Looking Back on 2021

On some levels, it is so easy to say “good riddance” to 2021. It was a year of so many losses and catastrophes. Escalating global health crises, social isolation, and environmental disasters profoundly changed our world and lives in unpredictable ways. Despite the costs involved, those of us in relatively privileged circumstances turned to technology as a way to work and connect with others.

For me, it was a time of painful losses. But 2021 also brought many blessings I never could have imagined – reconnection to friends and colleagues from the past and opportunities to make new connections that enabled me to explore the world. I was forced outside of my comfort zone as a technophobe (although not a luddite) by the need to solve technological puzzles in order to communicate and connect. Of course, I have yet to learn how to use the block editor in WordPress, and I wonder if I will ever make the time for that endeavor…

Some of the 2021 losses were almost more than I could bear. My beloved companion, Pinto, passed in July.

look back 2021 1

Pinto – February 17, 2014 – his second winter with me – “the winter of the polar vortex

I realized after his passing that he is irreplaceable.

My little parakeet, Queenie, has had to fill the empty space Pinto’s death left in my life. Of course, I can’t take Queenie on neighborhood walks, so I don’t go out very often these days. My connections to my daughter and grandchildren have also changed. They’ve become remote, the result of our differing choices for dealing with COVID, both made because of our love and concern for the wellbeing of others.

I have shed a lot of tears, but I have also experienced moments of joy and found many reasons for gratitude. I can’t list them all here, but I want all of my blogging friends to know that you have enriched my life in so many ways. There are a few I would like to thank for unexpected gifts of connection.

Early in 2021, I was asked by a dear blogging friend, Robyn, to be part of a Yarning Circle to honor connections to the land where we were standing. The experience widened my horizons and introduced me to new friends and a better understanding of the wisdom and challenges of Indigenous Peoples in Australia. I am deeply grateful to Robyn, David, Sheila, and Annette for sharing their knowledge and stories. Chi miigwetch (Ojibwe “thank you”) for your kind and welcoming presence.

Not too long after Robyn’s kind invitation, I received an email from a friend and colleague from my university days, Mel Morgenbesser. He reached out to me in his role for Alumni Relations and Development for the School of Social Work, UW – Madison. He asked if I could write a brief article about myself for the online newsletter the School published. I told him I would think about it but let him know I was buried in student papers and wasn’t sure I could promise to do anything soon. I sent him a copy of my resume (Curriculum Vitae in “academic speak”) and a link to a few things on my blog to consider. Mel graciously took the initiative to pull the pieces together and drafted an article on his own:

https://socwork.wisc.edu/2021/03/25/carol-hand-mssw-83-phd-03-teacher-advocate-author/

Mel’s kindness touched me deeply. Ultimately, his article led to another gift that I will return to after acknowledging another unexpected reconnection.

In a recent post, I briefly mentioned my experiences on a commune. In part, those memories were triggered by another email in September from a friend I hadn’t heard from for several years, Judy. She asked if I would be willing to review a book a friend of hers had written. Once again, buried in student papers, I told her that although the book sounded interesting, I couldn’t make any promises to take on other responsibilities because I was too busy teaching. She replied, “That’s okay. I was just looking for an excuse to reconnect.” And that was the beginning of our long phone conversations every other week.

looking back 2021 2

Reflections about our friendship and shared experiences deserve a separate post, but again, here I am, faced with too much work at the beginning of another semester. Let me just say that her presence in my life has continued to be a blessing. I look forward to our scheduled time together with eager anticipation on alternate Mondays. We arrived on a rural Massachusetts commune from very different places as young mothers of mixed ancestry toddlers. Together with another mother from Montreal, we started a daycare center for more than 20 children and then, each went on to other things.

Judy and I got jobs in a city 50 miles away from the commune and still laugh about the adventures we shared hitchhiking to and from work. I remember looking up in awe at the clouds in a clear blue sky as we hiked along the interstate on June days while we waited for our next ride. We both had two jobs at the same places for a while, a fancy restaurant, and a greasy spoon less than a mile away.

Yet, things changed. As the commune became ever more successful, we found ourselves in different positions with little time or opportunity to stay in touch even before we both left and ended up in different states. I severed my ties with people from the commune for many years, reconnected briefly, and then said goodbye to past connections and Facebook forever. But the connection with Judy remains deeper, different, and special. Reconnecting is an unexpected gift.

In November, another thoughtful email opened up a new opportunity. Mel’s article included a link to my blog. Chelsea (Schlecht) Rademacher, Senior Writer and Publications Manager for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, read Mel’s article and visited my blog. She asked if I would be willing to write a poem for the November issue of Badger Vibes.

I agreed to try, adding that I didn’t see myself as a poet, but sometimes words flowed through me in a way fit into a poetic format. Chelsea was a joy to work with and I want to express my deep gratitude to her for the opportunity. Here is a link to her lovely work:

https://www.uwalumni.com/news/just-breathe-by-carol-hand/

looking back 2021 3

As I looked back at 2021 to say a final goodbye today, I am grateful for gifts of connections to friends old and new, and for the opportunity I had to work in partnership with dear colleagues and exceptional students who have so many gifts to offer others in the years ahead. Sending my heartfelt thanks to all who made the journey kinder and worthwhile.

Revisiting “Communities of Relatedness”

At the beginning of each new semester, I contemplate what more can be done to help students make sense of complex courses. This year has been no different.

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december 2021

A view from my side of the city – December 14, 2021

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For more than a decade, I taught courses about social welfare policy for undergraduate and graduate students. It was an arduous task, but often rewarding in unanticipated ways. Nonetheless, it took discipline to stay on top of often disheartening news about legislators’ continuing reliance on unexamined assumptions about economic inequality based on 16th and 17th century views of poverty in Great Britain –  The Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601.

elizabethan poor laws

The U.S inherited the disparaging views of people who were poor. Even though there were distinctions between the “worthy” and “unworthy poor,” poverty was viewed as an individual problem rather than the result of structural inequalities that benefited landed aristocracy at the expense of those who served them. People who were unhoused and unemployed due to rapidly shifting social institutions and technologies were forced to migrate in search of work. When they arrived in cities, destitute and desperate, reduced to begging for alms, they were viewed as a threat and nuisance. Their circumstances were attributed to their laziness and immorality. Their “pauperism” was seen as a cultural class deficiency that was passed down through the generations. Only strict punitive laws and interventions would “save” them and their children.

We can see the same views playing out at all governmental levels in the U.S. today as legislatures argue who is deserving of “welfare” assistance. They willingly bail out banks and corporations while ignoring the situation for so many individuals and families who are unable to afford housing, food, and health care. It is important for students to know this history in order to critically analyze existing policies and work toward more socially just policies in the future. True, analyzing policy is not the most exciting work initially, but it can be rewarding to build partnerships to end and prevent unnecessary suffering.

I returned to an older post for ideas on how to help and inspire students and decided to share the post again. Sadly, the message is still relevant today.

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December landscape 16 2017

Communities of Relatedness

Sitting on my back doorstep as I greeted yet another snowy morning, I was reflecting on my most recent neighborhood. West Duluth, the working class part of town. The side of town where the industries – manufacturing and paper mills – send plumes of putrid exhaust into the air. Some days the winds blow it eastward toward the lake, away from the children in my neighborhood who are walking to school or out on the school playgrounds. On the days the winds blow westward, I know it’s unwise to take more than very shallow breaths. Mine is the side of town where only those with few resources are able to find housing, the side of town where parents without choices send their children to schools with fewer resources and amenities. Even if I had more financial resources, I suspect I would still choose to live here, even though people in my neighborhood are not especially sociable – they’re too busy just trying to survive.

Perhaps it’s foolish of me, but I prefer to live in an old house that needs lots of work, with an overgrown yard that needs tending, on the side of town with the most diversity. So many people in the world live with far less. And it is the things that need transformation that attract my attention and inspire my creativity. I suspect it’s because of a different cultural frame. I don’t feel a sense of allegiance to the symbols of “nationhood” – fictive notions of fraternity – of us against the world. Instead, I realized this morning that I feel a sense of responsibility to people and my environment, not just Ojibwe people, but all my relations.

I have had the privilege of working for a state developing policies and programs for elders, and then working at the community level implementing and evaluating programs and policies for families and children. What I observed was a fundamental disconnect between policies developed by experts from a dominant cultural paradigm, what I refer to as “collectivities of strangers” like the residents of Duluth, and communities that were based on the foundation of enduring relationships. Raising the awareness of policy developers and academics to the importance of this distinction is not an easy task. So I have shifted my efforts to try to raise the awareness of students who will hopefully become the policy and program developers of the future.

From an indigenous perspective, the centrality of relationships is apparent. Tribal communities are characterized by centuries of enduring close family and community relationships among members and their natural environment, and members anticipate the continuation of these bonds for generations yet to come. The legalistic, impersonal approach used by the dominant Euro-American social welfare and judicial systems can best be characterized as “a collectivity of strangers,” designed to keep strangers from killing each other. As Jared Diamond (1997, Guns, Germs, and Steel) argues,

… the organization of human government tends to change … in societies with more than a few hundred members … [as] the difficult issue of conflict resolution between strangers becomes increasingly acute in larger groups…. Those ties of relationship binding all tribal members make police, laws, and other conflict-resolving institutions of larger societies unnecessary, since any two villagers getting into an argument will share many kin, who will apply pressure on them to keep it from becoming violent. (p. 171)

What this means for the sense of responsibility members feel toward each other from these contrasting cultural paradigms can be simplistically illustrated.

contrast collective vs strangers

What these distinctions mean for children can be described simplistically as well.

contrast collective vs strangers 3

contrast collective vs strangers 2

As I contemplate these contrasts this morning, I need to ground the philosophical questions in my present lived experience. Fortunately for my neighborhood, the gentle wind is blowing in from the west this morning, leaving the air clean and sweet. It was safe to take deep breaths and contemplate the possibility of building a sense of community that recognizes the importance of protecting the health of all our relations. In doing so, however, I am mindful that my privilege of breathing clean air this morning doesn’t mean the world is fair. The factories that provide jobs for people in my neighborhood are still sending forth poison plumes. It is others who are downwind who must breathe shallowly today. They are both strangers to me in one sense, and relatives in another. The challenge I contemplate is how to reach out to them so we can begin to work collectively to create a community that is healthy every day for all of our relations.

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Work Cited

Jared Diamond (1997). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. W.W. Norton & Company.

Reflections – January 5, 2022

This morning I awoke remembering a dream I had many decades ago. To be honest, I don’t remember where I was living at the time, but for some reason, it feels as though it is associated with the years I spent living on a commune. That’s another story, part of which I shared almost eight years ago.

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Queenie January 2022 2

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My memories of the dream were probably triggered by a Netflix movie I selected for my parakeet, Queenie, last night. He sang and chittered merrily as we watched a children’s movie together, “The Guardians.” It’s not the story that resonated with me. It was silly. But the vibrant moving colors that transformed darkness and fear, creating the possibility for hope and joy, made me wonder again about the existence of forces beyond what we can easily measure objectively.

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Aurora_Borealis_and_Australis_Poster

By The original uploader was 14jbella at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37486421

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In my old dream, I gazed up at a dark sky that was filled with moving, morphing shapes of vibrant colors, similar to the Aurora Borealis pictured above. The guide who has been present in my vivid dreams throughout the years told me, in thoughts more than words, that color and shapes have the ability to affect people’s emotions and energy in powerful ways, frequently outside of their conscious awareness.

As I write, I wonder if the dream came around the time when I was the “light show” coordinator for a mobile disco during my years on the commune. Or perhaps it was after I was served as an assistant for the commune video crew hired to record a Yes performance in Boston, Massachusetts. (But those are other stories, too, that I don’t believe I have written about.) I digress…

The movie and memories brought Edward Bernays to mind again, and the power of images to manipulate emotions to control “the masses.”

The Century of the Self – Part 1: “The Happiness Machine”

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Present day media provide many examples of the technique for fomenting divisiveness and fear. Yet I also think of the images Louie Schwartzberg shares that have the opposite effect.

Gratitude – “Happiness Revealed”

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As I prepare for another semester, I am contemplating once again how to weave these messages together to show the contrasts. Both realities coexist. It’s important to know both. How else would we realize that we all have a choice? We can decide to critically assess alternative perspectives and actions in challenging times like these and work toward inclusive, peaceful, consensual solutions. I hope I can encourage my students and others to consider how to model and share alternatives that help individuals and communities strengthen connections to each other and to the earth we all share.

