One More Light – How Do We Remember?

Hello from my study/office/refuge,

It is amazing the amount of time I am spending on responding to classes, to papers, to phone calls, to focusing intently on each and everything I do. I am not complaining at all, but it seems that every moment of my day, with the exception of getting a walk in and fixing something to eat, is consumed by school. BOLT, email, and response are the linchpins of my day. To get away I have taken to cleaning out every drawer, closet, or space that have been on my need-to-do list. What has happened to me, and perhaps a bit surprisingly, is that I am enjoying this time to be alone and focus. I am uncharacteristically content working on things that need to be done and just keep working away. I seem as content as I have been in a long time. I have wondered at times what it would be to adopt a monastery-type existence. In someway, this is what being self-isolated feel like. When I lived in the Upper Peninsula, it was possible to do a spiritual retreat with the Byzantine monks at Holy Transfiguration Skete. If you signed up to do such a retreat, you were required to give up your technology for that period. There was more than once I wondered if such a spiritual discipline would have been in order. While I have my technology, and I am quite dependent on it to do my job, there is an isolation that is cleansing for me. I am eating less, walking more, and managing the necessary things generally well. 

I listened to an interview with Dr. Deborah Birx, the infectious disease specialist on the Corona Task Force, earlier this evening, and she commented on the importance of remembering each single digit in the statistics is a person. This is a human catastrophe that is unfolding as a medical crisis. It is about people, families; it is about loss and tragedy. Each person has value, regardless their station in life. I am still stunned by those who want to downplay this as some overblown thing. While there seems to be less finger-pointing in terms of this being a ploy, an article across a number of news outlets today noted that evangelical Christians want to blame and punish the Chinese. Before we push that narrative, we might want to consider another previous world health issue, the H1N1 Swine Flu. By the end of that pandemic, which came from the U.S., there were 60.8 million cases. And, perhaps more significantly, this flu continues to re-emerge annually, so our flu is the gift that keeps on giving. Yet, I do not remember anyone trying to say we should be blamed. This is not a time for blame; it is a time to respond as humans, as a global community. Again, it seems that Matthew 25:34-40 might be worth considering. How do we treat the other? This has been a recurring theme of my blog from the outset. Medical necessity always seems to bring out the best and the worst of our humanity. As I have worked to focus on something positive as of late, there is evidence on a number of fronts that we should have (and must do) better. Yet, we cannot create a world like the movie Groundhog Day. On the other hand, my daily routine this past week seems to indicate I might be living that movie. If only Andie MacDowell were here. 

I think the most disconcerting part of our current situation is the level of uncertainty that we are faced with on a daily basis. I know what I need to do for myself, and I know what I have to do in terms of managing my own thing, but beyond that, there is no certainty about anything. As many know, I was scheduled to go to Poland and teach in the fall. Now that seems unlikely, so I have been working to revise my plans, those plans will affect the next three years, not merely next semester. What is in store for the fall in terms of what we do educationally. How far can we actually plan ahead? What will the fall semester look like? How much of our world will be done face-to-face and how much will still require social distancing? Might social distancing be more appropriate for immunocompromised people like me? Will I have to worry about others and will they be too concerned about me to allow any sort of normal interaction? These are all things I wonder? We can undoubtedly believe that there will be some sort of vaccine as I am sure pretty much every pharmaceutical company is hoping to be the first to have their drug approved by the FDA. I wish I had a crystal ball to know which company to invest some money into their stock. Of course, if I knew some Congressional personnel, I am sure their insider knowledge would be of assistance, not that any of them would ever do something so heinous (hello Sen. Burr, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the committee responsible to most ardently defend the President during the recent impeachment trial). I know I am supposed to be kind, but dang it!! It seems the rules are applied so differently inside the Beltway. And when Tucker Carlson calls on him to resign, that is quite a thing. 

As ordinary Americans, or citizens of other countries, we depend on those in power to protect us, not only from military threats and conflicts, but even more so in times of tragedy and uncertainty. We have believed in our government for the last 240 years, at least a great majority of the time, because we trusted the moral fiber of those in charge. It is in the most profound moments that we realize what we need, what we expect, what we depend on. As of today, there are more than 1.5 million cases with almost 90,000 fatalities (and those are those who have been tested). There is still a phenomenal shortage in testing abilities, so these figures are possibly profoundly understated. Today in some of my cleaning, I found the obituaries for both my mother and my sister. Amazing how so many years are reduced to a few paragraphs in a newspaper. The complexity of our lives seems to deserve so much more. When I think about my own relatives, it is difficult to not think about how 731 people in a single city might be remembered when we are not allowed to gather to mourn them. How do they not get lost in the statistics of this time? Memory is one of the 5 rhetorical canons, but I think it is the most significant of the canons. Memory is what makes us unique as humans, at least to the degree we connect memory to so many other things. Things like smell or sound can spark a memory. Sight and touch can do the same. Every sense we have has the possibility of invoking a memory of someone, something, or sometime. To this day two soft poached eggs, a piece of toasted bread, and a half of a grapefruit takes me back to 4547 Harrison Street and my life as a small boy living at my grandmother’s house. It is the first house I remember. It still has an address, but the home I lived in no longer exists, but there are moments, a smell in my own home reminds me of that incredibly homey place. The picture at the beginning of this post is her. It was when she was about 19 years old. 

I have noted before that there are things in my own yard, in my home, that I have subconsciously created that take me back to that home. It was a place of safety. Perhaps that is what we need to create in this time. How do we find safety in a time when everything around seems less than safe? I want to be more than a moment or a fleeting memory. I have at times felt the presence of my grandmother even though she has been gone for more than 40 years. There is nothing fleeting about her. It was through her love and care that her presence is felt. She was an incredible person, and yet one with flaws. After my grandfather died in August of 1958, she struggled with alcoholism, but she would conquer that difficulty. With the support of her elder sister and AA, she moved beyond and spent the rest of her life managing a successful bakery business and completely committed to loving her grandchildren. She also was active in Eastern Star, participating both in her chapter and at the state level. She is still my light. She is still the person I model some of my behavior after. It is my hope that all who are mourning the loss of someone during this difficult time have an opportunity to use their experiences, the ability to engage their memories, and the strength to hold on to the promise that even though they are gone they are present. It is hard to take courage at this time. It is easy to feel small. It is easy to be overwhelmed to feel lost in the midst of it all. How do we dig deep in times like this? We do it together. We allow our true spirit, our true colors to shine through. 

Believe and take heart that there are better days ahead. Together we will do this. Thanks for reading as always. Peace and Comfort to all who are mourning in this time. 

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

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