Vigilance and Stevie Wonder

From Sunday’s walk. I believe those were clouds related to the first storm.

Note: this post has nothing to do with vigilantes, a noun whose meaning is significantly different from “vigilance.” It’s a pity the words look so similar.

No, I’m concerned with the state of vigilance: “the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.”

And Stevie Wonder? I’ll get to him in a bit.

I have a propensity to be hyper-vigilant. Especially during hurricane season. This past weekend, with two storms headed toward Louisiana, my Hurricane Tracker app was definitely getting a workout. As of right now, the first storm has passed, with little to no impact on the area where I live. The second storm, Laura, is forecast to become a major hurricane and come ashore near the Louisiana-Texas border late Wednesday night, Aug. 26.

So I’m still hyper-vigilant right now. While the eye should pass well to the West, we are likely to see high winds and rain.

And in the midst of this, it occurred to me — I’ve been in a state of hyper-vigilance for the past six months. Checking the Louisiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 information site daily (but only during work days, I give myself a break on weekends). Watching the hospitalization trends, ventilator usage.

Here’s the crux: I’m not sure how this state of prolonged hyper-vigilance is affecting me. My guess is, it’s not a net-positive.

This is where Stevie Wonder comes in. On Sunday, I happened to hear a snippet of “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” his #1 single from 1974. I queued it up on Spotify for a better listen, and it did NOT disappoint. It has everything I love about his particular style of funk. Here’s a link to the song on YouTube, if you’d also like to take a listen:

But I also paid particular attention to the lyrics, probably for the first time. They really struck me. Catch the opening line:

“Ow
We are amazed but not amused
By all the things you say that you’ll do”

I wondered if he had written it about Richard Nixon, and Wikipedia proved my assumption correct. Apparently, Nixon resigned two days after the record’s release (though I’m pretty sure the record was not the reason).

Personally, I think the song translates very nicely to our current era, but Nixon is the only Republican politician I’ll reference in this post. