Still, the liminal COVID time

to mask or not to mask

liminalSomehow, I had missed the word liminal until the last couple of years. One of my pastors used it in a sermon, more than once, referring to the liminal time we were in. And, I will argue, we’re still in it when it comes to COVID.

The word is an English adjective meaning ‘on the threshold’, from Latin līmen, plural limina.” In anthropology and religion, liminality is “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage.” And in psychology, liminal experiences are “feelings of abandonment (existentialism) associated with death, illness, disaster, etc.”

Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) announced plans that the state mask requirement in schools would end starting on March 2, 2022. What that means is that people have the CHOICE whether to wear a mask in those settings or not. My wife, a teacher, is still wearing one. In fact, in addition to her own safety, she finds it important to model that behavior for her K-8 students. My daughter is also wearing her mask. She guesstimates that 75% of her high school colleagues are doing likewise.

Florida man

So the remarks of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) surprisingly really roiled me. In 2021, he said, “It is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children,” and parents “absolutely have every right to equip their student with whatever types of masks that they want.”

Yet, at a Florida high school this month, “DeSantis on-camera Wednesday told the students, ‘You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything and we’ve gotta stop with this COVID theater.’ Clearly angry, he added: “So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.'”

So what happened to parental choice? He claimed he wasn’t bullying, only making sure that HE didn’t want people to think he was mandating their mask-wearing. Of course, I’m unsurprised, given his other policies.

As for me, I’m STILL wearing the masks indoors. Unlike Kelly, I don’t forget I’m wearing one, especially while singing at church. But at least I AM singing at church. And [crosses fingers] maybe that’ll go away soon.

It gets better

I was talking with my wife about how difficult going to the grocery store had been. There were arrows designating which lanes to go up and down. They were violated regularly, but they’d be coming in tandem the wrong way. Not only that but people who needed something where my wife or I were standing – and we didn’t shop at the same place – would reach over or even in front of us. Talk about lack of social distance. And this was WORSE in the pandemic. I theorize that people wanted to get in and out of the store as soon as possible. I seldom experienced the behavior either before COVID or in recent weeks.

My wish is that people show grace to each other in this liminal time. Let the masked be masked. And remember there are still places – some medical facilities, a lot of transportation, and individual business – that still require masks. Don’t be a donkey’s rear end.

My friend Mike Attwell, RIP

lives by the spring

mike attwell croppedI don’t remember exactly when I met Mike Attwell – the late 1980s or early 1990s – but I certainly know where. My friend, the late Norm Nissen,  and I played racquetball at the Albany YMCA on Washington Avenue.

Some combination of Danny, Charlie, Mike, and his co-worker Alan wanted to know if we wanted to play games with partners, two on two; or cutthroat, in groups of three.  We did, and from that point until 2010, when the Y closed, we all played about thrice a week with whoever showed up, which eventually included Tyrone and others.

You learn a lot about a person when you play racquetball with them. Mike wasn’t the fastest guy; that’d be Tyrone. Or the best (Danny or Charlie). But he may have been the most tenacious. When we played as partners, he’d almost always play the front, because he anticipated well and could get to a lot of shots.

But, in the earlier days, he was also the hardest on himself, often spouting an invective that included MF, always at himself. Interestingly, I think he played better after he stopped the cursing.

After the Y closed, he occasionally drove me to Siena College so we could play with some of the others, but it fell by the wayside.

Singing

In 2000, when I started attending First Presbyterian Church, I got to sing with Mike. I might have participated in a FOCUS service or two with him, but this was the first time on a weekly basis. 

You learn a lot about a person when you sing with them.  Mike, a tenor, was usually present unless he was traveling. He worked hard to get his part right. When the weather was lousy, he’d sometimes give me a ride home after choir rehearsal.

I got to see him in other aspects of church life, notably on the finances. He explained to the congregation the fiscal responsibility of the use of the endowment. This could be MEGO territory, but Mike, who dealt with numbers for New York State, explained it amazingly well. 

In August of 2003, he married Sue, again. They’d been married in a private ceremony six months earlier. But as the pastor noted at the time, they wanted to have a public event so their church family could be witnesses.

At the reception, Mike was discussing a nice resort in Poland Springs, ME that he thought my wife and I should go to. It didn’t allow anyone under 18. (I believed they’ve since changed that rule.) We went that very month and had a lovely time. No one knew yet that my wife was pregnant, so it was a particularly sound suggestion.  

Bible guys

After I retired in 2019, I joined the Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. group of Bible Guys. But when COVID hit, my daughter’s school was remote, so she didn’t need to get up as early. The two groups then operated on something called ZOOM(?), so I ALSO joined the Thursday at 7 a.m. gathering.

Mike Attwell was in that Thursday group. He shared a lot of his personal biography, from his roots to certain difficulties in his past. I did not know this: The meaning of Attwell is “lives by the spring”, as in water, which seems apt.

Though the facilitator rotated, it was always Mike, who introduced the group to John van de Laar, offering prayer by the liturgist. I suppose if I were to pick one for Mike, who died last week, it might be this one, which begins:

In the midst of grief, we choose to celebrate,

because it reminds us of hope,

and brings comfort to our broken heart.

Nobody claim 2022 as “your year”

please don’t suck

2022 asA friend of mine posted this graphic on their Facebook feed. Nobody claim 2022 as “your year”. And I get it.

I got to sing in my church’s Christmas Eve service for the first time in two years, which was great. Now, I felt rusty but that was OK. In 2020, the church had audio and video of the choir’s prior performances shown on the Facebook feed. Listening to the sounds of our voices was OK; I’d been doing so almost every week for months of the regular service. but watching the film of me, and others, singing made me EXTREMELY melancholy.

The Boston Globe readers commented on the past year. The intro: “If 2020 felt like a year like no other, then 2021 felt like more of the same. One step forward and two steps back, or vice versa? It depended on the day. We saw vaccines rolled out, then resisted. Bitter partisanship kept its grip on our politics.”

I love the word hegemony

If I read this article, The Respite Is Coming to an End. “All around us we can see the forces of white nationalist authoritarianism engaged in a second, far more methodical, far better coordinated, and already more successful attempt to do what they failed to do on January 6, 2021. If matters continue on this path, the Biden administration will prove only a brief respite before those forces snuff out the grand American experiment and secure a permanent, counter-majoritarian chokehold on the erstwhile republic.” And it’s a compelling argument.

And Foreign Affairs had a piece, The Real Crisis of Global Order. Illiberalism on the Rise. It addresses, among other things, the collapse of US hegemony, which Trump’s election helped to create and Biden’s election almost certainly can’t fix. For instance, as the Daily Show illustrated, Why China Is in Africa.

Rodgers and Hammerstein

I’m already exhausted from 2022, like Sinatra or Gordon MacRae singing Soliloquy from Carousel, musing what “my boy Bill” will be like. “Say, why am I carrying on like this? My kid ain’t even been born yet.” And neither has 2022. Well, maybe in New Zealand.

Perhaps I need more humour and a stiff upper lip, like Queen Elizabeth who lost her husband, Prince Philip, in 2021, who she’d only been married to since 1947, before I was born.

So I’m going to decide that 2022 will be great! Of course, I will also retreat to the ‘trust but verify” position about the new year, which is a quote Ronald Reagan cleverly pilfered.

Going to church together, or not

Live! In person!

First Presbyterian Church. windowMy wife and I have usually gone to church together over the past 22+ years. But often, we didn’t sit together, as I was usually perched in the choir loft while she was sitting in the congregation. The exception was during the summer when the choir was usually off. She really liked it, but it felt somewhat foreign to me.

Then there was the pandemic. When our service returned on Facebook beginning March 22, 2020, it was us sitting together watching a screen together. And we’d do communion together, either something my wife baked that weekend or a cracker to eat, homemade grape juice, or Nine Pin Cider to drink.

But we would be on separate computers for the adult education class. We had different ZOOM styles in terms of when to be on mute. For me, it was almost always, when I wasn’t speaking. Also, I found that couples on the same ZOOM screen are harder to hear/understand and especially more difficult to see.

On June 20, 2021, we began the in-person church, and we both went through the summer live, except once when we were away.

Risk assessment

So it’s curious that now we’re doing church differently again. We both go to adult ed online. But then I go to church in person, while my wife has decided to go back online. She’s teaching kids, most too young to be fully vaccinated yet, whereas I really don’t see that many people.

I was having a discussion about COVID and risk with a friend. It reminded me of a comment to a recent Weekly Sift article. “When there’s a threat with no end in sight…, we need to also measure risk against the reward… Eating in a restaurant is risky, so I won’t eat inside just any restaurant, but I will eat inside my favorite restaurant. Not because the risk is lower, but because the reward is high (in my case). For other people, it might be that you’ll spend time in a small room for a long time with vaccinated family but not with vaccinated strangers.”

My choir met at church on October 14 for the first time in 19 months, and we sang! All full vaccinated, masked, and distanced – it was difficult to hear the tenors – but we sang. And we didn’t suck! It wasn’t for the service, yet, but maybe we’ll record something in the next month or two to be used.

Rule of thumb: when there is both a remote and face-to-face option, I’ll almost always opt fr the latter. But I never mock other people’s more cautious approach.

In the year of the masks

do I want to know a secret?

Unity MaskIn some way, there was no date more 2020 for me than December 7. I received three packages. All contained masks.

One was a package of 50 disposable items I had ordered about a week earlier. The second was a mask featuring the mustache of John Green, which I had ordered about a month and a half earlier. It was a Pizzamas thing; don’t worry about understanding that, because I don’t either.

The third, though, I had ordered so long before that I had forgotten about it altogether. Ten black masks with the letters UNITY in white silhouette. Within each letter, a message. all in caps.

Healthcare for all. Back Lives Matter. Save the Planet. Protect Dreamers. Ensure voting rights. The image description from Democracy for America: “We believe there is more that unites us than divides us. These issues are not just for the few, they are for all of us.” I hope so.

In my Christmas stocking, Santa brought two more masks. One was a woodsy scene. The other was a black mask with Day-Glo musical notes. I like these.

One more

Finally, in the mail on New Year’s Eve, came a mask with a card, sent ostensibly from my church’s address. The lettering was intentionally designed to obscure the handwriting of the sender. The white mask had a pinkish rectangle that featured a white cross. In red letters:
FIRST PRES CHOIR
2020

For the last few years, an anonymous benefactor had left the choir t-shirts and pens, both emblazed with messages about the church, left near the choir loft. Since we haven’t sung since March 2020 – haven’t even been in the building – I was particularly surprised by this largesse. I have a theory about who it might be; my wife thinks it’s someone else. Thanks to the choir Secret Santa once again, whoever you are.

Football!

I went to the local grocery store on Tuesday, moving through as quickly as possible. The cashier wore a Pittsburgh Steelers mask. I asked her if her team was going to win this weekend. She said, “I hope so. They only lost by two last week, and they rested some of their players.” I added, “And the Cleveland Browns needed that game. But what about that three-game losing streak?” She sighed, “I don’t know WHAT that was about.”

I mention this because, too often, the mask is a sign of less sharing. You can’t see people’s facial expressions. But at that moment, the mask facilitated a human connection that I too often miss.

Here’s hoping that in 2022, I won’t need the masks anymore. But I keep seeing those newspaper headlines. LA Times, Jan 1.: Spiraling COVID-19 deaths leave morgues overflowing and funeral homes turning away grieving families. And even around here. Times Union, Jan. 1: In Albany County, the mark of 346 new infections in one day is 77 more than the prior record. So know I’ll still have those masks available in 2021. It’s good to have a variety…

At least I don’t have to deal with these folks.

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