Alive in the Moment

It was only last summer, but it seems a lifetime ago that we visited Iceland…

 

…a country very different from ours, but one of stark beauty.

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A land of fire…

(Photo from Eldheimer Museum, Westman Islands.)

 

…and ice.

 

History…

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Culture…

 

…and wit.

My mom used to say, “You can find something in common with everyone you meet, even if it’s only that your feet hurt.”  A global pandemic should qualify.

At the Adalstraeti Museum, we saw old photographs of the inhabitants of Reykjavik.

An interpretive sign read, “Women in traditional costumes, boys from the Reykjavik Football Club…a professor in a coat with an opulent fur collar, several generations of a family, parents with their firstborn, Little Miss Reykjavik, a girl with a lamb, a boy in a sailor suit. It’s tempting to speculate on where they might have gone after the photographs were taken. Home to Lindargarta, or for a coffee at Hotel Island? Down to the shore to watch the lumpfish catch being landed? Or back to work after returning borrowed clothes?

All the portraits in this exhibition were taken in the first nine months of 1918…Some of the people we see in these pictures may well have perished in the epidemic: all will have lost friends or relatives. The only thing we can know for sure about these past inhabitants of Reykjavik is that in the instant the shutter opened, they were there—facing the camera—alive in the moment.”

On October 19, 1918, the Spanish flu hit Iceland like a tsunami when three infected ships made port in Reykjavik.  The first death followed twelve days later.  Ten thousand people, two thirds of Iceland’s capital city, fell ill.  The hospitals were overwhelmed.  A field hospital was set up to accommodate the overflow, and a center was created to care for children orphaned by the pandemic.  Shops closed, newspapers went dark, and when telephone operators took ill, Iceland lost contact with the outside world.

While the West and South of Iceland suffered, guards were posted to prevent travel from infected areas. They contained the spread, sparing the North and the East of the island. After a month, the infection peaked, and the dead were buried in mass graves.

The exhibit commemorated the centennial of the 1918 pandemic and celebrated the Icelanders’ laudable response. Many donated funds to feed the sick. Others brought meals to friends and strangers.  Everyone in Reykjavik was assigned an official to check on them and procure help, if needed.

We were there in the summer of 2019, never suspecting that the exhibit foreshadowed the novel coronavirus that would strike the following winter, and rapidly intensify into a global pandemic. We still languish in the first wave of CoVid-19, recalling with apprehension that the Spanish flu came in four waves, infected 500 million people, and left 50 million dead.

An older story harkens back to The Black Death, that raged across Asia and Europe in the 14th century, spread by sailors and rats along trade routes.  Within five years, it too had killed 50 million people.

(public domain)

At that time, an Icelandic merchant ship was preparing to sail homeward from Bergen, Norway, hoping to outrun the plague.  But before they could weigh anchor, several crew members developed symptoms.  All their instincts must have cried out for home…

 

…but the crew elected to remain in Bergen, knowing they would never see their home or loved ones again.

 

Thanks to their sacrifice in 1347, Iceland was spared the ravages of that deadly plague.

 

As the Adalstraeti Museum stated, the only thing we can know for certain about these people from the past is that they were there, alive in the moment. But it’s tempting to speculate.  Had you been on that ship, with buboes swelling in your groin, would you have resigned yourself to death in a foreign land to spare your countrymen a similar fate?  What if you were one of the crew with, as yet, no symptoms?  Would you still remain in Norway, surrendering any slim hope of survival, in order to contain the infection for the greater good?

(public domain)

I met my sister’s friend Rachel, a retired nurse, and her husband while visiting in Alaska. I was surprised last spring, when she left Juneau to fly to New York, which was suffering 600 deaths daily, as hospitals were slammed by CoVid-19 patients.  Rachel joined thousands of healthcare volunteers working 12 and 16 hour shifts, collapsing into bed each night, and waking to start all over again.

A friend of mine volunteers at a shelter for homeless youth. Why risk it? I speculate that in each youth she sees a person plagued by fears and sorrows, yet clinging to hopes and dreams.  Like the girl with the lamb, these kids are alive in the moment, but their world was rife with hardship, danger, and isolation even before the pandemic struck. A pandemic shines a harsh light on society’s economic and racial disparities, and those kids are a tiny fraction of the people who’ve slipped through holes in our social safety net.

We don’t know what the next five years, or even five months will bring, but it will get worse before it gets better. Like the people of Reykjavik, we must care for each other. Some people are in no position to donate funds or volunteer outside of their place of shelter. But almost everyone can wash their hands and wear a mask when going out, if not to protect themselves, then to protect the vulnerable among us. Like those who were here–facing the camera–very much alive in the moment…

 

Everyone is someone’s child, parent, sibling or grandparent.

 

 Many have underlying conditions or circumstances you know nothing about.

 

Wearing a mask is inconvenient, but well worth it, if it can save even one life.

If you can’t do this one small thing for friends, family, neighbors, and community, it’s tempting to speculate…what kind of person are you?

Except where noted, ©2020 Naomi Baltuck

 

 

A Perfect World

Four years ago my daughter Bea and I flew down to California to scout out Stanford. Last week the whole family flew in for her graduation.

She showed us the hotspots around town.

For sentimental reasons we brunched at an Anatolian restaurant. My Turkish ravioli with garlic yogurt sauce was a hit.

 

Amidst the chaos we found a shady spot for a game of Pandemic.

And saved the World.

We dined with the parents of Bea’s friend, Ben Bravo, who was gifted with the perfect name for a superhero or the hero of a romance novel!  After four years of hearing such good things about them, it was great to meet all the Bravos.

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Then we partook of a time-honored graduation ritual…in which the graduate’s family arrives with empty suitcases and packs up her stuff while she flits in and out, saying hello to her friends’ visiting parents, and farewell to her friends.

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Saturday morning was the Baccalaureate.

We heard a Buddhist Singing Bowl, a prayer of the Ojibway Nation, a reflection by Bea’s friend Zainub, Taiko drumming, and other benedictions, a celebration of spiritual diversity and mutual respect.

Bea graduated with honors, with distinction, and awards, including The Amy Levy and a Fulbright.  She had her village. Bea was…blessed is the only word that will do…to have been mentored by such remarkable professors as Dr. Gabriella Safran…

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…and Dr. Allyson Hobbs, whose hearts are as large as their intellects, and who kindly took my chick under their wing. Their encouragement made all the difference.

Bea and her brother are very close, besties, village peeps.  Eli traveled from Mexico to help her pack up, to celebrate and support her, even though he had to fly out at dawn on Sunday, missing the Commencement.

But Bea’s besties Denise and Marcus remained to cheer her on.

An airplane circling overhead trailed a message. Like many universities, Stanford is accused of sweeping those stories–and victims–under the rug, or throwing them under a bus, especially when the perpetrators are college athletes.

At Stanford commencement opens with a procession known as The Wacky Walk.

As individuals…

…or in groups…

…students parade around the stadium free to express themselves as they choose.

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I liked the funeral procession for the fallen GPA, with a trumpet playing Taps.

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Some protested after a Stanford swimmer was slapped on the wrist for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Had two students not witnessed the crime, intervened, and apprehended him, I doubt there would’ve been any consequences for the rapist. The victim will be traumatized the rest of her life, but the actions of two heroes and the resulting prosecution sends a message to sex offenders. This time the message is “Don’t get caught,” but one day people might grow up learning to “Treat everyone, even women, with respect.”

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Grads welcomed commencement speaker Ken Burns, a legendary filmmaker who has spent his life shedding light on The Civil War, The War, The West, The National Parks and more.

A stark contrast, from Wacky Walk to observing a moment of silence in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence, and victims of the massacre at a gay club in Orlando that morning. I blinked back tears when the audience spontaneously began counting aloud for each victim of that vicious hate crime…47, 48, 49. Pure pride and joy for my child turned to trepidation at sending her out into our broken world.

Ken Burns proved there’s still intelligent life on the planet, and even in America. His speech was wise and courageous. He ventured off the safe path to politics. Referring to the LGBTQ massacre in Orlando,”We must ‘disenthrall ourselves’…from the culture of violence and guns.”

He implored grads to defeat Trump, “…a person who easily lies…who has never demonstrated interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment; who insults veterans, threatens free press, mocks the handicapped, denigrates women, immigrants and all Muslims…an infantile, bullying man…willing to discard old and established alliances and treaties…Asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747…”

A few people booed, but the majority burst into cheers. Ken concluded…  “We must remain committed to the kindness and community that are the hallmarks of civilization…”  Click here and scroll down for Mr. Burn’s excellent closing advice to grads. 

The Class of 2016, at Stanford and throughout the US, has scattered, gone home, to a new job, grad school, even to Mongolia on a Fulbright.

It’s an exciting time, and a little scary as these young adults test their wings and search out their flight path in the Real World.

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Bless them all!  We should have gift-wrapped a bright shiny world and tied it in a bow for them. Instead we’ve left them a mess and must ask them to help us save our precious broken world.  It isn’t a game, neatly laid out on a board, with the rules spelled out, and a clear path to winning clearly stated in the instructions.

Perfection is possible only in a perfect world.  Do you think we could ever commit ourselves to kindness and community, and treat each other and our planet with respect?  Because that would be close enough to perfect for me.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Pure.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Close.

Except for quotes by Ken Burns, all words and images©2016NaomiBaltuck

 

Puget Sound Convergence Zone

Have you heard of the Puget Sound Convergence Zone?

 Northwest winds in the upper atmosphere are split by the Olympic Mountains…

…then re-converge over Puget Sound, just north of Seattle, where we live.  This causes updrafts, which can lead to “more active weather.”

Like rain, even when it’s sunny in Seattle.

Or snow, when a few miles south or even just down the hill, there is none.

I don’t mind. When the temperature dips below freezing, our fuchsia baskets come live in our purple bathtub.

The hummingbirds are always happy when the flowers come back from their holiday, especially when so many of their local diners close for the winter.

Our house is also a convergence zone, with kids blowing in like the Chinook Winds, to warm up the house from the inside out.

This last week we had long lost cousins dropping in.

Not to mention other friends and relatives with whom we broke bread, shared the glow of the twinkle lights…

…and saved the world.

Wherever you are, no matter what weather Ma Nature throws at you…

…you can always create your own little weather system.

 

All words and images c2014 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of Hugh’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Seasons.

The Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge.