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That’s just the way it is

Most of us who have been subject to the recent quarantine have spent considerable time watching the news, both local and national. One reality that keeps appearing to me is the whining of so many Americans who are agonizing over the quarantine. While none of us like to be restricted to our homes except for grocery shopping, it’s really not necessary to complain about it.

On the upside, I am convinced that a huge team of people are working on vaccines and effective virus treatments. If we were in a variety of other countries, that conviction would not be nearly as strong. We are all struggling with a plethora of unknowns, but that is simply the way that the world looks right now.

Is it really so important that you get your regular haircut or manicure? One of my neighbors recently asked if someone in this community does manicures from home. Groan. Is it life and death to get a haircut before your hair covers your ears? Probably not. It has become quite clear that social distancing is making a difference.

And as far as restaurants, we are making it a point to support a number of our local food joints with carryout meals. Not only does it exempt me from cooking every meal; but also, I’m hoping that it will help keep them in business.

We need to pull together as a country. If you feel that your health is in danger because your employer isn’t providing sufficient PPE, I get that. But be grateful that you have employment when many millions of us have been deprived of that opportunity. And be very grateful for the many thousands of public servants and healthcare workers who face danger every minute of every hour to perform their jobs.

The situation we face as a country and a world will eventually be resolved. In the interim, I will continue to check with people nearby (at six feet distance, of course) to see if they need groceries and I will continue to deliver a cinnamon bread to a kind neighbor. It doesn’t take much to change the world. Shalom.

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Prepare to prevail

We are as islands, with separation from places and people

And no rescue on the horizon.

Our choices are as infinite as the waves

That surround us and are reminders of reality.

We must rely only on ourselves.

 

Pleas for rescue will be unheard and in vain,

Making state of mind the only election to remain.

The vision of land off in the horizon is

Seen only by those whose visions are unclouded

By negativity and pessimism.

 

As God observes, we can be confident that

Our destinies are entirely within his plans

And our faith is the reminder of perspective.

We plan for resolution of this temporary isolation,

Warming ourselves with the sunshine of love,

Allowing us to prepare to prevail.

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Pure honesty

Having just learned that my school district will be closed for the rest of the school year, I am allowing myself to feel a bit nostalgic about the past year and years of teaching. No, I have no intention of quitting, probably explaining why I feel sad that my kids are lost to me until August.

One of the things that I will miss the most is the honesty that I encounter on a daily basis. Younger kids are much better at it than fourth or fifth graders. Kindergarteners will say they love me by midday or at the end of the day. When they ask my age and I reply, “115,” they always laugh and report that I’m probably no older than 40. Older students are a bit more careful due to peer pressure and the learned behavior of restraint.

Young ones are also forthcoming about any and all information that they have. This will include details about Mom, Dad, Grandma, Uncle Izzy and everyone in between. Sometimes, that information is uncomfortable or excessive but I never suppress them. At the most, I will suggest that Uncle Izzy probably doesn’t want us to talk about that.

The phenomenon that I love most is honesty associated with what they seek to become when they grow up. Very often, I will hear that children want to be police officers, firefighters, teachers, join the army or study to become astronauts. Most of the time, the kids who want to join the army have parents or grandparents who served. Likewise, those aspiring to be police officers have those public servants in the family.

But the best honesty is the non-verbal kind. Tell a child that she is a whizbang or superstar at math and she will never leave your side or fail to finish first. Advise a child that you appreciate his being a helper in class and he will always be there to distribute papers, organize a project or deliver a hug.

We’ve all encountered enough dishonesty in our lives to appreciate this respite from deceit or trickery. As of now, I’m counting the weeks until we’re back in session and have a child tell me that he wants to help in any way he can. Shalom.

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Focus

One of the words that I use most often with students is “focus.” It appears that many of us have lost our focus in terms of what we should be doing, saying and demonstrating.

Looking around me, I see evidence that some of us have and some have not remained focused on what true priorities must be. If you’re inclined to whine about using toilet paper other than your favorite, by no means should you expect me to be sympathetic. You’re lucky to have any at all.

The same is true of liquor stores. Some are open and some are not. But if you’re going on and on about how they are essential, maybe you should take another look at what you need to survive. Alcohol may numb or desensitize you but it does absolutely nothing beyond that.

Someone’s terrific idea of opening stores an hour or two early for seniors is remarkable. If you’re there and more agile than some of your senior cohorts, why not offer to lift their bags or return carts in order to save them a few steps? Yes, of course, the hand sanitizer must be incorporated.

Let’s spend more time appreciating those who are working tirelessly on our behalf. Someone was recently shown giving cookies or some other token of appreciation to the trash collectors. What a great idea! If you see a firefighter, police officer or health care professional, take the ten or fifteen seconds to thank that person for their dedication and sacrifices.

This is not the time to be lazy, angry, stubborn or anything else that would interfere with protecting you, your family or the remainder of the world. While we may be confined to our homes, we have immense powers to help others through our words and acts of kindness.

