Category Archives: #covid19

Biking for RBG

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the legal pioneer for gender equality and the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, died just before sundown on Rosh Hashanah, I shared the country’s grief. What could I do to honor this gutsy, determined, badass woman? How could we continue her legacy in light of what we knew as the inevitability of her replacement with a woman who appeared to be the antithesis of whom NPR called a “demure firebrand?”

Writing an article that was published by The Jewish World (“RBG’s death alarms and saddens Marilyn as she hopes for a better world.” 10/22/2020) helped me, but could I do more? 

A few days later, a friend shared a link to a website that offered a way to honor the feminist icon. Run for Ruth was billed a virtual event to “celebrate the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her dedication to equality for all no matter where we are right now.” Participants could run, jog, walk, or, as I later earned, even swim to reach a total 87 miles —the number that reflected RBG’s age when she passed away. In addition, one could choose to donate to several charities earmarked as those representing RBG’s legacy through their support of women’s rights and empowerment.

The $29 entrance fee entitled each participant to a tee shirt with a picture of RBG wearing a crown; a digital race bib; and a finisher’s medal. It also gave one access to a website which one could put in individual mileage, compare results with others involved, and even print out a virtual bib. The guidelines said that  a minimum of 30% of registration proceeds would go to charity.

With visions of RBG smiling down from heaven, I sent in my online registration fee; donated money to Planned Parenthood, one of the charity options; and logged in for my first virtual entry–the 20 mile bike ride I took the day after Rosh Hashanah and two days after her passing.

No matter how or with whom I would put in the miles, I knew from Day One that I could not make my goal just 87 miles. Since the pandemic had hit, I had swapped fitness classes for 7 a.m., swims in an outdoor pool and, accompanied by my husband Larry, long walks and longer bike rides. I had already put 1000 miles on my bike’s cyclometer. Based on this knowledge, I set my personal goal for 870 miles by  the January 31, 202, deadline.

About four weeks and 230 miles later, I received the Run for Ruth race packet in the mail. The finisher’s medal, a large metal medallion on a striped ribbon, was pretty impressive but, in my eyes, pretty useless. I couldn’t see when I would wear it and put it aside to give to my five year old granddaughter. 

The bigger disappointment was the tee shirt. I had ordered an adult size large, but fit like a child’s medium. I couldn’t even get it over my head. I gave it to my petite niece and found an even cooler RBG shirt on Etsey for myself. 

Now that the focus was off the perks, it was time for me to put my pedal to the metal. Larry was a great biking partner, pumping air into our bike tires as needed, mapping out routes that avoided traffic, and scheduling hydration stops along the way. Our two hour walks were filled with conversations about  the family, politics, books, and movies. 

By the middle of October, I was fully invested in what I now called my “Bike for Ruth.” We were averaging over 19 miles on our bikes and over 5 miles on our walks, along with one or two of my solo swims. Each day, I recorded my progress on the website and checked my results compared to fellow participants. 

Amazingly, 1376 people ranging in age from 5 to 81 from had signed up for the biking event. Predictably, many had not gone more than a few miles before dropping out. (Hope their tee shirts fit better than mine!). A couple of hundred had reached their goal of 87 and were done. But there were hundreds more who were still cycling along.

The results page not only gave names, miles, ages, hours expended, and home town but it also listed rankings. And guess who was in the top 60 and climbing! Not only was I moving up the chart, but I was one of the oldest riders.

True, I had several factors in my favor. Others were dealing with snow and school and jobs and the pandemic, forget about hills! Mrs.-Retired-in-Flat-Florida could pedal and walk and even swim to her heart’s content. And I had the spirit of RBG urging me on. I was getting closer and closer to my goal of 870.

One day, however, I noticed a fellow Floridian had slipped into the top 25. One entry. One day. 1067 miles. And this person was 75 years old! Impossible!

I decided the best way to handle what I considered an unacceptable entry is that could ride more miles.  I upped my personal goal from 870 to at least 1068. 

By this time, it was mid-December, and Larry was getting concerned. Florida was experiencing its winter, and it had turned colder, windier, and even rainier. Could we speed this process up, maybe get done by January 1?

We both pulled the Smart Wools, gloves, and nano-puff jackets we usually reserve for our trips to Colorado and soldiered on. I hit 870 on December 21 and 1068—Take That, 1067-in-One-Day— on January 4. 

At this point, Larry said that I was on my own. I cranked out another 300 miles and hit 1367 miles on the last day of the challenge. I finished in 10th place out of 1376, with the next person close to my age in 56th place.

I was waiting for the drum roll, or at least a shiny certificate in the mail. I would have waited for a long time. As you remember, I had gotten my “finisher’s medal” two weeks into the race. And the black and white 5X7 online certificate listed in big letters my name and time expended: 109 plus hours. In tiny letters was my rank and wrong age of 69. So I created my own tribute that I have displayed on my refrigerator. It reads.Marilyn Shapiro. 10th Place. 1367 Miles. 70 Years Old. Then I got back on my bike.After all, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 88th birthday would have been March 15. And I am good for at least 880 or so miles before my pandemic pedaling finally comes to an end.

First published in The Jewish World, March 4, 2021

Catch Me If You Can

Can a book change a life?

Our tenth grade English class was deep into The Scarlet Letter, the classic by Nathanial Hawthorne. I was mesmerized not only by the writing and the story, but also by its symbolism. Hester Prynne carried her shame on her chest every day, the bright red letter A which identified her as an adulterer. Things weren’t bad enough in Puritan America without her having to not only hold her beloved Pearl in her arms but to have her shame emblazoned for all to see.

Our teacher, Mrs. Frances Clute, was a friend of my parents She and her husband John had spent time with my parents, and she knew me well.

One day, after class, Mrs. Clute asked me to stay a little longer. As the rest of my classmates dashed out the door for Mr. Kennedy’s World History class, she pulled out a small book from one of her desk drawers.

“This is Catcher in the Rye, Marilyn,” Mrs. Clute told me. “I know how much you love The Scarlet Letter. This is also a book that deals with symbolism. I am giving it to you with your promise not to share it with any of your classmates.”

I was grateful for her trust. Even if I knew nothing about J. D. Salinger’s 1951classic, I knew she trusted me and saw in me the enthusiasm and the intelligence to handle its content and meaning.

I probably read it all that night, the whole story of Holden Caulfield, his depression, his flight from his private school, his trip to New York. I read how he wanted to save his sister Phoebe from any dangers that she would experience. I “got” the meaning of the “catcher in the rye,” the person who wanted to always protect those whom he loved.

I also saw why Mrs. Clute had been furtive in her gift. The book had language that was certainly not in books  usually selected by Keeseville Central School. I now don’t remember if it contained the “F” word, but it had other language and actions that were certainly not broadcast in our small upstate New York town. What made it great was the symbolism, the depth of the story behind the words.

I had already decided that I would be a teacher. After reading Salinger’s classic,  however, I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. I would spend my college years reading other classics, and then I would go on to teach others to love literature as much as I did.  I followed that dream. 

Looking back,I realize from my older eyes how shallow my understanding and appreciation of great literature was in college.There are classics that I read and hated, Moby Dick probably the most memorable. (I had to read it in one week. It was about a whale.) 

In my first teaching job, I was assigned to share Brave New World, 1984, and Night with juniors and seniors in our school small town near Albany. I realized that not only did they not understand the books’ meanings. Most of them couldn’t even read. I had been a last minute replacement for a man who decided in June to pursue his doctorate, and all the students had signed up to be in “The Cool Class with the Cool Teacher.” I was not the cool teacher.

In the years that followed, I have tried and failed to read other classics, including Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, One Hundred Years of Solitude. I missed the depth in so many books.

It is January, and as I have every year, I have those four books on my “To Read” books. I probably will never get to them, preferring the New York Times best sellers and ones recommended by my bookish friends. But maybe, in honor of Mrs. Clute, I will take my copies of The Scarlet Letter and Catcher in the Rye down from my shelf. While sheltering in place during this pandemic, I will revisit my friendship with Hester Prynne and Holden Caulfield. And, even though I know I have still a great deal to learn about literature and symbolism and the classics, I will accept that Mrs. Clute recognized that I had that spark in me. And for that I will be forever grateful.

Picture Credit: By Mary Hallock Foote – The Scarlet Letter – edition: James R. Osgood & Co,, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11264794 

Fallow 2020 may help us reconnect with what we have

In her book, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, British writer Katherine May recounts her own “sad” time where she was forced to hunker down after family illness. “Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of hour human experience,” she writes, “and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.”

We are all “wintering” now through this pandemic. As we welcome good news with the rollout of the vaccines, we also grieve for those we have lost, those who remain ill, and all of us who have had our lives upended. But there WILL be a spring. I am not sure if I ever want to go back to the phrenetic pace of our previous life. 

My whole life has always been about filling up my calendar. I thought this would change once I retired to Florida, but the last five years have been even busier. My days—and in many cases Larry’s as well—were filled with concerts and theater subscriptions and annual Disney passes and movies and dinners out. I scheduled so many events that neither  Larry nor I could keep up, resulting in revelations of upcoming plans mere hours before they occurred. “You were going to tell me about this WHEN?” Larry asked, as he dressed quickly to get to an afternoon tribute band concert being held in our 55+ community. “Sorry, sweetheart,” I responded as I quickly threw on some makeup. “I thought our tickets were for the evening show!”

Our lives were also filled with trips to visit our children as well as to see places on our bucket list. When we weren’t away or running around to our innumerable commitments, we also enjoyed visits from friends and relatives. We refer to  it as “The Tourist Season,” where our sunny home in Florida looked much more enticing than their snow and ice covered homes February through April.

That life as we knew it drastically changed in March.

Our daughter Julie and her family had flown in from Colorado on March 7 for a week, just as COVID cases were beginning to spike. We stayed in a rented cottage on Indian Rocks Beach, celebrated the long distance birth of our grandson on March 8, and enjoyed the sunshine. We felt safe on the sparsely populated beach. Once we got back to  our home, however, we cancelled our plans to visit Disney World and prepared all our meals at home.

On Saturday, as Julie’s husband Sam packed up their rental car for the trip to the airport, Julie pleaded with us to shelter in place until this was over. “Stay home, Mom and Dad,” she begged. “This is really serious.”

Despite her entreaties, my husband Larry and I were still debating whether to attend our community theater group’s production of Deathtrap. “This will be our last foray for a while,” I reasoned. “We should support our friends who put so much time preparing.”

One hour before we were to leave, our son Adam called from California. “If you promise not to go to the play,” he told us, “we will spend the next hour Zooming with you so you can watch your six-day-old grandson.” We complied. Outside of trips to doctors, the supermarket, and small, socially distanced outdoor meetings , we have kept our promise for the past nine months.

But maybe, for those of us fortunate enough to have survived 2020 without major physical and financial catastrophes, this year has been a break from our normal “Rush, Rush, Rush” routine. Larry and I have found a new rhythm that has given us respite in unexpected ways.

Each morning, we exercise, sometimes together (bikes, walks) and sometimes on our own (Larry’s pickleball and my swims). After lunch, we spend a leisurely hour or two n the couch doing duplicated crossword puzzles, working silently until one or both of us say, “I need help!” I find time to write while Larry satisfies his passion for history and sports with the help of Google. After dinner, a shared affair, we watch a Netflix or Amazon movie and read. I say a prayer of gratitude every day that I am going through this difficult time with Larry, my soul mate and best friend.

We both have appreciated the power of online technology, allowing us to keep up with far flung family and friends. Adam, and his wife Sarah have kept up their part of the bargain, Face Timing with us several times a week with the camera trained on our ten-month-old grandson. Although we have yet to hold him, we have at least been part of his life, watching him sleep and poop as an infant to seeing him experience applesauce for the first time, pop his first tooth and crawl backwards. 

Thanks to his long, elaborate stories, our five-year-old granddaughter often checks in with Zayde. She asks him to retell the story of how Wicki Wolf was foiled again by the forest denizens, which include “good” wolves, moose, and even a visiting alligator who somehow survives the Colorado winters. Julie and her husband often share the screen. Frequent emailed pictures and videos of both grandchildren keep us further in touch.

True, there are times that I fear we have maxed out on Zoom. Synagogue services and board meetings. Book clubs and writing groups. Planned meet-ups with siblings and cousins and friends. But we still have much more down time that allows us to savor what we have rather than rush to taste something new. Although physically distanced, we have become more emotionally connected with the people for whom we care and even reconnected with those whom we lost touch in the frenzy of busier schedules.

As 2020 end, I know I join millions of others in being glad it is over. A popular meme summarizes those feelings: “2020. One Star. Very Bad. Would not recommend.” I look forward to a healthier, happier, and more huggable 2021. But I also hope that I will retain the lessons I have learned as I experienced my own wintering.

First published in (Capital Region, New York) Jewish World, January 7, 2021