It’s Halloween, which is traditionally a day for “trick or treat.” This has usually been mostly treats with very few tricks, but my family is suffering from a trick this year.
My spouse B, daughter T, and I have been planning for weeks to spend the month of November in London, UK, visiting daughter E, son-in-law L, granddaughter ABC and meeting new granddaughter JG in person for the first time. We were going to need to quarantine our first two weeks there, followed by two weeks for visiting, and returning to two weeks of quarantine back here in New York State. We had re-arranged appointments, stocked freezers and refrigerators for our housesitter and for my father, made a bunch of care arrangements for him, etc. etc. etc.
And now, everything is cancelled.
The UK, which, like much of Europe, is suffering a COVID spike, is instituting a raft of new restrictions which make travelling for leisure there impossible.
We are sad not to be able to see our family. We had planned to have JG’s baptism while we were there. Not only is our trip cancelled but the baptism will also need to be postponed.
When we planned the trip months ago, the spike wasn’t expected until winter, so we had hoped to sneak in before things got bad. The reality was that summer holidays started more cases and, when people went back to school and work, the case numbers went up quickly.
Of course, here in the US, the country has never had the pandemic tamped down across the country. We are lucky to be in New York State which has been able to keep its rate pretty low compared to most of the rest of the country, but the country as a whole is suffering record numbers of illness and death.
The prospect of winter making things even worse is horrifying.
I wish I could say that we would know when in 2021 we could safely travel to London, but it is unknowable. I guess I’ll just say sometime in 2021, we’ll get there.
I’ll be saying good-bye to an old decade and beginning a new one.
I guess the bigger question is “is sixty old?”
Well, if not old, I think it’s at least getting there…
I’m not a big “numbers” person. We all get older one day at a time, so I don’t usually fret about my age, which is always one day older than the day before. I admit that I had established sixty as the date by which I hoped to have a book of poetry published, but that isn’t happening. A friend told me she thought I should give myself an additional year on my goal because I have been a chapbook contest finalist, so I guess I’ll go with that. I also have several poet-friends who didn’t publish a book until 60+ so I am in happy and comforting company if I do manage to publish my chapbook or something else in my 60s. Right now, my chapbook is still out in five places and I have three more prospects lined up for submission, so working on it…
Birthdays and anniversaries, especially milestone ones, do remind me to consider how blest I am to have gotten here. I think about my friend Angie who died when she was 54. We used to dream about our respective, then unborn, not-even-dreamt-of-by-our-children grandchildren meeting up at the lake for summer vacations. She does now have grandchildren, whom she never got to hold.
This will probably sound morbid, but, even in my twenties, I made big decisions in my life using the lens of “if I knew I were going to die soon/young, what would I want to have done?” In my case, this has often meant setting aside a personal ambition or accomplishment in favor of taking care of people and doing volunteer work. I’m privileged to have had a choice to make.
It has meant that there have been opportunities that I passed up and that were not able to be retrieved at a later time, especially when it came to my role as a church musician and liturgist. Much too long and complicated a story to stream of conscious-ness.
My hope is that, when I am old, if that grace is to be mine, I will be able to look back with equanimity and not regret.
Last night, we received the sad news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at the age of 87 from complications of pancreatic cancer. She was an amazing woman with a remarkable record of achievements, overcoming the discrimination she faced as a woman, a mother, and a Jewish person. As a lawyer, she argued landmark sex discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning five of the six cases she presented. One of her keys to success was that some of those cases were brought on behalf of men who suffered lack of access to careers or benefits that were ascribed to women, for example, allowing men to study nursing. This was able to reach the all-male justices in a way that a case brought on behalf of women did not. It was a way in to address the injustices of sexism.
As a judge and then in 27 years as a justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a strong voice for equal justice under the Constitution, regardless of race or gender. As the Court became more and more conservative, she was well-known for her well-reasoned, cogent, and accessible dissents, many of which may be the basis for reversals over time, as we have seen with some infamous Supreme Court decisions in the past.
Millions of people around the country are sad, but also terrified. The terror is that Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be replaced this year by the current president, even though the election is only six weeks away. This totally flies in the face of what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did in 2016, when conservative justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly ten months before the election and he refused to even have hearings to vote on Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Obama. He said that the people should have a voice in the selection through their presidential choice. The Supreme Court had to operate for over 400 days with only eight justices. Even more scandalously, there was the threat that if Hillary Clinton had won, McConnell would still not have allowed a Court nominee to be voted on in the Senate. It’s such an abuse of power.
Which brings me to the “-tion” word that popped into my head, compunction. In the midst of the mourning that immediately followed the announcement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, McConnell announced that Trump’s nominee would receive a vote in the Senate. That he had no compunction in doing so is appalling. The level of hypocrisy and the naked abuse of power is off the charts.
I am hoping that a significant number of Republican senators will stand up and say that they will not vote on a nominee under these rushed and suspect circumstances. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said last night that she would not vote on a nominee, saying “fair is fair.”
I wish I could say that I am shocked that McConnell also had no compunction in releasing his statement on a replacement right after news of Justice Ginsburg’s death broke, but he acted similarly after Justice Scalia’s death. I hope that we can focus on RBG’s legacy and life in the coming days, not the political and partisan circus that McConnell has unleashed.
Like many people, we have a coin jar at home. When our daughters were young, when the coin jar was full, I would roll the coins and bring them to our credit union for deposit to the girls’ accounts.
That was a long time ago now, but I still have a coin jar. I didn’t fill it very fast in recent years because I would only take coins out of my wallet when it got over-full. I used to do a lot of my everyday shopping in cash, so I would spend my coins. Since the pandemic, though, I seldom use cash, so I’m not accumulating coins.
I was concerned this spring because there was a coin shortage caused by lack of commerce and I was anxious to find a couple of 2020 pennies. Two of my long-time friends have penny boxes that I gave them for their birthdays. The idea came from a book for children titled “The Hundred Penny Box” which had a centenarian who had a penny from each year of her life. Each year, on my friends’ birthdays, I would send them a penny for that year.
My friend with a May birthday had to take an IOU, but I was pleased to pay cash at the grocery store self-checkout one day in late June and receive three shiny 2020 pennies in change. I sent a (very belated) birthday card to my first friend and had a penny to send to my friend with an August birthday on time.
I used to supply pennies to two other boxes. One was a birthday box for my friend Angie, who passed away in 2005. (If you search her name, posts will come up about her here at TJCM.) The other was an anniversary box for my parents, known here as Nana and Paco. We added the last penny to it last year, a few weeks before Nana passed away.
Someday, I may make a penny box for B and my anniversary. Maybe in two years for our 40th. That was when I gave my parents theirs and they wound up making to their 65th.
One of the big news stories in the United States this week has been changes in the postal service.
Let’s start with the cons.
The postmaster general, a recent Trump appointee who is a major Trump donor and who has no experience with the postal service other than owning stock in USPS competitors and contractors, has implemented allegedly cost-cutting measures, among them removal of large sorting machines that are especially useful for large mailings, removal of postal boxes where folks can mail envelopes and small packages without having to go to the post office, sending letter carriers out on their routes even when the mail has not all been sorted so that mail is getting left behind, and not allowing letter carriers to go back out on a second pass.
This results in mail delivery being delayed, which is annoying for senders and recipients. Sometimes, it is even dangerous as many seniors, veterans, and just members of the general public receive medications through the mail. It’s also difficult for the many, many businesses and consumers who are using delivery of goods rather than shopping in-person. It affects even businesses that use private carriers like United Parcel because many of them use the USPS as a so-called “last mile” service, delivering the packages to the local post office rather than to the door of the final recipient.
The postal service also informed at least 46 states and the District of Columbia that it might not be able to delivery ballots for the November election in a timely way, risking the integrity of accurate counting of votes.
The removal of postal boxes makes it difficult for people to get mail sent, especially if they can’t get mail picked up from their home and don’t live within walking distance of their post office.
Removing equipment is causing delays in delivery. While the changes were supposed to result in cuts to overtime, in many places the changes have resulted in increased overtime because things are not able to be done in the most efficient way.
I can’t come up with a single “pro” for the public, who overwhelmingly approve of the USPS, which is unusual for any part of the government. The postal service is as old as the country and is established in the Constitution itself!
The president in an interview this week described/admitted to a “pro” for him – that the election in November that is anticipated to involve lots of voting by mail due to the pandemic making in-person voting more risky will not be able to move forward effectively. The president opposes increased funding for the postal service which is included in the HEROES Act that has passed the House but is not being considered in the Senate, which is now on break through Labor Day in September.
The general public and some members of Congress are pushing back. Yesterday, the USPS postmaster general halted the removal of mail collection boxes until after the election. This is a start, but much more needs to be done to reverse the other changes and to make sure that all ballots (and other mail) gets delivered in a timely way.
The sad and infuriating thing is that the president himself revealed that the whole thing is a con.
Which many of us suspected.
You’re also not a very good con man if you give the con away.
This past week, we surpassed 150,000 COVID deaths and the virus is out of control in a number of states, including our three most populous. California has now passed the half million mark for cases – and the real number infected is, no doubt, much higher because mild or asymptomatic cases are unlikely to be found. There is some hope on the vaccine front with some Phase III trials beginning – the one I’m signed up for will start in August, I hope – but, even if one or more are successful, it will take months and months for enough doses to be available globally to quash the pandemic. Meanwhile, here in the US, there is still no national strategy and people are suffering because of it. Even states like mine (New York) who worked hard to get out case numbers way down are under threat of resurgence from infected people visiting our state, returning home from traveling, or coming back to our many colleges and universities. It’s terrifying.
