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With gyms off-limits for the foreseeable future, like many if not most I’ve tried to find other ways to keep from putting on “The Covid 15”, which at my stage would only compound the peril in my defined risk grouping. Old and fat is not where it’s at! So I walk. But not like Madrieños who tend to amble along arm in arm at a pace that’s just a notch above standing still. My New York City roots take hold once I hit pavement and pounding it hard is in my blood. My bubble mates vary in their acceptance of my compulsion to turn something as relaxing as a stroll into a heart pounding, Apple Watch box ticking challenge. My son goes along, generally after dinner, when he and I head to El Retiro, a city park of unimaginable beauty, to walk its wonders and then sit and listen to our favorite Dixie Land Jazz band play. Watching couples of varying age, gender, shape and skill dance to the music only adds to the magic. But mornings I’m on my own and these days Podcasts are my most consistent companion. I’m a big fan of The Daily from the NYT but that’s only 20 odd minutes and my walk this morning was of the 2 hour genre.
Back when I was in SoCal and living in my car for hours at a time, NPR was a default and in particular, This American Life on Saturday mornings. For some reason this morning I searched out its podcast, hit play and my walk transitioned into journey across the chasm that right now separates my world from Detroit, and my life experience from Black and Brown people of that City.
The first acts are about the health care providers, Drs, Nurses, Technicians and support staff around the ICU and critical care units of Ford Hospital. The timing is present tense, not during the worst of it in the early Spring…and still even now, the pain, deep sadness, and cruelty of the disease that makes up the experience is unimaginable for those of us fortunate to be outside of it. What makes it so listenable is the demonstration of what the best of humanity can do in response…with attention, with care, with compassion and with love. Their stories make you proud to be a fellow human being so that you can claim to be related to them. Then there are stories of patients and their families and both have gloriously happy endings and offer glimmers of hope.
The last act, is a story about a man from East Detroit who lived his life to make a difference in his community by just being who he was…and who the morning after a “Pancakes with the Police” breakfast that he had helped to make happen came down with Covid. His story puts all of the pieces together in a way that in the shadow of the headlines from the diseases of Covid19 and racism make it all very real and very human.
I think so much of what seems so wrong with our responses to what is going on around us has to do with our privileged distance from it. We’re not sick, we’re not living in poverty or just above that line…We’re not black. The greater the distance between our own experience and those who are suffering, the more disconnected from the pain of it, the easier to either minimize, ignore or flat out deny its existence. An interviewer on CNN asked a young man in Texas why he wasn’t wearing a mask despite what the numbers were adding up to and his answer was “nobody I know has it”. When your zip code has more to do with projecting your life expectancy than your genetic coding maybe you can start to understand the concept of privilege a bit more clearly.
I was fortunate to have parents, teachers and mentors in my life that helped me to understand that everything about our lives is a gift. We didn’t choose to be born, to whom, where and when…I look at the fortunate combination of all of those things that have framed my life and it makes me feel incredibly lucky, grateful and sometimes appropriately guilty. So what do I do with that combination of feelings? Today’s experience told me that even though I may be as geographically distant as ever from a places like East Detroit, the Bronx, and Skid Row, I need to find a way to get closer to it and to the people who are my brothers and sisters in this life playing a very different hand than the one I was dealt. In the coming days I will find ways to make some connections, give something of myself and hope to begin to bridge some of that distance.
If you can spare the time, click and listen and search your own heart. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/709/the-reprieve
Stay safe, stay strong, stay connected and compassionate.