Days, Weeks, Months, Years

I remember March 12, and the school secretary telling me that her family had to make a decision about going south to Florida for the March Break.  I suggested that they go, especially because all the kids were looking forward to the sun and sand, but I also mentioned that they should stay away from Disney World.  Seems like ancient advice now.  I was thinking “It’s only nine days.  Not a problem.”

Over time, any thought of “days” has become irrelevant in this time of coronavirus.  The discussion soon blended into “weeks”.  The Ontario Premier announced that after March Break, the kids would be away from school for a further two weeks.  “That’s okay.  I’ll have lots of time for meditating, and reading books, and watching cool movies.  Plus I’ll see the kids again on April 6” … which happens to be today.  School now won’t return until at least May 4.  “Hey, that’s only four more weeks.  We’ll keep our physical distancing going for that time, and then I’ll be able to go out to Boston Pizza for a beer again.”

Or not.

There’s a newer word that’s crept into the conversations of politicians and health officials – “months”.  Perhaps the school year is over.  I volunteer in a Grade 5/6 class in a school where the 6’s graduate.  So maybe I’ll never see them as a group again.  Perhaps there won’t be any US Open tennis tournament for me to go to at the beginning of September.  I’ve been so looking forward to being in New York City and watching the best players in the world hit the ball back and forth!

A few days ago, Doug Ford, the Ontario Premier, gave us dire projections of coronavirus death in our province.  Hidden amid the 3,000 to 15,000 figures (if we maintain physical distancing and good hand-washing) was a smaller number – “2”.  Ontario health officials  think that the pandemic could be with us for another 18 months to 2 years.  Oh my.

So it could be that not only I won’t see the Grade 6 kids again, but also the Grade 5’s.  Oh … immense sadness at the prospect.

Will it be two years before I can go to a party again?
Before I can have breakie with other local folks at the Belmont Diner?
Before I can hug my friends?

The future draws us forward with its unseen arms

Skye and Dad

Sometimes CNN pulls my heart out and leaves it lying on the floor.

Conrad Buchanan was a 39-year-old DJ in Florida.  He died from the coronavirus last week.  On March 14, he woke up unwell.  Soon his wife Nicole tried to get him tested but her request was turned down. Conrad was too young and didn’t have any underlying medical conditions.

Days later Conrad was having trouble breathing.  “The 22nd was when I brought him to the hospital.  I never saw him again.”  Staff intubated him (inserted a breathing tube into his airway so a ventilator could push air into his lungs).  Since the hospital was on lockdown, Nicole wasn’t allowed to enter the building.  “I never got to say ‘I love you.'”

Skye is Nicole and Conrad’s daughter.  She loves ballet.  She loves her dad.  “He would do dances with me.”  Conrad even showed up for a “daddy-daughter thing” at the ballet school.  “It was funny because he could perform in front of like millions of people when he DJ’d, but when he danced … it wasn’t the best.”

“We just overall shared everything.  He brought me to school.  He brought me to ballet.  He was my everything.”

Interviewer:  “Skye, give us one last thought on how you want us all to think of your father.”

“I thought he was pretty cool.  I think even if people don’t know him, he brightened up everyone’s day.  Just think of him dearly, you know.  Find your rhythm in life.  Listen to the beat.  Dance and express yourself in order to connect with people from all walks of life.”

Thank you, Skye.

 

 

 

Meditating

I often ask myself how I can contribute to people during this time of coronavirus.  The physical basics are clear: Keep myself well so I don’t infect anyone.  Wash my hands a lot … for twenty seconds.  Stay at least six feet away from other human beings.

In the emotional and spiritual arena, I’ve been on the phone with local friends and on Zoom with friends from far away.  On my daily walks, I really say hi to those who come my way.

All of this is good.

This morning I decided to meditate for a long time.  I sensed that this was another way to impact the world.  You may be asking “How can sitting in a chair for an hour and emptying your mind do any good in this crisis?”  And I don’t have a rational answer for you.  As I reflect on this right now, with my laptop on my lap, I simply know, at some mysterious level, that my time in meditation makes a difference.

Just so you know, there’s no emptying the mind of thoughts.  Trying to get rid of them doesn’t work.  By grace, over time, the thoughts lessen in intensity, duration and frequency.  And so it was this morning.  The space within was clear and quiet.  The bouncing ball at one point just stopped bouncing.  Later on, a few bounces returned, but they faded away again.

I didn’t feel like I was sending love to all of us swimming through the pandemic.  For a long time the word “give” was with me as I sat in the chair, but it was like I was in the middle of giving and being given to, rather than an active doer.  Then even “give” disappeared.  The awareness of love disappeared.  All was quiet.  There was radiation outward for awhile … then that too went “Poof!”

