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2020 Graduates Need Leaders Like Barack Obama Now More than Ever

My daughter graduates this year. And, similar to the last weeks of my grandmother’s life and battle with Alzheimers, I never imagined this kind of goodbye.

Over the last few weeks, I have fallen into sadness, sometimes madness, over this world we live in.

But, the words Barack Obama wrote told my sadness that it’s not over.

I finally felt hope tap me on the shoulder and point the way.

Graduates, listen to him.

Pick your friends up off the floor.

Hold each other’s hands.

Walk on.

Change this world.

Make this world your own.

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Grateful for Discover Writing Prompts

Stuck, scared, and stressed, I could barely write when the quarantine began here in Miami, Florida. Between cooking all the time and being ordered around like everyone’s personal servant, I found my mind full of chaotic thoughts and unable to focus on anything that mattered to me.

That all changed when the Discover Prompts started appearing on the WordPress Reader. I felt the same surge of energy that I’d experienced so many years ago when I created this website and began writing posts with the help of the writing prompts to keep me focused.

When my post Refrigerator Art Changed My Life for Weekly Writing Challenge was Freshly Pressed, I felt like I’d found the perfect place to continue my writing career while teaching middle school. I thanked Cheri Lucas Rowlands for picking my post while also expressing how surreal it felt, considering that she looked so much like my daughter whose art was a part of the post.

Interestingly, my little artists are now teenagers attending one of the best art magnets in the country. They each had to create portfolios with 10 completed art pieces, a full sketch book, and audition for three hours on a Saturday. Their art is just as interesting but very different.

Although I’m grateful for this month of Discover Prompts, I wish they would keep going. I think it’s a mistake to end them. I will miss this and all of you.

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There’s An Artist Hiding Inside Your Child’s Mind

When my son was six, he wouldn’t use descriptive language like my daughter who devoured books and words faster than most children. My son liked to describe everything with a zip or a zoom. He’d riddle his sentences with a series of sounds that could sometimes be mistaken for heavy fire in a battle or little beeping noises á la R2-D2.

I didn’t think he would someday write incredibly descriptive stories and ask me to buy him the latest Steven King novel, but it happened in the last few years. He also asked to take art classes because he wanted to audition for an incredibly difficult art magnet school.

Before this, he had been obsessed with soccer and wanted to become an engineer. Then, he started reading more books and little by little changed his focus. It was a surprising but welcome change.

Is your child a musician or a writer or likes creating with Legos?

I think it was hidden inside him, waiting to find it’s way into his mind and break out into the world through his words and drawings. He had liked drawing cartoonish images inspired by The Simpsons and Stan Lee, but he never showed an interest in becoming a better artist.

I believe there’s an artist hidden inside every child. Maybe that child doesn’t paint or draw. Maybe the child’s a musician or a writer. Perhaps the child draws images with his mind’s eye on a popcorn ceiling or loves creating with Legos.

Right now, we should encourage children to explore what’s hidden in their minds. It will help distract them from the tendency to become anxious during such a difficult time for all of us. It will also give them the chance to discover new interests as well as enhance any talents that they’ve had to push to the side because of long school days.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money.

My son’s school didn’t have art classes during the time that he needed to create a portfolio, and I didn’t have a lot of money to spend. I found a school, The Learning Tree of Arts, that is now giving virtual classes. These are the teachers who helped him get in to one of the highest ranked magnet schools in the country.

Their first class is free, so you really have nothing to lose by taking a class.

My son’s art skills changed drastically in less than a year.

He went from this:

Photograph of my son’s doodle before he started taking his art classes with The Learning Tree of Arts.

To this:

Photograph of my son’s art after taking classes at The Learning Tree of Arts.

If your child seems more interested in dance than drawing, then turn on the music and dance together. There are also a lot of virtual dance classes available.

If you want your children to learn more about music or dance, there are tons of free resources out there to at least expose them to it. Lil’ Maestros offers free guitar and piano classes, plus a whole lot more.

Just playing different types of music in the house can offer children the kind of mental stimulation that keeps their minds healthy and creative.

My daughter took about fifteen piano lessons but when her teacher Julissa Ricart left Miami and moved back up North to pursue her career, my daughter had learned enough to teach herself new songs.

On days when my daughter plays piano, our house vibrates with happiness. She even asks for requests sometimes and if she doesn’t know how to play the song, she’ll look it up on YouTube then teach herself the song.

These kinds of creative outlets soothe all of us, especially now, when we need more love and kindness in our small worlds.

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A Little Bowie on Your Mind

Under pressure pumped through the speakers while shoppers puffed along with their masks in place. They followed the blue arrows and took the small packages of toilet paper from the shelves.

No one interrupted that song with the reminder that we need to practice social distancing and we’re all in this together.

For one of these shoppers, the song meant more than a memory of an artist who left us before our worlds became locked. To this shopper, to me, the song served as a reminder that our minds attract magnetically.

The day before, in answer to a prompt from an employer who’s looking for a writer, I wrote this:

Swirling around somewhere between the beach and a bridge, there are walls wearing wild colors with painted faces. One of them laughed at me on that day when I took a side street and got lost on my way to pick up my daughter from school. David Bowie watched from a wall up above as I took a right then a left turn. I zigzagged through more colors and more faces, but I found myself again–the artist hiding under carpools and too much coffee. The vibrant art, the bizarre characters walking the streets, and the surprising finds make Wynwood’s Design District the best place in Miami to lose yourself then find yourself again.

My eyes watered as I listened to this song, a memory and a reminder.

Here’s to a little Bowie on your mind.

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Educators and Parents Need to Read This

Taking a break from teaching has given me time to explore the world of education through the Internet. I’ve found some sites that feel like an endless trail of links to worksheets that are essentially irrelevant to students of the 2020 realm. 

But, I’ve also found websites that are not only 2020 perfect, but 2020 necessary, thought-provoking, and downright futuristic. 

One website in particular bent my mind into a world of possibilities. Teaching Tolerance provides teachers not just with resources but with a well-thought-out tool with which to conduct an entire world of discovery and knowledge.

Click to access Teaching-Tolerance-Magazine-Issue-63-Fall-2019.pdf

In the latest issue, the focus is on Black Minds Matter. Because we’re approaching Black History Month, this is an invaluable resource for every classroom in the Nation. The issues concerning equality and freedom that some thought were irrelevant have never been more important in our discussions and our everyday lives. 

A section of the magazine is dedicated to diversity. Help your school, yourself, and your students define diversity and the nuances of navigating what it means in a world that’s supposed to be better than it actually is. The section includes classroom activities and standards that can be easily matched to any state or common core standards.

This issue also tackles even more difficult subjects that need to be taught but are difficult to introduce to students such as lynching. Included in the materials available is a film An Outrage with a viewer’s guide that accompanies it.

Take the time to explore the other articles and resources available. Students will appreciate the unique approach to learning provided by the website and magazine.

© 2020 Lisa Chesser – All Rights Reserved.

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Good? Tell JetBlue.

If there’s ever a time of year when people find themselves crazed, eyes swirling with gifts, determined to find the best sale or the latest gadget, it’s now.

Our beloved holiday season is upon us. And, Black Friday is quickly approaching.

But, what really matters, the whole purpose of the winter holiday season, often goes overlooked and sometimes even gets stepped on as we rush through department stores and salivate over turkey dinners.

Sometimes, however, you find a beautiful reminder that the season’s true gift has always been good. Yes, good, just good.

Give Good, just because.

JetBlue wants to know just how good you are.

Yes, I know. Crazy, right?

I mean, here I was preparing my calendar for the sales, the schedules, the dates, the events!

My children already scoping out gifts on Amazon, I forewarn them that we are on a tight budget this year.

Yet, here is JetBlue, thinking about good and giving airline tickets to those special people who give good just because.

It’s worth sharing not just to nominate yourself and others but as a reminder that giving good matters and great companies are willing to reward you for taking some time to show you care.

Share Good, not politics.

Find out more at JetBlueforGood.

If you want to learn more about JetBlue For Good month, Business Wire wrote about some of the other ways JetBlue has been encouraging people, including employees, to spread kindness.

Sharing this with your family, especially children who are definitely the target of ads across multiple platforms, makes for a great way to turn family dinners (especially the big, upcoming one) away from incendiary politics and into a positive, helpful discussion.

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Find the best authors at THE MIAMI BOOK FAIR

Crowds. 

