The Archbishop Can’t See What I’m Doing While I Listen to His Sermon

Cover-Front-WidowPiano(web) 2With most churches are closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, many are offering online services. At St. Anthony in Waldport, Oregon, I was part of the music team on Saturday for the Mass we videotaped to be put online Sunday. I played piano and sang, Stella played guitar. We had one reader, one server, and three real parishioners with photos of the rest taped to the pews. It was as normal as it could be under the circumstances. You can watch that Mass here.

When Sunday came, I had already attended the St. Anthony Mass, plus I didn’t want to watch myself on the screen, so I chose a different church.

Why not go to the top? Archbishop Sample led Mass at the cathedral in Portland at 11 a.m. Very holy, very formal, trained singers, beautiful statues and paintings in the background. In person, I would have dressed up and been on my best behavior. But having gotten up late, I was sitting at home in sweat pants and tee shirt with unbrushed teeth and no makeup. I was still drinking my tea from breakfast, and I was surrounded by distractions. I wanted to go through that pile of papers on my desk. I wanted to check my email and Facebook. I wanted to get up and walk around. You can’t do any of that when you’re sitting in a pew at an actual church surrounded by other people–or when you’re sitting at the piano in clear view of the priest and everyone else.

Nor can you offer commentary. I can’t help myself. My new chapbook of poems, The Widow at the Piano, is subtitled “Poems by a Distracted Catholic” for good reason. With no outer filter, my mind squirreled all over the place.

Why are they wearing rose-colored vestments; it’s still Lent. But they sure are pretty.

Why does the archbishop keep changing hats?

I count 13 people in there. Aren’t we supposed to keep it to 10?

Who is that guy? Is he a deacon?

Hey, that’s Angela, the choir director; I’ve seen her online.

Is there a quartet in there? Social distancing!

The archbishop sure has a nice singing voice.

Oh, look at all those empty pews.

Pay attention, Sue, he’s turning the bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood.

Latin chant again?

Hey, “amen” is the same in both languages.

Ah, tricky, they put a painting on the screen while they received communion, so we won’t feel bad.

That sure was a short song.

Ugh, more organ music.

Should I be kneeling or something?

Oh, it’s over. No closing song?

Well, that was nice, but I don’t feel like I’ve been to church.

So it goes. A week ago Sunday, I attended two full Masses and portions of Lutheran and Presbyterian services. During the week, I said the rosary with the Archbishop and watched Pope Francis preach in an empty St. Peter’s Square. It was raining. The cantor held an umbrella over himself and his music. The pope spoke Italian with a woman translating in English. I kept trying to understand the Italian. The pope seemed to be limping pretty badly. I was relieved when he finally sat down. But it was nice to be there without the crowds.

Maybe I’ll try the Portuguese church in San Jose next week. Why not?

There’s religion all over the net, and I am so distracted.

Speaking of distractions, I was supposed to do my first reading and my first book-signing for the new one last week. Both were canceled. I’m afraid my poor books will just disappear. I had hoped to publicize both The Widow at the Piano and my other chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, which came out last October, together. Now . . . piffle, as my late husband used to say.

I’m not the only author in this fix. Spring is book-launch season, and many events have been knocked out by the virus. Readings, signings, talks, workshops, conferences, all canceled. What should we do? Just wait? But here are these lovely books. I am going to try to record some of the poems and share them online. Stay tuned.

I’ll give some books away, too. For the first 10 people who are willing to read and post about The Widow at the Piano or Gravel Road Ahead on your blog, at Goodreads, or on Amazon.com—or all three, I will send a free copy of the chapbook of your choice. Email me at sufalick@gmail.com if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep seeking religion online. I can’t guarantee that I’ll behave while I’m watching. Maybe if I could do it with a group, I’d be more reverent, but oh yes, we can’t congregate. Have you tried going to church online? What is it like for you? Or are you just going to commune with God on your own via meditation or time spent in nature?

Neither of my grandfathers were regular church-goers, but they were good men. For Grandpa Fagalde, all those hours he spent fishing, staring at the ocean, may have been church enough. Grandpa Avina might have been listening to San Francisco Giants baseball games while the women went to church. Whatever works.

Stay well. Do the best you can to avoid getting sick, but don’t make yourself crazy. You cannot sterilize the entire world and everything in it.

