Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘pandemic

Speed Perception

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Did the year 2020 feel like it took a long time to transpire? Does it seem surprising that we are past the middle of March already? We all know that time passes slowly or quickly depending on how we consider it, despite the fact it ticks off at the same rate no matter what. It’s our perception that changes.

On my commutes, I find myself surprised by how easy it is to spot a car ahead that is traveling significantly slower than the rest of the traffic. It comes in handy for making lane changes well in advance of needing so to do. Spotting vehicles in my mirrors that are traveling much faster than I am usually provides a lot less time to react.

It is common knowledge that water takes longer to boil if you watch and wait for it to happen.

How fast is the impact of rising greenhouse gases on the earth’s climate? It is occurring right in front of our eyes. We are living it. The thing is, I remember hearing about this threat decades ago from explorer Will Steger‘s first-hand eyewitness accounts of changes in both polar regions of our planet. We know the ice is melting. We know weather events keep getting more intense.

Will climate change take longer to happen because we are watching it? I wish.

Yesterday, I had a meal inside a restaurant for the first time in a year. That was a long time in coming. So long that it exceeded my ability to perceive whether it felt like a long time, or not. It just felt strange.

Let’s hope we are racing at breakneck speed toward a post-pandemic world that includes less poverty, more equality, zero emissions, greater social justice, the end of food insecurities/homelessness/violence/hatred, and reaches record levels of love beaming throughout the world.

That’s something I’d really like to see coming up in my rearview mirror faster than I expected.

I wouldn’t need to get out of the way.

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Written by johnwhays

March 18, 2021 at 6:00 am

Conflicting Thoughts

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There’s a battle raging in the available space of my brain between the wonderful goodness all around us and the repeated failings of improvement where the needs are well known. We just heard an update on progress to vaccinate for COVID-19 that lamented the low percentage of the neediest people receiving shots, despite the advanced knowledge that this should be the priority. Even when there is broad public awareness of the need to get the first vaccinations to the communities most impacted by the virus, insufficient effort to make this come about leaves things to play out as usual with the advantage going to people of privilege.

It is a lot easier to talk about what “should” happen than it is to actually enact the changes needed to achieve high ideals.

Sounds a little like the way things always go in our governmental system. Two-party politics for passing legislation advancing the lofty goals of a nation results in a lot of sounding off but very little in the way of bringing lasting positive change. Progress is slow for the poor and disenfranchised citizens of our country.

We have passed the 1-year milestone since the pandemic took over all of our lives and Cyndie and I have thus far dodged illness. Others we know have not been so lucky, including some who are currently suffering symptoms. We are sending love to those of you experiencing the virus first-hand.

News reports announcing crazy-high numbers of small earthquakes in Iceland, combined with several other notable recent quakes around the planet suggest something big is about to go boom. It’s a strange threat to contemplate from our relatively stable geographic landscape.

A strong spring melt is underway at Wintervale and the chickens are thrilled over the ever-expanding “tillable” terrain becoming exposed again.

The south-facing slopes are free of snow but the rest of the forest is still covered like the surfaces of an old-fashioned freezer. Walking the trails is a fascinating demonstration of how much chill emanates from the icy carpet below.

Delilah loves to pause and rub her face in the snow-cone texture. Her head was all wet at the end of a walk yesterday from rolling in the slushy snow.

It’s incredibly calm and soothingly optimistic with the promise of spring unfurling right before our eyes. The animals all seem giddy and I guess that is contagious.

It’s a welcome contrast to the more unsettling thoughts looming.

Here’s to visions of the days ahead when COVID sufferers can come walk our trails, breathe the health of our forest air, and hang out with our chickens for a while.

We’ll send you home with fresh free-range eggs.

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Written by johnwhays

March 6, 2021 at 10:28 am

Everything Fatigue

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I can totally relate to the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engine suffering metal fatigue last weekend. I’m feeling a bit of everything fatigue lately, although, I do my best to avoid raining debris all over people around me, unlike that airplane in Denver Saturday.

I’m clinging to my thread of sanity with a weary, wavering grip. There is a climate calamity unraveling right in front of our eyes that appears to deserve a lot more change to our ways of life than the slow-responding societies around the globe are revealing any willingness to undertake. Communities are burning, flooding, freezing, suffering drought, or reaching intolerably high temperatures –sometimes experiencing an unlikely combination of the extremes– but I still climb in my gas-powered car and drive an hour to work like always.

It just feels wrong.