Noise. 

Everything that many book lovers usually run from will be swirling around and crackling through the air at the Miami Book Fair in the coming weeks. 

The first time I took my kids there, I was slapped with screeching children, tents with more screeching children, loud music, and sometimes happy, mostly angry parents.

Don’t worry, though, if your kids are still young enough to participate in these activities, the events scheduled are really incredibly engaging and worthwhile.

Click on the menu on the upper left corner of the screen once you arrive at the main page. From there, explore all the various categories available.

 The Miami Book Fair Events

Now that I’m the oh-so lucky parent of teenagers, that is a memory I plan to keep a memory, not to be repeated. On that same link, you’ll find some events specifically for teenagers if you can lure them from their bedroom lairs. 

This year, I plan to avoid all child-related activities by attending only the author sessions with the rest of the grumpy, sometimes content, mostly reclusive adults–just the way I like it.

The beauty of the book fair  is really that there’s something for everyone, even kids. My problem, at least that first time around, was that I didn’t even look at the schedule. Go to the guide below for more information.

The authors who will be reading and discussing books at the Miami Book Fair consists of a vibrant array of talent and wisdom matched with intensity and humor. 

One of my favorite authors will be reading there, so I’m going to attend for that brief moment of bliss. 

Leonard Pitts Jr.

When I first read an article by Leonard Pitts, Jr., I felt more a little more alive. His ability to play words like a master pianist left me reading his thoughts as if I were dancing across a pond without touching the water.

A Pulitzer Prize winning author and a columnist, Pitts has offered insights into current events that challenge even the most liberal thinker to think again.

Sample Columns

At the Fair, he’ll be reading from his new novel The Last Thing You Surrender, which is linked to his website. There you can find some of his written pieces so you can read some of his work.

 

 

The Last Thing You Surrender: A Novel of World War II

You can find out more about the Fair in the MIA Fair produced through ISSUU.

 

 

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5 Best Ways to Help Teens Survive School Anxiety

Between getting up before the sun even rises and just thinking about homework, all teenagers feel at least a tinge of anxiety when the school year begins. Overachievers might find themselves biting their cuticles. Underachievers might dread the teachers who will ridicule them for not trying. Social butterflies might obsess over a pimple, their hair, and their clothing. For all of them, there’s the general fear of ridicule or failure but often they fear both.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Sometimes they don’t even feel the anxiety until they’re actually walking through the hallway.

On the fourth day of school last week, a girl was walking through the hall to get to her next class. She was alone and minding her own business. Her hair was parted in the middle like most of the girls. Her head was down just enough to allow the hair to cloak her and then a boy stomped at her. 

“You’re ugly. Get out of here!” he yelled as he lunged forward.

With students now staring at her, she kept walking, faster this time, not looking back at his friends laughing and patting him on the back. 

Some students watched and some even shook their heads but no one said anything. They, too, kept walking, grateful that it wasn’t them.

Photo by Hailey Reed on Unsplash

You know she cried at some point. She might’ve had to choke back the tears until the end of the day or she cried in the bathroom if she wasn’t too scared to go there, but she hurt a lot.

And, that hurt lasts. Teenagers carry it around with them. 

Support is Key

So, as parents and educators, what do you do when they experience this kind of pain? The worst thing we could do is to call attention to the incident, but we can care for the teenager by offering support in multiple ways.

  1. Open your eyes.
    Teenagers will hide things from you so you need to keep your eyes open in more ways than one. When you pick them up from school or talk to them later in the day, make sure you look at their body language. If they’re always hanging their head or feeling sad, they probably need to talk even if they claim nothing’s wrong. If they lash out at you for no reason, they definitely need to talk. Give them some space, then approach them when they appear calmer.
  2. Make them talk.
    This is often difficult given that they usually have mastered the art of hibernation, in their rooms, doors often locked in the name of privacy. You’ll have to entice them with food, excursions to their favorite places, and even ask them for help with anything from understanding how to use a new app or finding something you lost in the house. Experiment with their changing interests and get them talking. Don’t let them isolate themselves even more than they already may have done.
  3. Listen to them.
    No matter how tempting it might be to tell them like it is, just listen. And, don’t respond with a fake remark about being positive when you know that you wouldn’t feel positive if you were in that situation. Sometimes you just need to say you’re so sorry for this and that you’re here to listen. Sometimes you need to offer a shoulder to cry on and ask if they want advice before you give it because it’s so easy to lose them if they think you’re not being genuine.
  4. Accept them.
    Teenagers are looking for acceptance in more ways than one. When they see that a parent accepts them fully, especially their flaws, they will feel loved and hopeful. This works for bad behavior and bad grades alike. You haven’t seen love in their eyes until you’ve seen them look at you after you tell them the bad grade doesn’t matter or that the curse word hurled your way is forgotten. 
  5. Be their Rock.
    Yes, another word for this is patience. You will need to be patient. Another way of putting this is to say that you need to be their rock. You have to stay steady and be there to cushion their fall. They will fall time and time again and you will need to help them up, brush them off, then send them off… again. 

