Days of Introspection and Reckoning

It is a time of introspection for me, a time for me to once again confront the possible limitations of my own humanity. This time, my internal conversation is about my latent biases.

I think that those of us who happen to be privileged in some way or the other cannot help but have our own biases. Regardless of whether our parents tried to inculcate the right set of values in us, regardless of whether we were taught that all human beings are the same regardless of our race or background, or creed, people can end up feeling not just different, but maybe even superior. I am probably guilty of that even if my first reaction is to try to deny it.

At this time, my thinking is mainly focused on racism against blacks in America. I want to spend some time thinking about my learning process in this regard. As a young person growing up in India, I was not very knowledgeable about the experience of the African American people. I knew about slavery, and I had read Roots by Alex Haley as a youngster before I came to the United States. I also knew about the civil war and events associated with it. That was probably the extent of my exposure. I remember seeing movies from the USIS that talked about America, but the plight of the former slaves was not one of the topics that was touched upon. Lets admit it, the USIS was mainly peddling in propaganda that only presented the country in a positive light.

Before I came to the United States, I did not know much about the Civil Rights movement. I did not know anything about Jim Crow, or the events of the South in those days, in places like Birmingham, Durham, Selma, etc… I had not heard of the Freedom Riders. My real education on this topic started when I came here in 1980 for my higher studies. I would like to believe that I did not have any inherent biases against people of other races that I interacted with when I arrived as a graduate student. I encountered people from all over the world in the university, and we were all going through the same experiences in the same set of circumstances. But I am not sure now if I am remembering things correctly.

My regular trips from the university where I studied to New York City opened up my eyes a little bit to the black inner-city experience of that time. It was not a very happy introduction. You have to first remember that those times were, in general, especially bad for NYC as a whole. The city was still recovering from near-bankruptcy in the 1970s, and the infrastructure was in real bad shape. Times Square was still a red-light district. There were a lot of homeless people in the city, and they seemed to be mainly black. There were people hanging out in street corners who seemed to be looking for trouble. You had to be careful wherever you went because the city could be a dangerous place. There was graffiti and rubbish everywhere. The place was dirty. I remember being attacked by a bunch of kids one evening on a street near Columbia University. I remember the smelly and graffiti-covered subway cars that I traveled on. Often, there were homeless people sleeping on the cars. But I was young, and I found NYC to be a fascinating place. I used to love to travel on the subway system. I tried to experience every subway line there was, and every destination. I even bought a book about the subway (I think I still have it), and also resolved to cover all of the many lines of the subway system within a 24 hour period. Thank goodness I never attempted that in real life. On a different occasion, I remember being stopped by a plainclothes agent of the law (I was not sure he was an official policeman) for inspection at the Pelham Bay Park station, a terminus, because there had been some incident at some previous station on the line. The person wanted to make sure I was not involved in a crime. He let me go after a few minutes. I loved to wander around Central Park. New York City was my backyard, and I really experienced a lot of what it had to offer to a young person living on a shoestring budget.

One of the things you noticed about New York City was that there are a lot of people who were not well off who actually lived there. This was in spite of the fact that the place was very expensive. In my mind, the white man would commute every weekday morning to the downtown area from his suburban home – for his high paying job some big financial company, in one of the massive skyscrapers that dominated downtown. He would arrive in the morning for his work, and then disappear back to his comfortable suburb as soon as he was done in the evening. Such people were actually scared of the real city, and did not seem to want to have anything to do with it. The downtown areas used to become empty shells in the evening, abandoned by the better-off. The other rich who could afford it would live in the expensive apartment buildings around Central Park. The rest of the people who lived in the city were spread out over the five boroughs, depending on the levels of income, and depending on whether they were able to find a rent-stabilized apartment in a reasonably good neighborhood. Many people lived in high-rise apartment complexes in NYC. The poorer you were, the further away you were from downtown. Some of the apartment complexes in the outer boroughs of NYC looked like remains from a battle-zone. Many seemed to have been abandoned. In some cases, all that was left was what looked like a shell. Some of the buildings had fences around them to prevent them from being using for nefarious activities, like drug dealing. Most of the people who seemed to hang around these spaces seemed to be black. And you could ask yourself why things turned out that way for the blacks who occupied these spaces, and you could reach different conclusions based on your biases, and based on how much real studying you bothered to do about the history of the black people in the USA. That was the way it was in the 1980s for me.

