Don’t Panic, Pt. 10: We Shall Be Released

Any day now, any day now,
I shall be released
— Bob Dylan

This will be the last in the “Don’t Panic” series (I hope!). Israel is opening up, and we’re slowly moving toward what will be the new normal.

Israel has twice as many people who have recovered from the virus (more than 11,000) than are ill (fewer than 5,000), and our new cases each day have been in the 10s. We’ve had very few deaths in the past week. The re-opening is happening in stages, and if the infection rates go up again, we can reverse into shutdown mode.

Masks are required outside our homes. In my area, I’d say about 50% are mask compliant. Another 35% are semi-compliant (masks not covering noses or having the mask available under the chin or over one ear). Jerusalemites have been desperate to get back to Mahane Yehuda, the open air market, and chose to wait in long lines in the heat to get in on the first day. It defeats the purpose of limiting the number of people in the market, but there’s no accounting for the human desire to shop at the shuk.

 

I went back to the office this week too. I’m taking the opportunity to walk to and from work instead of taking public transportation. [Read: Begone, damn pounds!] When I arrive at the office, I put on a glove to clock in. The guard takes my temperature with a scanner thermometer. We don’t touch each other and the thermometer never touches me. My temperature is recorded, and I head upstairs.

On the first day back, we had a staff meeting to go over new health precautions with everyone wearing masks and sitting at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Obviously our staff room isn’t that big, so all 30 or 40 of us were in the lobby of the building, and we had to set up a microphone so speakers could be heard. Not all of our staff have returned to work, but it was nice to see colleagues I haven’t seen for at least 6 weeks.

The nice thing about being out and about is really appreciating the flowers.

I took a walk along the railroad trail in celebration of my freedom.

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The frogs were out, but I wasn’t lucky enough to see one. Have a listen!

Don’t Panic, Pt. 9: Together, Apart

This week I had the opportunity to join a 10-hour, worldwide Tai Chi celebration via Zoom. I didn’t do 10 hours of Tai Chi, but I did a lot. I was pleasantly exhausted, infinitely calm, and genuinely uplifted.

The most beautiful part of it was having teachers lead the kata from Australia, Israel, Italy, and the United States. They invited us into their homes and studios connecting the hundreds of participants in a single purpose. Even though we were apart, we were together.

Tai Chi in the living room is different from practicing in a studio. One of the things missing from the Zoom experience is the soft “psh” of other people’s shoes on the floor as an auditory cue for the next move. Zoom also lacks form adjustment from a teacher (vital if you are just starting your Tai Chi journey!). There’s only me and a screen.

But on the screen, some teachers have their pets lounging on the floor like I do. Some have to shorten their steps or adjust their placement like I do. They’ve likely moved the furniture around like I have.

One thing that is the same is what happens in my mind during the kata. To remember the movements, I made up ridiculous (and totally unofficial) mnemonics to remember the moves: the moon goes up and down, …, hug a tree, sweep, serve the tea (on a flat hand!), remove it, push your guest out, …, cover the pot, push it, flip it, …, hold the baby, …, revolving door, uppercut, …, Hello Waldorf-Astoria, …, aim a gun, frame the moon, …, cloud hands, …, flamingo, …, kick, diagonal step back, sumo wrestler, fists, …, fireworks, kick, break a stick on bent knee, double punch to opponent’s forehead, …, curtsy, …, chicken beak spin, …, four corners, …, chicken eats, dragon snake slide backwards, …, Pink Panther, …, ball, banner, …, gather infinity energy, and end. Whew!

With all that in my mind as well as coordinating my arms and legs, I have a smile on my face (like you’re supposed to when practicing Tai Chi), and for that time, absolutely nothing else matters.

With love and thanks to the Israel Center for Tai Chi! (See my post several years ago about Tai Chi in Israel.)

*Full disclosure: I haven’t been active in the Tai Chi community for a long time, but I happen to be on the mailing list. This connection was gifted to me by the Universe reminding me how much I enjoyed the the moving meditation of the kata. I once knew the whole kata well enough to lead it in class, so these past weeks and especially this World Tai Chi Day have been a way for me to ignite my muscle memory and relearn the kata. I am truly grateful!

