I’m Angry That People Aren’t Taking COVID-19 Seriously

covid

Image Description: A person with light skin, brown hair, and brown eyes looks into the camera while wearing a blue mask with small white flowers. Public domain image.

I’m angry that many people aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously.

This is causing severe effects on individuals, families, and whole communities. And some of it — in some places, even a lot of it — could be avoided if people would take this seriously. They haven’t, and some still won’t; here we are.

— I’m very close to a couple that lives in San Antonio. She works for the city government, and he is an Emergency Department physician. After the governor in Texas was determined to open quickly, and after he signed an order that cities were not permitted to take any action on their own to limit or close establishments and events, their numbers of cases and their numbers of hospitalizations are skyrocketing. And… people aren’t numbers. They are grandparents, parents, siblings, children, friends, and neighbors. They are people in their 30s who die unexpectedly and unnecessarily.

The door was opened for people to go about their routines with few if any limits, and people did it. Some workers are forced to do so economically; others are careless about putting workers and neighbors at risk. This has serious effects: Last week, the governor in Texas put a halt on elective surgeries in order to make more space within hospitals to treat COVID-19. Given the numbers, this is the right decision now, but it’s a situation that could have been avoided. Elective surgeries are not insignificant surgeries. To give only one example, I work with people who have epilepsy. For some, when they’ve become a candidate for epilepsy surgery, it’s because medications aren’t working, and they are having uncontrolled seizures. Without surgical options, some of these individuals are at risk for SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy). The surgery might not be life or death in this precise moment, but these individuals are living at higher risk when their surgery options are prolonged. The same is true, of course, for many other medical conditions. As my friend said, “How is it okay to keep people from elective surgeries (which are often medically necessary and important), yet it violates individual liberty to wear masks?”

This makes me angry.

— Closer to home for me, a couple of days ago, I tuned into the podcast This American Life, and I was surprised to discover they just released an entire episode spotlighting COVID-19 treatment at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. At the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan, I work alongside a number of physicians, therapists, and staff at that hospital. I respect them deeply, and I felt that all the more as I listened to the care that people are providing within this hospital.

This episode told such human stories. It brought home several things that I already knew, but I felt them even more deeply: COVID-19 is a serious illness; it is impacting entire communities and cities at alarming rates, particularly among Black and brown people; and it is harming frontline care workers as some contract the illness and as many are traumatized by what they see. “I’ll probably have PTSD after this,” one physician said. They are running low on personal protective equipment, and they are devastated as they seek to provide comfort and dignity to people hospitalized alone.

This makes me angry.

— Yesterday, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) said an alarming statement. Before clicking on the article I saw, I shook my head at the title. “The CDC says U.S. has ‘way too much virus’ to control pandemic as cases surge across country.” This is not comforting. Here’s a quote from Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC:

“We’re not in the situation of New Zealand or Singapore or Korea where a new case is rapidly identified and all the contacts are traced and people are isolated who are sick and people who are exposed are quarantined and they can keep things under control… We have way too much virus across the country for that right now, so it’s very discouraging.”

It is very discouraging, and this makes me angry.

You know me: I look things square in the eye and dare to be hopeful, though not unrealistic or pollyanna. We can have positive effects in each other’s lives. This is not the moment to become so discouraged that we to throw our hands up in the air and think we can’t make choices that save lives. We can.

But am I angry? Yes, I am.

When we don’t take COVID-19 seriously,
people die unnecessarily,
people survive with complications and new, life-long associated illnesses,
people can’t visit their loved ones in nursing homes and memory care, and
people die alone.

When we don’t take COVID-19 seriously,
people lose their jobs,
people are forced to work in ways that compromise their health,
people lose funding for the nonprofits and organizations that help, and
people can’t pay their bills.

When we don’t take COVID-19 seriously,
people stay isolated even longer,
people forgo touch and hugs (It’s been 100+ days since I’ve had a hug)
people cannot visit their families and closest friends, and
people develop mental health challenges.

Please take this seriously. Our actions and our inactions have huge effects on the lives of those around us, as well as our own. Social scientists have discovered that we are always impacting and being impacted by three degrees of separation. Our actions impact our friend’s-friend’s-friends, and our friend’s-friend’s-friends are impacting us. When you do the math (I’ll link more about this here –>) you impact on average 8,000 people every day of your life.

As much as we take this seriously, we also add real, tangible hope. We can care for our neighbors. We can care for ourselves. Yes, it’s a bummer, but stay home when you can. Wear masks when you can. It saves whole lives and whole livelihoods.

-Renee Roederer

Small Groups of People Can Change The World

Did you know that many of the people who fought adamantly for the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) met each other as teenagers at a summer camp?

I did not know this until recently. The story is told in the Netflix original film Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution. A group of disabled teenagers spent a portion of their summer at a very formative place called Camp Jened. Though they experienced a great deal of exclusion, discrimination, and isolation in their hometowns and local schools, they came alive in community with one another. It changed their lives and empowered them.

It empowered them much so that years later as adults, they blocked New York City traffic in wheelchairs, advocated fiercely for disability rights in Congressional hearings, and staged days-long occupation of legislative offices for the 504 sit-ins. The 504 sit-in in San Francisco lasted 28 days and is to this day the longest sit-in in a federal building. They just took over the place and shut it down.

And this amazing community of friends and chosen family met at a summer camp where they envisioned and enacted a new form of community. When they all arrived as individuals on buses at Camp Jened, they could not have imagined this. But relationships matter, and small groups of people can change the world. I take heart in this.

Change always has to start somewhere. Change always has to start in community somewhere. Here’s the trailer for Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.

 

Support

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A bunch of bagels of different flavors. Public domain image.

Hello, Dear Friends! Thank you for visiting Smuggling Grace and reading my daily posts here.  I’m committed to sharing my written content free of charge, and I hope that these pieces provide some hope and encouragement during challenging times. Once per month, for those who would like to support this work, I offer opportunities to contribute.

If you would like to become a monthly patron, I have a Patreon Page. Feel free to check it out. Or, if you’d like to give a one-time gift, you can do so here.

Imagine… with a small donation, you can provide the funds for a highly isolated, pandemic person to have bagels delivered joyfully to her house. Do you know how much this writer loves bagels delivered to my house?

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Accessibility Matters

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Image description: Two graphics with a white background with a red border and black text that features two quotes by @Mia.Mingus on Instagram: “Access is a practice of love when it is done in service of care, solidarity, and disability justice.” 

On Sunday nights this summer, I’ve been tuning into a series of webinars called Crip Camp: The Official Virtual Experience. These webinars are centered on Disability Justice and have grown out of the experience of the Netflix original film Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution. I recommend the film, and more about that tomorrow.

These webinars have been phenomenal, and if you’d like to learn more about what has been discussed, feel free to check out the hashtag #CripCampVirtual on Twitter. Tonight’s topic was, “Creating Our Community: Civic Engagement and Your Role in the Movement.”

And there was quite a surprise. A surprise guest. President Barack Obama showed up. He and First Lady Michelle Obama helped produce the Crip Camp film. He was present to talk about what he’d learned, and he invited people to ask him questions.

And as soon as he arrived, when it was time for him to greet everyone, he started with a visual description. He described the visual space where he was sitting, and he described what he was wearing. This was for those who are blind and visually impaired, as well as any others who could benefit from that description. In response to this simple gesture, people tweeted that they cried.

Accessibility matters. And it matters when people in power create accessible spaces of welcome. He also honored disability culture in giving that description. His presence and that gesture were both welcomed surprises.

Renee Roederer

It’s also good to speak words of critique for collective learning. Later, I also critiqued his use of some creeping, ableist language when he started talking burnout and taking care of our bodies. “If you’re not healthy, you can’t help anyone,” he said. Wrong room. 🙂 Well intended, but that’s a good example of how casual ableism shows up in our language all the time. We’re all learning in this, me included.

 

Trust

File:El capitan and merced river.jpg

Image Description: A photo of El Capitan and the Merced River at Yosemite National Park. It is a public domain photo from the website http://www.pdphoto.org/PictureDetail.php?mat=pdef&pg=8324.

This sermon was preached with First Presbyterian Church in Warren, Michigan and was focused upon Hebrews 12:-12. An audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

Within Yosemite National Park, El Capitan stands tall. Very tall. It is one of the most well-known rock formations within the United States. It rises 3,000 feet from the valley floor, and it’s 2.5 times as tall as the Empire State Building. It’s a large, beautiful thing to behold, but some people do much more than view it on the ground.

Each year, people climb it. Using a variety of established routes, people pull themselves to the top. It takes a lot of gumption and a lot of strength. In fact, it takes so much exertion, that many people don’t do it in one day. They take a couple of days and actually sleep on El Capitan. They establish hammocks of sorts and sleep on the side of a mountain; it’s called vertical camping. I can’t imagine ever doing this myself — like ever, ever — but I am truly impressed.

Bit by bit, all these climbers use cables and pull themselves up El Capitan. Well, that is, everyone except Alex Honnald. And here’s where my never, ever grows even stronger. In 2017, climbing phenom Alex Honnald performed a free solo of El Capitan. And if you’ve never heard language like free solo (I hadn’t until recently) let me share the absurdity of what this means: Alex Honnald climbed El Capitan with no ropes or safety measures at all. It was just him, freely solo-ing. He used his own muscles entirely, balancing on tiny jutting forms of rock. (Truly, you should see how flat El Capitan looks to an observer.) He also did this in just four hours.

Just to be clear, I do not recommend this. Like, at all. But it was a wonder to behold. Just a few weeks ago, I watched a documentary about this particular climb by Alex Honnold. It’s rightfully called Free Solo. It was nerve-wracking to watch him do this. It was also truly impressive.

I also found myself thinking about this: This takes an abundant amount of trust.

Now, of course, most obviously, it takes a lot of trust in one’s self. He had to believe that he could do it. He had to believe that he could keep his anxiety at bay, at least enough, to get through and make it to the top. He had to trust El Capitan. He had to trust those areas he chose to grip. He had to trust his footholds.

All of this is true. But he also had to trust others who had come before him. He had to trust the people who made the climbing routes — those who had at one point, charted new territory. He had to trust his previous climbs. He had taken time to climb El Capitan a number of times with ropes and safety measures, and when he did this, he didn’t do it alone. He brought some seasoned climbers with him, including Tommy Caldwell, who has climbed all the routes on El Capitan and established a new one. (There’s also a documentary about this called, The Dawn Wall).

Alex Honnald gained accolades for climbing El Capitan alone. I mean, that’s why it’s called free solo. But he also didn’t climb it alone. Many people helped that happen. And he may have had people on his mind and heart too as he made that climb, though I’m going to assume his full attention was on the climbing itself. Alex Honnald had to trust others.

Our scripture text from Hebrews gives us a similar vision:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,” it says. This great cloud of witnesses is much more than a bunch of spectators, standing back, hands off at a great distance. This great cloud of witnesses includes those who have gone before us and charted pathways of faithfulness. It includes those who surround us now in love — those whose support, care, and influence are truly with us, even now during a period of social distancing and isolation. It includes this community, this family of faith. Before us and around us, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

And the text continues to say, “and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus has gone before us, and Jesus is with us. And this doesn’t have to sound like some pithy saying we might say simply to comfort ourselves. It is the kind of truth we can take inwardly in ways that are transformative. Jesus is a pioneer, charting a way of faith and charting a way of living. This is about more than church niceties of some kind. This is Jesus, a pioneer and charter of a way of living that loves God and loves our neighbors as ourselves. And he took risks to live this way.

Jesus endured a cross. He died by state violence. The author of Hebrews says that he also disregarded its shame. He cast that shame aside as it clung so closely, and he did so for love of his neighbors. Let’s get real here: Jesus loved so deeply and so expansively that it began to initiate change, and that threatened the power of the Roman Empire. They abused him with shame, torture, and an excruciating death that lasted many hours. Despite this violence, or rather, emerging from it, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews joins the great cloud of witnesses in honoring the power of resurrection. Jesus is no longer on the cross, or strapped to an execution gurney, or under the knee of state power. Jesus is at the right hand of God, pioneer and perfecter of our faith, praying for us and always charting the course of being with us — with us when we suffer; with us when we climb the summit of many challenges; and with our neighbors when they run the race before them, when they are persecuted for their faith, when they suffer state violence, and when they and we love so deeply and expansively that it dreams and initiates a whole world of changes where love abounds and persists deeply and expansively.

The community behind this letter needed to hear words like these. They were experiencing persecution for their faith. At times, they were in danger because the risk of love can sometimes take us there. But we, like them, can lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely. We can look to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, and we can trust him. We can look to the great cloud of witnesses — our family of faith in this congregation; our faith ancestors, both recent and long ago; our neighbors who loved God, some in the midst of heartache and suffering; and those who like Jesus, are before us, existing within the heart of God. We may need to hear words like these. We may need to be gathered before these, knowing they are with us and cheering us on.

