Is Zoom a Reliable Alibi?

One of the joys of the Shutdown has been discovering crime dramas on what used to be mysterious and unclicked words on my TV screen. The series of murder mysteries on MHZ, Hulu, Britbox and Acorn are not necessarily formulaic, but they have one major scene in common: the detective always asks if the suspect was elsewhere on the night of; and if there are witnesses to the alibi.

I had an alibi last Sunday. The Shutdown service at my church was livestreamed into an adequate eleven-inch computer screen propped up on the desk in my bedroom. The sermon struck the taut chords in my silent mouth and unclapped hands. I needed a collection of witnesses to shout “Amen!” to Pastor Shannon’s sermon. But I was alone, looking out the elsewhere window weeping over the no-one. No one to join in a standing ovation, no one to see and no one to see me.

After the sermon I sang along with the tinny music emanating from the computer; an old hymn I love:

Live into hope of captives freed

From chains of fear or want or greed.

God now proclaims our full release

To faith and hope and joy and peace.

Halfway through I shuttered with a renewed and deeper knowing that I’d never attend a church service in person again. The pandemic Shutdown will hold me captive in chains of fear until the end of my days. Groups, especially singing groups are out of the question for my old bones in these non-vaccine days. 

I won’t observe Pastor Matt’s infant grow from a toddler to a Sunday schooler. He’ll never again see me ooh and ahh in the delight of his fatherhood. I’ll never sneak into an early morning service in my pajamas (hidden under a long winter coat), to hear Pastor Rocky again. And he’ll never see me admiring him in the way of a proud mother. Gabrielle and I will never again join arms, run up to Pastor Shannon after the service and proclaim our undying gratitude for her ministry. And she will never see the reflected glow of our admiring faces in the pews.

crrub140320Albert Einstein once posed a question to a fellow physicist, “Do you really believe that the moon only exists if you look at it?” It’s a common philosophical question, similar to
the sophomoric, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”. In morning meditation I intentionally ask myself if I’m hearing sound or “thoughts of sound” as a way to go deeper, where there is no sound.

Intentional solitude is not the same however as the feelings of isolation that arise from the existential supposing, “If I’m neither heard nor seen, do I exist?” Responding to covid requires an abrupt “so long” to a group existence I wasn’t ready to leave. In an alternate elsewhere life, witnesses see and hear me on Zoom.

Is this a reliable alibi?

 

Shutdown Week 12: Anti-Racism ABCs

Shutdown Week 12: Anti-Racism ABCs

Dystopian streets boarded up to thwart theives don’t scare me.

Eking out alfresco cafes here and there in the pandemic shutdown, I find a seat.

From my lone coffee chair I hear neighboring chats.

Great pseudo-intellectuals compare this 2020 spring to 1968.

How shallow the words ring from fellow boomers conflating serious demonstrators, hothead window smashers and professional ransackers.

I was there, you know”, I want to interrupt and say, “in 1968.”

Jacketed in fringed denim and tie-dye.

Kaleidoscope eyes spiritualized reality.

Lucy in the Sky laid down groovy colors on the streets.

Marching on Washington.

Not Lake Shore Drive.

Or Union Square.

Progress not perfection drove our activism.

Quaker’s silent prayers for peace undergirded our courage.

Rolling Stone Magazine announced tickets to Woodstock, a music festival for serious protesters, hippies and dope dealers.

Sinners-turned-saints came marching in with sit-ins and shut-downs.

The mailman delivered March on Washington alerts from the Vietnam Moratorium Committee and Another Mother for Peace.

U fought for civil rights having gone your whole life without knowing one black person.

Violence erupted when non-violent Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis.

We never stopped writing letters, and when we could afford it, we telephoned Washington; the Vietnam war ended, racism didn’t.

Xgen’ers and millennials are younger than me now, older than I was then.

Yeastlike, they rise in the cities demanding “Defund the Police”. 

Zenlike, cities bow to the anti-racist revolution, even my city. Maybe.

Applauding the masked and unmasked demonstrators, I have hope.

