Finding community in these unsettling times

When I launched Voices of April earlier this month, I honestly had no idea what the outcome would look like.

But here we are, already at the end of the month with a total of 17 blog posts that have captured our attention and connected us in many different ways. Pretty sweet.

Thanks to contributions from friends and family in five states and on both coasts, we’ve been treated to beautifully written pieces that have opened our minds, touched our hearts, made us happy or made us sad.

We’ve read about personal setbacks centered around layoffs, health scares and general anxieties brought on by the coronavirus. We’ve read about personal triumphs, too, as in becoming a new homeowner or taking up a new hobby or completing a household project.

We’ve shared our fears and our doubts, reflected on our faith in a higher being and/or each other, and paused to appreciate these extraordinary, historic times we are living through, whether alone or together.

All these stories make up a tapestry of personal testimonies as to what we were doing, thinking and feeling during the early weeks of this global pandemic that has upended life as we know it. Schools and businesses are shuttered, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and now some states are taking the first steps toward reopening their economy, even as the public health experts warn us that it may be too soon.

To those of you who stepped forward with an essay for all of us to read and reflect upon, I thank you. That goes double for first-time contributors Wendy Alexander, Luisa Anderson, John Enders and Jamie Lynn Rede.

To those of you who followed along each day and left comments for the authors, I thank you as well. There is nothing any of us appreciates more than having someone else take the time to share a thought or offer a simple thank-you.

As the curator of this guest blog project, I hope you appreciate the sense of community that is created through this process of letting down our guards and letting the words flow. We often discover what we have in common — as well as what we don’t. We may find validation in what we are feeling or we may learn something from another person’s perspective.

Either way, it’s a win.

Voices of August is just four months away. I’m already looking forward to hosting another round of some of the best writing on the internet.

In the meantime, anyone up for a Zoom meeting to celebrate #VOApril? You can say so in a reply to this post — or on Facebook.

— George Rede

Staying Super Connected

By Maisha Maurant

Tuesday was Superhero Day, a time to show love to our favorites from the old-school comics, graphic novels, the small screen and the big screen. This year, it happened to coincide with the one-year anniversary of “Avengers: Endgame,” the finale of the Marvel film saga.

Seeing both celebrated on social media made me think of a text I got from my sister Dara a year ago.

“Who’s the ninja in Avengers?”

Huh? I text back, “There isn’t a ninja.”

“Clay?

“Clint! Hawkeye.” I respond.

She’s trying to make sense of “Endgame.” Hawkeye is a marksman who uses a bow and arrow. But, to be fair, his costume did make him look like a ninja.

I’m a Marvel fan. My sister only got drawn into the franchise by my then 8-year-old nephew and “Black Panther.” Dara would rather read a book than watch a TV show or catch a movie.

That led to me to catching her up on 10 years of Marvel movies via text.

“Who is Tessa Thomas?” Valkyrie from Thor’s world. “Clint and Black Widow are getting the darkness stone?” The Soul Stone. “Yup. Who is the long-haired guy?” Loki? Oh, Bucky. He’s also known as Winter Soldier or White Wolf. He’s Captain America’s best friend and becomes Captain America in the comics.

She asks me about several other characters. She recognizes the actors but knows nothing about their characters’ backstories.

“Wow, it’s a whole world,” she finally texts. I crack up. She’s in a select group who have managed to completely avoid all things Marvel.

It’s one of my favorite sister moments because texting a whole conversation about a movie is so us. We often have a hard time catching up with each other to talk over the phone. So texting has become a lifeline for staying in touch.

I live in Detroit, and Dara lives in Maryland with my brother-in-law and two nephews. The last few years have been hectic. We haven’t had a lot of one-on-one time as we’ve juggled jobs, grad school, husband and kids, board/sorority/mentoring and other responsibilities.

And, now, we’re dealing with the way the coronavirus has changed our lives. She’s an OB-GYN working long shifts under extreme circumstances like so many others on the frontlines of this fight. I’ve been working in HR at a health system, spending the last few weeks focused on helping employees get through this crisis.

So, we’re still texting – and emailing and finding a few minutes for calls. But we touch base more frequently. It’s a mixture of normal and not. We regularly commiserate about how we wish we could ground our parents to keep them inside. We’re editing essay drafts for my 15-year-old nephew’s leadership academy application. I share disappointment about my planned culture and engagement work that won’t get done this year. She tries to help me understand the Common Core.

We still also exchange book recommendations and pictures of shoes, as well as debate who’s going to win music battles on Instagram Live.

But, instead of being frustrated by not having more time with my sister, I’ve come to really appreciate our bits of conversation. I am so thankful that our current technology gives so many ways to connect with the people we love.

As I’m finishing this, she emails me after reading the first draft. “So cute! I didn’t know another Marvel movie was coming out” with the shrug emoji. Lol! That’s my sister.

I send her a list of the upcoming movies. Fortunately, I’ve got time to get her ready before Marvel revs up again.

***

After a long career in communications, Maisha Maurant has shifted her focus to organizational change, employee engagement and workplace culture. She was most recently Culture & Engagement manager at a health care system. She first met George at a journalism job fair in Detroit. He selected her as a summer intern at The Oregonian, and she promptly fell in love with the Pacific Northwest.

Tomorrow: George Rede | Finding community in these unsettling times

Mom, I’m hopeful

By Patricia Conover

My mother, wearing her blue velvet robe, sat down gingerly on the bed. She reached over and touched my shoulder.

I sat up.

“You’re not ready,” she said.

The urgency in her voice scared me.

“Not ready for what?”

She looked at me with undisguised impatience.

“The river is flooding. It’s overflowing its banks. You should go to higher ground!”

Now I was frightened. There had been several terrible floods in this little town. Many people lost their homes. But that was long before my time here.

“Everything is fine, Mom,” I said. “We aren’t leaving.”

She looked at me the way she always did when she was alive.

Her eyes were shining and she touched my shoulder again, this time more forcefully.

“You have to take this seriously,” she said. “No one can help you if you don’t leave now.”

And then I woke up.

Joan Barlow

It was the second time my mother appeared in my bedroom this year. In March, she woke me up and warned me that a hurricane was about to strike.

She told me that we had to pack up and leave quickly and then she disappeared.

Is this COVID-19 angst?

Or is my mother, who has been dead for twenty years, warning me about the toll this catastrophe may take on my family and our entire earth?

It’s true that I’ve lost sleep since we first became aware of the coronavirus. I’m worried about my husband, my family and friends, my community, my country and my world.

My mother used to tell me stories about World War II. She was a little girl living with her parents and older sister in New York City when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

She was panic-stricken. She never forgot her terror when ambulance sirens blared or low-flying planes whirred above the city. She was sure that her apartment building was about to be bombed.

“I hope that you never have to face anything like that,” she said. “I hope you always live in peace.”

Mom died amost exactly one year before 9/11.

Now, we are facing the biggest crisis most of us have ever lived through. Yes, most of us were woefully unprepared for this unseen enemy’s onslaught.

But now, with hard-won experience, research, and understanding, we are beginning to win the battle against the coronavirus.

Our arsenal consists of sheltering in place, social distancing, washing our hands, disinfecting every surface, and wearing masks and gloves.

The real hard work of fighting against this invisible foe is also, strangely, invisible.

The most advanced minds in every country around the globe are working day and night to find a cure for COVID-19. Behind the scenes, far from the headlines, scientists, biologists, and doctors are working to develop a cure.

They’re figuring it out piece-by-piece and sharing information at an unprecedented rate.

So whether my mother is visiting me, or my unconscious mind is working to consolidate my anxiety into a more familiar and less terrifying narrative, I’m hopeful about the future.

The next time my mother stops by, I’m going to say:

“You’re right, Mom, we were not ready for this crisis. I’m frightened. But the greatest minds are co-operating with each other without regard to borders in a race to find a cure. So don’t worry about us. We’ll be okay.”

Oh, and one more thing:

“Mom, come by anytime! I love seeing you. I miss you! Next time, bring Dad along. We’ll catch up.”

The author, in hat, with her mother and brothers and sister.

***

Patricia Conover worked at G.P Putnam’s Sons and Random House in New York City before becoming a freelance writer for publications including The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian, Kirkus Reviews and The Montclair Local.

Patricia is currently a project editor and writer for Going Global, publisher of guidebooks on culture, careers, economies, education, health, and travel. She is also an English and Writing instructor. You can connect with Patricia on twitter @ParisRhapsody.

Patricia landed in Portland after working in publishing for ten years on the East Coast. She was inspired to write about the experience of being a fish out of water: A New Yorker in Oregon. Three stories later, she stopped by my office to drop off her typewritten pages. Yes, it was pre-internet times. We published those original stories and many more in The Oregonian. A few years after that first meeting, I had to convince Patricia that a computer was necessary if she wanted to continue her writing career. She bought an Apple laptop and has never looked back. I’m pretty sure she still has her Royal typewriter in her closet — just in case. — GR

What is essential for now, and maybe tomorrow…

By Andrea Cano

It was Wednesday, March 11, when all of THIS shifted my life.

For several weeks, I had been going back and forth with my sister Ellen about how COVID could affect a family dinner at my home sometime mid-March for an early St. Patrick’s Day meal. All of our grown daughters and sons were set to travel in a week or so in the U.S. or Europe for work or vacation, so it would be great to see everyone, especially the grandchildren.

By 10 am that morning it was a ‘go’ with Ellen, and off I went to get groceries for the meal – tons of corned beef, heads of cabbage, carrots, potatoes, horseradish, and ingredients for Irish soda bread.

By 4 pm into the evening, texts signaled most of the family was planning to stay home starting the following Saturday or Sunday. Even Ellen joined in! How the world shifted in a matter of hours was astounding to me. Even my son Michael texted “If Tom Hanks can get it in Australia…!”

Now six weeks into this new way of living, loving, working, relating, cooking, eating, thinking, feeling, and even being liminal, I’ve thought about what is really essential and have asked a lot of questions. Among them:

  • What about the return of fruit and veggie carts (maybe SUV’s or panel trucks now) to go into neighborhoods for stay at home moms, elder adults, persons with physical challenges, any of us for that matter? Or well stocked grocery trucks for neighborhoods in food deserts in the city? During the fourth week in, I confessed wanting to hear the Good Humor jingle on my street.
  • We use so many plastic bottles. What if we could refill our large plastic detergent jugs at small tanker trucks set up at community centers or farmer’s markets, or tanks at local or big box stores like we do water?
  • For me, food is primarily nutrition and medicine – except for occasional baked sweets. We are what we eat and drink (or don’t). How best to factor this in as a serious part of our health literacy – or when fresh produce is not available, or protein not affordable, or social disparities limit what’s in the fridge?
  • This physical distancing and physical nearing shifted our social and emotional well-being, depending on who was in the house with you. I experienced the worst and the best of me with my partner Bruce, and of him with me. What is essential to support that core sense of security, of self, of living, of being – as individuals or as a couple – as the ‘you’ or ‘me’ and the ‘we’? How does this extend to what is essential now for our families, friends, neighbors, the stranger as we live in isolation – and when we are able to live in community again.
  • How do we reframe THE ECONOMY, not from an investor perspective, but an earner perspective? How do we value our essential workers, or build a system which meets the essential needs of the many and where everyone can prosper, not just profit?

Some of these thoughts came up as I did my taxes, prepped my garden beds, and foraged the freezer and pantry for essential meals. And after all of this time, I still have one head of cabbage left.

***

Andrea Cano is easing into semi-retirement vocationally as an organizational consultant and on-call hospital chaplain. On the home front, she has no choice now but to do some Covid-Spring deep cleaning.

In 2011, a mutual friend, Consuelo Saragoza, introduced to me to George while he was still at the The Oregonian. I recall the first ‘coffee’ we shared, and was impressed by his openness and gentleness. We also shared some common strands to our early years as journalists in California. Months after the coffee, he invited me to write a commentary about the state of the Hispanic/Latino community, and then later to join the unique and treasured community of Voices of August (and now Voices of April) writers.

Tomorrow: Patricia Conover | Mom, I’m hopeful

New York Rede’s Roost

A shared love for animals prompted Jamie Lynn Rede to team up with husband Jordan and daughter Emalyn to begin raising chickens at their farmhouse in upstate New York.

By Jamie Lynn Rede

My upbringing shaped who I am today, and I’m very thankful for the skills, life lessons, and faith that my parents and late grandparents instilled within me.

As the world battles the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve found that I miss my family in Oregon more than usual, and I often reminisce of my grandma’s delicious pot roast and homemade sweets, my grandpa’s jaw-dropping garden, my dad’s ability to tackle any project, and my mother who encouraged and shares my love for animals.

Now that I have a family of my own, I hope that my husband and I can teach our daughter the value of hard work, responsibility, and a love for animals among many things as she grows into a young lady. Since moving into our New York farmhouse last spring, we’ve dreamed of all the possibilities this piece of property could attain and have started and finished some of those projects.

What better time than now to start raising our own chickens!

With excitement and joy we welcomed fifteen chicks to our home — six ISA Brown chicks, six Black Australorp chicks (sadly, we lost one), and three Bantam chicks. We (our 3-year-old daughter included!) transformed a shed that came with our five-acre property into a chicken coop, working hard to make it critter proof to prolong the life of our dear chicks.

Now, only nesting boxes are needed to finish this project. Once the chicks get their feathers and grow larger, we hope to let them free range the property, and at night they will be able to roost safely in their coop when most predators are on the prowl.

These chicks are quickly becoming family friendly, especially with our daughter providing loads of affection and holding them often. Emalyn loves her “babes” as she calls them.

Raising these chicks has in some small way made me feel connected and closer to my family all the way in Oregon. My parents raised many animals over the years, chickens being one of many farm animals which bring a piece of my childhood near and dear to my heart.

We look forward to the bounty of eggs to come and the laughter that comes along with raising these ladies.

Jamie grew up in the Pacific Northwest and now lives in New York with her husband and daughter. Jamie is a dedicated mother and wife, loves the outdoors, animals, gardening and cooking. George Rede is her father in law.

*****

Meet the Rede’s Roost ladies

Dora | Penelope | Dorothy
Gretta | Gertie | Pearl
Virginia | Myrtle | Beatrice
Prudence | Etna | Edith
Olga | Agatha | Helga (made 15)

A quick note about raising chicks! Newborn chicks need a heat source of 95 degrees, which can be lowered with each passing week until they develop feathers and they can stay warm by themselves. Also, chick starter (chick feed) and water supplemented with electrolytes and probiotics helps give them an extra boost to their immune system, an important factor considering how stressful moving to a new environment can be!

ISA Brown Chickens:

Origin: French

  • Sweet, friendly, quiet mannered
  • 300-350 brown eggs/year
  • 4.4 lbs-6.6 lbs
  • 4-6 months start laying

Black Australorp Chickens:

Origin: Australia

  • Friendly, gentle, hardy
  • 300-364 brown eggs/year
  • 6 months start laying
  • 5-8 lbs

Bantam Chickens:

Origin of the word ‘bantam’ is from Bantam, Indonesia

  • Calm and friendly
  • Miniature version of regular chickens, affectionately known as ‘’banties’’
  • Some have “fancy feathering” with beards and feathered legs
  • Eggs contain more yolk and less whites
  • 50-200 eggs/year; most are cream-tinted, but some bantam breeds produce pastel eggs.

Tomorrow: Andrea Cano | What is essential for now, and maybe tomorrow…

I was made for Quarantine!

By Wendy Alexander

I never thought of myself as a people person.

I tend to avoid crowds anyway and I like being home alone with my animals. I don’t care for visitors. I don’t like sharing the remote. If you talk to me during a movie or TV show, you’re dead to me. I don’t like pants. It’s just easier to be by myself. So sitting around in my pajamas for weeks working at my little desk at home with total control of the remote and neverending access to the refrigerator snacks sounds perfect for me!

Someone I work with tested positive for COVID-19. Because I already have a compromised immune system, I left that day to work from home.

Sure, the first few days were a bit challenging. I work for an amazing company that got us set up for success right away. I wasn’t bored because I was actually working. I would take my breaks as usual, but also a few extras to microwave pizza rolls and do the dishes while waiting for an email. Indulging in all 8 seasons of Vampire Diaries playing on Netflix in the background.

I have two adult kids that are out on their own and one that just finished college at home and she recently started a job where she is considered essential, so I would take her to work and come home and jump into my workday. Worked pretty well for a week or so. Then I started to cough.

Just a little at first. Like an itch in the back of my throat. Then a bit more. Within 24 hours it was a lot more. I emailed my doctor’s office and because of my age, my health, the fact I was exposed to someone that tested positive, I was scheduled for a test. If a medical professional tells you something will feel like a brain biopsy, believe them.

Before I can get my test results back, my breathing is labored and the coughing is much worse. I was told that with my symptoms, I was to assume I was positive and go to the ER if I got worse. So I did.

I told my kids I was sick. They were immediately scared. How do you tell them that you have this virus that is killing thousands but you’re ok? They wanted to go to the ER with me but they couldn’t. They couldn’t come see me before I went. They couldn’t hug mom and mom couldn’t hug them.

Even my ex-husband called to tell me he’d do what he could for me as part of my support system. Oh man, this must be bad!

In the hospital is when it really hit me. I would have to do this completely on my own. No family, friends, kids, loved ones at all. Just me and a sea of mask covered faces who can’t even offer a smile for comfort. At least not one that can be seen. IV’s and blood work. Xrays and EKGs. Not a hand to hold.

Humans are social beings. Loneliness has been linked to the worst physical and emotional health outcomes and poorest wellbeing. Not having a social support system and being lonely, releases the stress hormone Cortisol and creates stress on our bodies. (https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/good-company-why-we-need-other-people-be-happy-ncna836106)

We are not meant to weather the storm alone. I think this might be why this virus is so terrifying. Because honestly, the numbers are in our favor when you think about it. Yes, people are dying, but the numbers show that so many more people get better than do not. What makes this terrifying, is the isolation. The not being able to be there to hold the hand of the one you love, or have your hand held. To not be able to have those last conversations and personal contact if it comes to that.

Turns out, I’m lucky. My oxygen levels were very good and I did not have any organ failure issues or pneumonia. I was able to go home and I am being telemonitored by a Coronavirus medical team via text and phone calls. I have my own little oxygen meter and thermometer and have to update my vitals every 4 hours. But I am home. With at least one of my kids. And others that drop things at my door and can see me from the walkway to tell me they love me. Not quite alone. And I am getting better.

I was not made for Quarantine. None of us are.

***

Wendy Alexander is a Contract Administrator with Performance Contracting Inc in Hillsboro. She has “three amazing grown kids that are my world and support system through good and bad.”

I met George back in 2007, when I felt compelled to write about something that hit me hard emotionally and sent it in to The Oregonian opinion section. George kept in contact with me over the years and asked me to write a couple more times. Because of meeting George, I went to college in my 40’s and got a BA in Journalism (also one in Social and Criminal Justice at the same time). “Thank you for always encouraging me to keep writing.”

Serving as Sunday Opinion Editor for The Oregonian brought me into contact with so many good people over the years, including several in this VOA community of citizen-writers. I’m glad to welcome Wendy into the circle and humbled knowing that my reaching out years ago prompted her to get her degrees. — GR

Tomorrow: Jamie Lynn Rede | New York Rede’s Roost

Remembering Kay Balmer, remembering Rich Holden

First, it was Kay. A friend and co-worker I can only describe as luminous.

Then it was Rich. A wise and dapper colleague on the national recruiting circuit.

Two deaths, one day apart. One on the West Coast, one on the East Coast.
Both people so influential in my journalism career. Both now gone. So many of us here in Oregon and across the country left to mourn their passing,

Feels small in the scheme of things, but here’s my tribute to both.


Kay Balmer succumbed to cancer on April 14. She was a proud Montana native who worked in newsrooms in California and Oregon, including The Register-Guard in Eugene and, most recently, The Oregonian here in Portland. She was a talented editor who brought out the best in others and inspired tremendous loyalty along the way.

For me, she was a sounding board and major ally in the effort to bring new talent and new perspectives to The Oregonian newsroom. I was the newspaper’s first fulltime recruitment director. When I left that job for another position in the newsroom, Kay moved into the role and built on those early successes to diversify the staff and upgrade the overall talent. And when Kay was promoted to a senior editor position, I eagerly returned to the recruiting job with an expanded charge to coordinate our newsroom training program.

At every step of the way, Kay was there to offer support, ideas and encouragement. Her big smile, distinctive laugh and warm personality made her a delight to be with.

The last time I had lunch with Kay was at Bollywood Theater on Southeast Division Street. We shared memories on that summerlike September day in 2018 and bites of Indian food off each other’s plates.

Little wonder that when she passed, our former colleagues reacted with the most beautiful of memories. One called her “a glorious burst of light and strength.” Another described her as “one of the kindest, smartest, funniest people I’ve ever known.”

For me, “She was the rare person who made you feel like you were just about the most important person in her life (well, except for husband Bob). She gave you her complete attention. She listened, fully and completely, and she looked you in the eye. She asked how you were doing, never failing to ask about your spouse and each one of your kids. Our conversations were most often fun and free-flowing, and other times serious and focused. Either way, my day always felt better having engaged with Kay.”

Oregonian editors past and present at The Alberta Rose Theater on Jan. 24, 2019. From left: Kay Balmer, Sandy Rowe, George Rede, Therese Bottomly

Rich Holden died on April 15 in a New Jersey hospital after a lengthy illness. He was born in Missouri, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the renowned University of Missouri School of Journalism, and spent his entire 41-year career with Dow Jones & Company, publishers of The Wall Street Journal.

An obituary shared on Facebook by his wife, Mary-Anna, aptly summarized Rich’s career. He began in 1973 on the Journal’s national news copy desk. In 1976, he moved to Hong Kong as one of the original staffers that started up the Asian Wall Street Journal. During his tenure there, Rich served as a lecturer in residence at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Returning to New York in 1979, he worked in numerous editing capacities at the Journal and branched out to recruiting, hiring and training.

In 1992, Rich left the Wall Street Journal for the non-profit side of Dow Jones as Executive Director of the Dow Jones News Fund, a position he held until retirement in 2014. In that role, he helped steer promising college students of all races and backgrounds to the copy desks of newspapers across the country, including The Oregonian.

The 20th annual American Copy Editors Society convention in Portland gave me a chance to reconnect with Ron Smith (left) and Rich Holden in April 2016.

Rich was a man of great influence within the industry and a fixture at minority journalist conventions, where he would give freely of his time to volunteer on student news projects, and mingle with young and midcareer professionals alike.

I never got to work directly with Rich – well, except for the couple of times we teamed up on student newspaper projects at industry conventions in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Through our work and connections made on the recruiting circuit, we knew many of the same journalists in newsrooms around the country and enjoyed seeing them as they progressed in their careers and also became spouses and parents.

Thanks to Rich, I was invited to serve as Journalist in Residence at DePauw University in Indiana, an experience that in retrospect helped set the stage for the college-level teaching that I’ve done since leaving The Oregonian in 2015.

Rich had a smoky, baritone voice and a full-bodied laugh. He was a stickler for detail, as you would expect from a master headline writer and world-class editor. He was also a stickler for fashion, known for his matching ties and pocket squares, shirts with coordinated collars and French cuffs.

More than 60 friends and colleagues attended a retirement party on June 21, 2014, for Rich Holden to pay tribute to his career with the Dow Jones News Fund and The Wall Street Journal. Photo credit: David Sullivan

The outpouring for Rich was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. From Los Angeles: “Of all the sad news in the world, this is the saddest. Rich had the kindest, most generous soul.” From Florida: “Rich Holden meant so much to me and my career at the Miami Herald.

And from me: “Rich was a giant. I’ll forever be grateful for the wisdom and mentoring he so generously shared as a recruiter and champion of diversity. He made thousands of us not just better journalists but better people by living his values.”

Rich Holden: a master of the pun and a champion of diversity.

Journalism lost two beacons in the space of 24 hours. The human race lost two wonderful people. I am grateful to have known both.

Held

Kristen Mira

By Kristen Mira

March 16th. They delivered the last couch into my new apartment.
Then I sunk down into my oversized, easy chair to take in the reality of having my own place. Exhale. My nervous system relaxed a few notches.

It was a stark contrast to the experience of living the previous 3 years in an old NE Portland house, where I shared one bathroom with two other women. Throughout my stay they were constructing a 7 story condo across the street, with AirBnB guests going in and out of our basement daily and our next-door neighbor elevating his entire house to fit an apartment underneath.

Needless to say the solitude of my new apartment brought a welcome silence.

While living at that house, I worked from home, which made it hard to focus or have an uninterrupted call. I also didn’t choose the decor of the house nor have enough room for one week’s vegetables in the fridge. I grew more aware that my life long pattern of making my needs small to accommodate others reflected how I was living in that space.

I realized it was time to change my living space for a time so I could honor my needs without having to consider anyone else.

Little did I know how the world events were about to support my process.

