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The Diary of a Reluctant Social Distance Extrovert Prisoner: Part XLIV

My 436th day of distancing: Seeing the bright side in the confusing world
Steve Soreff, MD
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Today is Friday, May 21, 2021 and it is my 436th day, my 66th week, the end of my 15th month and into my 2nd year of social and physical distancing. And my 44th Diary! There is a hint of light at the end of the tunnel. Mask mandates are being lifted. Still, the world is not well. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. In politics at all levels polarization abounds and gaps grow wider. With re-entry we are navigating through uncertain and uncharted waters. With that, let’s look back on the last 14 days and see our way forward. The search for the defining moment when we can say it is over still eludes us.

Good morning, it is Saturday, May 8, 2021 and we are about to take another step in our coming out of COVID-19 journey. For over a decade, Peggy and I have been part of four couples groups. In some ways, it was like the endurance of couples relationships like in the 1981 movie, The Four Seasons. Our gang has done things together like mini-golf and especially we played Mexican Train together. We have weathered many changes such as couples moving out of Nottingham and the loss of one of our members. The pandemic stopped us getting together for over a year. Now, we all are two shots and two weeks post-vaccine and are finally gathering to kayak and to play Mexican Train! There is one neat fact of old good friends. It is that no matter how great the length of time you have been apart, the moment you finally get together something amazing happens. You connect and continue exactly where off.in the past. And that is what happened with our gang’s reunion. The gap of more than 400 days evaporated. We kayaked, played, ate pizza, joked and had fun just like before. But it was even better, this time. We appreciated the moment and each other more than ever.

The gang after over a year, finally gathered to play Mexican Train Dominos

Good day, the sun is out; the day has begun. It is Sunday, May 9, 2021 and Mother’s Day. I started exercising and watching on PBS Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World. It chronicled her journey doing 2020. It included her trips to World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to Poland, to speak with miners who have lost their jobs and to the UK, to visit Sir David Attenborough. She pointed out how the roles in the world had been reversed in terms of climate change. What does that mean? The children globally were now the adults in the recognition and doing something to move from fossil fuels to renewables. Sadly, she is right. Earth Day started in 1970. It has taken over 50 years to get its message. All I could think of was from Pete Seeger’s song "Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing…Oh, when will you ever learn? Oh, when will you ever learn?”

With the spirit of spring in the air, I hiked to the White Birch Corridor. Everything was green. And I completed the day with two things close to my heart. I heard on the radio the Red Sox beat the Orioles. The team is on fire and there were many mini-climatic moments in the game. It reminded me how exciting the games can be. I ended the day by listening to the Folk Show on NHPR. On it, there was a celebration of Pete Seeger's 102th birthday. I am proud to say I heard Pete in concert twice. In one, he had the entire audience stand, link hands and sing "We Shall Overcome”.

The White Birch Corridor with clear evidence of green, and more to come.

Hello, it is Monday, May 10, 2021. Despite a forecast of rain, we experienced a warming and inviting sun. A hike with Tai Chi brought us to more delightfully now-green magnificent birches trees. I continued my asking of folks what lessons they have learned from COVID-19. Here are four of the ideas they expressed. One person noted how much she enjoyed her own company. Since, as this diary proclaims, I am a card-carrying extrovert prisoner, I found this take on life interesting and refreshing. I recall from my teaching days that there are two types of students-introverts and extroverts. It seems some introverts thrive in the pandemic.

Another lesson is that some persons did well during the pandemic. And, I am not talking about financially. Yes, Amazon is more than a river. I am talking about people to whom the COVID job loss proved to be a blessing. They found opportunity where others saw loss and depression. A third message was that many homes improved during the pandemic. In the early days of the health crisis, folks were amazed at how well places like Home Depot did. Forced to stay indoors, people wanted their dwellings to be better. I know at the start of the isolation, hurricane Peggy hit my office. As a result, it is now a far better place to work in. And, the fourth, like many homes, gardens benefited from the attention. We grew many of our vegetables this last year and may perhaps grow even more this spring and summer.

Welcome to Tuesday, May 11, 2021. It is bright but windy and I am slowly and cautiously moving into the world again. I participated in a water testing program on Pawtuckaway Lake. This project has been going on for over a decade. It measures such things as the phosphorus levels and the water’s clarity. We checked 2 deep parts of the lake, on in the north and the south sections of the lake. The importance lays in not only being able to record the data that day but also then see to trends and patterns. It is part of the tradition of being citizen scientists. It was also meant being on a pontoon boat with three other people. Our new rule is two shots, two weeks and outdoors means this was now doable. In addition, I took another step in a different direction, towards the White Mountains and volunteering for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). I set-up stints for Peggy and me in July, August and October. I am moving very hesitantly into the future

Welcome to Wednesday, May 12, 2021. I am heading into an unknown world. Sadly, there is again fighting in  Israel and Gaza. My daughter who lives and works in Tel Aviv, called to say she is safe. While exercising, I watched two programs about major events, their consequences and how to prepare for them. In the first program, Niall Ferguson the author of Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe made several points. He linked plagues and national events. He talked about how events like the "Spanish Flu of 1917” was related to huge politic unrest. A quick loose association. Here is the reason the influenza of 1917-18 is sometimes called the Spanish Flu. It occurred in 1917 and 1918 when WWI was underway. All of the combatant countries censored their death statistics. But Spain did not. Hence, the flu got its Spanish name. He noted that there is now the cold war between China and the United States. He concludes that all nations must prepare for all kinds of disasters which are both known and as of now, not known.

In contrast, the second program was the geology lecture which was about the meteor https://www.psi.edu/epo/ktimpact/ktimpact.html that hit the earth 65 million years ago. It wiped out all the dinosaurs and thereby, allowing mammals to flourish. And, ultimately, this leads to us. His point was that had the meteor hit the earth at different angle or missed it completely, then how life here would be different, And, although we are tracking thousands of asteroids, there is little we can do about them.

Hello, it is Thursday, May 13, 2021 and it is day of mixed emotions. On one hand, the slow process of moving forward continues. For the first time in over a year the Nottingham Historical Society was open. Today, we put out the flag, opened the door, and were ready to have visitors -- provided they wore masks. That is the good news.

Nottingham Historical Society finally open

Today though, my soul is on fire. The rockets are falling on Israel. My daughter in Tel Aviv is now in a war zone. Bombs are falling on Gaza. Again I hear Pete Seeger singing "Oh, when will you ever learn?” And in India, a variant of COVID is exploding the country. One step forward, and two steps back. To calm my racing mind, I went kayaking. The loons called, swam about and dove for fish. I am praying for my daughter, for Israel, and for peace.

Hello and welcome to another day of anxiety mixed with another step forward. It is Friday, May 14, 2021. The spring day was perfect -- warm and inviting. Pickle ball and Tai Chi were anchoring. But the war in Israel cast a net of concern over the entire day. Yes, thoughts and hopes for my daughter's safety in Israel are constant.  The other anchor of ,y day was Friday night synagogue service. For the first time in 429 days, we had services outside with everyone 6 feet apart. Yet, another step forward.

Services outdoors at Etz Hayim Synagogue

Good morning, it is Saturday, May 15, 2021. 15 is my lucky number, but I am worried. Each morning, I wake up and want to check on two things-the survival of Israel and whether the Red Sox won or not. The Sox did win, but rockets are hitting Tel Aviv. I fear for my daughter, her husband and their cats.

Life has taken an interesting turn. Now, when you meet someone, the first question is "have you been vaccinated?” The new CDC guidelines allow those vaccinated to be without masks. This has translated into confusion and chaos. I still believe in masks and 6 feet apart. Meanwhile, the world is bewildering. There is a gas shortage because of Ransomware hacked an oil company. India is reeling with COVID and China landed something on Mars.

Update. I realized that I have not been this upset for the safety of my kids’ since 9-11. At that fateful moment my daughter and son both lived in NYC. I could not relax until I was able to talk with each one and be reassured that they were okay. However, I just heard from my sister that Matana and husband have moved to their new apartment and they are safe. Now, I can breathe again!

Hello, it is Sunday, May 16, 2021 and my heart is heavy with the war in Gaza. With my anxiety high and worries abound, I sought a different tack. I am now taking a Great Courses class called Biblical Hebrew: Learning a Sacared Language. Each year, on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I read a Torah portion in Hebrew. With this series of lectures, it is the hundreth time I've set out to learn Hebrew. At least, it fulfills to learn new things every day.

Hello and welcome to Monday, May 17, 2021. It begins a new week with new challenges. The war in Gaza continues and I worry. Good news , my 12-year-old grandson has had his first COVID vaccination. ANd along with that a new concern. It is called re-entry anxiety.  I and many other folks have made accommodations for our distancing world. There are a number of places I will not go, such as eating in a restaurant indoors. I accept wearing my trusted mask. I am more comfortable when others wear them, too. The new CDC guidelines have buzzed things. Cautious steps should not lead to leaps.

In an act of displacing my worries about Israel and COVID re-entry, I mowed the lawn for the first time this year. The good news is that mower started. Yippee. Actually, I enjoy mowing. Why? Good question. The reason is that the grass listens to and obeys the machine. When I taught my college classes, despite the brilliance of the syllabus, it was greeted by a chorus of students complaints. Later, as the semester progressed, they said, "is this on the final?” or "do we have to do a term paper?” The grass did not complain. And, when I finished the job, the lawn looked great. And I accomplished something.

Good day, it is Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The sun is shining and the wind blowing. Remember, I am nuts about numbers and the number 18 in the Hebrew numerical system means life! I could just break into a song from Fiddler on the Roof, "To life, to life, l'chaim. L'chaim, l'chaim, to life.” The first good message of life was a call from my daughter in Tel Aviv, They and the cats are in a new apartment and safe. Then two women took center stage while I exercised. The first was the Statue of Liberty. I watched Ken Burns’ The Statue of Liberty. In the film the narration says, "For more than 100 years, the Statue of Liberty has been a symbol of hope and refuge for generations of immigrants.” It was great reminder of the hope and promise of America.

The Statue of Liberty — the hope and promise of America

The second lady was Elizabeth Smith Friedman in American Experience: The Codebreaker. "Based on the book The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies.” Friedman stands as an amazing person as code breaker in World War I, the war against gangsters during Prohibition, and during World War II against the U—boats and the Nazi's attempt to take over in South America. Based on the book The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies, the book gives her the credit due her which was apparently blocked by other's greed for glory and the secrecy laws. Both women are inspiring.

Good morning, it is Wednesday, May 19, 2021 and "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” From A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. The "best" means glorious warm delightful spring days with flowers and trees blooming. The loons calling, the lake inviting and daylight lasting longer. Slowly, mask mandates are becoming mask recommendations. In New Hampshire the COVID numbers are looking better. But India the virus is surging. Rockets still fall on Israel. The scarcity of computer chips is limiting new car production. With all that, Peggy and I sought the calm, peaceful, reflective answer. We went kayaking.

Peggy on the waters of Pawtuckaway Lake

It is a beautiful day in my neighborhood, thank you Mister Rogers. It is Thursday, May 20, 2021 The sun is out: the day warm. And I have miles to go before I sleep. Thank you, Robert Frost. My current angst is that I am on the hunt for a date when the COVID-19 restrictions are over. I agree that is a ludicrous endeavor because this a pandemic. Yes, many things are opening up. But, it is not over. Nor can I see the finish line in sight. What is worse. I am not sure what the end point would even look like. One low-hanging fruit to indicate it might be over would be when the New Hampshire governor lifts the state of emergency. I feel like I am galloping off on a Monty Python quest. After a series of meetings, and a busy dance card for the day, it ended with good news. The 11-day Gaza rocket war is over,

Enough, let’s laugh.

Did You Know?

Yogi Berra said, "If I ever found a million dollars, I'd give it back to the guy if he was poor."  He also said "I never said half the things I really said."

Kentucky was the birthplace of two presidents who served at the same time - Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Kentucky's state motto - adopted in 1792 - is "United We Stand; Divided We Fall.” (Lincoln was president of the United States, Davis was elected president of The Confederate States.)

The first recipient of social security old age benefits was Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vt. Her benefit was $22.54 per month.  The date was January 31, 1940.

Regular Humor

Knock! Knock! Who's there? Art. Art who? R2-D2, of course.

Where did you get that gold watch? I won it in a race. How many people participated in the race? Three: a policeman, the owner of the watch, and me!

One windmill asked another: "What's your favorite music? The other one replied, "I'm a big metal fan."

Why did the M&M go to school? He wanted to be a Smartie.

What did one traffic light say to the other? Stop looking at me, I'm changing!

Why do French people eat snails? They don't like fast food!

How does a rabbi make coffee? Hebrews it!

COVID Humor

Sure, having a child and starting a family is something that most people look forward to in life. But if you are stuck in a house, would you rather have a glass of wine or a whining baby?

There has never been a better time to track down that person who has been avoiding you because they owe you $20 from a drunken bet.

Has anyone checked on the pigeons lately? While we are all locked up at home, these poor pigeons are out there left alone without anyone tossing bread crumbs their way.