I sat for nearly two hours.  Near the beginning, thoughts of setting a new time record came, and thankfully went.  For the rest of the time, there was no feeling of achievement, no feeling of Bruce.  But something was cooking.   Once again, I know this is true.

Am I deluded?  No
Am I strange?  Yes
Am I contributing?  For sure

Overreacting

This morning, I was watching “The Sunday Scrum” on CBC News Network.  There was a moderator and four panelists, all grappling with the coronavirus.  At one point, a woman said “Let’s bring in the army.”  Two of her colleagues reacted with stunned faces, and then said that this reaction would be “over the top”.  It seems to me that the other two folks danced around the issue.

The army?  Sounds like a doomsday movie where looters are shot on sight.  But that wasn’t at all what the woman was proposing.

We’re in the middle of  “There’s a big problem.  What do we do?”  Since early March, the Canadian Government has slowly ratcheted up its solutions:

1. We recommend that …
2. It is strongly advised that …
3. You are ordered to … (no consequences mentioned)
4. You are ordered to … (mild consequences mentioned)
5. You are ordered to … (hefty fines and possibly jail terms mentioned)
6. You are ordered to … (police active in fining and arresting people)

According to the Canada Census, about 37,500,000 Canadians were alive in 2019, and about 30,400,000 of them were adults.  If 95% of us adults are abiding by the directives for physical distancing, staying away from groups and washing our hands, that would leave about 1,520,000 who aren’t.

In 2018, the estimated number of police officers in Canada was 68,562. Divide one by the other and you get 22.  That’s the number of coronavirus offenders that each officer would have to keep track of, as well as doing their other duties.  And really, are 95% of us following the rules?  Plus left out of this guesswork are young people up to the age of 17.

I say invoke the Emergencies Act.  This would allow the deployment of the Armed Forces across our country.  It’s not a restriction of our civil liberties.  For we are not at liberty to infect others and increase the spread of this disease.

If this is overreacting in the usual way of thinking, I’m okay with it.  We need to save ourselves.

Where Is Everybody?

If you read yesterday’s post, you know that my task today was to search through the 156 episodes of the original Twilight Zone TV series to find some guidance in this time of coronavirus.

I started at the very beginning.  Episode One of Season One was telecast on October 2, 1959.  The fold-out card that came with the DVDs described “Where Is Everybody?” this way:

Earl Holliman stars as a man on the edge of hysteria in an oddly deserted town.  Despite the emptiness, he has the strangest feeling that he’s being watched.

Was this promising for my mission?  I didn’t know.  Perhaps Wikipedia could help.  A minute later, the plot of Episode One lay before me.  And it was indeed promising.

***

On my walks in and near Belmont, there haven’t been many people to say “Hi” to.  Even the cars seem to be hunkered down in their driveways and garages.  But at least the birds are still in full song.  Overall, it’s eerie.  Out in the country, I scan the horizon for walking human beings, hoping that they won’t turn off before reaching me.

***

On my TV, a young man is alone on a country road, approaching a town.  Our host, Rod Serling, sets the stage:

The place is here.  The time is now.  And the journey into the shadows that we’re about to watch could be our journey.

It certainly is.

Main Street is empty.  “Anybody here?  Hey!  Hey!”

There’s a woman sitting in a car across the street.  “I don’t seem to remember who I am,” he calls out.  But she’s a mannequin.

The phone is ringing in a telephone booth.  He sprints, longing for a voice to be with.  There is one at the other end of the line … a recording.

A church bell tones through the silence, echoing.

There’s a diner kitty corner, and the man finds ice cream, but no people.  He watches himself in a mirror as the delicious flavour goes down.  No joy.

“I’d like to find somebody to talk to!”

The man bursts into a movie theatre … row upon row of empty seats.  A film is showing but the projection room is empty.

It turns out that this was a military experiment to assess the ability of prospective astronauts to cope with the emptiness of space.  The assessors are blunt:  “He cracked … It’s a kind of nightmare that your mind manufactured for you.”

As the credits rolled, so did Rod’s words:

The barrier of loneliness: the palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man.  Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation.  It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting … in The Twilight Zone.

***

My friends, we have resources beyond the physical …

Telephoning
Texting
E-mailing
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Skype
Zoom

Let’s use them

Words

I’m imagining a world in which the words we use to describe the coronavirus have far different meanings.  Somewhere inside, I trust that this world will come to be.

Transmission

What can we transmit from person to person?  Could it be love, peace, a feeling of deep connection?  Perhaps it will be unspoken, brought into being through a mysterious sense of “being with”.

Viral

What can spread rapidly, frequently being shared among human beings?  Can your kind words propel me towards offering similar messages to the people I meet?  Can the speed increase, so that folks in a meeting all feel the speaker’s goodness?

