hope, Lost pet, pets, Uncategorized

Cat Tales

Our cat Bo got out last night. Of our two orange tabbies, he’s the more convivial one, the one I’ve taught to shake, and sit, and lie down. He’s the dog in a very large cat’s body. The one who needs to stick around long enough to enjoy our renovation when it’s complete. Why did we even start work on a screened porch if not for Bo?

Disney World for cats

Every escape, he runs out the door, darts left and ends up in the crawl space. Of course on the morning when it’s cold and rainy and a Monday no less, not this time. Last night I searched, really searched. With my husband’s old sweatshirt on and his sweatpants wrapped around me, drawstring pulled tight, I crept army style in our crawlspace hovering wherever there were breaks in wires and ducts and furnaces. I kept thinking, please don’t let some creepy black widow spider fall on my head and just then reached to find the sweatshirt came with a hood. Thank you, God. While subterranean, I phoned my son who always has success pulling this escape artist from the rubble. He gave me some pointers – just move around the perimeter and the minute you see him continue to track him. I know it’s a horrible job, but we know he always goes down there. Do you want me to come over?” Oh how I wanted to say yes, but he’d just left hours earlier to return to college and was settling into his dorm. I declined but feeling the love from my above-ground cheer section was boost enough, though it didn’t produce the cat I was after. 

Resigned, I went to bed, knowing his crawl space antics would run their course and his sweet face would peek out at me under the door in the morning. Up early to light rain outside I returned to the door. No Bo. Back inside to dress in the sooty sweats I’d left in a heap at the door, I crawled some more. Still no Bo. Started coffee and at this point my poor husband got the news, sick since the escape occurred on his watch. 

Have You Seen Me?

Next it was rallying whatever and whomever I could. Texted neighbors, posted to the neighborhood list serve and NextDoor, knocked on doors beside and behind me. Met several neighbors I didn’t know and it dawned on me, most people are really nice. Another sweep of the yard and crawl space entry and back in for more coffee and to craft verbiage for a sign. Which picture would I use to depict this sweet boy? Which one to tug at heartstrings and push someone to actually search their crawlspace? Found it! The one of him lounging on my mom’s old rug. The ultimate pampered and well-loved ginger cat. Who is lost. 

On to the FedEx store where I printed and laminated signs and then to my old neighbor’s house to borow her staple gun. Again, people are so nice and genuinely want to help. My husband called me with an update: he’d crawled into our new cellar and noticed something which had the distinct appearance of recent cat elimination (a highfalutin way to describe it but I’m trying to spare you gross). But for those with human and fur babies, think about how often we discuss such things? When their kids are little, parents ask each other, Did he poop? Was it normal? When did it happen? The parent returning to the nest overjoyed of course to greet the freshly diapered child who’d produced a perfect poop. With pets, it’s more of gathering intel before a dog walk: Did she go when you last took her out? Or with cats who left a horrible mess in their box, one wonders, should I switch his food? Or to find a little present deposited outside the box only to Google an afternoon away poring over what psychological or physiological distresses would bring such behavior. But this wasn’t simply evidence of a cat doing its business on a rainy Monday morning. This was something.

People genuinely want to help.

I made 12 signs and drove the walking route from earlier when I’d knocked on doors. The rain was falling but I worked quickly stapling them to poles, envisioning which were in the ideal location for passing footpath, car path too, since surely my yellow highlighted action items – please search your crawl space, please call me – would get notice however you passed.

Back home inside to drop off my things and head back out armed with tuna, a flashlight and my phone. Around the corner past the condensing units, I saw his sweet face, a fluffy copper visage standing on the side yard’s damp moss bed. We exchanged glances. Him: Where have you been? I’m ready to come in. But because I’m a cat, we have to do that thing we do. I have to walk away out of reach and you have to follow. Me: Get over here you rascal. I’ve been sick with worry! I have tuna, solid white in water. Doesn’t that count for something? The cat and human game moved inside the crawlspace, past the first room, around the corner to where the furnace is. I could tell he wanted a rest, but I had to work for it. A few more feet of crawling and I had him in one arm, my flashlight and tuna in the other. We made our way out and he squirmed a little, but I held tight. 

I have tuna, solid white in water. Doesn’t that count for something? 

