ALL AGLOW

The winter night is long, dark, and cold- but into that gloom blazes the bright, twinkling sight of Christmas lights. Christmas lights! On the roofs and porches, on the trees and bushes, on the lawns and light posts. The night is suddenly all aglow.

My love affair with Christmas lights runs deep. As a child, I was mesmerized by those colorful bubble lights on our family Christmas tree. I would lie under the tree, gazing through the pungent, green boughs to the magic of the liquid-filled vials.

Fast forward to parenthood.

When our kids were small, we’d all tumble into the minivan, our big, red Plymouth Voyager, the two sets of grandparents, the kids, and us, for a drive through our neighborhood to view the Christmas lights. Oh, those memories!

My Mom in her big fur coat, my Dad’s cigarette smoke filling the air, a jumble of kid’s fluffy hats and mittens, we’d slide by the household displays to utterances of “ohh” and “ahh”!

Even our cat loved Christmas lights. In the last year of her life, Samantha perked up when she curled around the trunk of our tree, sipping the sappy water and gazing at the glittery expanse above her.

Does it seem like there are more Christmas lights this year? Indeed, Christmas light sales are up 238%. According to the New York Post, a deadly pandemic, civil unrest, and a nasty election period have people feeling that the Grinch stole 2020, and are turning to Christmas decorations to “make 2020 suck less.”

And with holiday celebrations of all kinds cancelled- those ubiquitous Christmas plays and concerts, the joyous parties, ornament and cookie exchanges, and even a cap placed on family gatherings, folks have turned to the one thing they can control- turning on the Christmas lights.

The tradition of Christmas lights dates back to Germany, when Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them with candles, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, who proclaimed, “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12

The use of those lit candles on trees proved so dangerous and often tragic that it was a good thing when Thomas Edison, in Christmas 1880, strung the first strand of electric lights around the outside of his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. It took many decades, but eventually electric Christmas lights were seen in communities across the nation.

Today, Christmas lights have gone high- tech, with laser lights, digital projections, and LED light shows.

But probably the most famous use of Christmas lights is on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in Manhattan, boasting the use of 50,000 LED lights. It’s been a New York tradition since 1933, except for 1944-45, when the tree went unlit due to wartime blackout regulations.

Speaking of regulations, in typical 2020 fashion, the annual tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center was virtual. So for my money, the saving grace of this year’s event was the discovery of a little northern saw-wet owl wrapped in the branches of the tree, newly delivered in November. The feathered stowaway was brought to a vet for rehab, then released back into the wild. “Rocky”, as she was named, is hopefully soaring above the vast New York state terrain as we speak.

On a brighter note, festivals of light are still available to the public even under COVID regulations. One can stroll, masked, through the dazzling expanses of light at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, in Rocky Ridge Park in York, and in locales nationwide.

But some communities have had to get creative with their light displays. In lieu of their annual Christmas parade, the residents of St. Michael’s, Maryland, took their celebration to the water, sailing their decorated sailboats, yacht, and skiffs in a glittery display on the Miles River.

This year, my husband and I, just the two of us, will probably hop into the car and tour around our local community, viewing the Christmas lights, some of them playful and silly, some simple and elegant, but all aglow. And maybe we will seek to dispel some of the darkness of this abysmal year.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

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PIZZA, Anyone?

Thanksgiving is upon us, that great American feast day. Tables will be piled high with traditional holiday cuisine. But after several meals of turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, rolls, and pumpkin pie, you might be ready for something else- like some spicy Italian fare.

Let’s call for a pizza! Millions do. On a typical American day, 15% of the population consumes pizza. Three billion pizzas are sold every day, and the US pizza restaurant business is worth $37 billion. That’s a lot of kid’s pizza parties, late night snacks, and Friday night family meals.

Who invented pizza? Baker Raffaele Esposito from Naples, Italy, is given credit for making the first pizza pie, but street vendors in Naples had sold flatbreads with toppings for many years before that. And pizza is not exactly Italian to begin with, since Naples was originally founded by Greek settlers around 600 B.C. Indeed, flatbreads were originally consumed by ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks.