Reflections – January 3, 2022

Fitting liberatory lessons into limited timeframes

within little boxes on semester syllabi

as critical resources once available without cost

disappear from the internet

is becoming an ever-more challenging,

time-consuming undertaking

but it’s still worth the effort

even though I may not be here

to see whether my work matters

in dawning new years yet to come

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sunny morning march 2019

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Sending gratitude to all of my dear blogging friends

for your friendship and support over the past years

along with my blessings for the new year

Early December Reflection – 2021

The setting – a conference for tribal social services staff

The activity – a dance to celebrate cultural connections

The Traditional Presenter – “You need to dance. You’re an important person, a leader”

Me – “I don’t see myself that way. I’m clumsy and shy and I don’t know the dance.”

The Traditional Presenter – “Dance anyway for the sake of others. Let them teach you.”

The lesson – humility and the importance of finding courage to try anyway

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early december reflections 2021

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Memories inspired by a photo shared with me decades ago by Linda Reivitz, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services (left), discovered when purging old files – an embarrassing, humbling experience accepting an award for just doing my job from then Wisconsin Governor, Tony Earl (1983 – 1987) during an all-too brief era of hope.

Revisiting Writing 101 – I Write Because?

For some reason, I remembered this old post during class yesterday. One of the courses I’m teaching this semester, social work practice with communities, I co-teach in partnership with a friend/colleague. Our students were discussing their “action plans” for raising community awareness about important issues that are invisible to many in the general public.

This semester, they focused on crucial and urgent concerns related to improving access to safe water for all members of the specific community they assessed. Each shared an action plan they developed. Topics varied depending on their interests – addressing industrial pollution, high lead levels among children in selected neighborhoods, the effects of road salt on sources of drinking water in northern climates, and maintaining homeostasis through adequate hydration. It’s important information. My colleague and I will be exploring new ways to share exemplary student work with a wider public audience.

Our students know statistics alone are not the most effective way to engage community action. Numbers don’t touch people’s hearts, but people’s stories might. And my colleague and I have many stories to share with students to illustrate the power of this approach.

Listening to the stories of people who were “on the margins” and “out-of-sight” motivated me to become an advocate. In order to do that more effectively, I began to write.  In 2015, I took a WordPress course to learn how to do a better job writing for different audiences. The following post was written in response to one of the WP “Writing 101” assignments.

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I write because?

Yesterday, before I read the prompt for today’s Writing 101 assignment, I addressed this question. I wanted to reflect before the class [I was teaching at the time] began.

“As I look at the larger patterns in my life, I realize that it’s important for me to share knowledge from the heart as well as from the intellect in words that are clear and simple. Lately, I’ve given some thought to the question “why do I write?” I write to share the simple things I’ve learned in hopes that it will help others. I follow my mother’s footsteps, not as a healer of bodies (I grow faint at the sight of blood), but as someone who sees the beauty in others even in times of adversity. I hope to be a mirror that reflects back the beauty I see in others so they can see it in themselves.”

As soon as I hit publish, I realized this was only part of the truth. What are the other reasons I write? When I asked myself that question this morning, an image and a memory of Mickey flashed through my thoughts. I was one of the strangers responsible for his care, a fifty year old man lying in a nursing home bed, forgotten, unable to care for himself, dependent on the kindness of strangers who weren’t always kind.

I only know bits and pieces of Mickey’s story and the accident that brought him to the nursing home many years before I took this job. He broke his neck when he fell down the steps one night while he was doing his job as a janitor. The accident left him paralyzed, paraplegic, unable to do the simplest self-care tasks. He needed to rely on overworked, underpaid nurses and nurses’ aides to do everything for him. Many didn’t have the time, patience, or inclination to realize there was a sensitive, alert human being inside his motionless body.

I had the luxury of listening to him because I worked the graveyard shift. (A fitting title for the night shift in this facility, although it’s hardly respectful of the people whose care and safety depended on our presence and compassion.) It was difficult for Mickey to speak as he struggled to make his jaw and tongue move. His softly spoken words were almost impossible to decipher at first. It took me time to learn the meanings behind this new language. One memorable story often comes to mind. Mickey told me in his halting, painful-to-witness way, that the nurses’ aides seldom talked to him or asked him if he needed anything. There were a few who were kind and treated him like a human being. But one in particular, according to Mickey, was incredibly rude. When it was time to get residents ready for bed, she would come in with a washcloth and rub it over his face without removing his eyeglasses first. In fact, she just left his smeared eyeglasses on, shutting off the light as she left him alone in his the room for the night. He lay there unable to do anything about it until I arrived for my shift.

I write because people like Mickey can’t. Someone needs to write their stories. I write because women with small children and bills to pay have to work at low paying jobs at times of the day or night that allow them to attend to their children’s needs during waking hours. They didn’t and don’t have access to affordable, reliable, high quality daycare and may be locked into pink collar, low-wage jobs for many years. They need to work at whatever jobs they can find in a society that does little to ensure that families have adequate safety net benefits. The long-term care industry (or childcare industry) is staffed by a steady stream of low-income women – mothers with young children or elders who can’t afford to retire. It’s an industry that is built on the backs of poor women often with few other options. (I mean that quite literally – lifting people like Mickey is heavy, back-straining work.) Their stories need to be included in national conversations about the need to pay workers living wages.

AW nursing home

Photo by Carlo Esqueda: Nursing Home Resident – Aging Wisconsin (1988, p. 26, full citation listed below)

Warehousing those who need assistance in institutions like the one Mickey lived in, or worse, is what we’ve been conditioned to see as the best or only option for people who need 24-hour care and assistance. Yet studies show nursing homes are not always the best option. It’s important to realize that one accident could place any one of us in a situation like Mickey’s – or worse. Is that what we want for ourselves, our parents, our children?

I write because these are important issues to consider. The legislators and experts who decide what types of services to provide as a nation rarely if ever ask those who are most affected by their decisions what they (elders, parents, workers) need and prefer. These are the people on the margins, like me, who need to have a voice in designing a nation and a world that care more about people.

“The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” (Hubert H. Humphrey, 1976)

While I doubt that my modest stories will have much of an impact, it’s what I can do today to try. It’s what I can do to honor Mickey’s memory and the many women (and men) who help people in the situations Humphrey describes with such poetic eloquence. Words can bring hope and healing to a troubled world. Writing with this purpose in mind is something I love to do. Ultimately, it’s why I write.

Work Cited:

Carlo Esqueda (1988). Selected photographs. In C. Hand (1988, Ed.), Aging Wisconsin: The past three years – 1984-1986 progress report on the Wisconsin State Plan on Aging (pp. 26, 31). Madison, WI: Bureau on Aging, Department of Health and Social Services.

Contextual Note:

This essay was inspired by the new course I began today, Writing 101. My intention for taking the course is described below.

“I’m looking forward to meeting all of you and learning more about your blogs. I’m also looking forward to the discipline and challenge of writing every day. It’s my hope to use this class to help me work on a new approach for a book that I originally thought would be non-fiction based on a research study I did a number of years ago. Instead, after experiencing the freedom of writing a play that required creativity and freed me from the constraints of objective reporting, I decided to explore fiction as an option. Fictionalized accounts would also be a better way to protect individual and place identities. So, I see this course as a challenging and exciting opportunity to experiment with new ways of writing.
I send my best wishes to all!”

Despite my desire to learn to write fiction, the prompt for today inspired a different direction. But then, it’s Labor Day. And unbidden and unplanned, the memory that came to mind allowed me to honor the many women I’ve worked with who do the heavy-lifting in the profitable long-term care industry, although they see little of the industry’s financial rewards.

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AW caregivers

Photo by Carlo Esqueda: Mother and Daughter – Aging Wisconsin (1988, p. 31, full citation listed above)

Late November Reflections – 2021

These days, I do write a lot

as a way to rebalance after reading

volumes of student papers

I do love to work with students,

but I really do dislike grading –

playing the role of gatekeeper

because their future writing

may determine the treatment

and wellbeing of the people

they’ll serve in their jobs

as service providers, advocates,

or therapists for children, families, elders

or even for communities and governments

I wish more of them

would follow the advice

I shared at the beginning

of their first semester

calvinandhobbes

By Bill Watterson, (1993, February 11). Available at GoComics

Sometimes it takes me hours

to plow through each paper

adjusting to each different topic

and each unique experiential perspective

carefully trying not to silence their voices

as I struggle to find just the rights words

to provide thoughtful feedback

without destroying self-confidence or souls

keeping in mind, of all things,

words from “The Fool’s Prayer”

“The ill-timed truth we might have kept –

Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?

The word we had not sense to say –

Who knows how grandly it had rung?”