 

Don’t Panic, Pt. 7: Synchronicity of Yizkor

I have a confession. I like murder mysteries. A lot. Call them what you will: police procedurals, cozy mysteries, whodunits, even thrillers. The death is not the important part; it’s a catalyst for the puzzle. The hook is the chase and the solution.

It occurred to me this week – given that I have extra time on my hands for murder mysteries – that these stories and puzzles almost completely ignore the grieving process. People get back to the office (and have to work even though there was a murder!) and the family and friends of the victim help (or hinder) the investigation. It all feels very non-Jewish.

When a Jew dies, the immediate family stops everything for 7 days and allows themselves the space to mourn and remember. Semi-mourning goes on for 30 days. And then the person is remembered on their death anniversary every year.

I had forgotten that there are other days in the year when a candle is lit and a prayer said in remembrance of those, especially parents, no longer with us: Yizkor, from the Hebrew root of the verb “to remember.”

Synchronicity

This week I’ve been listening to an audiobook about an 82-year-old Jewish man living with his granddaughter in Oslo. He has lots of opinions, doesn’t pay much attention to what other people think, and kind-of lives in the past. Some of his monologues reminded me of my dad.

Christoper Lloyd was the guest star on this week’s episode of NCIS.  I can’t put my finger on why exactly but he always reminds me of my dad. Something in the cheekbones? Maybe some of the kooky behavior of his characters? His character in this episode was a curmudgeonly WWII vet who just wanted his story to be heard and to have his ashes interred on the USS Arizona, the ship that sank in the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The last scenes of the episode show divers taking the ashes down to the sunken ship.

Before the coronavirus shutdown, I was planning to take some of my dad’s ashes to Masada, but everything – and I mean everything! – conspired against it. A friend offered to drive me to Masada and we had to cancel a couple of times for various reasons. And then when our schedules matched, a huge storm blew in with high-speed winds and flooding. Two days later, everything was closed because of coronavirus.

My Google calendar reminded me that Thursday was Yizkor and, coincidentally, I got an email from Chabad about the prayer said on these special days. So I lit a candle for Dad and said a prayer of remembrance. After all this, Dad will have to let me know when and where he wants his ashes interred.

Pass Over

Some rabbis have noted that Passover is a very unusual time to be locked in our homes avoiding the coronavirus. The tenth plague was the killing of the firstborn. And the Angel of Death passed over the homes marked with the blood of sacrifice. The Hebrews were released from Egypt and in freedom on the the other side of the Red Sea became a nation.

All of us will be released from our homes eventually. And we will have lost people to the virus and to death from other causes. Unlike in a murder mystery, we will grieve, we will mourn, and most importantly, we will remember.

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Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay  

 

Don’t Panic, Pt. 6: Swedish factor

The days are all running together, but apparently we had Passover this week, and the Israeli government took the opportunity to temporarily but fully lock down the nation. I know that this is economically, psychologically, emotionally straining (I think the vernacular is “it’s a sh*tshow”), but for now I’m still okay with these extreme measures. The reason I’m okay is Sweden.

I’m trying to scroll less and take news breaks. I find the site that interests me most is featured on The Times of Israel related to the coronavirus.

9pm

9pm, Saturday night

See the Coronvirus Worldmeter? That’s my go-to site.

This week, I saw a little clip about Sweden’s policy of not closing down the nation and allowing people to “use their common sense.” Culturally, Swedes are quite fine with working from home, they aren’t overly social, they don’t have multiple generations living together. It’s not exactly a “herd immunity” argument, but it does suggest that healthy, younger, less-vulnerable people can go about their business as usual while vulnerable people should be isolated.

Sweden is of interest to me because they have a similar population to Israel: Sweden, 10.1 million; Israel, 8.6 million.

**Note: I’m not a statistician or an epidemiologist, and I know the comparisons below are not scientific.**

Israel and Sweden have a similar number of confirmed coronavirus cases. I tend not to follow that number because it’s based on testing capacity. You can see on the site that Israel is testing twice as much as Sweden is.

