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Squeaky and the Squirrel

Twice today, I turned on the microwave to heat up my coffee, only to realize my mug was sitting on the counter. 

Twice today, a squirrel slammed into the window, full-force, and rappelled his way into the bird feeder. This is the self-same bird feeder advertised on Amazon as “squirrel-proof.” Oh har! 

Is this a strange day? Heck, it’s a strange week. Month. Time in history. It’s hard not to feel discombobulated.

In this surreal era, people are on edge. It doesn’t seem to take much to set them off.

In these times, maybe the best we can do is not make things worse. That may sound like a low bar, but if these fraught days have made reasonable people become unreasonable, it won’t help to lecture them.

It surely won’t help to ram your grocery cart into them, as one mask-clad woman did when she crossed paths with another woman who refused to wear a mask. 

Some people are using the mask issue as an excuse to act inappropriately, and viral videos have taken on a whole new meaning.

It’s hard to believe that these words need to be said, but here goes: Don’t get into someone’s face because they’re putting your health at risk by not wearing a mask.

Did you read that line? Read it again. 

Have we all taken leave of our senses? 

The virus isn’t to blame for virulent ideologies and vile behavior. 

You can’t be the boss of everyone, but you can be responsible yourself. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Do what you have to do as a citizen — Pay your taxes. Don’t jaywalk. Post no bills.

And when you’ve done all you can, keep calm and leave the rest in God’s hands.

Common Prayer Pocket Edition: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals  -     By: Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove
Everyone I talk to lately is dealing with a lot.  First, there are the things we are all dealing with – pandemic, economic woes, education, etc.  Then there are our personal concerns.  Me?  I’ve got a sick cat, an elderly father, and replacing the toilet seal has turned into tearing up the floor, plumbing work on the sink drain, and more.

But really, I’m sick of thinking about this rot all the time.  I wake up worried about the cat.  I try to work worried about getting paid.  As I wait to use our only functioning bathroom, I wonder what repair bill is going to crop up next.  Every time my allergy ridden child or I cough, I worry about the virus. And I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of the issues themselves but I’m also tired of them being my focus.

Daily Bible reading has helped.  But I also want to bolster my prayer life.  You’d think that during a pandemic prayer would be a focus.

Yet when I try to pray, I’m lost.  I’m so overwhelmed that I just don’t know what to say.

What can I say that God hasn’t already heard?  What can I say that is truly meaningful?  I have questions but no answers, no words.

The good news is that there are words ready to be delivered to my phone.  Earlier this week, I found a prayer app, Common Prayer: A Liturgey for Ordinary Radicals.  I have to admit that I was jazzed to find this app because this is my single favorite book on prayer.  The idea of the book is to help the diverse church pray together across denominations.

Download the app and you can have a reminder deliverd for morning, midday and evening prayer.  They have set times when these reminders are delivered but you can also customize the times.  There are prayers.  You can click through to music.  They discuss prayers and workship traditions.  Today they delivered the prayer of St. Francis which really made my day.

It is so hard today not to focus on all that is negative.  After all, our phones connect us to a constant stream of messages and warnings.  Why not use your phone to connect to God?

I can’t say that it is solving all my problems.  The drain pipe is still crumbling away.  But my attitude about that pipe and everything else is a whole lot better.  Won’t you join me in prayer?

–SueBE

gray rock formation near body of water during sunsetOhhhh, dear. Let me rephrase that. Choose your “Yes’s” in life so you don’t end up with things you don’t want. If you don’t aim for a positive, “yes” goal, you can end up picking a negative, “no” goal by default. There. That’s better!

Aeons ago, when I was in school (in ye olden days, when we spelled “eons” with an extraneous “A”), my philosophy teacher was the first adult who actually listened to my opinions. 

He also gave sage advice. If we said, “I don’t think so,” he would correct us. “Don’t tell me what you don’t think. Say, ‘I think not.’”

The same thing is true in life. Say “no” to what you don’t want. By doing so, you say “yes” to what you do want. This might seem obvious, but is it?

How much of your life is frittered away by doing things you said “yes” to reluctantly, or to please someone else? 

Be clear about what you want. The map to your yes life is littered with wrong turns and detours. Those were defining moments. Now you know where your yes life isn’t. You can use that information to keep driving.

Don’t be equivocal about what you don’t want, or, as Mr. Kielblock would say, be unequivocal about what you want. 

So be sure to pick your no’s today — er uh, to choose your yes’s. You’ll save yourself from obligations you gain nothing from. Decide what matters most to you, and set your sights on that “yes” goal. 

And never forget to check in with your co-pilot, Providence, along the way. I mean, always remember to check in with your co-pilot, Providence, along the way. That’s what a prayerful, purposeful, positive life is all about.

selective focus photography of green succulent plantMindfulness is knowing where you are, literally, figuratively, physically and emotionally. If your body is sitting in a chair in the kitchen, but you’re agonizing about an unpaid bill or the broken fence, you’re not fully present. You’re neither here nor there.

Could it be that, when you woke up today, you didn’t realize that this is Everything-Goes-Your-Way Day?

The thing is, if you’re focusing on yesterday’s problems or tomorrow’s uncertainty, you might miss it.

Your mission today, should you choose to accept it, is this: get up, get dressed, and be blessed. As long as you don’t start to think, Okay, what’s the catch? you’ll be the recipient of grace today.

One might think: This is impossible in the time of COVID-19. There are protests going on about police brutality towards people of color. Nothing is normal at all! 

But this is a war on many fronts, and you’ve been through battles before. What did you do when things went haywire? When you lost a loved one or a job? When your child ran away or got hurt? Life doesn’t stop at the catastrophe. It’s where a new path creates itself.

If you’re at home right now and you’ve just had dinner, bask in the blessings. Experience the present. If the neighbor’s kid isn’t practicing the drums tonight? That’s a blessing. If the mail didn’t contain any bills today, bask and breathe. Bad news and big disruptions get enough press. Let’s give our blessings some attention.

Or as Someone said a long time ago: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Tomorrow will be here soon enough, with whatever the day brings. Just for today, be here, now.

Beata Zawrzel—NurPhoto/Getty Images

Drop me off in a snowstorm, and you might lose me. I’m not just Caucasian, I’m lily white. Polar bear pale. But I can tell you one thing: Black Lives Matter.

I thought it went without saying that to say, “Black Lives Matter” is not to say that no one else’s life matters.

The other day, I had to “unfriend” someone on Facebook because she posted these hashtags: “AllLivesMatter” and “CopsLivesMatter.”

This means that, despite seeing the video of George Floyd being choked to death by an officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck, she believes that the police are always in the right.

It’s shocking to see something so graphic and realize that someone else doesn’t appreciate the gravity and brutality of the incident.

In this unprecedented time, the country is contending with two virulent contagions: COVID-19 and systemic racism.

If only there were a way to implant a moral compass into everyone’s heart, the way a surgeon does a pacemaker. Or give the whole world an empathy-injection, along with our B-12 shots. 

There’s no vaccine for COVID-19 yet, and certainly no vaccine for racism.

You can’t regulate or legislate hate out of a heart, but short of that, there are a few concrete steps to be taken:

  1. Remove the issue of police discipline from union labor negotiations. Many police union rules protect officers who act violently. 
  2. Enforce the use of body cameras so that officers aren’t allowed to turn them off to commit acts of violence.
  3. Fire any officer using choke-holds or excessive force on a citizen.

We’ve got some deep rifts in this country now, and many wounds in need of healing. As for those who deny there are systemic problems in law enforcement and implicit bias toward people of color? Sadly, there’s no vaccine for that.

red and white UNKs restaurantAs a lifelong homebody, the lockdown due to COVID-19 hasn’t changed my lifestyle much; I’m always home. As an introvert, I’ve been practicing social-distancing as a matter of course. As a person with very specific OCD habits, such as constant hand-washing, I seem to have been uniquely positioned when the pandemic hit. Have I actually been preparing for this period in our history my whole life?

I’ve watched as others go stir-crazy, saying they were “stuck in the house” and had nothing to do. I’ve seen tempers flare as people inexplicably fight over toilet paper, as if it’s the holy grail that will somehow get them through this wretched time.

Looking back on life pre-Coronavirus, there are concepts that didn’t make much sense anyway. 

Using paper currency as our method of payment? Why not just call it a “virus delivery device”?

Eating at a buffet in a restaurant? Anything requiring a “sneeze-guard” is sketchy in the best of times.

People want things to go “back to normal” and certainly, if that “normal” means that no one else gets sick or, God forbid, dies from COVID-19, then I agree. But there are so many things that really shouldn’t revert back to the status quo.

For example, if it’s possible for a job to be done remotely, that should be considered as an option for our new normal. Quality of life is just as important as a paycheck. Let’s cut the commute from a road full of tolls, potholes and trolls in other cars to a walk from your bed to the computer chair. 

Also, people have been spending time at home with their families. Eating dinner at the table together. Cooking and baking again. Finding crafts and hobbies that they enjoy. Staying connected with houses of worship virtually. Hopefully, when the country “opens up” again, these positive, personal experiences won’t fall by the wayside.

When your computer is acting hinky, restarting it can work wonders. Maybe restarting the world with a few lessons learned will do us all some good, too.

“How do you like them, ma’am”? the young man asked. “Do they fit okay?”

I was trying on my new glasses, and just for a moment, I didn’t know the answer to that question.

They didn’t feel like my old glasses, which were heavy, pinched my nose, and fit so tightly they etched a groove into the skin on either side of my head.

These new glasses were light, didn’t hurt my nose, and fit well without digging into my skin.

What’s more, I could see slightly better, but didn’t realize it yet, as my eyes were still adjusting to the new prescription. Huh. That’s something. I could see well enough to notice that the frames matched the blue-green color of my eyes. I still have low-vision, but this slightly-better prescription made a difference. 

“You know, I think these will do just fine,” I responded after a moment.

You can get used to things that really don’t fit or serve you well and not even realize it. It can take time to adapt to things that make your life better, like new glasses, Zoom meetings, and breathable face masks, but it’s worth the effort.

We’ve all got to change with the times, and maybe, if you’ll pardon the pun, life is all how you frame it. You can also use that fresh viewpoint to see the silver lining in a difficult situation.

When my dryer broke down, I was ready to break down myself. Not another thing that needs repair! 

Now, a month later, using a drying rack has led to a nice bonus — my electric/gas bill is lower because I’m not using the dryer. 

These days, change seems constant. But what you learn builds muscles inside you never knew you had. Keep the faith, and soon enough, we’ll all see better days.

white ceramic mug with black liquid on brown wooden coasterIt’s important to get the latest information about COVID-19, but consuming too much negative news can have a detrimental effect on the psyche. Take a break from that continuous flow of “breaking news” and put your mind on good things.

Think about the people in the world who are doing what they can to help frontline workers, right where they are, like the 99-year-old British veteran who walked 100 laps for charity in his own backyard and raised over £500,000.

Or the teacher who walks five miles every day to deliver lunch to his students in need.

One silver lining of the quarantine is the fact that people are realizing that a home is always better with a pet, and now dog and cat adoptions have increased exponentially. Some shelters, like the Chicago Animal Care and Shelter, are reporting that every shelter pet has found a home.

It’s also encouraging that people are reading books again and getting interested in history, like the fact that in 1847, the Choctaw nation donated money to Ireland during the Great famine. Now, some Irish people are sending relief to Native Americans affected by COVID-19 as an homage to that long-ago act of compassion.

It’s also important to remember how to laugh in these heavy times. For an instant mood-lifter, do a Google search, typing in “Do a Barrel Roll” and watch what happens. Now type in the word, “Askew”. Feel like a quick retro game on your computer? Type in “Play Atari Breakout”

So when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with the daily news coverage of the pandemic, take care of yourself and step away from it. Find a way to lift your spirits and center your soul again.

selective focus photography brown cat lying over black catWith so much of the world on lockdown due to the CoronaVirus (COVID-19), many people who are not used to being at home for long periods are feeling lethargic and unmotivated.

Since depression is a medical/psychological condition, perhaps its cousin, ennui, is a soul state, and it’s treatable — not by a pill, but by:

  • A project.
  • A purpose. 
  • A passion. 
  • A place to belong.

Many of us have been “sheltering in place” for years now — some, like me, due to a disability, and others, like Lori and SueBE, because they are freelancers who work from home. This blog is an example of a meaningful project, and also one of the places I consider a second home. A place I belong.

Being at home all the time, my work is whatever is in front of me at the moment. It may be washing the clothes, which is a project unto itself, as my washer doesn’t always work properly. Will it agitate this time? No? Okay. I’ve got to roll up my sleeves and get a nice “bingo-wing” work-out by sloshing the clothes around in the water for ten minutes. It gives me a sense of purpose to know that I can overcome obstacles like this and get the job done. I’m not just building my physical muscles, but my reserves of resilience as well.

Encouraging others is part of my job as well, and really is my passion. I can even do this virtually, while playing “Word Chums” as I exercise on my stationary bike. “Just checking in on you, chum,” I’ll message during a game. “How are you holding up?”

Staying in touch virtually with each other, as well as connecting to the divine through prayer, is a constant comfort in challenging times. Remember: this too, shall pass.

closeup photo of woman's eye wearing maskAs I shopped the early “senior/disabled person’s shopping hour,” I overheard two grocery store workers talking about an incident involving another employee. “It really got ugly. That customer got so angry, he pushed a cart at her!”

Could it be that the “subcutaneous” part of the Coronavirus is that giving in to fear and panic will lead to you actually losing your grip on reality? Could people really be going out of their minds in this time of chaos?

If so, the best protection is to shore yourself up with a mind-clearing, soul-centering meditation before you leave your home to go grocery shopping, or go to work if you’re in an essential job. 

If you believe in God, say a specific prayer, asking him to put a fence and a forcefield around you, body, mind and soul. 

If you don’t believe in God, what the heck is wrong with you?!? Sorry. I was temporarily outside my mind (as comedy duo Key and Peele would say) right then. Apologies, indeed! If you don’t believe in God, be aware that you make the world better or worse based on the attitude you bring out into it.

No matter what you believe, put on your grace mask before you leave your house today. People who are gripped with fear are inside their own heads. Don’t go in there with them. Stay in your own place of equanimity. This is a moment in time. Don’t let it inflame you into being someone you’re not. 

Shelter in place today. If you must go out, travel with grace today. This won’t go on forever, but until it’s over, stay true to who you are. You’re not a ruffian or an animal. You know right from wrong. Don’t push a cart at a grocery store worker, i.e., essential employee. Don’t designate yourself the moral high ground police if you see someone buying too many paper towels. Get back to your moral center. Get home to your family. Get over these small moments and look at the big picture. Remember how much you have to live for and let it go.

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