Because we have individual relationships with God, I would never be so presumptuous as to recommend expressing gratitude to that God. But you may discover that doing so is gratifying and satisfying. It may also provide the best feeling of reassurance that you can imagine. Shalom.

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Rights and responsibilities

Our times of global uncertainty and crisis require what I believe is a careful distinction between our rights and responsibilities. What triggered this was a social media participant who ranted and raved about social distancing. She moaned about the fact that the closure of so many entities and the requirement to self-monitor violated her civil rights. It’s a shame that she has nothing better to do.

Here’s a simple example of the difference between right and responsibility: Let’s say for this example that I have tested positive for COVID-19 although I am not demonstrating any symptoms. Inadvertently, I have run out of milk (although I have plenty of toilet paper). Do I have the right to visit my local supermarket to get my milk, taking the chance of infecting who knows how many people?

Obviously, I don’t. But my civil rights to visit any store I choose at any time is not the subject at hand. While I do have this right, I do have the responsibility not to be in proximity of those who could contract my virus. And what if I don’t have the virus and don’t show any symptoms? That only barely impacts the answers.

While I still need the milk in this case, I also don’t know with certainty whether or not I have the capacity to infect someone else. The answer is that I will visit my supermarket, wash my hands before and after my visit, sneeze into a tissue or my shoulder and keep at least six feet between me and everyone else.

The situation in which we find ourselves changes all definitions of rights and responsibilities. By all means, I have the right to preserve my civil rights in most cases. But my responsibility to protect the people around me (generally six feet away from me) prevails.

No-one wants the situation in which we find ourselves. Being good-natured, rational and socially conscious is the answer. When all of this settles, the irate female can go where and when she chooses, with my sincere blessings. Shalom.

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To be brave

On previous occasions, I have referenced a powerful and brilliant book that I have just finished. This is The Librarian of Auschwitz, and it has taught me more than I can possibly summarize in a short blog.

One of the most provocative and inspirational concepts I have derived concerns bravery, a strength that many of us seek to acquire during these challenging and frightening times. The idea, paraphrased, is that those people who are truly brave are the ones who are most afraid. For clarification, if we are not afraid of our various outcomes, the decisions we make are unimportant because any one of them is acceptable. This is tantamount to apathy, a disease worse than the one we fight.

Today, for the sake of those closest to us and ourselves, we must have sufficient fear of contagion to take all of the right steps to prevent it. If washing our hands two or three times a day is a good idea, five or six is a better one. On a recent trip to the supermarket, I saw an older lady wearing both surgical gloves and a mask. Given her increased risks due to age, I’m thinking that it was an intelligent decision.

We all have occasions to convert our healthy dose of fear into responsible action. When six feet is the required distancing space, it must delete hair styling, manicures and other activities that include close proximity. An excellent alternative to protect that professional’s income is to purchase a gift card or certificate.

More can be done with regard to the employment crises that surround us. A significant number of local restaurants are offering curbside or delivery service of selections from their menus. In addition to paying that restaurant’s bills, many have chosen to pay their servers with some of the proceeds, taking some of the sting out of their lost gratuities. If you are at all like me, cooking every meal is tedious and by electing to go meals, we are doing good for everyone involved.

And some of my favorite news stories are those of small groups of residents joining together to provide meals or groceries to those within that group who are in need of support. Today, I surveyed my neighborhood to see if any around me needed groceries that I could collect for them on my trip. The next time I leave to shop, I will make it a point to see if others have needs.

It’s easy to convert fear into action. From my standpoint, not to act is to invite a horrible disease to appear and end life – a conclusion that is absolutely undesirable. Shalom.

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A new interest

A great and priceless thing is a new interest! How it takes possession of a man! How it clings to him, how it rides him!  Mark Twain

Any time that my life is sufficiently without stimuli to create important writing, I am always confident that Mr. Twain will provide assistance. This is the quote that I secured from him, one that seems particularly timely.

As many of us are quarantined or self-sequestered, it’s easy to become stale or grumpy. Restaurants here don’t allow sit-down dining; shopping is an inconvenience rather than anything resembling pleasure and most of us are waiting for something good to happen that will improve our status.

What an excellent time to develop a new interest! At the top of my list is the possibility of writing in a context you have never previously attempted. Write some poetry, for yourself or a loved one. Investigate a new genre such as non-fiction, fiction or essay. If you conduct some research, you will find a contest or a site seeking new contributions.

If that doesn’t ring your bell, take up a new craft. As recently as this morning, I’ve begun researching sewing surgical masks. There are many patterns out there and whether or not they can be used in a healthcare setting, they must be of value to some. That may not be your style. Buy a canvas and some acrylics or watercolors. Get some charcoal and just begin drawing.