Logically, this all makes sense and you’re probably even patting yourself on the back for already practicing the majority of these suggestions. However, you must think longterm. It’s exhausting to care for children in general and it’s a different exhausting to care for a teen. Much of the time, both parents are working and often enough there’s more than one child to deal within the household. So, your persistence and resilience come into play when considering how to handle your relationship with your child.

Photo by Gift Habeshaw

Bottom line, if you relentlessly follow these five points, teenagers will feel safe and loved enough to eventually find a glimmer of hope even when their anxiety feels unbearable. That girl had to go to school the next day no matter how painful it was. Knowing that she was loved would make it somewhat easier. And, how did she know she was loved? At least one parent or guardian followed through with some or all of the above–over and over again.

If you feel that any situation or problem isn’t improving no matter how hard you try, it’s very important to seek help. Depending on the severity of the situation, contact the school counselor, the school administration, and/or any authority who may be able to help. All of us have been teenagers and all of us have experienced difficulties, so no one should ever be afraid to seek help, especially a parent experiencing hardship with a child.

Useful Resources:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Understood.org

Nationally Certified School Psychologist Izzy Kalman

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D.

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Born to Laugh

She stared at me with her wet curls matted to her head. I put my hand through the circle in the clear plastic tent that encased her. The rubber glove made me feel like a robot reaching out to her. Tears dropped, dribbling down my cheeks as I gulped on a feeling of loss in my throat.

She was still so little and had not been with me long, which made me want to grab her and run away with her. But, the doctors were trying to save her. They were trying to cool the fever and keep her from having more convulsions.

When my sister was born, I thought she was my baby. I didn’t need a baby doll. I just carried her around everywhere. I held her on my right hip so much so that I attribute the severity of my scoliosis to this strange pleasure.

Her arrival left me more satisfied than I’d ever felt before.

So when death threatened to take her from me, I could hardly stand it. I slept in the lobby area of the floor where they kept her for over a week.

Burnt Orange 1970’s

The burnt orange and dark blue couches were comfy because they were nice and hard, direct from the 1970’s. I lived on hospital food and vending machine snacks because I refused to leave her, which was fine with my mom because she couldn’t bear to leave her either.

After a week of staring at her through plastic with electrodes often stuck to her body, the doctors sent us back home to Miami. But, it wasn’t until much later that any of us stopped keeping a close eye on her.

Maybe she knew how worried we were or maybe she just got tired of our sad, scared eyes because it wasn’t long before she started to make us laugh. And, once we started, it seemed that she was on a mission to continue the laughing spree.

If I was upset, she would fart.

If I was sad, she would do a crazy dance and fall down. Running in circles, she’d then spin with her arms out and collapse, shaking her head when she would stand up like a speedy yet strange little cartoon.

Sometimes, my sister Jill Michele Melean would give my dolls Ziggy Stardust haircuts just to change what was happening in the room, especially if it was unpleasant. Then, she’d tease me and say she was cutting my hair next until I was so distracted that we both forgot whatever had upset us in the first place.

As we grew older of course, her antics changed to quick quips and strange observations that sent everyone to bizarre places in time and space, always laughing, sometimes wondering and laughing, but laughing just the same.

We laughed guttural laughs that would break the patterns of sorrow and worry.

I realized, with certainty that felt like I was living in a sitcom, that I shared a room with my best friend who wasn’t just a funny friend but a talented funny friend.

Never again would I sit alone with no one to talk to except my imaginary friend.

