Letting the World In

As the tears fell down my cheeks this morning, I realized how much I’ve gotten used to being hard to the world.

Tracking Florida’s COVID-19 numbers helps me know how the Coronavirus pandemic is going on in the world just outside our door. I was trained for this new project of mine during my nearly 30 years in the New York State Division of the Budget in Albany. There, we knew about how to tell a story by using numbers, and the real story that the right numbers deliver.

We see pictures of people gathered in bars, unmasked. We hear that our daughter’s friends are going out as usual, and are grateful that she has her eyes open to the danger and is staying home. Governor DeSantis stands by his position that it is testing that is creating these numbers, not an increase in the virus. He tells Floridians to be brave, sounding like a World War I officer commanding his soldiers out of the trenches and into the bullets and bayonets of the enemy.

The news alarms me, even when it’s presented by smart people with broad, educated perspectives. I read the paper, scan The New York Times’ alerts throughout the day, and take in the nightly PBS News Hour, but otherwise it’s light reality — there is really no such thing as too much Say Yes to the Dress — or fiction diversions — the new Perry Mason on HBO, Vera on PBS, and we may make it through the crime/horror/Arctic drama Fortitude, if only to remind ourselves why we migrated south.

So, all in all, my relationship with television has been pretty passive as of late.

Yet, here I was this morning, freely weeping while we watched today’s CBS Sunday Morning. Two segments touched me, and the first was a story from back in our old haunts, Albany, where amateur painter Steve Derrick has taken the time to honor the front line in Albany Medical Center by painting the portraits of what they look like after a long shift, showing them in a local gallery, and giving the paintings to the doctors, nurses, aides, and others have inspired him so. A nurse was in tears as she thanked him for seeing who she is. This is soul food.

As you may know, the OLVG Nurses and Chapel in Amsterdam gave me the support to begin my recovery last year. The time my husband and I spent in that sweet chapel gave us time alone in the presence of something more than ourselves. The music we heard there lifted us up.

I grew up singing at home. Dad played the guitar and sang baritone, my sister was the soprano, I was the alto, and Mom was the audience. School choirs broadened our repertoire. I sang in church choirs in Albany churches. That was my form of worship. When Mom died, Susie and I sang The Lord Bless You and Keep You, following harmonies we learned at Herbert Hoover Junior High School in Potomac, Maryland.

Several years ago, Grammy composer Eric Whitacre figured out how to create a virtual choir. He videoed himself conducting a piece, and the singers filmed themselves singing to his conducting and the accompanist’s music. Then, he pieced together all the videos and audios. The first year, he had several hundred. This year, it’s more than 17,000. Here it is. Happy tears!

Eric Whitacre’s Sing Gently

Doing the Right Thing

The governor of my state of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is “counting on people to do the right thing” about social distancing and wearing masks to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. In the next breath, he shrugs off the young crowds at the bars, saying “people are going to do what they’re going to do.”

Do we do the right thing when we do what we do?

The answer is, as it often is, it depends.

Years ago, I was part of a wellness program run by Albany Medical Center and Dr. Drew Anderson, Director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Lab at the University at Albany. Dr. Anderson introduced me to the idea of making the right thing easy, and the wrong thing thing hard.

Set the clock to wake up early. Have your exercise clothes ready. Have more fresh fruit than less processed snacks at the ready. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. It’s a good way to structure your own behavior.

Things get sticker when the impact of our individual behavior spills out into our community. Sometimes, a physical reminder of the right thing helps reinforce the behavior, like placing doggie poop stations at strategic intervals in my community. (The Lopez Commission imposed mask-wearing on Kumba to help him resist over-reacting to other dogs. It’s working. He’s a dear.0

Kumba’s mask reminds him that other dogs are not a problem.

Suggestions are not enough when it comes to keeping society safe. Regulations ensure that houses in Florida are built to withstand hurricanes or storm surge. Laws have established speed limits, seatbelts, and airbags to make driving safer. When it’s a matter of public health, national security, or other overarching principle, the people we elect to represent us in government step in for the collective good.

Absent any action from the governor, the Palm Beach County Commission has finally mandated masks. The Palm Beach Post had urged them to do so in this editorial that ran the day before the vote.

No, this is not an overreach by the government. No, it’s not unconstitutional. And no, it’s not a question of your personal rights being taken away. It’s well-established law that elected officials have the right – no, the responsibility – to take actions to protect public health.

The Palm Beach Post

The Commission made doing the right thing easier. With our case numbers leaping ahead of most states, you know that my family is sticking with masks if we have to interact with the world. I have been transforming pillow covers into masks. It takes me a long time but is comforting, and I can see why knitting, darning, sewing have long been idle time activities. (Another weight management strategy: when your hands are busy, you’re not using them for snacks!)

Compliance isn’t universal, and not wearing a mask won’t land you in jail, although it carries a fine.

Four days after the Commission’s ruling, scores of partying 20-somethings made for an alarming headline: PANDEMIC’S YOUTH EMBRACE MYTHS AS CASES SKYROCKET.

“I think it’s a hoax, and I think that it’s just the flu on steroids.” She then giggled and walked into the restaurant without a mask covering her mouth and nose.

John Pacenti, The Palm Beach Post

These people are part of Generation Z, the age group that mobilized for gun reform after the Parkland shooting, and that have more recently marched in Black Lives Matter protests. I choose to believe that most of these young people, like us old people, believe in collective behavior for the common good. We’re just at home doing the right thing while the media interviews the partiers.

Stay safe, wear a mask, and be well!