Saturday, March 28, 2020

France: The village that keeps on giving....

When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have learned one another's stories? If they do not know one another's stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover, they fear one another.      --Wendell Berry

In the little town of Le Tronquay, we are here with the mayor,  Patricia Gady Duquesne. Grandpa Shumway (my father-in-law) has his picture on a banner outside of the church during the first week of June 2020. Blog on French Village Celebrations
There are some places that root into your heart, like a branch that is grafted into an old, sprawling tree. And just like that, you are unexpectedly planted solidly in that ground. You will never be the same again because you went there--laughing and crying in that place. The beauty you breathed in from the land and the people made you see colors you never would have seen before. You have been gifted a story or a sense of place, that roots inside deep within your soul, never leaving. 

Sometimes in these stressful times, I close my eyes for a few moments, remembering what it felt like to belong to a place where despiting my butchering the inhabitants’ language, they love me anyway. 

For me, one of those welcoming places is a little village in Normandy, France with a population of about 786 called Le Tronquay. It is one of the two villages my father-in-law helped to liberate about a month after he landed on D-Day in 1944. Not unlike most of the villages in Normandy, the old villagers of Le Tronquay continues to spin their tale to the younger generation.
Le Tronquay charmingly stays back in time. If you stroll through the petit village, it would require but an hour or two of your time. The churchyard rings its bell on the hour.  Behind the church is a small cemetery—honoring a few of its ancient citizens. There are plaques scattered among the gravestones that recognize the young men from Le Tronquay who died in both the World wars and others even earlier. Like many other French villages, the history of community celebration and suffering runs for centuries. 

A typical French mayor’s building across the street. There are a few community buildings where people gather for meetings and occasional dance. A new addition, a soccer field is almost hidden in the green fields that are mixed with dairy cows. Winding stone walls and hedgerows border the village that used to hide soldiers. 
I have thought a lot about my 22-year-old father-in-law as he entered this little town of Le Tronquay with his men 75 years ago. As he trekked across the fields and around the hedgerows, I am sure he would have never imagined that someday his descendants would roam here too. They would come back, again and again, to hear of the village's heroes, one of them being him. Children would hear stories and sing about what his men did in mid-July, 1944. Little did he know, that in a place not too far off, he would be struck by a land mine, and never see again. Yes, this village has stories that unravel a deep meaning and instil pride within our family for his sacrifices.

I am grateful this little village does not want to forget their history, the stories that made them who they are now. The first week of June in Normandy many villages are like Le Tronquay awaken and celebrate. They remember their fallen heroes--most of who are gone now. The Normandy villages remind me of the importance of remembering together and continuing to tell the story. 

Whenever we get back to being in our communities again after the COVID virus, I think we will have an entirely new outlook on what it means to have connections in a small and larger community. 

At the community dance, with a plethora of French pastries...

Serenading the community with song...

The mayor explaining the art exhibit of Elias, our son with autism. She asked me to bring his pictures to the little village for a show. Little did Grandpa Shumway know that 75 years after he helped to liberate this little village, his descendants would be there--with his grandson with autism having an exhibit. 

Bringing Elias' art to Le Tronquay

Luckily, our daughter, Sarah, could speak with the villagers and translate for us. 

The painting Elias gave to the mayor for her office

Le Traonquay in 2019

Fields and hedgerows could be 75 years ago...

Sarah with the banner of her grandfather

Older members of the village and Mitch in the middle, from Provence, who come to honor the history of this village. 

More shows and gatherings to understand the past during the Liberation anniversary of 1944.

Some of the younger children of the village learning about my father-in-law from my son.

I love the way Patricia, the mayor, gathers the children to explain the history of their village. She ensures that the younger generation in this village know the past.

A meeting the mayor called to help with autism awareness in the town. A young man with autism from the village spoke with us about his experience and his family asked for advice from us. Our collaboration was a springboard to help other families with autism in the area--to meet together and discuss ways to alleviate stress to families. 

A sense of community, knowing your neighbors and having an appreciation of celebrating happily together.

Gathering Hope in COVID-19 Times...

We are all in this together. We need each other. Oh, how we need each other. Those of us who are old need you who are young, and hopefully, you who are young need some of us who are old... We need to renew our faith every day. We need to lock arms... There are some years in our lives that we would not want to live again. But even these years will pass away, and the lessons learned will be a future blessing.               ---Marjorie Pay Hinkley

Hope is to see the light despite all the darkness.   --Desmond Tutu

A new baby born in coronavirus times brings hope...
Recently a friend wrote me an interesting observation. She said, "For the most part, I have only had the luxury of reading about others' afflictions in the world. I would close the WW2 book I was reading and was grateful I did not live in those times." I think this is like most of us. A famine, tsunami, hurricane, volcano eruption, war, earthquake is something many have not had to experience. COVID-19 is vastly different. Almost every country in the world is affected by this invisible, unrelenting virus. It travels seamlessly from person to person, to country to country--it affects all regardless of race, language, wealth or beliefs. Uncertainty abounds.

If you are reading this blog, there is a likelihood you know someone who is suffering from the virus as we speak. A nurse my husband worked with very closely in Missouri for many years was the first fatality there. I have a friend who lives in Germany who has a little boy with autism. His therapist unknowingly gave it to her. She is now home on lockdown with him.

If we don't know someone who is physically hurting, we or loved ones are experiencing economic turmoil and unexpected challenges. Perhaps we are lonely, isolated, and feeling in despair as we navigate quarantine and other life changes. Others are cautiously caring for loved ones who are elderly or with weak immune systems. Meanwhile, all over the world, health care workers are tirelessly caring for patients with little resources. It seems everyone is on the front line--trying their best with the new burdens they are juggling and learning to face.

Our friend, Dr. Brad Bernstein, on the ship to Manhattan.

We are here in Tianjin, China on Day #67 of our own quarantine times. The fears we had two months ago for the world and loved ones have rippled outside of our borders to now threaten far-flung regions of the world. From the beginning here in China, my family has clung to hope and tried to not let the fear become panic. Like the virus itself, fear and anxiety can also be contagious and this must be addressed in a rational way. Our emotions must be tempered with reason. Maybe we cannot gather with everyone we want to see and talk to, but we can gather hope in our soul. We can find hope, scoop it up in unpredictable places, and let it shine on in our hearts and minds...

When our hope extinguishes or dims, how can we rekindle it again? How do you gather hope back again? These are a few of mine:

1) Whatever our situation in the world, we are living in an unusual cocoon of time--with the new acceptance that we are not in control of this natural pandemic, but we can take control of our own actions.  We may be small compared to the larger forces around us; nonetheless, we have the power of choice and change. We can control how we use this time so when we emerge from the cocoon of time we emerge stronger. Time to learn and develop skills is always a gift.

The people I have admired the most are those who are resilient when they get scorched in the fire. They rebound, get up, keep giving, and then rally others around them. This is the chance of our lives to do the same. They fly out of the cocoon with a metamorphosis of new beauty and magical wonder.  Blog on Hearing Peace

2) People are capable of immense good that surprise me. A favorite book and cherished quote for me is from the book, The Book Thief.  The narrator says, "I am haunted by humans. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams (of tears) are flowing down their faces and they stagger on...” If we look around, there are many people on the front lines of doing great good. They are listening to their impressions, looking to organize efforts, aid, and help their fellow humans on this earth. In dire circumstances, people can astound me--especially when they keep paying it forward.

Giving cheer--we are all in this together. It will be the only way we will overcome this pandemic.

3) There is more gratitude in my heart. The simple, routine things we did before the virus seems like such a carefree existence. But now we are more grateful for shelter, food, and toilet paper--realizing that we are so much more blessed and fortunate than we ever realized.  Appreciation and gratitude can help us overcome and endure difficulties; they help us maintain perspective and increase our resilience.

4) Conversations with loved ones strengthen us.  Seeking counsel and advice from others can invigorate us. Young children can give us energy. I am more grateful for the connections I have with my family, loved ones, and friends. I am trying to understand their pain more--feel what they feel, love them more. It is hopeful to see the good, the positive--to refrain from cynicism. I love hearing or reading the sage, wise counsel from older people who have come through previous challenging times.

My son who has been alone for more than three weeks in an apartment with influenza and now the virus. Recently, he had a restorative conversation with his grandmother, my mother. He said, "Grandma made me feel so much hope--reminding me of how she had gone through hard times in WW2.  She told him about her mother telling her about isolation and death during the Spanish Flu. We have the technology to keep us in touch despite our remoteness." Older people have depth and scope of many decades to know that we will reemerge again--stronger if we desire. The digital tools available to us at this time are incredible.

5) There is a new awareness of the world's needs. As I look and talk to people all over the world, there is a common desire to know each other better.  We seek to be united, serve, and sing of these human connections. It is so impressive to see the singing in Italy with people reaching out with music to inspire and cheer those around them.