But how did pizza become so popular in America? Italian immigrants- 4 million of them, arrived between 1880 and 1920, bringing their customs, and their food. Then, after World War II, soldiers who had been stationed in Italy came home with a taste for their favorite food, pizza, and demanded it here.

Pizzerias began to open up, beginning in New York and spreading across the country from east to west. Before long, pizza became a deeply imbedded part of American culture, and big chains like Pizza Hut, Dominos, and Papa John’s dotted the landscape, not to mention the family owned pizza joints that appeared in towns both large and small.

As the popularity of the quintessential American food took root, pop culture took note. In the ’50’s, Dean Martin famously crooned, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.” The wacky 80’s sci-fi spoof “Spaceballs” had PIZZA the HUTT satirizing both Star Wars and Pizza Hut. In the comedy, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, Sean Penn’s character Spicoli orders a pizza to his classroom, much to the chagrin of his teacher, Mr.Hand. And “Breaking Bad” fans were amused when Walter White tosses a pizza to his roof after being rebuffed by his ex-wife.

Controversy rages about pizza types- which is best, Chicago’s deep dish, or New York’s thin style? And what about toppings? Pepperoni wins that contest, with 36% ordering it on their pies. But pizza toppings also run the regional gamut, from white clam pizza in New England, to crab and shrimp offerings in Maryland, to bison pizza in the West.

Fun fact! Pennsylvania has the highest ratio of pizza joints, with 3.63 per 10,000 people. A prime example is Old Forge in Northeastern Pa., who with its more than 15 pizza cafes in its 3 square miles, declares itself the “Pizza Capital of the World.” There, pizza is not called a pie but a tray. The pizza is baked on rectangular metal pans, and there are no slices, just cuts. The light crusted pizza is sold in two types- red, with a combination of tomatoes, diced onions and garlic, and a blend of cheeses; and white pizza, in which cheese in stuffed between two layers of dough.

Visits to Arcaro and Genell’s- one of Old Forge’s finest, are legend in our family. The restaurant is small, hot, and crowded, especially on the weekends. But after weathering a long wait, we are rewarded with the savory smell, taste, and crunch of a cheesy cut, followed by the best spumoni in town.

Indeed, pizza is personal in our family. My in-laws, Fred and Marie, owned and operated Buscarini’s Pizza on the southside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, for 24 years, from the mid ’60’s to the late ’80’s. On many a summer Saturday afternoon, before the dinner crowd arrived, my husband, kids, and I would stop by for one of Fred’s masterpieces, a crispy crust with a savory red sauce and a combination of American cheeses that stuck to your teeth. The memory of eating that pizza echoes over the years. The place was small, seating only 12. But Buscarini’s Pizza had its many fans, then and now. Decades later, former customers on the website South Scranton Memories share their thoughts:

“We always got our pizza from Mr. B’s. My kids were lucky enough to enjoy it also. And to know Mr. and Mrs. B. Great memories. Miss it.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Buscarini were wonderful people and they knew us by name.”

“My favorite pizza ever! The alley gang would go there every Friday. Two slices and a soda for 60 cents. Loved it!”

The memories abound. Perhaps you loved those pizza parties after high school band practice, or your kid celebrated every birthday with a pizza party at Chuck E Cheese. Perhaps these days you often join girlfriends for pizza and wine sharing, and currently it’s your grandkids favorite meal.

Whether calling for pizza delivery, popping a frozen pizza in the oven, or enjoying a pie at your favorite pizzeria, however you slice it, pizza is here to stay, generating smiles, creating memories with each delicious bite.

Bats in the Belfry

Sitting on my front porch of an autumn evening, I watch bats swooping and swirling in the still air, careening through the crimson tinged trees, black dots in the grey sky. Synonymous with haunted houses, the supernatural, and all things creepy, bats have been feared throughout history.