On Thursday, the nation had an opportunity to reflect on love and justice and service. Rep. John Lewis, a central figure in the civil rights movement who went on to champion the rights of all people who suffered discrimination and prejudice – and the planet itself – was honored with a truly beautiful funeral service. Reflections were offered by clergy, family, friends, staff, colleagues, and all four former presidents, Jimmy Carter in writing and Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama in person. President Obama gave the main eulogy, which was also a call to action for justice and for voting rights, a cause which John Lewis literally bled for, was jailed for, and supported passionately for decades. The House of Representatives voted unanimously to re-name a voting rights bill that they had passed earlier after John Lewis. (OK, Mitch McConnell. Time to get it to the Senate and pass it into law.) Sadly, this law is needed after the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Voting Rights Act originally passed in the 1960s, reasoning (wrongly) that the country was past discriminatory voting practices. Since then, many states have re-implemented practices that limit ballot access for citizens based on age, race, income level, location, and other factors.
To point out the threat to voting and election integrity – yes, there is also evidence of foreign election interference, as if the domestic problems weren’t bad enough – the same day as the funeral, the president floated the idea via Twitter that our November 3rd national election should be postponed. The date of the election is set by Congressional law, though, so the president can’t change it. Fortunately, even the Republicans in Congress said that the election date will not be changed. I also think there would be civil unrest if it was tried.
Still, the election is under threat from forces within the government. Each state is responsible for running its own election, but the pandemic has made in-person voting more complicated and dangerous. States are moving to make greater use of their absentee voting systems, but these usually rely on the postal service, which the president is undermining through inadequate funding and a new crony leading the postal service who is changing policy to slow service. The House of Representatives has passed legislation to allocate funds to the states and the postal service so that our election can be fair, free, and safe, but Sen. McConnell has refused to bring the bill to the Senate for a vote. His own proposal doesn’t address election integrity at all. It also doesn’t address aid to states – and it was over two months after the House passed their bill before he even put out his proposal.
During the impeachment and trial, Republicans kept saying that “the people should decide the fate of the president at the ballot box.” They should be ensuring that we can do that safely, securely, and freely, not putting up roadblocks. If they are confident in their positions on the issues, they should be eager to have the vote. This looks like they know they have failed in their obligations to protect and defend the people and the Constitution and realize they can only hold onto power by cheating and deceiving.
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, there is more bad news on the economic front. The GDP declined at its highest rate since such things started to be calculated over 150 years ago. (GDP=Gross Domestic Product) Because the pandemic is so bad, many businesses are needing to close or scale back, so many more people are unemployed. Some who had thought they were temporarily unemployed are now permanently unemployed because their businesses that they owned or worked for are closing for good. Because the federal government isn’t helping the states, we are also facing a wave of layoffs of state and local workers. Unlike the federal government, most states are required to have balanced budgets. Their tax revenues are way down, so their budgets are broken. This can mean layoffs for police, public hospital workers, teachers, public works employees, and other essential workers that are needed even more now. This will make unemployment worse and cause more demand for anti-poverty programs – for which there is already inadequate funding. Oh, and the additional federal funds of $600/week that were added to state unemployment checks in the CARES Act this spring end this week. The House bill that passed in mid-May would extend them until January; McConnell’s new proposal cuts them way down.
Most economists advocate the federal government injecting much more money into the economy to keep it afloat until the pandemic ends. The very real fear is that what is happening now – with the CARES Act programs ending with nothing to replace them (or next to nothing) – that the steep recession will turn into an economic depression. Evictions and foreclosures, many of which had been forestalled by prior legislation, will likely accelerate, leading to an increase is homelessness and, possibly, bankruptcy for landlords who no longer have tenants. People may have even more problems finding food. There are already strains on both public and charitable food resources. Our health care system, which was already broken, will be even more overwhelmed.
I try to be realistic.
It’s hard, though, not to think that we are going to see more and more and more suffering in the months ahead.
As a nation, we need to summon more courage, more intelligence, more compassion, more reason to chart a path to restore peace, justice, and good health. I guess “restore” is the wrong word. We need to establish those things for everyone.
One of the many things that got deferred in 2019 while we were dealing with the final months of my mom’s life and the first months without her was going to the doctor for a check-up. I wasn’t being totally health-delinquent as I had other reasons to visit the doctor’s office, but I didn’t have the standard wellness exam that someone my age would usually have every year.
Next month, I am going to have a check-up, though, preceded by lab work so we can go over the results at my appointment. I may also need to have a bone density scan. I have crossed over into a diagnosis of osteopenia, which isn’t surprising. At 59, I don’t expect to have the same bone density as a woman in her twenties. I’m hoping that I can avoid taking Fosamax or some other bone-builder medication, at least for now. I prefer to save that until I actually develop osteoporosis, if I ever do. One can only take those types of medications for a limited amount of time and I don’t want to use up my quota too soon.
I also know that I should be thinking about getting a new shingles vaccine. I have had a bout of shingles and have had the older vaccine, but the new one is supposed to be much, much more effective. I will probably need to wait longer to get it, though, because, in the next few weeks, B, T, and I are all scheduled to participate in a coronavirus vaccine trial. The trial is supposed to last for two years, but I’m sure there will be a window for me to get the shingles vaccine at a time when it won’t interfere with the trial.
I’m sure I’ll be posting about the trial when it begins.
“A democracy cannot thrive where power remains unchecked and justice is reserved for a select few. Ignoring these cries and failing to respond to this movement is simply not an option — for peace cannot exist where justice is not served.”