Mother and Child

December 17th, 2020

“No, I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away”

“Mother and Child Reunion” – Paul Simon

The young woman was able to see her son yesterday. She was finally cleared for COVID, and she went with her fiancé to St. Joseph Hospital to visit little Asher. Asher is in the NICU at the hospital. He’s “out of the box”. He no longer needs to be in the incubator. The young woman was able to hold her boy, for the first time since she gave birth to him.

Asher is two weeks old, and tiny. He will be in the the hospital for probably another five weeks. Then, at last, he will to come to our house. It will be his first home.

I could write more, but words are too clumsy. Instead, I am posting two photos.

The pictures say more than I ever could.

asher
mother and son

Advent

December 15th, 2020

“Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other- things that are of no real consequence- the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside.”
,Letters from Prison – November 21, 1943”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.”
― Thomas Merton

“At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”
― Mother Teresa, Love: A Fruit Always in Season

Heidi called last night. She’s one of the teachers in the citizenship class at Voces de la Frontera. I’ve worked with her a lot over the years. A few weeks ago, I was studying in her class with an immigrant named Pedro. He took his citizenship yesterday. I was working with him intensively because his test was so soon, and because he really wasn’t ready for it. I tried to meet with him every other day to help him to learn the answers to the questions.

Then COVID hit.

I told Heidi about COVID erupting in our house. Then I told Pedro. Heidi took Pedro under her wing, even though she had many other students to teach in her class. I felt bad about abandoning Pedro, but I had no choice in the matter.

Anyway, Heidi called me last night. She was excited. She had asked me earlier if there was anything that she could do for us while we were all down with the virus. I had told her not to bother. We had plenty of food, and nobody wanted to eat anything anyway. COVID is a surprisingly effective diet program.

Heidi told me,

“I’m bringing you a meal! You just have to warm it up! I’m only five minutes away!”

I initially thought to protest, but then I said,

“Sure, come on by. I have the porch light on.”

I waited for Heidi to show up. I noticed a a car parked on the street two houses away from us. Then I heard Heidi talking with a neighbor. Then I saw her walking toward our home.

She shouted at me as she came nearer to the house.

“Pedro passed his test!”, and then she laughed.

She continued, “I didn’t know how he did it, but he passed!”

Heidi dumped the food on to our porch, and kept a safe and respectful distance from me.

I said, “Yeah, he’s like a god. He knows how succeed.”

Heidi said goodbye, and returned quickly to her vehicle. I dragged the supplies into the house.

Mother Teresa advised people to “Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.” Heidi needed to express that love. She really and truly wanted to love and serve us, and to do it in a concrete, physical way. I needed to allow her to do so. Love requires both giving and receiving. She needed to give. I needed to be vulnerable enough to receive.

Advent is about opening ourselves wide enough to allow God to become Incarnate. Are we making room for the Christ Child in our house? Well, I know that we are making room for a baby boy named Asher. He’s as close to a living, breathing Christ Child as we are likely to see. All of us in our house long to meet Asher. We can hardly wait. He won’t make it out of the NICU before Christmas, so our Advent will last a few weeks longer than that of most people. When he does arrive, we will open our door to him.

We have already opened our hearts.

Are You Scared?

December 14th, 2020

“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.”
― Jim Morrison (lead singer of the Doors)

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
― Joseph Campbell

When Karin first went into the hospital with COVID several days ago, I talked with my sister-in-law, Shawn, who lives in Texas. I told her about Karin’s inability to get enough air on her own. Shawn and I have known each other forever it seems, and we are able to discuss anything. We have both been through a number of unexpected and traumatic experiences. We understand each because of those challenges. We spoke on the phone for a long time, and then I was exhausted. I nothing left to say.

Later that day, Shawn sent me a text. It simply asked,

“Are you scared?”

I had to think for a moment. Then I wrote back,

“No. When you get your ass kicked enough, you just go numb.”

She replied, “Yeah, I know. I don’t even cry any more.”

We’re both battered by life, and normal emotions no longer flow through us.

Karin came home on Saturday. I thought she was on the mend.

Karin had to go back to the ER this morning. I’ve been sleeping in another bedroom, and Karin tried to call me in the middle of the night. I didn’t pick up. I checked my phone, and then I checked on her before dawn. Karin seemed to be sleeping quietly in her bed. I looked in on her again a bit later.

Karin was lying bed, staring toward the ceiling. She told me,

“We need to call somebody.”

“Who?”

“9-1-1.”

She went on, “I can’t breath. My chest is tight. I see spots before my eyes. I almost passed out when I went to the bathroom just now.”

