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Isolation

Recently, three of my siblings and I spent some time on my brother’s patio, sharing stories of our childhood and taking turns skewering each other with memories of places where we lived, old friends, old neighbors, old times. We jumped around from our house on Third Street, to the house on Maes Avenue, and a few from the place on Kimberly Avenue, too. I was two when we moved from Third to Maes and was starting high school when we moved to Kimberly Avenue, the only one of us still in school. We laughed about how the times now are like the ’60s and ’70s – gas is less than a dollar a gallon and we’re all grounded. Mom and Dad laughed right along with us. None of us embraced, but we all wanted to, and we cherished a time that we could all see each other’s faces.

We stayed far enough apart as to be safe and healthy, and were happy to be in the sun, outside on a decent spring Wisconsin day.

I had to defend myself again to our only sister, as my 62nd birthday approaches she still bears the bitterness that my birth betrayed her. She didn’t need another brother, she already had three. I was supposed to be a sister. I apologized again, and everyone laughed when I said that “certainly, things would’ve been better if I had better had I been stillborn, than to be another boy, for God’s sake.” That I was the last child of our clan is somewhat of a miracle, my mom was 29 when she had me, and they are good Catholics. With her penchant for anxiety, depression, and overthinking everything, I am thankful that there were no more of us than this. For a family that really puts the fun in dysfunction, we have a great time together, we love each other, and I know that in the family lottery system, I hit it rich. Perfect is so far from where we are, but I kinda think perfect is somewhat akin to boring, and I’m not going to quibble about what might have been when there is so much to cherish about what is.

The government leaders making these decisions are in a no-win situation, and I get that. Too often, government doesn’t try to do nuance or minimize collateral damage or unintended consequences.

We’re all tired of the lockdown, and we all swapped stories of how this is turning into overreach, and we’re all concerned that there will be vastly worse unintended consequences, the businesses failing, all the neglected non-COVID medical issues boomeranging into bigger medical crises than anyone wants to think about. We are definitely not all of the same political ilk, but everyone sees that this current pandemic has multi-faceted issues, and trying to do a one-size-fits-all solution is wreaking havoc that very few people can wrap their heads around. It became clear that government is trying to control every type of activity, and many of the regulations are pointed at the lowest common denominators of society – the people who use any kind of liberty or freedom to go to any extreme, whose thoughts never involve anyone else, whose lives rarely ever pause to reflect on how what they might be doing now might be having repercussions far beyond today and way beyond themselves. The government leaders making these decisions are in a no-win situation, and I get that. Too often, government doesn’t try to do nuance or minimize collateral damage or unintended consequences. We are sold a bill of “this is best for everyone right now…” Remember your mom telling you to “Eat this, like it and shut up”?

None of that matters. There are plenty of hills for us to die upon this day or any day of the pandemic. We can be victims to whatever degree that we allow ourselves to be. The part that bugs me is that we can really be treated however we want right now by the government in the name of “keeping us safe.”

In the past, a quarantine was all about keeping the sick people in a safe and secure place away from the general population. Today it is about keeping everyone away from each other.

Are we unfeeling if we care as much about people feeling (and being) isolated, about people’s livelihoods being taken away from them? I often use the example of a traffic light. Some people see our current situation as green – let’s go, let’s keep going, this COVID thing has not turned into the huge threat that we once thought. Or the red-light folks – let’s stop, stop everything, stay stopped and wait until things improve. And there is the yellow light, proceed, or stop, look around… proceed with caution. The red-light people aren’t bad, and neither is the green light people. It seems that we are more intent on picking sides than on overcoming what is right in front of us.

We are not the enemy. Both sides have currency and validity to their positions. I don’t like the fact that we had a very nice time on Sunday, gathering as a family, doing all the things that we are supposed to do, and yet we felt that we were doing something wrong. Besides the sickness and death and strain on our health care system, we’ve added to the downside of this thing by making believe that others are wrong for caring about; 1) We have to stop the spread of this thing, so stop getting together in groups, stop gathering in any number; or 2) The mental health of this country is paramount, isolation and neglect are going to kill more of us than any disease ever can, or 3) People need to stay home, wear masks, disinfect everything and act like the next interaction could be the one that kills us 4) This whole thing has been a huge overreaction, we can do this without treating each other like we are walking globs of virus. 5) The economy is being strangled to the point of irretrievable damage.

Is it insane to think that there are aspects of all five things that may be right? Granted, if you think we should all be locked down and staying put, there ain’t much wiggle room. Honestly, I see the validity and honest sincerity in all those positions. Anyone holding to any one of those, vigorously, is not a terrorist or radical or nutjob. Can y’all see my #4 Adaptability strength (from Clifton’s StrengthsFinders) shining through here?

And isolation is taking us places that we never dreamed of before. This started out as a mostly happy, reflective piece about wandering down memory lane with my family. We did some awesome reminiscing, and I heard stories that I had not heard before. My oldest brother was eight and a half when I was born, and my parents apparently farmed him out to the family across the street for the time that mom went to the hospital to have me. The family across the street had eight kids, eventually, just six at the time that I came on the scene. All six were boys. I asked my brother if they even noticed one more boy in the mix when he came over. His primary memory was of standing in their yard, looking across the street at our house, feeling lost and forlorn and homesick. I thought that was a powerful reminder: what was a temporary condition, just a couple days, and just across the street, could seem so disruptive and disorienting to someone who was not prepared.

This thing is affecting absolutely everyone. And none of us in the same way. We’re all disoriented and off our game, and it doesn’t help that we’re not taking time to realize that someone else’s reality is different than our own.

I went to get a black-market haircut this week. I reached out to my stylist the other day and was thrilled to know that she was taking appointments in her home. She is a single mom trying to raise two girls and was put out of business (hopefully it is only temporary) by our governor’s “Safer at Home” order in March. The only money that she has received since then is her stimulus check. I was glad that she could help me out, and I gave her a generous tip. Should both of us have to be made to feel like criminals because 1) I needed a haircut and 2) she was willing to cut my hair? How does she make herself, not even whole, but a functioning, contributing member of society again? Can anyone answer that question for me?

The whole idea of some businesses being labeled as “essential” and other as “non-essential” is kind of insulting and childish, but I get it, they had to do something. People were labeled the same way. I guess that the government felt that doing something is better than nothing.

And here is where my stream of consciousness goes from dark to darker. I have “Ideation” – thinking and generating ideas – in my top five (Clifton’s again). I have no idea how to support or do anything for my mother-in-law. I’m including this as a gentle reminder to all of you. If you think whatever you are going through is tough, and I’m not in the judgment business, so if you want, I’ll say “Yeah, that’s tough, you win” so we can get past that. There is nothing in all my ideation, my creativity, my thought processes that I can do for my 95-year-old mother-in-law. If you’re having a tough day, here is her life: Eat. Sleep. Go to the bathroom. Repeat.

Technology doesn’t have an answer for her. She can barely see anything. A phone call is like yelling at someone who is pushing their lawnmower.

She used to be the life of the party – kind of an unpaid Activities Director, making sure that she included people in board games, card games, she even led exercises from her walker. She fell and broke her hip a few years ago, had the surgery and made it back to full use of her legs, with the aid of her walker. Her eyesight and hearing failed, so the game playing ceased, and she couldn’t see to lead the exercises. But she could still visit with other patients and have people to come to see her. COVID took that way. My wife went to see her a week or so ago. She brought some supplies to the assisted living facility where her mom lives. A CNA met her at the door to take the stuff to Grandma’s room. My wife asked the CNA to bring her mom to the window and was quickly told that she couldn’t open the window. She wasn’t being asked to open a window. She just wanted to see her mom. So, 95-year-old mom and 59-year-old daughter touched the windowpane at the same time. She was squinting hard into the bright sunshine, not sure what she was looking at, the CNA said: “It’s Rhonda, your daughter.” Grandma’s hands went to her face, and she cried “Oh,” and she sat in her chair. And cried. We can’t do anything for her. Technology doesn’t have an answer for her. She can barely see anything. A phone call is like yelling at someone who is pushing their lawnmower.

Do we pray that Grandma could just go to sleep some night and wake up in heaven? Yes, we do. Knowing that she would be dying alone, we’d take that right now. Because she certainly isn’t living now. Pick your death sentence, isolation, or COVID. Please pray for Grandma, and pray that you don’t end up like her.

Tom Dietzler
Tom Dietzler
Lifelong, proud somewhat strident Wisconsinite, I love my state and love to sing its praises. A bon vivant and raconteur, lover of history, literature and good conversations. Laughter and music are salves that I frequently am applying to my soul. I have spent time (too much) in manufacturing and printing and have found great joy in my current position as director of operations at a large church in the same area where I grew up. Husband to Rhonda and father of two adult children Melanie and Zack, I’m the constant companion of my five-year-old Lab, Oliver, who is my muse to a lot of my stories. I’m a fan of deep conversation and my interests are in learning and gaining wisdom, so in the last few years I have become and less politically vocal, and hopefully more respectful and open-minded. Rhonda and I sold our home in 2018, bought a condo and have traveled a bit more, golfed a bit more and are enjoying life a bit more. If you take the time to get to know me, prepare yourself for an invite to the 30th state to join the union, a gem located in the upper Midwest, full of beautiful scenery formed by the glaciers, with lots of lakes and trees and gorgeous scenery, and the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet.

19 COMMENTS

    • I often say that I don’t like to wade into discussions of gnarly topics unless I have some solutions or perspective that might be helpful. I broke the rule here, my own rule. I just let off steam, which I usually don’t do. But I just needed to say something, I guess. I’m always honored by and thankful for your comments.

  1. Excellent piece, Tom. Thank you for putting your thoughts into words, and for giving us all a chance to read them. It is a challenging time for sure, and we are all managing this on different levels and in varying ways. If I could get a black market haircut, I would – with safety measures in place.

    Like Darlene, who is also a MA resident, face masks are mandatory for us beginning tomorrow. We have ours, and we wear them when social distancing isn’t possible, or we are in an essential business. It’s uncomfortable, and I don’t like wearing it. But I’d also like to see us on the other side of this sooner rather than later. Fortunately, when I walk or run, there’s so much space in the country that I go mask free as I rarely pass anyone else. It’s a different time, and one that I imagine many of us struggle with the decisions of lawmakers and even other people. I try to do my best to be safe and healthy. I can only hope others do the same.
    I wish you the best, Tom and I thank you for this article. It really speaks to my heart.

    • I just wanted to say something. It’s usually not my style to go off on a topic without something helpful or hopeful to be added to the discussion. I so appreciate your comments. I hope that I wasn’t coming off sounding like I needed to be right or that I was stridently pushing any single way to look at things. We all just need to keep talking, and I hope that I am always receptive to what anyone has to say. Thank you so much for your support and commentary.

  2. Tom — This says it all to me: “The government leaders making these decisions are in a no-win situation.” If they put too many restrictions in place, there’s outrage because individual freedoms are being compromised and the economy is being put in jeopardy. If they put too few restrictions in place, they are putting our lives in danger. To your strength-finder quality, it’s all about balance and adaptability.

    I live in NYC in congested Queens – the epicenter. Up until last week, the ambulances and sirens were nearly constant. I appreciate that our governor didn’t take a laissez-faire attitude toward the crisis. I appreciate that he hasn’t made it about him, but about us. It’s my choice to live in Queens, just like it was your choice to go to your hairdressers. We all have to weigh what’s in our best interests – hopefully – relative to the interests of others.

    A case in point: just the other day I went into our basement laundry room – a relatively small public space in our co-op apartment building – masked and gloved. There was a man down there doing his laundry without mask or gloves. Where is the line where his freedom exists and mine diminishes?

    I appreciate that you mentioned all “sides” here, Tom. It’s very complicated. If we’re smart, it may be temporary.

    • Jeff, I watch the NY news almost every morning, mostly because we have satellite tv, and we get the NY stations. But I also hail from Northern NY originally, and my family still lives there, so I have a vested interest in how NY is handling the pandemic.

      I agree with you on how your Governor is managing things. He is showing some chops when it comes to crisis management. I know others have varying opinions of him and his politics, but what matters is now. This time is critical and we need to navigate delicately, and make intelligent. and educated decisions. The fallout is going to happen regardless. Someone is always going to disagree. There is no 100% buy in. But we can all do our part to make a small difference.

      • Laura — Well said: “This time is critical and we need to navigate delicately, and make intelligent and educated decisions.” Frankly, I am less concerned at this moment about some minor and temporary infringement on my liberty (e.g. mandating that I have to wear a mask in public) – especially when it’s weighed against the safety of others – than I am about camo- and black-clad day-soldiers showing up on the steps of the Michigan state house toting their AR15s. What’s the message there?

    • I hope that the liberties being pushed aside for the present do return to us. My fear as that power that is taken is rarely relinquished. Too many in positions of power are probably noticing how easily everyone stepped aside and let others make wholesale decisions for us. My most common discomfort is how government does not do nuance very well and they always come back to that they are doing it for the greater good and that they had to do something, and they can’t expect everyone to be comfy cozy with all that they do. It’s easy to second guess everything, and if I were where you are, in the midst of one of the hottest of hot spots, instead of in a county of 200,000 with 75 cases and 2 deaths, I would probably feel as you do. I don’t begrudge or disrespect anything that you say Jeff, because I have the highest regard for you and all that you are… sometimes I just feel the need to offer a little variation in perspective. I appreciate your input and perspective, always.

      • Tom — We have to listen to and hear – I have to listen to and hear – different perspectives. Not doing so has brought us to this incredible polarization we experience on just about every issue facing us.

        In terms of liberties being pushed aside, I am less concerned about government temporarily shuttering businesses for the good of many – and I’m not minimizing the economic strain on those that run them – than I am about the man who leads the US Senate, who for years has run it as his personal fiefdom, deciding what legislation gets heard and what doesn’t. That, to me, is a much more insidious loss of liberty because it is one man often quietly wielding power and influence over the long term to support the interests of the few.

        Thank you for venting! Look at the great conversation it brought up!

  3. Thank you, Tom, for the deep insight percolated through your five crucial points-to-ponder. The way I see it, #1 is more geared towards individual safety than that of groups, because we may not know of any silent carriers of the virus among us. #2 should, in all fairness, apply to those ill-equipped to find creative pursuits like reading, writing, cooking sumptuous dishes, story-telling, communicating with distant friends and relatives, or engaging with children and other family members. Mental health shall certainly be a challenge for those brooding endlessly over their solitude. Point #3 may feel like the death-knoll for some of us, but those mentally prepared to live through it have the strength to see the positive, even in this turmoil. Moving on to #4, yes, the gradual increase in those crying foul over the forced isolation does give a feeling of an over-reaction but suffice it to say, a vast majority of us have been saved from an utterly painful death in the process.

    Last, but not the least, #5 does cause concern to a fairly large degree. However, the global economy is not likely to fall apart so soon. Sure, it will take a few years to come back to a reasonable semblance of strength. At the same time, we shall also see a growing climate of cooperation among the haves and the have-nots at various levels. At the same time, no single country will be allowed to exert the same amount of industrial influence like China, which flooded the Universe with cheap products made by forced labor in their industrial prisons.

    Finally, my family joins me in praying for your mother-in-law. We can relate to her condition since my mother-in-law passed away not too long ago (before the pandemic, though,) and we feel much relieved to see her saved of all the distress.

    Thank You Tom, With Warm Regards, and a Prayer for All!

    • Thank you for such a thoughtful and well thought out response. #5 is a pretty nut to crack. My next door neighbor has a new tenant. Her brother moved in with her. His Bed & Breakfast business down in Georgia has gone out of business, forced to close during the pandemic. His marriage failed with the business. How does he put together the shattered pieces of his life? How does my hair stylist go about making a living? I don’t have these answers. The latest statistics have that less than 1% of our country’s population has the illness. In our county, in east central Wisconsin, we 68 cases and 2 deaths, out of a population of nearly 200,000 people. Everyone is being subjected to the same restrictions, we know, for the greater good. But the economic repercussions, mental health impact and so many other unintended consequences will continue to reverberate for a long time to come. I don’t believe nearly as much thought has gone into those results as flipping the switch on many of our lives, livelihoods and freedoms. I thank you for your perspective and deeply appreciate your contribution to the conversation.

  4. Tom I was supposed to take some very needed time off. But, my heart insisted in reading this piece, and can’t thank you enough for the blast I had despite all the warm tears 💎

    I will not ho into details or put any intellect into this answer. I will only tell you that I feel you so much… May the pure love divinity bless you my friend 💙

  5. We must not allow ourselves to be influenced by the perception that people often have of a difficult period, short or long that is, as of something that never ends, as if the moment of stress and social difficulty, which unites so many people, was no end. We must be aware, as history shows us, that every difficult period has a beginning, a duration and an end. What we can and must do is to use all the means and all the resources we have available above all internally, to get out of it as soon as possible. Each of us, in fact, has within it a set of personal resources which it can draw upon to solve every difficulty, every problem or discomfort that it will face, both personal and social. These resources can be part of various levels: physical, psychological, relational and spiritual. And they can be stimulated and come out into the open in every occasion of our life, when for one reason or another we are faced with tests, experiences and challenges that we want to overcome.
    Even in this particular delicate period that we are facing, we can use our personal resources, even to improve ourselves.

    • Aldo, I always cherish your deeply thoughtful, well reasoned and heartfelt responses. I love that you take a historical perspective, as placing our current situation into a greater context from which to view things. Yes, there was a beginning to all this, we are in it now, seemingly endlessly, but all things things, when we’re in the midst of them, can and do seem as they will go on without end. And there will be an end, however far off that may appear, but we will see this end. For all that we recognize that, my hearts the worst for those who do not have the technological capabilities to stay connected. My mother-in-law is a prisoner. Because she needed the care that calls for round the clock nursing available, we have in a way sentenced to her to a form of solitary confinement. There is no answer for what her situation, and we understand that. That doesn’t make it easier, it’s another layer to the complicated times that we are not confronted with. Thank you for thoughts, as always.

  6. Thanks, Tom.

    I don’t feel like I’m bound by a death sentence. My wife has a compromised immune system. I’m glad to isolate in the sense of separating myself from a virus that is very good at what viruses do, indeed. I prefer her alive. We are no more isolated from connection with friends and neighbors than we have been. We actually find more opportunity to talk with neighbors than before. We used to know their cars better than they.

    We spend our time being grateful, not like Pollyanna, but like realists.

    And Darlene, your quote from the Founding Father (one of several, if I remember correctly, with a range of opinions) has fear on both sides of the either-or dichotomy. Why do both mandate fear? If we can only live by a dogma that’s fear-based, haven’t we already made a “Faustian pact”?
    Be good. And well.
    Mac

    • Mac, I appreciate your perspective. I’m not sure that you read all of my piece, as technology doesn’t offer any method to alleviate my mother-in-law’s situation, as she is 95, has no technology abilities at all, and no one is allowed to visit her. Her vision is very limited, and her hearing is severely compromised. She is a prisoner in her assisted living room; even if she passed away right now, which she and all of her family wouldn’t see as the worst outcome – she would be dying alone. And the greatest irony of all? We aren’t allowed into her room right now because of all the regulations, if she dies we would have to go to her room to clean it out and remove all her belongings, after she is no longer there. I have asthma, so I have underlying health issues too, and I get why we have to observe safe distances and be careful about exposure and hygiene. Your response doesn’t really speak to my mother-in-law’s situation, and I guess I get that, as there is no resolution for her. What solutions do you see for my hair stylist, who has no way to provide for her two children, as her livelihood has been shutdown? What does our next door neighbor’s brother do? His bed and breakfast in Georgia was forced to close, and the business has now failed and been liquidated, along with his marriage? We all get that we have to take measures to maximize safety and health – but what kinds of things can we do to restore people’s lives, livelihoods that are gone. Years of work went into building businesses, clientele and now, for many they are gone. Gone. I am glad that isolation is working for you and your wife. For many others, the cure is nearly as bad, and in some cases, worse than the illness. Even if I catch COVID-19, there is a near 99% chance of recovery. When people have 100% of their livelihoods canceled, what recourse do they have?

  7. This week, I heard distress about losing our Constitutional rights from both sides of the aisle. Reading Shelley Brown’s response saddens me as well as the story about your mother-in-law. Our governor just signed an executive order regarding enforcement of face masks. Was that necessary? Safety and freedom must always be balanced. I fear, however, people are making a Faustian pact with a ”wolf in sheep’s clothing.” As our Founding Father said long ago, ”When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”💖

    • Darlene, your perspective is so much in synch with how I view so much of this. As to the masks, I get that they come from a place of wanting to protect others, but that begs the question – if masks are effective, can’t we all wear masks and get back to work and more of our activities? If masks aren’t effective, why are we being forced to wear them? The balance to which you refer is somewhat sorely lacking, as the leaning seems to be one way or the other, and there doesn’t seem to be too much enough empathy for the flip side to be considered. You speak my language with the historical perspective, as there is always so much to be learned from our past. Thank you so much for your thoughts, I always appreciate your contribution.

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