Reflections on Pandemic Liminal Space, Between Past and Future

Between What Was & What Will Be...

It’s been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit us. We’ve all experienced things we couldn’t have imagined. For those who have lost family members or friends or suffered from the virus themselves, it has been devastating. For all of us, life-changing.

As we are moving out of the pandemic – I sincerely hope slowly and carefully – the insights of the past months are important to capture and use. There is value now as we formulate post-pandemic life, and in the future as we look back. Imagine 10 or 20 years from now, reading what you write now. And those who come after us will have a treasure we left behind.

I have a journal entry for each of the weeks since the end of March 2020 and using that as a base, I have written a short ebook. Besides looking back, I recorded questions and things to consider as I move forward. An important element of my particular story is that I also made a cross-country move, from Tennessee to California, during the year. Within the book you can also access a free journal that I designed just for this period of time as we progress.

I invite you to check out my Kindle book here: http://carolbrusegar.com/between-what-was-what-will-be  It will take you directly to Amazon.com. The book is just $0.99. If you are not a Kindle user, a PDF version for download is available on Gumroad for the same price: BWWAWWB on Gumroad

Here’s a more complete description:

Between What WAS and What WILL BE reflects on my experiences during the initial year of the COVID-19 pandemic which included a cross-country move. I share the insights and struggles of the months leading up to and following the actual physical transplant of my life from Tennessee to California. And I reflect on the decade I spent in Tennessee: experiences, insights, and connections to the past.

During the process I experienced:

+ Letting go of possessions

+ Transitioning relationships

+ Leaving and settling with great restrictions

+ Putting my experiences into a larger context

+ Considering what I want to be different in the future

I hope it will inspire you to embrace big endeavors regardless of the situation. May you take the opportunity of this unique time in our common history to reflect and create a post-pandemic life based on what you have experienced and learned.

 

 

Honoring the Lost in a Year of Great Loss

Remembering the Lost

Honoring the Lost From Every Walk of Life

The hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by COVID-19 continue to mount as I write this in the last days of 2020. May we all make honoring the lost a part of our year-end reflections. For the families and friends of those people, they are the most important losses of the year. Each of these deaths is a loss to a family, a circle of friends, a community, and often beyond that.

Some of them were health care workers – doctors, nurses, specialty technicians, food service, maintenance staff – who served in specific locations. Also lost were other “essential workers” who continued to do their jobs that allowed life to continue at some level – paramedics, police officers and firefighters; grocery store and other retail employees; providers of transportation and city services and more. They are all heroes and martyrs on another level this year.

We are overwhelmed and numbed by the sheer numbers. It is largely incomprehensible. I found this article with multiple visuals helpful in grasping this reality: Breaking Down the Numbers I hope we can take some time to remember and honor these victims of a horrible pandemic that still grips our country and the world.

Honoring the Lost Whose Names are Well Known

We have also lost people whose names are known by millions of us – some related to COVID-19 but most not. They are known for their various contributions to our national identity or culture. Musicians, actors, artists, other entertainers, leaders in civil rights and government, athletes, journalists, authors, scientists, and more. They are people whose talents and skills enrich us in multiple ways.

The television networks feature lists and photos that stream past us as they recap the year as usual. Magazines and newspapers will provide their selection of notables. Who are the people you wish to particularly remember as they leave this dimension?

For me, the loss of three lifelong Civil Rights leaders are at the top of the list. The recognition and honoring of John Lewis, 80, was most visible to all of us. His lifelong activism, beginning when he was very young, through 30 years in Congress left a huge list of accomplishments and a legacy of leadership.

T. Vivian, 95, one of Lewis’s compatriots in the movement died the very same day and sadly we didn’t hear enough of his life and contributions. He grew up in Illinois and Missouri and was involved in a sit-in to integrate lunch counters in 1947! As a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, he became involved in sit-ins, marches and the Freedom Rides. He organized affiliate organizations to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Nashville and other cities. He moved to Atlanta in the 1970s and from that point organized and headed multiple educational, activist and business organizations focused on equality and access.

Joseph Lowry, 98, died at the end of March when the pandemic was gobsmacking all of us. He was involved in the group of ministers around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that was so key to so many of the advances of those years. He served as the president of SCLC from 1977 to 1997, leading campaigns for justice in multiple states at a time when it was difficult to get media attention to this work. He pastored Methodist churches for nearly 50 years.

Another giant lost was Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 87. Her death and legacy were covered extensively, and we learned more about her contributions during those days. From being only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States to being a pop culture icon in her eighties, she was amazing. Her legal activism on behalf of equal rights for women extended over decades.

Why do I highlight these four? Prime among my reasons are their dedication to values and causes that motivated long lives of contribution.

A trailblazer of another kind also died this year – Lucille Bridges, 86. Hers is a unique story of having her 6-year-old daughter, Ruby Bridges, be one of the first children in the south to integrate an elementary school. Lucille was 26 years old when she and her husband made that bold and difficult decision in 1960 New Orleans. Through an entire school year, she walked Ruby to school with white people jeering and federal troops protecting them. No white students would be in a classroom with Ruby, so for the entire school year she and the one teacher willing to teach her were in a classroom alone together. The family paid a steep price for this bold action. Ruby’s father lost his job as a service station attendant when he wouldn’t withdraw her from the school. The local grocery store stopped selling to them. Lucille’s parents in Mississippi were forced from the land they sharecropped. Ultimately the stress and conflict caused Lucille and her husband to separate. The courage and persistence of this family which included eight children is an example that needs to be shared.