We now live in Montgomery County in Maryland. It is a diverse community overall, and we would like to believe that we are enlightened, but I wonder. In spite of all its affluence, there are pockets of poverty, and places where people need help. People who are well off do not generally wander to these places. I have tried to tell myself that I am one of the enlightened people who understands where people come from, but how can I be so sure. I try to keep up with all aspects of American History these days, not just from the perspective of the White Man, so that I know what I am talking about. I have educated myself about the time of Jim Crow. I have educated myself about the Civil Rights Movement. I learned about the experiences of people of those times who spoke up, people like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. I have listened to the speeches of MLK. We have watched shows like 13th, and When They See Us by younger film makers like Ava DuVernay. I learned about the workings of police forces all over the country. I learned about the Southern Democrats, and about the Freedom Riders, Birmingham, Selma. I learned about Rosa Parks, and discrimination, and lynching. I learned about the biases and the racism in the system. The white people actually thought they were superior human beings in those days, and, even though they may not admit it, many probably still have a few subconscious biases about this even to today.

And we now arrive at this moment in the history of this country, and the horrible incidents of today. I tell others that in order to understand the situation properly and achieve empathy, you have to study the history that brought us to this point. But now I am not convinced that even this is sufficient. Something more basic has to change. So I continue to try to educate myself about myself even more. Teresa and I watched the videos of Jane Elliot. We realize that there are insidious ways in which we can develop our biases, and it is not just about color. It is not simply a matter of empathy. It is not just a matter of knowing the true story. There is something more basic within oneself that is not good that is just waiting to come out. I realize that I have developed my own biases without really thinking about it. I really need to act with more thought and purpose in each and every moment going forward.

Today, we listen to the many, many, voices, some of them young, providing perspectives on the lives of the black people, especially in the inner cities. Social and news media are, thankfully, providing the outlets for people to speak. And I have hope. There is a significant push back from the black community every time some kind of police-on-black atrocity takes place, and it has become more and more effective. The voices are being heard, and they are voices that speak with a clarity of vision. They speak with reason. And I become a little hopeful that the push back will trigger some real change.

The first major backlash I remember from police on black violence in recent times was after the beating of Rodney King in 1991. The only reason why people knew about the incident was because somebody had made a video recording of it. Similar backlash, and accompanying violence, happened big time most recently in Ferguson, MO, when Michael Brown was murdered by a cop. Many other incidents have happened in the time between Rodney King and Michael Brown. The police officer got off without any punishment in Ferguson, just as has happened countless times in the past every time blacks have been killed by cops. Unfortunately, the focus of the press and others in these situations in the past seemed to be on the violent aftermaths. So, it is a legitimate question to wonder if things could go in a different direction this time.

I do think it is possible! One of the differences is that the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis was so blatant that it is not just the blacks in the community who are outraged and are actively responding. And the response to the murder is happening not just in Minneapolis. It is happening not just in the USA. It is happening everywhere! The press has picked up on the important narrative of racism, injustice, and police violence. The white people in the country are actually joining the marches in large numbers. And the youth of all backgrounds are involved. And it is also multi-generational. And the police have responded in many places with their entire arsenal of military-grade hardware and shown their true colors by using these against the citizens. And every single thing that happens out there is being video-recorded. Every mindless violent act of an out-of-control police officer gets shown to the whole world. I think every reasonable person who sees the official violence has to be angry. And , for a change, social and television media has been very good at amplifying the positive messages coming from the protestors. I hope for something concrete to happen before the momentum fades away.

But a reactive response to the moment is not sufficient. We need fundamental change in our mindset as a society. A band-aid simply will not cut it. It is going to take much more hard work by every single one of us to get a better understanding of our our biases and our racism, and to effect real change. It is not easy.

I want to conclude with a few links that caught my attention.

This is a interview on CNN.
https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/06/10/cornel-west-george-floyd-cooper-ac360-vpx.cnn

Here is a blog about the murals that are coming up in Minneapolis in the aftermath of the shooting.
The George Floyd Murals of Minneapolis: A Demand for Justice, Hope and a Better Humanity

There are moments of humanity in the middle of the violence. Here is a nice story.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/06/breonna-taylor-protesters-protected-lone-lmpd-officer/3166914001/

We shall overcome.

Dear World, We Are So Sorry

Dear World,

We are so sorry we cannot cooperate and work with the rest of you in this time of the COVID-19 crisis.  This is because, unfortunately, our government has broken down and become completely dysfunctional.  In the past, in times of disasters, we were happy to take on a leadership role – to help with the direction and coordination, to provide support and assistance to the rest of the world as needed.   With our outstanding capabilities in science, medicine, and technology, with our robust government structures, and with our access to plentiful resources, we used to be well positioned to respond when needed.

But times have changed.  We have a big mess on our hands over here right now.  It looks like we cannot even take care of ourselves properly.  Our leaders have no idea what leading means, even within the context of our own country.  The president is missing in action.  We have set out on a destructive path that will lead to people dying in large numbers.

We are incapable of coming up with any kind of real plan to tackle the coronavirus.  Instead of doing the hard work that is needed on so many different fronts to fight the fight, the career conman who is in charge is engaged in preening and self-aggrandizement, and in trying to find ways to get a leg up in the coming elections. There is not a concern for the fact that too many people are dying.   They are collateral damage.  Bluster and bombast and outright lies rule the day.  Inputs from scientists and doctors are being ignored in policy decisions.  The apparatus of the government bureaucracy that has been so effective in the past has been damaged in a bad way.  Politically appointed hacks and yes-men, many unqualified, rule the roost, and they run amok playing their games for the benefit of our master of the con game. There is also nepotism going on at the highest level. It would be comical if it were not so sad.  There is no going back for the next few months.  It is a complete disaster.

Dear World, I hope you now better understand why we are unable to work with you.  In fact, our leader has made it clear that he is not interested in cooperation with any of you in any real sense.  Also, quite clearly, many of you are doing a much, much, better job than us in handling the pandemic.  I know that all of you are getting restless with the current situation – just like those of us here in the USA.  How much of social distancing can one take?  You want to break out of isolation, engage with other human beings person-to-person, and get on with life like it used to be. Please keep the faith and do what is right for humanity.  Know that many of us in the US are being quite reckless in our behaviors in this regard, unfortunately often at the prompting of our supreme leader and his minions. It is definitely resulting in a death toll that is unprecedented in recent times.

I would guess that even after all of you have managed to get this contagion under some kind of control, we will still be scrambling – flailing in various directions, wasting our time and energies, fighting. Many will probably still be dying.  There is no common strategy or set of rules in our country to handle the situation.  At some point in time, I expect that neighboring states that have different approaches to handling the pandemic could even end up tussling with each other in order to make sure that their own borders are protected from contagion.  Fissures have even developed within state boundaries. These are, in fact, encouraged by our great leader, the “stable genius”. In fact, even after you guys open up your economies and your borders, you are going to have to watch out for us.  We are not likely to be as prepared as you are.  We may be in a position to cause further worldwide damage.

Do not worry about us.  I will admit that the situation is scary, and somehow seems unreal, but we will manage. The mortality rate with this virus being what it is, many of us will still survive in spite of the astounding overall stupidity. People who believe in the science are themselves trying to be careful. We also have some sensible governors.  And the percentages are still relatively low.

We are OK.  One does not have to dwell on the absurdity of the situation all the time.  We can compartmentalize things in the mind.  Other aspects of life still go on.   For example, there is interesting news on the space exploration front.  Did you know that SpaceX and NASA are scheduled to jointly launch the first manned US space flight since 2011 this month?  The two-member crew entered pre-flight quarantine (standard operation procedure as I understand it) yesterday. 

On a personal note, it was warm enough for me to go running outside the house yesterday.  Did so for the first time this year.  I had been using the treadmill thus far.  Covered 6 miles, and I felt great. It was certainly an endorphin high!  There was also less traffic on the road. I think I must have also been breathing cleaner air.

Before I end, I would be remiss not to mention, once again,  the major positive that has come out of all of this, which is the response of the many citizens on the front lines who are doing their jobs and protecting the rest of us, all of this while the national leadership flounders. People are stepping up to help others.  Citizenship includes working for the common good.

Dear World, some day, after a vaccine is developed, we can join you guys in closer fellowship.  Or perhaps the elections will allow us to bring some sense to the conversation more quickly.  This too shall pass.  In the meantime, we would not blame you, the rest of the world, if you felt it essential for your own safety to maintain a travel ban to and from the USA for a longer period of time than expected.  That would be sad for those of us who have very close connections all over the world, but some of us would understand.

Once again, sorry for our mess, and sorry that we cannot work with the rest of you. We have our own battles to fight.  We wish you all the best.

With you in solidarity during these troubled times.

Passages of Time – Let the Music Play on (8/1/2014)

This is a letter I sent to my former high school classmates in 2014.  I studied at a school called Central School, or Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV), in Chennai (formerly Madras) in India.

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“On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

It feels like life in recent times has been particularly eventful for me, especially in the context of deaths of people that I have known one way or the other. Starting with my sister’s father-in-law’s death towards the end of last year, and continuing with my own father-in-law’s death while we were in India, including a good friend’s mother’s death around the time of my FIL’s passing away , and continuing with the recent news of the passing of PN Sreeniwas, and the latest – the death of a parishioner in our church a few days ago.  (She had been very a very active person in social outreach programs and was actually younger than me – a tragic loss.)  We did also lose a member of our acapella chorus to cancer earlier this year.  He was also younger than me.  There have been others.  I will mention Suma’s dad in particular even though I did not know him.  Ramu also lost his dad not too long ago.  We have lost a few other former teachers from KV recently.  We are at that age where our elders who are still in this world are in the end-game of their lives, and we ourselves happen to be vulnerable to the ravages of middle-age.  Cancer appears to be a common scourge.  While we mourn all the good people that we have lost, we perhaps also cannot help wondering how vulnerable we ourselves are, perhaps even feeling that we have become more vulnerable with the passage of time.

But we also know that death is simply an unavoidable component of the pattern of life. It is the nature of life that there is death at the end of it. One does not make sense without the other. The body does deteriorate with time even if the spirit may not.  We might find ways to extend our lives, but the end is inevitable.  Is there a reason to get depressed about all of this? Can we afford to be afraid of our destinies?  If it is inevitable, what is the point in worrying?  Should we not simply focus on taking care of things today?  Should we not straighten out our relationships with the world today?  We should not postpone things – because the tomorrow that you are waiting for may never come.  We could celebrate each day as if it might be our last, and find a way to ignore what is irrelevant in this regard.  For me to try to keep this kind of a perspective is difficult, but I must try.

Other than the cycle of life and death, I have found other ways of marking the passage of time in my life.   In my own case, I am very aware of how quickly the world is changing around me. Because of my overall background, it is the rapid development and use of new technologies for communication and entertainment that I particularly think about.  The rate of change is amazing even to me.  But the experiences in life that I identify with most, as far as marking the passage of time is concerned, have to do with the popular music of the times.   When a piece of music plays, my brain automatically tends to identify it with a period of time in my life.  Getting back to childhood, I have some very faint memory of my mom noting some music from the Beatles even when I was very very young (we must have just returned from our stay in the US).  During the period of life that includes my teenage years, I usually listened to contemporary music.  It was the music of Hindi movies that my mom played and sang to on the radio. And it was the English music that was locally broadcast, and which also came from far off countries and continents over the shortwave frequencies.  I was a child of the music of the 60s and 70s, and it will always remain that way.