Buy books.

Amen.

Amid virus fears, we find new ways to reach out

St. Anthony faces

I lay in bed this morning long after I should have gotten up, listening to the news on NPR. Coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus. People dying, economy crashing, not enough medical equipment . . . Yikes. This morning, my Yahoo news feed led with “worldwide death toll more than 15,000. Dear God.

Yet I look out my office window and see the same trees and the same sky I see every day. I see my tulips and daffodils blooming in a riot of red, yellow and peach. I see a family of robins pecking at the lawn, which has grown lush and mossy from winter rain. Inside, it’s quiet except for the hum of the gas fireplace pouring out orange heat. My dog Annie dozes on the love seat. I’m not quite dressed yet, but there’s nothing unusual about that either. I have all day, no appointments, nowhere I have to go. If I stayed disconnected from the media, I would not know this was anything but another beautiful Oregon coast spring.

We have not been hit as hard here as other places, not yet. As of this morning, Monday, March 23, we have 161 known cases of the virus and five deaths in Oregon. But everyone knows these numbers are going to go up, way up. No one has tested positive here in Lincoln County, but very few people have been tested at all.

To the dismay of those Oregon coast folks trying so hard to stay apart from others, tourists, mostly young people, have come to the beach in droves, seemingly ignoring all the pleas to stay home and “shelter in place.” Some of the beaches up north have blocked access. Gov. Kate Brown is expected to close all the state parks today, on the premise that if they have nowhere to go, the visitors will go home. But that means we who live here can’t go to the parks either, and that hurts.

While I’m somewhat used to being alone, many are having a hard time with the isolation. My friend Bill is one of countless numbers who live in an assisted living facility, nursing home, etc. The residents are confined to their rooms. They are not allowed to go out, and visitors can’t come in. Their meals are left outside their doors. Sounds like prison to me. And yet, because they are the most likely to die if they get this virus, what choice is there?

Many folks who are not used to staying home are already experiencing cabin fever. I’ve got to admit I’m better equipped for this than my friends and relatives who are always on the go. Most days, I’m here by myself anyway. I’m just sticking to my routine—write until about 3:00, walk the dog, do chores, play music, watch TV. Same old, same old, except I can’t go out to lunch, and God knows I do love to go out to lunch.

Last week, I wrote this cheery post about surviving at home alone. Well, proving I’m human, that night I was singing a different tune when I got word that all of the Catholic churches in western Oregon were closed. No more Masses, potlucks, meetings, or Stations of the Cross. We wouldn’t even celebrate Easter together. I cried like somebody had died and then posted on Facebook about how lonely and miserable I was. My church was not only my spiritual home but my main social outlet.

But there’s good news in all of this. In response to my Facebook post, friends called and texted, and we connected more than we ever had before. Paying it back, I have been phone-visiting people, especially people I know are home alone, and we have had great talks. I’m experiencing more human connection than usual. I wish this virus had never happened, but I do see some good things coming out of it. I urge you to reach out by phone, email, letter, Facebook or whatever.

As for church, Fr. Joseph Hoang, our pastor at St. Anthony’s in Waldport decided he would videotape weekly Masses. Three of us did music for the first one. “Red” was altar server while his mom “Ice” operated the camera. We taped photos of the parishioners on the pews so we all felt less alone and Fr. Joseph had someone to preach to. I think we all got nervous with the camera on us, but it was wonderful.

Yesterday, I found countless church services online. I could “go to church” all day long. As it was, I attended two Catholic Masses and dropped in for parts of Lutheran and Baptist services. As the Internet keeps going, the possibilities for new types of connection are unlimited. What a gift. Back in the flu epidemic a hundred years ago, people were truly isolated. No TV, no Internet. Many didn’t have telephones yet. At best, they could write a letter or a send a telegram.

I worry about the same things as everyone else. How long will this go on? Will we not be able to get food and other necessities? Will people turn on each other? Will we break the Internet with everyone trying to work and go to school online? How many businesses will fold, and how many people will lose everything? More important, how many people will get sick and how many will die? Will it hit my loved ones? Will there not be enough doctors and nurses to help them? Will I get it?

Just a few weeks ago, we were living normal lives, and the news was all about Democrats and Republicans. My advice from last week stands. Turn off the TV, radio and Internet as much as you can. Connect with each other as much as possible. Get outside in nature. Find a project to pass the time. Pray. It will be over someday. Only God knows when, but it will.

