Not Knowing

It’s the not knowing. 

Sure, I’ve had two negative rapid tests… But I felt like I was drowning.

For that matter, all the tests I’ve had, ever, have been negative. But I still wonder if I have been sick with Covid, especially since we are still just calling it, “It.” (Except for that test the Red Cross did on my donation, but it maybe only proved that I had my vaccinations. I’m not sure?)

Like, “Have you had it?” “Do you think you have it?”

I spent five days in bed this past week. And lost my voice. And have a cough and really just feel… meh. But the tests are negative. 

But I still will honor my community and not go out into it. Just in case. 

But not enough to keep my kids out of school. Or from harvesting from the garden. 

Or getting work done when I can. 

At some point, one of these days, sometimes I just wish that I’d have a positive test, just to validate how poorly I feel. No, I don’t want to deal with the hassle of figuring out the current protocols, even those that are not nearly enough to keep our community safe. But, really, I’d just like to be able to point to myself and say, see, even I have had covid, for sure, and I can tell you that we should be doing everything in our power to keep it from spreading. 

I want that permission.

Would that make it so that people would listen? 

Would it legitimate what I am trying to say every day anyway?

No, I don’t want covid. 

No, I don’t want you to have covid. 

No, I don’t want to deal with it anymore. 

No, I don’t want to be afraid.

Yes, I am tired. 

Yes, I am being careful.

Yes, I am tired of being careful.

Yes, I wish it was over.

But honestly. Wishful thinking has gotten us into this current mess, so really, I’m tired of that, too. 

There’s no winning this pandemic. 

It’s not something to win. It’s something that we can work to survive. 

Not all of us will see it to the other side. 

More of us can, if we work together. 

I’m doing what I can… resting… and hoping that my cough is gone enough so I can return to church and actually make it to worship this year. 

Because yeah, that’s part of it. 

Do I want to do a third rapid test? 

I don’t want to bother with a PCR right now, because do my symptoms matter? Does the timing?

I want someone to study current cold symptoms for folks who have had covid… do their symptoms change based on a history of covid?

Because I remember losing my voice, and losing my hearing… and even coughing.

But I don’t remember this drowning feeling, where meds keep me from feeling like I’m filling up with gunk, but only just. 

I want a set of breakthrough symptoms, and to know whether a fever is common… and why I only ever seem to have a fever when I am about to give blood. 

For real though. I’d like some more answers… and fewer open gaps in what I know. 

Because I feel like I have been able to keep pretty abreast of the knowledge that is available… and simply not enough is, these days. 

What If vs What Now

Nineteen days. 

Two Saturdays ago I was walking across the grass towards my elder daughter’s soccer field and noticed a little prick of pain on my foot and by the time I sat down on our blanket I had red splotches and streaks in three or four places on my feet. I took my shoes off and noticed a couple of ants in the footbed… It was fire ants. I confirmed it when we got back to the car, and saw that our parking trestle was the center of a line of ant beds. Great. 

I got on a plane two hours later, so I didn’t really get a chance to do any first aid, or really even notice my feet as I was going through security and making sure that my bags all fit under my seat. But by that evening, waiting for my cousin, I kept noticing that, yes, I needed something to take the edge off of the pain. 

They kept me from sleeping soundly the whole time I was out of town, sleeping in a comfortable yet strange bed, with family I had’t seen in three years. 

I checked the internet, and it said that fire ant bites last four to ten days. I made sure to treat them with allergy meds and inflammation meds, and I didn’t scratch them, or pop them, or anything. But finally, I decided to put some bandages on them, but I couldn’t tell if that was helping or not, and still they haven’t healed. 

All five of my bites, one on one foot, four on the other, still are angry, red, unhealed. Nineteen days later. I mean, they don’t hurt anymore. They don’t itch. But, I’d been hoping they’d heal faster. 

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? 

Healing takes a while. 

Maybe WebMD only meant when they’d stop hurting, or itching. 

The internet has no clue how long it takes for my scars to heal. 

And so now I’m wondering if I should have put bandages on them earlier, or if I could have used ice on them (but when, who knows) or if I should have been wearing socks or if I could have avoided them altogether if I’d noticed the ant beds under our car as I was watching the busy parking lot as our kids got out to go across two lines of traffic…

There are a lot of what-ifs, I suppose. 

Maybe I should think about a what now. 

