Thoughts on the George Floyd protests

I was at work the last couple of days, working at the bedsides of neonatal intensive care patients (NICU); busy, distracted, getting home late and tired. Still the news came in. Our city, Denver, was burning in protests over George Floyd and the pent up rage over racism and police brutality.

The nurses, our parents, our colleagues, as in times past when horrific things happen, are unable to slow down and process because we are in the midst of our own medical story. Babies don’t stop being born in crisis, pandemics, civil rights violations, shootings. They are born and some of them are sick. We are responding, working, saving lives in the hospitals, night and day. I was eating lunch on a busy shift when the Sandy Hook story broke and I watched it with my colleagues in the break room. I remember how heavy and sad I felt as I went back to work, but I had to put it behind me, in a corner of my mind to save the lives in front of me. Still, the chatter of the protests about our country was in every room the last few days, among the staff and with the parents.

I thought of this when I was sitting on my front porch today with a cup of coffee listening to the still morning and looking at the bright blue sky and clouds floating by, with my cat jumping into my lap for a rub. I thought of the complexity and unity of our world as another shift works in my unit saving lives and I am now having a leisurely moment to reflect, take in and process what’s been happening the last few days.

I thought about how we are a collective consciousness. All throughout this nation there is a sense of communal unease. I have felt this through COVID with the world trying to communally make sense of what was happening. There is a communal and collective consciousness but a complexity of reactions individually. As we discussed the events at work, you could see each of us struggling to put the situation in context, not offend anyone, and meaningfully grasp the impact of the unfolding story.

I cannot fully understand the catalyst that has prompted the violence. I am not sure who it is coming from. I don’t know who is responsible for the burnings, vandalisms, the guns fired in our downtown. There seem to be so many pieces of evidence which I cannot truly put together. I guess I’m not convinced that the violence is being perpetuated by true protestors. But maybe it is a systemic rage that has built over the years? Or is it people using this as an excuse to behave badly? Is it the radical right, anti-government, gun loving folks going under cover to cause dissension? Or maybe it is a combination of things and people causing violence.  I don’t know. It’s hard to know how to feel as I support the protests and voices that need to be heard, but do not support the vandalism to businesses, the gun violence, the damage to property.

I know for certain that we have an entrenched culture of racism, disparity, and police power in the US. I lived in the south, in Houston, TX for several years in my twenties.  I know what I heard and saw. I saw and heard racism alive and well. We knew the power the police had and that it could go badly for you if you encountered a bad cop. I knew about a town called Vidor, TX where a black person should never stop as it was a hot-bed of Klu Klux Klan. I heard of an older man, through a close relative, who had boasted privately of murdering a black man in a neighboring state with friends in his youth. In Custer, South Dakota on vacation, behind a soup can I found a card by the KKK explaining how they really were the protectors of women and children and inviting membership. It was commonly known in Houston, that if you drove to New Orleans, there was a chance of being stopped by the police on the freeways in Louisiana and having drugs planted in your car and having your car seized. My sister was jailed overnight in a small Texas town on speeding charges by a power hungry cop who didn’t like the way she spoke to him. I heard a parent in the NICU in Houston, TX refer to nurse who was hispanic, in a derogatory term of race. These are only some of my own life experiences as a white woman, not a person of color. But based on them I extrapolate out and know with certainty that we have big problems here in the US. Most cops, and I know a few, are fantastic people, with a true desire to serve the public. But I know, because I know, because I know and any US citizen (and cop) if you’re being gut honest, knows that we have a history of police abuses, bad cops not weeded out, departments that are corrupt, police property seizures etc. There is also a strange conspiracy culture full of those who want to take the government by storm and collect all sorts of weapons and often live in the rural parts of our country; the off the grid kind, the ones who support buying military weapons and often are the white power sorts of people.  All of it is alarming.

It’s like a soup in my head, the problems this country faces. So many wonderful people; the majority of people. But I feel like there is a sort of sickness underneath it all. I’ve felt it as a woman. I know there is endemic discrimination towards woman, particularly in the conservative cultures.  I’ve heard it called “roles” in religious circles. Women are equal, the mantra goes, but we have unique “roles”.  Bullshit. This kind of thinking is why there are deep barriers to true female equality in the US.  Why haven’t we had a woman president yet? A part of me knows it is because the county doesn’t have enough people that would vote a woman in. That alone gives me, a woman, pause for thought.

It feels like we have a bully culture. People take what they want through money, power, selfish individualism, brainwashing, forceful ideology, extremism. The person with the loudest voice, the most power, the most money and the strongest tactics wins. That’s what Trump represents to me. The ability for a person lacking in character and virtue with a heavy load of vices to become President speaks volumes to me. No one is perfect, but on the scale of good to bad, Trump tips heavy on the bad. And yet, because he supports the agenda of certain groups, they are willing to overlook the burden of his vices; his baggage.

All of this, the soup of my country’s problems and the communal consciousness that exists here; I feel all of us wondering how this will play out. I myself wonder if good will win the day. If justice will prevail. If our country will continue down the road of the bully dominating, or will we find leadership that puts a value on equal and fair treatment for all people (the minority, the immigrant, the woman, the poor, the disadvantaged etc.) before power.

*RHINO district, Denver, CO*

 

Good things

The green and scents of spring

the water undaunted laughing at all things

damp and dewy the breeze sultry lingers

the fireflies have come back to play

the grass runs like a velvet cape down the hill towards the shore

the sunsets light the flowers faces as they lift them up to say goodnight

harbingers of hope, peace, beauty and all good things

are here once more

*Arvada, CO*

Thoughts on Aristotle’s Golden Mean

Aristotle’s idea of virtue is distilled from moderation, not excess. It’s been ruminating around in my brain for weeks now, and I drew a chart in my kitchen (the kids weren’t sure what to think, ha!). Ideas of how to set a course for living a meaningful and good life is one of the themes that permeates my life. There are many ways to do this, certainly religion offers some answers, humanism others, modeling from the behavior of others can also be effective. I do like Aristotle’s brain child of moderation though. It takes away the idea of right and wrong (I’m not saying that I advocate no right or wrong, because I do think there is inherently right and wrong). Instead, he suggests that there is wisdom in behavior that doesn’t smack of extremism in nature, either with a deficiency or excess.  Take pleasure, for example. There is nothing inherently right or wrong about pleasure. However living a life lacking pleasure, be it from too many rules, or not enjoying life through a kill-joy mentality or prudishness, in Aristotle’s theory, is just as unwise as the excess of pleasure as seen in over-eating, promiscuity, and general overindulgence in pleasure seeking behaviors.  Self esteem, again leaning on the same idea, can be deficient when one thinks too poorly of him or her self, with negative self thoughts and shame. An excess of self esteem would be seen as arrogance, pride, narcism, and vanity.  The golden mean of pleasure would be temperance and moderation. The golden mean of self esteem would be confidence and proper self love. Interesting thoughts, Aristotle!

To live a good life

I recently listened to a podcast on the great books of the world and how reading them can shape you for the better. I admit I have not read (many) of the greats. I read the Illiad, a little Plato and Aristotle and I’ve got an ancient Roman book, and a couple of history books from the Greeks. I find them hard to get through because they come from worlds so entirely different from mine. Also, women typically didn’t have a written voice, so most of them are from a man’s perspective. The nut of the show for me was how Aristotle explores what it means to have a good life (sorry, can’t remember the book). How he defines it. How it is really the same as many of us feel today. He defines a good life as the pursuit of happiness. But firstly, what is good? What is life? Those questions could take some time to explore. And dissecting happiness as well was an interesting topic. Happiness being defined as a deep, fulfilling joy brought about through living ethically, investing in relationships, having enough money to be able to focus on the latter, and the spinoff idea that yes, money helps us focus on those things, but the pursuit of money in and of itself can lead to a loss of happiness. Random thoughts that brought me a lot of pleasure thinking about and also a curiosity to explore the great books of all time!

*Charleston, SC 2019*

Influence

I wonder how the influence

of all the words I’ve read

loops around to the synapses in my mind

and shapes my thoughts and actions

all those writers who spoke into my life

some from thousands of years ago

some from today, literally

but even modern thoughts come often from far away

the buzz of thinking humanity in expression

reaching out to each other

teaching reflection and perspective

in different cultures, far different circumstances

change the way I view the world today

*my bookcase, Denver*

Spring

Even as the world weeps

the tragedies increase

my brothers and sisters in medicine give all they have with nothing left to give

there is the arm of my husband next to me lying on mine in the morning

my children sassy and laughing in the kitchen

the sunshine of spring with the freshness it brings

feels warm on my face and I can’t help but hope

 

*Salem, Oregon March 2020*

 

 

The best and the worst

I am pissed. I am elated. I am encouraged by humanity and I think people suck. This ride with a world pandemic has been the best and the worst of humanity in full view. Around my neighborhood in Stapleton, Denver there are signs on windows and front porches that say “We are going to be OK”, and “Standing together, we love you”. I have been given masks by two people who saw my request on a community facebook page which I gave to my hospital. I have other acquaintances who are making masks for healthcare workers (sewing them). I go to work and the nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists are afraid. We are afraid. We see it coming like a wall of water that hasn’t hit us yet. We are already running low on supplies and the worst hasn’t even happened. Rumors in the medical communities from Washington, California and New York, from our colleagues there, are telling us they are having to treat COVID-19 with a mask reused over and over and not enough gowns to go around, not enough ventilators, not enough staff. I saw a facebook post today that Kaiser in California directed nurses to stop wearing their own N-95 masks with COVID patients and threatened their jobs if they were found to be doing so. Those Kaiser nurses received guidelines downgrading protective standards and giving instructions on how to reuse eyewear and masks as they said the CDC said downgraded protection for droplet contamination (but CDC said the change was based on supply rather than science). To heavy hand nurses and pressure them into not protecting themselves is heartless and criminal in my mind. I know that we don’t have what we need in Denver for what is coming toward us. Our Governor Polis said the federal government basically told the governors good luck and find your own supplies. The World Health Organization has said the lockdown efforts are to be used to ramp up supplies, ventilators, figure out where all the patients are going to go. It’s a time to prepare. But from where I’m standing we aren’t going to be ready. I hope I’m wrong. But the people of my city, my neighborhood, my church, my incredible colleagues they give me hope and heart. There has been such goodwill and appreciation and help from the community toward each other, toward the healthcare community, toward the elderly. It reminds me of The Little Ships of Dunkirk, where 850 private boats sailed from England to Dunkirk in France in 1940 to rescue soldiers trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk during World War II. That’s what all the mask making and mask giving feels like to me. I have a friend/nurse at work who’s cousin is going to be testing patients for COVID. She was given one paper mask to reuse all day. The science says they don’t work after a few hours once they are soiled. I brought in a box of N-95 that one of my neighborhood Facebook friends had brought to my house. They were in her garage being used for woodworking. My friend asked if she could take one to her cousin who was worried she was not adequately protected. I said yes, and the rest of those masks are going to the ICU and ER. That little box in someone’s garage is going to protect people’s lives in the hospital. It is the best and the worst. Here’s hoping the best prevails.

*Stapleton, Denver March 2020*