It also feels dangerous. Yesterday morning, I had a close encounter that used up some of my limited luck on avoiding a collision on the interstate. I commonly operate in cruise control mode with my car holding the speed and distance related to the vehicle in front of me. A business panel van passed me on the left and then slowed down entering a curve in the highway. My car maintained the cruise speed and caught right up beside the van in the turn as it slowed, at which point he decided to move into my lane.

I hit the brakes and swerved as little as possible, having no time to look to the lane to my right for clearance. My lunch tote on the front seat instantly relocated to the floor below.

It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to honk my horn to alert the other driver to my position. I suspect the assumption was that I had been passed and was no longer a concern. It wouldn’t surprise me if the other driver wasn’t even aware of having slowed at the curve.

The event provided me an unwelcome shot of adrenaline and triggered visions of a fate I flirt with two times a day, four days a week. Haunted by a belief that anything can go dangerously wrong at any time when commuting in traffic, I’m feeling the fatigue of having tolerated the risks of this trip for too many years.

I’m fatigued with the pandemic, its death toll, and everything related to coping with the ever-present threat of spreading the virus.

I’m even growing fatigued with our latest jigsaw puzzle. We picked one with way too much solid black background that is cut entirely of one primary classic puzzle piece shape: four arms, a knob on each end, two cutouts on each side. The only variation is the size and shape of each of those features.

It is very possible I will give myself permission to give up before placing every piece. That just depends on whether searching for the barely perceptible features of each completely black piece distracts me from the other angsts nibbling at me and releases the blessed endorphins when I stumble upon ones that fit.

Endorphins do wonders for fatigue.

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Rare Interaction

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We interacted in a social way with other humans yesterday! Late February 2021. A milestone. Duly masked for appropriate social behavior in a pandemic, we hosted our friends, Barb and Mike Wilkus to share an appetizer, visit the chickens, and then travel to Pepin for a snowshoe hiking event at YMCA’s Camp Pepin. Afterward, we returned to our house for a light dinner, dessert by the fire, a little banter, and …blink, blink… the night was over.

There will never be enough time to catch up on the year of social interaction we have lost since the pandemic swept the world.

Hanging with friends will never feel fully satisfying until masking is no longer standard procedure.

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Despite the limitations, we happily absorbed every second of the gift of friends who love the outdoors and are up for adventures. Camp Pepin was decked out with ice lanterns along a groomed trail and campfires aglow in the woods for an open house event intended to rejuvenate interest in camp activities that the virus outbreak has squelched.

As the dusk of the hour consumed us, we came upon a familiar scene of a deer carcass that had certainly fed a variety of wildlife.

 Looked strikingly similar to the one we found in our woods, antlers, and all.

The weather was perfectly comfortable for winter activity and the treasure of enjoying it with precious friends was a wonderful treat.

It sparks a glimmer of hope for visions of increased opportunities on the horizon in the months ahead. Do we dare begin to make plans again for renewing our old level of interactions with other people as vaccinations reach a greater majority?

That will be one step toward making it happen. Let’s all start making plans now for as normal a summer as possible to help galvanize the future reality we want to happen.

I am emphatically hoping it can play out sans masks.

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Written by johnwhays

February 21, 2021 at 11:29 am

Project Endorphins

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During the winter, I like to assemble jigsaw puzzles. With the pandemic forcing us to stay home, I have more opportunities to puzzle. Now that Cyndie has developed a new interest in puzzling, I am all the more enticed to feed the passion.

But I am torn. I have another project that is competing for my attention at the same time. I’ve started another wood sculpture out of a section of one of our ash trees that was cut down last year.

Last night, it occurred to me that working on shaping the wood gives me the same mental rewards as putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It’s tactile. It involves transforming something into a visually appealing end result.

If you have seen the Pixar/Disney computer-animated comedy-drama film, “Soul,” you will understand the euphoric trance of being “in the zone” of our passions.

Working to shape the wood with rough grit sandpaper, I felt the familiar euphoria of pleasing progress that was just like the reward I get from puzzling.

It’s also a lot like devouring a good book. You don’t want to put it down. You are willing to sacrifice sleep to continue progress. When you are away from [the book/puzzle/sculpting], all you want is to get back to it as soon as possible.

You want more of those project endorphins.

I want more of those project endorphins. Who has time to eat? How am I supposed to go to work?

I want more time to be in that euphoric zone.

For both projects.

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Written by johnwhays

February 2, 2021 at 7:00 am

Never Over

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When I looked last night, the COVID-19 death toll for the U.S. was beyond 450,000. Multiply each individual death by the number of people who loved them and the total is easily beyond two million.

While I pine for the day when we can look back and realize this pandemic is officially behind us, the harsh reality remains that for all who will have lost a loved one to the disease, it will never be over.

This moves my impatience to a much more humbled perspective.

To everyone coping with the permanent loss of a person to the virus, I pause to contemplate your grief and lift up my heartfelt love as a soothing balm for your pain.

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Written by johnwhays

February 1, 2021 at 7:00 am

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Humorless Grind

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Here’s the thing. Given a choice between being serious or having a laugh, I choose the laugh every time. Unfortunately, a year into a deadly pandemic, I’m finding it harder and harder to encounter the amount of funny that I prefer in a typical day.

I suppose part of it is a natural result of Cyndie and me shutting ourselves in at home weekend after weekend. Laughing at ourselves gets a little old after a while when that’s the only humor we are finding. I should probably scour our bookshelves for something written by Dave Barry or my anthologies of Berkeley Breathed’s “Bloom County” comics.

Despite some people’s best efforts, jokes about facemasks or social distancing don’t quite satisfy. Any humor about the good old days “BP” (Before Pandemic) just tend to make me sad.

We were watching a movie over the weekend that included a scene in which someone made a wish and blew out the candles on their birthday cake and it made us cringe and yell at the screen to tell them to throw away the cake.

I got a little chuckle last night when Cyndie set down an open soft-cover book with the pages down and Pequenita became obsessed with pawing at the glossy cover like she was trying to move all of her kitty-litter completely out of the box.

Even when we find something funny and surprise ourselves by laughing to tears over it when it didn’t really deserve that extreme, the pall of pandemic misery is still stuck on everything like an oily film.

Making it through a full year of pandemic restrictions should be its own reward and the “light at the end of the tunnel” vaccine distribution is supposed to be fueling hope, but the stark reality of many months more of it all still ahead of us is quick to extinguish the best of laughs.

You’d think I might appreciate getting tickled by my face mask, but it just triggers sneezing and then I get the sniffles.

I don’t find sniffling to be very funny.

I’m pretty sure I know what’s really bugging me. My friends make me laugh and socializing has long been discouraged. Wisecracking banter loses all its charm through the clumsy video-chat apps. Makes me just want to put on my best mittens, cross my arms and legs, and slouch back curmudgeonly in my chair, I tell ya.

News reports are announcing that SNL is returning from their holiday hiatus this coming weekend with the first new show of 2021 being hosted by John Krasinski. Something to look forward to.

All I have to do is survive the humorless grind of reported new cases and more deaths for another five days.

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Written by johnwhays

January 26, 2021 at 7:00 am

Virtual Hugs

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Flip the calendar. It’s another year. And here I sit, isolated from all but my wife. This doesn’t feel any different than the year that ended two days ago. Our cat, Pequenita just gave out a yowl of objection from the other room and Cyndie immediately responded with an admonishment to Delilah, sight unseen.

Once again, the dog was trying to play with the cat in the manner that dogs like playing. Pequenita has not once shown the least bit of interest in playing like dogs, including this morning. I wonder if I can teach Delilah to give virtual hugs.

Stuck in continued isolation for the unknown future, I am feeling inclined toward practicing increased focus on nurturing my metaphysical energies to travel the universe so I can mingle with the essences of all those whose vibrations resonate with mine. My heart loves others and I want to send that out in a virtual hug of your energies, all over the world.

But that is not all. I also want to send that love to those whose vibrations don’t resonate with mine. Like it or not, you just might get hugged.

Like the arms of my favorite tree, the reach is up and out in every direction, branching out in too many separate forks and arms to count.

We are all connected. Our thoughts and energies infectious. I don’t know if my love and wishes for peaceful feelings hold the power to eliminate anxieties and emotional pain in others, but maybe they can give a moment of pause. Provide a window of opportunity to choose a preferred alternative.

This may sound all too sanctimoniously philanthropic, but consider the possibility that there is a fair amount of selfish interest in my intentions.

I am seeking this path as a way of helping myself evade a tendency for doom and gloom. I don’t suffer so much from anxieties, but I tend toward a despondency of disheartened hopelessness.

I strive to love others as a means of avoiding a slide into my self-centered depression.

It’s what I can do from wherever I am, whenever I need. It’s choosing to make the world a better place no matter what virus or corruption or neglect is wreaking havoc at the time. It’s allowing myself to be happy in the face of misery.

In that, I see this as a win-win situation. Loving you helps me.

<virtually hugging you right now>

May you feel peace into this new year. May dogs and cats find a way to love each other, at a comfortable distance.

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Allowing Happiness

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We did it! We have arrived at the last day of 2020, bowing respectively for the sad number of others for whom the year would become their last.

There you have it, right there in the opening lines, my perpetual dilemma. It is time to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, but how can we celebrate in the depths of this disastrous pandemic? How did the people of downtown Nashville celebrate Christmas when the morning dawned with a terrorizing suicide bombing?

It’s not easy. But I’ve come to value the challenge of allowing for happiness amid a world of sorrow. Doing so is more worthy than the alternative of not cultivating joy simply because of all the things that continue to be wrong in the world.

I weep for those who are in pain, poverty-stricken, devoid of love, homeless, country-less, hungry, lost, forsaken, oppressed, unjustly imprisoned, or ill of health. Would that there comes a time when all people are free of the worst of possible situations.

It is reality that for every grand success of accomplishment worthy of celebration throughout history, someone, somewhere, was simultaneously suffering. For far too long in my life, I couldn’t reconcile the complicated mental gymnastics of untangling the two opposite realities that coexisted.

It has taken me a lot of practice to reach a place where I feel okay about allowing myself to be happy in the midst of an unhappy world. I don’t have any concise trick to offer toward how I achieve this milestone. I would say the primary factor is probably my developing a tenacity to repeatedly remind myself I am allowed to feel happy. Our happiness doesn’t automatically devalue the sorrow of others.

Maybe there is a trick. I would say it has to do with love. There I go again about loving others. If I am cultivating love for all people, my joy is not callously disregarding others who are hurting. I can feel their pain while experiencing my happiness. We are complex organisms, able to do more than one thing at a time.

We can celebrate the end of a difficult year, feel joy for our blessings, revel in the mysterious greatness of the universe, bask in the love of family and friends, and spread love to those who aren’t feeling it.

Bring on the new year. May it provide oodles and oodles more happiness for all!

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Written by johnwhays

December 31, 2020 at 7:00 am

Isolated Festively

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Over a holiday weekend that historically would have us venturing sixty-some miles to the west three times in two days to mingle and nosh with Cyndie’s relations, the Christmas of 2020 in all its pandemic isolation reduced our travels to one time to exchange gifts at her mom’s house. Distanced, masked, and without risking a shared meal, our children met us at Marie’s house in Edina on Christmas eve day for the briefest of gift exchanges.

Little did we realize before setting out in the moments after our township road had finally been plowed around 11:00 a.m., we were in for some of the riskiest driving we’d experienced in recent memory. From local roads to the interstate highways, the surface was frozen and slippery. Almost every mile, sometimes more frequently, we spotted vehicles buried in the ditch.

Approaching a speed that would require the use of brakes in order to slow down was taking chances that threatened an unwelcome hell of post-storm autobody appointments, not to mention bumps and bruises, or worse.

Every overhead message board flashed warnings of crash delays ahead. As we waited in one backup, a full-size fire engine forced its way ahead and crossed all lanes to block the two left-most. We crawled ahead to where the sight of a big rig was perched on the cement barrier dividing east and westbound traffic, front tires high off the ground.

Later, another backup wrapped around a helpless pickup in a center lane, lacking enough traction to make any progress up the slight incline.

Cyndie’s expertly cautious driving got us there and back without incident.

Back home with presents in hand, we settled in for three days of isolation that Cyndie masterfully enhanced with wonderfully festive meals and activities, while simultaneously continuing to practice post-surgery regiments for her knee.

We ate like royalty and dined on some of her family holiday classics. Beef tenderloin with horseradish sauce, marinated carrots, out-of-this-world skin-on mashed red potatoes, and dessert of unparalleled greatness, cranberry cake with butter-caramel sauce.

We sat around the fireplace and worked on a new jigsaw puzzle from Marie that depicted chickens that looked just like ours. Cyndie poured herself into new books and I spent renewed time in my world-wide online community, catching up on reading and writing there.

A text-chain of family members helped us to stay connected, but there was no getting around the fact we were home alone together at one of the most family-gathering times of the year.

Somehow, maybe due to an urge to make it feel anything but just another day at home, Cyndie took interest in assembling the jigsaw puzzle with me, something in which she usually finds no pleasure. I chose to match her change in routine by deciding to skip building the outer border first, a step that moved me entirely out of my otherwise rigid norm.

We had a blast with the task, each finding great pleasure in the shared experience.

Quite simply, it helped to make the entire weekend feel downright festive, isolation be damned.

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