My dad bought us a stereo system at home at some point, and I ended up buying music on vinyl from a store on Mount Road regularly.  (Anyone remember The Bay City Rollers?  In hindsight, their music was not very good. (sample)) The 80s came by, and I was a graduate student at Stony Brook before I started working in New Jersey. I ended up collecting older music in the CD format that was becoming popular at that time, while still continuing to listen to contemporary 80s music, both pop and rock, mostly on the radio. In general, there is less music from this era that brings that feeling of warmth, but there is still good music to be found and even bought (sample).  The 90’s rolled by, and by this time, I begin to feel like I was becoming dated.  There was less music that I could identify with, but, as a part of a continuing process that had started earlier on, I was getting more into the older music of a time before I was born.  I was getting more exposure to the original music of America – mostly jazz and the blues. Our kids are born during this period of time, and they spend their life listening to daddy’s music.

While I do get to listen to the music of the 21st century on occasion these days (when the kids turn on the radio and I am not in control), I do not go looking for it, and I do not quite identify with it.

But I am getting older, and nostalgia is only a matter of time.  The music that was once rejected has now become more familiar, and is capable of putting me in that unique frame of mind that comes with listening to some of my other older pieces of music.   I am not prepared yet to admit that the pop music of the 80s was anything more than atrocious, but I am enjoying it (perhaps in the same manner that I enjoy some of the atrocious music of the 70s).  It certainly makes me happy when I am exercising on the treadmill or cooking in the kitchen, and it also reminds me of a period of time in my life.  Time has passed, and I have changed.

I don’t know if I will live long enough to enjoy the music of the 90s. If and when that happens, it will be another milestone, another marker, for the passage of time in my life.  But it does not matter whether that happens or not.  I have to enjoy the music today.  Let the music play on.

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Making a Bad Situation Worse

It was a depressing morning.  The news is not that good these days.  And it was raining.  And it is still raining steadily outside as I edit this blog in the afternoon.  It feels damp and nasty.  You feel like nothing good can happen on a day like today.

I went out early in the morning to the grocery store, just after it had opened. I thought that I had the crowd beaten, especially since the store was supposed to be open only for people above a certain age.  Instead, I found a line of customers already waiting to enter. The inside of the store was also more crowded than I had expected.  Folks, in masks, were gamely trying practice physical distancing as they did their shopping.  It was so crowded that I even managed to crash my cart into another person’s at a busy intersection!

I feel depressed because of the way things are going in our country related to the pandemic.  I feel we are headed towards a medical disaster.  We are already setting records in terms of the numbers of people infected by the coronavirus, and also the dying.  We are Number 1 in a bad sense.   We don’t seem to recognize the irony of one of the most advanced nations on earth faring the worst when dealing with the pandemic.  Politics leads rather than science, and we are totally inept when it comes to acting in a united way as a nation.  And the pandemic is revealing all our flaws rather than high-lighting the positive attributes. One of the great positives is the way some of our citizens have come out to do the front-line work in dealing with this pandemic.  People are traveling across the state lines to be of assistance to others.  Surely our leaders owe them much more than their current efforts, helping them rather than making their work, and their lives, more difficult.

We are still in the middle of the battle.  Even as the numbers of the victims of the contagion increase, and even as we continue to break records (in a very bad way), some of our leaders, some even in charge of places with high risk factors, are ready to declare victory and open up places to business as usual. Some are even willing to call our response to the pandemic so far a great success story.  (Statements like these are almost Orwellian in nature.)  In reality, our chaotic and confusing approach to confronting the pandemic is only going to increase the time we have with this disease, and also increase the numbers of the dead.  It does not seem to matter to the reckless leaders.  If you are fortunate, you live in a state with a sensible leader.  Other leaders play with the lives of the people.  You can also forget about national leadership in the present situation.