Black lives may finally matter in myth

Curious covid coronavirus city, Chicago.

Shutdown Week 11: Wild Weekend

Shutdown Week 11: Wild Weekend

I’ve been cooped up so long that it didn’t even occur to me to put Saturday’s protest march in my calendar. When a friend texted me about it I thought, “Hm. Should I go? Not go?” I’m a chronic protester and the seventy degree partly sunny weather was perfect for a march. What held me back? Social distancing. Coronoavirus. Covid-19. Pandemic. Vulnerable. I recoiled from visions of the no-justice-no-peace viral load shouting into the air and landing on me.

But there was something more to my hesitancy. Something more basic, deeper than protecting my own health. I want to be in that number when the saints march in with the solution. One more march protesting the licensed execution of a black man by a white man fell short of that solution.

The block-long parade of peaceful protesters chanting and chugging past my building Saturday afternoon gave me reason to pause my podcasts, stretch my legs, grab a Ginger Ale, and take a look.

Why was the group so small?  Oh, well, back to the Axe Files for Ezra Klein and David Axelrod pointing out America’s polarization is driven by race. No solution there.

On my evening walk with Henry I wondered why the Rush Street restaurants with bustling shutdown take-out activity were suddenly shuttered. The couture Oak Street stores were boarded up again after spending the previous week removing the pandemic plywood in anticipation of opening for business. The smell of plywood and sounds of buzz saws and hammers filled the air as workers boarded up store after store. Were they really expecting looters from such a peaceful protest?

I turned on the TV. Mayor Lightfoot declared a nine p.m. to six a.m. curfew. Every major city in the country had erupted in violence all at once. Police cars were turned over and set on fire. State Street stores were smashed and looted. The city raised the Chicago River bridges to keep the danger from spilling into my neighborhood.

So I thought.

If Chicago erupted into a war zone Saturday night, Oak Street was the equivalent of Sherman’s March to the Sea. I entered the east end of the street early Sunday morning. A wide open empty U-Haul truck was smashed into a vintage storefront. Maurauders had ripped off the fresh plywood, broke through windows and looted every store. Collateral trash lined the streets and sidewalks. I fixated on a Versace shoe box strewn on the curb next to a disrobed

IMG_1875
Oak Street Chicago May 31, 2020

and de-limbed mannequin. A middle-aged man came along and kicked the box open. He had shoes hung with tags tucked under his arm. On the prowl for left-behinds from the professional thieves, he smiled like we were on a scavenger hunt together.

I stilled myself.  In the quiet, a quote from playwright Idris Goodwin, kept fluttering around my thoughts. “This is not the intermission. This is the stage.” Will I ever actually believe we’re on the same stage, an ensemble supporting the same story? The solution I seek stirs there.

Shutdown Week 7: Unknowing

Shutdown Week 7: Unknowing

The first change I faced for the Covid 19 shutdown was the suspension of classes and groups for older adults at the Center for Life and Learning (CLL) in my neighborhood church. The cancellation announcement infuriated me. For an entire day, I thought it was the only shutdown announcement, the only group activity suspended.

The media had been continually reporting that people over sixty were more vulnerable to coronovirus than the rest of the population. Shutting us down was our best protection. My wounded ego jumped to the conclusion that we, as a group, would be thought of as weak, defeated and sick, putting a frame around the ageism I struggle to define in myself

a75f6596-2b75-494a-8c9f-14cde7f7646e
Mammoth Mountain Sky by Sharon Schock Sharonschock.com

 

and in the public square. I stuck myself in a cloud of unknowing.

It was mid-March. I bundled up to walk a long way around to the church for the last event before the shutdown, the CLL yearly Art Show.

How to express my agitation?  Old people were being singled out. Excluded.

That’s when I ran into one of the pastors on his way down the street to the Red Line.

“We’re cancelling services.” He said.

“Huh? How long?”

“Unknown. It’s all going to be livestream. We have to figure out Zoom for other gatherings.”

His worried expression hit me like a ton of bricks. He didn’t crack his normal smile, nor did he put a jokey spin on the situation.

“It’s serious.” He said.

“So, It’s not just old people?”

At the Art Show I gathered with friends and reported the news .

No Sunday services. 

I eavesdropped on other conversations. Eavesdropping has become one of the social distancing casualties I miss the most.

“They say we might have classes on Zoom.”

“What’s Zoom?”

“Some kind of computer conferenceing.”

“I’m not doing that. I’m sick of technology.”

“Me too. I don’t want to learn anything new.”

“Well, it won’t be for long. Maybe a week. Maybe two.”

We’re in the seventh week now.

I fell victim to the fear of the unknown and refused to learn Zoom for about six days. But I longed for the energy of the collective silence in my meditation group. Others did too and meditation became the first Zoom hosted by CLL.

About fifteen of us spend twenty minutes each Monday and Friday sitting in silence in our Hollywood Squares with our eyes closed. Afterwards we each say a few brief words. We know a smattering of particulars about each other.

What could I possibly miss that I can’t do on my own?

In The Cloud of Unknowing, a fourteenth century monk teaches when we know enough and we don’t need to know more, an opening through the clouds to the sun or the moon brings us to an endless, wordless, deeper knowing. Contemplatives call this love.

This is why I yearn to sit in silence with fellow meditators. We know each other through the clouds of our own wordless unknowing. I call this love.

Shutdown Week 5: Masks Unseen

Shutdown Week 5: Masks Unseen

Until the beginning of April, the Center for Disease Control, health departments, doctors, scientists and pundits advised us to wear a mask only if we had symptoms. Then the message changed. We learned there were people with coronavirus who have no symptoms. A cloth face covering is recommended for everyone now to prevent us from giving it to and getting it from each other.

All of a sudden everyone wore a mask. For about ten days. 

On a mid-April Saturday, Henry studied the sudden arrival of daffodils, marking his spot. IMG_1713We’d walked less than a half a block before I breathlessly yanked my homemade mask off. The lightweight cotton had turned into a heat chamber about to asphyxiate me. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone’s mask was askew or nonexistent in the warmer weather. And that was the end of widespread mask use in the neighborhood.

The inconvenience of non-essential work has come upon the privileged. A neighbor can’t get her dishwasher fixed because our building management has deemed it a non-essential repair. I tried to replace a light bulb in the lamp by my reading chair and it broke off, leaving the guts screwed in place and me holding the glass bulb. The maintenance man said “no”.  Even though I played the old lady card, it’s not essential that my aging eyes have light to read. “Watch TV,” he said.

We’re not exactly on Cormac McCarthy’s Road, or settling into deprivation. But ordering groceries online has taken a turn. There are no delivery times available for the old stand-bys. I’m told to “check back later.” The store with the only coffee beans I like isn’t accepting online orders “at this time”. “Check back later” has taken up residence on my computer screen.

My computer screen is where I go to church. It’s livestreamed. Only it’s not exactly live because the preacher last Sunday admitted to recording the sermon. When the artificial worship service came into view the livestream accentuated all the elements of church I despise–the dead symbols, rituals, robes. And then the preacher delivered a walloping good sermon about “thriving in belief”. 

“For now, caring for our neighbor by sheltering in place is believing in the unseen.” he said. 

That’s me. You’re staying home for me. And I you. I believe this unseen selflessness will protect me, and you.

Do I like this virtue being forced on me? Not one bit. I’d rather make my own choice. I know what those protesters are up to. This is America. The government can’t tell us to stay home. It’s the Screwtape Letters in action. The master devil is telling his student to tempt us into saying God is on our side while tricking us into believing only in ourselves. If Granny gets sick and dies, it’s not because we gathered together in church, at a barbecue or a cocktail party. It’s God’s will. 

That’s me, too. Belief in the unseen reveals my secret selfishness and depravity. And it allows me to self-correct, sight unseen, to receive the virtue. I don’t know how that works. I simply thrive in the belief.