Not Embracing the Fear Factor

During times of despair, no matter how dire a situation looks, I choose to focus on the positive. I tell myself to travel in the light, not in the dark, to find humor in the most troubling situations even during a pandemic.

Darn the coronavirus. It’s no lie that it has changed life as we previously knew it and I am sick and tired of hearing about it. I may have to give up my claim to being a news and political junkie and leave the TV turned off for a while because there’s no escape. Breaking news reports about the pandemic has become more common than commercials about bladder leak and auto insurance. The mute button on my remote control is getting stuck from being depressed so often.

Aside from making people sick, this thing has everyone paranoid. Medical professionals are advising people to avoid physical contact and reiterating it so often that some people are acting like they are afraid to look at another person. Listen, people. Making eye contact with someone across the room will not infect you with coronavirus. Let me amend that statement by saying, not yet anyhow. Who knows? At any minute, a breaking news report could repudiate that claim. As of now, it is okay to look, just don’t touch.

Last week on the Today show, NBC medical correspondent, Dr. John Torres, said that we are safer if we maintain a distance of at least six feet away from people. Since then, I’ve heard numerous other medical professionals mimicking his statement.

Among other things associated with the current pandemic, I’m particularly angry over the no-touch factor. Touch is the first of the five senses, and it is a basic human need. Research suggests that touch is fundamental to social bonding and health. Studies have shown that human touch can improve the immune system, reduce the heart rate, and lower blood pressure. They also reveal that compassionate touching is a good thing. That is until recently. Coronavirus arrived on the scene like a spurned lover straight out of fatal attraction, and it is releasing fury and creating private hells for people worldwide.

I’m a toucher and a hugger. I don’t need a study to tell me that. It’s who I am. Now, I have to retrain myself not to reach out and touch people, and to avoid touching my own face. Believe me when I say that it is a struggle for me to resist the urge to high-five or shake hands with an acquaintance or embrace a friend.

We are temporarily (let’s hope that’s the case) living in an altered reality. It’s another so-called new norm among many new norms that have surfaced in recent decades. And it sucks.

Stores are bankrupt of essential cleaning and sanitizing supplies. Overburdened medical staff are setting up triage tents for testing. Businesses are temporarily shutting down. And some people are losing their minds.

This morning as I was out walking, I saw a couple approaching from about half-a-block away. The woman was wearing a hijab and an abaya. No problem. However, the person walking beside her (I couldn’t determine if it was a woman or man) was wearing a blanket over clothing. Yes, I kid you not. A full-length, gray, grabbed off of a bed-covering blanket. It was wrapped around his or her entire body probably secured with safety pins or some other device behind the head. The blanket extended from beneath the person’s eyes to below the knees of the trousers.

I struggled with the temptation to avoid pulling my camera out of my pocket to snap a photo of them before they got too close to me. But then I realized that I had reached my turn off point and veered in the direction of my home. As I said, some folks are losing their mind.

I am determined not to buy into the fear-factor, but I won’t take foolish chances either.

Moments ago, I was sitting at my computer typing this post, and enjoying the breeze coming through an opened window, when I heard a male voice outside sneezing several times, so loudly that I thought he would blow out his lungs. The sneezes were followed by a brief coughing spell. Just as I jumped up to run over and close the window, I noticed that I didn’t hear him hacking anymore. Perhaps he got into a car or went further down the street.

No sooner do I sit back down and begin keyboarding when I cough, twice. Dang it! For real? Where did that come from? I tell myself that it is merely a psychological response. I’m good. But then I hear a faint voice deep in my brain asking how long before symptoms appear after exposure, 7 to 14 days? Oh, hell no! Get out of my head. I’m not going there. I refuse to surrender to paranoia.

I just hope that before this mess is over, I don’t run out of hand soap, cans of disinfectant spray, Lysol wipes, bleach and hand sanitizer.  Oh, and that precious commodity for the porcelain throne – toilet paper.

 

 

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Aging Like Fine Wine

I see it. There, on the horizon. Another birthday approaching in a couple of days.

God rest your soul, B.B.King, but this septuagenarian won’t need to play your upbeat Happy Birthday Blues song to lift my spirits. I’m good. My plan for B-Day is to express my gratitude to God for the blessing of seeing another birthday and then I’ll take a moment to reflect on my birthday’s past.

I’ve had some ho-hum birthdays when I did nothing to acknowledge the occasion except maybe draw a smiley face on my daily flip calendar and then turn the page. I also had some memorable birthdays like when my beau at the time treated me to a concert, dinner, or some other memorable event. (Eugene, I don’t know if you are reading this or if you are even aware that I have an online journal, but if you are, I want you to know that I still remember when you took me to a small supper club. Unbeknownst to me at the time, you slipped the waitress a note to give to the club host. The host then announced from the stage that it was my birthday and pointed to our table. The clubgoers turned toward us and sang Happy Birthday to me. It was a beautiful gesture, and I don’t know why I felt embarrassed, but I did. I just wanted to dissolve into a heap of chocolate in my chair faster than the ice melting in our drinks. But as you see, your thoughtfulness left a lasting impression because I still remember that unforgettable birthday evening.)

