Category Archives: #covid19

I am exactly where I need to be!

Happy Summer!  Have you kept your New Year’s resolution?

Odds are, you haven’t. Each year, Strava, the social network for athletes, predicts the exact day when most people are likely to ditch their annual commitment to themselves. Whether it be the goal to lose weight, exercise more, or stop smoking, the majority throw in the towel (or throw out the scale) on the second Friday in January. A full 80% will have given up on it by mid-February.

If you have made it to the last days of spring, Mazel tov!

Up until this year, my list of resolutions were endless, so reflective of the person I am. On top of my list (for at least six decades) was to lose weight. Along with that annual goal, I have promised myself in the past to exercise more; read more books, watch more movies, play more piano, see more of family and friends, and write more articles, for starters.

But as I head into a third year where pandemic still hangs over our heads like the sword of Damocles, I have made peace with myself, My one and only resolution is based on an affirmation I stumbled across this past winter. Drum roll please!

“I am exactly where I need to be.”

These eight words summarize an entire philosophy based on the idea that I can be happy where I am at this very moment. It has grounded me when I find my mind racing with what I need to do next: the challah that needs to be baked, the article I have to get to Laurie Clevenson by the Monday morning deadline; the book I have to finish before it disappears off my Kindle. 

Full disclosure: Knowing myself, I will still working on those same items I have listed in the past. (I am already looking forward to writing several biographies of Holocaust survivors.) But I understand that I can reach those milestones without the help and pressure of resolutions. I can be happy in the “now,” not the future. I have given myself permission to focus on the journey, not some numerical destination.

Since I made this resolution on November 17, I already have over two months of practice behind me. I made a copy of it which I keep on my kitchen window sill When I find myself “falling off the wagon,” I quietly recite it to myself and get grounded again. It has the making of a habit! And speaking of habits…

I cannot remember where I originally saw this quote. Facebook? A friend’s blog? A recent book? It took me a few weeks—and the help from my Catholic friend—to find out my first person quote actually came from a prayer from St. Teresa of Avila, a revered leader of the Discalced Carmelite Sisters in 16th century Spain. The opening lines of her original prayer read, “May today there be peace within you. Trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.”

It took a little more digging to find a Jewish connection (Yes! There IS a Jewish connection!) St. Teresa’s paternal grandfather, a wealthy tax collector, was a Jew who was forced to covert to Christianity. He was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for allegedly returning to the Jewish faith and was punished by being forced to parade around Toledo for one day a week with other insincere converts. He was later able to assume a Catholic identity. 

St. Teresa, aware of her ancestry, did not acknowledge it publicly because of prejudice in Spain at the time against Jews and Jewish converts. It appeared, however, that her heritage impacted her career in the church. She was recognized for bring a mystical Jewish strain reminiscent of Kabbalah and for giving comfort to many converts from Judaism who struggled to maintain a connection to Jewish belief and practice. As a leader and “doctor,” she directed her convents not to comply with the “statutes of purity of blood” which excluded Jewish converts to Catholicism from most religious orders, from the military, higher education, civil and church offices. 

In the 2012 off-Broadway play, Teresa’s Ecstasy, starring the Columbian playwright Begonya Plaza as well as Linda Larkin and Shawn Elliott, the nun’s Jewish heritage was seen as a driving force in her life and work. Plaza’s character, who in the midst of a divorce, and Larkin’s character, her Jewish lesbian lover, realize how much Teresa has become their role model in her commitment to faith, compassion, and human dignity.Yes, St. Teresa is a nun with a Yiddishkeit neshome, a Jewish soul. 

So now an adaption of a prayer written by a Catholic saint is now part of this Jew’s daily routine. It is the one of last thing I tell myself each night. I follow that with Jewish prayers, positive affirmations, and reflections on things for which I a grateful. I fall back to sleep quickly, and I sleep in peace, knowing I am exactly where I need to be.

SOURCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_Ávila

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/quitter-day-coming-not-another-205100681.html?fr=yhssrp_catchall

https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/a-nun-with-a-jewish-touch/

https://news.yahoo.com/news/saint-still-changing-lives-teresas-ecstasy-002524863.html?fr=yhssrp_catchall

https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/a-study-of-800-million-activities-predicts-most-new-years-resolutions-will-be-abandoned-on-january-19-how-you-cancreate-new-habits-that-actually-stick.html

Wrestle with COVID leaves survivor a changed woman

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Murakami

Ever since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified, America has been divided regarding wearing masks, gathering in large groups, or, most recently, getting one of the variants of the vaccine. Heated arguments have occurred in government institutions to sports venues to houses of worship to classrooms to local bridge groups. For Kathy Glascott, a COVID-19 survivor, such protocols are not a matter of personal choice but a matter of social responsibility.

A former elementary school teacher, from Buffalo New York, Kathy Glascott was the happiest she had been in many years.  She had retired to a 55-plus community near Orlando, Florida, and, as was her style, she showed up for life. She was involved in several activities including the British Isles Heritage  Club, the Western Upstate New York club, and SOL Writers. A widow, she met her significant other Mike through the community’s Singles group, and they were having fun, going to concerts and dances and traveling to places of which she had only dreamed.“It was like being a teenager again,” she said.

Then, in February 2020, the unsettling news of a virus later identified as COVID-19 began to emerge. Heeding the early advice of medical experts, Kathy sheltered in place and tried to avoid exposure. Short on groceries, she took a risk and went for a quick supermarket run. “I didn’t have a mask because you couldn’t get them” Kathy reflected months later. “Looking back, I wish if had the damn groceries delivered.”

Soon after, Kathy began to feel unwell..One evening, exhausted and exhibiting symptom of what she thought was bronchitis exacerbated by her asthma, she had Mike take her to the nearby hospital’s ER. She had no idea that it would be  5 1/2 months until she would see anyone except through a plate glass door.

Kathy was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and COVID-19 and almost immediately placed in an induced coma in the ICU. She has vague memories of anything from March 27 until she woke up from anesthesia on May 5. “During that time,” she wrote months later, “my body was assaulted by machines that were surrogates for bodily organs—a feeding tube, a respirator, and catheters.”

Meanwhile, her brother Brian Joyce, a Methodist pastor in New Jersey, kept her large family and many friends abreast of Kathy’s life and death struggle through posts on her popular FaceBook page. On three occasions, Brian gave the grim news that she had been intubated and was near death. Even when the medical staff removed her from her induced coma, she was not out of the woods. She remained hospitalized for another six weeks and later continued her recovery in a rehab center where she had to learn again to hold her head up, sit, stand, walk, and swallow.

Brian warned his FaceBook followers against what he called “COVID-19 fairytales.” “It would be nice if Kathy’s story demonstrated a victory over the virus,” he posted on August 1 as his sister entered her 19th week of fighting for her life.“In reality her recovery is a daily journey through pain, loneliness, separation, therapy, small victories, and moments of great success and rising hope.”

On September 6, 163 days after she had been admitted to the hospital, Kathy was finally released. For the first two months, she stayed with her neighbor and closest friend Susan Schulman.After Kathy moved back into her own home, she continued to rely on Susan,  Mike, and others to provide a much-needed network of support. 

Over a year later, Kathy is still trying to make sense of what happened and “to fix what’s broken.” She mourns the six months of her life she lost to the virus in which her only contacts were her ever-present, albeit, wonderful medical staff members. 

Although not confirmed by her doctors, Kathy considers herself as a “long hauler,” one of unfortunate 10% of COVID-19 survivors who experiences prolonged effects of the illness. In her case, she struggles with vision problems, a chronic cough, reoccurring bronchitis, neuropathy in her feet, frequent fatigue, and bouts of PTSD. “I’m better, but I’m not the me I was before Covid,” wrote Kathy on a post in her blog This and That:Musings on Being a Writer.“I have a new normal that makes me feel diminished, stressed, joyful, discouraged, and grateful all at the same time.”

Kathy also recognizes that COVID has affected not only herself but also those with whom she is involved. This is especially seen in the impact her illness had on her daughter, Brenda Glascott, a college administrator who lives with her wife in Portland, Oregon. “Ever since I woke her in the middle of the night on March 28 to say, ‘I love you’ before I was intubated for the first time,” said Kathy, “Brenda has had to make a number of hard decisions on my behalf. And she made each one with courage and love.” Kathy has said that the hope of seeing her daughter and others who sustained her and kept her fighting in her darkest hours.