Mammals of the order Chiroptera, with their forelimbs adapted as wings, bats are the only mammal capable of sustained flight. Nocturnal, they hunt at night to avoid predators, using echolocation to find food and hunt safely. “Anything that comes out at night is misunderstood,” according to Steph Stronsick, director of Pennsylvania Bat Rescue. They seek dark places, such as caves, to sleep by day, where they hang upside down, out of the reach of enemies.

Rock star Meatloaf had it right when he sang, “Like a bat out of hell, I’ll be gone when the morning comes…”

“Blind as a bat?” Not really. Bats have both excellent hearing and good eyesight. And yet, idioms referring to bats are ubiquitous.

If you’re “batty”, you’re insane or crazy, probably derived from the tendency of bats to fly around erractically.

The term “bats in the belfry” refers to the belfry of a church which contains bells. The motion of the bats in that area caused the bells to ring.

Long seen as villainous in folklore and film, bats have never really escaped their spooky reputation as strange creatures, half bird and half animal.

According to the book of Leviticus in the Bible, bats are unclean animals to be detested and “abominated”, a symbol of darkness, desolation, and ruin. With such a write-up, the poor bat could scarcely escape its bad rep!

And, unfortunately, the bat’s dubious reputation is not likely to abate anytime soon, as experts surmise that COVID-19 originated in bats, and made its jump to humans at one of Wuhan, China’s infamous open air “wet markets.”

Yet, in general, most bats are a harmless, highly beneficial part of the ecosystem, a single bat consuming up to 1,200 mosquitoes per hour and also targeting bugs that damage crops. A fully grown big brown, the most common species in Pennsylvania, weighs only an ounce and can live up to 20 years. According to Frontiers in Zoology, bats are shy and intelligent, able to detect and respond to emotion.

But there’s a downside to every story. The fact is, there are two types of bats: microbats, that feed on insects, and megabats, that feed on blood.

Yes, vampire bats exist!

What do vampire bats call their friends? Blood brothers.

What does a vampire bat call a bloodmobile? Meals on Wheels.

The common vampire bat, generally found in Central and South America, mostly hunt sleeping cattle and horses, but have also been known to feed on people.

Vampire bats need a constant supply of blood- if they miss two nightly meals in a row, they will starve. Vampire bats seldom attack unless provoked, but a bite from a rabid bat can be deadly. Yikes! I may be “bat shit crazy”, but that’s scary stuff.

Which brings us to the iconic myth of Dracula. Originating in the 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, the cult of Dracula literally took off. According to the story, Count Dracula was a 15th century prince who, like the hapless vampire bat, is condemned to live off the blood of the living.

“I vant to suck your blood,” uttered Hollywood legend Bela Lugosi in the 1931 classic Dracula film. Remade several times, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, is one of the scariest horror movies ever.

The vampire legend lived on in “Twilight”, the series of horror novels by Stephanie Meyer, and the blockbuster film franchise that followed. A vampire family in the Pacific Northwest? Teens “ate” it up.

Speaking of eating, Dracula is even celebrated in a General Mills cereal, Count Chocula!

Let’s not forget the cheerier role of bats in pop culture: Batman! The fictional superhero first appeared in DC comic books in 1939, and has since starred in both TV shows and movies. Like his namesake, Batman is agile and intelligent, but unlike the mammal, he only glides, not flies. Regardless, the popularity of Batman is legendary, as he fights off the forces of evil, especially his arch enemy, the Joker.

And there you have it- the bat: historically, a victim of superstition and fear; culturally, a vehicle for campy fun and Halloween antics; and currently, the subject of scientific debate.

Feeling kind of “batty”? Everyone seems to be, these days. But now that we’ve “batted” some ideas around, perhaps you will be willing to appreciate the persecuted bat instead of villainizing it. In the meantime, watch your neck!

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A 9/11 Memory

Nineteen long years have passed since that fateful September day. In my memory, the weather was picture-perfect, an unbroken blue sky.

That morning, I was teaching English at a southcentral Pennsylvania high school, where my first period class was studying the ancient tale of Beowulf.

About 9am, my colleague, Connie, knocked on the classroom door, an absolute look of dismay on her face. “Turn on your TV, something awful has happened.”

