Across The Great Divide

We apparently have arrived at a new high, or more appropriately – low, in cultural divisions. There are armed men in full camo on the steps of statehouses and courthouses. There are shaming comments on social media, from all perspectives. Who did they plan to shoot? Why do you need a rifle to peacefully protest your right to be an ass? Maybe this is just a new incarnation of the divide we were already living with.

There is the “live free or die” perspective – which takes on a new and very real feel. Those who won’t wear masks, who don’t socially distance and who truly believe that this is all a bunch of bs, or a hoax, or some weird conspiracy. The rate of growth of conspiracy theories is astounding, but that is a rant for another day. Since I am in the wear a mask, stay home as much as you can and social distance camp, let’s talk about live free or die.

The slogan for this perspective should be “I will live free and you will die.” As happens more frequently than not, folks are waving the constitution like a suit of armor. Don’t get me started on the right to bear arms…to form a militia for the common defense. For those who wish to argue with me, here is the language:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the  right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

So now it is the right to assemble. …[T]the right of the people peaceably to assemble[.]” This poses the now somewhat timeworn issue of your right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. The core idea of this famous Holmesian quote, not at all timeworn, is that the exercise of every right has a corresponding burden or obligation, generally on someone(s) other than the person exercising the right.

So how do you balance? An excellent analogy is travel. Courts have long found that an essential element of “liberty” is the right to travel freely. But the courts have also long upheld multiple restrictions on that right – the need to have a valid license, traffic restrictions, the need for insurance, DUI laws – for example. So your right to travel is balanced against my right to be safe from unlicensed, uninsured and impaired drivers.

And in the same way, your right to free speech is balanced against the public good, or damage, that the speech may cause. So back to the point. Your right to go out in public without a mask, gather in large groups and ignore social distancing places what may of us consider an undue, unfair and unbelievable burden on the rest of us.

If you read credible and unbiased scientific articles with real data, it is clear that, for instance, religious gatherings are one of the prime “clusters” of illness, along with nursing homes and extended care facilities. It is also clear that if you ignore New York, which is in total lock-down, the rest of the country is still on the upside of the curve. You also know that you can spread the virus most efficiently before you have symptoms, are tested or are diagnosed – for up to two weeks. You are essentially as impaired and dangerous as that drunk driver who is breaking the law.

Now I have to go out for groceries occasionally. And I am stunned by the number of people not wearing masks, ignoring the distances and generally walking around as if none of this ever happened. So your right to “live free”, maskless and in close groups, should be balanced against my right to live at all. This exercise of your right- to ” live free” – imposes a possible death penalty on the rest of us. The constitution is not a suit of armor, it is a living document that provides us with a framework for our democracy. Democracy is a living framework that must and does flex with the times. And of course there are a lot of us going out with masks, maybe gloves, wipes and taking good care.

The exercise of every right has a corresponding burden. When you exercise your rights, there is always a cultural cost. Granted when you exercise your right to speak, I don’t have to listen but there are boundaries; when you exercise your right to assemble in your neighborhood, there are rules about what you can do; when you exercise your right to carry a gun, there are laws and restrictions about what you can do with it. Based on my current experience, I am tempted to tell you where to put the gun. Instead I will just say wear a mask, stay away from me and unless you are a constitutional scholar, keep your constitution to yourself.

Notes From Isolation

So I woke up this morning. Did morning things. Said to myself “why am I making the bed?” The cat, being present, had no answer. The question remained.

I have been trying to establish routines, even though they differ from those I was used to. Some days I am more successful than other days. Finding productive ways to fill the time on some days, reading all day on others. I have striven to exercise most days although I am not a super motivated gym rat type. But I know how much better I feel when I exercise, despite the various aches and pains of sixty seven. I am growing things I have never succeeded in growing before – the pleasure of seeing tomatoes ripen, the promise of cucumbers. The cat is my constant companion, always near, begging like a small dog.

Now, as my state goes into phase one of reopening, I wonder what my “normal” will look like. I do not believe it is time to reopen, I do believe the numbers will continue to go up and that more people are going to die. We are not done with this thing here in Florida.

In the land of the free, the camo people believe that their rights trump (pun intended) the good of the majority; although I must say I don’t know who they were going to shoot armed as they were. It is always stunning to me that so many people don’t understand that every right has a corresponding responsibility, or burden. Rights don’t stand alone folks, they don’t exist in a vacuum. But that is a rant for another day.

So frankly, I don’t think my new normal will look much different than my current normal, at least for a while. Maybe I will stop purchasing everything I need, or don’t, on Amazon. Maybe I will go to the store a little more often. I am “high risk” according to the CDC and so I will continue to wear my mask, use my wipes and distance myself from others. I will wait to work until it is safe and continue to struggle with my bills. Maybe, when I can, I will get a haircut.


Food is Love

A chore long overdue, sorting through my collection of recipes and organizing them in some useful way. A social isolation chore but in the end, a great thing. For me there is  joy in discovering forgotten recipes, things I saved that I thought I might try, things I wrote notes on because they were particularly good or needed adjustment. I can read cookbooks for hours so this is not surprising. What was surprising was just how many good and interesting recipes I have collected over the years.

Many of the recipes are things I made with my father, my step mom and, surprisingly, my mother. Surprising because my mother has long claimed she can’t cook; I think she just doesn’t like it. Other recipes are ones that came from my Grandma Jenny, family favorites,  used again and again -especially for Jewish holidays. One, long neglected and forgotten, was from my maternal great grandmother. It was entitled Grandmother Roe’s Nut Bread.

I have always liked making bread, and I always knead it by hand; especially now that my Kitchenaid is 30 years old give or take. There is something very satisfying about developing the gluten and putting your whole body into getting that smooth beautiful surface that means it is ready to rise. It also moves frustration from your neck to your hands to the board; rhythmic and soothing.

What I noticed, going through these pages, was that the oldest recipes, the ones from grandmothers and great grandmothers (and mothers) are the ones with the least instruction. The ingredients are listed and stand mostly alone, just an oven temp to keep them company. It is as if it was assumed that the cook would know how to do it. How to mix and in what order. How to knead and when to stop. How to test for doneness. Mostly, I do. In order to pass these recipes on I suspect I will have to amplify them somewhat for newer, younger and less experienced cooks.

It is a lovely feeling to mix and knead and bake with the same ingredients and in the same ways as the woman, and men, before me. Recipes used by generations and family long gone.  We connect through food as surely as any other way. It is why we sit down together for thanksgiving, for passover, for chanukah. It is why we gift each other cookies we ate as children, doled out by a loving hand. I know these things in my bones. Food is memory, food is connection, food can be love. And the nut bread is absolutely delicious!


Empty Drawers

The tall dresser stands on the wall of my bedroom like a long ago hope chest. The drawers are empty, filled only with fantasy. What am I waiting for? Not sure. Like some little girl reading fairy tales, waiting for prince charming to come and fill the drawers? Not likely I think.

So honestly, I am not sure what it is those empty drawers represent. The empty space in my life? The empty space in my heart? There is an empty space in both, but my heart is full of love as is my life, both filled with wonderful family and friends. I am a very lucky woman and I know it. But oh those empty drawers.

At this time in my life I think more than anything, they represent the opposite. The empty drawers represent courage and right decisions. They represent strength and gratitude.

So I will fill my empty drawers with writing. With songs. With prayers. With recipes. With pictures of people I love. Mostly virtually. But every time I look at that dresser standing tall in the corner of my bedroom I will imagine all of those things filling the drawers and I will smile.

Get Up, Make Your Bed, Write

During this odd time of isolation, I see people’s posts on social media perhaps more than I ordinarily would. A great many of them talk about spending all day in pajamas, being paralyzed, eating too much, binge watching shows I have never heard of.

And not that I haven’t done all of those things; a little. I think, unfortunately, we are in this for the long haul despite what the talking heads are currently saying. I think normal is behind us and a new normal has to happen, and will whether we like it or not.

And taking the long view, pajamas really won’t cut it, binge tv is fine in the evening and eating all the time will only result in high blood sugar and blubber. So what to do?

Since retiring I can’t say I get up early. One of the great joys of retirement is going to sleep when I’m sleepy and waking up when I’m not, although I try to go to sleep at a reasonable hour just to keep my rhythms intact. But once up I am establishing a routine. I make my bed. A small thing I know but it makes me feel as if I am actually up like a real person with things to do. I exercise as best I can, I am not a super motivated exerciser but I am doing it despite myself – not enough – but doing it. I get dressed in outside world clothes. Yes, it has been a good while since I put on makeup or jewelry and I definitely need a haircut, but I am dressed.

Of course the first weeks of this experience was taken up with arranging bills, finances, long long phone holds with various companies and agencies. Frustrating but necessary. Then there was getting my son and his fiancee home; his job ended. It was complicated and full of drama but it is done.

Then there was tending my plants and my tiny garden. There will be tomatoes! It is pretty exciting. There will be cucumbers. This is all assuming the snails don’t get them, or the squirrels, etc. But all my plants are very happy as the normal benign neglect has ended and they are tended daily.

Then there was cooking. Oh yes, made bread, apple galette, and all manner of other things. Now mostly cooking healthy food for myself, not so creative but less blubber making.

And there is banging out songs on the piano. And there are all those myriad of household chore/projects that I have procrastinated for years. I am slowly but surely getting rid of paper. I am going through clothes. I am sorting through old cooking magazines that I just don’t need. I am catching up on my New Yorker reading, as well as chewing through every unread book in my house. The problem, of course, with reading is that I end up sitting all day and that is not healthy for me. So I try to confine my reading to the later part of the day, I do not easily relinquish a book once I sit down with it.

We have organized the garage, cleaned the lanai, scrub our bathrooms regularly, vacuum, dust, trim the hedges, go for walks. All to fill the days that used to be filled with social activities – teaching, meeting, rehearsing, lunches, dinners, friends.

And of course there is writing, the thing I now have time for and don’t do enough. Sitting still is hard, unhealthy, so this is the hardest of all. Nevertheless – Get up, make your bed, get dressed, do something productive and do something that makes you happy. Don’t sit too still.