I follow the number of deaths (no, not because I’m morbid). This number is also a bit flawed. What if someone died but didn’t get tested for coronavirus? If they died of regular flu or pneumonia or didn’t get treatment in the ICU because it was crowded, is it counted in the corona deaths? I don’t think so, but these are the numbers we have.

Ready?

As of this writing: Israel has a total of 97 deaths. Sweden has a total of 887.

Now one might argue that Scandinavia in general has more deaths. Nope. Finland has 49. Norway has 117. Denmark has 260. Lock down nations all, and their populations range from 5.4 to 5.7 million.

The main “herd immunity” experiment was in the UK (67.8 million people). They have since walked it back and locked down (mostly). They even had their prime minister in the ICU this week. How are they doing? 9,875 total deaths with around 900 per day most of this week.

Israel’s first death was March 20, and the “closed case” statistic is 93% recover, 7% die.

Sweden’s first death was March 11, and the “closed case” statistic is 30% recover, 70% die. I can’t even begin to speculate why there is such a huge difference.

Sweden’s death graph tends to be up and down (it’s reality, not a projection, after all). Most of this week saw 75-114 deaths per day, but only 17 so far today. It remains to be seen if in the long term Sweden’s strategy will work.

Israel was ranked number 1 in COVID-19 safety by Deep Knowledge Group. So even though we are going through something resembling a science fiction/dystopian future movie, I feel pretty good about how Israel is doing.

But I have some complaints.

  1. Families around the nation were forbidden from meeting or traveling to other cities and even shut in their homes on the evening of the Seder, and yet somehow our president and prime minister managed to meet with their adult children. Way to lead by example, guys! At a minimum, they should be fined 5,000 NIS like others have been.
  2. Flights were bringing Israelis home from around the world and passengers were not checked for the virus or put in quarantine. They just took taxis home. Way to be organized, guys! So Netanyahu cancelled all flights to Israel.
  3.  The government is not yet formed, and there is no exit strategy for the lock down. Way to put egos aside for the good of the country, guys!
  4. I keep saying “guys,” not because I’m sloppily generalizing, I’m saying it because it’s mostly men in charge of this sh*tshow.

***

Even so, there are still glimmers of light in the darkness.

One of my best scrolling experiences this week comes from the Facebook group View from my window. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s beautiful, inspiring, and reminds us that we are all in this together.

Speaking of sh*tshows, this is the meme that made me laugh the hardest this week (from The Language Nerds on Facebook).

meme

Stay healthy! Stay home!

Stay sane! Stay safe! 

 

Don’t Panic, Pt. 5: Philosophy Corner

To those who are ill: I wish you a speedy recovery!
I wish everyone good health, safety, strength, and patience!
And we all owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who continues to work during this time. They are on the front lines and deserve much more than we’re giving them. 

***

This week I’ve been thinking about the Tower card in the Tarot deck.

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It’s pretty scary! If it comes up in a reading, it means sudden, shocking change. There’s a lightning bolt from the sky. Fire! The symbols of the kingdom are knocked over. People are falling. Everything you know is going to be shaken to its foundations.

But most interpretations offer a glimmer of hope.

  • What if the Tower was a prison? Now you are free.
  • What if the Tower was built on shaky foundations? Now you can rebuild.
  • What if the Tower was a monument to illusion? Now you can move forward with knowledge.

COVID-19 is definitely a sudden, shocking event, and it has shaken the world. It’s scary, and it’s a catastrophe for physical and mental health, for the world economy, for social connections, for everything we knew before.

Now what? Where is the glimmer of hope?

Day after day after day after day after day after day …

If you’re sheltering at home, they do kind-of blend together, don’t they? Someone wished me a nice weekend, and I channeled Downtown Abbey‘s Lady Violet, “What is a ‘week-end’?”

But I’m more reminded of the the movie Groundhog Day, a Bill Murray classic about a guy who relives the same day until he gets it right (and gets the girl!).

