Monthly Archives: July 2020

If your first step is up to your ankle…

Ena and I watched a show called Map Man with Nicholas Crane some years ago. Nicholas would take historical maps of the UK and try to follow them in modern times. In one show, Nicholas was in a high, exposed area that was low rolling hills and bogs.

The area is used a military training ground and Nicholas was talking with the commander of the training grounds about the area he was about to cross. The land is high and exposed. The weather can change quickly. There are few notable landmarks to navigate by, and it is boggy. Overall, it is a very dangerous and difficult landscape.

Nicholas asked if the commander had any last words of advice. The commander answered, “If your first step is up to your ankle, and the next is up to your knee, your third step should be backwards.”*

Nicholas Crane

This is one of my favorite phrases that I gained from watching the BBC and it is so applicable in many different places of life. Like COVID-19. Which seems to be exploding this Summer here in the USA. COVID-19 not going into a summer hiatus as many hoped. And yet, SOME Governors and leaders seem to want to keep plowing along even though we are well above our knees in COVID-19.

It is a dangerous and difficult landscape to navigate. But seriously, if you are above your knees, it is time to rethink your actions and to back up before we all drown.

* If anyone out there knows which episode, training area, etc. please let me know. I would love to put the details in but my 15 minutes of googling about didn’t find the answers.

A different epidemic

Ena and I watched the BBC documentary: Keith Haring: Street Art Boy last night which was quite good. When Keith moved to New York and joined the late 1970s gay scene I thought, “He is going to die from AIDS” which brought back a flood of memories of that epidemic.

I was dating Chris Decaria. We were both in college at the University of Utah. Chris worked as a blood gas tech at the hospital in the evenings. I would go up and visit her during her shifts and walk the hallways with her as she went to draw blood from various patients. I remember when we started to see signs on doors of hospital rooms that said, “Virus of Unknown Origin”. This was code for patients who had HIV/AIDS. They had to use code because of the backlash against AIDS patients. People were saying that AIDS patients were being punished by God, that it served them right, that they should be shunned and sent out of society, etc.

AIDS Quilt on display on the Mall in DC

The AIDS Quilt on display in Washington DC. More than 50,000 panels make up the quilt of lives-lost.

In 1978 the assassinations of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were stunning events to the gay community and to many others. The HIV/AIDS epidemic and the social response by some was yet another.

Chris and I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 to chase jobs in the medical products industry (the Bio Tech of then). AIDS was moving across the nation and AIDS activism was growing. The AIDS quilt project had been on display in the National Mall a couple of years earlier and it was now on tour around the nation.

I remember Chris and I going into San Francisco to the Castro district. We were walking around on a bright and sunny day (must not have been July) and enjoying ourselves as a young couple out in the big city. I caught the eyes of a man, dressed in loose white summer clothing. He was thin and pale and he had skin lesions – Kaposi’s sarcoma – on his face. I remember Chris looking at him and saying, “Kaposi’s sarcoma” sadly. What I most remember was the look on his face and in his eyes, a look of fear and aloneness and as if the world was judging him. Our eyes met briefly and I tried to say to him with my look, “I’m so sorry for you. You are not alone.” Now, I wish I had stopped to say something, though what, I don’t know.

Grace Cathedral in San Francisco was one of the few churches that opened its doors to people with HIV / AIDS. It did not judge but it offered support, comfort, and refuge. For the longest time, they had a sanctuary full of racks for candles for people to light in remembrance to loved ones lost to AIDS. A section of the AIDS quilt hung on the wall. I would go and visit and sit within that sanctuary and think about the epidemic and all the people who were upended and lost. It was and is stunning that Grace Cathedral’s response filled with compassion was the exception to human suffering. So much of America was filled with fear of and loathing for those who had gotten sick – by an unknown disease through an unknown way.

Keith Haring altarpiece at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco

The Keith Haring altarpiece in the Grace Cathedral AIDS Chapel.

All of this came back to me watching the Keith Haring story. How little we have changed over the past 30 years. It is sad that we, as a nation, haven’t learned the lessons of compassion for others.

Keith Haring established a foundation upon his death that makes sure his artwork is accessible to everyone, that provides grants to children in need and the supports those suffering from HIV/AIDS. There is a lot we could learn from this gay artist about giving without judgement and caring for others.

I miss spontaneity

Ena I went out for walk/run yesterday. I run, she walks. We went over to the Burke-Gilman trail that runs along Lake Washington. I ran 5 miles and she walked 3 (I would guess). She went north towards Bothell. I went south towards Magnussen Park. We met back up along the trail near the car.

On the drive home I thought, “this is the kind of night where I would say, ‘Let’s go to Ray’s Boathouse tonight'”. Ena would have said, ‘That sounds marvelous'”. But I didn’t say that because we are still staying very safe. Instead, we came home and made dinner for the umpteenth time. We talked about how this is the kind of night when we would have gone out. We talked about how we weren’t going out then though.

Ray’s Boathouse sign

The 41 Bus was ahead of us. This is the bus that we would walk to for a quick hop downtown on the weekend or durning the day on a weekday vacation. It is a great bus. It goes south of us about a mile and half then it gets on I5 and heads straight downtown. But we aren’t riding busses or going downtown.

There are more jets overhead now. It was eerily quiet in March and April without jets or seaplanes. But now, we hear a few seaplanes and hear more jets. We were planning on a long weekend by seaplane up to Victoria, BC. However, that trip is out, as is travel by plane for probably 9 more months.

All those things that we did spontaneously – “Let’s go out tonight!”, “Let’s go downtown today”, “Let’s go to San Francisco” – are now outside our stay-safe options. Instead, meals are planned out well in advance to minimize shopping trips. Where we walk and run is limited to the places where we know we can easily social-distance during our outings. We do, occasionally get take-out from a restaurant, but that is rare.

Everything is planned and controlled to reduce our chances of catching COVID-19. There really is very little that is spontaneous in our lives anymore. I really miss the spontaneous outings, the people watching, and the travel. I have grown tired of the small safe circle we have drawn in order to stay safe. I truly do not want to catch COVID-19 and I really don’t want Ena to catch it. So, we stay inside our safe routine.

Someday, we will be spontaneous again, I hope.