Your Sanitizer or Your Life,
and Other Personal Pandemic Ponderings
April 16, 2020
Along with many other seniors, my highly touted golden years seem to be transforming into iron pyrite (fool’s gold), thanks to COVID-19.
True Story. I was in the market a few days ago and saw two women fighting over a couple bars of soap. Shades of that old Jack Benny “Your Money or Your Life” skit! Forget about money, it’s now soap, sanitizer, toilet paper, and similar hard won acquisitions. I got out of that aisle fast, yearning for the days when civility was more prevalent and the shelves weren’t stripped of necessities.
What I also found disconcerting was the gun store in Culver City that had a line extending out the door and around the corner. So what’s the plan? To shoot those little COVID-19 critters dead? Or were those folks expecting society to completely fall apart and revert to barbarism? (Well, there were those two women in the market . . .)
Now, I’m not against responsible and well-regulated gun ownership in the hands of rational adults, but I am concerned that in these stressful times when fears are high and tempers can be very short, tragedies can occur. Plus I think of all the children out of school and spending an inordinate amount of time at home, looking for diversion and . . . bang! Guns hidden by parents have a way of getting found by kids. We’ve heard that story too many times.
As I’m a senior with some health issues and squarely in the vulnerable demographic, I’m sequestering myself at home as much as possible. I don’t know what’s going to be, or if I’ll even survive. Nobody does. We don’t know how long this is going to last, and are besieged by bulletins and press briefings that are alarming and sometimes transmit contradictory information. I find myself feeling as if I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole into some bizarre alternate reality.
That’s kind of the way I felt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago. My dear friend, the late Toni Tyrer, became my incredible caregiver. She was from Chile, and shared with me the slogan of the Chilean patriots during their war of Independence from Spain in the early 1800s: “Mano firme y triumfaremos.” That translates to “steady hand and we will triumph,” an expression I’ve taught to many women whom I’ve spoken with on a peer basis as a Reach to Recovery volunteer for the American Cancer Society. These days I add, “Be sure to keep that hand away from your face!”
Oh, my, the times in which we live . . .
I think about my most recent story involving STAR Prep Academy, which had relocated to the campus of West Los Angeles College. It is now completely online. My next story was going to be about this year’s intergenerational writing workshop between the sixth graders of Turning Point School and a group of volunteers at the Culver City Senior Center.
Sixth-graders are not created by cookie-cutters. Neither are seniors. So, it’s always fascinating and often enlightening for me to view life through another’s eyes, especially when those eyes are lodged in the head of a Turning Point School student and sparkling with insight and excitement during our intergenerational writing workshop, an annual project that started in 2010.
But this year’s, which was to consist of six meetings, was cut short after the first four. And it was a terrific workshop, dealing with themes of identity and community and raising questions: Who am I? How do I see myself? How do others see me?
There were 35 students. The adult advisors were Josh Lesser, Stephanie Grissom, Vivian Ariza, and Diana Bender. Whitney Gallagher, the program leader, floated between groups as there were some days not all advisors could come. The senior volunteers were myself, Marilyn Russell, Peggy Cullinane, Barbara Lever, Lynn Appel, Lee Quiring, Lillian (June) Davis and Susan Schulman.
We were divided into four tables, mine including Diana Bender, Peggy Cullinane, and students Aiden, Sarah, Rylee, Jack, Siena, Aman, Alex, Dhara, and Austin. What a great, innovative, and interesting group!
We read material that provoked discussion about labeling people without giving consideration to unique differences, and how sometimes those labels influence us to think about ourselves in a certain way. We dealt with elitism and generalization, and how communities define “we” and “they.” Each session led to a homework assignment that was read and discussed at the following meeting.
The assignment given at the end of our fourth session on March 3rd was to write a definition of community in our own words, and not your textbook dictionary definition. Of course, that fifth session will not be materializing. And now, more than ever before, community is of great significance. On March 4th I completed and emailed my homework to Diana Bender and Whitney Gallagher, and here it is:
Although I’m supposed to write a definition of community in my own words, I first must borrow those of others because there are two things that define community for me. One is a poem written hundreds of years ago by John Donne:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
What that poem says to me in referring to every man as a piece of the continent is that we are all threads in the tapestry of community. We need connection with each other to survive and flourish.
Today we live in a global community that includes uprisings, resettlement, intermingling of cultures into a changing mosaic, instant transmission of news, widespread travel and, frighteningly, the ability of diseases such as coronavirus to jump from far away countries into our backyard.
For better or worse, we are part of that global community. We don’t need to travel to be a citizen of the world because (news flash) the world has come to us, and I believe a limited, insular perspective will not ultimately work to our advantage. In order to survive a host of crises that include disease, climate change and massive issues of safety and economic deprivation, we all have to work together to find viable solutions. The world has become our family.
And that brings me to the second thing, which is my mother’s response to a question I asked when I was about five years old: “Why are we here?” Her answer: “To help each other.”
That conversation took place in the early 1940s in Canada. My mother had emigrated from Poland as a very young woman, and she married in Toronto prior to WWII. We were Jewish, and her entire large family in Europe was slaughtered by the Nazis during my early childhood. To my mother, being alive meant you had an obligation to do more than just take up space. “Do some good in the world,” she used to say.
Accordingly, wherever I find myself, whomever I’m with, however I can be of service, that is my community. It could be as a cancer survivor, fundraising and participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. It could be as a volunteer English tutor to a local student or to a foreign-born adult who is struggling to communicate and be understood. It could be as a volunteer poetry teacher at a local facility that serves adults with developmental disabilities, providing them with an additional outlet for expression. It could be as a cartoonist, hoping to brighten someone’s day with a smile, even if only for a moment. It could be as a friend, listening to other friends’ problems and providing support and, if requested, advice, and being able to turn to those friends for help when needed. It could be as a participant in the intergenerational writing workshop since its inception in 2010, and then writing about it for a community publication to bring awareness of this intriguing activity to my readers.
These are just a few examples because for me, the concept of community is fluid, an ever-evolving whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, bringing me comfort, a sense of purpose, a feeling of being grounded and exactly where I need to be, doing what I need to do.
I am very, very grateful for community.
Hooray, I got to share my homework assignment about community, a topic that couldn’t be timelier, given the upheaval created by COVID-19. Yes, there is a lot of fear, chaos and confusion. Yes, we are going through a horrific time. Yes, I have my frantic moments. But also YES, people have been kind and caring, neighbors following up on neighbors and offering to help. I am impressed and heartened by the efforts going on in Culver City, and the following website is a valuable source of information: https://www.culvercity.org/live/public-safety/emergency-preparedness/current-disaster-information. Additionally, the City’s coronavirus Hotline at (310) 253-6890 is available 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Mano firme, my dear readers. Mano firme.