In February, my husband Jamie died of bladder cancer. Covid made everything harder. But guns?
Yes, guns. During Jamie’s treatment, armed security guards wearing bullet proof vests supervised my comings and goings from the hospital. Generally, one hospital employee used a computer to screen and identify visitors. The process had glitches, so sometimes a line backed up. Usually, I was admitted within five or ten minutes. Generally, there were a few additional people working at the desk, often wearing name badges suggesting they were there to help, but, without computer access, they could only handle very general questions. Three or more armed guards watched. I don’t remember use of a metal detector. My bags weren’t searched.
When I expressed surprise about the “armed camp” feel of the hospital entrances, I was told “something” had happened, and security had been increased. A brief Google search turned up the headline “Hospital Worker Armed With AR-15 Rifle Kills Co-Worker, Shoots 2 Cops”. The date was three months prior.
I wondered about the security guards. They weren’t police officers, whom I saw in the hospital only occasionally. They must have been hospital employees, or staff from professional security companies. I wondered about their training and experience. Some looked very young, but almost everyone looks young to me.
Security was much more stringent at the Emergency Department, which I haunted for three long days while my husband was waiting for a hospital bed. I was not permitted to see him. The closest I could get was the Emergency Department lobby, accessed through a checkpoint with “airport” type security, including metal detectors and x-ray equipment. And three or four or five watchful, heavily armed guards. I couldn’t fault their watchfulness. The atmosphere was grim. People were sick, some in pain, and some looked desperate.
So.. guns. Lots of guns. Entering the hospital, I resolutely ignored the obvious possibility that something could trigger violence, that I could get caught in crossfire without a moments warning. I’m good at ignoring what I can’t fix.
For a month, my husband was in and out of the hospital. I visited daily. Then the gun issue got personal. On the cancer floor, a family member may stay overnight with a patient, and I asked for that privilege, filling out some paperwork. I thought it was approved. I wore a sweatsuit and brought my toothbrush. My husband’s cancer had been declared untreatable, and I wanted all the time with him I could arrange.
At 9:30 pm, I was told to leave. I protested that I had no car and no place to go. I said I had permission to stay, but was told the paperwork hadn’t been signed, and could not be signed at night. Did they plan to put me out in the February cold? I got stubborn, and politely told them I wasn’t leaving unless security escorted me out. I didn’t mention the guns, but that was the point. I’ll leave at gunpoint. (Pardon the drama.) I organized my backpack, coat, hat, gloves and tried to explain to my husband that I wanted to stay but maybe I couldn’t. He was so sick I don’t know if he understood at all.
I heard voices in the corridor. Security? Some discussion. A single person entered the room and identified himself as a doctor. He told me I had to leave. We talked. Without comment, he changed his mind. He asked about my husband, his prognosis, his treatment. He offered advice, both practical and personal. He helped me arrange the chair for sleep, and he wished me well. (I hope he lives forever.)
And now, many weeks later, as gun violence breaks American hearts once again, I think about how differently that winter night could have ended. Of course, I most likely would have left quietly and walked safely enough to a familiar, overpriced hotel. I might have been able to call a friend. The odds were that I would manage to stay safe.
But I know very well that you don’t always get the “reasonable” odds. Sometimes you get the “worst case”.
What if a guard had entered the room, instead a doctor? What if (in my fatigue and distress) I had argued? What if I panicked? Shouted? What if the guard was having a bad night or hated bossy old women or hadn’t been well trained in escorting uncooperative old people to the exit? If someone had laid hands on me, might I have fought?
What if I hadn’t been white and old and looked grandmotherly and spoken good English?
There were so many ways the situation could have ended badly.
Think about it… a hospital is a place where everyone is under severe stress. Everyone. Adding more guns to make the place safer is both logical and illogical. Let’s just say it is not optimal. The healthcare system has terrible problems (understatement), most of which aren’t improved by lethal weaponry.
When I tell people about this incident, I can make it sound funny. I can joke about playing the “helpless old lady” card. But it was dangerous. I’m now even more afraid of guns. I’m afraid in places that need to be kept safe with guns. I’m afraid of people who think they can only be safe carrying a gun.
And now, I’m afraid of supermarkets. Citizens of Buffalo, survivors of the Tops murders, I am so sorry for what you have suffered.
Originally written May 19, 2022
On September 11, I took a picture of the contents of my pockets. Three items. A mask. A rubber glove. Crumpled tissues. This sums up my experience of the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
THE MASK: Covid is surging again. The joyous “breakout summer” we hoped for turned into one visit (from my sons) and two road trips (MI and VT) for me. All good. I’ve started testing occasionally. I wear a mask for any indoor activity that might include an unvaccinated person or someone who is particularly vulnerable. I worry about “breakthrough” infection.
9/11 cost us about 3000 lives. The number of lives lost to Covid is so high. We lost 671 people this year on 9/11. Our Covid total is approaching one million, if you factor in some uncounted deaths, like those of people who postponed medical care. The official death toll is about 700,000. We’re numb from loss.
THE GLOVE: Early in the Covid shutdown, we wore rubber gloves because we feared contact infection. That turned out not to be a big problem. I now have a small gash on my thumb from carelessness in the kitchen. I’ve got a huge supply of gloves from earlier. I protect my hands from dishwater, dirt, etc. This is about getting old. The skin on my hands is easily nicked. I’m grateful that I can use rubber gloves whenever I want.
THE KLEENEX: I’ve been weepy. I listened to the Verdi Requiem live streamed from the Metropolitan Opera House on Saturday evening. The wrath of God. The pictures of the 9/11 memorial, with the lights on. The names of those who died. A woman’s name followed by “and her unborn child”. I cried. I just learned of another (non Covid) death, my good friend’s aunt, last of her generation. Funeral preparations. Covid interrupted our patterns of grief and commemoration, but I think this recent death will be ritually marked according to the traditions of the family.
So that was my 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001.
When I last wrote about Peace Pilgrim (May 15, 2017), it was in recognition of her election to the NJ Hall of Fame.
The (largely unrecognized) subtext to the Peace Pilgrim story is the vital role of her younger sister, Helene Young. Peace Pilgrim (Mildred) took to the road and (unintentionally) achieved considerable recognition. Helene stayed home, providing a private, safe haven for Peace Pilgrim, handling her correspondence and (with help from her husband Eugene Young) carefully documenting her sister’s extensive travel and heartfelt message of inner peace.
Peace Pilgrim died in 1981 at age 72. Helene lived to be 105, 32 years older! Those years brought challenges and many losses. After Peace Pilgrim’s shocking death in 1981, Helene lost her beloved husband Eugene, her daughter Jeanne Fisher, and I don’t know how many other family members and friends.
It was my very good fortune to know Helene during her last quarter century. She loved music. We attended concerts at Stockton University. I took her to see a Stockton performance of Messiah at a casino in Atlantic City. The walk from the parking ramp to the auditorium was ridiculously long – across a “sky walk” from the garage, through long corridors and across the casino floor. The “average” 90+ year old might have faltered, but not Helene.
Helene came to parties at my house, once sitting down at the piano and playing exuberantly. I went to a “Friends of Peace Pilgrim” potluck at her home, with a funny consequence. I had cooked a vegetarian casserole which included nuts, seeds and raisins… very popular! I left the excess behind for Helene. Unfortunately, returning to my kitchen, I realized that one ingredient had been infested with meal moths, including their ugly little worm-like larvae! Ack! Completely harmless, but gross… I felt duty bound to tell Helene. “Throw out the leftovers! So sorry!” She took the news with total calm. We discussed her problems with keeping a clean kitchen when legally blind, and her worries that she might once have put moldy bird food into her feeders. A conversation unique in my experience!
I shared Helene’s enjoyment of bicycling. She went out in colder weather than I could tolerate. I would encounter her at the cemetery where her sister was buried, and in Cologne. Eventually, she was so blind she couldn’t recognize me across the street, but she saw well enough, with her gaze on the shoulder, to pedal around the familiar streets safely.
During one of my last visits, in the midst of a discussion of our common German heritage, we burst into song! “Du, du, liebst mir im Hertzen…” Old German “oompah” music, possibly a drinking song. Helene loved to talk about her childhood in Egg Harbor City. I think she spoke German before she entered school.
Covid struck when Helene was 104, so our relationship was reduced to phone calls.
Helene’s interest in books, people and events did not wane. In September of 2020, she told me she wanted to live to see Donald Trump out of the White House and the Covid pandemic defeated. I regret that she witnessed the terrible events of January 6, 2021. She spent her last months carefully quarantined by her loving family and died quietly of old age (not Covid) on January 14, 2021. Rest in peace, Helene!
PS: Recently, I’ve been party to discussions about death. Americans “don’t like to talk about death” and use a variety of euphemisms for the word. During her last three years (at least), Helene looked death in the eye, calmly. She discussed death freely, especially after she got hurt and was unable to continue her bicycle outings. She bought a dress to be buried in. She spoke of death as “turning up my toes”.
So many people are mourning. The US Covid death toll on January 12 was 4,406. One day. So much loss and grief.
Guests of My Life was published in 1979 by Celo Press (168 pages). Elizabeth Watson wrote it after her 23 year old daughter died in a car crash. It consists of essays about how six different authors helped her to grieve and heal.
The first author is Emily Dickenson. The last is Walt Whitman.
This may sound like a dismal book, but it’s not, and in fact it’s a good gift for those who are grief stricken.
Guests of My Life is out of print, but used copies are available on Amazon.
