Sunday, November 22, 2020

Whose Truth is it?

By JoAnne Young

Thanksgiving approaches. 

And with it comes the question: What to be thankful for in 2020?

I’d like to say truth. I’m thankful for truth. 

But what truth would we be talking about? Whose truth? Which truth?

I know of a journalist who years ago had “the truth” tattooed onto the inside of his right arm. Noble gesture. As journalists we are seekers of truth. Like, big-T truth. 

But mostly our task has been to sort out whatever smaller truths we can find, because like the Ma Bell monopoly, big-T truth has been broken up. And what we are left with are the wiggly truths: my truth, your truth, his truth, her truth, our truth, their truth. Our job is to question them, turn them inside out, and question them again. And when we think we’ve finished, someone inevitably will say, “Do it again.”

Since I’m not in the mood to be so generous with the truth these days, I’ll just say it’s my truth for which I’m thankful, along with the awareness that even my truth cannot be etched in stone. 

As much as I would like it to be durable, viable and long lasting, it’s not. It’s just not.

I can sit quietly and watch the world and listen, just for an hour, and see the changes. Some of them are hideous, yes. Some of them beautiful. Many, these days, are head spinning. 

I have learned to appreciate the beauty of change through morning walks, visits to the natural world, photography. 

If nature doesn’t feel any obligation to hold onto truth, why would we?

It is true the only constant in life is change. 

You can stand in the soaking light of a sunrise, but only for moments. You can lock your eyes with an owl peering at you from a high branch, but she will quickly tire of you, spread her wings and fly. A flawless black-eyed Susan will grow imperfect in the strain of an autumn day. 

A lot of people don’t like change. I gratefully embrace it. 

I learned early in life that I wasn’t going to live in the same house or the same city or go to the same school very long. It taught me valuable lessons. I may have gotten the difficult education of the highly mobile, but I learned to adjust. And the ability to adjust is one of the best life lessons a person can be given. I thank my parents for that. 

Life is fleeting. 

Sunrises, sunsets, sea creatures and the natural world are fleeting. Youth is fleeting, no matter how beautiful Bob Dylan’s notion is to stay forever young. 

But being courageous, upright and strong in the face of change, we can take a shot at that. 

Truth is transient. I am buoyed by the knowledge that many who are smarter and wiser than me haven’t been able to make it stay put. 

But we still can be thankful for its decisive indecision. 

Seek your truth this Thanksgiving. Hold onto it for however long you can. And when its light fades, be grateful and move on. 

That may be the only Truth we need to know. 

* * *

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Saturday, November 14, 2020

To Love the Questions...

By Marilyn Moore

Oh, to be a social studies teacher at this time in history.  The headlines of the day (and the past many months) are what make this former social studies teacher's heart leap for joy and my mind go into overdrive.  So much content, so many questions, so much that is real and of-this-minute in disciplines that sometimes seem dry and removed from real life.  

Take, for example, the concept of "federalism."  Not exactly a hot-button idea, not often discussed, seldom given much thought - until you take a look at the election map that dominated the 24-hour news channels for days.  It wasn't a national map; it was a map of the fifty states.  And the popular vote, while important and engaging, wasn't the figure everyone was watching.  We were watching for the Electoral College figure, which is influenced/determined by the vote of the states, not the national popular vote.  That's what federalism looks like, decisions made by the collective decisions of states.  And social studies teachers everywhere are teaching that concept right now, and most likely posing the question, "What were the founders of this country thinking when they devised this system?"  