Never again would I feel the dense space of quiet for endless hours.

Never again would laughter elude me.

And, these truths remain to this day. Although we live on opposite sides of the country, we are each other’s support system. A laugh away from a sad moment keeps us in contact with each other.

I’m sharing her latest comedy with all of you so that you enjoy the same luxuries as I do, the kind of laughter that only the funniest girl in the world can deliver, the kind of laughter that will take your mind off your troubles and lift the weight from your shoulders.

 

 

 

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Threading Happiness

A businessman who bought up a town near Chicago, Illinois, Robert Stanford built a fortune for himself and some would say it all started with a small bakery. But, if you knew him, you also knew that it really started with his mind; the way he looked at life.

The Harvard Business Review recently published and posted research by Ashley Whillans about assigning monetary value to time, in particular the time we spend on happiness.

Rewinding to businessman Robert Stanford, he saw time as both valuable and invaluable. He stood as this thread that kept his family thriving. Although his children saw him as perfect, he was by no means a spotless, unsullied man. He met their mother while still in his unhappy marriage and it was not easy to divorce and remarry, considering that it was the late 1920s.

But, he did it anyway and happiness became him, so much so that everyone looked up, back, sideways, and forward to him for guidance. His daughter, so little, reached for his hand and felt the safety and comfort that made her feel, like everyone else in the family, so reliant on him to provide that to her forever. The problem was that he couldn’t do that forever.

He was him. She was her. The others were them.

So what made him so powerful, so prepared to find happiness at every turn?

To an outsider, there were multiple reasons why he was richer than the next man, especially during the Great Depression when everyone seemed to have nothing. But, to someone else like him, not even to his family who simply relied on him, he saw the world through rose-tinted glasses so to speak.

Let’s start simply. On a winter afternoon, walking with his daughter across the street from their home to the playhouse, which was a small apartment building, he listened to her complain about the other kids making fun of her then about her homework then about her siblings. He was a good listener and didn’t talk much.

But, when she finished her complaining, he asked a simple question, “How much good does complaining about all of that do for you?”

The Thread

Now, on an average day, with an average person, even a friend, anyone complaining would likely fight about it some more and most surely resent that question. However, because this was her father whom she admired and loved more than anyone, she looked up and smiled.

Then she said, “No good at all.”

Robert and Daisy Stanford, husband and wife, mother and father, threaded happiness.

She told this story to me often and in many different ways because he sometimes didn’t ask a question. Sometimes he’d speak a sentence or just remain quiet and later tell a story over dinner about his bakery or a business deal or a chance encounter.

But the thread never changed.

If it’s not doing you any good, pay no mind to it.

To My WordPress Family, Laugh It Up

We all have felt the demise of happiness more than a few times during quarantine. It’s been rough trying to stay happy right now. I get a blow to the gut at least once a day from some sort of disappointment–most of the time it happens when I read or listen to the news.

So, when I saw that my sister, Jill Michele, would be working her hardest to make us laugh, I thought of my beautiful WordPress family.

If you’re still reading anything I write, then check her out today.

Go to @laughfactoryhw today at 5:20 p.m. EST.

Mommy Needs Space for Mother’s Day

It’s not that she doesn’t love you. No, she loves you way too much. That’s the problem. That’s always been the problem and you know it.

It’s only gotten worse now that she’s trapped in the house with you. You know that too. So, please, give her a break.

And, while you’re at it, pick up after yourself for Christ’s sake. Leaving dirty clothes on the bedroom and bathroom floors is bad enough. Do you have to leave paper plates and cups, that are clearly garbage, on the counter that is less than a foot away from the garbage?

Clearly, moms need a break as well as some space.

I wrote an article about 100% free gifts that you can give the moms in your life. Yes, that’s right, FREE gifts. The only thing it will cost you is time and possibly some effort such as taking a couple of extra steps to throw something in the garbage or bending over to pick up your dirty clothes off of the floor and walking to the dirty clothes hamper.

5 Mother’s Day Gifts That Will Cost Nothing But Time

I also read a great article, Her Teen Was Treating Her Like Hotel Staff — So This Author Got Creative, that was published in Wake Up Call, a newsletter by Katie Couric on Medium.

