The Best of the American Spirit

“In the midst of winter, I found that there was, within me, an invincible summer.”  Albert Camus

I remember my mother talking about building food coops during the Second World War, the importance of the work in keeping the community fed, and the sense of community it had built.  I have 60 years of reading about the courageous and communal way that London faced the daily bombings that laid waste to their neighborhoods.  And, like everyone else, I have learned about the extraordinary camaraderie of soldiers in the field.  There has been no way to erase the tragedy of these times, but no way not to admire how people persevered and how the perseverance, itself, lifted their spirits.

Yesterday, I received links to three wonderful musical presentations that have lifted my spirits.  Here they are:

I have watch, up close, how an organization near to my heart — the Institute for Nonprofit Practice – has transformed itself, over a period of days, into a virtual operation.  The INP thousands of nonprofit leaders who, in turn, serve hundreds of thousands of residents in low-resourced communities, in Boston, NYC, Providence, Lowell, and elsewhere.  All it has taken is dedicated, loving people working innumerable hours.  I am so proud of them.

Every day I hear about “ordinary” people doing astounding things.  Like the single family that began sewing hospital masks in their kitchen, then enlisting hundreds of other families to do the same.  Not bemoaning the absence of federal planning leadership but doing something about it.  Like the retired nurses and doctors coming out of retirement to help heal the sick and the dying, even though they, themselves are among the most vulnerable.  Like all the healthcare workers risking their lives every day to save others.  Like the mailmen and the grocers and the pharmacists who keep on going despite the danger to themselves and their families.  Like mayors and governors around the country, talking and planning and coordinating their efforts—and sharing their meager resources.

You have seen what I have seen and I’m writing this note simply to celebrate with you how our people—New Yorkers and Washingtonians, Americans, Chinese, and Italians, people of all genders and races—how our people are pulling together to do the best we can.  It is my devout hope that we will come through the Covid-19 crisis far more united than divided, far more energized than depleted, and far more loving, far more enlightened.

Let me end with a favorite poem.  It’s by Pablo Neruda.

If each day falls

inside each night,

there exists a well

where clarity is imprisoned

We need to sit on the rim

of the well of darkness

and fish for the fallen light

with patience.





On the Sidelines of Covid-19–Wanting to Play

Being on the sideline for the covid-19 and economic crisis has begun to drive me crazy.  I had been taking a philosophical approach.  Keeping up with family and friends, even while sequestered.  Reading, thinking, exercising, meditating.  Telling myself that I might transform this terrible time into something useful.  Read and learn, maybe write a book.  I have encouraged myself to be grateful for the opportunity.

And trying not to fight what is and what is beyond my capacity to influence.  Isn’t that the point of Niebuhr’s great Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

But with each passing day, with each infusion of bad news, as the world as I know it seems to grind to an agonizing halt, calm and gratitude have begun to give way to frustration and anger—and a desire to do something.  Where time had slowed down—my god, the days have felt long—they are now speeding up.  Every day, seemingly every hour, I learn something about the crises that alarm me.  I had been ready for a two or three week of sequestering, but two days ago I learned that it might be two months, then three and six and nine months.  Then a full year.  Maybe two.

Now time is speeding up and it only makes sense to project myself far into the future in order to figure out what to do now.

As I observe the viral and economic crises feeding one another like starving and angry beasts, it is already easy to imagine a second Great Depression where, once again, nations hunker down and, at the same time, needing someone to blame, fan the flames of ancient resentments and bigotries—as they had during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  This, as much as an unchained plague, we must guard against.  We need to bring the possibility into the public conversation.

I believe we have to imagine the future, in its best and worst incarnations, and act now with every arrow in our quivers.  A century ago, we responded to the Great Depression with enormous vigor, intelligence, and daring.  There were mistakes but we were not afraid.  We allowed for mistakes.  Because that’s just part of experimentation.  We didn’t condemn the efforts. That’s what this time calls for.

And we need leadership.  I don’t know that it will arise from Washington, where it is most needed.  Maybe from the states and the cities.  And from educational institutions.  Just yesterday, Anthony Monoco, President of Tufts offered the university’s dorms for hospital beds and suggested other universities do the same.  What a good idea.  New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, urged Washington to bring the full resources of the US Armed Forces to bear.  And Rachel Maddow on MSNBC has passionately called for the continued flow of trustworthy information and innovative ideas.  All along, Tedros Adhanom, Director of the World Health Organization, has urged us to come together to fight the dragons.  And, as we have come to expect, there are so many local institutions—churches, synagogues, and nonprofits among them—who are keeping in touch keeping good conversations going.