I encourage you to reflect on these and other losses of 2020. How do their stories inspire you? The Washington Post’s “Notable Deaths of 2020” provides information on the above and others: Notable deaths of 2020 – The Washington Post

 

Dixie, Stephen Foster and the Song Track of Our Childhoods

 

The Golden Book

 

“I wish I was in de land oh cotton, old times dar am not forgotten,

Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land.

In Dixie Land whar I was born in, Early on one frosty mornin’,

Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land! Den I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray, Hooray! 

In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand to lib and die in Dixie.Away, away, away down south in Dixie….”

I picture myself as one of about thirty white children ranging in age from six to thirteen, in a rural one-room school near Stoughton, Wisconsin in the 1950s, heartily singing this song, “Dixie,” (as we did). It takes me back and it prompts questions about the role of music in our early years and what if any imprinting it may have done.

In those rural one-room schools that endured until the mid-1900s, one teacher taught all subjects to all eight grades, including music. I really can’t imagine managing all that. Of course, they relied on basic curriculums and standard songbooks. For our regular music time, we relied heavily on The Golden Book of Favorite Songs, A Treasury of the Best Songs of Our People.

The Golden Book was first published in 1915 with subsequent copyrights in 1923 and 1946. Probably thousands of schools used this popular volume around the country as a first exposure to American music for millions of children. The nostalgic value for many of us is indicated by the price of “vintage” copies of the 1946 edition on Amazon.com: $799.39 and $855.58. Now reprint copies are also available.

I remember not only using it regularly at school but also receiving my own copy as a reward from my teacher Mrs. Olson at the end of first grade. She had written in the front “To a very sweet girl with a very sweet voice.” Somehow through the years, I lost that special copy of The Golden Book but happened to find one of those reprints on Amazon.com some years ago.

I haven’t paid much attention to it recently, until reading a reference to “Dixie” – one of the songs I first learned in that book. I found my songbook to see if the authorship and background of the song matched and took some time to examine the whole volume. I have recently been doing a lot of reading and viewing about cultural diversity and how racist policies and practices have been built into American culture and commerce. A part of that is also understanding how the actual events of our history have been taught and told from a largely white view over the years. There’s so much more to learn to have a full view of who we are as a nation and why.

Looking at The Golden Book as an iconic mode of learning during at least half of the past century is quite enlightening. It is an interesting combination of three major elements: 1) patriotism: quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge to the Flag, The American’s Creed, and the Gettysburg Address plus all of the typical patriotic songs; 2) religion:  a responsive reading from the Psalms, several Christmas carols, and a group of typical hymns sung in Protestant churches; and 3) culture.

Culture is the theme of the majority of the songs. One category, “Folk Songs,” includes several Stephen Foster compositions – “Old Black Joe,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Old Folks at Home,” “Uncle Ned,” and “Massa’s in the Cold Ground.” Other songs in that category come from Scottish, Irish, English and other Northern European countries.

Reading the words to the Foster songs makes me cringe. I wish I remembered how I reacted to them when I was 7 or 10 or 12 years old. Our area of southern Wisconsin was all white and far enough from Milwaukee that we weren’t regularly exposed to the diversity and issues of that city as young children. These songs provide imagery, words written in dialect, and depictions of formerly enslaved people as missing and yearning for a return to those days. Noted in this section of “The Golden Book” is that Stephen Foster lived from 1836 to 1864, pre-Civil War. It states that he often visited “Negro camp meetings and there studied the music of the colored people.”

For example, from “Massa’s in the Cold, Cold Ground” –

“Massa make de darkeys love him, Cayse he was so kind,Now dey sadly weep above him,

mourning cayse he leave dem behind. I cannot work before tomorrow, Cayse de tears drop now.

I try to drive away my sorrow, picking on de old banjo. Down in de cornfield, hear dat mournful sound;

all de darkeys am aweeping.Massa’s in de cold, cold ground.”

What did we think about that? How did we process it? What messages were implanted that we couldn’t even articulate? How did the songs fit into what we were explicitly taught? I wish I had access to some of the textbooks we used back then. How did they address slavery and describe Black people? How whitewashed were the descriptions?

 Going back to “Dixie,” notes in The Golden Book indicate it was written by Dan D. Emmett to be performed by the minstrel group of which he was a part, Bryant’s Minstrels, in 1859. This all-white group that performed in black face was one of the most popular of the time. “It became the great inspirational song of the Confederate Army” notes also indicated. (I learned elsewhere that Emmett disavowed the song’s association with the Confederacy.) Minstrelsy was popular from the late 1830s into the 1920s and even beyond in various forms.

Have you thought about how the music you heard and sang when you were a child affected you? What kinds of songs were they? What were the messages, implicit, explicit and inferred? How might these still be affecting your beliefs and attitudes today? Ask those same questions about the music your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and other children are hearing and singing today.

As white folks striving to expand our knowledge and awareness of American history in all its dimensions so that we can change things that must be changed, this kind of learning and reflection is so important. It’s an essential part of creating a more perfect union.