(Edward Rolland Sill, 1936)

I keep that in mind

when I decide if and what

to post on this blog now

I don’t often post these days

In part because there’s too little time

for me to visit other’s blogs

or even reply to comments on mine

in a timely fashion

There’s another more important reason, too

I have begun self-censoring

what I’m willing to share

when my versions of truth

may be “ill-timed”

and only “pierce and sting”

evoking strong emotions

for no purpose other than venting

without any opportunity to provide

a “balsam for mistakes”

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The uncensored excerpt from today’s reflection…

November 26

I greeted this morning with wonder, gratitude, and laughter

as I watched a fallen curled brown leaf

that appeared to be hovering just above the earth

sometimes dancing in a gentle breeze

Eager to see if I could capture the moment in a photo

I ran into the house to grab my iphone

As I adjusted the camera focus, I hit a wrong button

choosing video rather than photo which I quickly deleted

thinking to myself, “this would be a real sleeper”

It’s fascinating how quickly perspectives can change

in response to a chance encounter, though

late novemer 2021 dancing leaf

Still, like the leaf, I feel suspended

between different views of what is real

as my heart aches for the world in these tragic times

when myths and false hopes are the only option

governments have to offer to divert attention

away from the real global threats

posed by greed and unbridled consumption

That is no laughing matter –

but the little leaf was still hovering after this long reflection

Perhaps it’s a hopeful sign that things may not always be

as precarious as they appear to be at one moment in time

Work Cited:

Sill, Edward Roland (1936). The fool’s prayer. In H.S. Schweikert, R. B. Inglis, & J. Gehlmann (eds.), Adventures in American literature (pp. 670-671). Harcourt, Brace and Company.

An afterthought – After waiting patiently for hours for me to finish writing my reflection, the little dancing leaf was still standing, so I decided it deserves a debut…

Mid-November Reflections – 2021

November 4

Greeting a cold bright morning

watching a shower of golden leaves

falling steadily from the popple and cottonwoods

frost glistening on wilted grass

listening to the whir of traffic, a distant crow call,

and the rustle of crispy leaves

as they blanket the earth

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mid-November 2021 1

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November 14

Yesterday, I wrote down words that flowed through me, a poem of sorts. If it’s accepted for publication, it won’t be posted here. Yet I wanted to share some of the things I realized in the process of trying to explain thoughts and feelings about what we have all lived through during the past two years. I asked a friend to listen to the poem before I sent a draft to the potential publisher. She pointed out that the poem highlighted the advice I shared with her a while ago that had helped her through a difficult time. I didn’t realize how consistently the strategy I shared with her has helped me face challenging situations in my own life.

I learned to repeat a simple mantra in my thoughts.

Just breathe,” I told myself when I faced an audience of 50 people or more, when I stood before State legislators to present testimony, when I lost someone dear, or when I had to resolve conflict in contentious situations. It’s a mantra that helped me survive the challenges of asthma, anxiety, and allergies that have periodically forced me to consciously focus on breathing. It helped me survive an undiagnosed illness in mid-March 2020 that left me struggling for breath for more than a week, returning periodically for several months afterwards. Hopping on a self-propelled treadmill, I forced myself to keep breathing. “Just breathe, just breathe, just breathe.”

It worked. I am here to write these words, grateful to my daughter who delivered groceries to my doorstep when I was too sick to go out and was unwilling to expose others to whatever I had.

As I wrote my poem of sorts yesterday, I relived heartbreaking events. I thought of the Corona virus that continues to strike indiscriminately, disabling and killing millions around the globe as it attacks people’s ability to breathe. And I thought of the masks that make breathing harder but may protect others which have caused so much controversy. I thought of George Floyd’s words as he lay dying during a painful, brutal, police execution on May 25, 2020. “I can’t breathe.” I thought of the fires raging around the globe making the air unbreathable thousands of miles away and devastating so many lives in the process. I thought of the discharges from industries that fill cities with toxic pollution, often located in the poorest neighborhoods throughout the nation and the world. Breathing clean air is a luxury that so many people do not have. Being able to breathe free of oppressive forces interwoven throughout social institutions is even rarer still.

There’s not much, if anything, I can do to change global conquests for control that leave so many people gasping for breath or thirsting for safe water to bathe in, drink, and share with crops to feed families and communities. But I can set aside time each day to breathe and reflect, to envision practical ideas for raising awareness, encouraging caring, and inspiring local solutions that just might mobilize others to engage in concrete, constructive efforts to live with greater care for each other and the earth.

For now, I am grateful I can “just breathe,” and do work that may help others do so, too.

mid-November 2021 2

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