April 2020—Life and Yom Hashoah in the time of Covid 19

These are not usual times— not only here, but world-wide.

First, I want to wish, with all my heart, that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.

Second, I publicly extend profound gratitude (no words enough) for the courage, dedication, skill and extraordinary commitment of our health care professionals and first responders, and all others who are risking their safety to help others. Forever, will we be grateful to you. May you stay safe and may this nightmare of coronavirus and its horrible death be over soon.

A sidebar: When my grandchild, Yudi, age 8, heard that I was sick—not from corona, but just an ‘ordinary’ sickness, he was very concerned and I tried to reassure him by telling him that I was taking medicine and I would feel better in a few days. He was not comforted but rather, he was very impatient, on my behalf: “No, that’s not good enough! I want you to be better right this minute!” I am thinking of his words now and can only echo his sense of urgency toward corona: Right this minute, go away! If only….

Everyone’s life has been upended and it is no different with mine. All my speeches (Yom Hashoah and others), conferences and all my travel (both professional and personal), everything has all been canceled or postponed.

[Note: See the Events/What’s Happening section for suggestions of how to commemorate Yom Hashoah observances this week. See also Learning/Education section for pedagogical suggestions during corona time].

We are all adjusting to this new life. Phrases like ’sheltering in place’ and ‘flattening the curve’ have become part of our daily vernacular. And the isolation we all feel —at least all of us WITHOUT young children at home, who probably wish they could imagine having even a few minutes of isolation!—the rest of us are struggling with the challenge of how to stay connected, though physical separation.

The lucky ones, and I certainly consider myself one of the lucky ones, have roofs over our heads, food in our refrigerator and more time than we ever had before.

How I use this time—sometimes productively, sometimes not—is a daily decision for me.

Maybe this will help:

Years ago, I interviewed Maggie Kuhn, Founder of the Gray Panthers, and her daily coping technique can help us today: Almost blind from macular degeneration, she was housebound, old and very frail when I met her. I asked how she stayed so upbeat engaged and positive.

Her answer was simple and direct:

“Every day, I plan something I can look forward to, and today, my dear, it is YOU!”

I never forgot her advice and to this day, I try to apply the “Maggie Principle.” Admittedly, during this ‘Groundhog Day’ existence we are living, it’s hard to make each day feel different from the one before, let alone ‘special’ and unique in some way. Torn between “the things I have to do” and Nature’s bounty around me, I have tried to balance each.

Getting ‘something done’ each day satisfies my ‘work ethic’ upbringing.
Walking in the park or planting something in my garden fuels my soul.

And reading. What joy it is to have luxurious time to read! People are sending me wonderful emails. There are certain friends who can be counted on for interesting articles and uplifting stories. There are others who supply endless jokes for much needed laughter. I am grateful for all of it.

I’d like to close by recommending three fiction books, because I think we could use a little escapism right now. These books not only help ‘escape’ the current reality, but they also help inform it as well.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Condemned, on pain of death during Bolshevik Revolution, to never leave the Metrolpol Hotel during his lifetime, Count Rostov’s resilience, humor and most of all, positive attitude, as he faces each challenge is, alone, worth the ‘price of admission.’ He is an unforgettable, inspiring, clever and engaging character, whom we would truly want to meet in real life!

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah. Set during WWII France, the lives of two (very different) French Protestant sisters highlight differing ways to survive—one tries to follow the rules, crazy and inhumane as they are, while the other fights the system with both foolhardiness and courage. It is a page turner to be sure. And don’t be surprise if you shed a tear or two.

The History of Love by Nicole Krause. This short book has perhaps affected me like no other. Contemporary and historical stories are interwoven, stories that seemingly have nothing to do with one another. I must admit that I was hooked from the opening paragraph. An old WWII survivor, who living alone in his crammed New York City apartment, every inch filled, imagines his future obituary, which will read: “Leo Gursky is survived by an apartment full of sh-t.” In truth, Leo Gursky is one of a kind, and to this day, I still use his home as extra motivation for me to keep emptying more things out of mine. Sadly, I still have a long way to go!

Although I had read all these books many years ago, I am struck by the lasting impact each one still has on me. Perhaps they will make your days and nights a bit better now too.

At least that is my wish.

Stay safe, be well and let these days of corona be over SOON!


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