My family has long celebrated Christmas on Black Friday. Sometimes, Thanksgiving is the only holiday when we can get together. We were sorry to cancel this year’s gathering (WAY too much travel for Covid), but decided to use Zoom for our Secret Santa gift exchange. I collected requests. Only one person took the “Surprise me” option. About half actually named a book, and the rest indicated author or genre. EVERYONE gave me their requests promptly, and only one book failed to arrive on time! Success!
|The 7.5 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton|
|The Jakarta Method by Vincent Bevins|
|Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury|
|John Dies at the End, This Book is Full of Spiders & What the Hell Did I Just Read? by D Wong|
|Casino Royale by Ian Flemming|
|To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini|
|Democracy in Exile by Daniel Bessner|
|Max’s Words by Kate Banks|
|The Crayons Christmas by Drew Daywait|
|Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel|
|Spying on the South by Tony Horowitz|
|About Face by David Hackworth|
|Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson|
|Nothing to See Here by Keith Wilson|
|Serpentine by Philip Pullman, book|
|The Everything Kids’ Baseball Book, 11th edition|
|The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams|
|Houseplants and Hot Sauce by Sally Nixon|
|Blacktop Wasteland by S Cosby|
|Magdalena: River of Dreams by Wade Davis|
|All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny|
|Legendborn by Tracy Deonn|
|Art Quilt Collage by Deborah Boschert|
|ALSO MENTIONED – books and authors|
|The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey|
|Domenica de Rosa|
|Collected poems Countee Cullen|
|Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici|
|Into the Wild (Warriors Book 1) by Erin Hunter|
|The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey|
|Collage Quilter by Emily Taylor|
|Into the Silence by Wade Davis|
My attention span is short these days, so I’ve decided to review articles instead of books. The November/December (2019) issue of Sierra magazine was a special issue examining:
- the changing climate
This article about (potential) parenthood caught my eye. Katie O’Reilly writes as adventure and lifestyle editor for Sierra magazine. She was born in the mid 1980s and is now just about the same age as I was when my older son was born.
When she confided her doubts about parenthood to her mother, O’Reilly was informed that HER own conception might have been derailed if her mother had become obsessive about the threat of nuclear annihilation, which was receiving attention from SANE and the Nuclear Freeze movement at that time. I remember! A movie called “The Day After” (about the impact of nuclear war) was released in November of 1983. Activist friends of mine were busy organizing watch parties. Newly pregnant, I just couldn’t deal with it. I stayed home, eyeing my TV as if it could turn itself on and inflict the movie on me.
O’Reilly brought my attention to BirthStrike, an organization for people uncertain about or opposed to parenthood, based on the future livability of planet earth. Governments, in particular, need to listen, as they have had little success in convincing people to have babies.
I also learned about a new psychological counseling specialty, called “baby decision CLARITY counseling”, which O’Reilly undertakes. She does not, in this article, announce a decision, but it sounds like she is leaning towards parenthood.
“ ‘Existential suicide’ may sound dramatic, but letting the climate dictate decisions about my uterus increasingly feels like a sign that I’ve acclimated to a dreary future, that I’ve stopped trying…” In her conclusion, she states “I’m looking forward to help my own hypothetical kid make the most of their time on the beautiful, ephemeral Earth they’ve inherited – whatever it happens to look like.”
Now, I wonder how women like O’Reilly will make decisions about pregnancy in the time of Covid plus (in America) racial turmoil. I’ve been (distant) witness to the arrival of a handful of babies since Covid struck. All, thank goodness, healthy and safe. One part of me wants to shriek “Don’t do it!” to anyone contemplating pregnancy, but I know that children have always been born in bad times, and no one is guaranteed peace and security. But here we are, with no way to know if “the worst” is over. I wonder how the “clarity counselor” has adjusted her practice. Who am I, a woman who gave birth in 1984 (of all years!) to offer an opinion!?
My concentration was greatly impaired by the onset of the Corona pandemic, so I didn’t charge through these books as fast as I normally would. But they were great fun and provided the distraction I needed. Phrynne Fisher is entertaining, and Greenwood has assembled a robust collection of supporting characters.
Greenwood is an Australian author with a law degree and thirty or more books to her credit, of which I have read half a dozen. Recurring themes are feminism and social justice. In Unnatural Habits, Greenwood takes on the Catholic church. Unlike most writers in the mystery genre, her books include bibliographies, which is good because some plotlines strain credulity, and it’s worthwhile to learn what stimulated Greenwood’s imagination.
Unnatural Habits also includes an Afterword, in which she describes her uncanny personal experience in a convent she used as a setting. On its grounds, “…I walked into the most dreadful concentrated suicidal despair I have ever felt. Someone had stood at that window and really wanted to die. I ran.” How many authors share something like THAT?! Out of curiosity, I Googled Abbotsford Convent, now a conference/cultural center. It looks decidedly unhaunted, and is sorrowfully announcing temporary closure due to Corona virus. But where are the nuns? Not a habit in sight!
Ms Greenwood also writes Young Adult novels and science fiction. I’ll give them a try.