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Do you have a COVID-19 story? You should send it our way. To read more COVID-19 stories check out Corona City: Voices from an Epicenter on Amazon, or visit the Corona City Online Supplement.

In the beginning, I could almost understand people thinking the virus was being over-blown. After all, I grew up in a family where admitting pain was called “being dramatic.” And so it was that I bled all over the floor of Grain Growers Co-op in Hermiston because my toe, which had been crushed in a car door, netted me parts trips. I had to drive with my left foot and keep my crushed and bleeding toe up on the seat, cushioned on a towel, because to suggest that perhaps active medical intervention might be warranted would have been “being dramatic.” 

This fall, when I came down with a cough, diarrhea, messed up breathing passages, and so forth, I almost didn’t get tested because entertaining the possibility I might have COVID-19 felt like “being dramatic.” And then I thought of my son, the young man who rents a room from us, the local pastor I’ve been working with on administering a grant, and my university students, who were undergoing daily health screenings, isolation, and a scrubbing routine before and after classes. 

I realized that I was going to have to bite the bullet and just be dramatic, as much as it embarrassed me. I got tested. I went into quarantine. I taught my classes via Teams. It turned out I was indeed “being dramatic”–my test came back negative. You know what, though? I was still pretty darned miserable. Just because this wasn’t Covid-19 (and thank goodness it wasn’t) taking those steps quite likely spared some or all of my students a nasty bout with the flu just as they were heading into Finals week. 

Covid-19 has sharpened our awareness of communicable disease, and rightly so. For everyone like me, who finds themselves wondering if they should be tested or not, choose to be dramatic. You might need to stay isolated for a few days (you will, actually). You might worry that you’ll look all dramatic–like you’re jumping on the bandwagon–if it turns out that–like me–you’ve just got the flu. 

But try to think of this way. Your world, like mine, is full of people you’re not prepared to lose just yet–people I’m sure you’d like to spare the pain of the flu, let alone a life-threatening bout with COVID-19. Think of the temporary morgues. Think of the full ICU’s. Think of the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers who are fighting against overwhelming odds, because too many of us worry about being dramatic.

It’s time to accept the reality around us. It’s time to accept our own mortality. It’s time to entertain the idea that we might actually be really, really sick, and being positive and tough and self-reliant just might not get us through this. 

So take my advice. Be dramatic. Get good, scientific information. It’ll let you make the smart, informed choices that might not only save your life, but the lives of the people around you. Sure, you might only have the flu. But are you willing to take that chance with the people you love, the people you meet, the grocery store clerks, the first responders, the hospital staff–heck, strangers on the street? Isn’t that worth a little embarrassment? If you think you might have been exposed and you find yourself thinking, “I’m just fine. This is overblown,” stop yourself. Get the test. If you won’t do it for yourself–and you should–do it for the rest of us. We’ll do the same for you. 

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200607200816-mitt-romney-black-lives-matter-march-exlarge-169

The last post here was about Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate. It is perhaps a measure of our times that I can’t even remember posting that. This is what happens when crises multiply. We had the impeachment trial, and watched an entire party with one–count’em, one–exception, vote to shield a President who clearly should have been tried. We had the Democratic primaries, which to my sorrow seemed to proceed much as Democratic primaries often proceed–the candidates who seem the strongest, who offer the best ideas, and who give many of us the feeling that we finally have the opportunity to vote for something offering the hope of change, rather than just against something vile, are maneuvered out of the race, leaving only the preferred party candidate standing. So we were stuck with Biden, who had gone silent and was hiding in his basement.

Then the coronavirus hit, and with it the ever-increasing realization that Trump had no plan, had actually dismantled the plan left in place by the Obama administration, and gave not one feck about the deaths as long as the Stock Market stayed strong. So we retreated into our homes. The pittance provided to help us through the shutdown disappeared into the maw of mortgage companies, rent, groceries, and utilities. And still the death numbers rose.

And then there was another death, not from coronavirus but from a policeman’s knee on a Black man’s neck, an all too literal image of what has all too often been the state of affairs in the U.S. And suddenly all the festering anger about far too many cases of police violence against people of color, far too many bills and no way to pay them, far too many deaths with no vaccine or real treatment plan in place, and far too many presidential speeches about how we were doing great when any idiot with a window could see we were not doing great, came roaring out into the streets.

And that’s when things got crazy. Suddenly we had protestors who had hit the streets because they wanted haircuts furious at protesters who had hit the streets because they were tired of being victimized by the system that is supposed to protect all of us. We had a president whose racist views have been an open secret scheduling his return to the campaign trail on Juneteenth, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, site of one of the worst incidences of racial violence in America’s history. (He rescheduled, but the only after public outcry.)

Mortgage and rental companies are gearing up to start evictions. For many of us, work is still hard to come by (I’m one of the lucky few–I’ve actually managed to develop a couple new income streams during the shutdown–but my experience is not typical). Coronavirus infections and deaths are on the rise again–maybe due to premature opening, maybe because that’s the nature of the disease. And we’ve still got the presidential election, and with it its handmaidens of voter suppression, partisanship, poll manipulation, and what used to be called “spin,” but now can be called nothing but “lying.”

And in the midst of all this, I find myself in my quiet office, in my quiet house, teaching classes and leading retreats via Zoom, working on city projects for a lovely woman, planning to start work on a project I’ve been doing for something like fifteen years, and still working with authors who have stories to tell. My son and I have finally incorporated–we are now true business partners.

There’s a huge disconnect between the national and global scene and my quiet life. Sure, I’m worried about the mortgage. I’ve got a call pending with the bank. but so far we’re here. We’re healthy, and above all, we actually do have some people in Washington who seem to “get it.” Bernie Sanders, of course, has been working tirelessly, fighting for economic relief for millions of us. Thank you, Bernie–I wish you were still a candidate, but I respect and love you for continuing the fight for us, even though you’ve been denied the opportunity to lead from behind the Resolute desk.

I’m also grateful to my senators, Wyden and Merkely, and my governor, Kate Brown, who have also been fighting for our safety and prosperity. And finally–and most unexpectedly, I find myself grateful for Mitt Romney. I didn’t vote for him in 2012. Had he run for the presidency the way he seems to have governed Massachusetts things might have been different, but I watched him disavowing some really good things he’d done, and, well, I just couldn’t see it. But then I watched him, alone in his party, vote to try President Trump.

That impressed me. I really disliked his business practices and financial policies, but clearly he had drawn a line in the sand. I respected that. And then I saw some pictures of him, masked, hot and sweaty, perfect hair mussed, eyes smiling, marching with the “Black Lives Matter” protesters.

I can’t tell you what that means to me. I still am disgusted and furious at the GOP capitulation to Trump and trumpism. I am still nauseated by the misogyny, the racism, and the support and elevation of white supremacy and white supremacist ideas. But in all that roiling dark, I sit here in my quiet office and look at Mitt Romney, rich dude, investment banker, sometimes tone-deaf bastion of the Establishment. I see him smiling behind his mask, on the streets to say with his presence that Black Lives Matter, and I realize that in this person I had previously dismissed as a Suit, there is integrity. There is courage. And for me, that means there is hope.

 

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Leroybookfrontcover

Here’s part of how I said “good bye” to Leroy.

When The Boy and I first moved to Milton Freewater we came under duress; our home in Portland had flooded and the landlord chose to do nothing–for a month. We lost everything, including our health. We came here because houses were cheap and the weather was dry. We came to start again.

But a funny thing happened. We acquired our House Leroy. It turned out that he, like me, had roots in the Valley. It turned out that we had complementary skills. It turned out that, against all odds, we became a family, in a town made for families. Those first summers The Boy had a whole neighborhood of kids to play with. Our little old house rang with shouts, laughter, and occasionally tears.

We had come to Milton Freewater to start over. What we discovered was that those old roots we had still had a little life in them. We took evening drives through pale evenings, past peach, pear, and apple orchards. I started doing a project for the local historical society. Those evening drives took on a timeless quality. Some evenings it almost felt like the road had carried us back to when we first drove it, back in the sixties, when summers were hot, corn came in the husks and often included ugly little worms, tomato fields and yes, strawberry fields, stretched forever.

VBcemetery

It was, for those few years, a life out of time. The Boy progressed through the school system. He competed in track. He played football. He played the tuba. Life wasn’t always easy–2008 happened, and 2009, and there were signs that the world was changing, but it was out there, beyond the borders of our town, and our lives. In our world, we went to football games and track meets and solo festivals and jazz festivals, and we drove through quiet evenings, and then we sat on the porch in the golden light, and talked, or listened, or just felt the breeze on our faces.

And then we lost the House Leroy, and it was just The Boy and me, and we tried, but we both knew that losing Leroy was a grievous wound. The timeless world in which we had lived had shattered beyond repair. Driving the old roads became too painful because the history that we had built, that connection to the past that had shielded us like a golden bubble, had shattered beyond repair.

frogs3smallThere were some bad days, months, years. We struggled. We developed coping mechanisms. I developed diabetes, sleep apnea, cancer. The Boy developed depression, anxiety, and cholinergic urticaria. But still, we coped. We still fought for every bit of joy we could find. But for me, there was the sense that we were on borrowed time.

And then came last December. The university where I teach, and where The Boy was finishing up his first degree, got hit with a cyberattack, just before finals week. And we coped. All of us on campus. Finals were re-vamped or canceled. Papers came in as hard copy, rather than uploads. Grades had to be entered when that part of the system was liberated. When winter term started we were still coping. And then halfway through the term, we had snow. Then we had a warm stretch, and all of the snow accumulated in the mountains came rushing down into the valley. Water was everywhere. The Boy, the cats, and I had to evacuate to a Travelodge. We took litter boxes, three changes of clothes for each of us, the gaming systems, the computers, our cell phones, and The Boy’s tux and tuba; he had a concert that weekend.

The Valley rallied. Schools shut down and high schoolers filled sandbags for frantic homeowners. People with big rigs helped people without. Local construction companies carried gravel to washed-out roads. We managed. When the cats, The Boy and I returned home it was to find that though homes at the bridge end of our street had had to be sandbagged, our little old house sat high and dry on its little hill. We breathed a sigh of relief and settled back into our home.

And then, just a few weeks after the flood, the Corona Virus reached Washington, and then Weston, a little town about fifteen miles away. The uncertainty has been hard. What’s happening? Will there be a vaccine or not? If we get sick, what do we do? Where do we go? How do we pay the mortgage? I work in the “gig” economy; I don’t have the luxury of sick leave or unemployment insurance. I have only what I earn.

Advice started. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Closures started. Schools and businesses in California and Seattle. And then word came that our university was closing early. All finals would be administered online. Next term will start not on a busy, lively campus, but in silent rooms where teachers will speak to screens.

The Boy had his last concert–it was the swing band, and he had a solo and rocked it. He had his last presentation and rocked that, too. He’s graduating this term, but there will be no ceremony–just a quiet acknowledgment, and a quiet party at home.

When we came to Milton we slipped back in time for a few years. We lived in a beautiful, twilight eternity. And then the bubble cracked. We lost Leroy. The Boy and I got sick. The world around us got sick. Politics, which for a while allowed us Hope smacked it right out of us. It became a foul, cynical, vicious thing, a cruel joke, and endlessly, openly, corrupt.

Even for people like us, in quiet backwaters, the stench of our dead and rotting system has become unbearable. The cyberattack, the flood, and now the Corona Virus pandemic are all symptoms of a world breaking down around us. We have always had crises, but in the past we took pride in stepping up and meeting the challenge, not just endlessly spinning, spinning, spinning. We have reached the point where the center no longer holds, and where even our quiet lives have become unrecognizable.

We have a president who, rather than enabling our own world-class scientists and systems to work effectively in combatting the virus, tries to make it into a money-making opportunity. Though overwhelming numbers of us support Medicare for All–something the virus has shown is in all of our best interests–we are saddled with a Congress refusing to act on our wishes and in our best interests.

The only solution on offer is to wash your hands and hide in your house. The thing that should make all of us stronger–our national self, our friends, neighbors, towns–is the thing that might well sicken or kill many of us. I am washing my hands. I am hiding in my house. I’ve worked from home for decades, so I know the moves. But contracts are being canceled as events are canceled or postponed. If I lose too many more I’ll be in serious trouble.

So what’s the point of all this? No matter how this comes out, I think we have reached a watershed. Colleges and universities will go back in session. The companies that survive the closures will re-open their doors. Children will go back to school. But I think something has irrevocably changed.

That beautiful golden bubble? The bubble in which for a while we lived out of time? That’s gone. It’s not even shards on the floor. The pace and magnitude of crises are accelerating, spinning us ever onward to that moment of freefall. The past wasn’t perfect. But there were certain things upon which we felt we could rely. Those things are gone. The center has not held. Yeats may have been writing about events he was around him; he might have been writing about our times as well. If the beast has not yet reached Bethlem, he has certainly programmed it into his GPS, and is no longer slouching, but speeding through the night.

The Second Coming
By William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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