As a survivor, Kathy feels a responsibility to protect herself and others.“I try to honor the concern and love shown me by not taking unnecessary chances and by practicing safe protocols.” Those measures include limiting her exposure to others and wearing a mask even though she is fully vaccinated.

She is an outspoken opponent of those who reject such measures on the pretext of personal freedom. “If you hate wearing a mask,” reads one of her FaceBook posts, “you’re really not going to like the ventilator.” In another post, she quotes George Takei, the American actor and activist. “Telling me you are proudly unvaccinated is like telling me you’re a drunk driver. You’re not a patriot. You’re not a freedom fighter. You’re a menace.”

A writer and author of three previous books, Kathy is working on a fourth that will recount in detail her own “harrowing dance” with COVID-19. “When I think about the many people who were affected by my struggle, I am humbled by their love and concern and grateful for the outpouring of prayer and support I received,” she said. “I hope to pay it forward by sharing my own experience and encouraging others to take the necessary steps to protect themselves and help curtail the spread and continuance of this terrible pandemic.” 

First published in (Capital Region) The Jewish World, October 28-November 18 issue.

Mountain Mamas!!

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman 

The path of destruction created by COVID-19 is well-known: disrupted lives, cancelled events, shuttered businesses, on-line learning, short and long term illness, and, most tragically, over 700,000 deaths in the United States alone. But one of the positives I have seen again and again is what is known in Judaism as a kehillah kadoshah, a time when a community “circles the wagons” in order to support each other during a time of great need. I found this holy expression of compassion and caring exemplified seen in the story of a unique gift shop located in a small town in the Rockies.

On one of our FaceTime calls early in the pandemic, I commented to my daughter Julie that I loved her sweatshirt, a slate grey hoodie with a bright psychedelic mountain design and the words “Mountain Mama”emblazoned on it. When I asked where she got it, she told me Sunny Side Up, a popular local business, was selling them online as a way to stay afloat during the government-mandated shutdown. I ordered one for myself the next day. I enjoyed wearing my new top with leggings or yoga pants during Florida’s winter and felt good about supporting one of my favorite shops in Julie’s ‘Rocky Mountain 9100 Feet High’ community two hours west of Denver. Eighteen months later, Larry and I were finally able to fly out to Frisco to a summer rental. On my second day there, I donned my“Mountain Mama,” sweatshirt and headed down to Sunny Side Up to meet the owner in person and learn more about the story of “The Little Sweatshirt That Could.”

Ashlie Barclay Weisel was born and raised in Crown Point, Indiana, a small town 50 miles southeast of Chicago. She and Dan Weisel, high school sweethearts, were married in 2009. After graduation, Dan enlisted in the Air Force. They spent their next four years in Germany, where Ash was smitten by the mountains, the small picturesque towns and the quaint architecture. Ash also loved the opportunity and freedom their time overseas offered to her. “I could pull out my sketch book and create free-flowing fun designs wherever I was,” said Ash, “whether it be besides a flowing stream or on an airplane.”

When they returned to the States, Dan enrolled in University of Colorado at Boulder. Ash continued doing free lance illustration and setting up her happy art around art festivals in Colorado. She loved and followed the brand, Be Hippy, and started designing for them after meeting them at a festival in Keystone.

Two years later, confidence boosted by her success in with the Denver-based store, Ash decided to venture out on her own. On an anniversary trip , Ash and Dan stopped in Frisco, Colorado, and Ash immediately was reminded of towns they had visited in Germany. Ash split her time between Summit County and their home near Denver. Soon after, Dan, who now is employed as a state patrol officer, had a job transfer to Frisco. Ash began working for the art district in Breckenridge .

When space for a store opened up in 2018, Ash and Dan jumped at the chance to open her own business. As Ash’s personal art studio in Germany was on the second floor with a sunny terrace attached, Ash named her business Sunny Side Up. She had found a home for her art and her positive outlook on life, where she could “sell happiness.”

A bright, breezy space with a definite ‘hippy’ vibe, the store displayed Ash’s own original art work and offered tables for people to relax and create their own art projects supplemented by store’s supplies and inspiration. By summer of 2019 the business had been successful enough for Ash and Dan to open up a second location in nearby Breckinridge. 

Then, in March 2020, COVID-19 struck. Governor Jared Polis announced that all non-essential businesses were to close. Ash was forced to give up the Breckinridge store. Meanwhile, Ash and Dan had to find a way operate a business that had no customers.

Initially, Ash established an “honesty shop,” where she set up her tee-shirts, mugs, and affirmation posters in front of the store. She provided envelopes so people could slip the money for the purchases under the door.

Just before the pandemic, Ash had designed a sweatshirt that she felt captured the spirit of women who lived in the Rockies. Her Mountain Mama had “a different grit about her,” Ash later wrote. “She is raw and authentic and her soul is complete with mountains.” 

With hundreds sitting unsold because of the shutdown, she decided to cut the price and sell them on line to keep her store afloat. Cayla, her co-worker, along with friends, hand delivered the orders to local customers. Through word of mouth and Mountain Mama sightings, sales grew as more and more women, stuck at home, donned Ash’s creation over their sweatpants. Before she knew it, Ash had sold 200 of her tops. 

“Everyone just flocked to them,” said Ash. “The sweatshirt really became a symbol of hope and unity in our little mountain town.”

Women began posting pictures on social media of themselves in tops as a statement of solidarity in tough times. Shannon Bosgraaf, a local realtor, met Ash when she picked up her purchase on the business woman’s front porch. She photo shopped dozens of the individual pictures into one huge poster with the logo ‘Mountain Mamas: Stronger Together!’

“The community of women became super excited to show off their support, and it gave us all a focus on something bigger than ourselves,” said Shannon. 

In April 2020, Denver’s 9News picked up the story, and sales went through the roof.  “A lot of people are calling it their quarantine uniform,” Ash said in the televised interview. “The demand is so high we have had people all over the nation say they want them.”

To date, Ash has sold over 2000 Mountain Mama and its Mountain Chick spinoff sweatshirts. Ash replicated the design on tee-shirts and hats, which were sold in the store once the pandemic shutdown ended. When I visited the store this past summer, the place was buzzing with people purchasing Ash’s designs, including several variations of the Mountain Mama theme.

Ash is now moving Sunny Side Up in a new direction. She is closing the working studio section of her store and using the space to sell more of her own creations in clothing and accessories. Although the original Mountain Mama trademark design, Ash is working on a new design. The legend of “The Little Sweatshirt That Could,” however, lives on.

“When I see someone today with the sweatshirt, it reminds me of that pure joy that we together as a community did that,” Bosgraaf said. “Ash’s s amazing inspiration and art will continue.”

Ash Weisel and her daughter Rhein, her “greatest inspiration to continue creating, “in front of her studio in Frisco, Colorado

The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls

On a beautiful morning in theRockies, I weave my way up the two mile Mount Royal Trail. Geared up in hiking boots, pants, and my new “Mountain Mama” teeshirt, I enjoy the solitude, the sounds of mountain streams and chirping birds, and the sight of butterflies that lead me up the path. Small wooden bridges span the occasional creeks. Arriving on the bank of Rainbow Lake, I take in the beauty surrounding me before starting the trip down the Aspen Trail. 

Despite my pure joy of being in my “happy place,” I know my family worries about my frequent solo hikes. It would be generous to say their fear emanates from possible encounters with moose, elk, or bear. Unfortunately, it actually comes from encounters with rocks and roots. No, they don’t fear my being eaten by a forest denizen. They fear I might trip on the gnarled tree roots, the patches of loose stone, or the small boulders that are a part of the hiking experience. 

Not that their concerns are unfounded. Over the past 16 months, COVID-19 has not felled me. It has been my own stupid feet.

My first trip down free fall lane came early in the pandemic.” With pools and exercise classes in our 55+ active community shuttered, my husband and I were taking one of our long morning walks. It was hot, as usual. It was humid, as usual. What wasn’t usual was the dead snake lying on the sidewalk in front of us a mile into our walk.

“Watch out!” I yelled to Larry. He crossed his right leg in front of me to avoid the snake, and I I fell fast. And hard. And as I slammed face first onto the pavement, all I could think was “Damn that snake!”

I felt incredible pain and tasted the blood that was pooling in front of me. For one of the few times in my life, I was grateful my nose was more Barbra Streisand that Amy Adams, as it appeared to have taken most of the hit.

When I gingerly stood up, Larry and I assessed the damage. Scraped elbows and knees that did not require stitches? Check. Bones intact? Check. Teeth whole and still in mouth? Check. Ability to walk home. With the help of an ice pack wrapped in a towel provided by a Good Samaritan who had witnessed the accident from her front porch, also CHECK!.

Fortunately, outside of two black eyes and multiple minor scrapes, I had avoided major injuries and a trip to the emergency room.

My second adventure in face plants occurred twelve months later when the world was finally opening up. Larry and I were visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Sarasota, Florida, our first time we had been able to connect with family since COVID hit. On the second day of our visit, the four of us took a trip to Spanish Point, a 30-acre outdoor museum site. We were weaving through a section which was being set up for an evening concert. As I was wearing the required face mask, sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat, I didn’t see that the sound bar the sound technician had placed between the bottom rungs of two of the chairs. My foot caught on the pole, and I did a hard splat in the grass. It was a second lucky “break” in that I walked away with a scraped up face, another set of black eyes, and no ER visit. 

Three months later, my luck ran out. Larry and I were in San Francisco visiting our son, daughter-in-law and sixteen-month-old grandson. On a Saturday morning, we took an easy, scenic three mile round trip hike on the Tennessee Valley Trail in nearby Marin County. We were off the trail and walking over to our parked car when I tripped over a stupid rock—or is it that stupid me tripped over an innocent rock? Fortunately, I fell right in front of a doctor and his family who were about to begin their hike. He bandaged me up with the diagnosis that nothing appeared to be broken but the cut on my forearm was deep and required stitches.

After striking out at our attempts to get help at two urgent cares (One was closed; the second “didn’t do sutures.” ) our son dropped Larry and me off at University of California San Francisco’s emergency room. At first, judging from the number of people in the waiting area, I thought that I would get in and out quickly. Four and a half hours later, however, the ER manager announced that, along with those of us cooling our heels in the waiting room, there were at least 25 ambulances lined up outside with people in worse shape than us low priority patients with mere ear infections, head bumps, and cut forearms. We should expect a possible ten hour wait.

I was about to ask for a sewing kit and a prescription for antibiotics and call it a day when—thank goodness—I was taken into a room to get patched up. Six stitches and a tetanus shot later, I was good to go. Thankfully,I have had no lingering effects from Pratfall #3.

Initially I was worried that maybe I was having balance issues. In the days and weeks that followed, others of all ages have told me of similar situations that resulted in much worse endings—broken elbows, wrists, and legs. Yes, I consider myself lucky.

As I was getting ready for my first solo hike in Colorado, my daughter encouraged me to wait for her so that she could watch over me and make sure I didn’t fall. I said no, insisting that this almost-71-year-old body was still more than capable of hiking up and down trails, thank you very much. She did meet me halfway and showed me a longer but less steep trail that I have taken on my own as well as others with Larry and my granddog.Larry and I have also tackled longer, more difficult hikes without a scratch—or splat—between us.

Our most memorable Colorado hike this summer was the one Larry and I took with my granddaughter. When we reached the Rainbow Lake area, she insisted we ford a small stream by scrambling across the logs that spanned the water. Larry questioned whether she should attempt the crossing. “Don’t worry, Zayde!” she said. “I’m a Mountain Girl I got this..” Taking my cue from her, I successfully made my way across the logs, albeit slower, more cautiously, and certainly more awkwardly. But I did it. After all, as my new teeshirt proclaims, I am a Mountain Mama. I got this!

Epilogue: Soon after sharing this story with my writing group, Larry and I spend the afternoon exploring Vail Village. In one of the stores, I decided to try on a shirt that had caught my eye. As the salesperson led me to the changing rooms. he said, “Take the room on the left,There is a lip on one on the right, and I won’t want you to trip.” 

“Do I LOOK like someone who would trip?”I bristled. He quickly backtracked, “Well, even sixteen-year-olds have tripped over it.” Not surprisingly, I didn’t buy the shirt. Before I left the store, however, I sought out the salesperson and gave him my business card with my blog address. “My next article will be The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls,” I said.”Your comment will be in it!” 

First published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World August 5, 2021

“Farklempt!” Overcome with Emotion!!

Yiddish may be one of the world’s more obscure language, but it has given us words which are no less than perfect. Someone may have “nerve,” but chutzpah reflects a shameless audacity that says it better. Being a “good person” is nice, but being a mensch brings that individual to a high level of honor, integrity, kindness, and admiration. One can complain, but when one “kvetches,” he also adds a layer of whining and fretting that really captures the moment.

Another word that Yiddish does best is farklempt, overcome with emotion. I can count on one hand how many times I have ever needed to use this word or felt its power. The day I held our newborn son. Three years later, when I held our daughter. And six years ago, when I lay eyes on my two-hour-old granddaughter. And now, I can use it again: When we were finally able to hold our grandson for the first time.

Our grandson as born in March 2020, a few days before the world closed down due to the pandemic. My husband Larry and I were on Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, with my daughter Julie, her husband Sam and our granddaughter when our daughter-in law-Sarah went into labor in a San Francisco hospital. Our son Adam announced their newborn’s  official arrival late that night via phone calls and texted pictures. 

By the time Julie and her family flew back to Colorado later that week, the impact of COVID-19 on our lives exploded. We promised our children that we would “stay safe” and shelter-in-place. Larry and I had made reservations to fly out to California later in the month, but we had no choice but to cancel and wait until things improved. Little did we know at that time that that wait would stretch out for over 15 months.

Thanks to social media, we got to see a great deal of our “San Francisco Kid.” Adam and Sarah called frequently and focused the camera on our beautiful new grandchild so we could watch him sleeping, nursing, bathing. Then, as the months dragged on, we saw him learning to crawl, learning to walk, speaking his first words. But we were unable to hold him in our arms.

Larry and I tried to repeat certain rituals so that our grandchild would know us. Each time we connected, I would sing “The Wheels on the Bus.” As the months progressed, I went beyond blinkers going “left right stop” and coins going “clink clank clink.” I introduced dogs barking and ducks quaking and pigs oinking and cows mooing, “Isn’t that crazy?” I would ask him 3000 miles away. “Ducks and pigs and cows on a bus??”Larry, meanwhile, would move two fingers against his lips and say, “Bu bu bu ba!” 

By the time our plane landed in SFA in mid-June, Larry and I were beyond excited and also a little nervous. How would our grandchild  react to these two people whom he had only seen on a small screen. Would he cry? Turn away? After hugging my daughter-in-law Sarah until she couldn’t breathe, Larry climbed in front of the Honda Civic with Sarah, and I tucked in the back next to our grandson’s car seat. He looked at me as if to say, “Who is this lady?” I gently touched his arm, but he pulled it away. I softly started singing “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…” His eyes got big, and he burst out into a huge smile. And Larry? As soon as we got out of the car, Larry lifted him out of the car, held him with one arm, and with the other hand, did his “Bu bu bu ba! routine.”The baby laughed and, for the first time ever, imitated Zayde perfectly. Our grandchild knew us both.

Our visit has been Grandparent Heaven. It has been  filled with hugs; “besos for bebe” (kisses for baby!) in honor of his Hispanic caregiver; beautiful smiles; hours reading Go Dog Go and Brown Bear, Bear, Who Do You See?; innumerable playings of songs by Rafi; multiple trips to city parks;a special day at the San Francisco zoo; and a few very precious baby sitting stints. As promised, I even pulled off two Shabbat dinners with fresh baked challahs and candle lighting via Zoom with the rest of our family. 

Soon Larry and I will be heading for our second “farklempt” moment. We will be flying to Colorado to be united with Julie, Sam and our granddaughter, again over fifteen months in the making. Yes, we have spent hours and hours on FaceTime with our Rocky Mountain family, but I will be overcome with emotion when I can finally hold them in our arms.

Through the past year, Larry and I have said again and again how grateful we were for our physical, financial, and financial health. But again and again, what we missed most was family. The next step will be getting all eight of us under one roof. That moment will be for me the end of this long, difficult time. Until then, I will savor our time with our family, time that has become even more precious, more important, and more cherished after so long deprived. 

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

How a book changed my life

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