More Plant-Based Meal Ideas

This is Part II of my plant-based meal ideas to help you feed your family healthy, tasty meals without stressing about meat shortages in grocery stores–or to help you get started on a plant-based diet regardless of pandemic supply issues. For Part I, click here.

Hippie Power Bowl

Nothing brings out my inner hippie more than a simple, healthy, super-tasty dish. And this Hippie Bowl is just that. I recently dug out a clipping for the Hippie Bowl from a 2015 issue of Rodale’s Organic Life. Of course, I changed it up a little to fit what I had on hand— which goes to show you can be a little flexible with the ingredients. It takes a little preparation time, but it stores well in the refrigerator if you want to prepare it a day ahead.

I made this just for me and it made four tasty lunches. To prepare it as the main course for a family of four or so, you may want to double the recipe. If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, store the extra in the refrigerator. A zap in the microwave is all you need for a quick lunch.

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked short-grain brown rice
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup sliced mushrooms of your choice (I used baby portabellos)
1 large carrot
1/2 medium onion, sliced lengthwise
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup tahini
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp tamari, soy sauce, or teriyaki sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425. In a large bowl, mix broccoli, mushrooms, carrot, and onion with olive oil and salt and pepper until vegetables are well-coated. Place on a parchment-lined baking tray and roast for 20-30 minutes until lightly browned.

While veggies are roasting, whisk remaining ingredients together until smooth.

Stir rice into vegetable mixture and mix in half the tahini sauce. (Reserve the rest to dress a salad or as a dip for raw vegetable sticks. It’s yummy!)

Serve with a few avocado slices or a green salad.

Slow Cooker Chili with Winter Squash

I found this fabulous recipe at the Real Simple website. It has become a real family favorite at our house—comfort food that’s healthy and a real treat on chilly winter nights. You can use sweet potatoes or any winter squash. Our favorite is butternut. Pumpkin is just as good. If you think the addition of cocoa and cinnamon is a little weird, give it a try anyway. They add piquancy without being identifiable.

It only takes twenty or so minutes to put this together. Then you can walk away and forget it. Yield: 4-6 servings.

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2(+) teaspoon ground cinnamon
kosher salt and black pepper
1 28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes or 1 qt home canned tomatoes
15.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15.5-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 medium sweet potatoes or one butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
sour cream, sliced scallions, sliced radishes, and tortilla chips, for serving

Directions:

In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients. Add one cup water.
Cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender and the chili has thickened, on low for 6-7 hours or high for 3-4. (Check the last hour of cooking to see if you need to add more water—or tomato juice if you have it.)

Add your favorite toppings: grated cheese, sour cream, green onions and/or crushed tortilla chips.

Cream Curry Casserole

This oldie but goody is so old—it comes from our earliest hippie-ish days—I’ve forgotten its source. I think we may have found it in one of Frances Moore Lappé’s Small Planet books. It has always been a favorite. I’ll be the first to admit, though, that even though its flavor is mild, this one may not go over well with any unadventurous young eaters in your household. Yield: 6-8 servings.

(Note: If you have trouble finding dry milk powder, this ingredient can be omitted.)

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked brown rice
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 T butter
1 T arrowroot powder or 2 T flour
2 c milk
¾ c non-fat dry milk powder
2-3 tsp curry powder

¼ c sesame seed
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large carrots, diced
2 small to medium zucchini, diced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp honey
olive oil for sautéing and oiling casserole dish

Directions:
Mix rice and beans together. Turn into oiled casserole dish.

Make cream sauce of butter, flour, and both milks. (To make cream sauce, melt butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Whisk in the flour, until smooth—you may need to reduce or remove from heat to get it smooth, then return to heat, gradually whisking in milk. Bring to simmer; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.)

Sauté veggies and sesame seed until onion is transparent. Add zucchini at the end and cook for one more minute. Stir lemon juice, honey, curry into sauce, then stir into vegetable mixture. Pour over rice and beans.

To make this dish even simpler, mix all ingredients together into a large bowl, then pour the whole thing into baking dish. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.

DAVID RAE SMITH, OPERATIC BARITONE

I had barely put the final touches on my last book Blackberries and Biscuits, the story of my mother’s life and times, last fall when a writer friend asked me what was next. I told her I needed to take a break from writing for a while.

Well, that plan lasted for about a minute. I plunged right into developing a book from previously written anecdotes of a number of my ancestors. Seemed like a pretty easy topic since I’d already done most of the work. But before I got my writing feet wet with that book, I got distracted by one particular story, that of my dad’s first cousin, David Rae Smith. Rae, as he was known in the family, had no descendants to tell his story. Nor did any of his immediate family have any descendants. I found myself a mission–and a new passion.

I’ve been hard at work researching Rae’s story ever since. I’m sad to say it’s still a long way from completion, having been interrupted by all sorts of personal, family, and world issues (can you say COVID-19?) But I’m still hard at work on it.

I think maybe it’s time to share what may become the book’s opening scene. Perhaps sharing will give me a little extra incentive to keep at it.

David Rae Smith, baritone, New York City Opera

Look, Julius, I don’t care if he’s under contract with the Shreveport Civic Opera.. I want David Rae Smith!”

All right, all right, Bev. I’ll make it happen.”

Of course, I don’t know if this was the exact conversation between New York City Opera Impresario Julius Rudel and his resident star mezzo soprano Beverly Sills, but it may well have gone something like that. As the March 29, 1978 issue of The Times of Shreveport, Louisiana, reported, “Smith was released from his contract at the request of Beverly Sills who wants Smith to join her in the cast of a New York City Opera production of The Merry Widow,” a show which would take place four days later.

Whether Rae needed that validation of of his talents or not, it must have felt good to the baritone to know how much the best-known diva of the era valued him. He had performed opposite Sills in San Diego the previous year, a production that was broadcast nationwide on PBS stations in late November and recorded for Angel Records. Sills must have appreciated the dynamic.

Newspapers all over the country publicized the 1977 event, usually beginning with words similar to those in New Mexico’s Deming Headlight: “Public television will present a new English-language production of Franz Lehar’s zesty operetta, The Merry Widow starring Beverly Sills Monday, November 28 on PBS as it was presented earlier this fall at the San Diego Civic Theater.

“Appearing with Miss Sills in this all-new San Diego Opera Company production will be Alan Titus, Nolan Van Way, Glenys Fowles, Ryan Allen and David Rae Smith.”

The company’s musical recording of Widow highlights was the 1978 (February 23) Grammy award winner for Best Opera Recording. (Other 1978 Grammy recipients included Luciano Pavarotti, Steve Martin, Donna Summer, Chick Corea, Al Jarreau, the BeeGees (“Saturday Night Fever”), Orson Welles, the Muppets, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, George Benson, Ann Murray, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel and Earth, Wind and Fire.)

How did the son of an Asheville, North Carolina, letter carrier and a homemaker make his way to the Grammys and the opera and Broadway stages?

In truth, the multi-talented Rae had many career choices, and his path was the result of a multitude of happenstances—in addition, of course, to his great natural abilities.

Based on his early accomplishments, Rae could have been successful at almost any career: politics, acting, the law, concert pianist, vocalist, radio personality, scholar. It must have seemed as if the world was his pearl-studded oyster.

* * *

Rae as Professor Harold Hill in Brevard Music Center production of The Music Man, 1971, with co-stars. Photo courtesy of Brevard Music Center, Overture  magazine, 1972. Used with permission.

Meatless Meal Plans, Part I

All sorts of vegetables can be found in tasty, healthy, and meat-free main courses. And unless someone gives you the list of ingredients, you might never know the difference. 