If you’re feeling bad about staring at screens all day, shouting at the news, and not doing any of the things you planned to do when you “finally have the time,” don’t. We’re still at the beginning of Groundhog Day. Bill Murray’s character realizes that his actions have no consequences and instead of doing good, he gives in to all his worst impulses: stuffing his face with food and alcohol, being violent and dangerous, using his time loop to develop new and creative ways to be a social tsunami.

Wikipedia writes that Groundhog Day is a story about the philosophical idea of “cultivation.” I first heard about this concept in Chinese dramas about gods and immortals. The idea is that a person spends 10,000 years becoming a better person – a little bit every day. In a pithy phrase: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Bill Murray’s character didn’t learn French in a day. He didn’t learn to play piano in a day. And it certainly took him longer than a day to learn to be a better person.

Just one step

So we’ve had this shocking change in our world.

Take a breath. And then, every day

  • Take care of basic hygiene
  • Remind yourself of the date
  • Be grateful for your blessings
  • Do one small good thing

Everything feels like it’s falling to pieces right now, but like the Tower card, it depends on how you interpret it. Like in Groundhog Day, you can choose what to do in an impossible and insane situation (while gently forgiving yourself for your imperfect cultivation).

Passover is next week and we’ll tell the story as we do every year. After surviving plagues, the newly freed Israelites will receive some new life instructions and will do their best to become better people.

We will overcome this. We will be free of the before-times. But our strength is that we can choose how we will rebuild in the after-times.

 

Don’t Panic, Pt. 4: Life in Lockdown

At my house, it’s more or less business as usual. I’m counting all my blessings.

  • I’m healthy.
  • I can work from home, and I have work coming in.
  • I like being at home; it’s my sanctuary even in non-coronavirus times.
  • I have a patio allowing me to be outside in green space.
  • My cats are happy to have me around.

Shopping

As of Thursday, Israel restricted people to stay within 100 meters (a football field) of their homes, except for necessary outings. Shopping is necessary.

My regular store had the basics, but I decided that I needed to go to Emek Refaim to pick up treats for myself and my cats. We’re going to be at home for a while.

The pet store was not allowing people inside, but served people at the door. We stood 6 feet apart.

At the fancy grocery store, they were limiting the number of people allowed in. I had to wait outside for a few minutes. The store provided disposable gloves at the entrance. It wasn’t too chaotic inside, but they were disinfecting all surfaces and stocking shelves (preparing for Passover). Shoppers stayed apart as much as possible.

I got some brie and a baguette – who knows when I’ll get the chance again. And the extra special thing I got was Lavender Earl Grey tea. I know, bergamot and lavender sounds like a flavor overload, but I’m telling you it’s wonderful and good for relaxation.

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YouTube is my BFF

I watch news from around the world. And then to recover, I need to watch a lot of stand-up comedy. I’m just scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. I watch British stand-up usually or British shows – I highly recommend Graham Norton’s talk show. If you want stand-up comedy that has no swearing and no sex, go to Dry Bar Comedy (even the neck-tattoo guy has clean comedy).

I did one project so far. Success!

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I’ve also started using YouTube as an art course.

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I have no background in art at allbut I think these turned out pretty well. None are for sale at any price.

YouTube is also great at suggestions. My acrylic paints videos turned me on to dot mandalas. I tried one and I need to work on the process a bit more. But I challenge anyone to watch one of these videos and not be relaxed. I thought this one was pretty.

Human voices

I haven’t started giving my cats voices (yet!), so for human sounds I’ve been listening to audiobooks. Audible.com is offering free children’s books for all levels – you don’t need a membership (available in multiple languages!).

I’ve also attended a number of free webinars and I had a Tai Chi class via Zoom. I think I might do more of that!

Shelter at home – Kitty style

Hope for the future

I’m trying to see the opportunity in the adversity and really use the time this lockdown created. I’m not quite there yet – discipline and schedules are not my strongest skills – and the scrolling, scrolling, scrolling can be a bit addictive.

My wish is for all of us to come out of this lockdown just a little bit better than we were when we went in.

Don’t Panic, Pt. 3: A Lesson in Self-Reliance

This week I’ve been at home; I’m healthy, just following recommendations. As long as I have WiFi, I’ll be fine. My thoughts are with everyone who is ill or going through stressful times. It will get better. Eventually.

“Cats are cool.”

Kitler is the alpha cat in the green space around my building. He’s been here for more than 10 years according to the neighbors, and when I first moved in, he was a grouchy cat who didn’t trust anyone or anything.

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Intruder alert

A year and a half later, he finally let me scratch his ears and now comes running to say hello when I open the door. He’s not exactly affectionate, but he lets me know he tolerates me and appreciates the Cat Condos.

Kitler

I tolerate you

A few days ago, I noticed that he had a big lump on his foreleg. He not my cat, but I didn’t imagine anyone else would take responsibility for him. My vet makes house calls (even now), but he was quite busy. We thought the lump might be an abscess.

Kitler wasn’t in pain, but he wasn’t quite himself. He invited himself into my house and laid down in one of the cat beds. At some point he moved to the foot of my bed – and my cats were completely fine with it. He also spent some time under my bed. I decided that in the morning, I should probably take him to a clinic. I wasn’t looking forward to trying to get him into a carrier.

(Side note: because of the social distancing restrictions, animal clinics are not allowing humans in, but pets can be left at the door and are retrieved by the staff.)

I went to bed, my cats snuggled with me, and Kitler moved himself into a cat bed for the night.

In the morning, I found that Kitler had left a small brown aromatic “gift” under my kitchen table (Thanks, Old Pal!) and he didn’t seem to have swelling on his leg anymore.

He. Had. Drained. The. Abscess. By. Himself. Using. His. Teeth.

Ewww. Gross!!!

I texted my vet to let him know in case this was now an emergency, and he wrote back: [thumbs up icon] Cats are cool.

Um. Well. Yeah, I guess they are. Kitler had a health crisis, found a safe space, and just got on with getting himself better. Whatever it takes.

(In case you’re wondering: he’s fine. I put Neosporin on the scratches on his leg.)

A lesson for humans

Let’s hope we don’t get to a point where we have to do minor surgeries on ourselves, although I hope I would be as strong and resilient as Kitler should the need arise.

Here are some takeaways for our coronavirus times:

  1. Don’t Panic
  2. Heath is the most important thing
  3. Find a safe space
  4. Stay away from clinics if possible
  5. Do what needs to be done
  6. Rest and recuperate
  7. Show appreciation for the helpers (avoid brown log-shaped “gifts”)

***

A good video to help you understand why drastic action needs to be taken early #StayHome

 

 

Don’t Panic, Pt. 2: Keep your distance

First and most importantly, I wish speedy and complete recovery to all those who are ill with COVID-19 and continued good health for those who are asymptomatic and in quarantine.

I delayed writing because the situation in Israel is changing hourly and while there will be more to come, now is a good time to catch up.

After the third election, there was still no coalition, but because of the coronavirus, elected officials understood that now is the time to act in unity to protect Israel and its people. Corruption and massive egos get pushed aside when Israel is under threat.

On Thursday, Israel closed its borders. Tourists are not allowed in the country unless they can prove they have a home (not a hotel) to self-quarantine for two weeks. Schools were officially closed until after Passover (mid-April).

Also on Thursday night, a huge storm blew across Israel with high winds and chances of flooding in the Dead Sea and Negev. Coincidence or Divine Directive to stay home?

On Friday morning, normally a busy time in Jerusalem even on rainy days, the streets were quite empty. There are images of a nearly empty Western Wall plaza, nearly empty Mahane Yehuda (the open air market), and few people on the outdoor shopping streets (Ben Yehuda and Mamilla).

As of Saturday evening (see sections of Netanyahu’s speech with simultaneous English translation), entertainment and cultural activities are closed, including cafes and malls. Gatherings of 10+ people are no longer allowed. We are asked to keep 2 meters (6 feet) away from others. Netanyahu said we are at war with an invisible enemy.

We are not in lock-down, but we’re getting there.

