“It’s a Jumble Out There: Quarantine Contemplations—5”

I’ve been retired for seven years.  My mantra has been, “Every day is Saturday, and every Saturday is a holiday.”

After over six decades of living my life by the bells, it’s nice not to have a schedule.  Ha.  We are creatures of habit.  Even though I can do what I want to do any time I like, every day seems to follow a rough schedule.  This “quarantine” hasn’t changed things very much.

We are unbelievably fortunate in our lives, and we know it quite well.  It’s essentially a life of leisure, like being on vacation all the time, but we’re very predictable.  What we miss are the “events” with which we used to mark special times: the symphony, opera, ballet, local live music presentations, nights out, time with friends and family, our trips around the US and abroad.

My day usually begins with a quick breakfast and settling into my chair with a cup of coffee to catch up with friends and family and read the paper online.  Even when I was working, I read the paper every day.  The highlight for me is the comics and the games.  I do the crossword puzzle in the Omaha World-Herald and the Jumble.

As someone who has worked with words forever, these games typically don’t take me very long.  I can unscramble all the Jumble words and do the crossword in about fifteen minutes.  I like the trivia that is typical of the crossword puzzle, and if you do them frequently, the creators are prone often to using the same clues.  The Jumble rarely stumps me (except for the end puzzles that use “made up” words).  My eyes and my mind seem to easily unscramble the letters and make sense of things.  Practice and patience and perseverance.

Despite the changes brought on by this pandemic, our jumbled lives still have predictable patterns.  We simply have to find our rhythms and make sense for ourselves of the scrambled events.  Now and then we’ll find a real “stumper,” but, if we rely on our resources, look for the patterns, and remain patient, we’ll get the answers we need.  Evetually we will get those special events back, too.

Keep practicing and remember to enjoy what you’re doing.  It will all make sense in the long run.

Dr. Dan

05-15-2020

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“You Are My Sunshine:  Quarantine Contemplations—4”

I’ve lived in this house in Omaha for almost 21 years.  I just realized that’s longer than I’ve been in any one abode in my life.  Amazing.

The basement is unfinished.  When Nancy and I moved in here, we didn’t think we would ever finish it, so it has just been the “catch-all” storage space.  We had all sorts of memorabilia from our sons, of course.  When her grandmother passed, we inherited decades of family photos, almost century-old college yearbooks, some fancy dresses from the 40’s and 50’s, and things I’m still not sure about.

The boys have been through a few things, taken most of their own stash of childhood and high school leavings.  They’ve recently gone through some of the familial flotsam and jetsam and chosen memories of their great-grandparents, grandparents, and their mother.  I have boxed up several things that I intend to donate to the county museum.  I mean, really.  I referred to the basement as my museum.  You wouldn’t believe the things I had accumulated.  I could hardly walk through the place.

It was always my goal to be able to use the space for something else.  After our anniversary trip to Napa last summer, Eleanor and I made a “wine cellar” in one corner.  We bought some new kitchen appliances and had the old ones taken to the basement.  Eleanor likes to can, so she has a second kitchen there.  With the onset of this quarantine, we’ve been stockpiling grocery items.  The “kitchen” is now our personal grocery store.  Our gym closed.  We now have our own workout space in one-fourth of the basement.

In order to “organize” these spaces, everything else has been boxed and pushed into one corner.  When I can finally get to donation sites, almost everything goes!

It’s still an unfinished basement, however.  Only one small “basement” window lets in any sunlight.  Neither one of us likes to feel completely buried, so we decided to paint the walls in the gym.  I wanted something bright and cheery.  Eleanor chose a Sherwin-Williams paint called “Fun Yellow.”  Perfect.  We painted the two walls of the gym.  It looks great.

Guess what.  Just a little brightness in one corner isn’t enough.  We’re moving things around and painting all the walls!  I can’t believe the difference.  Just a little sunshine, even if it’s simply “Fun Yellow” paint, makes it all more inviting.

The whole place is metaphorical for me.  I still have boxes full of memories there, traces of the sunshine moments in my life.  Now they’re spilling out and splashing all over the walls.  Many new memories, as well.  Often when I’m sweating my way through another morning in the gym, or tasting a great wine in the cellar corner, I think about the sunshine in my life.  I’m down in the basement.  It’s unfinished, just like my life.  But the past is beautiful.  The present is amazing.  The sun will come up tomorrow, and I’ll have “Fun Yellow” everywhere.