Leadership and imagination can come from all of us, too—all the people on the sideline.  As we watch, we learn and we can reach out.  We mustn’t yield to passivity.  We must raise our voices.

Throughout history, there have been floods and contagions.  There have been hideous dictators and corrosion in the moral fabric of nations.  But generations after generations have always fought back.  And we need to do that now—even from the sidelines.  I don’t know exactly how but I’d like to hear ideas from all of you.



Staying Connected in the Age of Covid-19

These days, when imagining my blog, most subjects strike me as beside the point or self- indulgent.  There’s a plague and a recession thundering right outside my window.  Though I’d dearly like to be out in the world, volunteering where I can, I’m 77 and know I should stay home.  So I thought that I might at least begin a conversation to break up the isolation that threatens many of us.

Let me say one thing first: I will try to speak only for myself.  However isolated, I am still privileged.  I have the means to support myself and am in relatively good health.  And I know that millions of people have neither.  My heart goes out especially to them, and I hope that they, too, can take some small comfort in joining together in conversation during the time of the plague.


For several days now, as we walk or drive on empty streets, and peer through the windows of markets with barren shelves, Franny and I have notes how surreal it feels, like something in a horror or a science fiction movie.  Most of my life has been lived in a bubble.  I have encountered threats before—illness, accidents, divorce—but not something that is so overarching, so large, so impersonal, and yet so immediate and personal.

Sure, there was polio before the vaccine.  I remember the 1950’s, and how worried my parents were.  There was the Vietnam War.  Would I be called up?  How could I avoid fighting in a war I hated—and dreaded?  But I managed to avoid the draft; others fought in my place.  I have experienced very little that commanded my attention so completely that and required me to change my way of life as the current Corona plague has done..

Like most of you, my life has been increasingly absorbed by the disease we call Covid-19 or Corona virus.  For a month or more, the virus has been out there—in China—and very interesting, a little horrifying, but now it is closing in.  Then Iran and Italy. Moving westward into Washington state.  It’s moving eastward, moving inexorable in our direction.

Like you, I’ve become a virologist, an epidemiologist, a public health worker, reading graphs and absorbing article after article to learn about the trends.  How the explosive growth followed by massive response in China differs from the more indulgent course of treatment in Italy.  How we have to “flatten the curve” to make sure that the growth of the disease isn’t so rapid that it overwhelms our health care systems.  I’m practicing my diagnostic and clinical skills, noting every nuance of self-care, making sure that I follow the rules just right—even though I generally hate rules.  I’ll be a good citizen this time by keeping my distance from others—even from my children and grandchildren.

And I’m grateful that I’ll never have to make life and death decisions—to treat or not to treat—like doctors in Italy and Iran are making, and like some US doctors are already imagining with fear and revulsion.

As it draws closer and closer, the plague has taken me over, like some extraterrestrial being I can’t comprehend.  I read every article I can find.  I am glued to TV news.  There’s a fascination that sometimes borders on the morbid.  How many people are ill.  How many people are dead.  How many will die.  How our society will recover, and when.

Part of the fascination is political.  Trump’s lies, his denials and misdirections.  His focus, as usual, on himself, his election prospects and his businesses, not the suffering of others.  But I try to tear myself away from my Trump obsession that has already lasted for three years.  There’s a health care crisis to deal with.

Part of my fascination is with the brilliance of some of the public health doctors and the courage of journalists who journey into the most dangerous places so that we might understand what’s going on.  I find myself envious of their ability to help.

More and more, each day, the Corona virus has begun to dictate how I live.  Who I see and how I see them—more “virtual” visits now.  Franny and I have accepted our quarantine.   It has affected how and what I eat. Last Thursday, Franny and I bought enough canned and dried goods to last a month; but now we wonder if we should go out to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables.  Probably not.  We are gobbling immune boosters. Except for our daily walks, we spend almost all of our time inside at home, looking out at the sunny days, as though we live in a bunker.

Stepping back I’m inclined to say thatw my words are hyperbolic, alarmist.   But it’s not hyperbolic.  It’s just a description.

Of course, each of us responds according to our nature and our experience.  Those of us who are over 60 or 70 can’t help but be more nervous than are younger people.  But our responses still range from terror to sanguinity, from following every defensive rule to blithely ignoring most of them.  On one hand, “I’ve settled in for a long siege.  Here’s hoping everyone is as responsible as I am.”  On the other, “I’ll visit with friends at a bar or at Starbucks if I want.  Damn the sissies.”    My children caution us to stay in.  We’ve heard of other people’s children who want their parents to continue to live in as close to their usual way as possible.

I could go on and on but that’s enough for now.  Please take this as an invitation: Share your experiences and your thoughts,  so that we can weather this storm together.