There is no normal to which we can return

There is no normal to which we can return

As Week 12 came and went, so did the stay-at-home order in most states, including Illinois. Still a lot of things we can’t do, but a lot of restrictions lifted. The Chicago lakefront is still closed although when I was down in the city last weekend, the barricades blocking off Lincoln Park west of Lake Shore Drive were down and I could run unencumbered along those pathways. Today I went back to my office for the first time since March 13. The day Ann died.

It seems like a long time. And yet it feels like just the other day. As much as we look forward to life returning to “normal” we know it never will. What once was, no longer exists. Personally this makes me sad. On a national and even global level it gives me hope. Things shouldn’t ever return to what we have accepted as “normal.”

I spent the first half of the stay-at-home order feeling sad. Eating too much junk. Having a hard time getting in more than a couple short runs each week. Gaining weight. And then one morning I picked myself up and committed to the healthy life-style I knew would create a much better environment for productivity.

I started thinking about the time at home as sort of a sabbatical. I created a positive morning routine that allowed time for mediation, healthy food preparation, and workouts with an emphasis on the stretching and strength training I had long been neglecting. From rising to showering and heading into my work day, the routine takes three hours. That was more of a challenge this morning when I had to consider the commute to Pilsen (I went to bed an hour early and set set my alarm for the first time in 3 months for 6am).

“Not all storms come to disrupt your life, some come to clear your path.” ~unknown

It will remain difficult to rectify the loss of 111,359 lives (as of last night) to this virus, although I believe there is a lasting good that came from our time at home. For the last couple days I’ve been reflecting on how being able to pause allowed us to pay attention as we never have before.

This pause has given us time to reflect and reconsider our values and priorities, not just personally but collectively as humans. I have wondered if we were all still so busy with our daily lives would we not have finally reacted to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd as we did? If we were still so busy with our lives would we not have seen what we needed to finally see?

There will never be justification for any preventable deaths, but in this pandemic while we stayed safe at home, we had the time to see that black lives were the ones serving as essential workers, that black lives were disproportionately falling victim to this virus, that black lives were dying as a result of systemic racism.  And we finally said, “Enough.”

We have yet to find a new normal. Although thankfully we finally understand that what we once considered normal, isn’t something to which we would ever want to return.

The time to act is now!

The time to act is now!

I’m not only white, I grew up in “Whitelandia” – a wealthy suburb of New York City where “diversity” was Irish or Italian with maybe a German or Polish family thrown into the mix. We were all white. We were at all Catholic. I didn’t even know anyone who was Black until I went to a Catholic High School in another county. Not sure I would have even made any effort to have a relationship with the few Black girls in the entire school if they weren’t my basketball teammates.

I began to develop some cultural competence going to college in Philadelphia in a predominately Black neighborhood. There were often clashes between the students and neighbors – I was never involved. It wasn’t my fight, right? Simply staying out of it was a good thing, no?

By the time I turned 30, I was working in New York City and developed significant relationships with a diverse group of co-workers, many of whom became friends. But while I wanted to believe that we were all no different than one another, that certainly wasn’t the case. An experience I had when leaving work one evening with one of my friends changed how I would forever think about race. I finally understood that no matter how much I got to know people and felt I was being supportive, the world they were experiencing was so vastly different from mine.

On this warm spring evening in 1996, I was walking out of our office building at the corner of 26th Street and 8th Avenue with my friend and co-worker, Eric, who happened to be Black. We were not out the door but a minute when a police officer suddenly appeared out of no where, grabbed him and pushed him up against the side of the building demanding to know where he had been all day. Apparently, he “met the description” of someone wanted for a crime in the neighborhood. 

I quickly explained how I knew Eric and that I could vouch for his whereabouts all day. The police let him go and I walked him to the subway. On the way he told me that wasn’t the first time something like that happened and he knew it wouldn’t be the last. While he boarded a train to go home to the Bronx, I walked to the PATH station – shaking – to make my way back to peaceful Whitelandia forever understanding that no mater how culturally competent I could become, I could never fully appreciate the experience of Black people in America.

Yet, this is our fight too. We can not live quietly in our communities if we continue to allow anyone to be victims of the great injustices that People of Color have experienced. This was a week of reckoning. There is no more simply sitting on the sidelines and saying, “I’m not a racist.”  The time to act is now. Real action. Beyond the knelling and peaceful protests are opportunities that can contribute to lasting change. I’ve spent some of Week 11 working from home sifting through ideas for white people who want to make sure we’re contributing to solutions. Here are some of the best I found:

Start simply by reading through those links. Pick out a few things you can do today, later this week, this month, and onward. I’m doing it too. We’re not perfect, but we’re evolving and we can get better at this everyday.

Embracing life in the city. Logan Square, Chicago. July 2019.
Week 10: A difficult week

Week 10: A difficult week

Our country approached 100,000 dead from COVID-19, fittingly, over Memorial Day weekend. I’m sure you saw The New York Times piece An Incalculable Loss that listed all the names. It was all over social media. 

I remember on September 11, 2001 when then New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was asked about the death toll. “The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear” he said. (CBS News). The number of lives lost in the September 11 attacks is but about 3% the number of lives lost in the U.S. (to date) due to this pandemic. 

And then there are the others lost to another type of pandemic; human beings whose final stories are punctuated with a hash tag: #BlackLivesMatter. I ran on May 8 in memory of Ahmaud Arbery on what should have been his 26th Birthday, then in the last week I have read countless posts about the murder of George Floyd. My head hurts. This all has to stop.

Ten weeks of staying at home hasn’t really been all that difficult. I am grateful that we have had the opportunity to keep working, even though the idea that could change weights heavy on our minds. I am grateful that we and our loved ones have remained healthy. I am grateful for the privilege I’ve had my entire life.

I understand the push to open back up. I can imagine the difficult toll this would have taken on my parents’ restaurant and gift shop so long ago and what this is doing to small business owners. But what is the price of premature decisions? Endangering the lives of the very people we are trying to help? If we are able to go out and do the things we once did, are people going to cooperate and follow recommendations for everyone’s safety like wearing a mask or keeping a distance? Based on what I’m seeing, answer is, sadly, they’re not.

One of the things my parents – and most of their generation – understood was sacrifice for the greater good. They were children of the depression and the young adults that supported the right side of history during World War II. They were the people who fought for the rights that many of those of privilege take for granted today. 

We are living in a world were we’ve taken so many steps backward. I’ve witnessed hopelessness and much cynicism among our young people and I believe the difference is that all they’ve seen is examples of failed leadership. It is hard for them to create a vision for the life they want to live. The path between what that might look like and where they are now seems so daunting (The unluckiest generation in U.S. history, The Washington Post). Especially when people aren’t willing to work together for the greater good.

I don’t know what the answer is and I realize this post is a bit of a ramble. The challenges seem monumental; the solutions require buy-in from far too many than I think are willing to cooperate. But maybe we start with ourselves. Check our privilege. Think of others. Act for the greater good. Be part of a solution, not the problem. It’s a start.

“Observe who you won’t yield to, then think about why. Observe others who won’t yield to others, then think about why.” – Lori Lakin Hutcherson, A letter to friends who really want to end racism, GoodBlackNews.org.

Alone with my thoughts. Vernon Hills, Illinois. May 2020.
A step-by-step how-to guide to “Unfriending” Facebook

A step-by-step how-to guide to “Unfriending” Facebook

I have been Facebook free for about 2 weeks now, and I don’t miss it. At. All. If you have a desire in this new year to reduce screen time (or would like to have a more sane election year, or not contribute to Zuck’s multi-billion dollar annual wealth increases, or one of many, many more issues), you may want to consider deleting Facebook too. Read more