Day 3 – What does the future hold?

Over the past few days I have taken time to speak with a few friends and family; to check in, talk about life in general and of course discuss how we are coping with the crisis of Covid 19. Sometimes the conversation steers toward how we and our loved ones are coping with the restrictions. At other times we talk about the future; when we will be able to be with each other again, when we will have more freedom of movement. We wonder about the days to come, spring and summer and fall, whether and how we will have to protect ourselves. Sometimes conversations lead to concerns for our physical and financial future; what kind of job, income, retirement people will have. All of these topics underline our sense of uncertainty – our desire to know more.

Fear and uncertainty can be motivating or debilitating. It can lead one to exercise caution and take positive action. It can also lead to anxiety, indecision, obsessive behavior and thinking, and violence.

The conversations we have had are generally comforting as we feel the familiarity and endurance of our bond. With close friends we can learn and benefit though each other’s experience. My friends have helped me appreciate different aspects of the crisis, different experiences that they or their friends are having. They tell stories of friends who are isolated and alone, friends infected with the virus, friends who have no work and little savings, friends who are trapped away from home and some who have just returned from other countries.

These conversations have helped me appreciate the diversity of perspectives on this crisis. Looking into the idea of perspective in the news I have learned that variations may be due to the level of infection in a person’s region, whether someone they know is infected, race, socio-economic status, housing, political perspective, and significantly, their age. For example:

The McCann Worldgroup (a resource for business) has reported that “Young people overall are more worried that they will lose their job or struggle financially compared to older people:”

  • Young people are also more worried that levels of racism will increase as a result of the pandemic.
  • In the United States, 22% of people aged 18-24 are worried people will become more racist, compared to 10% of people aged 45-54. In Spain, 17% of people aged 18-24 are worried people will become more racist, compared to 9% of people aged 45-54. 
  • In the United States, 39% of young people (25-34) have reported concern about losing their job or struggling financially compared to 12% of older people (45-54).
  • In India, 23% of young people (25-34) are worried about losing their job or struggling financially compare to 16% of older people (45-54). 

The dynamic nature of this pandemic makes it very difficult to understand. Not only are number of infected changing by the hour, by region, state and county but the response and information are also variable through time.

I hope you, your friends and family are well. I hope your local community is coming together in support of all.

Day 2 – What are we learning?

I woke up this morning with a limited number of goals in mind. Go to the grocery store, meditate, take a walk, read the news and email, connect with a friend, and write. In the back of my mind I’m keeping an eye on projects around the house that can benefit from some attention. Here it is, almost 4:00pm and I accomplished all of these to some degree.

It is curious how much psychological energy it takes to go to the grocery store now. It was akin to trips I would make outside the monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. My mind drifted toward the trip while in meditation. I got dressed with an eye toward the event, even setting aside the beautiful facemask that Joni made for me. I made sure that I had a clear idea of what to buy and was equipped with the right currency and cards for being out and tried to time my trip to arrive in mid morning, after the first rush. Driving into the parking lot of the store, I was happy to see few cars and lots of space between them. In the store the mood was somber but clerks were very helpful and courteous and there were some knowing nods and smiles from people as we passed. Some wore face masks like myself, many did not. Somehow I felt more connection with those who did.

Home made mask by Joni.

I was happy to see that, while the shelves in the store were laid bare in places, I was able to get some form and number of the things on my list. The experience wasn’t normal but manageable. Later in the day I spoke to a friend who had gone to the same store at 8:00am for “senior shopping”. His experience sounded harrowing compared to mine. He described the store as packed, especially in the produce and checkout lines. He said that people were unable to maintain distance between them. I had heard stories about these special shopping hours from my neighbors and had vowed that if I ever see a full parking lot at the grocery store, I will return home to shop another day. I think the store needs to rethink this senior strategy as it may have unintended and infectious consequences.