I called 9-1-1.

The fire station is just down the block. It didn’t take the paramedics long to get here. Their flashing lights and sirens shattered the early morning tranquility of the neighborhood. The guys suited up and came inside the house to check on Karin. They questioned her and then they took her by ambulance to the closest hospital.

I waited at home. The young woman we love asked me what had happened. I told her that Karin wasn’t getting enough air. The girl looked worried.

I didn’t feel much of anything. I was curious as to what would happen next, and what I would need to do. Part of me shrugged and said, “Whatever.” There was nothing that I could do to change the situation. Everything was in God’s hands, and God generally isn’t very good about explaining his plans.

As it turned out, after four hours, and multiple tests, the doctors sent Karin right back home. She is in her bed now, sleeping.

Karin told me when we got back, “It’s scary.”

Yeah, I guess it is, even I can’t feel it. I know that Karin is scared. Every time she struggles for enough oxygen, she’s afraid. She should be. She can stay hydrated, and she can get all the rest she wants, but she can’t cure herself. The doctors can’t cure her either. Either she gets well, or she doesn’t, and there is almost nothing that any of us can do about that.

I made her some lunch. She picked at it. I encouraged her to drink a lot. She nodded in agreement. I don’t know what else to do besides give her some space. I’m not going to nag her. That is not part of the healing process, as far as I can tell.

Karin is an active participant in her body’s struggle. I am only an observer.

I don’t like that.

Gratitude

December 12,2020

“When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be”

from “Let it Be” by the the Beatles

My wife, Karin, is home. I just drove her back from the COVID care facility at State Fair Park. She was there for three nights. Karin is feeling (she eats now), but she is still very weak.

The Alternative Care Facility is run by the State of Wisconsin. It’s enormous. The overflow hospital opened up on October 14th, but so far it has only served 156 patients. It has the ability to provide beds to hundreds of people. Based on how the pandemic is going into overdrive, the facility may in fact need those beds.

Karin told me that the staff members were all really nice. They sent her home with devices to help her build up her lung capacity. Karin told me that the facility was extremely loud (the ventilation fans make a racket). The place was also very well lit. Once I got Karin into her own bedroom, she leaned back on her pillow and said,

“It’s dark here, and it’s quiet.”

I am grateful that Karin was able to get medical help. She was slowly fading while she was with me at home. It was like Karin’s life was ebbing away. The people at the care facility were able to turn her around. Karin isn’t done with COVID, not even close, but I am no longer worried that COVID is going to kill her.

Our grandson, Asher, is doing well in the NICU at St. Joseph Hospital in Milwaukee. He will be there for six more weeks. He struggles at times. Premature babies have to be fighters. He only weighs 3 lbs. and 13 ounces. Like Karin did, Asher is getting excellent care. I have heard wonderful things about the staff at St. Joseph. The little boy is in the best place he could possibly be for now.

I used to think that signs that said, “Thank you, frontline heroes!” were just empty words. I don’t believe that any more. These people really are heroes.

I am grateful to them.

Now

December 9th, 2020

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – The Buddha

My wife, Karin, is in the hospital. That is part of the present moment, and it really kind of sucks.

Karin has had COVID for at least a week or more. The symptoms have become progressively worse as the days have passed. Karin has suffered the attacks of a violent, wracking cough, usually followed by a wheezing, whistling sound coming from her lungs. She has eaten nearly nothing during the last several days. COVID killed her appetite. She’s been lying in bed, too weak to do anything besides stagger to the bathroom.

I made her tea this morning, and I brought her some hot soup. At about noon, she called me into the bedroom. She stared straight ahead and said,

“I think I need to call somebody.”

I replied, “We already called our doctor. He told us that he couldn’t see you. I don’t think urgent care will either. All we have left is a trip to the ER. There is nobody else to call.”

Karin looked away from me. Her breathing was shallow. She looked pale and drawn. She was listless. Sometimes, Karin will argue with me just for the sake of arguing. Not today. She just nodded in a defeated sort of way.

She said, “Maybe I should dial 9-1-1.”

I told her, “Let me know if you want me to drive you to the ER. I can drive. It’s okay. Just tell me what you want me to do.”

She nodded again, and said,

“I have to get dressed.”

I put on my shoes and my coat, then I went back to her bedroom.

She asked me, “Can you get me my purse. I can’t bend down to pick it up. I’ll get dizzy.”

She checked through her bag to make sure she had all that she needed. She got up unsteadily, and handed me her bag.

“Take this. It’s too heavy.”

It took it. Then we went to the garage and got into the car.

It was only a ten minute drive from our house to the ER. When we got there I helped her out of the Toyota. I went inside with her, and kept my distance.

The lady at the desk asked Karin for her personal information. Karin had to dig out her social security card because she has never been able to memorize her number. Karin had trouble understanding the woman. The masks made it difficult, and Karin’s hearing is iffy at most times anyway.

The woman, knowing that Karin had tested positive, told her to sit in an enclosed waiting room. I moved to follow Karin, and the woman firmly told me,

“There are no visitors.”

I knew that already. I just didn’t want Karin to be alone.

I went home. After a couple hours, I found out that Karin was being sent to local COVID care facility. I took her some clothes, and her meds, and her phone charger. I didn’t get to see her.

I don’t know when I’ll see her.

Sick

December 7th, 2020

Everybody in the house has COVID. I should probably put a sign on the door with a skull and crossbones. Right now I’m feeling tired (after twelve hours of sleep), and I can’t seem to get warm. I get the chills. They start in the small of my back and then radiate upward into my chest and arms, or down into my legs. My ability to focus sucks. So, this essay may be less then coherent.

The girl we love tested positive last Monday (November 30th). That was very difficult for her to handle. Partly, it freaked her out because she was pregnant. Partly, it destroyed her hopes of having a baby shower (hers was scheduled for Saturday, the 5th). The young woman had been planning the event for months. We had a venue in a local coffee shop set up. We had a a local Mexican restaurant ready to cater the food for us. The girl had been spending hours making her own artwork for the party. And then, suddenly, it was all gone.

I’m in the best shape of anyone in our house, which isn’t saying much. Karin has been in bed for over a week. She has the COVID cough. I can hear her sometimes. She coughs viciously, and then she has a kind of low whistling sound coming from her lungs. I find that disturbing. She got herself a Oximeter to check her oxygen level. She’s in the upper nineties (percentage) of oxygen, so she’s good for now.

Karin called our doctor and spoke to him about her condition. I listened in, at Karin’s request. That was an interesting conversation. The doctor made it abundantly clear that COVID is serious business. Then he explained that there is no treatment program for people sick at home. None. Nothing. Basically, if you are dealing with COVID at home, you are on your own.

The young woman has been very traumatized. She gave birth to her son on Wednesday, December 2nd. He was seven weeks early. The young woman believes that the COVID infected the placenta, and that precipitated the birth. She got to see little Asher for all of 30 seconds after the birth. Asher is currently at St. Joseph Hospital in Milwaukee. He’s in ICU. He will be there for six weeks. The girl can’t see him until she is out of quarantine (maybe two more weeks).

The young woman has been very,very sick since I brought her home from the hospital. She has been coughing so violently that she has thrown up in bed, or peed herself. Karin and I have tried to help her. I have washed a lot of bed linen, one load after another, in order to give the young woman a clean place to rest.

I have wondered to myself what people can do if everybody in the house is incapacitated. Okay, through no virtue of my own, I have been well enough to help Karin and this girl while they are both stuck in bed. What happens if I go down? Who does the wash? Who takes out the garbage? What happens when everyone is struck down by the plague? We can’t bring in somebody from the outside to help.

I think about the girl. She is going to use a breast pump to have her milk ready to give to Asher, when she can at last visit the lad. She longs to hold her boy. I can see that. She wants so much to be with her son, and she can’t. Not yet.

The young woman asked me, “Can you still have a baby shower if the kid is already here?”

I told her, “Why not? Let him attend his own party.”

The girl will have her shower, somehow.

It will work out.

אָשֵׁר

December 3rd, 2020

Two days ago, the girl that we love was in the bathroom. She shouted for Karin to come. Karin didn’t hear the girl, so I walked over to the bathroom and asked,

“Can I help?”

The very pregnant young woman just stared at me for a moment. Then she made it abundantly clear that she needed Karin, not me. I found Karin in the kitchen and told her the girl needed her ASAP.

I tried to stay out of the way, but I heard most the conversation between Karin and the girl anyway. The girl said,

“I’m leaking. Do you think my water broke?”

Karin answered, “It might just be pee. My pee has been really weak lately. Maybe the COVID is making yours weak too.”

I thought I heard the girl’s eyes roll. Then she said, “It’s not pee.”

Karin advised the girl to call her doctor, and then rest for a while.

A little while later, the young woman asked Karin,

“How did it feel when you had contractions?”

Karin said that she had felt it throughout her belly. The girl replied,

“I am feeling cramps down here.” The girl sounded anxious, understandably so. After all, her baby, little Asher, wasn’t due until the beginning of February.

Karin told her to see her doctor.

The girl explained to Karin, “I called my doctor. They don’t want me to come to their office. They want me to go to the ER at St. Francis Hospital if need help.”

I told the young woman, “If you need to go to the hospital, I’ll take you. Just let me know what we have to do.”

She nodded to me and went back to her bedroom.

Under normal conditions, the girl’s fiancé would be taking her to the hospital. However, like her, he has COVID, and he can barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom. Karin has been sick for two weeks already, and she didn’t want to drive. That left me.

At around 10:30 AM, the girl decided that she wanted to go to the ER. We got into the car and drove.

She asked me, with a voice filled with anxiety,

“Do babies that are seven weeks early die?”

I told her, “They survive. They just have a rough time of it for a while.”

I had to remember back in 1987 when Hans, our oldest son, was born. Hans was four weeks premature. He made it, but he was so fragile for a while. I remembered visiting Hans in the hospital. He was tiny and utterly helpless. I remembered looking at him and feeling afraid.

Now Hans is a grown man with a son of his own. It turned out okay.

I let the girl off at the ER entrance. Then I parked and waited.

And waited.

The hours ticked by slowly. There was no place to go and nothing to do. I tried to text the young woman. I got no response. I didn’t expect one. Phone reception in the hospital is minimal. The girl once told me that reception is bad in hospitals and prisons. She told me once that prisons and hospital are all built in the same way. She would know; she’s spent time in both of them.

I was starting to feel sick, alternately feverish and chilled. That was no good. I just wanted to go home and lie down. I couldn’t leave because I didn’t know what was happening with the girl, and the ladies at the ER desk wouldn’t tell me shit. So I sat in the car with the seat all the way back.

I did get some texts, but they all from people who were not the girl in question. Everybody wanted to know what was happening. I told them that I had no idea.

At about 2:00 I got a text from the girl:

“I just gave birth. You might as well go home. They are keeping me here overnight.”

Okay.

When I got home I heard more details about the birth. It was natural and quick. Asher is apparently healthy. The boy is three pounds in weight. He is feisty. He has big balls.

“Asher” (אָשֵׁר) means “Happy” and “Blessed” in Hebrew.

We’ll see about that. At least he arrived intact.

COVID Dreams

December 1st, 2020

I just woke up from an intense dream a few minutes ago. Now I sit in the dark, typing what I remember of the vision before it all fades away.

In my dream, I was back in Germany. I was in a church. It was the little Evangelische Kirche (Lutheran church) in my wife’s hometown of Edelfingen. There was a choir singing in the loft. The Lutheran minister was there, dressed in black and giving a sermon. The young woman whom I love was sitting in a chair to the left of me.

The girl was beautiful, younger than she is now. She looked to be of high school age, and was dressed in a blouse and skirt, which in reality she would have never worn.

The two of us stood up for the Lord’s Prayer. As we prayed, she put her right hand into my left. She lifted up my hand. There was something in the prayer that I needed to remember, but I don’t.

After the prayer ended, the minister came to us to give us communion. Lutherans seldom do that. He placed the host (the wafer) on our tongues. Even Catholics hardly ever do that. The girl looked at me and smiled.

Then I felt her hand tugging in mine. She was being pulled away. She still smiled, but then she was gone.

I wept.

The dream is over. I still want to cry.

The young woman sleeps in her bedroom nearby. Sometimes I hear her deep, ropey cough in the darkness. She found out yesterday that she has COVID. The woman fears for her unborn son. She is more worried about Asher than she is about herself.

COVID is here in our house, doing the work of all plagues. I have that bitter taste of fear in my mouth, even though I know it all has to run its course.

I am grateful for the dream.

Chain Gang

November 28th, 2020

“The powers that be
That force us to live like we do
Bring me to my knees
When I see what they’ve done to you”

from “Back on the Chain Gang” by The Pretenders (1982)

The young woman’s fiancé has a job interview on Monday afternoon. He’s excited about it, as he should be. His girl is seven months pregnant, and he is flat broke. Both of them live at our house, which is necessary at this point. They have no other options. The young man wants to be a good father and husband, which would require him to make a living to support his new family. So, this thirty-year-old is both excited, and nervous, about getting a new job. There is a lot riding on this.

I have been in a similar situation. It happened many years ago. I resigned my commission as an U.S. Army officer in August of 1986. Almost immediately thereafter, Karin and I found out that she was pregnant with our first son, Hans. I had hoped to transition quickly and smoothly from my military career (such as it was) to a job in civilian life. That was not to happen. I had been a rebel, malcontent, and ofttimes drunk in the Army, and that made me less than attractive to prospective employers. It took me five months to get a job that would take care of my wife and son-to-be. Those were five months of intense stress; months that I would wish on no other person.

The fiancé’s condition is a bit different. He is a recovering addict, and he is putting his all into getting his head straight. I admire him for that. In that sense, he is better man than I am. The young man has a history, and he already has responsibilities (he has three small children from two previous relationships). The man has baggage. He is digging himself out of a hole, and the hole is deep.

The fiancé’s job interview is with the same trucking company that employed me for almost 28 years. I joined CCX in 1988 as a supervisor, and I kept that position for my entire career there. CCX no longer exists. It eventually morphed into Con-Way Freight, and finally it was bought out by XPO Logistics, a soulless, global transportation conglomerate. The transition to XPO occurred just before I retired five years ago. I have not heard any good news from my old work place since that time.

In any case, the fiancé needs a job, and XPO is desperately looking for warm bodies. That corporation assumed that, with the pandemic, business would slow down. It didn’t. It’s booming instead. So, they have a huge shortage of people to do the work. This being true, the fiancé is in a very good position to find work.

Here is the rub: the young man is not necessarily well suited for this particular work environment. He has the right skill set. He knows how to drive a forklift and he has worked already in an factory setting. However, this guy is a sensitive and gentle soul. That is not good.

I don’t know how things are now at XPO. I don’t really want to know. However, when I left that organization, it was a truly heartless, vicious place to work. Part of that was my fault. I was a hard person to like.

Con-Way, or XPO, was always an example of capitalism in its purist and most ruthless form. Good enough was never good enough. There was never enough profit. Every workday was just another chance to squeeze blood from a stone. Con-Way followed the moral code of the cancer cell: growth is always good. We could never be as efficient as we could be. We were always lacking somehow , maybe just a little bit.

Even now, I look back with at those years with trepidation. I didn’t like who I was then. More to the point, other people didn’t like me either. If I ever meet with former coworkers, they say something like,

“Well, you really were an asshole, but you always got the job done.”

I guess that they can write that on my tombstone.

The fiancé is applying for a job on the loading/unloading dock. That will be interesting. He will be working on the dock during crunch time. There is a narrow window during the late afternoon when 1.5 million pounds of freight from pick ups in the city explodes on to the dock. It is busy beyond belief, and utter chaos reigns. All these shipments have to be loaded and sent to places far away, and it all has to happen right fucking now.

Working on the dock at a trucking company is brutal, in a variety of ways. First of all, there are the physical conditions to be considered. The dock is a concrete slab with only a roof above it. The doors for the trucks are all open, all the time. Whatever the temperature is outside is also the employee’s work environment. If it is negative five degrees outside, then that is where you live and work. Eight to ten hours is sub-zero weather takes a toll on a person. A dockworker slowly feels their life force ebb away during the shift, regardless of how many clothes they wear.

Dock work is also emotionally brutal. The main qualification for dock work is impatience. Everything has to be done quickly. Everybody is in a rush all the time. I guarantee that this young man will be under enormous stress. It won’t be long before somebody screams at him,

“What the fuck are you doing?!”

There really is no good answer to that question.

As Michael Corleone said in The Godfather, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

The young man will need to understand that.

Dock work is dangerous. I know this from experience. I was run over by a forklift back in March of 2009. My entire right foot and ankle were completely crushed by a 8000 lbs. machine. I am lucky to be able to walk. It’s all kind of scary.

Well, I hope the guy gets the job. It will be trial by fire. but then most of life is like that.

Back to the chain gang.

Trump is Right that We Should Stop Endless Wars

November 22nd, 2020

This letter from me was printed in the Capitol Times (Madison, WI) on November 19th.

I almost never agree with Donald Trump. The only thing he has ever proposed that appealed to me was his intention to bring our troops home and shut down our endless wars. Apparently, with his appointment of Christopher Miller as the acting Secretary of Defense, Trump may actually follow through with this objective. Miller told the employees of the Department of Defense that “We are not a people of perpetual war — it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end.”

Miller’s words would be more impressive of they were all true. The fact is that we Americans are a people of perpetual war. Even a cursory look at our nation’s history shows that we have been fighting wars, declared or otherwise, almost constantly. The United States has seldom been at peace.

Miller is correct that all wars must end. Our currently wars should end now. Actually, they should have ended years ago, before my son fought in Iraq. I guess it’s better late than never.