Some of you reading my words love the thrill of a roller coaster ride. The speed, the sharp turns, the precipitous dip! But that has never been an adventure I craved. In fact, I have only been on one roller coaster in my entire life, when my husband somehow tricked me into taking leave of my senses to get on this humongous supposedly amusement (ha! ha!) park ride! My husband, the children—they loved it! But for me it was torture.
The year 2020 since the month of March has recreated in me the same racing heartbeat I had when I was on that roller coaster ride years ago. The world I am inhabiting seems to me to be swirling faster and faster with images before my eyes which are foreign to my sensibilities.
In January and February I was oblivious that there was a novel corona virus halfway around the world that perhaps had jumped from the animal chain to humans and was rapidly being transmitted from person to person. I was taking down Christmas decorations, organizing my tax filing information, watching grandchildren from time to time, continuing with a periodontist procedure, and laying out a mock-up of rhyme, illustrations, song, recipes, and adult caregiver instructions for my second children’s book. This was my normal life.
However, I remember learning from the news in early March that the corona virus and its accompanying COVID-19 disease had spread from China to other countries, including the United States of America. By mid-March world-wide panic was settling in everywhere as thousands, tens of thousands and then hundreds of thousands of people became infected with the virus and needed hospital medical attention and treatment. Fever, total body aches, coughing, and difficulty breathing were some of the symptoms.
Isolation, quarantine, personal protective equipment, social distancing, and incubation are words which become a part of our everyday vocabulary. Governor and mayor stay-at-home mandates are instituted.
Schools are closed, at first with the thought that they might reopen. But that doesn’t happen. Most schools are already familiar with Chrome books and online assignments. But totally replacing classroom interaction and teaching with online learning is the challenge.
All except “essential businesses” close. Thus many persons of lower economic means become unemployed and unable to provide the necessities for their families without receiving assistance.
Hospitals, especially in large cities, are pushed beyond capacity with the tsunami of patients coming to their emergency rooms. Hospital and nursing home visitations are closed. People die with no family by their death bed. Bodies are stacked and stored in refrigerator trucks outside the hospitals. Funerals become non-existent. Medical scientists are ramping up research in hopes of producing a vaccine against the virus before the end of the year.
The U.S. economy seems on the verge of depression. Lines of cars with parents waiting for food for their families become a common sight on the nightly news I watch.
In May a new element of unrest comes into play as a number of deaths of black citizens by law enforcement using excessive force or unprovoked gunfire are played over and over in the media. Protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Atlanta, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky become widespread over the nation. Some protests proceed property destruction and looting in downtown districts.
Mother Nature inflicts both flooding and huge forest fires.
The Democratic and Republican factions of government become increasingly hostile to one another and reflect an American society which is split down the middle over approving or disapproving President Donald Trump’s governing, how he responds in word and action to current events, management (including hiring and firing) of his staff, handling of domestic and foreign affairs and his competency to hold the highest office of the land and one of the most influential offices in the world.
“Yikes! Stop the world! I wanna get off!” is what I want to scream. And maybe you feel the same way!
We have, however, recently received new hope. Government officials have decided they cannot continue to restrict as severely American citizens’ freedom to go about their daily lives. So, various states are “opening back up” on their own time-tables and with their individual restrictions or recommendations.
Bars and restaurants are allowing in-house customers according to certain criteria.
Also exercise gyms, beauty salons and barbershops are reopening with a certain capacity.
Some playground and parks which had been closed are reopening.
Some retail stores are reopening with social distancing; but unfortunately some have already gone out of business due to loss of revenue.
Swimming pools are reopening. Athletic sports are finding ways to practice and play while attempting not to put participants at a health risk.
Churches are resuming in person congregating in their houses of worship.
Children’s daycares which were closed are opening their doors. Individual school districts and colleges and universities are now focused on how they may reopen for the fall semester after enduring months of nearly empty campuses and having all instruction and learning done virtually.
Some say in all these areas we will function with a “new normal.” And the new normal of conscientious hand washing, wearing facial masks, not shaking hands, and practicing social distancing may last a long time.
So in the midst of my wanting to scream out, “Stop the world! I wanna get off!” perhaps I should be saying resolutely, “I’m on this world ride. I didn’t choose the time nor the place of my birth and early upbringing. But now, as an adult, I can choose how I will react to these abnormal days of my life.”
The time and place of Anne Frank’s birth was 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany where it became increasingly difficult to be a Jew as government restrictions dictated how Jews could go about their daily lives. Her father Otto Frank took his family to the Netherlands where they ultimately went into hiding for more than two years before they were arrested and sent to concentration camps where they all, except for Otto, succumbed to disease. Anne, then a twelve to fourteen-year-old girl, captured the time and place of their secret life and her feelings in diary entries which later became a window for us all to look through in THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. It has been translated into more than 70 languages and has sold millions of copies.
The time and place of the typical Kentucky black slave was the early to mid-1800s. Some white men owned tracts of land which needed laborers to work the fields, look after the livestock, do carpentry, cook, sew, and care for white children. So black folks were bought to meet these needs. But enslaved blacks were property and were sold like animals, with little thought to breaking up the family unit.
Original black slaves were transplanted from their native continent of Africa and by the 1800s were several generations removed from their roots. Yet, though these individuals lacked little control over their lives, one of the elements they retained from their African heritage was making music using melodies based on the pentatonic scale (five-note scale instead of eight) and lyrics of faith and hope for a brighter future.
Contemporary Gospel singer Whitney Phipps attributes the haunting simplicity of the five notes of the song Amazing Grace to its being brought to America from the African continent on slave ships. And, interestingly enough, the lyrics with which it achieved its greatest marriage are those of John Newton, himself a slave ship Captain enlightened through one particularly vicious storm that he, his crew, and his black prisoners shackled in the bowels of his ship survived. The first verse, “Amazing Grace! how sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me! / I once was lost, but now am found, / Was blind, but now I see” is a first-person narrative he used to illustrate his sermons when he later in life became a minister.
This African melody was taught to me by my dad Marion Colston Carlisle. He was the first person to teach me how to play piano. He played by ear and always on the black keys. He taught me Amazing Grace and I in turn taught it to several of my grandchildren as one of their first piano pieces. Their little fingers sat right on top of those black keys and they delighted in learning it. So I’ve passed along the music and lyrics of one of the most recognizable songs throughout America, a song of triumph over adversity which seems to resonate with audiences of every skin color.
Another time was 1887 and the place was Tuscumbia, Alabama where Ann Sullivan took on the position of teacher for a deaf blind mute six-year-old girl Helen Keller. Sullivan was partially blind herself and studied at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston from which she graduated at the age of 20. Sullivan taught Keller privately for a couple of years and then took her extremely intelligent student to the Perkins School for further training. The Sullivan/Keller relationship moved from teacher/student to friends for life. The hardship of introducing a multifaceted world to a deaf blind mute little girl and the challenge of being that little girl were accepted and overcome to the amazement of both hearing and visually impaired and those with normal hearing and sight.
I hope these three examples of persons who found ways to rise above their birth and circumstances may help you in your perspective of the novel corona virus and COVID-19 and how they have impacted your life. I am including a clip below of Wintley Phipps discussing the history of AMAZING GRACE.