A Picnic in the Park

Since COVID-19 turned our world upside down, many of the things that were very normal have now become things we have to take great care in doing. Two of my kids have birthdays in July. In years past their birthday parties were at our community pool with a large group of friends and a stack of pizzas to share. This year those kinds of parties aren’t what we want to do. Planning a birthday party during a pandemic is a challenge!

We ended up having the party at a local park. Each party had only three or four friends and involved masks and hand sanitizer. I know it shouldn’t have been much fun, but it was great to see how quickly the kids adapted. We grilled burgers and hot dogs, played horseshoes, and had water fights. (It helped that it’s very hot and the wind was strong. Being outside with good air circulation helped calm a lot of my fears about virus transmission.)

Finding some normalcy is important. Having fun with people you love is important. Protecting each other is important. Spending some time in the park this week has helped me a lot.

We Will Only Break Through Together

During the 10 years I lived in Taiwan, I learned a lot of things that surprised me. One that’s applicable to our lives now is that wearing masks can become a normal, accepted part of life. The thing about wearing a mask, and what helped me be comfortable with it, is that it’s really about others rather than about you.

This was really impressed on me was when my younger son was hospitalized with the H1N1 flu. He went from being a kid with a light fever to a very sick little boy in a short time. We were taking him to our family doctor’s office (for the second time that day) when he had a seizure. Holding him while he seized was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced. The doctor was great and got him stabilized, then sent us off to the hospital.

In the ER my son tested positive for H1N1 and was admitted. (The quality of the care he received in the nationalized healthcare system was amazing, but a topic for a different post.) The morning after he was admitted a nurse woke me up to check in and then she handed me a mask. I was surprised, and asked her why. “You’ve probably already been exposed, so it’s important for everyone around you that you wear a mask.”

I’ll admit that I had never thought about diseases in that way. My concern was always for myself and my immediate family, and less for the nebulous “others out there.” Yet in Taiwan I saw over and over again how wearing a mask to protect the people around you was normal and encouraged. Once I understood this my attitude completely changed.

Have the sniffles? On with the mask until they are gone. Visiting an older relative? Put on the mask. As a teacher I appreciated that wearing a mask helped to keep the kids in my classes from getting too close (and this meant I tended to get sick less). On the subway or the bus when I saw someone wearing a mask my immediate reaction was gratitude. That person is taking care of me by wearing a mask.

Wearing a mask puts your community above your own needs. It’s natural that this became a common practice in East Asia because family and community are so important there. For people in the US, the emphasis seems to be on personal liberty and freedom. This is a striking difference in many ways (again, a topic for another post), but during this pandemic we Americans need to learn from the Asians. The only way for the pandemic to ease, for infections and deaths to go down, is if we take care of one another. Wearing masks and social distancing are the two easiest ways to do that. Simply wearing a mask sends a signal that you care about the people around you.

In the early days of the pandemic there were many messages going around that masks don’t protect you from the virus. If you look at the data, that’s probably a true statement. Cloth masks are not a completely effective defense against airborne viruses. What a simple cloth mask will do with great efficiency is stop you from spreading disease.

We can beat this together. We just need to put our community first, our neighbors first, our family first. It’s the only and best way to break through this pandemic. We can do it. And we’ll come out stronger on the other side if we do.

A Poem called Pandemic and other thoughts

I haven’t written much this month. With everything going on in the world, taking the time to write a post each day seemed almost self absorbed. I wanted to keep my family close and focus on helping them and others in my community. This week I’ve started to feel that our new, stay-at-home normal has reached the point of equilibrium and I have some mental space to start writing again.

What I have been doing a lot this month is reading. Sites like Brain PickingsRaptitudeBarking up the Wrong Tree, and Farnam Street have helped a lot. I hope something of what I write helps others in the way these writers (and many others) have helped me.

Steven Pressfield shared this excellent poem by Lynn Ungar. It’s so good I want to pass it along to you. I hope during this time of disruption we can find positive change as we reach out to each other with our hearts.


What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

Chris Shephard put together a beautiful virtual choir version of the poem with music by Martin Sedek.