There are scientists who are working around the clock to curb this virus. I don't think any sole government is going to solve this crisis. We must look at ourselves, and look to each other to find solutions. We must do our part to not only heed their instructions but to also help ease the afflictions of others. All of us can "lift where we stand" and elevate hope. Our efforts can multiply, causing ripples of change.

My husband, who is a CMO in Tianjin, sending off some health care workers to Wuhan. I was overcome to see these health workers who were volunteering to leave to a distant city--not knowing when they would return back home again. I felt their pure compassion and will to serve. It is humbling to see the health care workers of this world now and their sacrifices.
6) I am grateful for my faith in God and humanity that keeps me looking upward, instead of down. I realize that many people are not only praying more, but they are widening their scope to pray for the entire world. We are looking more globally because to beat this virus, we cannot leave anyone behind. The president and prophet of my faith, President Russell M. Nelson, has asked for a worldwide fast with people of all faiths. That day of fasting is planned for tomorrow March 29. I believe there is a special uniting power of fasting. It is a part of many faiths and cultures. It not only brings miracles, but it softens and changes hearts.

If you feel so inclined, I invite you to join with me and fellow Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and many others on this day of fasting tomorrow. This is his invitation:

“As a physician and surgeon, I have great admiration for medical professionals, scientists. and all who are working around the clock to curb the spread of COVID-19.  I invite you to join with me in a worldwide fast — for all whose health permits — to pray for relief from the physical, emotional and economic effects of this global pandemic. I invite members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints everywhere, along with our many friends, to fast and pray this Sunday, March 29. Let us unite our faith to plead for physical, spiritual and other healing throughout the entire world."  

Friday, March 13, 2020

Coronavirus: Being Social in a time of "Social Distancing"

We should not leave anyone behind or exclude anyone in coronavirus times. We can never beat it if anyone is left behind.           --WHO doctor

I want to do everything humanly possible to help create a more caring society so that we can begin to counter the painful loneliness and sense of helplessness which has engulfed too many of our people.   --Rosalyn Carter

We are living in an unprecedented time with Covid-19 where feelings of uncertainty and fear abound. Also, there can be an unrelenting, pounding loneliness that can creep in. All of a sudden quarantines and "social distancing" are a reality right now. Many of our children and even ourselves have never spent much time alone before. The only thing I can compare it with is my grandmothers' stories of the 1918 influenza when they were small children. However, unlike them, we have the technology to keep us connected with the world, loved ones, our neighbors. Yet, in our modern connectivity, do we really connect with others? Does their or our isolation still exist?

I love the story of my Icelandic great-grandmother who climbed on her wagon delivering food on her neighbors' porches--literally keeping them alive. We don't necessarily need to deliver food (maybe toilet paper it sounds like), but we can offer encouragement, cheer, and be an antidote for loneliness for others. Many people live alone, and just hearing a voice or reading a text will be food for them.

As Emily Dickinson wrote, "There is loneliness whose worst alarm is lest itself should see--and perish from before itself for just a scrutiny--The Horror not to be surveyed, but skirted in the dark..." People need people--that is why loneliness is called a global pandemic too--just like Covid-19. In the British government, there is even a "Minister of Loneliness" because they have recognized the severity of the problem.

For the past two months, I have had very little face-to-face contact with human beings. My husband is a CMO in a hospital in China, and he goes to work every day spending long hours there right now. I have a teenage son who has autism who I obviously spend a lot of time with too. Luckily, I speak Chinese. But human interaction has been sparse, extremely sparse--much less than I am accustomed to. I wanted to share a few things I have learned.

                      Some of my lessons of a more secluded life:

1) Real-life continues in quarantines. For one, babies continue to be born. When our friends, a young couple from South Africa, were having problems with a possible premature baby, my husband (and their doctor) discovered they lived in a six-story walk-up--(no elevator), we invited them to come and live with us. They were here with us over a month, she had the baby emergency c-section, and then they are back again with us due to the stairs issue again. We have honestly loved having them here during this time, and having a new baby come home to our house. Her mother cannot come here to China, and his parents have passed away. I know and feel others depending on us. But the truth is: I have been depending on others to help my own family--not saying anything, but just hoping others will help the people I love when I am absent.

A new happy family that has withstood a lot of obstacles having a baby in coronavirus times...