I mean. This is about covid, right? (I actually do have 19 day old ant bites… but) this is about covid. And little things adding up. And how we have so many what-ifs swirling around us… that now I really want us to switch to a what now. It’s not really helpful to say that we didn’t realize we’d be in whatever situation we find ourselves in. It’s not helpful for me, at least, unless it is to create space for grace in the situation. (Because, well… some of us did imagine that we’d still be wearing masks two years in. I did.)

And so, now: what now? 

We get our kids their shots, we get the boosters for folks who are with the kids, and those at risk, and we do what needs to be done so that our community is safe, so that our people are cared for, so that we can work together to do together what we need together so that we will be together as we live together. 

And it might be small. And it might be annoying. And it might last far longer than we ever expected. And the solutions now might not be what we do later…

But we don’t let the what-ifs overtake the what-now.

What do we need to do, now?

Nets and Bugs and Shots

When I was getting ready to move to Kenya, I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I’d been to different parts of Latin America, slept on the floor of a church an hour up a dirt road off of the pan-american highway, eaten guinea-pig from a roadside stand with classmates in a charter bus, and still I didn’t know what I was getting in to. 

I was most worried about the “bathroom” situation and the bugs. In my first week at training I had a massive GI bug, and so leapt the hurdle of pit latrines quickly and it simply became part of the landscape—really built up that quad strength.

But the bug thing. 

It was still a thing.

I’ve always been a sweet enticement to mosquitoes. 

One night while visiting family in Cocoa we went to go watch a launch at Cape Canaveral, standing on the side of the road looking across the Indian River, swatting the bugs that were pleased at the feast presented to them. The launch was scrubbed, for whatever reason, but my legs the next morning were a polka-dot compilation of pain and irritable scratchiness. My mom carefully put cream on each bite, counting as we went, and crossed fifty before we were done. 

Mosquitoes love me.

So of course, the Peace Corps medical machine sends me to sub-saharan africa, where mosquitoes seek out everyone every night. And these particular mosquitoes carry malaria with them. 

As we prepare to ship out in the midst of staging, every peace corps volunteer is given the baseline malaria prophylaxis. In 2006, when I began service, that medication was mefloquine, a noxious weekly medication that dropped my ability to sleep down to four hour segments on the first two nights after my dose, made me see things that weren’t there, and has a history of inciting suicidal ideation. This is the medication that was given to US military in malaria prone areas at the time as well. I don’t know current practices. It was cheap, and we’re volunteers. 

Every volunteer was also given a bug net for their homestay. Volunteers were hosted, in Kenya at least, in homes of host country nationals, because training is scheduled during the local school term, so the families who have children away at boarding school have a bedroom available for the forty or so volunteers in training at the time. (It’s a great idea, actually, drop your volunteers into a home and have them deal with culture shock in the middle of training, because then you still have friends around and staff that can help you navigate this wholly new thing.)

So during training I learned more about malaria. 

In South Georgia, mosquitoes are active all the time. It doesn’t matter when it is, you can get bitten. Sure, they might be happier and buzzier and swarmier at night, but any time of day is a good time of day for some tasty blood snacks. 

In Kenya, the mosquitoes that carry malaria are active at night. 

For volunteers, they are a nuisance. 

For the families we stayed with, and the families we later worked with, they are a danger. 

The denizens of Kenya, the refugees and the folks who live in the bush and the majority of all of the residents who call sub-saharan africa their home, don’t take a regular medication to prevent malaria. It’s a problem of access and longevity and cost and risk/benefit and a hundred other things. 

Instead, they sleep under nets. Everyone sleeps under a net, unless you are in a climate controlled building like a hotel or an embassy building or a movie theater. I can count on two hands the number of times I was in a climate controlled space in Kenya. 

Mothers and their children under five are given insecticide treated nets, where they share a bed and sleep, hoping there is not a new hole in the net and that the insecticide lasts long enough to stave off the next bite that could make them sick enough to threaten their life. 

Because that’s the thing, malaria for children age five and under can be deadly. Yes, there is a treatment medication that was brand new when I was in Kenya, fifteen years ago, but it’s in pill form and I don’t know about you but have you tried to get a kid to swallow a pill recently? And anyway, it’s only available at dispensaries and hospitals and its difficult to get to those quickly, or at all. 

In 2006 seven to nine hundred thousand people died from malaria, 90% of those in subsaharan africa, and two thirds of the people who died were five and under. That number was better this past year, dropping to half a million, but that’s still too many

And so, it was with great joy that I heard this week that a malaria vaccine was approved by the WHO. This is huge. It’s not perfect, requiring four injections over two years, and only 30-40% effective at preventing symptomatic disease…

Which, when one is traveling by motorbike with a cooler strapped to the seat behind you, hoping that the families that were there six months ago are there again and have their cards with them so that their vaccine schedule is up to date… it’s a lot. 

But it’s something. 

And it still means the nets are necessary, and it still means that people have to be careful and tuck their nets in and watch for holes and treat their nets once a year or more…

But 30-40% effective means that a few hundred thousand fewer children might die. 

And even though these are children that I might never meet, I still care. Black lives matter even if they are across the ocean. Every death is a tragedy, especially the preventable ones. 

So I hope this vaccine is funded, and fast. And distributed quickly. Because God knows there are too many preventable deaths happening daily right now. 

We have a 95% effective shot for another deadly pandemic right now… I’ll stand in line overnight if necessary for my kid to get it when it is approved. But I don’t have to, because we don’t have the same urgency or shared vision here. I kinda wish it was like the pesky mosquitoes, visible and irritating. We might be safer, then. 

But I’m still glad for this hope. 

Choosing Curious

One of the most helpful tools I’ve had over the past month is curiosity. I know that it can be off-putting to say “why” all the time, but even if I don’t say “why” I’m still in the position of: what can I learn? What can I discover? What is the story that is hiding in this exchange? What is the true thing that is yet to be found here in this conversation? 

I know that I am smart. That I have had a whole lot of education and reading and learning and that I am fairly good at teaching and preaching and facilitation. And I also know that I do not know the details of this community. 

I’m working on it. I’m spending a lot of time in conversation. Curiosity is the position from which I am aiming to have all of my conversations. 

People really are interesting. Like. Really. And I’ve spent so much time in the recent past not being able to talk to new people. Or really any people. And so I’m getting a lot of people time in. 

It’s making this introvert learn some new limits. And finding new places for spending spoons. And dropping things that were spending ones that I didn’t realize I had to spare. 

But in this all, I’m staying curious. 

I mean, sure, soon I’m going to have to jump off the deep end of creating a project and writing seventy pages of theological ground work. (Maybe eighty, I’m not sure). 

One of the things that I find really curious about being this kind of curious—is that the way that someone tells you a story—tells you nearly as much about the storyteller as it does about the story. 

I’ve got a story I’ve heard seven times, and I have heard at least seven different versions of it. Sometimes even the same narrator will have a different narrative the next time around. 

I’d have missed it if I wasn’t so curious. 

I’m working at braiding all these stories together, so that I can see the picture as widely as possible. Of course, my own perspective will also have a bearing on how I hear and interpret the story, but that is one of the great things about being a storyteller… I get to tell the story anew, a new way, and shape the telling of it the next time around. 

And even then, I need to remember to be curious to hearing the way that the listener reflects the story back to me, so that I can keep learning. 

Curious. Even.  

Generating Nostalgia

Every so often I will listen to the radio so I can find new music. I usually listen in times of transition or in the summer, which is its own transition, or when I’m feeling impatient or hopeful.

And so this summer, as we moved and I’m driving the not-kid car, which doesn’t have a way to connect to my phone, I’m listening to the radio, because I want to hear something I can dance to. 

And this year, I was not disappointed. Sure, there are some songs on pop radio right now that are downright depressing in how they consider relationships and usefulness. But then there were two songs that caught me. I heard them at least a week apart. And then I realized, after looking up the second, that the first was from the same artist, from the same album, as well. I love finding songs this way.

This is how it happens. I listen to a song, and then I through listen the entire album (facilitated now by spotify), and the whole time I’m just grinning, listening to songs that are wholly new and hilarious and wonderful. And now I’ve got my favorite five songs, the theme music for the summer. 

Now any time I want to remember this summer—this time we moved to this house that we bought, this room I painted in cerulean blue, this time of beginning work after five years of caring for the kids, this time when I finally started my full connection work, this new new new feeling of being in the right place at the right time—I will be able to listen to these songs and know exactly how I felt right now. 

I am generating nostalgia in the moment.

I love new music for this.

I like the songs I’ve learned before, the songs I know by heart, but I also love learning new songs. Songs that surprise, that use elements of the past and sound wholly new and fill me with joy when I hear them. 

Give me new music every time. 

And the old. 

And let me hear them together, the new, the old, the familiar, the novel, the surprising, all of it.

Let me dance and sway and discover a new beat.

Because that’s what I want to do, is dance. Dance and find a rhythm in my body that echoes the beating of my heart and the pumping of my blood and lets me clap and stomp and move so I can remember I am alive. 

For the curious, these are the songs… Way Less Sad and Bang by AJR.