I expect that it will take a while for the world to recover from the pandemic.  Life will not be the same for many people after the worst of the disease is over, even if some leaders promote the idea of a quick and complete recovery.  It is a high stakes con game that is going on.

All Aboard The Ship of Fools

The gospel reading last Sunday was about how St. Thomas came to believe in the resurrection of Christ.  He had to see the wounds in the hands of Jesus with his own eyes in order to believe.  It occurred to me that there is a similar dynamic in play in a story of today. The context is the response of some of us in the USA to the coronavirus.  (I know the analogy will not be perfect, and please do not take offense.)  In my modern version of the story, it is a tale of not listening to, or maybe just not accepting, what the scientists and doctors are telling us about the coronavirus.  It appears that some people will accept the facts about the virus only if they personally experience it.  They may have heard about what is happening in other places because of the virus, but since it has not not touched them, or anybody close to them, it is a matter of belief, and they do not appear to believe.   I say this in the context of some of the protests that are going on today against the lock downs.  Some people seem to be taking risks with their lives, and the lives of others, during these protests (or political rallies, depending on your point of view) that no sane person should.  The least that people could do is conduct their protests in a safe and sober manner, and acknowledge that the physical danger is real.  Reasonable people would probably take folks more seriously if they behaved more sensibly.  The protagonist in this whole story is the captain of the ship of fools.  The captain is incompetent and arrogant, to say the least. He is happy to stir up discord, and he does not seem to discourage or condone dangerous behavior.  He has pointed the ship towards the rocks, and I fear for the ship and the lives of the people on it.

In other news, food was prepared at the food bank last Tuesday for over 400 families. It is the highest number I have seen so far during this time of the coronavirus.  It was a tiring but very fulfilling morning doing the work of filling the boxes with food.  There was no time for a lunch break.  But I felt good.  There was plenty of food to give out.  The food bank had to purchase a lot of this food instead of depending on donations.  That may be a sign of the times.  Please support your local food bank!

Here is a picture of some of the boxes of food that were in the process being filled for customers.IMG_20200421_122736416

Another Spring Week in the Time of COVID-19

It was Easter, and we wanted to get back home from our Sunday morning walk along the canal before the live Easter service taking place on the Internet at noon.  I felt a little rushed because of the time constraint.   We ended up walking a little less than what we would have done normally.  The weather was also not ideal, but this was compensated for by the fact that there were a few more, even different, signs of Spring from the previous weekend.  Here are a few pictures.

We see squirrels in the park frequently, and we have sometimes even mistaken the noise that they make to be that of birds.   This particular one was observed just after we left Riley’s Lock.  I don’t think I have ever seen a squirrel carrying a bunch of leaves in its mouth like this.  Perhaps somebody reading this blog has a better idea of what is going on.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dogwood flowers were out by the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese flowers of Spring in the picture below are called Trillium.  There are other varieties of Trillium, with other colors, but this particular variety dominates the towpath.  I could not remember the name of this flower for the longest time after I first saw it.   I fear that my mind is becoming like a sieve. I have had the hardest time recollecting names of the flowers that I saw last Spring.  I am too dependent on the Internet!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe could hear beautiful music in the air as we approached the Horsepen Branch campsite.  The culprit was this wren sitting on a dead tree stump.  This was as close as I could get to it before it flew away.  What a wonderful bird – entertaining us in the morning!  Puts Pavarotti to shame!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you look carefully at the picture below, you will notice that the ducks’ heads are actually pointed towards the camera.  They are turned around 180° from where they would normally be pointing.  Maybe somebody knows why ducks behave this way.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course, Spring would not be complete without the dandelions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meanwhile, our world continues its adjustment to the presence of the coronavirus.  Many of us are getting more and more getting restless with the need to stay home bound. Many, many, people are also unable to make a living in the current environment.   Bills need to be paid.  Food needs to be placed on the table.  It becomes harder and harder with time to continue to accept that what we are putting ourselves through makes sense, especially in the context of the common good, but like it or not, that is a fact.  The first responders, health care professionals, and those ensuring our safety, continue to put their lives, and even the lives of their families, at risk.  Politicians are still being politicians, and are using all of this as an excuse to fulfill their own agenda.  People in power are also quite happy to deflect responsibility and play the blame game instead of solving problems.  Chaos, and a lack of will to take charge and do something concrete on a national scale, seems to reign at the highest levels of our government – even as the individual states  struggle without adequate support from above.  In a time of trouble, when you think we would come together, we are falling apart, not just in the country, but as a global community. I fear that this is all going to continue for a while.

Some of us that are more fortunate like to complain about how the coronavirus has impacted our lives. We are actually the lucky ones.  There are others who are really suffering, and are going to continue to suffer for a long time – much more than us.  I might worry about when I will be able to get a haircut, getting my car serviced, being able to meet my friends, or something else, but others have more basic needs that are not being fulfilled today.

I have to note that the last time I went to the food bank, there was not enough food for all the people who needed it that day.  We had to reduce the amount of food for each family from what they would normally have gotten.  I felt a little dispirited when I returned home that day.  I hope that this was a one-time event.  It would be hard to sit by without action if this continues.

At the Food Bank in the Time of COVID-19

I have been volunteering at the food bank once a week after returning, and recovering, from the trip to India.  I have been there on three successive Tuesdays packing food boxes for customers.  There have been changes in the procedures that are being followed every single time I have gone, in order to try to keep people working in the warehouse safe. They have been getting stricter with time.  We have had to be very flexible about working out the kinks in the new processes as they are being created.  The number of boxes that are being delivered to families has also been increasing with each week that passes by.

Guests and volunteers do not have free access to the Manna warehouse anymore.  They are very careful about who is allowed in.  They clean the place out regularly.  I noticed that something had been sprayed over the lockers the last time I was there.  Most likely, it was disinfectant.

The tables on which we pack the boxes of  perishable food for customers have been separated from each other by greater and greater distances each week that I have been there.  This is to try to separate people who are doing their jobs from each other.  They would ideally like to have only one person at each table at any time.  In practice, that is a goal that is very difficult to achieve.  We have also been using disposable gloves to do our work.  We change them as often as needed.  They have guidelines in this regard, but the guidelines are only as good as how well they are followed by the employees and volunteers.  (I put on my regular cloth gloves under the disposable latex gloves yesterday because the latex gloves have a tendency to tear.)  Tables are disinfected each time a batch of boxes is packed and put away.  And finally, this week, we started to wear masks.  That takes some getting used to.  I am still learning. I felt that I could have used my mask in a more effective way yesterday.

I have been gladdened to see the same few employees and volunteers at the food bank again and again during the last three weeks.  The illness is amongst us, and I am always concerned that someone that I have been working with has caught something.  It is easily conceivable that somebody could be carrying the contagion without their knowledge.  That person could even be me.  And, with the ever increasing number of infections that are being reported in our part of the world these days, the probability of the presence of the virus in our midst is not insignificant.  We have to be vigilant.

Be safe.

Living with Contagion

Most of us have never experienced anything like this during our lifetimes.  But one should also understand that smaller outbreaks of similar nature have been taking place all over the world even in recent times. Fortunately, those were contained. It was only a matter of time.

It has been just a few weeks since the spread of this contagion started.

Already, almost everything that we took for granted in our societal interactions and in our consumer behaviors outside of the house has had to be rethought.

Lifestyles have already changed.

National economies have already been altered.