How are you doing in this crazy time? Feel free to share in the comments.

 

 

 

Quarantine Tips from an Expert on Being Alone

tulips 31620So much has changed in the last week. Heck, in the last few days. And it keeps changing. I’m talking about the Coronavirus, of course. Two weeks ago, I debated about going to Texas for a conference and decided not to go, more because of so many speakers and publishers pulling out than for fear of getting sick. The conference went on without me, and I hear those who attended had a good time. But now, every gathering is being canceled.

My calendar is full of cross-outs: meetings, open mics, concerts . . . Restaurants are closing or offering only takeout service. Alas, no more writing sessions at Starbuck’s. Even a lot of churches have closed, although ours is still open, so far. I have three appointments scheduled for this week—chiropractor, hearing aid specialist, and taxes–and I’m expecting to receive notice any minute that they are canceled.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the income tax deadline got postponed?

People have raided the grocery stores, leaving empty shelves as they gather far more supplies than they could possibly need. I still need to buy some groceries. I’m hoping there’s something left at the market.

Last week, the theme song was “wash your hands.” Now it’s “stay home.” Especially if you’re over 65 or in poor health. My hackles go up at the age limit. Yes, I’m 68, but I’m healthy and I come from people who live into their 90s. I’m thinking I might be able to get away with going out because most people think I look younger than I am. Is that cheating? It’s not the age, it’s the mileage that counts.

Once I take care of business, the prospect of staying home alone does not worry me. I’m here alone most of the time anyway. It has been 11 years since Fred went to the nursing home, nine since he died. I have a wonderful house in a beautiful setting. I have my dog Annie. I have a schedule of writing, music, dog-walking, home chores, and meals that I stick to because it gives me a framework for my days. I’m good with long periods of solitude, although I don’t want to do it all the time.

Over the years, I have learned how to cope. So, for those of you for whom this is a new experience, let me offer some tips for getting through this time of “social distancing.”

* Give yourself a project, something that will fill your time with something enjoyable and worthwhile. Write that book, paint the living room, make a quilt, plant a garden, build a gazebo, start a podcast. It doesn’t matter what it is, but you need something to get you up in the morning.

* Stick to a routine. Sure, take a day or two to stay in bed or slump around in your PJs eating junk food, but then, get up, make your bed, shower, get dressed, eat three healthy meals, and work on your project. Watch some TV, but don’t watch it all day. Read that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. Go to bed at a reasonable hour.

* Don’t obsess on the news via TV, radio, or Internet all day. Check to see what’s new, then TURN IT OFF. Nonstop Coronavirus reporting, with politics sprinkled in, will make you nuts. Play some music or try a little silence. If you’re absolutely losing it, watch a movie or read a novel that will take you to a whole other world.

* Go outside, even if it’s raining or snowing. Look at the sky, the trees, and the spring flowers starting to bloom. Watch the birds. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Everything is still the same out there, isn’t it, even if the newscasters are talking Armageddon?

* Exercise. Walk, run, do yoga, dance, mow the lawn. Your gym is probably closed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep moving. It will help both your body and your brain.

* Communicate. Use your telephone to talk to at least one other person every day. Use the many other ways we have to connect as well. Text, email, commiserate on Facebook or Twitter. You can even write a letter; the Post Office is still open. You may be physically alone, but you are not the only one going through this.

* Pray. If you believe in a higher power, do the best you can to take care of yourself, then ask God to handle the rest. So much of it is beyond our control, so let go already.

* If you are still healthy, thank God, and make the best of this unique time when we are freed from many of our usual obligations.

If you’re in isolation with other people, you can follow these tips, too, but you also have the advantage of being able to talk, play a game, or do a project together. Of course, you may also drive each other nuts. Time to take a walk. Last I heard, Mother Nature is not closed.

It’s a crazy time. I don’t know what will happen by next week. I only know that out my window the spruce and alders look the same as always. My tulips and daffodils are blooming, and Annie is asleep on the love seat, completely relaxed. As always, I will write, play my music, and love my Annie dog.

Stay well. When this is over, let’s meet for a massive group hug.

Playing Tourist at Home in Oregon

Grotto

Five days ago, I wrote that no cases of the coronavirus had been reported in Oregon. Maybe people were overreacting. But those reactions had caused me to cancel my trip to the AWP conference in San Antonio and stay home. Now there are 14 known cases in Oregon, and Gov. Kate Brown has added our state to the ones declaring a state of emergency.

The Archdiocese of Portland has asked its churches to stop giving out wine at Communion and to stop shaking hands at the Sign of Peace. I’ve been to Mass three times at three different churches in the last week. At two of those Masses, nobody held hands, shook hands or touched in any way. At our own church yesterday, our pastor noted that life is full of risk and we could decide for ourselves whether to hold hands—so we did. He also reminded us to use the big bottle of hand sanitizer on the way out.

What’s going to happen? Nobody knows for sure. I still worry that the reaction will cause more harm than the disease, but I could be wrong.

I was supposed to be celebrating my birthday today with friends in Texas. Instead, I’m back at home with no birthday plans beyond eating a red velvet cupcake I bought for myself and watching the Bachelor finale on TV. Stupidest season ever? It is, but do not call me after 8 p.m. PDT.

Since I was already out in the world with a packed suitcase, writing materials and free time, I played tourist in Oregon last week. I wrote in the mornings and went exploring in the afternoons, which sounds like a perfect vacation for a writer.

The weather was sunny but cold when I visited the Grotto, a Catholic sanctuary in Portland. I walked the paths admiring the plants, statues and shrines, reading and thinking about Jesus, Mary and Joseph, walking the labyrinth, saying hello to the ducks in the pond, and feeling all my anxieties melt away. I was exactly where I needed to be. When my feet got tired, I sat in the warm glass-walled meditation chapel soaking in the quiet as I looked out over the city past the freeway to Mt. Hood. Leaning back in my soft leather chair, I watched the white clouds moving slowly by and felt blessed.

Salem RiverfrontFrom Portland, I headed south to Salem, where I checked into a much nicer hotel, then walked through the Riverfront Park, which I hadn’t even known existed. It offers miles of walking/jogging paths along the Willamette, a playground and a carousel. I walked, then sat on a bench in the sun watching the world go by, taking pictures, and writing in my notebook. When hunger hit, I treated myself to a steak salad at the Capital Café.

The next day, I went shopping in downtown Salem, where I was sad to see the sidewalks jammed with homeless people and their possessions. So many. And it was cold. I was heading into the stores with money to burn, having filled my wallet with cash for the Texas trip that didn’t happen. I found treasures—music supplies, clothes, books—but I felt guilty as I stashed them in the car and left for Silverton, the small town on the way to the Oregon Garden.

Oregon Garden 3520Early March is not a good time to visit the garden. The visitors’ center was closed, the fountains were turned off, and most of the plants were still dormant for winter. The roses looked like dead sticks, the trees were bare, and the daises were just dry leaves. Only the daffodils were blooming. On the good side, I had most of the garden to myself. I walked and walked, resting on benches in the sun, thinking and taking notes for a poem about “potential,” about how inside these bare sticks are the makings for glorious flowers and fruits.

While the world was going nuts over coronavirus and while my favorite candidates were dropping out of the presidential race, while the stock market was plummeting in panic and both sides violated their agreement in the war in Afghanistan, I roamed among the sleeping plants and let it all go. I felt the sun on my face, breathed in fresh air scented with fertilizer, and watched a squirrel watching me from a stone wall. He was close enough for me to admire the different shades of brown in his fur.

I usually give up French fries for Lent. This year, I have chosen to give up Internet, TV and radio for two hours every day while I do something physical and real. We all need this. It’s so hard to tear ourselves away from our screens and our perpetual noise, especially with so much going on in the news, but we need to focus on what’s real right here and now.

I’m sad that I missed AWP. I’m sad that I didn’t see my friends. I’m sad that today is my first birthday without my father, but the sun is shining, I played a ton of music over the last two days, and now I’m here at home writing in my pajamas as Annie dozes nearby. What’s better than that?

How about you? Has coronavirus changed your plans? Are you worried about the illness or its effects? Is there a way to make lemonade out of these lemons? I welcome your comments.

 

 

Coronavirus Fears Change Travel Plans

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Robert Burns

I expected to be in Texas by now. Instead, I am typing this in a crummy hotel near the Portland airport because I decided at the last minute not to go to the AWP conference in San Antonio and follow it up by visiting friends and exploring Texas by car. Even as I drove north toward Portland for my “park and fly” hotel, I was debating whether or not I’d really get on the plane. Why?

Sure, I hate flying, and I hate leaving Annie, and I hate being without my piano and guitar, and and and . . . It was none of that. It was the coronavirus and not even so much that I was afraid of getting sick or spreading the disease, although those are worthy fears. No, it was that publishers, editors and speakers were cancelling out of the conference by the dozen. The mayor of San Antonio had declared a medical emergency, mostly because one woman in quarantine was released for 12 hours and turned out to have the virus. She’s back in quarantine now.

My own publisher of Gravel Road Ahead cancelled Tuesday morning, and the publisher for The Widow at the Piano wasn’t going in the first place. All those famous writers I had hoped to see, all those connections I had hoped to make—it was not likely to happen. Not because of the coronavirus but FEAR of the coronavirus, a flu-like illness that has killed only a few people in the U.S. so far but many more in Asia.

It does seem to be spreading rather rapidly, although you can find plenty of people who say it’s no big deal and that folks are making too much of it. I don’t know. But my conference was not going to offer what I wanted.

I prayed, asking God, go or no go? Everything was all set up. My color-coordinated clothes, books and handouts were packed. Annie’s sleep-in dogsitter was on her way.

But if I didn’t go to Texas, I could do all the things I hadn’t had time to do before I left, like get my hair cut and pick up more medicine for my dog. I could go to the Grotto, Oregon gardens, and Mt. Angel. I could shop in all those stores we don’t have at home. I could sample guitars at the music stores and promote my books at the bookstores.

When I was an hour from Portland, my friend called to say she was sick and not up to company so I should not come.

Okay, God, that’s a pretty clear sign. I would go as far as Portland and no farther.

I spent three hours on the phone trying to cancel my reservations, most of that time waiting for AAA, through which I made the reservations. I suspect thousands of people are cancelling their trip plans. The obnoxious hold music went on forever. Finally, I got a guy with a Jamaican accent who informed me that my plane tickets were non-refundable and I might as well just not show up. Then he put me back on hold for a young woman who told me I’d pay a $200 penalty on my cancelled rental car. A young woman in Massachusetts told me she could not do anything about my reservation at the Marriott in San Antonio; I should call back in the morning. (When I did, a Texas woman told me she would cancel the reservation. Refund? Too late.) Calls done, I took myself out to dinner at the Shilo Inn and got drunk on red wine.

As for the conference, they’re applying this year’s fees to next year’s shindig in Kansas City. They should have just cancelled. I understand that they have worked on it all year, but throwing a poor conference full of empty tables and missing speakers surely is worse than not doing it at all.

I’m going to be out $1,500 or so for the privilege of not going to San Antonio. I looked forward to it. I bought the tee shirt. I envisioned walking along the river outside the hotel. Well, I’ll go to Texas another time—by car. This week, I’ll enjoy the local attractions and go home early.

Meanwhile, the world is beginning to panic. It’s probably justified in China and other countries where lots of people are sick and dying. But even on the Oregon coast, where not a single person has been diagnosed with the disease, people are stocking up on hand sanitizer, water and toilet paper. Our church has decided we will not have wine at Communion and should not shake hands or touch in any way. Okay, we have done that during flu epidemics, and this virus is trickier because people are contagious for days before they show symptoms. While I’m healthy, some of my friends are not, and I sure wouldn’t want to make them sick.

Yet, at this Super 8 where nothing looks clean, I was at the breakfast bar trying to separate a lid from the pile for my Styrofoam coffee cup and thought about how other people have also touched the whole stack trying to get a lid. They have touched the coffee urns, the tongs and lids for the food, the buttons on the orange juice machine, and the dipper for the waffle iron. Should hotels shut down their breakfast rooms? What about restaurants, stores, gyms, swimming pools, schools, businesses? How far can the precautions logically go? Will this lead to an economic collapse?

I feel very safe from illness at home in the woods with Annie, but if you step out at all—and you have to at some point—you take a risk, whether you’re in Texas or anywhere else.

What’s happening where you live? Are you afraid you’ll get coronavirus? Have you cancelled travel plans or stocked up on supplies? Let’s talk about it.