Review: Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Love in the Time of Coronavirus, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021.

Summary: A collection of poems written over the first year of the pandemic exploring the pilgrimage of those confined to their homes, exploring the ways we come to terms with endless days, the small gifts of love, and moment of hope amid the horror.

We all remember those days of 2020 when we discovered how an invisible virus changed our world–all the precautions, the lockdowns, the empty streets, and rising infections. Angela Alaimo O’Donnell lives in New York, which became the epicenter of horror last spring, with morgue trucks outside of hospital. Like most, the scope of her and her husband’s life narrowed down to the confines of an apartment. With the lockdown, she began a pilgrimage in words to chronicle her experience.

She takes us through the seasons of the first year of the pandemic: lockdown and rising cases, illness, recovery and relapse, staring at an unworn wardrobe, and finding herself oddly touched by the thank you’s of students on Zoom. The growing realization that this is not going away quickly, the relief of a contemporary lull, injuring oneself exercising in one’s apartment, Advent and the advent of a new wave of cases, standing in line for vaccines and the tentative steps of emerging into the world. We trace the church year from Easter to Advent, unchanging hope of resurrection and Christ’s coming in a changed and dying world.

The poems, nearly sixty, are written more or less in the form of sonnets. The songs capture both the small things of daily life and the horror of mass graves on Hart Island. The changing of the seasons reminds us of the resurgence of life as does the resurgence of wildlife in a world temporarily devoid of people. There is love. The lost love of the aged who have died too soon. There is the love for children one cannot visit, for students on a screen, for the small kindnesses of delivery. All this is dwarfed by the love in the ICU: “The old man who gave up his/breathing machine to the young man beside/him. The nurse who grieved him as he died./The EMT who knelt beside the body/long after the heart had ceased to beat.”

This collection captures the deep passion we have to live, to love, and to hope in the face of the most daunting challenge we have collectively faced in our lifetimes. We grieve, we tremble, we sicken, and hopefully recover. Then we enjoy the beauties we see in a simple walk. As the author concludes, “The virus can’t destroy/this urge to bless our life & praise/even these pandemic days.”

What is striking though is that this collection reflects a particular posture, a particular response to the pandemic. One that allows the pandemic to deepen and transform, a metamorphosis of sorts. Instead of clamoring and contending, there is a kind of quiet acceptance that the pandemic is what it is, but the things that truly make life worth living, goodness, truth, beauty, and faith, hope, and love only shine more brightly when the distracting noise of our pre-pandemic normal is silenced.

If we look back over the last year, and have second thoughts about our own responses, a new variant and another wave offer fresh chances to lean into the lessons of the pandemic. Someday our grandchildren will ask us about this time. Will we change the subject or share a glimpse of the depths we cultivated in these years? These poems give words to what all of us have experienced. We still have time, it appears, to be formed for better, or for worse. These poems invite us into the better. Will we follow?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Pandemic as Dress Rehearsal

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OK. I’m just going to put it out there. I am convinced that the pandemic is a dress rehearsal for a more serious challenge that makes infection control, treatment, and a global vaccination campaign look like child’s play. The challenge is our rapidly warming planet and the ways it will change and imperil life on our planet, the only one we have.

An article from 2013 states that the last time CO2 levels on earth were as high (then 400 ppm, recently as high as 420) was before we humans were around. The oceans were 100 feet higher, the arctic was a tropical paradise. Since 1800, planetary temperatures have risen 2 degrees Fahrenheit, on average, and far more in some locations. The evidence of a changing climate is evident in rising sea levels, melting glaciers all over the planet, more extreme storms in some areas, drier, prolonged drought and fire seasons in others. The growing season where I live is at least two weeks longer than when I moved here 30 years ago. In some places, summer temperatures have hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit, levels that challenge human habitability. Coastal cities globally face inundation.

At this point CO2 outputs continue to rise as the rest of the world catches up to the US in outputs, and likely global temperatures will follow. If the permafrost melts, large amounts of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas, will be emitted, further accelerating global warming. Now some forms of life survived while others died during this previous time of high CO2 levels. One thing that is clear is that some people will die from heat or famine or flooding. Many others will be displaced and what will happen when they (or we) try to share the remaining habitable places. We haven’t even begun to reckon with other creatures on the earth. Even if we make the requisite effort to reduce CO2 output to “net zero” by 2050 or earlier some of this will happen. If it is not evident yet to everyone, I believe we are facing an existential threat.

It is one that:

  • Threatens our very existence.
  • That will wreak significant global devastation even if we take the necessary actions, which may mitigate but not eliminate the consequences of what we have already done contributing to global climate change.
  • Will require significant changes in the way we live.
  • Will require concerted efforts to address the primary causes of CO2 emissions–cows, coal, and petrochemicals.
  • Calls for a shared ethic of pursuing the common good.
  • Cannot be accomplished without global cooperation and coordination.

Do you recognize the parallels with our global responses and sometimes lack of responses to the coronavirus? I think the verdict is mixed. We did mount a global scientific effort to study the virus, sequence its genome, and develop highly effective vaccines in record time. Efforts to mitigate the virus’s impact worked to a certain extent, more in some countries than others. In the US where personal freedom is more highly valued than acting for the common good, these efforts have faced a tug of war between public health and personal freedom that has led to an acceptance of infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths that have outpaced the rest of the world. At this point, there are great inequities of vaccination rates reflecting distribution of vaccines in various parts of the world. Meanwhile the virus continues to mutate becoming more effective in spreading itself, especially in parts of the world where it can continue to spread unchecked, which imperils us all.

The thing is, we have seen human beings at their best and worst through all of this–selflessly caring for the very sick in ICUs and hoarding toilet paper. We’ve seen the capacities of researchers to study something that was novel and learn immense amounts about how it infects and spreads and effects the body and where it can be attacked in the space of a year. Medical personnel have made major advances in treatment. And we’ve seen it turned into a political football, where nearly every insight into prevention, treatment, and the safety and efficacy of vaccines has been contested.

It makes me wonder how we will respond to the coming climate challenge. Now some of you don’t buy that this is really an issue. I do. Truthfully, I’d rather you were right. I respect you if you think differently. But I would hope you might think about the “what if?” Because if “what if” turns out to be true, this will be one of those situations where we either choose to “hang together or hang separately.” We can choose to listen to our better angels and work for the global good. Or we can choose a “survival of the fittest” (and the richest) ethic in a hotter and less hospitable world. Ultimately, what happens to the earth is beyond me. But what kind of person I will be as we face these challenges is not. At this juncture of the pandemic, it seems time for me to consider how I’ve played my own part in this “dress rehearsal” for the greater challenge before us.

My Thoughts on Receiving the Vaccine

This picture was taken moments after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on March 9. We were sitting in the parking lot outside the Celeste Center at the Ohio state fairgrounds for our fifteen minute wait after receiving our shots from the efficient volunteers working with the Columbus Health Department. As I reflect on all this, I find myself filled with a profound sense of gratitude to God in so many ways:

  • For those volunteers–EMTs, nurses, and other health professionals serving on their day off.
  • For our local public health officials, who organized this vaccine site and have provided invaluable health advice throughout the pandemic.
  • For genetic sequencing technology that made it possible for scientists around the world to have the complete genome of the COVID virus, the operating instructions that make the virus work.
  • For the researchers who invested years in their academic training and long hours in vaccine research.
  • For new vaccine technologies, including the mRNA technology that helped reduce the time to initially make the vaccine and is tailored to activate my body’s immune response to the spike proteins on the virus that enable the virus to infect us. From what I hear, it is also easily tweaked, as the virus mutates.
  • For the regulatory agencies like the FDA that ensured that the vaccine is safe and effective through the standard process of testing the vaccine.
  • It is amazing that it is over 90 percent effective. Flu vaccines are typically 40-60 percent effective. The hopes with COVID was a vaccine that was 50 percent effective.
  • For both the Trump and Biden administrations who facilitated the development, production, and distribution of the vaccines (although companies did not receive payments from the government until vaccines were delivered). Despite the highly partisan nature of our politics at present, both parties and administration contributed to this amazing effort.
  • For our state’s governor who has wrestled with the hard decisions balancing lives and livelihoods throughout the pandemic, and opening vaccination to all adults a month ahead of the president’s target. We can argue ways it might have been done better or differently, but I’m thankful for not having to make those decisions and our governor’s willingness to make hard and sometimes unpopular decisions. That is good servant leadership.
  • I’m grateful that we are already seeing lower case numbers, lower hospitalizations, and lower death numbers, especially among our elderly population (and I hope we all team up to keep it that way).
  • I’m grateful for the possibility in the next week of being able to share a meal in person with vaccinated friends in safety.
  • I’m grateful that because of the vaccine that even if I should be infected, it is far less likely that I can infect others. Throughout this, my concern is less that I’ll be infected than that I could infect and be the source of serious illness in someone I love.
  • Perhaps above all, I find myself in wonder afresh that the vaccine and the research that produced it is an expression of what it means to be created in the image of God and given dominion under God for his creation. It means the capacity to create vaccines that subdue viruses. I see vaccines like the one in my arm as yet another way in which we were made to glorify God and love our neighbors.

Finally, as I mentioned, I’m glad for a chance to do something tangible to love my neighbor. I see vaccines (like masks) as not so much about protecting me as protecting others. Because of the requirements of social distancing and our age, we’ve not been able to do things with people. We’ve found other ways to care, but it is nice to do something physical and not virtual that makes a difference.

Side effects? They’ve been minimal for both of us. I had a sore arm for a day or so after–like most vaccines, and was a bit tired the night of the second shot. My wife had a bit more–tiredness for a couple days and a rash near the injection site that disappeared within three days–all within the range of normal.

As I’ve noted previously, I’m not into vaccine arguments. I studied the information and made my personal decision a long time ago. Now I’ve acted on that decision. I’m won’t argue with you about yours. But I will give thanks that I could make the decision I did.

Will I Accept Vaccination?

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As I sit down to write, word came that the FDA had authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. This followed authorization of the vaccine in the U.K. this past week. There is a great deal of controversy about the vaccines, some from those who oppose all vaccines, and others with concerns about the vaccines for COVID.

I do not want to argue about this. I don’t have the time, and your argument really isn’t with me but the scientific experts and public health people who know more about this stuff than either of us. I simply am going to share my own thinking and decision. In short, when my turn comes, which likely won’t be for several months yet, I will accept vaccination.

Here’s how I think about it. While there is a very small risk of side effects with any vaccine, the risk of death at my age with COVID is significantly greater. I have not been infected and so am susceptible. I am not afraid of death as a Christian who believes that when death comes I will rest in peace with the Lord and rise in glory at the resurrection. But I treasure the gift of embodied life and here, as in other matters of self-care, I choose to care for the body with which I have been entrusted.

I have been vaccinated throughout my life without ill effect. I was born about the time the first polio vaccine was approved. I have friends a few years older suffering the lifelong effects of polio. I’ve not had concerns about tetanus (a gruesome way to die) or diptheria or pertussis because of vaccines. I had measles, mumps, rubella as a child. I’m glad my son didn’t. I harbor the chicken pox virus in my body because that vaccine wasn’t around when I was a child. I’ve had the shingles vaccine to prevent the adult version of this childhood disease. I’ve had yearly flu vaccines and pneumonia vaccines. I think I’ve had the flu only twice in my adult life. I do realize some people have allergies that may rule out vaccines and they should discuss this with their health care provider.

Beyond my own health is the wider health of our society. That society begins with my wife who has the same risk factors and is a cancer survivor. Vaccines work by interrupting the chain of infection. COVID must find an organic host or die. I think we have had enough COVID. Enough (and more than enough) have gotten very sick or died including dear friends. I don’t want to be the cause of sickness and death in another. I want COVID to run out of hosts and die, or at least be severely suppressed. That can only happen if most of us get the vaccine. I suspect we always will need to be watchful, but vaccines, when used widely, have eradicated some diseases. I’m glad to do my part. We don’t need more years like 2020 with its losses of lives and livelihoods and all the other impacts on our society.

I’ve read all the claims about dangers or conspiracies (so don’t post them or send them to me). I’m not convinced. What does convince me is the process. I have friends who have been in trials, and all spoke about the informed consent, the monitoring, and deliberate care. Some of these friends are scientists who recognize when corners are being cut. None were. No, the vaccine doesn’t change my genetic code. No Bill Gates is not inserting microchips in all of us. The animus against Bill Gates puzzles me when he and Melinda Gates have done so much with their money to save lives, with nothing to personally gain except the satisfaction of doing it. Yes, he was pretty cut-throat in building Microsoft. But maybe his life suggests the hope of redemption. Personally, I don’t have any time for the Gates-bashing crowd–I’m just challenged by his example of generosity which makes me ask myself how generously and generatively I live. But I digress.

I hope vaccination will not be a political football in the U.S. The current occupant of the White House lent his endorsement to the effort to develop the vaccine in record time. The presumptive president-elect has signaled a target of 100 million vaccinated in 100 days. Former presidents of both parties have said they will be vaccinated on screen. I don’t see being vaccinated as a litmus test of political loyalty any more than any other vaccine I’ve ever received.

I’m most glad that our front line health care people have first access to the vaccine. I want those who have not already gotten sick to be spared. I also hope we cooperate when it is our turn, so they will not have to keep seeing the horrors of these past months of watching people say good bye to loved ones on a I-pad, of being the only one with someone as they take their last breaths. Yes, this is part of medicine, but not in the heart-breaking numbers they are seeing right now.

I decided to write about this because I sense many who read me have at least some regard for some of the things I say. If you differ, it does not change my regard for you. If you think I’m out to lunch or deceived, pray that I might see the light–but don’t argue or send me articles. I’ve likely seen them or ones like them. I just wanted you to know how I’ve been thinking about this decision and what I’ve decided. I look forward to the day when this is in the rear view mirror, when we can make up for all the celebrations we’ve missed. I hope we can be there together or enjoy each other’s pictures on Facebook. Stay safe my friend.

[I am serious about not wanting to argue about this. I consider it a waste of time and energy. And I will take down posts that try to do this.]

It Looks Like a Hard Winter for Bookstores

It was global news in the book world. The owner of the venerable Strand Bookstore in New York City recently made an emergency plea for the store. Revenue was down 70 percent. Since then, nearly 25,000 orders flooded in approaching $200,000 in sales, crashing the website (although that is only $8 an order if correct).

If my friends at Bob on Books on Facebook are any indication, there is trouble ahead if the pandemic continues. Bottom line: out of 133 comments on a recent question about this, only 5 people indicated they were comfortable going to bookstores on a regular basis (usually where masking was strictly enforced). One person who worked in a bookstore reported a steep drop in customers, but those who came in bought more and puzzles and games were especially popular.

Some are doing curbside pickups. But this takes away the browsing experience and those serendipitous discoveries that you can only make when browsing. We made two trips to our local Half Price Books about six weeks ago, sold a lot of books and bought some. Then infection rates in Ohio nearly tripled. Hanging out waiting for books to be priced somehow doesn’t seem as safe.

A lot of people are obtaining their books through libraries, either by reserving books or downloading digital books. I wouldn’t be surprised if e-book sales have surged because many are buying books online this way. Or they are ordering from online sellers, mainly Amazon or Thriftbooks for used, or a handful of other online sellers. A very small number ordered from local bookstores or online services connected to local stores like bookshop.org.

Then there are the people who came prepared for the pandemic. They have TBR piles that will see them through a year or more of not bookbuying. If this group of booklovers is at all representative of the book buying public, then bookstores are in trouble.

I fear it will only get worse as the rates of infection rise in the U.S. It appears to me that many of us have imposed our own lockdowns–we don’t need a government to do it for us. We really would love to spend time browsing our favorite stores, if they are open. But we really don’t want to update our wills for a bookstore hop. Many indie stores are smaller, cozy affairs. In ordinary times that is inviting. Now it feels kind of dangerous.

It is nothing short of miraculous if your favorite bookseller is not hurting or in danger of going out of business. Like the Strand, Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, facing new lockdowns and an 80% drop in sales has put out a similar plea for online orders. The big, famous stores can do this. Your local indie may not have the same media clout. But their situation is the same or worse, if news stories and personal accounts are any indication.

If you are able, now is a good time to plan your winter reading, stock up on the new releases and old standbys that you have wanted to read. It’s not too early to shop for books to send to friends for Christmas. Maybe you can set up a virtual book club for the winter months with some friends and all order your books from the same store. The point? Amazon is fine and will be around when this is all over. But what about your beloved store?

Maybe one of the best ways to get your mind off your own survival over the next months is to think about how you can help your favorite store survive. Maybe you can talk them up as the place where you get the books you love. Post about them on your social media (as I do about my favorite store on this blog). Or give a gift card or certificate to friends for Christmas, providing the store an immediate cash infusion. You might also give the store some new customers. You might even send the store owner a holiday card with a little something extra stashed inside.

The day will come when we can resume all the normal things we did before the pandemic. When the day comes when we feel safe visiting our favorite stores again (and I know we define “safe” differently), will their doors be open or will we encounter an “out of business” sign or an empty storefront? It’s up to us.

Pandemic Fatigue

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What day is it? They all seem alike. I haven’t been out to eat at a restaurant since early March. I haven’t hugged my son and daughter-in-law since early in the year. All my conversations, except with my wife, are on Zoom, except for brief exchanges when I’m out for walks in my neighborhood. I miss singing with my choir–except for virtual recordings (I did last night). I hadn’t reckoned on this going for seven months, and perhaps that many more.

I don’t think most of us did, and it is hard on all of us.

And it is very tempting to just say, “I’m over with this.” Can’t I just throw a big football party with all my friends? Or celebrate Thanksgiving with lots of friends and food?

And then I remember I’ve made it through seven months. We are in our sixties, and that is good news. By God’s grace, we haven’t gotten sick when others in our age group have gotten very sick. We personally know of people who have died–our age or younger. Perhaps you do as well.

I’m also reminded of life challenges that have lasted into years. And there were times when I wanted to throw in the towel. Caring for a parent with terminal colon cancer. Walking through each parent’s final years, the calls in the night (never good), the emergency trips home. There was a graduate degree while working a full time job with a young family. There were the half marathons I ran. Walking with my wife through close to a year of cancer treatments and recovery. Working a number of years to accomplish work goals that couldn’t be done in a year.

I’ll bet you have stories like that. You were tired. You even were tempted to quit. Why didn’t you? Those memories and the answer to why you didn’t quit might be important in your life right now. It might be your love for someone else who was dear to you. It might be a goal that answers to a deep calling in your life. It might be a faith that believes goodness and truth triumph in the end.

What practices sustained you when you had to say “no” to many good things in life? Maybe it was a few quiet minutes with some music and a glass of wine. Maybe it was a walk in the park. Maybe you read the Bible or said your prayers. Reaching out to a trusted friend with whom you can be your unfiltered self. And you kept doing these things as you were able.

While none of us have gone through a pandemic before, many of us know what it is to go through hard things that aren’t over in a few days or weeks. We know what it is to be fatigued, and find the resources to keep going.

And if we haven’t? Then this is our time to develop the grit, the resolve, the stick-to-it-iveness that will serve us well in any other challenges we face in our lives. What story will you tell about this time?

Why does it matter? Because the infectiousness of this disease means the action of one could affect 10 or 50 or 100 others. In a highly individualistic country, it reminds us how our lives are inextricably intertwined. That party could result in the deaths of grandparents who weren’t even present.

Have you ever thought, “I’ve made it this far, I don’t want to lose all I’ve worked for when I’m getting closer to making it through.” We’re a lot closer to a vaccine than last March. We’re closer to when this virus will recede if not disappear.

As a Christian, I do not fear death. But my faith also teaches me that life is never to be thrown away heedlessly. These have been good months of reading and writing, communicating and planning, building and clearing out. They have been months of clarifying and simplifying. They have been months of trying new things. I’ve been fortunate to work, and work as hard in many ways as any time in life. They are months for which I’m glad I’ve been alive. By God’s grace I hope to be doing these things for a while yet and I want to be around when we can gather and party and sing again–without masks.

I want that for you as well. Let’s hang in there together.

A Thank You To Librarians

Wikidata education for librarians group at WikiCite 2018 by LiAnna (Wiki Ed) licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Libraries in many places are just starting to open up. But librarians have been hard at work all along, even though they miss having patrons in their buildings. I asked people on the Bob on Books Facebook page what they would want to say to librarians.

A word that kept coming up was “lifeline.” Whether it was help getting e-books or gathering their book requests for the curbside pickups many of you provided, people were so grateful for the effort you invested in getting books to us safely.

People didn’t merely see librarians as helping them, but the whole community, just as they always do. But in a time of isolation and strain, your service sustained that sense of knitting together a community and serving that community.

Several mentioned some of your challenges, from the time it took to get book requests to your need to take our temperatures. We just wanted to say “we understand, and appreciate all the things you are doing to keep us safe. We want to keep you safe as well.” And we won’t microwave the books!

You are so creative. Some of you provided craft kits in your communities or special online programs.

We think of you as essential! We want you to be safe and we will wear our masks (over our noses!) when we can come back to the library. We don’t know what we would have done without you during the pandemic.

We appreciate all those library skills and research skills you taught us. We’ve had all kinds of professional and personal reasons to use those during the pandemic.

In some cases, infection rates are still too high to open up. We want you to know how much we miss you!

Your service moves some of us to song: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; You make me happy when skies are grey.

One person wrote, “You are important, loved, necessary, and valued!” Some pray for you, others bless you, and what everyone wants to say is:

Why Returning to University Campuses Now is a Bad Idea

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I write as someone who has worked around universities all my adult life. In the last week some high profile campuses like the University of North Carolina and Notre Dame have suspended in-person classes after welcoming students back to campus. Last spring and early summer, administrations on these and other campuses made plans to open up. Many spent the summer creating elaborate testing, social distancing, living, dining, and classroom protocols to lessen the risk of infections. It seemed to me then, and now, that these were plans with holes in them.

  1. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, they don’t control infections in the towns students were living in over summer, or the behavior of students in those places. This is different from primary and secondary schools, where everyone is local and decisions can be shaped by local infection rates. Some students from areas with high rates of infections, or who engaged in higher risk behaviors may bring infection to campus. These students come from all over. Some campuses test students before they move in, but all tests are a “moment in time” measure.
  2. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, they don’t control infection rates and policies in the city, town, or state where they are located. The city where our flagship state university is located currently has a high, though falling, infection rate. Students have returned amid this. They are in bars, restaurants, coffee shops, businesses all over our city.
  3. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, they don’t control student behavior off campus. Students are just like the rest of us in this pandemic. What have adults been doing all summer? Having large, non-socially distanced, non-masked parties. And students are already following suit as reports from many campuses are bearing out. Just like the general population, most students are trying follow safety protocols. But enough are putting themselves at risk of infection, and in turn risk infecting others.
  4. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, not all students live on campus. In fact, more students may be living off-campus because of reduced density resident housing. The number of students in apartments, the ventilation of buildings, what steps are taken in social distancing, masking, and in gatherings likely will be left to students. And these students will be mixing with students living on campus.
  5. Finally, I question the premise that campus protocols will minimize infection risk making in-person classes feasible. At this time rapid-tests have higher false-negative and false positive rates. The better tests often take two days to a week. Students without symptoms could spread infection to others throughout that time. Even with reduced class sizes and masking, I wonder if these will be sufficient to prevent infections when people share this space for an hour or longer. Will residence halls be safe when senior facilities, which are basically dorms for seniors, have had significant outbreaks?

Students are at an age where many may be asymptomatic, though contagious, or contract mild illnesses and recover (although we are continuing to learn about long-term effects on even some healthy young adults. And some will get very sick. What is more concerning are other university personnel, some with more significant risk factors. Where these are known, some have been able to work out remote work arrangements. But those who provide food, sanitation, and maintenance services and many support staff cannot work remotely.

What drove these decisions as in so many of our “open-up” decisions were two things: economic realities and the difficulty all of us have had sheltering in home. The former raises questions about our economics. The latter raises questions about the health of our souls. Yet I cannot help but wonder if this decision will result in greater losses with all the extra costs of starting up only to suspend classes and send students home. What will this do to student morale? It will be interesting to see how campuses that planned for remote learning in the fall from the start do in comparison to those who tried to open up.

The situation on universities is dependent on what is happening in our larger society. John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza, says that if we do not get the virus under control now, colder weather will likely make things worse, with up to 150,000 new cases daily nationally. We cannot reasonably hope either to bring back the national economy, nor students to our campuses without rigorous control measures. Given our apparent lack of will, consensus, and leadership, I think universities need to start planning now to extend remote instruction through the spring. Either that, or plan for a lot of sick students and campus personnel.

Reading During the Pandemic

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Image via Peakpx is licensed under CC0

The initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic absorbed much of the time and energy that I would give to reading. But it has been four months now, and, like many, I’ve settled into a “new normal” that has afforded many good opportunities around the world of books:

  • Reading a history of the Latina/o church in the Americas, Brown Church, and then doing an online interview with the author, Robert Chao Romero, a gentle and thoughtful scholar.
  • Discovering  the life of Nathaniel R. Jones, an African-American attorney and appellate court judge from Youngstown, and going on to his memoir that is opening my eyes to what my hometown was like for the African-American community and his courageous resistance.
  • Evenings reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, while listening to the piano concertos of Rachmaninoff.
  • A conversation with a college ministry work team on The Jesus Creed, reminding me both how clear Jesus was about what really matters–loving God and neighbor–and how challenging it is to really live that day.
  • Trying to figure out why the characters and plots of Kristin Hannah get into my head. It happened with The Nightingale. It happened again with The Great Alone.
  • Revisiting forty years of memories going back to the Jesus Movement as I read To Think Christianly, and sat in on a webinar with the author.
  • Revisiting the difficult memories of fifty years ago through Derk Backderf’s Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio. I grew up 35 miles from Kent, and the deaths of students, including a girl from my own town, stunned me as a high school student. I can never hear Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young without it catching me up.
  • Amid all of this a relative of my sister who follows the blog and Facebook page sent me a lovely book facemask. I wear it proudly. I’m not only Bob on Books but Bob Behind the Books!
  • I discovered Octavia Butler. Perhaps it was not the best time to read The Parable of the Sower, set in a dystopian America in the not-to-distant future, but it left me hungry to read more of her work.
  • I also discovered the world of Three Pines, and I have fourteen more Louise Penny’s (with another in September). The anticipation alone gladdens the heart.

I’ve been fortunate to have publishers who have kept me stocked up with books. All the news and fuss around the pandemic don’t add to my understanding of how we should live during this time. My Bible, my church (online), my family and friends, and my books help far more, and it is to these I want to give my time. I’ve concluded that the best thing I can do is to share the hope nurtured by my faith, and the goodness I find in books. Both will be around long after the pandemic is in the rear view mirror!

A Few of My Pre-Pandemic Favorite Things

Huntington Park

Huntington Park, one of my favorite things. © Robert C Trube

I suspect most of us have had wistful memories of all the things we didn’t give a second thought of doing pre-pandemic. Perhaps this helps explain the urgency with which some people have tried to resume life as if nothing happened, as if there is not still a risk of infection. Being at an age of being at increased risk, and some health history in our household that further enhances that risk, we’ve resigned ourselves to what looks like six to twelve more months much like the last three. We are utilizing warm weather for some visits with friends outdoors at social distances, plein air painting, walks, and visits with neighbors.

These are a few of the favorite pre-pandemic things I miss:

  • Hugging family who don’t live in our house.
  • The Asian buffet near our home.
  • Leisurely browsing in my local bookstore.
  • Going to the grocery store together.
  • Going to a grocery store at any time, not “senior hours.”
  • Singing with Capriccio in rehearsals and concerts. It is not only the music but the friends and the laughter.
  • Coffee with a friend in a crowded Starbucks.
  • An adult beverage with a work team.
  • Actually meeting with a work team without a computer screen between us.
  • Celebrating a special occasion with a dinner out.
  • Selling the books I’ve read at Half Price books (the stack is growing).
  • Going to a Columbus Clippers game at Huntington Park.
  • Singing with Paul, Jeff, Jayne, Diane, and Tracy in our small acapella ensemble at church.
  • Going to concerts or lectures or any event with a lot of other people.
  • Seeing another’s smile and being glad I do.

I’ve not missed travel–congested roads, airports, crowded planes. I don’t look forward to going back to these. A number of the things I’ve listed above we technically could do. But from what we know, we can’t afford to get sick if we can avoid it. So we won’t do these things until infection rates are very low or there is a vaccine that works. As much as I miss these favorite things, we still have a life we love. We still have fellowship with friends and family. I can brew a pretty good cup of coffee. I can walk in my neighborhood. We can go out painting together. We talk to more neighbors than ever. I think the teams I work with have done amazing things during this time. I’ve enjoyed many good books, listened to some great music on vinyl and CD. We’ve made some good meals together and enjoyed good take out. We treasure our church’s worship times, even if online.

I’m not willing to exchange our lives for a favorite thing. I realize there are no sure things. While I do not fear death, I won’t throw away life needlessly. But I still have favorite things I miss. What are yours?