Paint a little fun in your corner, too.

Dr. Dan

05-14-2020

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“One World:  Quarantine Contemplations—3”

This is a small blue dot floating in space.  The only place there are borders is on maps.

I have eclectic tastes in music although I generally listen to classical pieces or American Standards from the 40’s and 50’s.  My iPhone contains offerings from around the world.  If you walk in our door, it’s hard telling what will be playing.

We like to go to the Joslyn Art museum here in Omaha, but we’ve been to others all over the country and some in the UK.  The works of artists from around the world express individual themes and cultural differences, but it’s pretty easy to see similarities from all areas and ages.

Our menu here at our home is about as eclectic as our taste in music.  Eleanor is a great cook (I’m no slouch, either) and surprises me with dishes of all kinds.  We both grew up with Midwestern “farm fare,” but our palates have expanded even if our waistlines haven’t.  The variety makes life interesting.

And that’s the point.  Whether we’re listening to Sinatra and eating steak and potatoes, a mariachi band and enjoying enchiladas, the African rhythms of Ladysmith and some Moroccan or Ethiopian fare, an interesting Asian artist and a great stir fry, we’re feeding our tummies and our hearts with what the world has to offer.  We all make music, and we all have to eat.  Feed the heart, the mind, the body.

One of the things that has been apparent the last couple of months as we’ve daily watched the spread of this virus is that it affects all people.  No one is immune because she or he is of a different race—or even species, it seems!  All HUMANS can be infected and suffer and possibly die…the fate that awaits us all.

Benjamin Franklin told his fellows in the Continental Congress, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”  I have thought of this often lately.  The Nationalism that I’ve heard espoused from politicians around the world is short-sighted, I think.  Our global survival may be hanging by the thread of compassion and cooperation.

Our masked social distancing should be bringing us together, not pulling us apart.  This is one world.  We are one people.  I am hoping we will one day enjoy one celebration of life and not myriad separate funerals.

Be safe.  Wash your hands.

Dr. Dan

05-13-2020

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“Intimations of Mortality: Quarantine Contemplations—2”

I did “duck and cover” atomic bomb drills in elementary school and didn’t understand the relevance when we lived close enough to a “first strike zone” that we wouldn’t see it coming.  Tornado and fire drills were commonplace but understandable.

My parents were always there, constant reminders that love persists.  My great-grandparents were the first leavings.  Then my grandparents.  Too recently my parents joined them, and all-too-soon my wife of forty years.

Now I smile behind my mask, but I’m sure there is fear in my eyes…the grocery carts are too close together, going the wrong way, and there is no mask on that indifferent face.

I cherish each distant moment with my children and grandchildren, but the news tells me that almost seventy is almost surely dead at any time.

The icons of my life—important historical figures, icons of stage and screen and music and art—are leaving only their memories almost daily.

We planted flowers the other day.  The same places we planted last year.  The tomatoes are growing.  The beans are starting to come up.  Just like they did the last three years.  We replant.

A robin has built a nest in the birch tree high above us.  I don’t know if she was here last year, but there was one….

We picked up some deer antler sheds last week.  Another year’s growth discarded.  The grass was covering them quickly.  Soon they would have been overgrown with new growth, a forgotten memory.

I saw some forgotten pictures of my mother yesterday.  She was such a beautiful young woman…she didn’t get to be an old woman.  I see her in my niece and her son.

Excursions away from home are both exhilarating and frightening.  We need plants.  We need to take gifts for Mother’s Day and birthdays and just see faces from a safe distance.  Buying paint seems like invading a plague ward.  We come home and sterilize everything we’ve touched and wash away everything but our humanity.

I am grateful for the connections.  I scroll through thousands of pictures that I’ve stored (prints and digital pieces) and they remind me of the myriad moments that I have lived and loved.  They will make a great reminiscence.

This afternoon I spent some time revising my last wishes.  We’ve been planning, off and on, so that our children don’t have to make decisions that shouldn’t be theirs.  I read today’s death toll, and our preparations just made sense.

Daily I am reminded of the presence of endings.  With every breath I am reminded of beginnings.  Our mortality is simply a collection of moments that we have lived…if we’re lucky.

Dr. Dan

05/12/2020

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“In My Life: Quarantine Contemplations”

I can still see resplendent sunrises…and jaw-dropping sunsets.  The stars so abundant in their blue-black blanket.  Smell new lilac and roses and fresh-mown hay.  Hear the first wren and spring and fall’s traversing geese and ducks and the quiet whisper of snow on a windless January afternoon.

In my life I’ve loved them all….

I can see the mother of my sons walking down the aisle…holding both of them seconds after their births…wiping away tears at graduations…and a wedding.  I can still hear her last breath.

Every day I feel the snow beneath my skis and feel the wind rush by as I hurtle down the mountains in my mind.  Remember the warmth of every fire that has warmed my body and spirit… campfire, fireplace, fire pit, loving hearts.

In my life I’ve loved them all….

I wake every morning with my love beside me and know our day will be full of her shining smile, gentle touch, promise of forever.  In her eyes I see the future.  In her smile I hear the laughter of our children and grandchildren, both mine and hers.

In my life I’ve loved them all….

I close my eyes and see again my many classrooms…thousands of promises, hopes, dreams.  “Pomp and Circumstance” plays again and again as they march through my memories.

In my life I’ve loved them all….

I conjure old friends and we are young again, daring tomorrow.  Reconnections spark hope and smiles and tears at loss.  The grey halos remind me of the sweetness and depth of old wine.  Drink up.

In my life I’ve loved them all….

I wrap myself in my life, all the gladness and all the hard-to-bear, and feel the fullness of my cup.  In the coming tomorrows I will happily let it overflow with new memories.

In my life I know I will love them all.

Dr. Dan

05-11-2020

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“Holly and Ivy”

Heart explosion

eruption

It spills and splatters

on everyone

 

Holly and berry

Generations past and present

show

Green

Across the spine of leaves

Past

and present

inked in thorny verdance

Blood courses

leaf

to

leaf

Pass it on

pass it on

Within the green

Everlasting

Within the blood

Generations

The seasons turn

and remain

the same

Daniel J. Cox

11-29-2019

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“Stop!”

This is my favorite time of the year.  I am a “solstice” person.  For me that means I celebrate in any way possible—Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving, Christmas, Channuka, Kwanza, Wednesday….

I think it’s part of my DNA.  I was born on December 22—The first FULL day of winter—The time of year when people have traditionally hunkered down and felt the closeness of warm bodies!!  Well, we do spend more time indoors with people closer by consequence.  Even if we’re not hibernating, we huddle together.  Some of us just make it a party.

Seriously, the general mood in the Midwest from Halloween to New Year’s is typically one of Peace and Love.  It is, of course, often fueled by 80 proof or better spirits, but, hey!  Whatever warms your heart!  I think the spirits that moved old Scrooge were probably in the nog….

I have a wonderful time this time of year.  I get daily requests for donations in the mail.  I see people putting their hard-earned money in red kettles to pay the CEO’s salary.  And I know that my big-hearted friends and family help the seriously impoverished on Pine Ridge and at the Food Bank.

I know.  You are seeing the cynicism along with the schmaltz.  Duh.  Welcome to the Christmas season in the US.  We commercialize benevolence.  At the same time, we give unselfishly and exorbitantly.  Midas touches whatever he can to reduce his taxes in April and alleviates generations of suffering on a selfish whim.  The widow produces her mite and makes her neighbor give his, as well.

I am solstice, remember?  It means STOP.  The sun has stopped moving to the north because the Earth has stopped tipping that direction on its axis.  At least in my part of the world, my fellows have also stopped, momentarily, digging their greedy hands into whatever pot of gold keeps their greedy hearts beating and have paused to contemplate humanity (of which they are distant cousins).

Except for so many of those I know.  They are daily pausing to contemplate their situations and that of those around them.  They give of their time and talents and funds, no matter how meager, to help those less fortunate.  I have known the widows and their mites, but I also know of so many talented musicians who donate their gifts, especially at this time of the year, to multiple fundraisers, when they might also stand in line for a warm hat, a hot meal.  For decades I saw my teaching colleagues, many who qualified for food stamps themselves, give and give and give for their students and families and anyone else “less” fortunate than they.

Solstice.  Stop.  Think.  Give.

From wherever it might come, blessings on you, my friends.  Peace and Love!

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