuffed star made in the blizzardy winter my BFF and I were heavily pregnant? Mended often, it still has a place near the shabby toy soldier from my childhood tree. Pictures of every kid and grand are absolute musts. That San Francisco trolley from the first travel review work trip I took solo after my husband left the building? Yes and yes. After all, trees may be small or artificial; emotions not so much.

This year, the Christmas tree is a wee bit more Charlie Brown. It happens. But, as life-changing events go, it doesn’t make the cut. In a crazy year like 2020, Christmas tree size is the least of your problems. COVID-19 is centerpiece of everything we do and think. Washing hands, staying socially distant and wearing a mask is the only way we can unwrap a healthier new year.

“Christmas is a box of tree ornaments that have become part of the family.” Charles Schultz

Continue reading “Oh, QUARANtree, Oh, QUARANtree . . .”
Grief is Grief, Holiday Madness

The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Turkey Day

. . . or not. The thankfulness menu is up to you.

Image by iStock

COVID is taking a big bite out of Thanksgiving this year. With cases surging across the country, even the turkeys are rethinking where to go. Trying to adhere to medical experts about how to handle Thanksgiving may not be easy but then, what is? Deciding to ditch a family holiday isn’t the most appetizing but it’s the most practical and loving in a time of pandemic. With facts spread on the table,  my family peeps decided to celebrate within our own nest of people, those we live with all year long. Good plan. Of course, for me, and others widowed or single, a family bubble is a pod of one. I’m not saying suddenly-solo life is desperately lonely or stark, at least when you become used to it – or resigned, as the case may be. But, at times like these, when ‘who you co-habit with’ dictates your holiday place settings, it’s definitely a lot less inviting. (On the bright side,  there are a lot less dishes to wash.)

Having become a sudden widow 5 years ago, I’m not a stranger to ‘home alone’. It was a gradual trip from shock and sadness to the ‘it is what it is’ mode today. Reluctantly, I became nearly comfortable in my very altered nest. Then the pandemic hit. Then, along with the rest of the world, everything became a giant fruit basket upset; a shitstorm of confusing resets and restarts. For those who felt the crushing loss of loved ones from COVID this year, it was a one-two punch. Alloted no traditional grieving time to adapt or adjust to a world beset by death and fear, those left behind sit where thanks and hope are hard to find.

Time, however, if not a healer, does allow us to adapt. It paves the twisted walk through the most traumatic of life experiences. But it offers no instruction book on how to battle an invisible, voracious predator. We bumbled through rules and remedies, written, rescinded and re-written every day. We saw medicine and politics clash in spectacularly wanting ways. People became deathly sick and many, many families saw loved ones leave, who never came back. With more than a quarter million people dead from this epidemic, families will have a glaringly empty holiday chair that we, who’ve lost our own loved ones, know too well.

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” Mary Oliver

2020 was a wildfire (yep, we had them, too) and holidays didn’t fare well at all. Easter passed us by; ditto Mother’s Day. Thanksgiving, and most likely Christmas/Hanukkah, will join the year’s hit parade of ‘things that didn’t go as planned’ – or at all. The famous Norman Rockwell painting of family gathered around the big roasted bird isn’t on the menu this year. For most, this is a one-off holiday. Some feel secure that holidays will soon be returned intact, as normal as the proverbial apple pie. To others, those whose lives have been eternally altered, this year begins one of endless ‘new normals’ where things may never look the same.

The deadly losses this year makes ol’ Turkey Day seem like a nothing burger. Those desperately missing their ‘person’ wouldn’t question or argue what guidelines they need to obey to keep their loved one alive and safe. Remembering not being able to see or say goodbye to someone who might have been their world, would give world to save them. So here’s a thought: stuff the self-pity and pass the gratitude. If your family bubble comprises 2, 4 or 7, be thankful even with a nixed holiday invite list, you still have someone to talk to, laugh with and share the damn pumpkin pie, every day. This Turkey Day an anomaly but if we continue to test the limits, it maybe become the norm. Our choices matter.

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Grief is Grief

An Epidemic of Grief

Grief comes in an assortment of sizes, tailored to fit each type of loss. When you feel like the entire world has changed, grief can’t be far behind.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

It’s been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. I don’t know about your taxes, but if you’re reading this, I’m thankful, at least, the grim reaper is AWOL. Death drops by with nonchalant regularity, taking with him parents, friends, siblings and spouses. In fact, I can include one or more of each in my list of losses. But these are different days, first in lifetimes days when illness and death seem only a sneeze or cough away. And the perfectly fit the MO of a brutal, worldwide pandemic we have come to know as COVID-19.

Worries about, and results of, this coronavirus epidemic have touched nearly everyone around the globe. With each generation, the world becomes smaller, enabling shared experience as well as shared disease from countries oceans away. Since the virus arrived at our shores, we’ve watched death rates climb with frightening velocity each day. Sure, we lived through SARS, Swine Flu, and Ebola but nothing has struck fear in our collective hearts since the flu of 1917. Some infected become merely carriers; some present with mild symptoms. The unlucky others feel the savagery of the disease — and many, too many, die of it.

And that’s where death’s natural partner, grief comes in. Grief is the way we process trauma, death, and losses of all sizes and flavors. It can devastate us enough in normal times, but in the era of COVID-19, grief can be unnaturally derailed. Where do we put grief, when loved ones die alone? How do we express it, when the people death leaves behind are dumped into socially distanced shock and loss?

Mourning rituals are critical to healthy grief and healing yet, uniquely absent in a pandemic. Instead, overloaded funeral homes greet no grieving families. Masses, wakes and shivas are non-existent. In their place, awkward digital groupings are becoming common as family gathers on Zoom to mourn. The basic comfort of connective touch is absent, making grief as grim and devastating as can be.

Losing my husband in a blink of an eye one night was obviously an unparalleled shock. Yet, many have endured similar experiences; mine was not an anomaly. But, to lose a loved one without warning, in a lonely COVID-19 cocoon of masks and humming ventilators, is incomprehensible.  My heart breaks for every single one whose grief is quarantined, without the ability to offer last words or touch. Long ago, when my 19 year old brother died of leukemia, half the town turned out to grieve with our family. My parents deaths, 12 years apart, saw their friends gather to grieve, and when friends died, I shared my grief along with others they loved. These are not those times; this is fear and grief on steroids.

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