The classroom TV went on just as the second plane directed its bullseye directly into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The class sat in stunned silence, even the big, usually blase football players whose bulky limbs barely fit into the student desk chairs.

After that, class after class filed in. The TV stayed on the entire day, as in unbelievable horror we witnessed the collapse of the South Tower, followed by the North Tower. We saw the air filling with ash, like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. The faces on the street, stricken, stunned, walking zombie-like. Every so often, there was the unmistakable image of a body falling from the burning buildings, a soul choosing free flight over the excruciating pain of immolation.

Those in the student body who were Maryland residents were dismissed early that day, buses on the ready to deliver them safely home.

Because, almost simultaneously, hijackers of Flight 77 had attacked the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., which now lay in smoldering ruin.

My husband, a civil engineer on a pre-bid meeting at the Indian Head Naval Station, not far from the Pentagon, was being held in lockdown.

In the meantime, our daughter, at her first chemical engineering position at a Merck plant in Linden, New Jersey, had heard the explosion at the World Trade Center across the river, and, with her co-workers, raced to the roof in time to see the second plane careening into history.

And our son, a student at Penn State York, was sent home as classes were cancelled for the day. America was under attack, and no one knew what would happen next.

Indeed, within the hour, an intense drama was unfolding over the skies of western Pennsylvania, as brave passengers of Flight 93 rushed the cockpit in an attempt to thwart the hijacker’s intent to take out the Capitol Building. A field in Shanksville immediately became a shrine to the valiant.

That evening, our family sat glued to the TV set as the horror of the day replayed. The heroism of the police and firefighters. The thick smoke and destroyed buildings piercing their jagged edges to the sky.

Years later, when 9/11 comes up in conversation, one is invariably asked, “Where were you when it happened?”, the same way that those of us old enough to remember were asked about JFK’s assassination.

Beyond the anguish of that day, what I remember even as much as the aftermath- the incredulity that it happened, the fierce patriotism that ensued.

Everyone, regardless of race or creed, was an American on 9/12.

Visiting our daughter in New Jersey later that month, every overpass, whether highway or expressway, was festooned with American flags. We were one nation.

In the following years, my husband and I visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York, stood at the stark and solemn reflecting pools, the grave of thousands of victims.

We travelled to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, and looked out over the plain that mimics the 100 yard flight path of that doomed aircraft. That hallowed place, wildflowers stirring in the breeze, quietly heralds the great sacrifice of those passengers and crew.

9/11: a turning point for America in so many ways. A disastrous marking to the beginning of a new century- a challenge for the future, or an ominous warning of what may come?

Where were you on 9/11?

Poets and Philosophers: Seeking Tranquility

The summer is drawing to a close, and for once, I’m not sorry.  For the

summer was disappointing on all levels- no concerts, no vacations, no family get-togethers.  No shopping, no festivals, little joy.  The country and the world are in turmoil.  Pandemic, broiling temperatures, political and racial unrest.  No wonder we are all seeking tranquility, an end to the strife.

In times like these, it’s perhaps comforting to realize that mankind has suffered through even tougher times and come out stronger on the other side.  Indeed, through every conflict in human history, poets and philosophers have attempted, through their words, to inspire feelings of hope.

Even the ancients sought to spread a message of forbearance. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius  ( 161-180 AD), struggling to maintain peace, poetically stated, “Dwell on the beauty of life.  Watch the stars and see yourself running with them.”

I recently discovered Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, scholar, and mystic. He seemed the ultimate optimist with these words: “Do not worry if all the candles in the world flicker and die.  You have the spark that starts the fire.”  That may be my favorite of his quotes, unless it is this one: “Either give me more wine or leave me alone.”

Victor Hugo, the 19th century French poet and author of “Les miserables”, exiled after condemning Napoleon’s takeover, believed that “even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

American revolutionary Thomas Paine declared, “These are the times that try men’s souls”, while Sigmund Freud, the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis felt that “…one day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”  Let’s hope so.

During the dark days of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany systematically murdered some six million Jews, yet Anne Frank had the courage to write: “I don’t think of all the misery, but the beauty that still remains.”