Distancing and Self-Isolation

How about keeping sixty feet away from toxic speech and actions?  Someone’s complaining, stereotyping and excluding can’t touch me from there.

Quarantine

An ancient meaning is to spend forty days in penance or fasting.  Can we take a month of our lives, and while still getting things done, meditate on kindness … and allow it to flow from us?

Index Case

If we’re looking for the first instance of a phenomenon in a geographical area, perhaps we’ll find a stunning example of generosity, of spiritual communion, of grace.  And we can follow that example.  His or her leadership can be contagious.

Pandemic

Deme is a word in biology which refers to “a local population of organisms of the same kind”.  It is from the Greek word demos, meaning “a district, the people”.  So … what can unite us as we travel this road of life together?  I know.  We all have eyes.  Perhaps in the future we will simply spend a lot of time gazing softly into each other’s.

 

 

Doctor Wenliang

Doctor Li Wenliang was a 34-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan, China.  He died in February of Covid-19.  In December he heard disturbing reports about people who had become ill after going to a local market.  He did some research and his eyes opened horribly wide.  The illnesses looked like SARS.

So … what do you do, especially in a country like China, where speaking up is often followed by being shut up?  “What will happen to me if tell the truth as I see it?  What will happen to my family?”

Doctor Wenliang spoke up.

Li sent a message to his medical-school alumni group on December 30 warning that seven patients had been quarantined at Wuhan Central Hospital after coming down with a respiratory illness that seemed like the SARS coronavirus.

“When I saw them circulating online, I realized that it was out of my control and I would probably be punished,” Li told CNN.

What would it be … a government hit squad knocking down his door and dragging him away in front of his screaming children?  His personhood disappearing, due to some “indeterminate cause”?

Doctor Wenliang was no doubt terrified, while remaining absolutely committed to humanity.

The police did come, with a letter for Li to sign:

[We are] now filing an official warning and admonitions to you on the illegal issue of posting untrue statements on the Internet according to the law.  Your behavior severely disrupts social order.  Your behavior has exceeded the scope permitted by the law and violates the relevant provisions of “The Public Security Administration Punishment Law of the People’s Republic of China”, which is an illegal act!  The police authority hopes that you can co-operate with our work, listen to the admonishment by the police officers and stop conducting illegal activities.

We hope that you calm down and reflect carefully, and solemnly warn you: if you continue to be stubborn without any regret, and carry out illegal activities, you will be punished by the law!  Do you understand?

At the bottom of the letter, Doctor Wenliang signed, and wrote “Yes, I do.”

In a formal statement at this time, the police said they would “investigate and punish with zero tolerance these illegal acts that fabricate and spread rumours and disrupt social order”.

Your light will shine for a very long time, Doctor.

 

What To Say?

I don’t know what to say.  And so I’ve said nothing to you for the past eleven days. “How can I write anything of value when the virus is so new and overwhelming for me?”  Well, perhaps now is the time to start.  If anything I say turns out to be helpful to even one person, then I (finally) feel the responsibility to say it.

I have no symptoms and I’m self-isolating at home.  I go for a long walk every day but other than that it’s a lot of couch time with my friends CBC News Network and CNN.  I’m 71, and I want to protect both me and my neighbours.  No doubt like you, this prolonged period of being physically alone feels so strange.

I miss the kids at school, and when my walks take me by their homes I keep hoping that a young one will bounce out their front door and say “Hi, Mr. Kerr.”  And a few times that’s happened.  Being away from children shows me in spades how deeply I value my face time with them.

***

I’ve watched countless interviews and press conferences.  How rarely does a politician answer a reporter’s question.  There’s a mountain of words spewing forth but also a sense of tapdancing around the truth.  When the official finally wraps up their comments, I long for a reporter to say “You didn’t answer my question.”  But I have yet to hear those words.  Yesterday, someone asked a health official “How many respirators are there in Canada?”  As the non-answer droned on for at least three minutes, I felt my exhale draw the life out of me.  But then, wonder of wonders, I heard the final word: “5000”.  So I’m hopeful that the truth will increasingly be revealed.

***

The Premier of Nova Scotia just gave a press conference, in which he declared a state of emergency for his province.  No more than five people gathered together.  Strict self-isolation for positive cases of the coronavirus.  And … the police will be on the streets enforcing these measures.  People who don’t follow these public health orders will be fined $1000 per day until they do.  Thank you, dear Nova Scotia Premier.  A clear principle of classroom management is the use of judicious consequences for breaking rules.  Clearly, adults need these as well.

***

I’m glad I wrote these words.  There’s a place for me within our worldwide response to this crisis.  I don’t know what I’ll say tomorrow, but I’ll see you then.