"The right to vote" is another great concept my former colleagues are teaching.  It's a right most of us take for granted, and a right, and a responsibility, that this year most of us exercised.  (Except, of course, not everyone has had the right to vote from the beginning.  In fact, this year marks the 100th anniversary of women being able to vote, which was not won until more than 100 years after the founding of this constitutional republic.  And Native Americans followed later.  And even with those constitutional provisions, systematic voter suppression was the law of the land for decades.  Why would that be?  Who benefits from some not being able to vote?) Over 150 million US citizens voted this year, more than ever before in a presidential election.  We sorted through the rules and regulations that govern early voting, voting by mail, voting at the polling place.  We balanced voting with staying safe in a pandemic.  And we wondered about the rules...why are the rules for absentee voting, for example, different in Pennsylvania from those in Texas?  And why do some states vote entirely by mail?  And why are mail-in ballots in some states counted (but not reported) before Election Day, while other states don't start counting those ballots until after Election Day?  Social studies teachers are guiding their students to the concept above, "federalism."

Now that the election is over, and nearly all the votes are counted (though no state is reporting 100% of ballots counted at this point), there's this time of transition.  Social studies teachers are asking students to consider how decisions are being made at this time.  What is law, and what is custom?  And who decides?  And when is it finally all decided?  Who has the last say?  (Hint:  See the above concept, federalism.  It's officially decided when each state's electors cast their ballots, in accordance with their state's laws.) The US prides itself on the peaceful transfer of power at the time of presidential elections.  What does that look like?  What norms and values and customs are part of that picture? 

The important part of these questions is not that teachers are answering them, but that teachers are asking students to consider them.  A questioning mind, a search for information, a robust discussion of the issues and values that are inherent in the questions...that's what social studies teacher help their students develop.  And moments in history such as these are just the best.  

Another question that I suspect teachers are asking students to consider, and that I would pose for all of us to ponder, is about human behavior in times of great turmoil and upheaval.  Living in a pandemic, at the time of a significant presidential election, has been just that - turmoil and upheaval.  We know how much our lives have changed, how much our institutions have adapted, or not, and the impact of those adaptations on our lives.  That's obvious to students, too - school right now is very different from school a year ago.  

The question I think about, a lot, is how people react and respond, and what beliefs and values people's responses reflect.  For those who generally comply with safety measures advocated by public health experts, is it because they value the evidence upon which the measures are based, because they want to protect their own and others' health, because they want the pandemic to end with as little loss of life as possible, or because they generally place the greater good as a higher value than individual freedom?  Or is it some combination of all of the above?  And for those who resist compliance with public health directives, is it because they are brave, because they refuse to live in fear, because they don't like being told what to do, because they place a higher value on individual rights over the greater good, because they don't trust or believe the evidence upon which the directives are based, or some combination of all the above?  

In the case of humans who are confronted with making personal decisions in a pandemic, or in the case of citizens who are confronted with making decisions about a presidential election, the question I find engaging is, "What information, and what values and beliefs, cause people to decide what to do?"  It is not uncommon for people to have the same information at hand, but to make very different decisions about their own behavior, which means information is not the only factor in decisions; values, beliefs, culture, norms, all come into play.  And this discussion is a rich one in a social studies class, where teachers teach students not what to think, but help them develop awareness of their own thinking and inquiry skills into the reasoning behind the collective decisions that nations and communities have made in the past and continue to make today.

The likely development of a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus brings another great opportunity for social studies teachers, and for science teachers, too.  From what has been announced, it is likely that such a vaccine will be available in the next few months.  It is also clear that not everyone will be able to receive that vaccine at the moment it is first distributed.  A great question for consideration:  what groups of people should receive the vaccine first?  And who is next, and who after that?  And who is the last?  And related to that string of questions, who decides?  And related to that, should the vaccine be required for some/all people?  For teachers, the important question is the next question, the probing question, the one that says, "Help me understand your thinking on that.  What were you considering when you decided that (name the group) should be the first to receive the vaccine?"  "What's your reasoning for requiring, or not requiring, the vaccine?"  Followed by, "Tell me more about that...."  There's always another probing question in a's the best part of teaching and learning.  

And finally, far removed from this world, is another event I hope my former colleagues are considering with their students.  (And yes, I know, there is never enough time for everything, and this one probably isn't in the standards, but it's at the heart of who we are....) A few weeks ago, a probe from a NASA spacecraft touched the asteroid Bennu and collected up to two kilograms of crumbled rock from its surface.  It's a remarkable engineering feat, requiring touching an 11-foot arm from a craft the size of a van to an area the size of a few parking places on an asteroid that is roughly the size of the Empire State Building which is rotating and speeding through space, 200 millions miles from Earth.  And our scientists watched that happen...truly awesome!  Two years from now, if all goes according to plan, that sample of asteroid rubble will be in labs in the US and in other countries, and scientists will have a significant artifact for study of the origins of the solar system and life on Earth. As the scientist Jamie Elsila explained, "This will allow people not yet born using techniques not yet invented to answer questions not yet asked." This, this, is at the heart of all the questions that teachers so carefully frame for students, so that they develop the habits of mind to pose and consider the questions not yet asked.

I know that these conversations, these discussions, are happening every day in classrooms, and I am in awe of the teachers who do this important work.  From the concept of federalism, to the questions of who votes, and why, to the consideration of human behavior in a pandemic, to the questions at the heart of our very existence...these are why teachers do what they do.  And they do so with my great admiration, and my gratitude.  And yeah, I miss it, more than just a little...


Saturday, November 7, 2020

A letter for my son and daughter …

By Mary Kay Roth 

Joshua and Anna: 
Saturday evening and my phone is exploding during Joe Biden's acceptance speech, as you are both texting with such abundant and abounding joy.  Josh, you have posted a photo of Kamala Harris with the simple, audacious number, "47."  Anna, you have immersed your daughters in a blue bubble bath while chatting with them about becoming vice president someday.
  • Everlyn, age 5: "No, I want to be president someday."
  • Scout, age 6: "I want to be president someday."
  • Anna: "I'd vote for both of you."
  • Scout: "What if we ran against each other?"
Meanwhile, fireworks are going off throughout my neighborhood, car horns are blasting and, somewhere down the street, someone is strumming a guitar by firelight.

The tide has turned and the wind has shifted.  A decent, steady civilized man will be the next president of our country, having tallied 74 million votes (and counting), more than any other presidential candidate in USA history.  We will have a vice president who is female and who is black and who is good. We set records for election turnout with citizens who still believe their votes count. We transformed everyday, dedicated election workers into quiet heroes.

So today, I am choosing joy and I am choosing hope.  Our citizens exercised their fundamental right to have their voices heard - and those voices mattered.

However, in all honesty guys, I need to admit I've had some dark moments this week. As election numbers rolled in Tuesday evening, I simply could not believe that almost half our country embraced the most disastrous, dangerous president in our history.  And when Wednesday morning rolled around, I felt like staying in bed and hiding from the world. But what I want to tell you - what I want you to know - is that eventually I pulled off the covers because of inspiration from the two of you.

I knew that your hearts were just as heavy as mine on election night.  But when dawn broke the next morning, you both got up, went to work and carried on.  Josh, you continued shouldering the responsibility of developing a Kansas City high school for 2021, a place that will provide quality education for students of poverty.  Anna, as a nurse dealing with the deadly reality of this pandemic, you headed straight into the eye of the storm.

And you were most certainly not alone.  The young physician who lives next door - who volunteered to serve on the Covid team at one of our local hospitals - worked election night and paused only briefly to check on voting tallies as he also checked on ventilators. At daybreak, the elementary teacher who lives down the block headed for one of our community's poorest schools to teach immigrant and refugee children - children learning in the classroom, and children learning from home.  And my neighbor across the street didn't have time for tears Wednesday, as she was needed at her job with the local food bank - because people were hungry.

I can get lost in the sadness of the last four years, a time that often felt like a jagged edge of ugly despair.  Racial bigotry remained resilient.  Propaganda and misinformation were all-powerful.  Science and common sense were ignored.

And yet, Josh, as you so wisely pointed out, the slog of democracy persisted this week despite the assault upon it.  Both you and your sister seem to have more clarity about our country than I do, understanding yet accepting the fragility of democratic values.  I can get overwhelmed with the depth and breadth of our country's fissures and fault lines, while you have the ability to fly over the contours of the land and focus on what you can control - what you can change.

