Someone telling you your own story

The book “The Spirituality of Imperfection” by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, has been a favorite source of reflections for me for about 15 years.  One of the stories I love best is from Jewish lore.  I call this the story of The Baal Shem Tov and the Bishop.   The Baal Shem Tov before he died, asked a disciple to carry on his work, going far and wide to tell stories about the master.  In a far country, a wealthy nobleman was very happy to receive the disciple, and eagerly waited to hear the stories.  But his mind went blank.  Finally, after a few days, he started to leave, and then he remembered one story.  He was with the Master when they came to a Christian town, just before Easter.  The usual thing there was to kill a Jew, in the fervor around the crucifixion of Jesus.  So the disciple was very afraid.  But the Baal Shem Tov went to a big house, along the square, and threw open the upper window to look at the procession of people coming into the square.  The bishop in his robes was very imposing.  The Baal Shem Tov told his disciple to go down and tell the bishop that the Baal Shem Tov wanted to see him.  The disciple was trembling with fear, but went to the bishop, and was amazed that the bishop listened, and after his sermon, went with the disciple, to see the Master.  They went to an inner room, spoke for a long while.  Then the Baal Shem Tov came out, and said now they could go away.  The disciple was very sorry this was such a fragment of a story, but he did tell the nobleman about it.  The effect in the nobleman was immense.  He recognized the disciple, and he said, that the bishop in the story was he himself.  He was descended from a line of distinguished rabbis.  He had converted to Christianity in a time of persecution, out of fear, and had been praised, and raised to being a bishop.  He had had a dream, in which he recognized that his soul was in peril.  The Baal Shem Tov had told him that he should return to a simple life of holiness and prayer,  and give up his money and titles.   He should have hope, and  “When a man comes and tells you your own story, you will know that your sins are forgiven.”   When a man comes to tell you your own story, you know that your sins are forgiven.  And (what is always true), is that when you are forgiven, you are healed.

I love this story, because although I am a Christian, I understand that there are people who are and must be, true to their own faith, their own understanding of God.  I do not think we should try to convert or change people’s faith.  What I do think we should work to change, is our own behavior, and especially that part of us which is conscious, which has that “still small voice” of conscience.   Expanding our ability to love, to forgive, and to have patience and forbearance, is what we are being invited to DO.  God calls to each of us, and God forgives us, and we need to hear that voice of forgiveness.  We never hear the voice of God when we are self-satisfied, but only when we are trying to live with peace, with serenity and courage, and to do the will of God.  Putting aside our own egos, trying to help meet the needs of others around us, is what most heals.  When we reach out in love, in solidarity, and forgive each other, we are most like the God we want to be close to, and with whom we want to be in relationship.

Pandemic update, end of March

Not only do we still not have enough test kits so that we can really find out the denominator of the number of people who can make it through with just mild to moderate symptoms, vs. needing oxygen or ventilators, we still don’t have the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in every hospital.  For the past 10 days I have been reading stories from good doctors on the front lines who have been told by administrators that they cannot wear masks, because it will scare patients.  It may be they couldn’t get enough of this equipment, as the administration pitted states against each other and hospitals against each other, to try to get the needed masks , gloves, ventilators, and gowns and booties.  This is against the backdrop of the administration under Mr. Trump sending 17.8 tons of PPE to China to try to help in February, as the Wuhan epicenter escalated into full-blown terror.  This was a good instinct to help our neighbors in distress, but left us without the back up for a pandemic here, and no new materials were ordered or authorized, in spite of the dire predictions of likely spread to the US.

Many friends have been trying to find masks, or make them from cloth, but the cloth is not good for stopping viral particles, compared to the surgical masks (56% effective) or the n95 masks, (95% effective).  In New York which is now in the exponential growth and death rates are skyrocketing, there are big trucks parked outside the hospitals to take out the dead bodies, and doctors and nurses barely able to control the constantly escalating demands for ventilatory assistance.  There are plane-loads of docs and nurses going to help NY, and I feel so grateful for these brave people, and worried for them, also.

San Francisco has been able to stay in Shelter-at-Home mode, and to avoid the escalation so far.  The data show that it is working, and we have only had 380 deaths, not the almost 2,000 of NY, NJ and CT.  Our whole Bay area has been asked to stay in for another month, and the peak is supposed to be April 15.

I spent the past several days trying to help docs with finding support to say they can wear PPE, and we got it 2 days ago from AAFP.  I wrote Governor Newsom yesterday asking for him to please issue an edict that all medical personnel must wear PPE, and preferably the n95 masks.  Today the NY Times published an article about the doctors fighting the administrators of hospitals to get appropriate equipment and be allowed to wear it, instead of being fired.  This is good, the media is now going to help us be heard, and force the hospitals to get the masks and have everyone wear them.  It also is now apparent that many people in the public arena are willing to wear masks to try to limit contagion, which is also great.

I feel guilty in being safe here in isolation at home, when so many are dying.  The deaths of 51 doctors in Italy, along with 10,000 people, is heartrending.  I saw a photo of coffins lined up, and it made me able to finally write a poem, called “50 Coffins in Italy”.   I sent it today to Rattle, hoping they will accept it, as something dealing with what we are seeing in the news.  I am trying to comply with the plan to “flatten the curve.”   I am still registered in the Medical Reserve Corps in our town, if they need retired docs to come in.  I don’t want to go to another place, I need to be able to be at home, at least.  I have been walking down the driveway and back up again, to get exercise every day.  I want to go to walk on the beach, but am saving it for when I really need it.

I ate an artichoke for dinner, cooked in the pressure cooker.  I have been trying to learn to eat better, stay healthier in my patterns, boost my immune system. I have some lemons and some ginger, and I have been making tea.  I have made chicken soup with a lot of garlic.  Little by little, I am trying to get a sort of rhythm at home, along with getting to be part of the zoom meetings for the Lectio Divina, and for Al-Anon.  This is helping me to stay connected.  Also I am checking with Sebastian almost every day, and I got to speak on the phone tonight with Andy, who is in MN.  He still thinks the president has helped do the right thing for the pandemic, so it shows how the media has twisted the minds of the people.  We are going to see if this finally makes people understand his absolute failure of leadership;  Trump’s failure to care for the common good, and “to form a more perfect union”.   I am grateful for the work of so many independent journalists, and this week, especially for Heather Cox Richardson.  I am going to sleep so much better, now that I know our docs and nurses have the n95 masks.