Wednesday, April 29, 2020

PANDEMIC STORIES: In Conversation With... Emily MacLeod

Emily MacLeod wears a respirator as part of her job as a paramedic. 

Emily MacLeod was working as an Occupational Therapy assistant when she developed an interest in the prevention side of health care.
“Paramedics are the clinicians who recognize the early signs of issues,” she says. “Sometimes how quickly we respond to something in the field, like strokes and heart attacks, which have windows for treatment, helps with recovery. It’s about making sure we have the right assessments for the right patients and getting them to the right facility at the right time, and that was interesting to me.”

Twelve years later, she’s now an Advanced Care paramedic, which means she performs more medically related care, such as intubation and suturing. The 42-year-old mother of two works out of the Pugwash EHS station. She’s also a senior operations paramedic which means taking care of management issues: sick calls, truck issues, staffing issues or anything that arises during the day.

Since paramedics are often the first medical staff to interact with a person who may have symptoms of Covid-19, the pandemic has changed significantly the way paramedics do their job, even when they need to respond quickly to a crisis.

At the start of every shift, the crew cleans their truck (ambulance), even though the crew on the previous shift already cleaned it. Emily says everything that could possibly be touched – every door knob, cabinet handle, radio, button – is wiped down again. Then they make sure they have enough gowns, goggles, masks and gloves, as well as respirators, which are worn if a patient tests positive for Covid-19.

“Right now, our initial contact is one medic dons a surgical mask, goggles and a gown, and there are four questions we ask at the door to decide if we need to upgrade our Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) or keep it the same,” she says. “If we have to upgrade, the initial medic backs out and goes to respirator. We also add a face shield over top of our goggles. Usually we’re double-gloved, and we’re already gowned.”

With that extra level of preparation and protection, the paramedics know they’re going to be uncomfortable – because those materials don’t breathe – and they also know the mask and respirator, and resulting dry mouths, make them harder to understand.

“Especially for senior citizens, so we’re speaking louder and more clearly. And it’s scary for the younger patients; they look overwhelmed when we come in looking like aliens,” Emily says.

She’s not on the truck as much since the pandemic hit Nova Scotia; many days, she’s at the office doing a PUI, which is ‘patient under investigation’ for Covid-19.
Emily explains that when a crew comes into contact with a patient who may have symptoms of the virus, she runs through a checklist with them to make sure they used the appropriate PPE at the appropriate time.

She knows first-hand the importance of wearing the proper protective gear: Her fiancĂ©, James, a paramedic based in Oxford, recently spent two weeks in isolation – sequestered away from Emily and the couple’s three children – because of a possible exposure.

“James had a patient who went into cardiac arrest so he immediately began cardiac arrest protocol instead of backing out, putting on gear and going back in,” she says. “He only had on minimal PPE because the patient screened negative. But cardiac arrest puts him in a high-risk category because you’re closer to the patient and closer to bodily fluids.”
She admits it’s hard because the response to help is automatic, but “no matter where or at what stage you go in, you have to go in with respirator, goggles, face shield, gown and double gloves.”

Despite being in the office more dealing with the paperwork that is part of the pandemic’s impact, Emily happened to be working on the truck the night when Canada’s worst mass killing began in Portapique.

An MCI – multiple casualty incident – is an event that could possibly overwhelm available resources, such as the closest hospital. But an MCI in the middle of a viral pandemic? How does that affect the work of paramedics?
As Emily and her partner, Jesse, rushed to the scene, they discussed what to do. They knew it was a shooting, so they expected to be dealing with gunshot wounds.
“We decided we wouldn’t have time to back out so we went in with everything on. In a moment where someone is critically injured, we don’t have time to stop, back out, put more stuff on.”

They arrived to a chaotic scene on a dark, rural road. “No one can understand the scope of that unless you were there,” Emily says. “It was horrendous.”
In that situation, everyone was at risk, but there were injuries that needed to be tended to.
“You definitely think about the risk at any scene, whether it’s an active shooter or at the side of the highway,” she says. “We rely on the other agencies, like police, to say it’s safe to come in.”

The next day, Emily was back at work. “After big events, we tend to go back to our trucks because our partners are our sounding boards,” she says. “We debrief as a crew.”

No matter what crisis she’s facing as a paramedic – a pandemic, a multiple casualty incident, or a night with just a couple of calls – what Emily loves about her job are the people she’s called in to help during a shift.
“Everyone has their own experience,” she says. “We meet people from all walks of life so you have to have a lot of empathy; there are a lot of fight complaints, drug and alcohol abuse. You go from seeing the worst to meeting some very interesting people.”

~ by Sara Jewell 

Monday, April 27, 2020

Prayer for the Community After the Tragedy

The circle of candles representing the names of the 23 victims of the shootings.

During my worship yesterday, I lit these candles as I named each victim of last weekend's shooting rampage. 
As I walked the the dog earlier in the morning, I thought about all the people who would normally seek out a church service following a horrific tragedy like the one that unfolded in our area; even if they don't attend church regularly, or at all, in times like this, coming together with our friends and neighbours, hearing words of comfort and peace, is very important. Those people were unable to that this time. 
In my congregation, we don't know any of the victims, but we know so many people who live in the area where four of the shootings took place -- just down the road -- and we know people who lost someone. We are not directly impacted by a death, but we are deeply impacted by the tragedy. 

This is my community prayer: 

We heard it and saw it written over and over this past week: God weeps.
And we wonder,
does God ever get tired of weeping?
Does God ever get tired of those holy tears mingling with the blood of the innocent, the unsuspecting, the helping?

During scary times, Mr. Rogers told us, look for the helpers. He said there are always people who are helping.
But what do we do now,
when the helpers are the ones who were gunned down by evil masquerading as one of them?

We pray for the helpers who survived. The police, the paramedics, the fire fighters.

We pray for the friends and neighbours who phoned to warn, who watched and waited – and who now sit in their homes and grieve.

We pray for the family members who heard the stories of the helpers they love – and who now sit in their homes and grieve. And rage. And demand answers.

We pray for the family and friends and neighbours, for the police officers, who will never receive the answers they need, who will never know why this happened, or how this could happen.

We pray for the clergy and counsellors who are the helpers now, as people try to deal with their grief, their loss, their anger, their fear, and their questions.

We pray for each other, that we may be gifts to each other: gifts of peace and hope, gifts of joy and love. That in our collective community mourning, we may give and receive comfort, that we remain grateful for the blessings in our lives, the blessings of our living, even as we experience the grief of lives lost to senseless violence.

We are in the season that follows the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, when we move from witnessing his death on a cross – nails through his hands, a sword in hisside – to seeing him, resurrected, in front of us, with his wounds healing.

And we remember: No matter how wounded we are, no matter how deep the pain and how extensive the suffering, we will heal.
The peace Jesus promised will return to our lives.
The love Jesus offers – a love no bullet can stop – will carry us forward.
Love is the light that nothing – not even evil – can overcome. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

How This Feels In Our Rural Area

It's been quite a week.

I wrote for the United Church Observer magazine for 26 years, and continued to write for its new incarnation, Broadview magazine, which debuted as a new version of the Observer a year ago.
So I have a long-standing relationship with the woman who is now the editor (she used to edit my column that ran for 10 years). When she asked me to write about what had happened in my area of Nova Scotia -- four of the 23 victims lived in Wentworth, 20 minutes away -- I said I could write about the impact it has on our sense of community.

This is the link to the article that was published online this week.

For those of you who read this blog but don't live in Canada, here's the link to the "Nova Scotia Remembers" vigil that aired on Friday evening -- 90 minutes, no commercials -- and at least for those of us indirectly affected, who aren't mourning the violent, senseless loss of a family member, friend or neighbour, it was very comforting.

And finally, I'm gearing up for our worship service Sunday morning - a lot of prayer and music as we try to make sense of what happened. It's not a worship about hope, but about comfort and peace, and trying to see a light in the darkness.

On Wednesday, Shoreline Design on Prince Edward Island posted on Facebook that they'd created silver Nova Scotia pendants they were selling for $40 (including the chain) and $20 would go to Wounded Warriors, a Canadian organization assisting the families of those killed in the line of duty.
On Thursday, we ordered three pendants - for me, Mother, and my sister in the United States.
On Friday, the pendants were in our mailbox. Wow. So I could wear it on Friday night when we rang the bell at the church 23 times, through the vigil on television, and tomorrow, for church. In fact, I'll be wearing my pendant AND my Nova Scotia tartan as I lead a very emotional worship service.

Also wearing red on Friday to show my support for the RCMP. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

PANDEMIC STORIES: In Conversation With...Jill Blaikie

Jill in her office at East Cumberland Lodge

When Jill Blaikie answers her extension in her office at East Cumberland Lodge, she says hello. And when she’s asked how she’s doing, she says, “We’re fine.”
We are fine. She doesn’t just answer for herself, but on behalf of everyone working at the long-term care facility in Pugwash, along the north shore of Nova Scotia.

As the Director of Recreation Services, Jill is used to overseeing the variety of activities provided to the Lodge’s 74 residents, with the assistance of staff and many volunteers. The programs range from music and art to church services and cooking, and of course, the always-popular Bingo. But since the “facility closure” due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Jill is doing her best to continue providing activities with no volunteers and the ‘no gatherings of more than five people’ rule.

“We’ve had to do this before, when we’ve been closed during outbreaks of the flu,” Jill says of running programs without volunteers. “What’s new is limiting activities to five people.”
Applying that rule to a nursing home is a real challenge. Following the five-person gathering limit means that, with a programmer, only four residents can participate in an activity at one time.
Despite that, they’re carrying on as normally as possible. Jill still reads the newspaper with residents every morning, but now instead of twenty residents gathering in the recreation room, there’s two shifts of four and then Jill goes to the rooms.
“It’s always a great way to start the day,” she says. “They catch up on my life and I catch up on their life, and there’s great commentary on the stories in the newspaper.”

Exercise continues, there is Bible Study, and two sessions of Bingo, and some of the staff are bringing in their guitars in order to provide sing-songs for the residents.
“We have four or five televisions so today, we’re having a movie afternoon,” Jill tells me during our phone conversation last Friday. “There will be different movies in different places in the building.”

Adapting is key. “I make a note on the calendar every month that ‘All programs are subject to change’ and it’s never been more true than now,” Jill says, adding that she busier than ever. “I’m here for eight hours a day, I’m run off my feet, and I leave feeling like I haven’t done enough.”
One new adaptation she’s juggling appointments for the Facetime calls and window visits.
“Those are getting more and more popular,” Jill says about helping the residents see and speak with their family.

All the staff at ECL are wearing masks now, which Jill thought might upset the residents, but she says they are taking everything in stride.

“What they really miss is the hair dresser,” she laughs. Even though the hair salon is inside ECL, it had to shut down when all salons across the province closed.
“On any given day, there’s a staff member with a curling iron or some rollers, and we’re doing the best we can. We’re not allowed to cut hair, but we’re making an effort to get the hair done.”

One unexpected bonus was the arrival of two kittens just before the facility closure began.
“Actually, as we’re talking, I have one sitting on my shoulder,” Jill chuckles, and as soon as she says Lucy’s name, the sound of purring comes through the phone line. “They’ve come at a great time because we can take them into the rooms. They are something fun to watch.”

Still, the cute antics of kittens don’t make up for what the residents are missing above all else: Their family. And Jill has a message for those families: Their people are safe and well-cared for.
“We realize our residents are suffering because they don’t have their family visits,” she says, “but we’re coming to work every day and we’re doing our best.”

The devotion of staff, including Jill and her recreation team, can’t be overstated at a time like this. Everyone is trying to cope with what will be a long-term closure.

“People work in long-term care because we love it,” says Jill. “I always say, ‘These are my people,’ and right now, my people are very lonely.”

~ By Sara Jewell 

Monday, April 20, 2020

April 19th: Close to Home

We are shocked and devastated by the shooting rampage that claimed over 19 lives yesterday -- including an RCMP officer -- in the county next to ours, in places we know so well. Sixteen crime scenes! Every time the news updates, we can't believe what we're hearing. To be Canada's worse mass shooting since the 1989 murders at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal is not how we want to be known, yet will lay claim to that title for decades to come.

I've written so often about my search for heart and home in rural Nova Scotia. To have that heart broken so close to home is unbelievable. What we're struggling with, in particular, is that, yesterday, as we got up and did chores, drank coffee and ate breakfast, went into town to do the online church service...that rampage was underway -- and had been since the night before. Many of the shootings and the deaths were happening as we did church.

During his daily press briefing this morning, our Prime Minister only talked about this horrific event and spoke on behalf of the entire nation grieving with us (I have to say, leading a nation during a tragedy is what Justin Trudeau excels at; I found his demeanor and his words comforting).
At one point, he said, "Canadians are generous and kind".
I'd like to add that no one is kinder or more generous than a rural Nova Scotian. There are such good people in our rural area, such good, down-to-earth, unflappable people, and it is tragic to know their hearts are broken. It is hard to see all Nova Scotians in such pain. But as we learn about the wonderful, hard-working, loving people whose lives were destroyed, we will see the generosity and kindness of Nova Scotians rise up in response.

Honouring the fallen:
Constable Heidi Stevenson
Lisa McCully
Heather O'Brien
Kristen Beaton and her unborn child
Gina Goulet
Sean McLeod & Alanna Jenkins - Cumberland County
Tom Bagley - Cumberland County
Aaron Tuck & Nicole Oliver
Jolene Tuck
Greg and Jamie Blair
*Lillian Hyslop - Cumberland County
Corrie Ellison
Joey Webber
*Dawn Madsen & Frank Gulenchyn
*John Zahl & Elizabeth Thomas
Joy & Peter Bond

The names with an asterix? People who moved to Nova Scotia. Who chose to move here, to retire here. Because we are friendly. We are safe.
And now I know four of those killed lived in Cumberland County - in Wentworth, a place we drive through countless times a year. I now know someone whose family member was killed...

These are the names of school teachers, nurses, corrections officers, retirees, an aspiring musician...Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, friends, neighbours, co-workers...
People with lives and loves, work and hobbies, plans and dreams. Kind and helpful people who were fooled by a man masquerading as a police officer.

It is incomprehensible.

Time for a walk by the river. Not for solace, merely for silence.

"When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives might be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake,
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time,
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."

~ The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Oh, My Heart

So I wrote what I wrote yesterday. It was good and true. My heart was happy, under the circumstances.
This morning, when I stepped out the door about nine o'clock to do the hens, I glanced at the osprey nest -- it's a habit of 12 years -- and there, with the sun shining on its white chest, sat an osprey.
By the time I grabbed my phone, and got the camera zoomed, it flew off the nest. It flew south, or upriver, if you will.

Although my husband called out, "Hey, buddy, welcome back," I'm not sure if this is one of "our" ospreys. How can it be? No babies survived the past two summers, and both males disappeared. There are ospreys nesting and producing offspring in other places around us so perhaps this is a new osprey looking for a new home. It may not mate this year; it may just claim the nest, just as a pair did in July 2008.
Who knows? This is the latest date, April 18, that the first osprey has ever returned. So we'll see if my theory is right. Or tomorrow I'll be writing a post about how another osprey showed up on Saturday and they've mated already!
Whatever - this means we now have work to do because obviously, this nest will not be abandoned. We have to find trout for stocking our pond and build another perch for them to sit on near the pond. I told Dwayne to put enough trout in that pond we could walk across it on the fish! I just need to protect and save these birds. If they are going insist on nesting here -- oh, my heart, they keep coming back to us -- then we have to help them.

By the way, I did send an email to the Department of Lands and Forests the week before Easter. I explained what happened to the ospreys the past two summers, and shared our theory as to what made the males disappear. So the local enforcement officers will be inspecting trout ponds to make sure they are set up to discourage birds fishing. All migratory birds are protected, and "nuisance birds" - ie: birds fishing out of a trout pond -- cannot be shot without a permit from the department. osprey sat on the nest. That's all that happened so far. Oh, my heart.

Once the osprey was out of sight, I filled my bucket and headed out to the chicken coop.
For the first time in 12 years, I got pooped on. Right in my hair. Dwayne heard my screech, and wasn't terribly sympathetic when he realized I hadn't actually cut off a finger.
And holy crap, chicken poop stinks. It just -- it's -- I can't -- once the smell is in your nose --
Shelagh, I know you are laughing right now. I hope you pee yourself.

So in the past four days, a publisher requested the full manuscript of my novel, an osprey showed up in the nest, and a chicken pooped on my.
This is either the best week of my life, or everything is just becoming a shit show.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday Thoughts

Osprey photographed on the day it returned in April 2011.

Every night after eating supper and watching the news, I go outside. Normally, I walk two paths: to the chicken coop to shut the doors for the night, and to the six bird feeders hanging in the trees just in front of our house.
But for some reason, last night I decided to go for a wander around the yard.
We have a large yard but I don’t often just wander around, listening and looking; usually, I’m intent on going to some specific spot to fulfill a specific errand. Last night, however, I was curious if anything was growing on the other side of the ditch where my husband built “the mound” – the place where my father’s ashes are buried. Nothing is popping out of the little garden but I rush away.

“Hi, Dad,” I said, then took a good look at the Colorado Blue Spruce he’s interred under; it’s got a nice shape. Then I looked at the other spruce trees we planted around. All the trees are growing nicely since we planted them eleven years ago.
I looked up at the osprey nest, much of it beaten away by the wind and likely now abandoned; the influx of eagles to our part of the river has made this area inhospitable to the ospreys.
I looked at our own nest, our big red house. Lots of room for three people (and their cats and dog) during a quaratine; my own writing space where I am warm and safe and creative.
I looked up at the sky. Sea gulls were soaring high, above the river but beneath the clouds that suggested some place around us was receiving precipitation.

The white bellies of the gulls caught the light from the setting sun. Flashes of white as they turned on the air currents. Part of me wished for a moment the darker winged gulls were really ospreys, but no, it’s better if they find somewhere else to live. I’d rather have my heart broken by their abandonment rather then their deaths at the hands of people and the claws of eagles.
Not sure how I feel about being ‘eagle people’ rather than ‘osprey people’. It will take some getting used to.

What I want to tell you was how happy this aimless wander made me feel. To be in my big country yard, walking around the familiar space, looking and listening but not for anything specific. Just seeing and hearing whatever came along.
Sea gulls in the sky.
Blackbirds at dusk.
Breeze through the pine trees.
Clouds over the hills, and rain in the distance.
An immature eagle flying through it all.

Oy. Because eagles. This is their show now.

The young’un flew right over the road and above our property, as if checking out the osprey nest. Looking to see if they’ve arrived? Looking to see if it’s available?
Nature is brutal and beautiful, but never broken, not like humanity. It is what it is, surviving and thriving. It knows what is essential. A simple existence.
I still wonder, as I wander, if the birds and the bees and the animals are wondering why the humans are staying in their burrows these days, why they have left the skies and the waters.

Wait, I was telling you how happy I was, to be in this wide open space, with the field and the woods, to be breathing in the cool evening air, to feel the last of the sunshine as it dropped below the bare trees on the far side of our property.

It’s not that I want to forget there is a pandemic, that the shutdown has plunged millions of people into financial distress, that the death tolls continue to rise, that even in my own home, we are at risk of debilitating illness if someone contracts the virus.
But in this time after supper and after the news, I am allowed to be happy. To be grateful. To be reminded of the wisdom of nature – the cycles of life that give and take. To remember what is essential – air and breath, earth and food, river and water, sun and fire. The elemental essentials that give us food, shelter, medicine and clothing.

Every night after eating supper, after watching the news, I go outside, and I walk familiar paths as I do my chores. Sometimes, I stop and look around, remember who we are and what matters, and why we are here – and I am happy to spend a moment watching the birds, who are untouchable in their freedom. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

PANDEMIC STORIES: In Conversation With... Andrew MacDiarmid

I finally figured out what I could offer in this time of global pandemic and during our quarantine: stories. I'm rebooting my popular column from the Oxford Journal community newspaper (which closed in 2015) to bring you stories of people whose work is impacted by the pandemic, and share how they are adapting and coping. 
Here is the first in this new series:

Andrew and Leta MacDiarmid, from Leta's Facebook profile picture
On March 22, the province of Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Along with requirements for the self-isolation of travellers and enforcement of physical distancing, the province said no one could gather in groups of more than five.
So what happens when someone dies? One of the most challenging aspects of this shutdown is the fact we can’t have funerals.

Andrew MacDiarmid is a second-generation funeral director who lives at the funeral home in Oxford with his wife, Leta, and their two daughters, Rachel, 12, and Marlee, 8. His family operates funeral homes in Oxford, Pugwash, Wentworth, and Tatamagouche, on the north shore of Nova Scotia, so when he talks about his work, he speaks in terms of “we”.

Their last public service was March 15.
“We have to keep explaining to people why we can’t do funerals,” he says about following the rules set by the province. “We’re not dealing with deaths from the actual virus; we’re just trying to deal with daily business. We’re trying to help folks in a time that can be hard enough, but when you take away the interaction and the one-on-one and the community support, it’s really difficult.”

What’s worse, he says, is that even if the family knows they have to wait for the restrictions to be lifted in order to have a service, they can’t set a date for that. They can’t even plan for July, and even then, Andrew knows the restrictions won’t be lifted all at once.  
So his biggest concern is that by the time people are allowed to gather in large groups again, they will have lost the energy and the will to have a service, “even though they probably should,” he adds.
He feels that way because the purpose of funerals is “acknowledgement” – of the death of a loved one, of the life lived, of those left behind to mourn and remember. We all need the opportunity to gather with family and friends in order to acknowledge the life that is over and to acknowledge our loss.

The postponement of funerals, however, doesn’t mean funeral service stops. Andrew considers his business an essential service.
“This is public health,” he says. “The ‘essential service’ part of the funeral home is – someone dies, the body has to go somewhere.”

Removals are simply taking a body from its place of death to the funeral home. Andrew and his staff have changed almost all the ways they do removals from nursing homes, hospitals and residences. What hasn’t changed is that they still do them at any time of the day or night.
“When we go into a nursing home, we wear masks to ensure we don’t bring the virus into the facility,” he says, “and our departure is as low-key as possible. All bodies are shrouded in plastic now, because we’re following the WHO [World Health Organization] guidelines; that will probably be the norm from now on.”

The procedure is the same for removals at hospitals, but now instead of going to the room, with the opportunity to reassure the family, Andrew and his staff now go to the morgue where the body is waiting.
He says removals from houses are trickier because there can’t be more than five people in the residence at one time, and the funeral home sends two people on a removal.
“It seems odd at two thirty in the morning to ask people to leave when we arrive,” he says, “but once you explain it, they understand. It’s cumbersome. The whole thing is cumbersome.”

He admits the hardest part, at least for him, is not wearing a suit.
“We’re dressing casually because there’s no dry cleaning right now, and we don’t need to be wearing the same suit to do removals in different facilities. It’s just common sense.”

Andrew recognizes that people are worried about how their loved one’s body will be taken care of for weeks, even months. Now, instead of having a funeral, the body, in its casket, goes into a holding room at one of the funeral homes that is supervised 24/7.
If the body is cremated, MacDiarmid’s provides that service at the funeral home in Oxford, “so we’re in charge of the whole process,” Andrew says. The difference now, he’s noticed, is that people are requesting the urn be brought to them, instead of getting the funeral home to hold onto it until the service.
“People want to have the cremated remains because they just don’t know when this shutdown is going to end.”
He’s grateful to still be open for people, and proud of his staff for operating as normally as possible. “They’ve all said they’ll do whatever they can to help people.”
But when you’re in the business of assisting families with a death, and with the process of arrangements, and mourning, he says “it’s disappointing when you’re talking to people, knowing they can’t move through this as quickly as they’d like to.”

Andrew’s advice for everyone wondering how to cope with death during this quarantine? Pick up the phone.
“One thing I’m noticing that people appreciate – and there doesn’t have to be a death in the family anymore to make this important – is a phone call,” he says. “Zoom gatherings, Facebook likes and comments, and texting are great, but there’s something about hearing somebody’s voice and having that conversation that really seems to help people. It’s an easy thing for everyone to do, and it’s not like we’re doing anything else.”

Tuesday, April 07, 2020


A walk at 7 o’clock in the morning:
The sun has crested the trees on the other side of the river
and spindly shadows reach long across the old lane
tracks are frozen into the mud: raccoon, deer, dog
after a week of gusty wind, the air is cold but gentle
crows call out as they fly over
blue jays flit into the trees
the chickadees sing to one another
a song sparrow, unseen, serenades the world

The news at 8 o’clock in the morning:
The death toll is higher
Another nursing care home is stricken
Supplies are low, anxiety is high
projections are futile
A nation’s leader is in critical care
reminding us
to stay home
stay away from each other
make do
do without
bake bread
sew masks
be still and know
this is all there is to do

We are living in ways
we turned our backs on many years ago
in this war against a virus
we are returning to pre-war

Go back to the farms
go back to the fields
to the spaces between
grow your own food
make your own clothes
walk through the woods
keep your distance
unplug, disconnect
find a new path

I wonder what the migrating birds think
of the empty skies?
I wonder if the fox mother is hopeful
none of her kits will be hit by a car?
I wonder if the bees will emerge from
winter hiding places
because no one is outside cleaning up?

This isolation
is a wilderness
to explore

Go for a walk
look at the footprints in the frozen mud
not only yours
there are others on this earth
in the night
in the sky
beneath the trees
See two deer leap across the field
their white tails flashing
as they disappear into the woods

And keep wondering. 

(by Sara Jewell) 

Sunday, April 05, 2020

The Alphabet of Faith: N is for Noise

(An edited version of the message I delivered, through live streaming, for online church today.)

Many of us will be struggling with a lot of NOISE in our heads these days.

It’s safe to say, right now, these days, we’re being bombarded by information – news channels that we can’t help but tune into several times a day; articles and videos and memes in our Facebook feeds; emails from our friends and families.
There are a lot of people – reporters, writers, musicians, pastors, just to name a few – who are doing a lot of talking. Some of it’s helpful, some of it’s entertaining, some of it’s alarming, even enraging.
Some of us may be spending far too much time staring at a screen, absorbing far more information and images and sounds than ever before, listening to all sorts of different voices like never before.

And it’s not good for us. We may call it “staying informed” and “staying connected” but it’s simply not good for us – for our minds, for our bodies, for our spirits.

NOISE is the opposite of peace.
NOISE is the opposite of stillness.
NOISE is the opposite of silence.

We’ve come to believe we need to be hearing stuff all the time – music, news, people talking.
We spend a lot of time listening to other people, and thinking they are right, and that they know what they’re talking, and what they’re saying is what we should be doing,
and if we’re not doing it – we’re no good.

We believe we need other people to tell us what to do and how to do it.
But the truth is: there is only one voice we need to hear.
Our own voice.
Because that is the only voice that knows us.

We’ve become so accustomed to noise that we forget what quiet sounds like:
It sounds like our heartbeat.
It sounds like our breath.
It sounds like our voice.

We’ve become so accustomed to noise that we forget what quiet feels like:
It feels like our heartbeat.
It feels like our breath.
It feels like…home.
Where we are free, where we are safe, where we are who we really are.

Now that we have a computer that fits in our hands, when we can fill moments of stillness with a video, a game, a text, when we shove buds into our ears to keep out the world around us, we rarely get a chance to clear the noise from our heads.

We need to step away from the NOISE. Turn off the news, turn off the computer, turn off the chatter, and find stillness.

How do we know who we really are, and what we are really called to do, if we can’t be still – be quiet –– and listen for the gentle voice inside us longing to be heard?

“Silence is essential,” said Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam. “We need silence, just as much as we need air, just as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts, there is no space for us.”

I can illustrate this with a personal story:
I walk a lot, and I walk alone and without a phone. There is nothing in my ears but the sound of my feet stomping, my blood pumping, and my breath puffing.
This is how I work out most of my problems. It’s most helpful when writing, to get out and clear out all the thoughts jumbled in my head, then return with some thread of an idea untangled.

But a few months ago, as I was walking, something happened. I felt something at the same time I realized something.
It felt like the gentlest kind of ‘pop’ inside. Not something I felt physically, but something I felt spiritually. And I realized it was a seed germinating.
And I understood – not with my brain but with my heart - this was a seed that had been planted deep into our cold, clay soil when I first arrived here in Nova Scotia. It has been waiting for the right time…and something I’ve done has triggered it.
My feeling is it’s starting to grow.
And all I have to do – is to leave it alone.

It’s a feeling and a realization that is both scary and exciting. I don’t know what the seed is, I have no idea what plant is going to emerge
if I hadn’t been walking in silence, stomping along the old muddy road as usual, not really thinking about anything, just breathing and pondering and being in a state of mental and spiritual stillness… I wouldn’t have felt that pop or heard my heart explain it to me.

If we are surrounded by NOISE all the time, we can’t hear those small, quiet messages in our hearts; we can’t feel those mustard seeds of our spirit popping inside us; we can’t find the courage to trust in those messages, in those pops.

As Ellen DeGeneres once said, “Find out who you are and be that person. That’s what your soul was put on this earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth, and everything else will come.”

- Sara Jewell