This is where we are now

The main article making the rounds right now is “Corona Virus: Why You Must Act Now” (available in 19 languages). It’s a pretty scary article backed by a lot of graphs, statistical models, and historical analysis of the 1918 flu pandemic. Bottom line: Social distancing, containment, early action.

I skimmed it and am quite comfortable with Israel’s policies – even if they get a lot more invasive (and they will).

Getting in touch with our humanity, virtually 

My friend in Milan is taking the lock-down philosophically. He can’t go anywhere for a month, so he thought it would be a good time for some self-reflection and life evaluation.

Facebook is filling up with quarantine support groups and offers of small group activities for children.

Asymptomatic but quarantined religious women in Israel are expecting to have more time to clean for Passover.

A Hebrew Ulpan is offering Hebrew classes online (free).

Economic safety nets are showing up using online technology. Tour guides have been hit hard by the closed borders and one company decided to try something different: virtual tours given by real guides on location to families in their homes around the world.

The main Tai Chi group in Israel is offering stress-relieving Qigong meditation classes online (for free).

Thoughts for now

Reasoned, thoughtful action is what will get the world through this mess.

Panic will only lead to irrational toilet paper and hand sanitizer hoarding. Let’s elevate ourselves above that.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Panic

If you have your towel, a Babel fish in your ear, and know that the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42, then you’ll probably be fine.

If not, you might as well quarantine yourself and read the six books in the trilogy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You’ll be safe from the coronavirus (COVID-19) and you’ll know it’s best not to panic.

***

Israel just had its third election and the government is pretty shaky, but they still have their act together doing everything possible to contain the coronavirus.

As of this writing:

  • Jerusalem Marathon – cancelled (ok, postponed until October, all being well)
  • Public Purim celebrations – mostly cancelled
  • Gatherings of over 5,000 people – cancelled
  • International travelers are not permitted to events with more than 100 people
  • Anyone arriving from mainland China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Italy, Austria, Germany, Spain, France, or Switzerland must go into 14-day home quarantine. If you are coming from Taiwan or Australia, watch for symptoms. This applies to both Israelis and foreign nationals. And the government just made it retroactive – anyone who has been in any of those countries in the last 14 days. As of this writing, somewhere between 50,000 to 80,000 people in Israel are quarantined.
  • Flights have been canceled. Whole airline companies are not flying to Israel.
  • A specifically Jewish note: Chief Rabbis in Israel say not to touch the mezuzah when passing through a door (this is a custom for many Jews).

Israel’s Ministry of Health has a website available in Hebrew, English, Russian, and Arabic giving updated information and guidelines about the virus.

The primary guideline is not to visit your healthcare provider. If you have a fever of at least 100.4F (38C), cough, trouble breathing, or other respiratory problems, you can call a hotline and a medic will come to you.

Guess how many confirmed cases of coronavirus Israel has?

21 (no deaths)

Even more surprising: Palestinian territories are closed to tourists for the next two weeks. Bethlehem closed tourist attractions (Church of the Nativity), schools, universities, and mosques.

Guess how many confirmed cases?

16 (no deaths)

I’ve been listening to the US news and there seems to be so much outrage and panic about the lack of testing. I looked all over Israel’s website and found nothing about testing. If you’ve been exposed or possibly exposed, quarantine.

In fact, there was a press release detailing the itinerary of a woman who tested positive for coronavirus after she returned home to New York. Israelis were told to quarantine themselves if they had been in the areas she had been during that time. (She was near my work, but thankfully we were not in the same place at the same time.)

Apart from that, wash your hands, use common sense, and business as usual.

Israel is a small country with nearly 9 million people. We have one major international airport. Not every country can act so quickly and with such force. This lock-down will protect people, even if it is uncomfortable, restricts travel freedom, and will probably have catastrophic economic repercussions. Losing money and comfort is less important than losing life.

As I write this, I can hear children playing in the park behind my home. In spite of everything, it’s a pretty normal Saturday.

Tomorrow, I’ll grab my towel, take a bus to the office, and it will be business as usual. And most importantly, I won’t panic.