Moms are seriously tired of being treated worse than some of the lowest paid workers. We are essential but treated as if we’re worthless, and it’s gotten much worse during quarantine.

So, take it from a mom who’s knows because she’s living it. Right after you cook for her then clean the house, ask her if she needs anything such as chocolate or a back massage, then get out of her way and give her some space.

She deserves at least that for one day.

Speak Up Saturdays

The sound of a teenager’s voice can send a parent or teacher into the realm of insanity or lift someone out of the depths of despair. Showing teenagers the power of their voice helps them understand what to do with the words that buzz in their brains.

Our teenagers need to stay connected in creative ways. It gives them an outlet for their ever-buzzing minds. It takes that buzzing somewhere else, to a far away place where people don’t fear walking outside. But, when they do dare to step outside, they need a mask or face covering.

If you’re a parent of a teen or a teacher of a teen or a teen yourself, you know that encouraging teenagers to do anything that they didn’t come up with themselves can be difficult. Teenagers often deliver an eye roll or a snarky quip to any positive suggestion that comes from an adult.

Knowing that doesn’t have to deter you from sending them a text or mentioning something positive such as Speak Up Online Saturdays. It’s a creative writing workshop presented by the Miami Book Fair that will be live streaming starting this Saturday and it’s only for teenagers.

Your suggestion will definitely backfire if you tell teenagers that they HAVE to attend, especially now, when they already feel trapped. So, just suggest it and text it.

That works for me sometimes.

Reality Bites, Love Lasts Longer

Reality punched us in the gut, but that doesn’t mean that we need to turn on each other. People definitely don’t need to scream that you’re going to call the police if someone’s not wearing a mask. Just move away from the person. Outright cruelty is not the answer to our problems right now.

Today a man wearing a mask at a gas station was screaming at my mother that he was going to call the police because she wasn’t wearing a mask. His outburst isn’t just related to coronavirus hysteria but also the mandate announced by Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez requiring people to wear masks when visiting some public places. 

While the mayor may be attempting to help people stay safe, he’s also increasing the conflicts that are erupting everywhere. Anyone who’s visited the grocery store or even taken a walk lately knows this. Everyone is tense and everyone feels a sense of dread about our current situation.

Mask Mandate Causes Chaos

Meanwhile, people like my mother are being attacked by people who are blinded by fear. As the man kept getting closer and closer to her so that he was less than a foot away. My mother, who’s also a nurse and normally never raises her voice, told him to back off. In fact, she told him he was too close and needed to move away. 

The man moved but kept screaming as my mother got her gas as quickly as she could. Luckily, another man asked her if she was being harassed and needed help. Just that simple act helped her feel safer. She thanked him but didn’t want any more problems so she hurried and left. 

When she visited me she was shocked at the sheer stupidity of people. She saw masks being pushed on the top of a person’s head, pulled down onto their necks, hanging off car mirrors, even hanging on purses, and being reused. 

The CDC has instructions illustrating how to wear and handle a mask. If people take off a mask the wrong way, they might as well not even wear one because they could be contaminating themselves instead of protecting themselves. 

Masks are Only One Precaution 

A pediatrician who wrote about Covid-19 myths and facts, Dr. Garima Garg Seth, stated in a recent post, “Wearing medical masks when not indicated may cause unnecessary cost, procurement burden and create a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures such as hand hygiene practices. Furthermore, using a mask incorrectly may hamper its effectiveness to reduce the risk of transmission.”

On my last food run, I was required to cover my face. I tried the mask and almost hyperventilated. I got so dizzy I almost fainted, so I wore a scarf instead. I know that we’re all running scared and trying to take precautions, but it’s devastating to watch people attack each other. 

Love Lasts Longer Than a Virus

My mother, who’s also a nurse and the absolute cleanest person on earth, taught me to wash my hands all the time and wipe down anything that I’m going to use before I use it, including desks, keyboards, and phones. You name it. I wipe it off before I touch it. 

That’s why it was so ironic to me that a man was screaming at my mother like that. Panic never helps. It’s the kind of fear that suffocates a society, similar to what the coronavirus does to the body.

When we lose our grip on what makes us human, we lose our grip on reality. Our realities become a scene from a horror film instead of a time and space for us to learn and love. As hard as it may seem, we need to change this reality because love lasts longer than a virus.

Original Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash