Photo of an exhibit at the Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.
Last month in Mexico, my friend, Pepe, who has four kids, lost his job when his gringo employers decided to abruptly leave Mexico. Closer to home, two of my nieces are working from home with toddlers who insist on acting as personal assistants. We all have stories like this, some tender, some tragic.
My own story changed on March 14 when I boarded one of the last flights out of Morocco a few days after my sisters told me, wisely and somewhat *emphatically*, to come home. If a global crisis hadn’t intervened, I would be in Portugal walking the Camino de Santiago after two months in Central Asia and the Middle East, before heading to who-knows-where.
From the Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman.
I see a lot of news articles lately that feature lists of books we could be reading right now. Many feature dystopian novels, heavy classics and slogs through history. Some are books you think you should have read by now or those that will remind you of your worst fears. The Plague. War and Peace. Steven King. Cormac McCarthy. Thucydides.
I don’t want to read that stuff right now, and, for many of us, it’s hard to read anything. People talk about feeling too distracted by worries and the barrage of news. We are slowed down by over-eating, the world’s lowered expectations of us, and an unfamiliar kindness toward ourselves.
Painting by my big sister and second mom, Sallie Latch
On this Mother’s Day, I am going to begin with a story that makes me cranky but I will end with one that makes me happy. So, as Rachel would say, stay with us.
A couple of nights ago, a reporter on national news (it was Lawrence O’Donnell) told the story of a young friend who left her job to help care for her disabled father. The reporter suggested the nobility of this young woman’s sacrifice and the tender irony of a 25 year-old sleeping in “her childhood bed.” The story concluded with the young woman’s observation that, during this period of “new worries,” her neighbors “swing well away” to give her father’s wheelchair more room than usual on their daily walks. The reporter suggested the neighbors’ gesture was evidence of American “love” and “solidarity.”
Muslim students,Stonetown, Zazibar, Tanzania.
I can be annoying with my opinions, which I have convinced myself are excellent even though I suspect they probably sometimes aren’t. For example, I sometimes get in trouble on the subject of religion. Imagine that. And this is a subject that seems to be coming up a lot in conversation these days.
I cried yesterday but not for the reason I would have predicted. To put my crying in context, I have been traveling nonstop for four years partly for the kindness and connection I discover in other places. I can find these things here at home. It’s just easier to find them in places that are new and different, where I have to pay more attention. And, honestly, it’s easier where the dominant feeling is a little softer than my American culture these days. (Something like that….I was supposed to be in Saudi Arabia today).
Starry Night Over the Rhone, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888. Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France.
We can always count on music to enrich us and connect us to each other, no matter who we are or where we are from. Some songs are especially good at making us feel better, no matter how we are feeling. Here are a few favorites from my very long list. They bring up different moods and they are all mixed up, so don’t expect any kind of emotional theme or evolution. And please share some of your own!
“There is Always Hope,” a mural by Banksy, London, England
This afternoon, I called a friend from my days as an 18-year old hippie living in the Oregon countryside. Back then, her name was Sue. Now she is Rabbi Me’Irah. Every time I have what seems to be a casual conversation with Me’irah, I come away with more meaning in my life. “Today is a special day,” she announced (I already knew this because every day is special for Me’irah). It is the time between Passover and Shavuout, she said. Passover is a celebration of liberation — the Jews’ exodus from enslavement. And today is a day of constraints to acknowledge the Jews’ harrowing journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, where they would receive the Torah. Me’irah says we survive this time of constraint and our isolation by celebrating the bounty and blessings in our lives. And that celebration, I thought, gives us hope.
People congregating! Oakland 2019.
By now, I think we have learned that there are two kinds of people when it comes to staying at home. The first category of people say, “I am doing great, enjoying this time to relax and slow down. I am calling my friends on zoom and doing online yoga!”
The second category of people say “Oh yeah, well, I was kind of down yesterday but I am better today. Lots of people have it much worse than me. We’ll get through this, no problem.” If you are in the first category, please know that the people in the second category are actually thinking “I am going out of my mind.”