With the potential for meat supplies to be limited and/or see sharp price increases, what better time to give a meatless diet a try? Even if your family is not ready to jump on the meatless wagon, Meatless Mondays offer a perfect opportunity for baby steps. If you’re the chef in your home, I’ll bet you can even introduce a number of plant-based and other meatless main dishes into your menu without anyone even noticing the absence of their meaty entrée. Below are two meatless main dishes for you to try.

This meatless loaf makes one of best ‘meatloaves’ I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve had the best—my mom’s. Whenever I introduce this recipe to a group, they always beg for more. I always make a double batch because it’s so addictive. If you’re lucky enough to have extra, it can be refrigerated or frozen for another delicious meal.

Choose the same go-togethers as you would for a traditional meatloaf. Maybe mashed potatoes, a green or yellow vegetable, and a salad. Since my sister-in-law introduced this one to me, it bears her name.

BECKIE’S SPECIAL K LOAF

(eight servings, approximately 300 calories per serving) 

1 lb cottage cheese

¼ c vegetable oil (can reduce to 2 Tbsp)

1 T soy or tamari sauce

3 eggs, beaten

¼ c finely chopped walnuts or pecans

4 c Special K cereal

1 tsp sage

1 tsp dried rosemary

1 envelope Lipton dry onion soup and dip mix (the only meat-free onion soup mix)

Put all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Hands work best for this.

Place mixture in well-greased loaf pan. (Don’t use spray—the loaf will still stick.)

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Cool completely before removing from pan.

Here’s another family favorite we discovered decades ago in Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet. Rice con Queso is a deceptively simple name for a truly hearty and tasty dish. A green salad and some crunchy nacho chips will round out the meal.

First, prepare three cups of cooked rice. We only use brown rice, but white will do. Hint: Make a big batch of rice the day before. Save three cups, refrigerated, for this dish and freeze the rest, measured for future rice-containing recipes. Be sure to label amount and intended use.

You can used canned or pre-cooked dried beans in this recipe. If you prefer dried, go ahead and cook up a potful. As with rice, you can freeze extra for easy meal prep another day.

Now that it’s time for meal preparation, set the oven for 350.

Oil a casserole dish (8×8 or so).

You can prepare the dish in layers as shown below, or you can do what I do and dump all ingredients into a bowl and mix well.

RICE CON QUESO (gluten free)

(Six servings, approximately 500 calories per serving)

3 c cooked rice

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed or 1 1/3 cups of cooked dried black beans (1/3 c dry)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, well chopped

1 small can green chilies (4 oz)

½ lb ricotta or cottage cheese

¾ lb jack or cheddar cheese, grated

½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Mix first five ingredients together in mixing bowl.

In the casserole dish, layer half the rice mixture, followed by the cottage cheese, then the ¾ lb grated cheese. Add remaining rice mixture as top layer.

Bake for 30 minutes, sprinkling ½ cup grated cheddar over the top after 25 minutes.

I’ll add more simple meatless recipes in future blog posts. Neither of these recipes is vegan and their reliance on dairy and/or egg products makes them high fat and relatively high in calories, but they are yummy, which makes them a good intro to meatless meals. In future posts, I’ll have some lower calorie and vegan recipes. And they all taste delicious, I promise! So be sure to check back.

Stay tuned for this tasty chili recipe.

And if you have a favorite meatless recipe, send it along in the comments.

 

Mom’s Life in Pictures

Well, that’s  not right. Mother’s life was much more than can be depicted in these few photographs. This is more a through-the-years photo essay–a snapshot of snapshots, limited by what has been scanned and is readily available and not in any particular order. (And unfortunately, misses her middle life altogether–maybe another time.)

Pam Dillard Coates: 10/11/1923-7/7/2020

Circa 1936–sisters (l-r) Bobbie, Jeannette, Phyllis, Mom.

Circa 1937 family photo: (front) Bobbie; (center) Mom with a teenage smirk, Grandmother, Jeannette; (back) Granddaddy, Phyllis, Bill.

1942–college sophomore photo, Western Carolina Teachers College (now Western Carolina University).

