Guest Blog: Not Living in Fear

The President of the United States said, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

Fearless. I know some fearless people. One is Piper Beatty Welsh. I met her through a mutual acquaintance and shared interests. She is a lawyer and an advocate for Cystic Fibrosis research. She is a survivor of that disease and cancer, as well as lung transplants. I have featured her wise and passionate articles in this space before, and I just can’t help sharing this one too. The President says not to live in fear. This is important.

Guest Blog Article by Piper Beatty Welsh

So I’m gonna be honest: the public conversation around “living in fear” of COVID has raised some interesting points for me as a person with (now multiple forms of) chronic, potentially fatal illness. The irony here is that I personally have used similar language before to explain my own life choices — although in absolute fairness to myself I don’t think I’ve ever been so callous as to label people who take more precautions than myself as “living in fear.” But whatever, I digress.

To me there’s a very big difference between refusing to “live in fear” and taking reasonable steps to avoid preventable harm. And, yes, I’ve had real life experience with both. For example, when I was faced with a projected 3 to 6 MONTH life expectancy last year (not the first time in my life I’ve been handed that sort of diagnosis) I looked my doctors straight in the eye and told them that I’d be taking a trip to Japan with my husband in the middle of chemo therapy. We flew literally around the world to a place where neither of us spoke a word of the language in the middle of a course of extreme chemo, with an IV line hanging out of my chest and a carry on bag stuffed to the brim with medical supplies for the simple reason that Japan was a lifelong dream and we wanted to experience it together, and we had good reason to believe that would be our last chance. So we spoke with my doctors and had all the necessary conversations — not to ask “permission” but to make sure that we had all the information and advice we needed to make smart choices and stay as safe as possible within the boundaries of our personal risk choices. At the time, we chuckled that the decision was “so Piper,” so like the woman who toted IV meds to law school classes and kept her treatment machines in her office at the firm so she didn’t have to go on disability. I’ve always taken pride in my decisions to prioritize my dreams while still managing my health, and while I know I’ve made mistakes along the way, it’s still something I value deeply.

Fast forward a year and suddenly random strangers on the internet — folks who in some cases have never faced a true medical emergency — are sitting behind their keyboards gleefully calling out all the “cowards” who “live in fear” of a “simple cold.” Mind you, it’s a simple cold that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and increased our annual death rate by approximately 20% in this country, but hey, who needs facts? According to these brilliant online philosophers, there are only two choices: live life exactly as you did before this virus, or “live in fear.” No other options exist. There is never any reasonable middle ground.

But here’s the thing: most folks who have truly stared death in the face will tell you that it’s not that simple. Living life to the hilt in a mortal world actually means taking responsibility for your choices and being smart enough to know which boundaries are worth pushing. The greatest climbers in the world will tell you that they’re highly aware of the risks they take on the side of that mountain. They spend tons of time planning their route, examining their equipment, practicing their moves, and learning from experts before they ever place a hand on that rock. The great ones don’t ignore the risks, they adjust and work with them to achieve their most important goals anyway. Same with skydivers or extreme skiers or race car drivers or deep-sea divers or the woman with breast cancer who desperately wants to attend her kid’s band concert despite immunosuppression and intense treatment. These folks make a plan, they understand the risks, they prepare themselves and their bodies beforehand, and then they do what is most important to them WHILE protecting their own life and the lives of those they love, because THAT’S what truly living is all about.

So pardon me, keyboard warriors, if I choose to stay home instead of hanging at the bar — that’s not an experience I’m willing to take large risks to enjoy when so many safer socialization options exist. And excuse me for a moment if I opt to follow the expert advice when I go out in public — my lifetime of medical experience tells me that public health is worth protecting. And please control your rage when I dare to wear a mask in your presence — I hate to offend, but my life means more than your delicate feelings. And don’t be surprised when you come at me with your rantings about “living in fear” and being a coward and you start to detect a slight smirk behind that mask of mine — because after all I’ve been through it’s gonna take a heck of a lot more than your silly words to bring me down.

And I’m not afraid to say it.

Be brave, beautiful people.

Four Seasons

It’s been hot here in Colorado lately. Not unusual for the season, I’ll agree. Not like the 120 °F that they’ve reached in spots to the west of us (even in temperate Southern California, wow!) but for us, reaching 100 degrees is pretty unusual. That’s what we had a day or two ago in Denver and then today… well, more on that later.

I remember summers in Virginia, where I grew up. What I remember is sweat. When it starts it never seems comfortable to me, though it’s doing the work of cooling me off, setting me up for the next cool breeze. Maybe I should be more appreciative, but it just makes me feel slow, and dank, and awkward. Once when I was a kid, I remember…

Summer. Sweat.

I was never so gangly and sweatful and dumb
As on that day when a new cousin came to see us.
A second cousin Mama said, family up from Tennessee.
I was seven and she was too but she was older, by far.

“What do you do around here?”
“I dunno. Play I guess.” Stupid answer, so stupid! Why did I say that?
She sat with the grownups and they all talked.
Her hair was golden, shiny, curled. After a while, bored, I went out to play.

Outside, Tommy came over and we chased each other,
tag-I-gotcha no-ya-didn’t until breathinghard sweatstreaming we paused,
swiping at the little grimy sweat beads that catch up dirt in the creases of your neck
and you can roll them out with your fingertips.

Afternoon sun glaring, heart pounding hot, leaning over hands braced on knees, sweat.
They all came out to her daddy’s car, cool as lemonade. “Bye now, y’all come see us.”
Such a bright smile, like my mother’s.
We never did go down to Tennessee.


Then comes the fall. One November, when Stormy and I were working in Bulgaria, I noted about the change in seasons that the month “started off with windy bright days that sent confused little eddies of dry brown leaves skittering noisily around the sidewalks in a panic.” 1

Fall. The Wind.

“Why so fast, Wind, what’s the need
For such ruthless, restless speed?”
Trees are frightened, some may fail,
Overcome by autumn’s gale.

Straining, bracing, they resist
Yielding to your brutal fist.
They whose leaves were high and fair
Stand naked now, denuded, bare.

Running, fleeing, leaves fly free
Through the streets ahead of me.
Hiding, huddled, by the stair,
Some dry leaves cower, shiv’ring, scared.

A moment’s rest, a heavy sigh
And then a prowling gust comes by.
“Aha! I found you! Now you’re done!”
Frantic, frenzied, out they run.

This day will bring no rest for trees
Or leaves, or me, out in the breeze.


And then today (remember it was extra hot a few days ago!) this is what we woke up to. Snow on trees

It reminded me of a story, a little fable I’ve told before2

Winter. The Snowflake.

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,”
The tiny black coalmouse said.
Taken aback, the dove thought it over,
And puzzled, she tilted her head.

“Why it’s nothing more than nothing,” she cooed,
“As light as an angel’s kiss.”
“Well then, I have a marvelous story to tell,”
Said the coalmouse. “One still night like this,

“I sat by the branch of a fir tree,
As many a time I had done.
Then softly and dreamlike in silence
A small snowflake fell. I said, ‘One.’

“Then idly I counted a million
And two million more, making three.
Then hundreds of thousands to seven
Each one on the branch of my tree.

“I almost lost track in a flurry
But I had a big job to do.
Three million sev’n hundred and forty-
One thousand, nine hundred and fifty-two.

“Each one safely settled and rested
Until with a SNAP! loudly heard
The three million sev’n hundred forty-
One thousand, nine hundred and fifty-third

“Broke the branch and so they all tumbled,
With one added flake down they slid.
Its weight was just nothing and nothing you said,
But see what that one snowflake did.”

The dove pondered this for a moment;
A quiet insight had its birth.
“Perhaps there is just one voice lacking
To finally bring peace to the earth.”

— Poem based on the story Also Sprach der Marabu, by Kurt Kauter (1913-2002)


Stormy and I lived for years and years in places where it seemed there were no seasons, or at least they were subtle, or muted. When we moved to Bulgaria it made us remember our childhoods, and the regularity of seasonal change, the lessons that come from knowing that things will not always be as they are. The lessons of preparing for the next season, like the lesson the ant tried to teach the grasshopper. “Winter survival” was what they called the preparation for the reality of the barren bitter cold. Enduring the winter was made bearable by the promise of spring, and the festivals anticipating the season were as much a part of the yearly cycle as planting and harvesting in their times. The anticipation of the season of wondrous new growth reached a peak on March 1, with the Baba Marta holiday 3 and the return of migrating storks to their nests. The season of renewal…

Spring. The Sprout.

Pushing, straining hard
Through dark damp unyielding earth.
Sunlight! I love you.

 

Robert E. Lee Statue: Virginia Governor Announces Removal of Monument

It had to be done. Not only the Lee monument but all those Confederate statues.1 I wrote in 2017, “As the saying goes, take it as you will, ‘They’re history.’” 2

Two years after arriving, reluctantly, at the realization that the Confederate statues in my old home town would have to be removed, I revisited Richmond and was a little surprised they were still there. I drove along Monument Avenue, circling the statues in their roundabouts. I walked around the lovely park up on Libby Hill overlooking the James River, with its stately granite column honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors. People were out strolling, some resting on benches. There were no signs of graffiti, no other signs of strife. People, Black and White, greeted me as they walked by under the gaze of the bronze soldier standing relaxed, as if weary, atop the column.

Protesters gather around the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia A large group of protesters gather around the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue near downtown Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Steve Helber / AP (Click on photo to go to AP story on NBCNews.com)

Yesterday I watched the memorial service for George Floyd. It was a ceremony of respectful reflection on his life by his family and others who knew him. It was also an expression of determination and resolve to force changes to systemic American injustice, far stronger than the “We Shall Overcome Some Day” of years past. It was a church moment, one different from the other church moments3 punctuating the turmoil that has defined these days of disruption.

Just last week I wrote about Trump’s Covid-19 response, and trying to get the nation to pull together in spite of him (The Value of Hatred). In doing that I was criticized for not being sensitive to the systematic oppression of Black people. Things I wrote about Trump were interpreted in light of the President’s (later) actions and statements on the demonstrations following the brutal killing of George Floyd. There’s no point now in trying to explain what I was trying to say about hatred and how it is so destructive in handling the pandemic, but I was not writing about George Floyd. Well, that was then. Covid-19 is no longer at the top of the headlines, and now our attention is focused on racial justice. So let’s turn to that.

It’s about time.

The depth and extent of racial injustice in America is not misunderstood. It is ignored.

If you condemn the protests and do not condemn the cop slowly choking George Floyd until he died, you are ignoring the cause. If you think protesters are looters and window smashers, you are ignoring not only the cause of the protest but the reality of the protest. Protesters and looters are not the same people. Looters came in cars to take advantage of the situation. In Minneapolis, the epicenter of the unrest, almost all of those arrested for looting were from out of state. *[Edit: See 6/7/2020 comment] Many of those arrested were identified with White supremacy groups. If you condemn the violence when protest got “out of control” did you ignore the fact that there were as many White people as Black people involved? Not that it changes anything, but where was your angry voice when Philadelphia “celebrated” their Super Bowl win in 2018? Stores were looted, cars were overturned, street lights were toppled. People set fires, fought with each other, and damaged property to the extent of millions of dollars. Oh, that was different. You might also be ignoring video evidence of the police provoking peaceful protesters in the current protests. Your Mom’s old question of “Who started it?” does no more good now than it ever did. “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate… ”

“… All are punished.”

Does a burning police car upset you more than police killing a man by kneeling on his neck? If it does, is it because you are sure it will never happen to you? And is that because of your skin color?

If you’re White like me and you want to do something but don’t know what to do, here’s a list. (Thanks, Sid. I hear you.) 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice. Read the whole list, then pick one to start. By the way, you don’t have to be a White to do these things; it’s just that the list is made for us because we need to catch up.