And one of the best alternatives is to make reading one of your life priorities. The number and variety of e-books out there is staggering. And it’s a great opportunity to investigate a new subject – there are too many to name. As I tell my students, reading a book is a gift for your brain. If e-books are unavailable for whatever reason, you can order books almost as easily in hardbound or paperback formats.

Call someone whom you haven’t recently reached. Write a letter to a distant friend or relative. Whatever it may be, get out of your head and do something that simply feels good or productive. There are always opportunities to contribute something to our world. Shalom.

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Fields of hope

Our current global pandemic has provided me with time to reflect on our world, both from a local and a much larger perspective. One of the images that I saw was that of a large field of flowerpots, each filled with a specific inhabitant of our planet.

While this may sound a bit strange at the outset, the pots are arranged by community. As I look through the student population section, I see rows and rows of seedlings, each with a tiny smiling face. Pots are closely spaced, not only for the sake of camaraderie, but also to benefit from the sustenance provided by the sprinklers and sunshine.

Moving from this small, pleasant community, I wander to the political pots. All of these faces are scowling, with the exception of a few good samaritans and dedicated public servants. Their faces are easily distinguishable from those of the children. They are larger, more wrinkled and sincerely unhappy. Because the negative expressions dominate, it’s easily concluded that the environment is not conducive to growth.

Another field of flowerpots discloses inhabitants who are demographically diverse. They are young and old faces that are all looking up, ostensibly for wisdom. Faces are of all colors, dimensions and sizes. Their demeanors range from expectant to excited to afraid to anticipatory. Pots are all the same size, indicative of the space that each one occupies within the community.

My conclusions are that we are able to gain a wide selection of data from those around us, just as we have the ability to influence them. As we share space, we share expectations, from viewpoints that are as diverse as our backgrounds and our faces.

Ultimately, I believe that it’s all about hope. Because most of us are looking up, we could be searching the symbolic warmth of the sun or the guidance we receive from God. We are all in this situation of virus and death as a large field of growing entities, relying on what is above and around us for strength. Shalom.

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The enchanted child

One of the most gratifying aspects of teaching is the process of identifying what strategies work best. Much of it is trial and error, but the majority is simple classroom common sense.

The most obvious indications of success are the responses I receive from my kids. Many of them, especially the youngest, will directly and descriptively say what they like or don’t like.

I like your nails. I like your hair. I like that you bring us candy. I like talking to you. I like listening to you. I think you’re smart.

It goes on from there. What they cannot articulate is that I feel it is imperative to speak to them as if they are intelligent human beings. They are. And the best proof of their understanding my respect for them is the enchanted child.

Virtually every day that I teach, I experience a magical child. This is usually a boy but now and then the magical child is a girl. It continues to amaze me that almost every class has one.

This child will tug on my sleeve or tap me on the arm. Next, he or she will ask a question or make an observation or volunteer information. In each case, the enchanted child will deliver a silent hug, the first of three or seven or twelve throughout the day. Child will express love or advise that I am the best substitute or best teacher in the world.

Somehow, it’s never occurred to me to ask why the student feels this way. During childhood years, the process of articulating many emotions is underdeveloped or completely absent. More importantly, I never want a student to feel pressured to justify feelings.

The most wonderful part is that I never know who the mystery pupil will be nor do I know what will cause him or her to materialize. By this time, I’m convinced that this is one student who transforms each morning from yesterday’s class to today’s.

It’s supernatural and fantasy and as pure fabrication as it sounds. But how else could multiple classrooms create so many princes and princesses? Shalom.

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Working as a community

At this moment, the world is in the grip of one of the most terrifying, life-changing events in our history – that of the Coronavirus. Large or small, young or old, we are all aware of its power and potential, for as much as any of us can anticipate how it will play out.

My school district and many others are now closed, at least for the next three weeks. Our children are receiving data from any and all possible sources, some reliable and some quite a bit less than trustworthy. As adults, we have an explicit and imposing responsibility to be judicious about what we are saying and to whom.

The neighborhood in which we live has one of those fashionable forums where various residents make comments or inquiries about subjects that are pertinent both locally and beyond. One of the presumably well-intentioned neighbors has just released her second tirade about how stupid we are to go shopping, eat in restaurants and horde our toilet paper. This is all at the expense, she says, of being able to intercept and prevent our contracting the virus.

While I find her remarks personally distasteful and entirely inappropriate, they are also extremely dangerous. Neither she nor many others have a substantial amount of truth available on the Coronavirus. We don’t know how it happened, how to protect ourselves from it and for how long we will need to be vulnerable to it. With all that in mind, why start browbeating your neighbors who are already under sufficient stress?

In other words, let’s be kind and supportive of our friends, family members and neighbors. Let’s avoid rumor and conjecture. We must also avoid dispensing advice, particularly when you are probably no better informed than most of us and have no authority to dictate behavior.

Stand by your neighbor and offer support whenever possible. Stop the pontificating and preaching. We are all concerned about our world and must work on protection and preparation, not insinuation and lecture. Our kids are listening. Shalom.