1940–Mom (right) high school senior, with friends at Sylva High School.

Sometime in the early ’40s–maybe senior yearbook photo.

Braxton and Pam Coates wedding

November 14, 1944.

1945–war workers in the Secret City (Oak Ridge, TN)–standing in front of their flat top home, one of thousands  brought in by truck and lifted into place by crane, fully finished and furnished.

1946 or 47: Mom with firstborn (me) in front of her parents’ home in the Addie community, about four miles from Sylva, Jackson County, NC.

Fall, 2004: Family reunion, Asheville, NC,three months before Dad died.

 

Circa 2006–Mom basking in sunlight in front of Olympic fountain, Atlanta, GA.

Circa 2007: Mom (r) with sister Jeannette, Blue Ridge Parkway.

mom 95

October 2018–Mom’s 95th birthday.

1950–Mom flanked by my brother Alan and me. She made all the clothes, probably including Alan’s cap and my pocketbook.

November 2019 (age 96)–Mom checking out a hot-off-the-press copy of my book about her life.

Circa 2010 at home in Fairview, NC. (Thanks to brother Curt for this one. He is the BEST photographer!)

circa 1938.  Mom as a teenager standing by the rock pillars in front of her home in Beta, NC (just outside of Sylva, Jackson County)

Circa 2005. Mom at home.

Circa 1990–in the woods at home, Fairview, NC.

1924, with her siblings, cousins, and grandmother. Mother is the baby, front left, fascinated with something on the ground instead of the person behind the camera.

Circa 1939. Mom at Swannanoa 4-H camp, Swannanoa, NC.

Circa 1943. Dad and Mom courting on the mountainside at her home in Addie, NC (near Sylva, Jackson County).

 

Circa 2015. Mom and Dad’s youngest brother, Bryan, are reminiscing.

Circa 1954. Mom holding her youngest, Curtis, at home, Florence, SC.

1994. Mother and Dad celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary when she was 71.

Circa 1944. A big smile for her boyfriend.

Circa 1942. Sisters: Barbara, Jeannette, Phyllis, Pam (my mom)

A Life Well Lived

My mom died a couple of weeks ago—about 5:20 pm, July 7, to be exact. I don’t write this to ask for sympathy. Yes, I’m sad, but I’m also filled with gladness. And, yes, I just feel a need to share. It’s part of saying goodbye, so thank you for sharing with me.

My mom, Pansy (Pam) Dillard Coates, in her late 80s. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a smile like that?

Mother was three months and a couple of days shy of her ninety-seventh birthday. She lived not just a long life, but a full one, full of joy and wonder. But in the last year or so, it was clear her body was letting go. She had been losing weight, had little appetite, had more trouble getting around with her walker, didn’t have much to talk about. Still, the end came fairly unexpectedly.

And that, in my mind, is a good thing. She was an avid reader. She started early and never stopped. It was one of her very favorite activities. Her room was filled with books. In the last few years, she said to me numerous times that she was so glad she loved to read, was still able to read, couldn’t imagine life without reading, and that she felt sorry for all the people around her who didn’t seem to care that much about reading.

Mother couldn’t keep up with the number and names of her great-grandchildren—after all, some of them she had rarely seen—but she knew us children, and still recognized the sound of our phone voices, even before we announced ourselves.

Mother lived in a small assisted living facility for the last seven years. I wish that could have been different, but it wasn’t. Yet the folks who work there gave her a new lease on life. When she first arrived, her health, both physical and mental, were in rapid decline. Regular and healthy nourishment, keeping to a medication schedule (and the correct one), and socialization got her back on track within days. It was a miraculously quick transformation.

Because of the pandemic, I had not been able to visit Mother in person for the last five months. From the first days of the shutdown, I feared I would never get the chance to see her again. That has been the case with so many people these last few months, and my heart weeps for them.