Within these words and within this vision, where do you find yourself today? Do you feel like you’re climbing a personal mountain all alone — facing difficulty, heartache, fear, or loneliness? We are with you. The Pioneer and Perfecter of our Faith is with you. Do you feel this deep-seated calling to love God and love neighbors in ways that dream and initiate change? We are with you. The Pioneer and Perfecter of our Faith is with you. Do we feel numb and unmotivated in a world that is overwhelming right now? That’s understandable sometimes. We are with you. The Pioneer and Perfecter of our Faith is with you.

We do not leave you there alone. Our faith ancestors do not leave you there alone. Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our Faith does not leave you there alone.

We are that great cloud of witnesses. We are supported and surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. And we can trust. We can trust that calling we feel. We can trust the God who makes that calling alive within us. We can trust each other. We can trust our neighbors. We can trust that as impressive as it may seem, climbing alone is a total myth. We don’t make it on our own.

So friends, lean into that trust. Put your weight upon it. Put your heart upon it. Act upon it.

Thanks be to God — the One who is with us, the One who calls us, the One who frees us to life abundant. Thanks be to this God.

Amen.

Renee Roederer

— Here’s information about El Capitan from the Yosemite National Park website: https://www.yosemite.com/what-to-do/el-capitan/

— Here is a video about the making of Free Solo:

The Guesthouse

welcome mat

Image Description: A brown mat with the word “Welcome” in black. It’s on the ground in front of a yellow door which is slightly ajar. Public domain image.

Earlier this week, I posted a piece called “Receive From Everything, Share From Everything.” A friend emailed me and shared that this piece reminded her of the poem, “The Guesthouse” by Rumi. I had not made that connection, but as it turns out, that is one of my favorite poems. So I thought I’d share it today.

The Guesthouse

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

Sharing is Caring

This is Schmoopie the Elephant. He is very good friends with J, my 4 year old friend. Recently, Schmoopie gave an inane amount of rhubarb to J and his amazing parents. And then J and his parents made Schmoopie some strawberry rhubarb jam. I’m so lucky that Schmoopie shares.

Renee Roederer

Images: 1) Schmoopie on my shoulder, 2) Schmoopie and all his rhubarb, 3) Schmoopie enjoying two jars of strawberry rhubarb jam. 

“Who Knows What the Tide Could Bring?”

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Image Description: An ocean wave moves toward a sandy shore. Public domain image.

Recently, I was gathered with a community over Zoom, when someone referenced a poignant moment in the film “Cast Away.” It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen that film — probably more than a decade. But I’ve definitely thought of it a number of times during quarantine.

It’s wild to for us to be so physically isolated. Thankfully, most of us have phones and computers. Some of us may also have Wilsons. (I have a cute, plushy, little elephant friend, and there’s a baby bunny and a baby groundhog in my backyard).

At the end of the film, after surviving alone on an island for four years, the protagonist Chuck Noland is able to return home, but his life is now far from normal, typical, or frankly, what he deserves. He continues to adjust to a new normal with the very same skills he developed on that island. Speaking about his experience, he says,

“And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass…  And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”

It’s this last line that has really stuck with me:
Who knows what the tide could bring?

There are times, no doubt, when we experience pain, loss, and suffering, both personally and collectively. And… there are times when unexpected help comes to us. And… there are times when unexpected hope comes to us. And… there are times when unexpected change comes to us or invites us to participate alongside it.

Who knows what the tide could bring?

Unexpected grace. Unexpected help. Unexpected winds of change. Unexpected possibility.

I believe in this. I’ve known pain, loss, and suffering. I’m a long-term trauma survivor. I’ve lost loved ones. I’ve had my world upended many times.

I’ve also experienced resilience. I’ve also experienced community. I’ve experienced unexpected opportunities. I’ve also experienced restoration after conflict. I’ve also experienced reconciliation of relationships — some wildly unlikely, and yet, they happened. In fact, I’ve experienced this more than once.

I believe in possibility.

Who knows what the tide could bring?

I don’t claim, of course, to have experienced many of the forms of suffering that are plaguing our world. I have a lot of privilege too. There are some who are struggling with discrimination, lack of resources, and systemic injustices that are deep, raw, undeserved, and devastating.

And sometimes, even there, the winds of change blow in such a way that we are empowered and enabled to act toward collective liberation. Or at the very least, this calls to us, and we can follow in its direction.

Who knows what the tide could bring?

I’m going to let that question linger with me for a while.

Renee Roederer

Sometimes, Just Ask

Image may contain: food and indoor

Image Description: A gorgeous loaf of bread, gifted to me by my friends Jeff and Nancy Renner.

I was in a Zoom meeting when someone mentioned the bread that her family makes at home each week. With ovens right there in their home, they bake for some stores in my town. Then they always make a bit extra.

I’ve had their bread before, and I know how good it is. “Oh, that’s sounds so delicious,” I thought, suddenly with a hankering for that bread.

So as soon as the meeting was over, I emailed them and asked if I could have a loaf. I was invited to come over the very next day and pick it up, and when I did, it was gloriously tasty and hot right out of the oven. I know it was gloriously tasty because I was already eating it in the car on the way home.

This is a reminder that sometimes, we can just… ask.

During the last Lent season, right before the coronavirus was fully on our radar, I chose to take on what I called “the spiritual practice of asking for things.” It’s all the more vital now. We are often afraid to ask from our friends and community members, but the truth is, folks are often glad to share. We fear being a ‘burden’ (this is straight up a cultural reflection of ableism and capitalism, where we’re taught we’re supposed to do everything ourselves productively, or else lose care) but when people ask us for things, we hardly ever think of them the way we tend to think of ourselves.

So we can just ask. And our friends and neighbors are often delighted, just as we are when we can participate in providing for someone.

This is a choice to lean into a beautiful, spiritual value — interdependence. And that value takes form relationally, concretely, and materially.. Sometimes, just ask.

Renee Roederer

 

“Receive From Everything, Share From Everything”

HV Communities Receive Water Infrastructure Grants | WAMC

Image Description: A drop of water falls into a body of water, making ripples. Public domain image.

This is my personal phrase lately:
“Receive from everything, share from everything.”

It’s also how I’m trying to live in these days.

There are times of upheaval, both personal and collective, when we rightfully ask ourselves, “What should I do? How should I act? How are my neighbors and my community calling to me? What do I need? What do my loved ones need? What do my neighbors need?”

We might ask these questions out of urgency. We might ask these questions out of anxiety. We might find ourselves zooming out of the moment, getting perspective, yes, but also distance, asking these questions hypothetically within the big picture rather than dealing with the reality of the day-to-day picture.

Within it all, my personal phrase is,
“Receive from everything, share from everything.”

The truth of the matter is… change happens in the day to day, mundane aspects of life, and above all, change happens through a web of relationships. There are times, absolutely, when our daily, mundane lives need to be disrupted with cries for large-scale change. We are experiencing this now.

We activate change, however, in the daily mundane aspects of life and above all, through our relationships. We need to build change, not hypothetically in some conceptual big picture, but in the communities we are already in, allowing those very communities to expand, transform, and transform us.

Receive from everything, right where we are —
receive care, receive messages, receive love, receive challenge, receive questions, receive resources, receive conflict, receive imagination, receive lament, receive hope, receive connection, receive relationship.

Share from everything, right where we are–
participate in being a catalyzer,
share care, share messages, share love, share challenge, share questions, share resources, share conflict, share imagination, share lament, share hope, share connection, share relationship.

These days in the upheaval, I am literally keeping a list of these things. It helps me. I keep a list of what I receive, and I want to receive as fully as possible. And then I consider how to share from it in relationship.

Some aspects of our lives need to be disrupted.

We can participate in building change when we act, when we share, in our daily, mundane lives through the web of our relationships.

Let life catalyze us.
Participate in catalyzing change.

“Receive from everything, share from everything.”

Renee Roederer

Mental Health Monday: If We Change the Environment…

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Image Description: Two small purple basil plants in small, clear glass bowls are on a counter with a plastic planter container behind them. 

These are my baby purple basil plants. I was sad when I saw them wilting inside their planter container over the weekend. It will be time to plant them in a proper pot soon — that, I knew — but goodness, their stems were all totally wilted, lying flat over their small mounds of dirt.

So I put these small mounds of dirt into little clear bowls. Then I put some water in the bowls. These little babies sucked that water right up, and in very short order were springing right into growth again. It was amazing to witness how resilient they were.

And that had me reflecting…

Sometimes, you have to change the environment. When that environment has good, solid resources and care… much is possible. Sometimes, much more than we think.

Isn’t that also true when it comes to ourselves? Our neighbors? Our relationships? Our communities? Our world?

Renee Roederer