This is the second week my son who is in medical school has influenza--being very ill. Many people are dying of influenza too. As I heard his cough on the phone in China, I hoped and prayed someone would help him. My niece, with five kids of her own, came to the rescue. She drove some soup, rolls, kleenex, disinfectant, and a few other things she thought he might need to his house--about a 30-minute drive. When I heard about her service to my son, her cousin, I was very touched.

No one had asked her. I am over here in China helping a young couple who would be suffering without us right now, but others are helping my son when I cannot be there. I believe in the service cycle that just keeps flowing. I have been helped in difficult and turbulent times, and others have paid it forward for me/us.

Another woman here who heard about the impending birth of our friends (whom she had never seen), gathered clothes for the baby who was coming. When the baby came a few days ago, she had a supply for the next 18 months. My friend dropped them off at the hospital and my husband carried it all home. No malls are open, no Amazon, nothing. But people, strangers to this young couple, came through. As it says in The Book Thief, "I am haunted by humans." Sometimes people's spontaneous goodness just joyously amazes me...

In these coronavirus times, real-life will go on. The intersection of relationships, both individual to individual or within a group is a holy, hallowed gift. I do not take those bonds lightly. There is no denying people will need help with pivotal life events and just ordinary life.

2) Connect with people remotely. With everyone going to school, church, and work online, checking in with real-live people is critically important. Call, text, send a message, a link, a story, a song, play an online/remote game, give an idea for a children's craft project, organize a children's book group online. Currently, I talk to a Chinese woman twice a week on the phone. We converse both in English and Chinese, mutually helping one another's language skills. Contact especially people who live alone. You don't have to necessarily physically show up, but it is needful to connect. Love can come through with a text or phone call.

Checking in to my son who has influenza and is all by himself. 

3) Make a special effort to talk to family and friends at this time. I have heard of many relationships being healed, nourished, and strengthened in this Coronavirus time. Conversations that would not have been articulated months before have been shared. Love and laughter have increased or returned.

4) Have fun with the people in your own four walls.  Make a list with those people of the fun things you have been planning on doing that you rarely have time for. Make ice cream, press some wildflowers, make a recipe you have wanted to for a long time, do an art project, sing or write a song, play a board game, tell some stories, dance together, take an online tour of a museum. Push out the fear and make some memories that you will all remember...

Learning how to make South African truffles...

Playing games and taking the time to make memories...

Indeed, thriving in families, communities, and relationships is really important in coronavirus times. We must all feel certain in our uncertainties--knowing that people will be there for us to give us strength, love, and confidence when we need rebuilding. It is time to learn to show love in new ways--perhaps like we have never done before. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Trying to keep normal in coronavirus times...

In this time of coronavirus, we can have moments of "silver linings": conversations we would have never uttered, games we would not have played, new skills learned, and projects we would have not attempted. It has the potential and opportunity to be a time of enriched relationships--to pause, meditate, and pray. We can become through this time stronger and more resilient people because we have been given more time at home.                              
                                                --Dr. Joseph Shumway

When I despair in the world, and it grows in me, 
and I wake in the night at the least sound
of fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, 
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. 
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water. 
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
                      --Wendell Berry, a favorite poet

We saw some happy children the other day on the river. As I spotted the twinkle in their eyes as they flew their kites, it made me so happy. They were free from their troubles for a while on the river. These are moments and outlets we need under times of stress and crisis.
Being here in China, I have heard countless times how to wash your hands, properly wear a mask, and clean my house--even to keep the water traps of our pipes and plumbing filled with water so no coronavirus seeps out. I get tracked with my iPhone and my temperature is taken many times a day. I have a special pass to get into my compound--no one else is allowed to come in who does not live here.

But, the one thing that people are not talking about much is our mental health during a pandemic. I live in Tianjin, China, about 700 miles from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus. In the last six weeks, we have seen an extremely small number of people here who have contracted the virus. However, with the small numbers of people actually sick with the virus, I have seen great anxiety and extraordinary disruption. We are not used to having our world turn upside down. Feelings of powerlessness and even panic are some people's "new normal." Even if we are out of harm's way and trying to keep some normalcy, these days require some coping skills.  

It has caused me to think about how to screen information in our brains and control the scripts playing in our heads. I have the power to "hear peace." (a blog I wrote a year ago) when "pieces" of disorder and disruption bring uncertainty and fear. Basically, I can put on a calm face mask, but still be in a complete state of panic and even depression. When I look out through my face mask at other's eyes--seeing only part of their face--I wonder what emotions are going on in there--especially the children.