This week I keep thinking about one of my favorite parables I shared with you in childhood, adapted from Loren Eisley's "The Star Thrower."  I hope you remember it. 

Early one morning, an old man was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see.  Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy pausing, occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer and the man called out, "May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young boy paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can't return to the sea by themselves."

The old man replied, "But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach.  I'm afraid you won't really be able to make much of a difference."

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean.  Then he turned, smiled and said, "It made a difference to that one."

Josh, Anna, I remember four years ago when we all woke up to find that Donald Trump had won the presidency - I simply had no words for you, no explanation. This weekend we can scream, shout, celebrate, find promise in the future.  And as I pause and ponder how to move forward - how to move on - I take my lead from my children, two young adults who understand the power of tossing starfish back into the sea.

In the past four years I have learned that I cannot take our democracy for granted.  I have grown humble, falling to my knees when it comes to any sort of star-spangled, arrogant American greatness.  Trump's racist, venomous rallies have directed a spotlight on injustices that have long existed in our country, but were mostly invisible to me - from my foolish position of privilege. 

Nonetheless, in the aftermath of those years of disappointed optimism and shattered trust - darn it, I still love this country. I believe in America.

But I believe America requires hard work and plenty of beachcombing.  This is not a time to sit back, get comfortable and wait for someone else to act.  This is a time for soul searching and vigilance, joining the collective courage of our country, finding the power within us to find a starfish and make a difference.

Kids, I suspect you will long remember the election of 2020.  I hope you remember that I kept the faith.  I kept the faith in our country.  I kept the faith in you.

Inauguration Day is Jan. 20, 2021. Meantime, I suggest that we take it - one starfish at a time.

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Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Very Blue Moon

by Penny Costello

It is Halloween Evening 2020 as I write this. Tonight there will be not just a full moon, but a Blue Moon, that relatively rare event when we experience two full moons in the same month. The last time the moon was full on Halloween was in 1944. I guess if any year was ripe for a repeat of such an event, it would be 2020.

In other news this week, scientists discovered a rogue, untethered planet the size of Earth traveling through our galaxy. While that may sound frightening, it turns out that an Earth-size planet is considered tiny in galactic terms. And scientists believe that there may be billions of untethered planets that are not gravitationally-connected to a star as Earth is to the Sun meandering along the Milky Way. In fact, those planets may outnumber the planets that are tethered to stars. We just can’t or don’t see them.

We can’t see them because they have no host stars from which light reflects upon them, making them visible to us, or on which they exert gravitational pull that we can detect and measure. The ones we do see appear to us through an effect called gravitational lensing, a facet of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Gravitational lensing happens when one of these planets passes between an Earth-based observer and a distant star. The gravitational field of the rogue planet deflects and focuses the light from that star, and the observer measures a short brightening of the source star. The smaller the light-bending object, the briefer the period of perceived brightening.

Apparently, we got very lucky to even have detected this Earth-sized little rogue. And if you want to know more about the science behind how we detect such phenomena, the link below will take you to the source article.

But as I read this, a few thoughts emerged:

1) Of course we would detect a rogue planet “careening” through our solar system in this of all years, and just days before the most inflammatory and divisive election in my lifetime.

2) The headline, An Earth-size planet is careening untethered through the galaxy, scientists find certainly is a grabber. But when I read the article, it turns out that it’s not that unusual. These types of planets may well outnumber the exo-planets orbiting stars in this and billions of other galaxies across the universe. Not only that, but this careening rogue planet is tiny in comparison to the untethered heavenly bodies previously detected. It’s so tiny, we are lucky to even have detected it.

3) These bodies are numerous, very possibly tremendously more numerous than the planets we have been taught and have come to believe are supreme in the cosmos. But they have not been illuminated in a spectrum visible to us. If we can’t see these planets, what else are we not seeing? And if we can’t see them, does that make them any less real?