I’m going to keep today’s entry short but I want to share an opportunity with you that could make a difference. Today on “Science Friday” I learned about a website that has been created to report our health (feeling good, feeling bad) and our symptoms (if we’re feeling bad) on a daily basis. It is called “COVID Near Me“. Gathering this information will allow health officials to see the patterns of outbreak and the symptoms geographically so that the spread can be understood and addressed.

One of the challenges we face is that we don’t know how the virus is progressing. We don’t have enough testing kits to contain the virus in the way South Korea did (that’s a whole other story). Our only defense has been to self isolate so that we don’t spread the virus. Now that we’re all sitting at home, it is a great time to be a citizen scientist and contribute for the well being of us all. From the website COVID Near Me:

Created by epidemiologists and software developers at Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital and a group of volunteers from across the technology industry. Covid Near You uses crowdsourced data to visualize maps to help citizens and public health agencies identify current and potential hotspots for the recent pandemic coronavirus, COVID-19. The website is a sister tool of Flu Near You, created by Ending Pandemics and Boston Children’s Hospital in 2012 and maintained by the Boston Children’s Hospital team.

Covid Near You relies on voluntary participation from the general public, asking you to take a few seconds to report if you or your family members have been healthy or sick.

We analyze thousands of reports and map them to generate local and national views of covid-like-illness, providing public health officials and researchers with real-time, anonymous information that could help end the COVID-19 pandemic, and prevent the next one from happening.

With your help, we can all see what’s happening and better still- you have the knowledge to protect yourself and your family against disease.

I hope you will participate.

Day 1 – Stay at home Colorado

Joni and I have been sheltering at home since last Saturday. But this is no longer a choice – it’s the law. Colorado’s Governor signed an executive order effective at 6AM this morning; saying that the majority of Colorado’s 5.8 million residents must stay home. This order was made to contain the spread of the corona virus and the tendency of people to ignore less direct warnings. I guess “we” still need a parent.

Unprecedented events continue to unfold as we identify and adapt to our invisible enemy. The fact that our only defense is distancing is causing a host of related changes, the likes of which are scaring people even more than the virus itself. It is pulling us together as it creates tension between us. I hope that we can pass this test and emerge with greater understanding of our personal and collective power.

Last night I spoke to a friend in government who is on the front line of the response to corona virus. She attends regular community briefings to understand virus and the cascade of social and material consequences that it and our quarantine bring. These community leaders are organizing a safe response for our children who are isolated away from school They are planning to provide support, particularly food and supplies for children staying at home from school. They are grappling with the logistics of getting supplies from here to there. They have to move and deliver these supplies without inadvertently spreading the virus. First, they must secure materials from stocks and/or suppliers. Once they have identified the children in need (an ongoing process) they connect the children with the support. Of course they must keep track of all this movement; the product (like food or computers), the volunteers who transport it and the recipient. This is a multi agency/business/school endeavor.

As amazing as this sounds, it is only one of the initiatives and groups in motion around this crisis. This effort may not seem as heroic as the work of our beloved health care professionals, but it is critical to prepare in these early days. We are but one small, rural, community. There are many counties and towns involved in this particular coordination but we are just a small microcosm of work being done at the level of the State, Nation and World. Connecting the needs of individuals, families and business with materials and support is what necessary at all levels.

As an example of what is happening (or not happening) in communities around the world, this local effort reveals just how interdependent we are – how much we rely on each other, our businesses and government, our formal and informal organizations. Socialism, capitalism? call it what you want but we have to act with a single minded, social purpose, to provide for the basic needs of our community.

I am sitting at home, following the direction of my state governor who is acting on the advice of experts in the field of epidemiology. I trust that they take this responsibility seriously and should be trusted. I don’t trust them blindly of course but based on what I’ve read, they are taking a cautious and educated approach to the crisis.

This is a perfect time to reflect on the utility of government to direct the public for their own good. Would some call this socialism? Perhaps. Our taxes are invested to keep healthy bureaucracy in place – to prepare us for unforeseen events and to act in a coordinated fashion when necessary.

My personal action is not so much a sacrifice as it is a logical conclusion of the facts (yes facts) at hand. This action doesn’t really require that much of me except to listen and behave accordingly. Is that so hard? But staying home is relatively smaller sacrifice for me; a retired 64 year old with a pension. Staying home is a huge sacrifice for many others. It entails a loss of income and for some it will lead to job loss and business loss and all the hardships that follow. I am fortunate to be in a stage of life where I am relatively insulated from this sacrifice.

Despite my particular niche, I know that I am connected to each and every person and that their sacrifice and their fate, is my fate. As this cascade of social effects continues, I will feel the effects of unemployment, business and investment loss. These and many other effects will become OUR new reality, our new legacy. They will require more sacrifice on everyone’s part. We will have to rebuild our economy in the same way we would reconstruct a community in any other disaster. Given that this disaster has affected all of us, without exception, the scale of the recovery will be on a scale we have (Post WWII children) have never known.

It is time to prepare for collective sacrifice and action. My hope is that we will be considerate of all in this crisis, no matter their age, race, gender, or socio-economic status.

Storytelling for dis-ease

Yes, I have finally returned to my blog, to share my perspective on recent events, people, and personal adventures. Who needs more opinion, right? Read on and you’ll understand why I have resumed at this unprecedented moment in history, even at the risk of adding to the noise of news.

No one can deny that there is a wealth of activity and change in our modern world. But while the arrangements and dressings of life appear dynamic and even innovative on the surface, human nature remains constant. Not only are our aspirations, history, and values pretty established, the security we seek and the pain we avoid keeps us on a path that can be traced – even anticipated. This can provide us with insight and save us from over reacting in times of trouble.

One of the biggest limitation we have is our memory. As we become bedazzled and entranced by the latest news, we lose track of the bigger picture. For example, how many times have you recalled a story in the press and been unable to recall who or where that story came from. Sometimes the lost reference happens within the day I have read a piece. Our recall of yesterday’s events are also pretty cloudy. Younger folks probably are ahead of me in these memory tests but I would wager that you are taxed as well as you invite even more distraction into your life than I do.

One of my primary purposes for writing this blog is to record my experience as it happens. This requires the exercise my memory to ponder and finally commit my thoughts to the page. Memory is dynamic in nature rather than static. Our memories are an edited version of history rather than a snapshot. We re-write what has happened as we recall it. In the process of recollection (re – collecting memories) we interject modern impressions and hopes into the past collection.

Journaling as events unfold can help us be more conscious and therefore accurate in recording what happens. My hope is that this record will be worth looking at in the future, a fair account of my personal experience. A bonus would be that writing will enrich my experience and improve my choices through these troubled times. At a minimum it will be a better record than the one residing in the soft grey matter in my skull.

It has been almost 2 years to the date of my last blog entry April 4th, 2018. That post described our re-entry into the United States from our travels in Asia. As we traveled, I was inspired to write by the novelty of our experience. There was never a dull moment and always a surprise around the next corner. Even in Nepal where we lived for 5 months and became accustomed to our friends and surroundings, surprises abounded.

For better or worse, life has become pretty novel right here in the US lately. Human organization around the world is rapidly changing, adapting as I write. They are changing fast and in ways that we cannot fully grasp. So much so that news organizations have given up reporting anything but changes related to Covid-19. If I didn’t know better I’d think that all those past problems are solved – NOT!

While I don’t boast great readership, I am going to re-invite some of you – my friends – to this site. I’ll try and provide some decent photographs related to my posts. Perhaps this will bring people back on occasion.

I hope you and your family and friends are finding your way through the new reality, safe from this silent enemy. I hope you are feeling some level of security and kinship with each other despite the storm.

Hello Thailand

It has been a 2 weeks since we said our farewells in Kathmandu. It seems like a lifetime ago. On Monday, the 29th of January, we arrived in Bangkok and found warm air and humidity. Fortunately the temperature has remained below 90 degrees so far. A 30 degree change is change enough.

Joni with the Rama Bridge in Bangkok.

Night shot of Buddhist Monk waiting for a water taxi.