Last weekend my husband who is the CMO of a hospital here was asked to give a talk titled “Keeping Psychologically Safe in Times of Crisis” to the Volkswagon employees here in China. He asked me to help him present it to our invisible audience through video conference. So for an hour we talked and shared about tools to combat feelings of uncertainty, disorder, crisis, and feelings of hopelessness those circumstances can inject into our lives. What can we do to not panic so we can maintain a sense of calmness and even sense of fun to the people who are living with us--especially if we are in quarantined or semi-quarantined conditions?

Being at home during coronavirus times means our home is a refuge--probably like never before. We are enclosed with some of the people we love the most in the world. If we live alone, it means we reach out to others to gather a community of support--oftentimes on the phone. As we have been in a semi-quarantine state (we can go to some markets) for the last six weeks, I just wanted to share a few lessons we have learned:

1) Examine your life, and talk about some of the things you want to accomplish individually and as a family--especially if it means you will be home together for an extended and indefinite time together. Make some goals, like learning a new skill, getting better at something that has been on the back burner for a while. My son with autism and I have written a children's book, and I am going through my favorite Moosewood cookbooks making delectable healthy food. Also, we made a goal to "March into March" and we are going to walk 150 miles. I think I should get up it to 200 because we have already walked 22- 25 miles and it is only March 4. Ha!

Pick a book you have been meaning to read.

2) Reach out to some friends and check in on them. Right now we have a young couple who are about to have a baby living with us for the last month. They live in a sixth-floor walk-up so their baby kept threatening to come prematurely. We invited them to come and be with us during this coronavirus time. It has definitely been less isolating to have others within our four walls. We have had lots of laughs and insightful conversations that we normally would not have had in these coronavirus days. Another friend made us some loaves of bread because she knows our oven had not arrived yet. It helps to be thinking outward, and not just about what is going inside our four walls or in our heads.

I am reminded of stories my grandmother told me about my Icelandic great-grandma, Gudrun Vatnsdal, during the time of the 1918 influenza when 10-20% of those infected died. I remember my grandma saying that her mother would go around in her wagon in Saskatchewan, Canada with soup, bread, and milk for those who were sick. She would just leave it on their porches. She kept many of her neighbors alive. I am grateful a great-grandma I never knew did that. Her efforts, one hundred years later, have not been lost on me. Remembering we live in a community and reaching out makes fears dissipate. It helps us remember we are all in this together--important feelings for our mental health.

On Chinese Lantern Day we delivered "over the fence" some dumplings to a friend. A few days earlier she had delivered us her delicious bread over our fence.

3) Watch the news for a short amount of time, but if you know it brings some panic, do not linger near the screen. Limit the news time so you don't feel like you get every wave of news all day long. Of course, it is important to keep informed, but fuse your life with some fun times.

4) Get out in nature.  We have a certain spot near "our lake." I love to hear the water lap up on the banks and watch the ripples in every light. Honestly, this ordinary and perhaps nondescript lake in Tianjin, China has kept me more sane and joyous in coronavirus times. In a city of 17,000,000 people, I can go to a special place for me that speaks peace to my heart. I know that hearing water makes me happy so I go there. Exercise, move and breathe outside the fresh air. It invigorates mind and body.

Taking a walk near "our lake."

A grandma and grandpa taking their grandson out for a walk near the Haihe River.

5) Make tasty, nutritious food. Go through some recipes you have been meaning to try for a while. Good food makes everyone a little happier.

I made this carmelized onion pie--one I have meantng to make for years...

A sweet potato salad that was delectable.

6) Have fun! We have danced to music, played games, told jokes and stories, and planned (very short term) activities because we do not know much more than a day or two ahead.

7) You are not alone. Do what you can to not feel isolated. Since I see very few people face to face--especially without their masks, we call people. I have talked to people I have not talked to for a while. Keeping in contact with others, and making some communities is very important. Tell others about your projects and goals. One Chinese woman told me she is having conversations she never thought possible with her mother.

I keep telling myself this is a "cocoon of time" that I am going to fly out of stronger--a few more conversations and connections shared, more laughs, projects that I have been meaning to get to, and lots of walking around "our lake."


Saturday, February 22, 2020

China: Peace Like a River in Coronavirus times...

 "Be still like a mountain, and flow like a river." --Lao Tzu Tung

"I choose to listen to the river for a while, thinking river thoughts, before joining the night and the stars."  
                                                             --Edward Abbey

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of these drops are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters."
                         --Norman MacLean in A River Runs Through It

We have walked more than a hundred miles in the last few weeks on the Haihe shores.
Since we are living here in China during "coronavirus times," we must occasionally leave our homes to have peace near our river--specifically the Haihe River in Tianjin, China. Parks are closed, and a lake that we fondly call our own is often not permissible to walk around. However,  there are a few people like us in this town of 17 million that gather on this beautiful, historical Haihe River. I have found it is where we can revive our strength and breathe in the beauty to go back and face the virus that surrounds us. 

I have never seen a place where people love to fish more than in Tianjin, China. Often you will see a lone person with their fishing pole, other times it will be a larger, louder gathering. Fishing takes people's minds off the coronavirus for a few happy moments. They are at peace with their river.
There are not many of us who come out of our houses (In Tianjin, it is allowed to leave your homes, but everything is closed and there are no gatherings in homes), but in the last month, we have watched this river give peace in a time of turbulence, offer strength in a time of uncertainty. The Haihe is called "The mother river of Tianjin" leading to the sea--gathering five rivers to its side to become one with it. It has become a new home to me--a place where my "river thoughts" trickle out. 

I have learned rivers are endless, constant givers. When thick ice threatens to block natural ebbs and flows, undercurrents incrementally force the obstructions away. Sometimes we have seen boats come out to crunch and break up the ice so the river can move forward again, rushing onward. Often someone needs to be the one to be in the boat crunching the ice so the water can flow again. Rivers have seasons--even within a day--and each moment can show different lights, ripples, and occasionally a near stillness. I am continually awed by rivers.

Some city workers breaking up the ice of the Haihe River. Within a few moments, the slated ice is broken up into shards and blocks.

Just a few hundred yards from this scene the boats are coming to break the great ice slabs in a puzzle of pieces--allowing the river to flow again.

During this "coronavirus time," I have walked over a  hundred miles along the Haihe River shores--back and forth--taking in the beauty and the lessons "the mother river" offers. We have watched clusters of fishermen, a few skaters, boaters, and even swimmers try its waters. Birds congregate here for their reunions. Families and loved ones hold hands as they watch their river flow, freeze, thaw, and then flow again. Sometimes the waters are swift, other times still. The Haihe River has become our sanctuary where we can forget the worries of this country for some moments. 

The Haihe reminds me to remember that life is meant to be like a rushing river. We are not meant to stay still for too long. The Haihe froze over for about two months, and you could see ice fishermen with their potched holes all over the river. Yet, eventually, the river beckons to break open again--to move from its source to its destination. Just like an unresolved grudge or quarrel left dangling, our own hearts yearn to burst forward and free--carrying all the dross to the sea. Rivers continually move, not allowing the snags to impede their flow. And they don't turn around again; they don't have time. There is too much water to carry to the sea to be concerned with turning backward. 

Being in this cocoon of time with the coronavirus has taught me lessons on how I want to live--to be like a river, being willing to twist and turn with the bend. A river seeks to move, unafraid of the tides or swings--the next chapter. And a river will not only bring you along with its momentum but it will move everyone and everything forward too. You all move onward together--leaving no one behind. Rivers make me realize I don't want to get stuck in any swirling eddies, but to get on the journey to move forward to the sea. 

I have loved winding rivers like the Mississippi, Missouri, Hudson, and Snake--far away from China. But now I love the Haihe. More than ever, rivers were meant to keep rollin' along...

The view from our fifth-floor apartment looking down to the frosted shoreline.

A few days later, with all the obstructions cleared away--providing an outlet to "our lake" beyond.

Monday, February 3, 2020

China and the Coronavirus

This is a family a few days ago in the park--all four generations. They are fortunate to spend time with family this year, as many families were not able to travel. Linking the generations is very important to Chinese people--including them in their lives. One of the reasons I really enjoy Tianjin is that it is a very family-oriented place. People are always talking about and visiting their families. Many young people prefer to stay in Tianjin, near their family, in favor of going to Beijing or Shanghai. 
It snowed yesterday here in Tianjin, China yesterday with the biggest snowflakes I have ever seen come floating down past the skyscraper where we live. It was like someone shook a down pillow of feathers and sprinkled them around our city. The morning was one of awe and wonder for all of us. I loved watching some kids play outside, knowing they have been in their homes for almost two weeks. People came out to take photographs. They were smiling and chatting as they walked around the lake where we live, marveling at the beauty of the birds gliding on the ice. A little change of scenery did us all good, as people bounded out, with smiling faces, to see the snow--not many people, just a few of us who needed a break from our four walls. Everyone was looking as cheerful and optimistic as possible.