Some people’s lives have already been shattered – even if they have not fallen ill.  People need to eat even when the economy shuts down.  It is a matter of survival for the weakest of our lot.

Some of the changes that have happened may be here for the longer term.

And the worst is yet to come…

The people who had a responsibility to anticipate and do something about the spread of this contagion early enough in the process, to try to limit the damage, failed us miserably.  They are still failing us.

I have often wondered what would happen in the world if some of the things that we took for granted go away.  How would we survive?  (What we are experiencing now is not the worst case of something like this happening.)  Ironically, being better off as a society does not necessarily mean that we are better prepared to tackle something like this.  Events like this might bring out the best in some people, but, as a group, stupidity seems to reign to a greater extent in places where people are more comfortable and well off.  When your mind becomes far removed from the basics of surviving, and the less you are interested in understanding how things really work, the more stupid one seems to behave.  Perhaps the brain hurts from the effort. A special mention needs to to be made of the President of the richest country in the world, and the behavior of some of the youth of the country.  They have no idea what a pandemic means, and how to behave responsibly in these circumstances.  And what about the people who do not seem to care for the truth, to the extent that deliberate lies and misinformation spreads, stuff that can make things worse.  And then there are the stories of complete incompetence. (I am not really that surprised about this particular case.  I have experienced similar frustration with the system in the past.)

Meanwhile, one is overwhelmed with information, information being forwarded from all over the Internet. A lot of it is from well-meaning people.  Every vendor that has my e-mail address has also sent me a message on how the contagion has impacted their business and interactions with their customers.  A lot of what one is hearing is repetitive.  How much of this can you take?  How much of it can you absorb?   Better to watch some late night comedy shows once in a while.

In the middle of all this, we cannot forget the people who are fighting this disease on the front lines.  These are the doctors, the nurses, and the other hospital staff who are taking care of the sick.  They are taking a lot of risk,  and they are putting in a lot of time already.  They are being stretched.  And their job is about to get more difficult.

It is going to get worse before things get better.   A few us may not be here at the end of it all.   All we can do is take care and try to be prepared.  And perhaps it is good to remind oneself once in a while that one does not live forever.

 

Fear of Contagion

Perhaps some saw this coming, but kept their fingers crossed nonetheless, hoping that it would not happen during their lifetimes – a tiny, unknown, virus that would completely disrupt the way they, and everybody else, lives, and perhaps even kill them.  It has happened before.

It is beginning to slow down almost all of the activities that are markers of modern human existence. It is slowing them to a crawl. Travel, trade, tourism, educational institutions, the daily work scene, shopping, worship, sports, dining out, other forms of public entertainment, etc.. And some other parts of the world have already had it worse than us in this regard. People have also already died because of the virus.

At this point we are almost completely at the mercy of the new virus. We do not know the end game. We do not know as much as we need to know about the virus itself.  We may be able to slow it down by modifying our behaviors, but we cannot stop it.  We know that it has the capability to cull the already weak and  vulnerable.  The virus is, at this point, nature’s great equalizer.  It seems to have penetrated all levels of this connected society.  It has not discriminated based on privilege, power, and fame.

The virus shows us how vulnerable we really are as a species.  Even if it were not this new virus that that is causing this challenge to our systems, it could be some other kind of natural disaster, something outside of our control, that can damage and destroy our systems and our comfort on this planet.  Uniquely, this is a disaster that leaves most physical structures untouched.  Everything looks fine when it is not.

Of course, we will survive this, but at some as yet unknown cost.  And then, within just a few short years, we will forget about all of what just happened, and we will regress, and we will behave stupidly once again, even as nations.  That is a given.

One frigid night, I told a homeless man to leave the ER….: The Washington Post

Has something like this happened to you?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/one-frigid-night-i-told-a-homeless-man-to-leave-the-er-id-done-it-before-but-this-one-tugged-at-my-heartstrings/2020/01/10/7bdff596-2e76-11ea-9b60-817cc18cf173_story.html