But when Mother called out for help, she was rushed to the hospital, and the hospital allowed visitors—just one per day. My brother spent the first day with her and I got to be there the second day. Of course, our first words to each other were, “I love you,” as we grasped hands and looked into each other’s eyes. Those were close to the last coherent words she said. A few hours later she started receiving morphine and she was moved to a hospice facility the following day, where visitation was a little more relaxed. I got to spend the night in her room. My brother and I, our spouses, and a couple of friends all had a chance to touch her, to tell her what we needed to say whether she heard or not, to hold her in the light, and to say goodbye. Yes, it was sad. But it was beautiful, too.

For all these things, I am grateful. I’m grateful for much, much more, too—Mother’s love of nature, her happy outlook on life, her smile, her laugh, her guiding light, all the skills she taught me. I’m grateful that we had a happy, healthy family life where she and Dad showed us children how to adult, how to parent, how to maintain healthy relationships with our own spouses. I’m grateful she was an adventurer, always willing to try something new. I’m grateful she always supported us in our endeavors, both when we were children and as adults. I’m grateful that once we grew up and began living on our own, Mother continued to support us but that she knew better than to ever once criticize or interfere in our lives. I’m grateful for her warmth and her love.

The best l can do to honor her is to model the life she lived, and I will thank her every day of my life for giving me that.

The Story I Need to Tell

What story do I need to tell right now? The same story I needed to tell yesterday, last month, last year.

It’s the story of family. The stories that compel me most are of family members who have no one else to tell their story. I want to memorialize their lives.

A few generations’ worth of my forebears

I remember the day (about thirty years ago) I was driving to another county for a meeting. As usual, I tuned into NPR. A man was talking. It was the middle of something—I couldn’t tell what. But I was transfixed as he talked about sitting on the porch under the feet of his aunts and grandmother as they rocked and snapped beans and told and retold stories handed down to them, stories that ultimately led him to hard-to-find discoveries of his personal history.

The man was still talking when I reached my destination, so I didn’t get to find out who he was or exactly what he was talking about. But I was haunted by the bits of his story I heard. His voice stayed in my head. Only years later did I discover, when I heard a snippet of the story again, that I had been listening to a recorded talk given by Alex Haley about his genealogical discoveries that led to the writing of Roots.

My husband surprised me with this album–the haunting story I’d heard on the radio years before.

I will never write a story with the power of Roots. That is not the point. The point is that if a story isn’t preserved, it disappears. I believe our personal histories matter, and even a few random anecdotes about our ancestors can help us better understand who we are. They can give us a sense of self, of belonging, of profound truths.

If I know a story or can ferret one out, it feels like both an obligation and an honor to be the conduit between my past and future. If I can keep a story alive, I can keep the memory of cherished people alive, as well.

When I’m conscious of what my forebears lived through, how they lived through it, how they survived, I see life differently. When I study the history of their times, I feel them holding me up, and I want to do the same in my turn.

The story I need to tell right now is the one of my cousin (once removed) who sang with the New York City Opera for thirty years and left no descendants. And the story of his brother, a P-47 pilot in World War II. He was on a bombing mission to clear the way for Patton’s assault on Germany when he was killed just six weeks before the war in Europe ended. He left no one to tell his story, either.

              

Brothers Rae and Ed Smith, my cousins once removed

Found Poetry, Part VI

Each line of the first four poems is the title of a musical piece. I have put the titles together to form minimalist poetry, or as my cousin says, Almost Haiku. (For more found poetry, click here, here, here, and here.  Leave a note below to tell me what you think.

sea dreams
dancing on the water
on silent wings

 

incandescent voyage
water droplets
whisper of a stream
across the river

 

bathed in moonlight
on the edge of destiny
like smoke through a keyhole

 

tranquil dreams
in the stillness
deep peace
flowing into formlessness

 

 

The next poem was ‘found’ in a different way—personal observation at the edge of a field while watching a paragliding competition.

Swallows and swallowtails
graze the blossoms of chicory,
clover, and Queen Anne’s lace
in a wide meadow
beneath the cloud-dappled sky
where paragliders sail.

 

 

 

 

 

E-mail Subject Lines in a Pandemic Age

Has the subject matter of your e-mails changed as much as mine have? Here’s a fairly representative sampling of mine over the last few months, pretty  much in the order in which they arrived in my inbox by late May. Maybe it will bring a smile to your face in these strange times. 

smiling man looking at his phone leaning on concrete pillar

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Thirty-four days of pandemic
Rising to the challenge—together
We’re here to help local communities
While you’re home
Take their temperature from a safe distance

Freeze warning this weekend
Never again fear empty grocery shelves
Help support local restaurants
Our ongoing commitment to our community
Thermometers have just been upgraded

Checking back in with our valued customers
We are open
The right way to check for fever during the outbreak
Not-so-ordinary gift ideas
Scan for fever from a distance

Bring the birds home to roost
New and inspiring ways to experience joy
Thank you for supporting local
Monitor your health
This is hands-down the safest thermometer

Keeping you informed
The perfect solution to the perfect sleep
Build thirty pounds of muscle in six weeks
Purge your plastics
Thermometers available despite huge demand

Stores in your state open today
Much more than a pillow
How to be responsible during the pandemic
Remove all insects from your home
No touch, quick, very accurate body temperature

April was death; April was hope; April was cruel
The fastest way to detect a fever
We’re here for you
A heartfelt thanks to our customers
Thermometers have just been upgraded

More tips for learning, working, and connecting from home
Together we can make a difference
Want to practice self-care—we’ve got you
Updated airport guidelines
Infrared thermometers available this week

Bamboo toothbrushes
Red, white, and an extra 60% off
Doctors recommend that every household has an oximeter
Spring recipes for a fresh taste
Instant infrared thermometers are back

This is not about fear
The top indicator of illness: blood oxygen levels
Memorial Day sale starts today
I feel better already

Reopening daily screening at home for employees
Own the summer with hot grilling recipes
All-in-one health kit
Five steps to avoid financial crisis
Touchless soap dispenser 50% off
Check anyone’s fever from a distance

The nation is opening
You need this automatic soap dispenser
Keeping in touch
Cultivate your own herbal medicines
Public temperature screenings are coming soon

Getting clean air wherever you go
Monitor your health with this new Smartwatch
Airmoisturize can prevent illness
Laser thermometer for your medicine cabinet
New guidelines on fever screening

Low blood oxygen levels are a silent killer
Rapid shipping on thermometers
No-contact thermometers reduce transmission
We can send a thermometer to your door
Are you prepared for temperature checks?

woman wearing a face mask getting her temperature checkedPhoto by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Sanctuary and Salvation

Again, my writing has taken me where I did not want to go. I fear we are all too bombarded by this theme, and I promise to leave it soon.

* * * * *

Home is my sanctuary. It’s where I feel safe, protected, loved. It’s where I am inspired—reborn. But seasonal depression traipses after me like a needy two-year-old, and demands constant vigilance. I know only one ‘cure’—to get Out, listen to bird trills, see the trees wave in the wind, smell the grasses and, when spring finally teases me, the flowers.

If Home is my sanctuary, Out is my salvation. But these days, Out is nearly my undoing. The intensity of it drains me. Out, I am a one-woman SWAT team, always on alert for snipers.

On a walking trail, I’m constantly checking all directions at once, zig-zagging to avoid fellow walkers who seem oblivious to the need for physical distance. Veering far off the path when I spy a jogger gaining on me or a gaggle of young roommates filling the pavement and headed my way. The responsibility for communal safety seems to be mine alone.

woman in face mask shopping in supermarket

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

In a grocery store, I turn into a one-way aisle only to see someone coming toward me. I stop dead, then wheel my cart around and drive it over two more aisles, down then back up the one between, finally returning to my starting point—only to find someone else illegally coming at me.

When I near the end of an aisle, I pause, then slowly ease my cart into the intersection, anxious that someone may be about to ambush me. I am reminded of the way my nervous Mother used to creep around a blind curve on our mountain road at two miles an hour, madly honking the horn all the way.

Sometimes, another shopper turns in my direction when another is not far behind me. Trapped, I twist and flatten myself against shelves of canned goods like a squirrel plastered to the ground to avoid the predatory hawk. I dare not breathe until the danger has passed and the air might, just might, be slightly clearer than it was a few moments ago.

It is exhausting. I return home—to calm and solace, not knowing when the grayness will again swoop down and envelop me. But knowing it will. And, inevitably, the answer is Out.

I am intoxicated by the thought of Out—just the idea of taking trash to the dump excites me, even though Out is fraught with danger and the perception of danger. While governments ease restrictions, the modified protocols are for others. We elders—‘the vulnerables’—are still expected to stay home. When we do hazard to venture out, we will be at greater risk than ever.

He is okay with that. He says we are warriors. Ready for battle, ready to die for ‘the greater good’ as he thrusts us into the fray. Yes,” he acknowledges, people will die.

People like me.

That’s what warriors do. But how can I be a warrior? Warriors have weapons. I don’t.

She* sees today’s world differently. She encourages us to be meditative and connected—our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Reaching out to each other, not with hands, but with hearts—because our lives are in one another’s hands in ways they have never before been. Our physical distance demands our connectedness to be stronger than ever.

I can live with her take, considering this respite from normal as a sacred time in a sacred place, a time to step away from the chaos of the world and into personal commitment, a time to, as she says, “Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch.”

I might even be able to stay sane at home.

_ . _ . _ . _

*     She is poet Lynn Ungar. You can read the entirety of her touching poem here.

 

It’s Still Dark

Note: I have avoided writing about this subject like the plague that it is. But events have drawn me to it in spite of myself. Before reading, you should know that this was written a month ago. It was out of date by the time I finished it. But I have chosen not to change the numbers, so the piece can be an archival record.

water rainy rain raindrops

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

It’s still dark. The room feels stuffy. I leave my bed, open the window, and the sound of rain fills the room. It echoes the sound I hear in my brain.

It sounds as if I’m deep in the woods trying to tune into a low-signal radio station. Static of the worst kind. Angry, crackling dissonance. A constant hissing as terrifying as if all the voices in the world are speaking in my head simultaneously.

This is not the cadence of a gentle rain tickling our metal roof, a meditative thrum to sleep by. This is the sound of nightmares. Of madness. A discordant jumble of sound I cannot make sense of. The sound of nonsense numbers.

Numbers too big to contemplate clamor for attention I do not possess.

Ten is a number I can understand—the size of a family Thanksgiving gathering. Thirty—my grade- school classes. A hundred? Maybe my granddaughter’s high school soccer games.

But twenty thousand. What does that number mean? The population of my town. Have I ever seen all those people together in one place? If I drove to town one day and all 20,000 lay dead in the streets, could my brain take it in?

And yet, the numbers in my head are exponentially bigger than that. And they are real. They are human lives. The raindrops are their voices. I have no space to breathe.

Overnight, the number of deaths in the United States from a single virus passed the 50,000 mark. Overnight. By tomorrow, we will have exceeded a million documented cases. Before I can blink, cases worldwide will rise to 3 million with 200,000 deaths.  How am I supposed to understand those numbers?

I read a New York Magazine piece the other day. The reporter wrote that what we call “under control” is Americans dying in multiples of September 11 every week.” That kind of death toll is being normalized.

My stomach flips, but my mind is disengaged, my heart numbed. Too many numbers, too many voices—too little meaning. A tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing,

But . . .  tonight I am told someone very dear to me has the thing whose name I dare not speak.

Simultaneously I learn that 40-somethings with barely any symptoms are dying of virus-induced strokes. My son’s age. My daughter’s age.

Now, I feel it.

The cold sweat of bone-chilling fear.