Meanwhile, back on Earth, I’m struck by some pretty powerful parallels with our current reality. First of all, I think it’s fair to say that one thing we all have in common is a planetary feeling of ‘Good grief, what next?’ Pick your particular flavor of fatigue. We have COVID fatigue, election fatigue, Zoom fatigue, economic uncertainty fatigue, shutdown fatigue, news fatigue, and the list goes on. The fatigue and its toll on us are real.

The news media, social media, and propaganda purveyors all battle to catch our attention, our clicks, and our likes with headlines of unending sources of Mayhem, yes, Mayhem careening toward us. When the actual scale of what is careening may have the impact of a speck of dust that, worst case, will cause us to sneeze. Or it could hit the surface of the Earth with the power to blot out the Sun and cause mass-extinction in a matter of days. Perspective fatigue, anyone?

And finally, if we can’t see something, is it any less real? The famous Washington Post tagline, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” is compelling to be sure. But systemic racism does not die in darkness. Police brutality, economic inequality, migrant abuse and exploitation, domestic abuse, child abuse, animal abuse, environmental and planetary abuse thrive in darkness as much, apparently as do untethered planets.

We must continue to strive to illuminate what we can, and to be the light when and where we can. So, my wish for all is to be illuminated, to be seen, warmed, nourished and fed by the light of love, knowledge, friendship, community, and peace. And for tonight, Halloween 2020, I’m going to light a fire on my patio and bask in the splendor of this very Blue Moon. 
Tomorrow, I will strive again to be the light for someone or something. And again each day after that.


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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Kindness Matters

By Mary Reiman

Subtitle: Random Thoughts As The World Turns


I’m guessing many of us thought by now we would be writing our reflections of time spent during the pandemic. Thinking about giving extra special thanks for being together this Thanksgiving and pondering over future travel destinations. Instead, we are buying space heaters for our garages, ordering more things online than we need, and wondering how safe it will be at Christmas to gather together with family. For me, it is wondering how cold I will be when gazing through the nursing home window as the harsh north wind blows across northern Iowa in January.


My random thoughts continue to flourish…focused plans of action, not so much!   


One good thing is I no longer have to worry about going the wrong way down the aisle at the grocery store. It seems I would often be going the wrong way and then notice “the look” from those who were paying attention. Even with a mask, one sees “the look.” I am thankful the arrows are gone.


I am also thankful for audiobooks. I am listening to The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. “Anger is effortless. Kindness is hard.” Such a fascinating story she weaves together. If you haven’t reserved it from the Lincoln City Libraries, you must!


When I was growing up, I would often stay with my grandma on Saturday evenings. I don’t know if she offered to let me stay or if my parents begged because they wanted to go out. But I remember Mom getting dressed up in her high heels and dropping me off in time to watch Mitch Miller and Lawrence Welk with Grandma. Grandma’s house was small, cozy, carpeted, warm and in town. Ours was a big old farmhouse with cold wood floors, especially upstairs. At least that’s how I remember it. Grandma had usually just made oatmeal raisin cookies before I arrived. Heaven on earth. What did we do without reality TV or Dancing with the Stars? We watched the Lennon Sisters! 

If I stayed with Grandma during the week, we watched As the World Turns.  It was her favorite soap opera. CBS at 1:00, Monday-Friday. She was a faithful viewer, giving her opinions on what they should be doing but not being critical, just observing.


What I remember most about my grandma was her goodness, her kindness, her generosity. Not just to me, but to everyone. Perhaps the generosity was a result of living through the Great Depression, surviving on so little and appreciating everything they had. Mom often talked about how much love they had in their tiny farmhouse with just two bedrooms and seven family members, and that most of the time they really didn’t realize how poor they were.  She said Grandma would always share what they did have with those who had even less.

When I was growing up, I helped Mom fill boxes with food for the nuns at Thanksgiving and Christmas because she knew they lived on a limited income. Perhaps they believed they had a guardian angel that would provide for them. I believe that angel was June Reiman.


It is still fascinating to me that my parents didn’t sit us down and talk about being kind, they just were. There was no yelling. I don’t even remember looks of frustration unless I just wasn’t noticing. They were not demeaning to anyone. They didn't criticize each other or anyone else. They were kind and generous and polite. They had conversations and they listened to each other. Does anyone ever use the word polite anymore? Does anyone even know what it means?


So when I watch the news, my heart is filled with joy at the segments showing the dedication of so many, especially during this great upheaval. I appreciate the Facebook posts showing gentle souls caring about others, working together for the common good. I appreciate journalists reporting kindness and generosity in this tumultuous world. I believe these are our most important values in spite of the rhetoric of the day. I will be happy when the political ads are over. I am ready for a more gentle world. I need a more gentle world.


And as the world turns and random thoughts continue to rumble through my head, I still choose to believe kindness matters.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

We're complicated

By JoAnne Young


I recently perused an article in a national publication written by a young Nebraska journalist about voter opinions in “flyover country.” It was going fine until I reached the paragraphs that slipped into typecasting and pigeonholing of the people in our state. 


You’ve heard how Nebraska is frequently described as a “culture of politeness,” “Nebraska nice,” a “red state.” 


Our governor has called Nebraska a “prolife state.”


State senators often describe the people of Nebraska as having one mind about whatever topic they are trying to sell. 


And then there’s the stereotyping that goes beyond borders … to descriptions of young people or older people, conservatives or liberals. Name a group, there’s a label, a drawer to stick them in and shove shut. 


But really, we’re not of one mind. Even identical twins have differences.


We’re complicated. 


We don’t have “a shared aversion to petty” and “unproductive conflict.” Plenty of us are not above pettiness and unproductive conflict.


Even a University of Nebraska-Lincoln article this year was swimming in stereotypes. 


The author wrote: “What makes (Nebraskans) stay, generation after generation, in what some call ‘flyover country?’” What makes them stay through long, cold winters and long, hot summers, often hearing someone say, ‘It could be worse.’”


Yeah, what does make them stay? Because I have two adult children who left after college, to California and Colorado, and may never return. I know other young people who have fled the area to more accepting states, maybe never to return. 


But here’s the thing. It’s hard for politicians to talk about, and for reporters to write about, our complicated natures; it’s easier to believe that talking to a few translates to the many. It’s less easy to put the more common five different opinions into one narrative or story, and certainly into a headline. 


That’s why we get “Nebraska nice” as a state brand, instead of “Nebraska nice, grumpy, smart, rude, uneducated, brilliant, progressive, conservative, compassionate, self-centered, well-traveled, homebodies, vanilla, colorful, funny, sarcastic … .”


On any given day, we can be a few, none, or all of those descriptors. 


We’re messy. Our opinions are contradictory at times. We can be predictable and surprising.


Many of us surround ourselves with those of like minds. But not all of us. And sometimes, even those of us who do, are willing to step out of that zone and get uncomfortable for a few minutes each day or each week, or at least each month. 


What I am hoping for, if we can stop thinking of ourselves as a singular subject, is a pride in diversity. Not just red or blue, but the non-primary purple, green and orange. 


I love that my Apple watch calls the display information you can choose from “complications.” They are those widgets that add information to the watch face beyond the time, complicating both the watch and the watch making. And making improvements. 


So, may we be complicated. 


And may we all in this state grow to love our diversity and embrace our differences. 

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Air Between Us....

By Marilyn Moore

“The air between us...” a phrase uttered by Edward, a teenage boy who is the main character in the novel Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano.  This is the story of a boy who is the sole survivor of an airplane crash.  In the novel, Edward has to rebuild his life – physically, cognitively, socially, emotionally…in absolutely every way, while living with his aunt and uncle, in a home that is new to him, a new community, a new school, and blessedly, a new best friend, Shay, a girl his own age, who lives next door, who manages the just right balance of “watches out for him,” and “cuts him no slack.”