Faced with the global catastrophe of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill found cause for hope: “For myself, I’m an optimist- it doesn’t seem to be much good to be anything else.”

And during the civil rights struggle of the 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

Mother (now Saint) Teresa of Calcutta spent her life ministering to lepers, AIDS victims, the poor and homeless.  Despite mounting challenges, she said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Poets and philosophers: their words calm our soul and give us hope.  And perhaps this quote, originating in Persia and subsequently adopted in many cultures says it all: “This too shall pass.”

Wildflower Elegy

Traversing the hills and valleys of South Central Pennsylvania is a feast for the eye; indeed, a road trip is good for the soul.

Long rows of corn, swaying green and silver in the sunlight, fill the fields.  Trees rustle in the breeze, and waves lap softly on the lake’s shoreline.  In the words of Seals and Croft’s long ago melody, “Summer Breeze”, “July is dressed up and playing her tune.”  And clustered here and there, the wildflowers, adding a riot of colors in shades of white, blue, and orange.

Ah, the Queen Anne’s lace, gracing the meadows.  Its scientific name is Daucus carota, and it is, amazingly, a wild carrot.  Its flowers resembling lace, it was named for Queen Anne of Great Britain, who was reportedly an expert lace maker.  Ancient Romans ate it as a vegetable, and American colonists made it into wine.  But beware it lookalike cousin, poison hemlock, which is toxic to animals and humans.

The beautiful blue cornflower grows in profusion along Pennsylvania highways and byways.  Native to Europe, Centaurea cynanus is grown as a weed in cornfields, hence its name.  Before being introduced in North America, cornflowers had been present in the British Isles since the Iron Age, and enjoy a storied past.  Folklore has it that cornflowers, also known as bachelor’s buttons, were worn by young men in love.  If the flower faded too quickly, the man’s love was not returned.  Today, they are often used as boutonnieres in weddings.  Once used as a secret symbol of Austrian resistance against Nazism in the 1930’s, it was later replaced by the edelweiss.  Today, the lovely blue flower is threatened by overuse of herbicides, but for art lovers, it was immortalized by Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Cornflowers.”

Tiger lily, or Lilium lanifolium splendens, the Asian species of the lily, is native to China and Japan, where its pod was eaten as a food.  Its bright and showy orange colored flowers covered with black spots give the appearance of the skin of a tiger.  The name Tiger Lily was made famous in JM Barrie’s “Peter Pan”, and later in the Disney movie. Princess Tiger Lily was the beautiful daughter of Neverland’s chief, and a loyal friend of Peter Pan.  But tiger lilies are not friends to our feline companions: they are toxic to cats, causing lethargy, vomiting, and even death.

Simple flowers have been a topic of interest, discussion, and awe throughout history. In “Flower in the Crannied Wall”, British poet William Wordsworth famously picked a wildflower from a stone wall, and holding it in his hands, mused: “Little flower, but if I could but understand what you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is.”

American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaimed, “The Earth laughs in flowers.”

And Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.  Yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” ( Matthew 6: 28-29)

We may never understand the makeup nor the meaning of wildflowers.  All we can do is admire and appreciate their simplicity and their beauty.  And maybe, by viewing them, we are lifted for a time above the fear, angst, and uncertainty of our current age.

Bring Me a Higher Love

Coronavirus numbers spiking!!

Disband the police!

Historic statues vandalized!

World scrambles to fight plague of locusts that could leave millions hungry!

 

Covid fears, racial unrest, and now killer locusts?!  What more can 2020 throw at us?

No wonder, then, that we long for a respite from the turbulent times in which we are living.

Such a time was recently had on my back porch, wine in hand, listening to the Sirius radio mellow classic rock station, The Bridge.

In just one hour, the song writing poets who penned these songs simultaneously raised my consciousness, rolled back the years, and soothed my soul.

Some of these tunes hauntingly mirror the very times we are facing today.  Steve Winwood’s 1986 song, “Bring Me a Higher Love” offers this question;

“Think about it, there must be higher love

Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above

Without it, life is wasted time

Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine….

Things look so bad everywhere

In this whole world, what’s fair?

We walk blind and try to see..

Bring me a higher love….

 

Other songs roll back the years as surely as closing one’s eyes.  As the decades slide by and class reunions loom in the near future, we remember old times and old loves, as in the Moody Blues “Your Wildest Dreams”:

“Once upon a time

Once when you were mine

I remember skies

Reflected in your eyes

I wonder where you are

I wonder if you think about me

Once upon a time

In your wildest dreams…”

 

With retirement sometimes comes loneliness, compounded by families kept apart by lingering doubts about coronavirus.  The 1980’s band The Alan Parsons Project asked a pertinent question in “Where Do We Go From Here?”:

“Where do we go from here now that all of the children have grown up

And how do we spend our lives

If there’s no one to lend us a hand?”

 

Sometimes songs merely celebrate the joy of music, as in Bread’s 1972 “The Guitar Man”:

“Who draws the crowd and plays so loud, baby it’s the guitar man

Who’s on the radio you go and listen to the guitar man…

Then he comes to town and you see his face….”

 

Well, not this year.  All live music concerts have been cancelled, thanks to our friend, the coronavirus.  But hey, we still have the radio.

 

“Then you listen to the music and you like to sing along

You want to get the meaning out of each and every song…”

It’s true, isn’t it?  We memorize the words to our favorite songs, and often, the meaning can be translated to our lives.

So many famous musicians have died tragically, in accidental deaths.  Richie Valens. John Denver. Sonny Bono.  So was the case with Jim Croce, who was killed in a fiery plane crash in 1973.  The posthumous recording of his song, “I’ll have to say I love you in a song” says it all:

“Every time I try to tell you the words just came out wrong

So I’ll have to say I love you in a song.”

 

And, above all, music can draw us together in the realization that we are all trying to make the best of our human condition.  “Lean on Me”, offered Bill Withers in 1972, a message so clearly needed in our present:

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend

I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long

Til I’m gonna need

Somebody to lean on…”

 

So the music fills our souls and raises our spirits, and demands an answer to the question: What will it take to heal our nation, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually, too?

In Steve Winwood’s words:

“Bring me a higher love, where’s that higher love I keep dreaming of?”

 

 

Silent Spring

“The control of nature is a phrase conceived in ignorance.” – Rachel Carson

 

Almost sixty years ago, Rachel Carson penned “Silent Spring”, a landmark book documenting the adverse environmental effects caused by the use of pesticides, specifically DDT.  The success of the volume launched the modern global environmental movement.

Today we are in the midst of another crisis.  No one knows for sure if the coronavirus is the result of natural causes or human error, but nature seems to be a beneficiary.  With vehicle traffic down by 50%, air pollution has dropped to unprecedented levels, and some smog filled skies are clearing.  Air traffic, too, has plummeted.  The highways and the skies are quieted.

And with people shut away amid Covid-19 lockdown, and traffic brought to a standstill, wildlife has taken over some urban spaces.

Racoons in Central Park, deer grazing on London lawns, vultures circling over the Manhattan skyline, and jellyfish gliding silently through Venice canals.

But the Coronavirus has caused another silence: the human kind.  The Spring which would normally be filled with a million sounds:

The chatter of school children in classrooms, the raucous shouts at playground recess;

The laughter and applause at high school musicals;

The cheers, the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd at ball games;

The music and singing in a thousand concert halls;

The click of champagne glasses, the boisterous congratulations at weddings;

The sweet and solemn melody at a million church services;

The speeches, the swish of caps thrown in the air at countless graduations- all silenced.

 

What is not silenced is the struggle for life in hospital rooms as patients and caregivers fight against the invisible enemy of Covid-19.

Eight weeks into shutdown, and as the national mortality rate continues to spiral, there are more questions than answers.  The FDA recently issued an emergency use authorization of the drugs hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir for the treatment of Covid.  But a vaccine may be a year or more in the future.

Self-isolation continues to be the best course of action for combatting the virus, but with more states pushing back on stay-at-home orders, people are left in a quandary: remain in lockdown and prolong the misery of an already trashed economy, or take the risk of contracting coronavirus when reentering society?

In one of my favorite films, “Shawshank Redemption”, Andy Dufresne tells his friend, Red: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.”

German philosopher Goethe proclaimed: “In all things, it is better to hope than to despair.”

And self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie suggested: “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

I hope, and believe, that we will get through this current crisis.  Eventually, a vaccine will be developed, and this Silent Spring we are experiencing will become a searing reminder of Rachel Carson’s statement: we cannot control nature, and we are foolish to think we can.

 

 

The Corona Chronicles

Scenes of a hauntingly empty Times Square, expressways free of traffic, the Pope delivering his message to a vacant St. Peter’s Square.  On television, the daily morbid lists of those infected by county, state, and nation.  It’s something out of a science fiction movie.  Except it’s real.  The world has shut down because of COVID 19, and no one knows exactly when it will end.

In what seemed like a day, our world changed completely.  Schools closed, stores and restaurants shuttered.  At first, the reality of self-quarantining was accepted calmly, if not readily.  There were the humorous Facebook postings, poking fun at the realization that we were “all in this together”.  Some of my favorites:

“What if they close the grocery stores?

We’ll have to hunt for our food.

I don’t even know where Doritos live.”

 

“What are you wearing, Jake from State Farm?”

“Ummm.. a Hazmat suit.”

 

And my personal favorite: A cat asking, “Why are the annoying servants staying in my home all day now?”

 

Suddenly, parents struggled with the knowledge that they now had to be their kid’s teacher.  There were the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefings.  Dr. Fauci became a national celebrity.  Trips to the grocery store revealed shelves empty of some items, most markedly, toilet paper!  With restaurants closed, the vital question became, “Who still does take out?”  Ladies, denied access to hair salons ,contemplated embracing their grey hair.  And alcohol consumption was up, rising 55% in a recent week.  According to Food Network host Ina Garten, “During a crisis, cocktail hour can be almost any hour.”

But a month in, the seriousness of the situation has set in.  The market has crashed and the economy is in free fall, with 7.1 million unemployed Americans.  In hard hit New York, Detroit, and New Orleans, the daily mortality rate was staggering. Doctors, nurses, medical professionals all put their lives on the line combating the disease, not to mention the truck drivers, grocery store workers, and mail carriers who don’t have the luxury of sheltering in place.

Yet today, for the first time, there appears to be a slowing of new infections, a glimmer of hope that our social distancing is having the desired effect of “flattening the curve”, and the stock market is showing some signs of recovery.

There’s a silver lining to every cloud, as the saying goes, and as the quarantine continues, our “new normal” has afforded plenty of those.  Parents formerly chained to desks or slaves to long commutes, little children stuck in day care, now all released to enjoy together the flowering trees and bushes of spring.  Dads biking with their daughters, families walking together, kids on scooters. Neighbors chatting on street corners.  Kids are Face Timing with Grandma and Grandpa, and folks are making their own face masks (even me!)

Worship services have gone on-line, and students are being encouraged to journal about their quarantine experiences in the realization that we are living in unprecedented times.  Recently, local teachers engineered a three hour long tour of the school district, honking their horns and driving in cars festooned with signs proclaiming, “WE MISS YOU!”  Students and parents lined the sides of roads, cheering and clapping.  These teacher cavalcades took place in communities across the nation, evoking a strong American spirit.

When the pandemic is over, ( and it will end), will we ever be the same?  Perhaps, in our hectic lives, there has come a time to pause, to be still for a moment.  On Facebook, I discovered a pertinent quote by Dave Hollis:  “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”

In the meantime, we strive to stay safe, we mourn our dead, we treasure our first responders, and we hope for a better future when this crisis is history.