Not the least bit ashamed of himself

Once inside, he disappeared, deservedly embarrassed about his antics or appearance, to take a bath and regroup. I needed a warm blanket or drawn bath or something to soothe. I chose coffee, this time with a little sugar. My treat for all that trouble. 

I feel like I won an Oscar and I have a host of people to thank. The lady at FedEx who taught me the lamination machine, took one look at my beautiful cat on my sign and gave me a sympathetic nod letting me know she also has a cat. The guy three doors down who I clearly interrupted, answering the door in his robe and who genuinely tried to help, pointing out areas around his house I could look. The people on NextDoor who commented, cheering on my victory. The neighbor behind me backing down her driveway stopping to hear my story, offering me her yard to explore and eyes full of empathy telling me she’d read my NextDoor post. She passed me later in her car as I climbed the hill walking back toward my house, her daughter’s face pressed against the car window watching the cat lady clutching tuna in the rain fade from view. 

Supervising mealtime

And then there’s my husband who worked all day from home and had to get into the office too, yet seeing my lack of steam, made me dinner. The best leftovers he fashioned from our fridge contents: crisped up Publix chicken tenders sliced atop a bed of kale and cucumbers, and a little parmesan, with a light drizzle of Caesar dressing overtop. And a side of my lentil soup to finish off the pot I made a few days back. Cold and warm, crispy and soft. It all tasted divine and I ate it in bed with Bo at my side. 

Three cups for the day and I’m tired and wired, alternating falling asleep with looking at the clock and trying to determine what to do with the remains of the day since I blew my morning on cat detail. As I do in other emergencies, I bargain with God, Please let Bo be okay and help me find him. Or the bigger recent plea, please let me stay healthy. I promise I’ll be a better person. I’ll eat better, stress less, exercise more. This is my reset if you could just help me this once. I mean it. It seems God is listening. 

Can you spot the distinctive M shaped marking on his forehead?

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Picking Up The Pieces

I think we can all agree we are done with 2020. It dredged up a whole mess of rage, hate, disappointment, emptiness, hopelessness and fear. We’ve been on this ride now the majority of the last ten months, and like a smoker ready to ditch the cigs, it’s time to put the year down and snuff it out of our collective misery.

The last large group setting I recall was in January for a company holiday party. Still undergoing chemo, I managed to step into fun, new culottes, make up my face and head out for the festivities. My hair was in high shed Charlie Brown Christmas tree mode. Instead of hugs, I maneuvered air hugs – Covid foreshadowing? – since a tight embrace could release strands primed for falling onto someone’s lapel, and the jig of presenting any modicum of normality would be up. 

It’s time to put the year down.

March had my older son on a midnight train to Georgia, and the comfort and gratitude of our family together again. Leaving Covid’s NYC stronghold, he rode home to resume college classes online, as his high school senior brother would be doing. Virtual meetings would have to do, despite the inconvenience and sterility of experiences on-screen. Imagine those navigating their own pandemic, 100 years ago, without these human connection work arounds! 

The virus took center stage for much of 2020, but as NBC’s Lester Holt noted, “All was not well in our pre-Covid days.” So much needed our attention and still does: hunger, voting rights, climate change, gun violence, systemic racism, and a political divide so deep that the two sides can’t even agree on what they disagree on. 

The year’s setbacks and challenges were relentless. The chief challenger, Covid-19, was no joke, no hoax. It didn’t care if you looked away. It didn’t care if you didn’t care for masks. It could and can still find you. It’s taken loved ones, jobs, it’s taken an enormous toll. Covid and its ensuing fatigue rages on, but we must keep going.

All was not well in our pre-Covid days.

Wives are missing husbands, sisters missing brothers, and our overly scrubbed hands are tied: we can’t hug one another or say a proper goodbye when it’s time. Still, there are helpers, quiet peacemakers, tireless frontline workers taking the hit, restaurants remaking themselves to feed their staff and us, staying alive for all our sakes. 

For all its challenges, 2020 brought us an election, a chance to let our choices be counted and count they did. Again and again and again. We voted, and here in Georgia we voted a second time. We’ve got ourselves a new president –  Bye Don, Hello Joe – and in the weeks before his inauguration, he has been rolling up his sleeves and facing this mess head on. 

The year challenged us each personally and our fellow humans globally. There were businesses to grow, yourself to know, college acceptances to see, the promise of chemo’s IV. Ring the bell, your tale to tell, keep evictions on hold, people out of the cold. Empty nests are full again, yet so many people are hungry, walking around with faces covered, hiding fear, loneliness, regret.

There’s a vaccine too, several of them, and despite underwhelming distribution, we see movement and actual potential, a path to immunity. 🎶 Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vac-c-i-ne, 🎶, I’m begging of you, please don’t take your time. We’re not getting our old normal back, but I think something better and brighter is coming. 

Even our poinsettias, many hibernating during 2019, decided this year to make a go of it, bursting open as early as Halloween. We took to social media, posting without delay, should those buds realize it’s 2020 and suddenly call off the show, retreating until a respectable year comes around.

In lieu of lingering into the new year, some folks are packing up their Christmas cheer, clearing the decks to free up space for whatever it is 2021 will need. My own tree issued a DNR, so once it stops drinking water, I know it will be time.

We’re not getting our old normal back, but I think something better and brighter is coming. 

We’re dangling and we can feel it, this pivot before us is real, though shifting us into what, we aren’t exactly sure. For now, simply into something else seems enough of a gift. For months, yard signs begging for an all-encompassing, Please Make It (2020) Go Away, seem to be granting us our wish: 2021 will arrive on schedule.

On the 2020 list of positives are several reassuring constants, challenges, and improvisations, which have brought light and resilience and comfort. With so much loss, we still have sunrises and sunsets, full moons, the scent of magnolias, holidays, changing seasons, good foods to cook, to taste and to share, and the natural world out there. You can still lose yourself in the soothing stillness of Yo Yo Ma, cheer on front line workers, marvel at and join in those who have carried on making music, building things, championing science, sticking with that puzzle until every piece is in place. Every day is a reset, a day where you can adjust your swing, pick a better club, walk versus ride. I’m heartened by how we can all adapt — our kids, our colleagues, our businesses and hospitals. We are all in this together, and there will come a day when we can once again hug each other the right way. 

Until then, so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night, the year will end, and all its crazy fright. I bit you adieu, adios, addio, 2020. You are going, have no doubt, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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In Suspense…

It’s the day after Christmas, 2:42pm and having gotten up at 9am, I have returned to bed surrounded by a new book, my laptop, an occasional cat, and a cup of chowder with which to wash it all down. Decadent and divine, it’s the day after and exactly what I need to be doing. A neighbor friend and I are texting and my sister and I are, too. I love watching blinking ellipses as friends real-time type, and then getting that rewarding toaster oven “ding!”, the sound that your toast or text is ready. As it turns out, a watched ellipse does a text produce. 

It’s the day after and exactly what I need to be doing.

The end of the year has me thinking about waiting for things, as we do as children for Santa at Christmas, and as adults for the better part of the year, anticipating things we want to have happen or acquire, or feelings of hope that a pleasant surprise might be around the corner. It seems we all want something to look forward to.

For days now I’ve been waiting on USPS. I adore sending my sister her Christmas box filled with little things – some she wants and others she doesn’t know she does… yet. Normally perfectionistic with wrapping details, for 2020, I felt incredibly accomplished to have even found a box to fit it all and emerged from the long PO line Covid-free and victorious, tracking number in hand. I’ve signed up for text alerts, little dings to sound along her package’s journey to Chicago, but so far there are no sounds, just a vague “in transit” status each time I check. I’m certain the magic is still swirling inside that box, but the failed by Christmas arrival has taken some of the pressure off all the wondering and tracking.

I couldn’t wait for Lucie – at 13.5 dog years (mid ’80s people years) and hobbling along as best she can – to see her gorgeous pale blue memory foam bed, the one I drove to the far recesses of Smyrna for, the falling snow and sunset more than making up for the trip. I kept nudging her to try it, even putting her in it several times, but she wasn’t having it, preferring the smushed limp one she’s so accustomed to.

Upstairs enjoying post-Christmas lounging, I let the sleeping dog lie where she wanted and just look what happened! She explored the new setup and on her own terms found a comfortable position. My son did tuck the cat under her paw to amp up the cuteness factor, but the dog’s position in the bed is entirely her own doing. People and pets happen on their own time.

With all the fun and glow of the holidays, there are plenty of omissions and unfinished business, expectations unmet, people you’ve lost and now miss, and pressure about the new year, the new chance, the new slate. Every year end, I hear John Lennon’s song Happy Xmas and linger over these lines: “So this is Christmas, and what have you done, another year over, a new one just begun… Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears.” 

I always think about the past year and year ahead and wonder, aside from all my busyness, what is it that I have done? What is it I am supposed to be doing? Some people are eager to dive into the next year, already filling their slates with a flurry of appointments, zoom calls, reminders. Others on the sidelines are waiting on a nudge from the Universe to direct them where to go. I suppose I’m a combination, additionally weighed down by the ever nagging question, “Will I stay healthy in the year to come? And the year after that?” 

A few days before Christmas I felt a tenderness and twitch in my thigh which I’d noticed for a few days. I had resumed running and wondered if maybe that explained it. And I had stood in my kitchen in my fabulous yet unsupportive new Old Navy boots baking three days in a row. Despite this, my brain jumped to the unknown: Is this how breast cancer returns, showing up right here, right now on my left thigh? Writing this now, it all seems ridiculous, but at the time, that theory felt logical. 

So logical in fact that I called my oncologist and after pressing his triage nurse on the issue, I learned if cancer did return my symptoms would not be how it would manifest, and my dull aching leg is very likely from multiple days of standing. Instead I might see a rash, swollen ankles or other larger noticeable things that don’t necessarily bring pain. Through my now tears, I told the nurse what my oncologist had initially said, that surgery (lumpectomy) was the cure and treatments (chemo, radiation) were the insurance. But is that really even true? In that moment I needed her to ask the doctor whether he says this to all his cancer patients or if these words were particularly suited for me.

Given that it was Christmastime during a pandemic with likely a full actual and virtual waiting room of cancer patients, it was a bit much for me to interrupt the doctor’s day to ask that he qualify a statement he’d already made, all so I could get off the anxiety track — especially since I caught the lump early, have a good prognosis and for the most part have taken terrific care of myself. Ten minutes later she called to tell me that he confirmed his words were unique to me, he does still believe my surgery was the cure and my treatments were the insurance. 

This information helped immensely. Now my two cups of coffee brain (turns out one cup is plenty for the generalized anxiety set; two and a caffeinated panic settles in) could begin to mentally fill in the upcoming calendar since I could clearly envision myself living in it. Every twitch, every throb, every everything on a difficult day can flood me right back to that initial fear surrounding my diagnosis. I remind myself I’ve done all the right things, but then turn around and question why is it I can’t get some assurance that it will be enough? I need that plus a little faith too. I know this uneasiness is going to lessen with time. It is just taking a while…

Every twitch, every throb… can flood me right back

2021 is coming at long last, and I expect to step into it confidently and gushing with good health. And like a flower waiting to bloom, I’ll just keep stretching out in the sun and taking in nourishment, knowing it’s what I need. Instead of watching for signs of hope and surety, and wondering what exactly it will or should look like, I think I’ll just stand tall and see what happens.

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There She Is

Most days you look in the mirror and you see the usual. That face that has been yours all your life, which of course always stares right back, the same one everyone else sees when they look at you. You notice the symmetry, something you’ve always taken for granted, and these days you notice the remnants life has left behind — little scars, dark spots, once fine lines, today deeper and cracked open. Isn’t that where they say the light gets in?

In my 20s heading out to bars to see friends or on dates, I’d catch a glimpse of myself before leaving the apartment. The low light was flattering. My hair, bright blonde, shiny and falling softly in a sheet of rain, that familiar corn silk shower draping my neck, my skin clean and (mostly) clear, slightly dressed up for the evening, a pink lip, lined eye, a touch of mascara. I didn’t need foundation and I let my skin breathe, let the Friday fun draw out its radiance, which even the toughest work week couldn’t conceal. A cheek color seemed redundant since I tended to blush easily, always a great source of embarrassment. It was during that last glimpse heading out the door where I’d catch myself, and smile a little, bathed in that familiar light, as if I’d adjusted the rheostat just right, stopping once I landed on me. Too much turning that dial and I would have stopped short or else blown right past her, forced to wade through that sea of vhs static once again before settling on the right channel.

Years passed bringing marriage and then children, and the mirror glances, largely reduced to mornings rushing out the door and evenings winding down at the bathroom sink, lessened. The grooming, teeth brushing, hair drying, and mostly, back then, thinking about flossing. I remember high school when my mother’s friends would be at the house. They had such fun playing tennis together, each sporting her own take on the crisp white tennis skirt, its hemline skimming slightly dimpled thighs, something every high school girl swears she’ll never get. A moderately “athletic” set or two later and their thinning skin glistened from perspiration, slightly masking the dark hollows under their eyes. With pubescent confidence in spades, I knew, somehow, I would age differently. 

Fast forward four decades (and some change) and here I am. Still in touch with one of my mother’s tennis buddies, Peggy, also my godmother, and who is now 80-something. I look at her when we occasionally meet outside socially distanced for lunch, and instead of thinning skin and dark eye circles, all I see now is someone real, full of grace and hope. I see her, I see Peggy. 

The bathroom mirror is put away, protected from our house renovation, so check-in opportunities are few and far between, save for passing the hall armoire mirror and the one in the kitchen. I don’t need to look so much anymore. We’re in a pandemic, the social dialed up dress-up moments are on hold, as are even the simplest small gatherings set with home as the backdrop. 

Last week, I got a haircut. The bald areas chemo brought had started filing in, and I needed a compromise  between my longer hair and new sprouts on top, now bending slightly from gravity. I’ve been desperately wanting to recognize myself again, yet voluntarily signing up to lose more hair was nerve-wracking. The mirror glances this last year have been humbling – the ghostly pasty pallor, the 2-D moon face with scant dirty blonde smudges where eyebrows used to be, the thinning and balding crown (rhymes with clown) and the stunned reflection which could only respond back with a slightly sad deer-in-headlights gaze. However, time has brought my color back, eyebrows too and that third dimension I’ve been missing. I had a lot banking on this cut. With the last of the sun-kissed strands on the floor and the wiry bendy hair staking claim to my scalp, I worried this new external version of me would reveal what I’ve been desperately trying to hide, the crazy chemo roller coaster I’ve been on, the cancer. Yes, it messed up my hair but I’m increasingly seeing bits of myself that I recognize. There is great comfort in that.

Julian, the stylist, is steady, unflappable and encouraging. He knew he could help me and scheduled our time for early morning so it would be just the two of us. Extremely nearsighted with my glasses off and unable to see changes underway, I sat still in my chair, trusting him completely, resigned to just being there. We chatted about his terrific playlist, his adorable toddler and of course the election. Julian and I voted the same way. 

That simple cut made so much sense. I felt pretty again, feminine, healthy. It gave me back a piece of myself. The little girl, the middle-aged woman, the breast cancer survivor, all of me. I saw a plan ahead, I saw hope and I saw that I had to show up, ask for what I wanted, and then put my trust in the process, in the person in charge. 

When you get a cancer diagnosis you can’t simply dust your hands off confidently and exhale, “Phew, glad that’s over.” Instead you solider on, regularly checking in with doctors, with your diet, your exercise, stress levels, hoping to tip the balance, change up the environment on your insides, and erect a flashing billboard shouting a resounding there’s no room in the inn from the rooftops should a malignant passerby come knocking. 

Weeks ago, I noticed a small round red spot on my leg, which my paranoid brain knew was surely a skin cancer red flag. I’d been coming and going between our houses, doing this and that, always rushing, and very likely bumping into things as I moved about my days. Calm and assuring, Joe leaned in, studied it and proclaimed it was very likely a bruise with blood under the surface. Joe was right. 

Last week Joe made me a snack, an empanada we bought at a local farmer’s market, heated up in the toaster oven. Joe likes his coffee strong, his toast dark and extra crunchy, his food highly peppered, and as it turns out, his empanadas absurdly hot. Starving, I dove in, immediately burning my mouth — the roof, the sides, my gums, the whole shebang – yet still finishing the delicious pastry as fast as I could. Days later, long after that snack, I felt something with my tongue inside my left check, a raised Rhodesian Ridgeback line extending diagonally. I knew I had developed some god-awful oral disease and despite all the cancer treatments I’d weathered, this was some new thing I’d now have to attack. I decided to consult with Joe again who inspected the inside of my check, thought for a minute and reminded me I’d burned my mouth days earlier, and this was what that was. Thank you, Joe. Crisis averted again. E x h a l e. 

This past election week left me with a splinter embedded under my fingernail. Not sure what got in there, but no, it wasn’t a ballot chad. It hurts like hell and the skin surrounding it has swollen, gotten firm and red, and literally slammed shut any hope of my tweezers gaining access to slide between my nail and skin, pinch it and drag it the hell out of there. Like a self-cleaning oven that locks itself shut so it can get on uninterrupted with the painstaking work of blasting the oven’s insides so the grime will peel off the sides, top and bottom, the racks too, and only once it’s done will the door lock release and let you back inside. 

Describing the 45th POTUS recently, a neighbor remarked, “He is truly a cancer.” I of course cringe hearing that word especially because MY cancer, MY tumor, the one that is GONE, scored a whopping 45 on its oncotype test (not the worst, but not nothing either), the test that predicts the likelihood of that unwanted second term happening. All this to say, just like POTUS, this invader had a healthy dose of making plans to come back. But I retaliated with similarly heavy chemo and radiation artillery, my own customized insurance plan. And our voters retaliated at the polls. Because our nation’s 45 need not ever come back, it was that much more important that my own not too. He is a cancer of the fast spreading and making plans to return variety. But he was stopped and will continue to be. 

We are beginning to wake up, warm up, thaw and put salve on our burns; we are beginning to see ourselves once again. It’s been the longest of hauls, exhausting, scary, but there is a light ahead. The noise, the static, the searching for a channel is over. As Joe Biden said after acknowledging his imminent victory in this 2020 presidential race, “Let’s give each other a chance… to see each other again. To listen to each other again.“ 

Let the healing begin, for each and every one of us. GO JOE!!

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Begin Again

“If ever you feel discouraged, and you will at times, step away, take a deep breath, and begin again.” These are some of the words I wrote on my son’s graduation card. I don’t know if he’ll hang on to it or them, but I wanted to tell him anyway, maybe because I also needed this reminder? George Floyd can no longer take a deep breath and begin again, despite asking, begging, over and over, to reclaim his breath. And for those of us still here, simply breathing, something we take for granted, has gotten complicated on every level.

I’ve been listening to the news, watching social media and reading perspectives from well-known people and others too. The common takeaway is horrific and none of us can un-see what we saw in that video. And why should we? Haunting and deeply disturbing, that video and George Floyd’s precious life has sharpened our vision, caused us to look more closely at everything, our relationships with each other and the deep-seated labels, consciously and unconsciously, we assign to each other every single day.

Wear the Damn Mask / While grocery shopping, I noticed a sweet little boy, barely even three, wearing a mask like his parents. His had a cartoon pattern and tiny elastic bands which curved around his ears. With sobering headlines these days the likes of “Coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” I realized mask wearing will likely become normalized for him, something he grows up with in his daily wardrobe, as commonplace for his preventive health as an annual well check. I wonder, will his family reunion photos depict everyone in masks, with separate picnic blankets and distancing? I keep wanting to look back on this time, have it in our rearview mirror and in many ways return to how things were, but then I remember things will never be how they were and maybe they shouldn’t. Perhaps instead of fighting it, let’s work with it, highlight the best parts and lose the rest.

Change Your Behavior / In an interesting interview on NPR, science writer Sonia Shah, author of Pandemic and the more recent, The Next Great Migration, talks about the pandemic today. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/02/867691497/migration-isnt-crisis-it-s-the-solution-science-writer-says She says what we take out of this will depend on the stories we tell ourselves, which largely fall under the basic narrative that we have been invaded by something outside of us, and we have a sense of us being the passive victims. She observed the reaction to the pandemic for many has been that Covid has befallen us, as if we are objective observers and this plague raging in front of our noses simply happened to us, robbed us of control, and we are now left with the inconvenience of having to react. Yet its deep roots started to take hold long ago. Similarly, the response to systemic racism can be a passive or active one. We can either deny its very existence or change our behavior. It’s proven that social distancing works, and if you follow its guidelines, you will indeed flatten the curve. If a society wants to rid itself of systemic racism, it also must change its behavior. So simple, it seems. Shall we?

Food Is Love / I walked my dog downtown the other day, late in the afternoon when the sun is gentler and the dinner hour looms. Instead of the hum of bustling shops and restaurants, there was only a hot summer stillness under a gorgeous pandemic blue sky. I noticed the same men I often see, sitting on benches in front of the library, their belongings rolled up in tidy heaps near them and against the building. There was another man sitting alone in front of the Rec Center and our eyes locked. I always tighten the leash when I see people, because my German Shepherd/ Husky is big and for some, menacing, and the last thing I want to incite walking by is fear. On this 80-something-degree day, a lady dressed in a parka sat at a bus stop across from the Presbyterian church busy on a phone call, and several other men, one with his head down, dotted the lawn.

I couldn’t shake any of it once I got home and so I did what my instincts told me to do, what I’ve done several times before. The mini Kroger’s parking lot wasn’t too full and a nice smiling lady inside gave me one of the cleaned carts which I filled with deli turkey, ham, provolone cheese, soft wheat bread, fruit cups, bananas and baked chips. I bought paper lunch sacks and waters, too, and scored napkins and even a pack of toilet paper for our own cupboard. I sat in the car and assembled little meals. I brought a stick of butter, knife and cutting board from home and the butter softened in the car while I shopped. I buttered the bread, made the sandwiches and filled the bags full, with a napkin tucked inside each.

I returned and walked toward the two men and offered them a drink and snacks and we started talking. The older gentleman said what he’d really like is some ice cream, and we joked that I came up short. I asked him what kind and he said Haagen-Dazs cherry vanilla and coconut caramel. Then he rattled off more flavors and I said, laughing, “Stop!” We both knew neither of us was going to score a scoop no matter how many flavors we recited, but we laughed anyway at the futility of it all.

Next, I walked to the side of the church by the lawn. The man with his head down had gone, two others were still there. I gave them each a bag and we both told each other “God Bless You.” I never say that, but them saying it to me felt good, and so I said it back. Across the street on the square under the gazebo were two other young men. They were friendly and seemed glad to see snacks and water. They also said “God Bless You” and again I said it back. We agreed God should bless all of us. Around the corner propped up against the old courthouse was an older man, his belongings strewn against him and the building. He wrote things in a tiny spiral notepad and said he’d like some pocket change. I never carry money so instead brought him a water and a banana.

He asked me my name. I told him and got his. Kevin wanted to know my date of birth too and I simply told him “I’m an August baby” and he scrawled that information into his notebook. I asked him his birthday and he told me it’s June 8. Excited, I told him that’s also my sister’s birthday. He smiled showing his few teeth remaining and I said goodbye leaving him to jot in his notebook, the water and banana by his side.

Driving home I noticed an older man walking down Ponce de Leon who I had seen earlier near the library. It was hot and he looked hungry and tired and so I pulled over. Walking toward him I asked if he’d like something to drink. I never know how to broach the I’d like to give you some food and water topic. I don’t want to sound condescending or give someone something they don’t need or might be too proud to accept, so I typically just ask if they could use something to drink, knowing if they can, then I have the green light to hand over a bag full of other good things. He gladly took it and we wished each other well and I drove off.

For me, food is love. It would be childish and naive of me to presume I’ve solved anything. It doesn’t fix the deep seeded racist problems in our country and likely inside all of us, myself included. But it’s a way I’ve found of showing love and receiving it too. Each exchange with these people left me more hopeful, happier, and I can’t help but believe they felt the same way. We are all in this together and hungry for so much more than we now have.

Stop Judging Others; Start With Yourself / In Atlanta’s mayor’s moving speech the other day, among other things that resonated with me, she said, “You’re not going to out-concern me and out-care me.” https://www.fox5atlanta.com/video/689455 This reference to one upmanship gave me pause. In the wake of recent events, on social media I’ve noticed the rising need to outdo each other, as if to assuage our guilt from not doing enough? You’re doing nothing? You’re quiet? You’re probably a racist. You didn’t post a black box to social media on Tuesday, the horrors! Honestly I don’t know how. Yes, really. It was all I could do to add a City Schools of Decatur frame around my profile picture.

I wish I had some answers. So many wish the same. On a recent Instagram post, Ellen Degeneres, near tears, admitted she didn’t know what to say. (https://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/sad-and-angry-ellen-posts-emotional-video-message/news-story/1f6a2c4e2ac226e03a03f42af3f3c5fe)

What can we say or do now, should have said yesterday or could do tomorrow? I know I don’t have the solution to rid society of systemic racism, but we need things to happen. It’s a two-way street and while there is still far too much focus on our differences, at the end of the day, we are all the same. Isn’t that something to celebrate?

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” -Arthur Ashe