His high school physics teacher introduces him to the Large Hadron Collider and the research on particle physics, attempting to answer the questions of the smallest particles, their speed, their behavior, their relationship to one another.  In Edward’s mind, the questions are at the very heart of existence….his, and everyone else’s.  And as the story draws to an end, and Edward is healing, is stronger in every way, he reflects on all the people who were a part of his re-building process – especially his uncle, his physics teacher, his principal, and Shay.  And in reflecting, he utters the words, “The air between us…is not dead space.”

I’m struck by Edward’s story, for so many reasons.  I started my career as a middle school teacher, and I shall always and forever have a special place in my heart for the students in the middle.  Edward was 12 when the plane crashed, right in the middle of middle school, which is a hard growing-up time for most early adolescents.  Like Edward, I’m attracted to the wonders of our world revealed by the physicists, and the metaphors for life from particle physics.  And like Edward, I wonder about the air between us…and I so agree that it is anything but dead space.

Right now, the air between us feels unstable, like that of an approaching storm.  Or perhaps that in the midst of the storm.  It feels like it’s fast moving, and it’s loud, and it’s disruptive.  On one of my walking routes, I walk the bike trail along Highway 2 between 17th and 27th Streets.  Lots of traffic on the highway, everything from huge semis to SUVs to motorcycles, all going fast, whoosh.  It’s my metaphor for the past three weeks, beginning with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death….a big whoosh.  And before we could grieve and mourn and celebrate her life, the nomination of another justice, at an event that turned into a super spreader for Covid-19….another big whoosh.  And then, the first presidential debate….great big whoosh.  Followed by the announcement that the President was diagnosed with Covid-19…another big whoosh.  Followed by the vice-presidential debate, complete with fly, and for every woman, seeing all over again the reality that men talk over and interrupt women all the time….great big whoosh.  

And the other events that make the headlines, like rapidly increasing cases of Covid and deaths from Covid, and George Floyd’s alleged murderer is free on bond, and Breonna Taylor’s killer is not charged with her death, and governors try to limit election drop boxes but are stopped by judges from doing so, and a right-wing extremist group in Michigan plots to abduct the governor….every one of them, another whoosh…. 

And the other happenings, the everyday events in the lives of our neighbors….a friend’s daughter dies, another friend’s mother is once again isolated in a care facility, another friend recovers from a complicated surgery, a family member receives a concerning health report, a new baby is born, a marriage is celebrated in a very different way than planned a year ago…these are the events I’d like to give time and undivided attention to, but it’s hard, with all the whooshes from the rapid movement in the air between us.  

So what to make of the noisy, fast-paced, clanging, unstable air between us?  As always, I’m searching for connections.  Those fast-moving vehicles, they’re connecting – people to jobs, family members to family members, goods to consumers, services to those who need them, people who need to get away from it all for a while.  And all those loud and disruptive whooshes in our political and civic life…they’re reminding us that we’re connected to one another, too.  Connected by our shared life in a world, a nation, a community, with both opportunity and responsibility to make it better.  Indeed, the major disruptors of the past seven months – the pandemic, the racial tensions made real and visible again (which are rooted in centuries of systemic racism), the 2020 election – all are outward and visible signs of our connectedness with one another, and the challenges of those disruptors will be resolved only by strengthening the connections between and amongst us. 

It is my hope that the air between us will be strengthened by decisions we make, decisions that honor the expertise of science, decisions that affirm the greater good, decisions that lift one another up, decisions to listen, to learn, to love.  (The social studies teacher in me is compelled to note that the way we make collective, community decisions is through voting.  If you’re not yet registered to vote, it’s not too late.)  It is my hope that as we strengthen connections, the noise, or the pace of the noise, or the stress from the noise, will diminish, and that we know that by tending to the new baby, the isolated grandparent, the grieving parent, we’re also affirming and strengthening those life-giving connections.  The air between us is not dead space…it is what we create it to be.  What an awesome obligation…what an awesome gift.  

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