 

THE CORONA CHRONICLES: WE ARE WRITING THEM NOW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strange Days Indeed

“Nobody told me there’d be days like these, strange days indeed.  Most peculiar, Momma.”  John Lennon

Schools and restaurants closed, concerts and sporting events cancelled, Broadway going dark, cruise lines ceasing operations, and even Disney shuttering for the first time in years.  Lock down is turning cities into ghost towns.  Coronavirus is having a dramatic effect, globally and internationally.  Individuals, especially the 60 and over crowd, are being ordered to self-quarantine.  Social distancing has become the catch word of the day.  Experts suggest that the virus will run its course in time, but nobody knows for how long.  Never in our lives have we experienced such strange and unsettling times.

Unexpected time at home provides the opportunity to delve into my recently received Ancestry.com results.  Ancestry.com is the world’s largest private online genealogy database, answering such questions as, “Who were my ancestors?” and “Where were they originally from?”

My ethnicity results estimate that I am 49% Irish- Scotch, 30% English-Welch, 18% German, and 3% Eastern European.

A portion of my Irish ancestors hailed from Leinster, the site of the Irish rebellion of 1798, an unsuccessful uprising against British rule, influenced by the revolutions in America and France.  Death tolls are estimated at 10-30,000.

Other Irish relatives came from Roscommon, where deaths from the Irish potato famine peaked at 50,000 a year.  Owen McCabe, my ancestor on my mother’s side, fled to New York along with a million others, where they continued to suffer religious persecution for their Catholic heritage.

My father’s family can be traced back, amazingly, to Katharine Uhl, born in 1630 in Germany.  Her great-grandson, Michael Leonard Hahn, was born in York, Pennsylvania, in 1748.  A captain in the Revolutionary War, he later married Mary Elizabeth Bentz and had 14 children.

As a current resident of York County, I feel that my family has come full circle!

The family later moved to Ohio, where Hahn was involved in an Indian attack.  A later relative, Matthew Perry Bateman, tried his luck in the California Gold Rush, as well as serving in the Union Army in the Civil War!

By the late 19th century, the family had settled in Wisconsin, where my father was born in 1925.

Rebellions, famines, war, and religious persecution, my ancestors endured them all. And I bet yours did, too.

In my mother’s family, I can envision the cold and cramped quarters on the steamship that transported Owen McCabe and his wife, Ellen, to New York.  The smells, the rolling waves, the panic of the unknown.  In her new country, I can sense her fear as Ellen combated prejudice to apply for the only occupation for which she was qualified as a young, uneducated Irish girl.  Years later, my grandmother, Mary McCabe, also worked as a maid.  After her husband’s untimely death, she had to work to survive.  Her daughter and my mother, Peggy, nearly had to quit high school to make ends meet.

In my Dad’s ancestry, I can imagine the musket on his shoulder, smell the gunpowder as Michael Hahn battled the British in the Revolution.  I can feel the pain of packing up one’s belongings to begin the long trek in a dusty covered wagon from the Pennsylvania countryside to Ohio, there to be threatened by the native Americans.  Of course, it was their land we were invading.

By the next century, my ancestors were ensconced in the Wisconsin hills, where, as a child, my father, Al Bateman, endured the poverty and unemployment of the Great Depression.  My Dad often told me that his mother, Clara, had to pack lard sandwiches for him and his siblings. Meat simply wasn’t affordable.  Snow sifted in between the rafters where he and his brothers slept in their attic room.  And yes, he walked several miles to a one-room school house.  Those stories were no joke, and the struggle was real.

Today, COVID-19 is testing our spirits in new and alarming ways.  Currently, it has killed over 100 of the more than 5,200 diagnosed in the United States, but globally, the death toll is over 7,500, with especially high rates in Italy and Iran.

But our ancestors endured far worse, and lived on to prosper.  We will get through this, and hopefully come out stronger on the other end.

In absence of visits, I’ve been FaceTiming with my grandkids, reading them stories of long-ago struggles, and having them respond in kind.

Maybe it’s time to just stop, take a breath, and reconnect.

As far as Ancestry.com, I have to wonder about the future. Is it possible that some great-great granddaughter in the 23rd century will be checking some database to procure information about me and our times?  What will she find?