Tianjin, a city of close to 17 million, is essentially closed to contain the coronavirus. The malls, factories, streets, schools, restaurants, and businesses are all shut down--waiting for the coronavirus to subside. Tianjin is a beautiful city with wide tree-lined boulevards and rivers running through it. But few people are outside to enjoy the snow or clean air this week. I can't bear to stay in all day so it has been interesting to be outsiders looking in--walking the streets of this historic city. We are not being repatriated to the US, as many friends; my husband directs a hospital here. He delivered a baby girl today. Life goes on...

As we walk around the city, there is evidence of incredible efficiency and management--something the Chinese are very good at. No one can manage a crowd of a few thousand people like a couple of Chinese policemen. There is structure and organization wherever you look. When we walk around the lake near our home, you can hear messages to wear masks and take care of your health and safety. Every hour the elevator is cleaned in our building, with a chart to have it signed off. A box of tissues was glued up to the wall of the elevator that was not there yesterday. My friend's elevator has toothpicks for people to push the elevator button. Luckily, the markets are open for a few hours daily, and I was able to get some bottled water today. So far everything in this city is working, humming along. I have to marvel at the commitment to essentially stop almost everything in order to obliterate the coronavirus.

One thing to remember is that these last few weeks are the most important time of the year for the Chinese--to celebrate the new year together with family. The day after the first day of the New Year's it is the tradition to go and visit your great uncle and second cousins. It is like taking away the equivalent of American Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's for them. Everyone's lives are being upended or modified in some way. But the most important thing is that it is being done with lots of grace and acceptance. The hospitals are busy, and the commitment to overcome the current health crisis is strong. As the Chinese say when things get tough, "Pour the oil," which means you need to provide the fuel and energy to solve a problem.

Everyone is doing their part in this big society in a time of crisis for their country. I have to say I am impressed. But I will be excited to see everyone's faces again without their masks. It is harder for me to understand their Chinese with their mask on...

The most popular park in Tianjin called, "The Water Park" is closed to anyone coming in. The man in the mask is a guard.

We like walking along the Haihe River, with its many bridges and famous Ferris wheel. 

If you plan on going anywhere--to a mall, store, anywhere, plan on getting your temperature taken. This is at the entrance of a hospital.
Some older people helping to clean the walks in the park when it snowed. There were lots of volunteers to help clean the sidewalks everywhere. China is a very efficient place. They know how to galvanize people to get things done!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

"How will you measure your life?"

It's actually really important that you succeed at what you're succeeding at, but that isn't going to be the measure of your life."--Clayton Christianson

"I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride." --William James 

My people...
Last week one of the foremost business thinkers of our time, Clayton Christianson, died in Boston after many years of some health problems. A few years ago my daughter worked at Harvard Business School, where he taught, and she would see him passing in the halls and say hello. At that time I read his book by the same title of this blog, How Will You Measure Your Life? With a new calendar year, I had been thinking about his insights recently. Then, I heard of his passing and realized that I needed some solo soul time.

With the beginning of a new year, a new decade, (and I have come back to China to live again). I was thinking what I would use to measure a wonderful life--one that will bring not only happiness but deep peace and satisfaction. How does that happen? What constitutes a meaningful life? And what are the metrics that measure that? My Blog on how ancient Egypt measured their life in "Egypt: Time and Immortality"

Most recently I have been thinking about becoming and how to get to the place we want to be. How we get to a destination is almost as important as finally arriving. Taking the time to reflect on how all those minutes we have each day are actually spent is important. I am convinced the decisions in those hours and days as the years accumulate shape us in profound ways. I believe as we ultimately measure our life, our path must be intentional if we want it to be successful. There are no short cuts, no royal road--just continuing to paint all the strokes on the painting. And then viola, there is a gorgeous masterpiece we created.

When I was 23, I listed my goals for the next five years in a ragged book. Once and a while (not nearly as often as I should have) I reviewed these written goals.  Since they were written, they were also subconsciously etched in the back of my mind. I was a little shocked when I came upon that book many years later and realized I had achieved every one. They were not unsurmountable, but each took some planning, adjusting, and work. I honestly believe it is very unlikely I would have been successful if I had not written them down or at least reflected upon those goals. These kinds of aspirations are the "checklist" variety. What about the goals that are the very most important that lack a simple qualitative measure--like developing loving relationships or fostering a personality that can nourish those who depend on you. Empathy and compassion are vital and exceptionally difficult. So again, how do we measure these critical capacities?

Since I am a religious person, my relationship with God is very important to me. (I liked what Christianson said, "I don't only want to believe in God. I want to believe God). Furthermore, I determined I wanted people, relationships, and family to be a high barometer (the metrics of focus) on my scale of happiness. Also, I hoped to make the world a little better--all three things most everyone in this world wants from the allotment of time we are given to breathe on this earth. Essentially, we are given time, and we must measure our days and years to make make sure they eventually matter.

Years ago I had the chance to learn this seminal lesson from my sister-in-law, Joan Shumway Erickson, who was battling cancer, a struggle that would take her life. She was a young mom, age 34, with four children. I had two little girls and was expecting a son. We had both just moved to Los Angeles, and knew very few people. She spent the last six out of the nine months of her life in a hospital--trying to do anything to save her life. Since it was not far from where we were living at the time, I went to see her almost daily. Consequently, it was in the sanctuary of a hospital room I spent some of the most important and shaping conversations of my life.

We were both young, but she was traveling a portal--where I was far behind on the path. So I listened as she spoke about her dreams. Gradually, she knew and accepted many desires that would not happen in this life. In those conversations, the curtain of what really mattered began to open for me. All of a sudden I got it. I understood with clarity, from what she was telling me, as she laid in her bed every day, that it was her relationships--her family and individual interactions--that would be the barometer of success. Although she had been the commencement speaker at her university and achieved many honors of life, that was not her yardstick of an accomplished life.

While she was a person of very little conflict, a few times I was in her hospital room as she called someone to make sure there was a feeling of peace between them in their relationship. She repeatedly called people to let them know of her love for them. Sometimes she even called and said goodbye to them-- knowing that her remaining time was short. I heard her speak of hallowed memories, as she gave them sincere compliments and praise. She said a few words to me that have always brought me a sense of great belonging and love, "You are not my sister-in-law anymore. You are my sister. I love you so much." That is the way the last few months of her life were lived. Those were holy days for me, and all these years later, I still remember watching a life that was immeasurably successful--one that I wanted to emulate.

There was not any more time for the superfluous or inconsequential as Joan began to accept that she would not recover. We laughed a lot because she had a fine-tuned sense of humor. Sometimes there would be six or seven hospital volunteers in her room so they could laugh and hear her insights from her brilliant and well-read mind. Being with her in those months was one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. When she said, "I would do anything to go home and change a diaper and wipe my child's nose," it really changed my life. It sounds simple, but it is true. I began to hear the world's sirens that were blaring in my life--telling me what made up a successful life. Instead, I heard Joan's voice, and I knew how to measure more what really mattered.

The noise of the world's clamoring for success began to not be as important to me. And sometimes,  in quiet moments, sparks and a few lighting bolts have retaught and reiterated what Joan taught me long ago. The accolades of the world are fun but fleeting. For me, one of the ways to appraise my life is to feel, "This is the most wonderful moment in the world right now."

I remember one time, about fifteen years ago, I went on a walk alone at dusk. At that time, there were six children living with us, and my blind father-in-law. Sometimes I was exhausted, I admit. It was a busy time. As I came around the corner, I peered into our house windows from the street (our house was always a fishbowl on the bottom floor). It was Christmastime, and the tree was perched brightly in the corner. Inside I could see one child playing the piano, someone else preparing something in the kitchen, another child stretched out on the floor playing chess with my husband by the fire. Another child sat on their grandpa's chair next to him. I stood there for a while and marveled. Yes, this scene before me required everything out of me sometimes. But it was worth it, and there was nowhere else I would rather be.

I was grateful and glad I could walk in--knowing it was home, and they all belonged to me. It was a "metric moment." So that is how I measure my life, ordinary as that might be--the feeling I know that the people I love are there, and with me. They forgive me, and we watch each other grow.

The night when I had my "metric moment" looking into my house when we lived in St. Louis

Capturing a "metric moment" when I knew that having a family was swelling my heart, bursting it right open. I loved seeing my husband become a new father. So many "metric moments"... A new #GirlDad
When I found out Elias, our son with autism could ski...
When I knew my love of other cultures would always take me around the world...
When my dad and one of his namesakes, our son, having a big hug a few years before Dad died...
I love my big family and our reunions.

My husband taking me to see YoYo Ma when I first started to play the cello.

Remembering the love I always had for my mother and father in law....

Surprising my husband on his 29th birthday in New York City...