In the first week I felt like I was emerging from a fog.  Perhaps it was due to our recovery from the cold (flu?) we had in the final days in Nepal. Add to that, we have been grieving the end of our time with the girls at Tsoknyi Gechak School. While the experience brought many challenges, our connection with the girls was strong, sweet and freeing. At home in the monastery we were wrapped in a community of caring people and the routine and rhythm; from the morning gong, meditation, breakfast, water bucket routine, school preparations, classes, lunch, more classes, afternoon walk and finally battening down the hatches for the cold night. As I often described in past stories, the rhythm had a periodic back beat of surprises and disappointment when water wouldn’t come or a special puja interrupted the normal day. But even these surprises became part of the pattern of living over time. Funny how we long for adventure and the unusual while, at the same time, we thrive on routine and regularity.

On the canal close to Sam Sen Sam Place – our hotel in Bangkok

As we have emerge from the routine and regularity of life at the monastery we have maintained a pretty mellow pace. Our first 3 days in Bangkok were spent touring a few of the temples (Wat) and enjoying scenes along the river, close to our modest hotel.

The buildings and flowers bring a lot of color to Thailand.

Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand we continued our slow pace, strolling around the town and enjoying the scenes of the street, the annual “Flower Festival” and the night markets. Our most ambitious activities in Chiang Mai were a trip to Wat Phra That Doi Kham (that’s a mouthful); a temple on a mountain overlooking the city.

Joni among the crowd making offerings to benefit friends, strangers and loved ones.

A Wat is a temple. There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai alone. On another morning we went into the countryside where we visited an elephant sanctuary. After asking around for a few days, we found a short tour that promised to support a humane home for elephants. While it took an hour to drive each way, we were treated to a very interactive and hands on visit with 3 elephants (Pancake, Maya and Jumbo).

Elephant friends – up close and personal.

An evening at the park in celebration of the Flower Festival

After spending 5 nights in Chiang Mai, we took a day to travel to the island of Koh Chang. This required an hour flight back to Bangkok and 6 or 7 hour drive southwest in a mini bus. Fortunately the roads are smoother than those we left in Kathmandu. By evening we arrived at our new, temporary, home; the Oasis. An Oasis it is. Sitting in the Jungle on a hill about 100 yards above the beach, it is quiet and very relaxed. Our Dutch hosts have been running this place for 6 years and do a very good job of catering to (mostly) young and old, European, Asian and American guests. The open air dining room is home to 2 dogs and 3 or 4 cats (they come and go). The animals and humans are all very mellow and friendly, moving at a slow, steady pace. Things start late in the morning with breakfast at 8:00am. This is in sync with the beach parties we can hear (faintly fortunately) that last until 3:00am or so. My only complaint is that 50% of the people here smoke. They smoke on the streets, in the bars, on the beach and in restaurants. It’s a thing I guess.

I honestly can’t think of anything else to complain about in this slow moving paradise. It is a privilege to be here; hanging out on the beach, reading, meditating, eating incredible (and inexpensive) food, drinking beer, and enjoying relaxed conversations with Joni. Add to this we have both enjoyed 2 – one hour long massages on the beach, getting our skin bathed in Aloe after too much sun. What a life!

One more night left here on Koh Chang. Now we are north of Lonely Beach at Kai Bai where we are staying at “The Stage”, a little place just off Kai Bai Beach. This strip of paradise caters more to adult tourists and families so things are a little more polished.

Tomorrow we will take the 6 hour bus ride back to Bangkok where we’ll spend one more night. For better or worse, we won’t be staying in a hotel on the second day in Bangkok because our flight to Japan leaves at 12:05am on the 15th. It is a challenge to be present when another voyage looms on the horizon.

It has taken me forever to post this entry, so I’m going to post this now – without further elaboration. I hope that this message finds you well, wherever you are. Funny thing about traveling so much… I realize that wherever I go – there I am. In other words, it doesn’t really matter where I am. Most important is being present and making the most of it; with the people, my awareness and the most peaceful behavior I can muster. Cheers!