Your Neighbors Are Not Fine

A week ago, I was on my way home from an appointment with my psychologist. Yes, I need therapy. And, not your business. In any event, I took light rail to Westlake, then walked up the hill from there. I met a friend in Freeway Park, we chatted a bit, then I decided to be brave and ask her a question I rarely ask people. 

Her husband died last winter, but I’ve seen her out and about in our retirement community since then, and she looks “fine.” By this, I mean that she is dressed as smartly as ever, seems always to have a destination in mind, and simply looks as she always has. But frankly, I’m curious about how people deal with the death of a spouse, so I asked her how she is with life alone. Without hesitating, she said, “I hate it. I really hate it.” 

“Wow,” I said, “I’m glad I asked because you always look fine, but I don’t know how you could be.” “No,” she said, “I really miss him. I miss the things we used to do together. Everyday, I miss him. I don’t like this at all.” 

Not an hour later, I was leaving the laundry room on our floor and bumped into another friend. I say friend, but in neither case was this someone I would call on for help. Yet, we are friendly to each other, and we chat from time to time. Again, I asked this friend how she was. “I’m finally starting to feel more like myself again,” she said. The last time I’d seen her, it was near noon, and she’d just gotten dressed and left her apartment, still looking a bit disheveled. This time, she was brighter and told me she’d started taking an antidepressant. A closer friend than I had told her she really seemed depressed and needed to get help. Fortunately, she trusted this friend enough that she followed through and did find help. She said the pills were kicking in, and she was doing better.

Those two encounters made me wonder how many other people I pass in the halls or see in the dining room or lounge each day are not “fine” no matter what they say. I rarely tell people when I’m down in the dumps, and I’m sure most of us are pretty good at passing for fine. So how is it that we can not see that some of us need more than a “Hi, how are you?” in passing. 

Many of the 500 residents here had friends or relatives living here when they moved in. We did not. Neither did the friend who was depressed. And we did not find it easy to make new friends here. Yes, there are plenty of activities that we can join in. We have exercise classes, speakers and programs, committees galore. (That is we did until Covid. We’re just starting to get back to a semblance of normal.) I’ve volunteered for a few things, but I haven’t made close friends from those ventures. I have one good new friend here. One. How many others are in the same boat? 

I’m not sure if there’s a fix for this conundrum. But I think we should ponder it. Residents who moved to Seattle to be near children or grandchildren still need friends here. Unlike college, when we were all looking for friends, not everyone here needs new friends. But those of us who do, don’t have an easy way of advertising that fact. And people who’ve moved in to join an existing cadre of friends or family don’t need to reach out. 

At the very least, I will try to be more attentive when I ask how people are doing. Perhaps I’ll follow up with another question or two and give them an opportunity to open up a bit if they choose to do so. And maybe I’ll open up a bit. Truth be told, I don’t always share much during down times when I could really use a friend, and I’m guessing others don’t either. So I will need to experiment. I’ll report back.

We Went To Church


We went to church last Sunday. While the rest of you were doing whatever you do on Sunday mornings, we were being dazzled by a service very reminiscent of how Orthodox services were in the old days. The Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Kodiak, is the oldest Orthodox community in the Americas. Founded in 1794, it no longer carries the “Russian Orthodox” designation; rather it is part of the Orthodox Church in America. The OCA was formed during the cold war in order to clearly separate the Russian churches here from the hierarchy in the Soviet Union. 

The Kodiak church is thriving. Picture a modest meeting room with at least 50 people milling around. In years past, men and women stood on separate sides of the church. Today, there was some separation. One man stood on the women’s side. Several women were on the men’s side, but they were with their husbands. (Yes, they were standing. A few folding chairs were along the sides and each side had a pew in the back, but most were standing.

Kids of all ages were milling around squealing, crawling, toddling, running around the adults, begging to be held, being handed from one adult to another, climbing upstairs and going in and out the front doors. Older kids tried to mind the younger kids with little success. As a teen, I tended the nursery in our prim, protestant church so as to keep these little distractions away from the serious business of the adults. But this chaos is the way it is still in many Orthodox services. 

White women mostly wore long dresses with their hair tied back with a scarf knotted behind their neck. Very Russian peasant style. Native women often didn’t have a scarf or long dress. Men looked perfectly normal, but there were lots with long beards and some with long hair. The service lasted two hours so adults took breaks now and then, going outside to visit on the lawn or use the social room in the basement. Kodiak has a seminary a few blocks away, so there were also several men dressed in monk attire. 

The service was in English, but honestly, it was hard to tell. Everything is sung or chanted except the sermon, so it was hard for me to understand it. Perhaps, if I attended regularly, I’d begin to catch on, but I’m not sure anyone cared what was being said. The interior, which is filled with icons, was also full of lighted candles ($2 to $500). All of the principal characters of the drama, and there were a lot of them – men, of course – were outfitted in green robes with gold trim. (I think the colors change for certain holidays). A wooden panel (iconostasis) separates the congregation from the secret work of the men in green. Only the priest can come and go through the center doors; all others must use side doors when coming and going to perform their various duties during the service. 

There was so much repetition and so much kissing of cheeks and icons, and swinging the incense, that it felt as though the record was stuck and someone needed to tap the needle to move on. A small choir, about 3-4 parishioners and monks, played an important role, exchanging parts with the priest throughout the service. The congregation chimed in occasionally with “Kyrie Eleison” (I always thought it meant Christ is Risen, but I looked it up and apparently it means Lord have Mercy), usually repeated three times. 

About 75 minutes into the service, the priest came out to deliver the sermon. Most of those who were standing immediately sat down on the floor. I’ve never seen this before, but maybe I never lasted long enough to get to the sermon. Nick thought the sermon was overly long. He has always said that he liked his father’s sermons, which were apparently shorter. This sermon was based on the scripture about Christ causing a blind man to see. (Must have faith!) But it went on with a tale about a venture to Monk’s Lagoon on a nearby island. The priest was taking a few dignitaries, but the water was too rough to land. He was hoping God would part the waves just long enough for them to get ashore, but it didn’t happen. However, they went to a calmer part of the island, got ashore, and wonderful things happened there. Moral: Maybe God has something better in store for you than whatever it is that you want.

Eventually, they got to communion, and I was shocked to see jugs of grape juice and small paper cups. People went to the priest, who held out a spoon, presumably with the blood of Christ. Did he drop a tiny bit onto their tongues? I couldn’t tell, but perhaps the grape juice and paper cups were a nod to the fact that Covid is still very present in the community. In the church of my youth, we never had wine for communion; it was always bread and grape juice and was strictly symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. 

After the sermon and communion, there were announcements, a lot of them. Some newborns are in the NICU in Anchorage, and a trip to Monk’s Lagoon is happening next week. The church in Kodiak houses the relics of St Herman, who lived at Monk’s Lagoon; the relics are a big deal to this parish. 

We had a few short conversations with people after the service. It really is a vibrant congregation, Anglo and native people both. One baby looked as though he might have a black father, but black people are not common here. There is, however, a Coast Guard Station with approximately 6000 people stationed here. That brings the total population to about 13,000. 

Other than church, we’ve driven all of the 100 miles of roads on the island. It is absolutely stunning. It looks like a tropical paradise, but much of the vegetation is deciduous, so it is quite different most of the year. We have had spectacular weather. Two cloudy days, but upper 50’s to upper 60’s everyday. We’ve turned in the car, so we’ll be walking to the museums in town and chatting with people until we bring some lovely Kodiak weather home with us on Thursday. 

Update: We actually won’t go the museums. On Monday, we both tested positive for Covid. We stood at the back and wore masks during the entire church service, so we likely didn’t spread it to anyone there. We probably caught the bug during an extended wait for our food in a local diner. We’ve been so cautious about eating out, but let our guard down in order to chat with a relative by marriage. We are not very sick, but this is still making hash of the end of our trip.

Take a Road Trip!

Want to get out of your Covid funk? See some sights? Prod some memories? Get emotional? Feel inspired? My advice: Take a road trip.

When I was a kid, the family car was mostly used to get to the grocery store, piano lessons, church, etc. So every month or so, my dad would say, “It’s time to get some cobwebs out of the engine.” And we’d take a short road trip. Happy Jack Road was a favorite. Or back to Pine Bluffs, where my mom grew up. Or out to the Veedawoo picnic grounds. Short, but useful for many reasons, but most important, we were all in the same space for a few hours, away from common temptations that sent us in different directions.

My husband and I just returned from two weeks driving from Seattle to Cheyenne and back. I’m exhausted, but really glad we did it. We decided that we are going to visit each of our home towns this summer, and I picked late May to early June as the most likely time to see a tinge of green on the Wyoming praries. We took the route through southern Idaho and Wyoming, which we hadn’t done in decades. It was spectacular. I can’t imagine a better place to be a geologist: everything you want to see is right on the surface. And, best of all, Apple says my screen time was down for the duration of the trip.

Our camping gear went unused except for one night in Oregon when the weather was perfect. Every other day the weather was dicey. We had thunderstorms, days of solid misty rain, and lots of wind. So we were glad we were not explorers who had no options. Because of Covid, we stayed away from sit-down restaurants, opting for drive-throughs or take-out and eating in our rooms. We wore masks indoors, but saw few others doing so. Good news: no one gave us any grief about it. I guess if you’re spending money, you’re not going to get insulted.

I won’t put all of my observations into this one post, but I’ll hit a few highlights today.

One: things looked good for the most part. Of course, the wind did the job of the street cleaners in most of the towns we drove through, but I was surprised at how clean and prosperous things were. Naturally, all the towns had some empty storefronts, but they were holding their own. No ghost towns. I think it helps to be so far from big cities; some services have to be available to people without driving an hour or more. 

Two: The landscape is stunning. I have rather dreary memories of all that open space, but perhaps my recent experience cooped up in Seattle listening to freeway noise and looking out at building after building prepped me for enjoying the vastness of the American West. On our way to Twin Falls, the highway crossed a slim, but deep canyon of a tributary of the Snake River. We turned off and paid $7.00 to wander through a state park with short trails that led us to places where we could look into the cut made by the river. The landscape looked flat and monotonous, yet here was this deep narrow canyon cutting right through it. Surprises like that appeared every day. 

Three: The Snake River is amazing. Headwaters are in Wyoming, south of Jackson and the Tetons, but its route to meet the Columbia on the Washington/Idaho border goes all over the place. I began to comprehend the discussion about the “lower Snake River dams” as we could see that there are also some upper Snake River dams that support the expansive agricultural plains in Idaho. 

We followed the Payette and Salmon rivers north from Boise to get to Grangeville in the middle of Idaho. Again, absolutely stunning scenery. Steep hills, green at this time of year, rushing river due to all the recent rain. The road was so winding that I could do without winding roads for a long time going forward. But awesome.

Four: Agriculture. I’m convinced that we need to find a way to help city folks understand Big Ag. Small, organic farms capture our imagination, and people tend to feel quite proud when they can feed themselves on mostly small, organic ag products. But Big Ag (and Big Organic) feeds most of us, and we need to understand it better. I know people who won’t eat beef because they think cattle spend their entire lives in feed lots. Those folks need to drive around WA, ID, WY, MT. More cows than people scattered all over the landscape, living free. Yes, most go to feedlots before slaughter to pack on the pounds faster. But cattle growing up on the range are making food from land that cannot be used for crops. In any event, cattle are complicated, we need regulations to monitor antibiotic use and other issues that affect our health, but practices are evolving in a good direction, and we should celebrate this.  

There is so much we city folk don’t understand about Ag in general, and Big Ag in particular. I’m sure we could do it better; I’m sure farmers and ranchers don’t always know best and grumble at any and all regulations. But I’m also sure that they love their work, love their rural lives, and wish we trusted them just a bit. More later on all that.

I’ll quit for today. Please share any thoughts you have about “the West!”

Let’s Not Assume Guilt by Association

Recently, an article crossed my path for a second time, and this time it caught my attention. It was basically a challenge to the self-ID phenomenon that has carried the day in gender fluid circles, but it didn’t stop with that. The author, Jonathan Kay, in his article “The Search to Explain our Anxiety and Depression: Will Long Covid Become the Next Gender Identity,” went on to cast aspersion on “contested illnesses.” It took me a while to figure out how he was linking gender self-ID and his collection of contested illnesses, but the link was his assumption that people could self identify into genders and also into illnesses.

To prove his case, he led readers to the website of an organization calling itself “Body Politic.Yes, clearly Body Politic is Woke, and yes, it has become a gathering place for people with Long Covid. But Kay, a journalist I respect, has fallen from his pedestal of Rational Critic of Woke on this occasion. I believe he has engaged in the logical error of assuming guilt by association, just one of many traps we can fall into when we are determined to expose wrongthink of one variety or another. 

I consider myself a skeptic of some of the contested illnesses Kay cites in his article. Yet I have seen one friend who claims EMS (electromagnetic sensitivity) come to a book club meeting and comment to the group that the EMF signals seemed weaker than usual, only to have the leader announce that Wi-Fi was out that night. On another night, she commented that signals seemed stronger than usual, only to learn that the store had bumped up the Wi-Fi signal recently. So now I believe that she really is sensitive to things that don’t affect me at all though I claim no expertise as to her illness.

Multiple Personality Disorder is another diagnosis that many challenge today. Yet another friend from years past had this diagnosis. I accepted this claim of hers with a giant dose of skepticism until I saw her switch during a discussion when I said something that triggered a reaction in her. Her voice changed; her demeanor changed; she attacked me in a way she had never done before. It was all very spooky, and had I not seen it, I would not have lightened my skepticism several notches; yet I claim no expertise as to her mental illness. 

Likewise, I have a friend with ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome). I moved into a condo next door to her one year, but found her reluctant to engage with me. After a couple of years, we were finally friends, close enough that she could disclose to me the physical limitations she lived with. This woman is a retired art teacher and librarian, a gifted artist, someone who enjoyed travel, loves to see art exhibits and go to movies. Yet she can do but a fraction of what she would love to do. Travel is out of the question. And even at home, she is limited to a few hours a day that she can enjoy any of her pleasures. Why would I doubt her? She clearly wants to do more.

My point with these stories is simply that I have been blessed to know, and count as friends, these individuals who are doubted by society. I do not claim to have any special knowledge about their conditions. I have learned from them that it is indeed a hardship to suffer in a way that you cannot disclose for fear of ridicule. It is a hardship to be doubted by medical professionals. And there is a deep need to find others with similar experiences. If you reach out online and a find a group who understand what you’re talking about, you will appreciate their acceptance even if they are Woke. You may find others who are not Woke. You will count your blessings that they are ready to include you without checking your Woke or anti-Woke credentials.

In the year since Kay’s article appeared in Quillette, we have accumulated many more cases and much more knowledge of Long Covid. Researchers  have yet to find agreement on which symptoms are most useful for diagnosis, much less find a cure. Yet doubting individuals who claim Long Covid just feels wrong because the harm of such doubt is serious; it only increases their challenges; in this case it detracted from the rest of the article which expressed concerns regarding more common campus identity issues.

I have no close friends who are trans, but friends of mine have children and grandchildren who are. I write about my concerns with gender identity, and some of what I say brings squinty eyes from these friends. Yes, I have concerns about gender-affirming care that includes hormones and surgery for kids and teens. I have serious doubts about moving men, who suddenly claim to be trans, from a mens’ prison to a women’s prison. (Do we need a trans prison? I don’t know.) I don’t want to harm trans individuals, but harm can come from more than one direction. Jumping on a bandwagon of support too soon (another way to short-circuit clear thinking) can be as harmful as shunning people for things we don’t yet understand.

Young people who are questioning their gender needn’t be turned aside. Engage with them. Sort out all the concerns they have. Good therapists who are concerned about the lack of research in this area have formed the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine, SEGM, to support each other as they develop positive alternatives to the gender affirming model of care. Acceptance and engagement is a viable approach that avoids the potential harms of uncritical affirmation or thoughtlessly rejecting a patient.

Because the war against Woke has been so intense, it’s been easy to fall into logical errors of one type or another while arguing against it. Kay went all-out for guilt by association. But confirmation bias plagues us all – all day every day, every one of us. It’s seriously unpleasant to read or watch things we don’t agree with. I try to read from a wide variety of sources, but I only read things that feel “honest” to me. Rants don’t merit my time. Still, I have to discipline myself to take in opinions that are seriously at odds with my current thinking. 

If avoiding logical pitfalls seems important to you, I suggest a visit to Logical Fallacies. This, and other such sites are helpful if you need a refresher course in the many ways our good intentions can pave the road to hell! Even those of us who don’t believe in hell will benefit from avoiding these pitfalls.

Pandemic Reflections #8

Gallery

Although 2020 has been dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, other things have happened, too. George Floyd, an election, post-election crazy period, and on-going culture wars. Forgive me if I wander a bit. Vocabulary Have you learned any new words this … Continue reading