March 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st. COVID-19 consumed more and more of the news. Then March 23rd Portland went into Shelter-in-Place where no one could leave their homes except for necessities. Soon after, the physical separation from my boyfriend turned into a breakup.

There I sat isolated between four walls, which initially felt like relief, now echoing with loneliness.

As the volume of panic increased throughout the world, I wondered, what had I gotten myself into!?

Sudden isolation, loss of connections, health concerns set in without knowing how long I’d need to go without real person to person contact.

I am alive. Inhale. I have food. Exhale. I am sheltered. Inhale. I have work. Exhale. All things considered, I didn’t have it that bad.

Actually total solitude was exactly what the doctor had ordered. Except I felt like a shivering toddler looking at the length of the nurse’s needle about to give the injection.

All of my normal escapes–boyfriend, coffee with friends, denying my needs to please others, were gone.

I had no one left to seek validation from except myself.

Ok, you’ve got this.

I crawled daily into my easy chair and pulled out my journal to respond to my fears coming up:
Do I believe everything is working out for good and I’ll be ok?
Am I loved, even when I feel abandoned?
Can I trust that I am totally held–even and especially in this isolation?

Yes, I mumbled. Then day by day I felt a stronger YES, as I experienced receiving the things I needed at just the right moments–a friend’s Zoom call, a neighbor’s cat to pet, a grocery store delivery.

April 21st. I am feeling grateful and held in the embrace of these four walls. Like a nurse saying this will only hurt a moment, it has been a more drastic solitude than I would have ever chosen, but it has forced me to recognize the power of self honoring.

I may have days or months yet to go in this solitary space, but I am relaxing into the process and it is amazing how all the constriction, all the loss, all of the shaky emotions feel like they are leading ultimately towards more solid ground.

***

Kristen Mira is a Portland-based Relationship Coach who loves helping others around the world to create better connections to themselves and others and she does bookkeeping for small businesses on the side. She met George over 10 years ago through his daughter-in-law, Jamie, at his son Jordan’s wedding and they became friends over the experience of blogging.

Without Kristen, there would be no Voices of August, let alone a Voices of April. When she asked me to contribute a piece to her blog several years ago, I thought to myself, “What a wonderful idea!” Not long afterwards, I realized, “Hey, why not expand this to a whole month of guest bloggers?” And just like that, VOA was born. Kristen was among those who helped me get that baby launched in the summer of 2011. — GR

Tomorrow: Wendy Alexander | I was made for Quarantine!

Rediscovering our faith, our values

By Gil Rubio

Well … there is no doubt that the Virus has affected everything, and all of us,

in ways we never even dreamed of, … and will continue to affect us for some time.

Everything we know, everything we think we know, everything we wish to know …

Everything we Believe …

Some of us are finding, or rediscovering our Faith in a Higher Power.

Even to the point that I’ve heard people mention God and Prayer.

People who would normally turn their attention elsewhere …

It would seem that we have Lessons to Learn from all of this.

Perhaps that is as it should be.

Just to be clear … Religion, Faith and Spirituality are not the same things.

You can have Faith and Spirituality without Religion or a Church.

Faith is the belief in the unseen and Spirituality is how one connects with that belief.

Neither are contained or confined to a box, a book or a building.

They are contained but not confined to our hearts and our minds. )

When I taught 5th Grade Catechism, I used to tell my students that one day the World would knock our House down, and each of us would one day fall to our knees because we had nowhere else to go.

Then we find ourselves asking “Please” of a Higher Power, Praying for outcomes,

often before we ever learned to say “Thank You” for the Gifts we were given.

The Earth, The Sky, all the Plants and Creatures of the Earth, … Life itself.

The indigenous Peoples of the World have long known that we were meant to be Caretakers of the Gifts we were granted. Civilization has always insisted otherwise … That we were meant to rule and own everything, and we have allowed ourselves to abuse the Gifts and even our Brothers and Sisters who share in the Gifts with us.

There have been signs and warnings …

But we haven’t been listening or paying attention …

To the Earth, the Sky, the Water, the Plants, the Animals, our Brothers and Sisters …

Certainly not The Creator.

Perhaps what we are experiencing is God’s Will that we suffer the consequences of our Actions and Non-Actions and He is letting the Earth heal herself.

Now we find ourselves Sheltering in Place with Social Distancing.

Alone together with our thoughts, our fears and anxieties, insecurities and doubts,

and our need for certainty.

It is not about any One of us, but rather, All of us.

We’re All in this together, even though we don’t share the same circumstances.

We are all connected, … as individuals …

And as such …

We’re discovering Ourselves,

our Families,

what makes a House a Home

We’re discovering how to Love

We’re discovering how to Care for each other

We’re discovering our need for each other

our need for Respect and Gratitude

our need for Faith

our need for Hope

that we have Spirituality

… We’re discovering the real Values of Life.

Perhaps that is as it should be.

***

“I recently lost my Insurance and days later lost my Job of 11 years. My Band, Red Beans & Rice, now in its 27th year, had all Gigs canceled and we cannot get together and Rehearse. The Church I grew up in is closed for the time being, so my Choir cannot play or attend any Services, nor can we Rehearse.

“I can’t visit my 97 year old Mother at the Assisted Living Facility, nor can I risk seeing my Brother who has Cancer.
But I have not lost my Faith!
In my moments of weakness,
I know I am questioning
the strength of that Faith …
And that is when I Pray
for His Love and Guidance
to remind me that I am #3

“God is #1
and everybody else is #2.”

Coming from a large close-knit Family, My Cousin George and I and all of our cousins learned early on that we are all connected and that Family will always take care of each other.

I wish to Thank my Cousin George for the Invitation and the opportunity to once again express myself in this manner.

Tomorrow: Kristen Mira | Held

Facing the C-squared Challenge

A road that I can travel freely.”

By Al Rodriguez

For most of my adult life, I’ve done my best to view life with a “glass half-full” mentality. I was confident that I was going to beat the history of heart disease that had been the scourge of my family and believed a lifestyle of exercise and good (well, mostly good) diet was the ticket.

I have been as active as I could be, with the goal of increasing my odds of beating the major cause of death on the maternal side of my family. Every time I went in for my annual check-up, I was acknowledged for my fitness.

And then … I was diagnosed with prostate cancer this past November – the “Big C” to my generation.

I gotta admit, my sense of invulnerability was rocked hard and I felt betrayed by my body. I realized there were many others who had/were/and would be facing the same if not worse. It didn’t fucking matter; I had plans of being around for a while, and cancer wasn’t part of the plan.

I went through a series of tests to determine the degree of the spread and two months ago in February, I decided on a radical prostatectomy. A week later, I learned the surgery hadn’t caught all of the cancer and I would need to undergo radiation in about six months.

I’ve always tried to face my challenges with optimism so I knew I needed to regain my confidence as I approached my surgical recovery. My post-surgical exercise was limited to walking down to the corner and back (I needed hiking poles to maintain my balance) but I knew my fitness would allow me to soon do more.

As things turned out, the timing of my surgery couldn’t have been better. Because within the next two weeks, I was forced to hunker down like everyone else as we (meaning most of the U.S.) finally came to terms with the second “C” within the constellation of my world, COVID-19.

Had my surgery been scheduled two weeks later than when I had it, it might have been considered non-urgent and delayed. Or, I might have been exposed to the virus while in the hospital (I almost didn’t make it after developing an infection following surgery ten years ago).

My wife has a chronic bronchial condition and every familiar routine was upended in an effort to avoid her exposure to the ‘Rona. Shopping for groceries? I had to swallow the ethical conundrum of exposing an InstaCart shopper to the virus as I can’t risk shopping for us and bringing the virus home. Want to see our daughter, her husband or our friends? Facetime and Zoom are our social venues of choice these days. Want to help isolated seniors or others with special needs? Couldn’t even think about it. And, I’ve never cleaned up after myself as much as I do now as my wife insists I follow the most-stringent CDC guidelines on disinfecting myself following any outing.

Despite all of this uncertainty, I’m going to make it. I choose to face my “C-squared challenge” of dealing with cancer and avoiding COVID-19 as a road that I can travel freely, embracing these words from Walt Whitman: “Strong and content I travel the open road.”

***

Al and George go back 56 or 58 years, but who’s counting? Reconnected as friends in high school (our wildest times were midnight bowling), roommates in college, watched George court Lori, moved them to Oregon after they married and the rest is history. Love them both!

Tomorrow: Gil Rubio | Rediscovering our faith, our values