The Buddha…Socrates…Christ…St. Augustine…Descartes…Hume…The Rolling Stones…some of the greatest philosophers of what it means to be spiritual and human. Yes, you read that correctly. The. Rolling. Stones.
It’s been a horrible last week here in Michigan. Apparently Mother Nature just decided to have her mid-life crisis and went batshit crazy! “Oh, you want actual spring while you are on lockdown, so you’re telling ME to suck it? Well, suck on this!” And for 7 days we had temps in the 30’s and 40’s with constant wind speeds of between 15-25mph with frequent gusts of 40mph or higher…snow…hail…rain…Mother Nature was sending the message that no, we CAN’T always get what we want. So for 9 out of 10 days I was stuck at home, riding only once for about 70 miles. After record setting months of March (1217 miles) and April (1161 miles), it appears that setting a new record for May (1183 miles) is not going to be in the cards. But that’s ok.
I got out the last two days, riding 58 and 51 miles each day. The wind picked up in the middle of each ride, but not to the point it had been. The weather was warmer, and I got what I needed. Those exercise endorphins kicked in and I started feeling better about everything again…well, almost everything.
Our state remains on a lockdown order. The number of our confirmed cases has risen to over 50000 and we have nearly 4800 deaths…a mortality rate that is much higher than the rate everyone was predicting earlier in the process. A mortality rate that flies in the face of those who scream that the virus is no worse than the flu. A mortality rate that if induced on the entire United States population by a foreign power (no, I’m NOT one of those conspiracy theorists who believe China has engaged in biological warfare!), we, as a nation, would waste no time in declaring a state of war. Well, we would have in the past. I’m not so sure about now. And if we did, given our inability to sacrifice for the common good…we’d get our asses kicked.
Anyone who has eyes can see that major segments of our society are throwing hissy fits as governors and legislatures attempt to navigate through this threat to the common good. Yes, I understand that the shelter in place orders threaten your economic well-being. We absolutely should have a discussion about that…perhaps along the lines of why Jeff Bezos is set to soon become the first trillionaire while still charging fees for Amazon Prime shipping that no longer guarantees two day shipping…or even one week shipping…or even free shipping…Perhaps about why banks and other financial sectors are getting bailouts – AGAIN – while so many are unemployed and can’t pay their bills. The knee jerk reaction of showing up with weapons to protest at a state capitol, to threaten the lives of politicians who are simply attempting to stem the viral tide and fulfill their constitutional duty to promote the common good, seems to remind me of Jack Handey’s “Deep Thoughts” videos on Saturday Night Live
“Sometimes I think you have to march right in and demand your rights, even if you don’t know what your rights are, or who the person is you’re talking to. Then on the way out, slam the door…”
Our roads are back to normal traffic and normal traffic patterns. I see most people are now even disregarding the order to wear masks in public. Yes, I understand that the mask does not prevent you from catching the disease. It is intended to slow down the transmission of the disease by eliminating the particulates that bond to the virus as they leave your nose and mouth. The mask you wear is a simple courtesy to ME, who is unaware of your status, your circle of friends, family, and colleagues, your shopping patterns, etc. It is a requirement for the safety of OTHERS…you know, that whole common good thing? You have NO idea of the fear caused by a simple cough until you have heard one sitting in a room waiting for your spouse to be taken back for chemo. THAT is fear….
The Stones were absolutely correct, and we USED to know that as a society. You CAN’T always get what you want. And maybe you shouldn’t. What I want as a cyclist is to be able to ride without being threatened by self-entitled, pissed off motorists who feel that the roads were built solely for them (they were actually built for carriages and cyclists, but sure, go ahead and think that. The interstates were built for motorists only.) What I want as a cyclist is to be able to depend on local bike shops to be open during hours when normal people can get to them – not shuttering their doors at 5pm – and caring enough about their frequent customers to reciprocate that loyalty. In fact, in general, I would like to see businesses truly care about their customers again…and each of us consider our fellow humans once again. Loyalty is a two-way street.
My generation didn’t begin adulthood this way…we began protesting, certainly, but it was for the common good. Civil rights, against an immoral war that was waged because President Truman turned down Ho Chi Minh’s request to assist Vietnam in acquiring independence from France post World War II. We established communes and made the Peace Corps a tour de force in the world. Somehow, somewhere along the way, many in my generation have turned their backs on our roots. We stopped chanting about the collective “us” and started chanting “me/my.” We became the most selfish and greedy generation of Americans…and the whiniest. That is how much of the world views us and it is the root cause of the divisiveness which is tearing our country apart.
Again, it doesn’t have to be that way. American ingenuity used to mean that we devised solutions for problems as they came forward, and then shared with others. More often than not in today’s world, American ingenuity now means someone has devised a financial scheme that will bankrupt the elderly and the poor…or immigrants. My generation has become the generation of blame….ESPECIALLY when it comes to blaming others! We went from the generation that meditated on love for all human kind to the biggest generation of xenophobes ever.
The truth is, you can’t have everything you want. More than a month ago I saw an advertisement for the Urban X mask on Facebook. I did a little bit of digging. I had grown weary of washing out the single neck gaiter I had been using every single day, and this looked promising. I placed my order. I received an email two days later confirming my order and stating that, due to demand, they were experiencing delays in processing and shipment. I was told I would receive another e-mail with five days at the latest with a tracking number, and that my mask would be in my hands within 15 days at the most. It didn’t happen. After another week, I emailed the company inquiring as to the status of my order. Several vague emails exchanged later and I began to feel it may have been a scam. Sure enough, there had been complaints filed with the Brooklyn Better Business Bureau. I contacted the company immediately and requested a refund, stating that I was feeling defrauded. A new customer service rep emailed me back and assured me it was not a scam, but they were “so backlogged with orders” they were unable to process them. She stated she had initiated a refund and it would show up in my bank within five days. A week later I contacted her again. No reply was forthcoming, so I filed a complaint with my State Attorney General’s office as well as the Brooklyn BBB. That same afternoon I received an email from her stating that, again, they were so busy that they were now no longer even able to respond to emails. She also stated that she had been unable to process my refund because company policy mandated that refund requests be initiated within six hours of the placement of any order! Oh, and, by the way, my order had not yet been shipped, she was unable to locate it, but I assure you that it will be in your hands soon.
So, I’m out $30. Lesson learned. Hopefully for you as well and you avoid this company. In the meantime, since I cannot sew as well as my late wife, I did some searching for a few other neck gaiters and other fabric that I could tie off as a mask. See? I didn’t get what I wanted, but I compromised.
My parents and grandparents…actually, every American generation before mine, recognized that liberty comes with a price to be paid toward the common good. My dad used to pull around his Radio Flyer wagon collecting newspapers, comic books, and pulp magazines for the war effort. He used to tell me it was pretty frustrating to put the latest Nick Carter, Doc Savage, Shadow, G-8, or Weird Tales pulps in the wagon to be processed, especially when he couldn’t always afford the 10 cents to buy them. But he had a duty to others. My paternal grandfather died in excruciating pain from colorectal cancer in 1943 while my uncles were off in the South Pacific. My grandmother used to tell me that she had been told by the local recruiter that they could be sent stateside for a short leave…but she knew her duty as well. Can you even imagine the riots and armed demonstrations we would be facing as a society if rationing coupons were instituted NOW? The funny thing is, you can still find old ration coupons for sale on eBay as memorabilia….memories of a time when we went without and sacrificed for others because we were all in it together.
One of my favorite memories of our time together was the last several Thanksgivings when we were teaching and our children had left the nest. My wife and I decided teaching in the inner city wasn’t enough. For several years we bought turkeys and groceries for at least one family in each of my classes, and one family in each of her grade levels, and asked a school counselor or administrator to get them to the families anonymously. At Christmas, we did the same…Why? We witnessed some of these kids on the free and reduced lunch program pocket some of their food to take home for their parents and younger siblings not in school. Rather than report it, we made a note of it for the holidays. It was simply the HUMAN thing for us to do. Before you start accusing me of being just another bleeding heart liberal, you should know that I have been a registered conservative since 1978! How liberal is it to recognize that looking the other way when a few food stuffs are carted away avoid the dumpster and waste? How liberal is it to realize those scraps of food may have prolonged the life of parents or siblings and avoided the cost to the state of housing orphans?
So today, the weather forecast called for rain and lightning in the morning, giving way to partly sunny skies and temps in the mid 60’s by 2pm. Right. Great biking weather, although a bit chilly, so I headed out about 2:30, after the rain had stopped and peeks of the sun could be seen. I took no water bottle, because I planned on a stop in a small town south and west of here to grab a nice cold soda from a convenience store. Planned route of about 55 miles. Remember, to achieve my 9500 mile goal for the year, I NEED to average of 25.96 miles every day. Of course, I don’t ride every single day like some of my friends do, so if I ride 51.92, it allows me the luxury of a day off if needed.
I wore my rain jacket just in case. Within six miles, I knew this was a bad idea. The humidity coming up from the pavement and the intermittent sunshine was making me sweat. So I took the jacket off, rolled it up, and put it into my top tube bag. Beautiful day! The gentle breeze was drying off my arms. The song of the Red Winged Blackbird was calling attention to a return to spring.
And two miles later, the clouds thickened and it started to sprinkle. I opted to continue to pedal and see if it was going to worsen. It didn’t. Then it did. Then it stopped. Then it started again. Ugh! Unfortunately, at the 19 mile mark, and the turn-off to go to the small town, I heard a rumble of thunder and looked up to see dark and heavy clouds approaching from the due west. Fast. With flashes of lightning. Le sigh. Home it would be. I turned the bike north instead of south, and hauled ass to get home before I became a human shish kebob. In the end, I didn’t get what I wanted – the 50+ mile ride – but I did get 32 and some change. The best part, was that it was my highest average speed for the year! Not what I wanted…but what I needed.
Last week I mentioned how upset I was about the process of being pushed into early retirement. I would like to revisit that just a bit. I was upset at the time…and am still upset for my community that a once vibrant and strong program has been turned to ashes. But I really am not bitter. You see, I got to ride for more than a year. We did our first RAGBRAI together…we did a lap around Lake Ontario and spent an incredibly romantic evening camping on Association Island after spending the first day – 24 hours and 317 miles – in the saddle. At the end of that year, when she was diagnosed, I then had the opportunity to be her caretaker, the way she had for me and our children for so many years. I was uniquely positioned as a former nurse to do almost everything for her – IV’s, dressings, tube irrigation, drain insertion and removal… everything…. because as the disease progressed she couldn’t do it for herself, and calling in another nurse – or worse yet, admitting her to hospital or skilled nursing facility care – would have resulted in the loss of her dignity, quality of life, and, frankly, would have violated our wedding vows. In sickness and in health. For the common good.
I wanted her to get better, to recover and we could then enjoy retirement and our golden years together. I prayed for it every night. My entire being ached wishing it to be so. But you can’t always get what you want. Those final two years, because I tried hard, I got what I needed.