My earliest memorable birthday was my 16th. That was the only time I ever had a birthday party. It wasn’t a budget-busting gala like some contemporary parents provide for their 16-year-old daughters. Mine was a small event. I remember the round cake bought from Posin’s Bakery. It had “Happy Birthday Sweet 16” written on top in pink and yellow icing, encircled by 16 candles.

Along with the cake, we enjoyed Neapolitan ice cream, potato chips, and a few other party snacks.  The several friends who I invited, my siblings, and I celebrated the event in the basement of our family home, while my parents courteously remained upstairs.

We danced beneath pre-strung crepe decorations to the stack of 45 RPMs, which I had prearranged next to my dad’s record player. The lineup included many of my favorite tunes:  How Sweet It Is by Marvin Gaye; Bettye Everett & Jerry Butler ‘s Let It Be Me; My Guy by Mary Wells; Baby Love by the Supremes; and You’ve Lost that Lovin Feelin by the blue-eyed soul duo, The Righteous Brothers. That was when music was music and not just a compilation of noise, grunts, and offensive language.

I, like other Boomers, grew up in The Vietnam War era when gas cost 30 cents per gallon, a loaf of bread was 21 cents, and a US Postage Stamp, 5 cents. The Beatles were taking the world and America by storm. I owned at least two of their singles; A Hard Days Night and She Loves You (yeah, yeah, yeah).

A talented young boxer by the name of Cassius Clay (he later changed his name to Muhammed Ali) won the boxing world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston. The Civil Rights Act was signed into law, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr received the Nobel Peace Prize, but that didn’t stop creative artists like The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron from rapping politically charged lyrics about revolution.

Most pertinent to this lifelong Washingtonian was when the District of Columbia residents gained the right to vote in a presidential election for the first time. I remember that my dad was so proud to cast his first ballot. I don’t think he ever missed voting during a single election after that.

So many birthdays, so much history.

Although listening to music was one of my favorite pastimes then (and it still is), when I could scrape together enough money, I enjoyed attending shows at The Howard Theater, usually with my best friend, Cookie. She and I laughed ourselves silly while witnessing the antics of rising star comedians like Flip Wilson, Moms Mabley, and Richard Pryor. Back then, theater seats were available on a first-come basis. Cookie and I would rush to get to the Howard an hour before the box office opened so that we would be the first patrons standing in line to buy tickets. After purchasing them, we would race to the front of the auditorium and grab seats on the front row. When the screening of the movie previews and a serial film was over it was showtime. We would scream and act-a-fool (as the old folks would say it) during live performances by musical entertainers like Chuck Jackson, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Marvelettes and so many others.

Sometimes I spent Saturday afternoons at the Sylvan Theater. If I wasn’t with Cookie, I went along with my parents and siblings. We enjoyed films like Imitation of Life, Sounder, and A Fistful of Dollars. By the time Blaxploitation films emerged, I was a bonafide movieholic and going to other movie houses in the city. I squirmed through films like Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and cried at the end of Cooley High. (The latter remains one of my favorite films.)

So many birthdays. So many memories.

I’ve aged like fine wine. Over the years, the mature me has expanded my interests to include social activism and politics. Before writing these memories, I couldn’t resist digging up some birthday trivial and I found this. According to the MyBirthdayNinja site, in my previous life (for those who believe in such), I was a publisher and scribbler of ancient inscriptions. (Isn’t that interesting?)

No, you won’t hear me singing any birthday blues, because I see every birthday as a journey. Another landmark. I will treasure every year and enjoy every mile because on each B-Day that I am blessed to be above ground; I will be older than yesterday, but younger than tomorrow.

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Remembering A Dog’s Life

Years ago, I worked with a wonderful man who had a basset hound named Cleo. Occasionally he would bring Cleo to the office. I liked that dog as much as her owner loved her. You know how you hear people say some things that stay with you forever? Whenever Cleo’s master was agitated with some of our business associates following a meeting or phone call, he would say to me privately, “That’s why I like animals better than I like humans.” At the time, I thought that was a rather odd statement, but over the years, I have come to fully understand why he felt that way, and I know other pet lovers who would agree with his statement.

Domesticated animals, particularly dogs, and cats are more compliant and much easier to deal with than people in general. The most agitation an animal will cause is when it chews up one of our favorite slippers or pillows, scratches the furniture, or has an occasional accident inside the home instead of doing its business outdoors. People, on the other hand, are not always acquiescent and tend to frequently get on our last nerve.

Animals, although territorial, tend not to be power-hungry, cantankerous, or disloyal. They give us unconditional love. In human relationships, this precious commodity is almost impossible to find. When our loyal, four-legged companion senses that we are in danger it comes to our rescue. If we are stressed-out, our pet is there snuggling beside us, wagging its tail or purring as if to say, “You’ve got a friend.”

Although I like both cats and dogs, I am partial to dogs, except for a few bad-rep breeds. Advocates of those breeds would have a hissy fit if I called them out, so I won’t, but many of you can imagine which dogs I am referencing. Face it; you rarely hear reports broadcast about a collie, poodle, or some other gentle breed mauling someone to death. (Note, I said rarely, not never.) If you don’t know which vicious breeds I am referring to, use your honest, unbiased imagination or ask Judge Judy. She will unhesitatingly tell you which breeds have the bad-repute.

When I was a youngster, our family had two dogs, during different periods in my life. Our first dog was a beautiful black lab named Tippy. I don’t recall where we got Tippy, but I remember that she was a lovely animal. Below is a photo of Tippy with my sister taken in December 1964.

After Tippy, came Muffy. I don’t have a photo of Muffy, so I’ll simply describe her as being a white mutt. She too was a sweet canine. If I remember correctly, my mom told me that a friend of my youngest brother gave that dog to him. That was around late 1967 or early ’68.

I have a memorable event relating to Muffy. She was still a puppy when I brought her outside one day. As I was sitting on the front porch of our family’s home deeply engrossed in a novel. I believe it was Valley of the Dolls. Muffy, off-leash wandered off of the porch, trotted to the end of the block and out into the street. You guessed it; a car hit her. Fortunately, it was a quiet street with very little traffic and not a busy avenue.

Some of the neighborhood kids came running to the house and told me that Muffy got hit by a car. Long story short, a handsome young man around my age had been driving the car that hit Muffy. He stopped, picked her up and was holding Muffy in his arms when I rushed to the scene. Muffy’s right paw was bleeding. He handed her to me and then drove us to a veterinarian clinic which was a few blocks away. Fortunately, Muffy had only a minor leg injury, but through that encounter, I met the greatest love of my life. And although we each eventually went on to live our separate lives, we remained the best of friends for over 30 years. I will always believe that it was divine intervention that led him to visit me one day in May 2001. For about an hour that day, we laughed and reminisced about old times. That was two days before he suddenly died. It is impossible for me to think about Muffy and not remember him, because memories of both are intertwined.

Even stranger is a dream I had recently. My former boyfriend was standing beside his car, which was parked in the middle of the street. The same street near my parent’s home, where he had run over Muffy years ago. In the dream, he is holding Muffy and smiling as I approach them. I return his smile. Muffy with her beautiful, big eyes, looks intently at me but seems quite contented to be in his arms. As I reach out to pet Muffy, they both vanish and I wake up.

I did some research about dreams about deceased dogs and came up with this. Dogs are usually a symbol of loyalty and friendship and often might represent good things in your life. I also discovered this — It could mean that you haven’t gotten over your dead dog and your subconscious mind is trying to communicate this to you. Very interesting, isn’t it? I’m going to leave that right there.

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Contemplating Unfinished Agendas

Sometimes life body slams us so hard that all we can do is cry. Kobe Bryant’s death had that effect on people worldwide. It even brought grown men to tears. Like most people, I am equally saddened about the other eight people who lost their lives in the copter crash, including one of Kobe’s daughters. But I can’t count how many times I heard repeated, “Kobe was the man!” I have no qualms about that. Deservedly so, the entire world is giving Kobe props.

From an early age, we learn to set goals, not only because it is a wise thing to do but because it gives us a sense of direction and some control over our life. I emphasize some control because the word control is worrisome to me. I regard it with the same reservation as I do another impractical word – fair.

I remember reading a while ago, and I can’t recall where I read it, but the author was spot-on when he wrote that “Fairness cannot exist because nothing is fair.” That statement reverberates in my mind whenever I hear someone say how unfair it is that Kobe died so young. Not that I disagree, but as I see it, the concept of fairness is as conditional as the notion of control. Think about it. Are we ever completely in control of our life? Anyone who believes that we are, probably believes that fairness is a reality, too. Contrary to the myth, all is NOT fair in love and war or life.

And speaking of goals. Kobe had goals beyond those that he had already accomplished. What he did not have was control over his life. Fate took charge of that, leaving an unfinished agenda in Kobe’s book of life.

I often record information in an appointment book, digital calendar, or a personal organizer. Many other efficient people do it too. We log into appropriate timeslots activities like community meetings, doctors’ appointments, or hairdresser. For less urgent tasks, we make a mental note or jot on our to-do list:  Straighten the linen closet. Get the car washed. Finish reading War and Peace.

I am a positive realist (aka a call-it-as-I-see-it person).  I maintain a positive attitude, but I also acknowledge the fact that no matter what goals we aspire to, there will be challenges that may prevent us from achieving that goal.  So many things depend on extenuating circumstances, so I don’t harbor the illusion of being in control. Fate sometimes undermines our plans. Robert Burns understood this even in the 18th Century when he wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

We’ve all heard stories about people who experience life-altering situations and we acknowledge their situation as either good fortune or bad luck. Consider the unemployed husband of five. The day after he loses his job, he wins the biggest jackpot in lottery history. Good luck, right? On the other hand, we also remember the family outing that turned tragic when a mother lost nine family members including her husband and three children in a Duck Boat accident. Neither the father of five or the mother, suddenly of none, had control over what happened.

At times life’s unpredictability hits close to home.  A few years ago, a friend of mine walked from her apartment to the communal laundry room, which was mere steps away from her door. She was carrying a plastic laundry basket containing a few items of clothing. A light load. She placed the laundry into the washer, turned it on and then returned to her apartment. Suddenly feeling ill, she was rushed to the hospital by a family member and within minutes was in the ICU. By the time the washer finished its final spin cycle, she was dead.

Every morning when we are fortunate to wake up, those of us who are religious thank God for the blessing of seeing another day, and then we go about our business. Off to work, shopping, or doing whatever we have planned for the day. I don’t dwell on the “what if” something bad happens; nevertheless, I am always aware of the fact that there is the chance that in a flash, a quirk of fate can change all plans. Phone calls go unreturned. Emails unanswered. And laundry is left unclaimed in the washer.

I repeat I am a positive realist. My life’s experiences have led me to embrace the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (and I am paraphrasing), “I always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

When I was a child growing up in LeDriot Park, I sometimes heard an angry parent yell at her misbehaving child, “Keep it up and I’m going to hit you so hard you’re gonna wake up dead.” That idle threat was more intimidating than, “Do it one more time and I’ll knock you into the middle of next week.”

My mother never said anything that mean to my siblings or me, but hearing other people say it left naive me wondering – after we die do we wake up dead and do we know that we are dead?

There is so much about life – and death – that is a mystery. But one thing is certain. Regardless of what we plan, each individual’s lifespan has a timeframe. There are no retakes and few second chances. I think of life using the analogy of a horse race. Once out of the gate, we may stumble and then get back on our feet, but we cannot turn around and start all over again. We must run the track – until we can’t. Life is a one-way trip from the cradle to the grave over which we have only limited control and sometimes we leave unfinished agendas.

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Enduring a Not So Happy New Year’s Day

I had planned to write an upbeat post for the New Year, but situations that occurred during the past few weeks changed that. And although last year was generally a wonderful ride, the road got bumpy toward the end, and that’s an understatement.

Since a few weeks before Christmas, I’ve talked with many of my close friends and relatives and learned that a lot of folks are dealing with illness, death, and grief in their families during this holiday season, and joy is elusive. I am no exception. I have a dear friend who was perfectly healthy a month ago, but she suddenly became ill and is now in hospice. Aside from that, I lost someone dear to my heart. Right now, I find that my ability to lift anyone’s spirits (including my own) with encouraging words demands every ounce of my mental energy. As my cousin, Vanessa, said to me this morning. “It’s been a rough ride.”

It is times like this when I must keep repeating to myself a mantra that I’ve so often said to others, “Count your blessings.” I’ve been blessed to live to see the beginning of another year, and if you are reading this, then so have you. However, my gratitude doesn’t ease the burden on my heart.

Few people know this, but for decades, my Aunt Ida called me every year at midnight, or not longer then a minute after that, to wish me a Happy New Year. If I wasn’t at home, she would leave a message on my voice mail. In more recent years, she stopped calling precisely at midnight, but without fail, either she or I would initiate the call a few hours later on New Year’s Day, and exchange well wishes for the coming year. It was our intimate tradition.

This year the tradition was broken because my beloved aunt died three days ago. Few people, except maybe our immediate families, hers and mine, will know how close Aunt Ida and I were. She was my friend, my confidant, my “other mother.” Always encouraging me to follow my dream; always praying for me. I miss her immensely; as I write this I am fighting back tears. Our traditional “Happy New Year” exchange is over. Therefore, instead of publishing the New Year’s post that I intended to put on my blog today, I am dedicating this one to my aunt, Ida Staton White, and including one of my favorite photos of her taken during her younger years. I know it may be futile and it may even seem silly to some of my readers, but I am going to say it anyway, one last time.  “Happy New Year, Aunt Ida!” This one is for you.

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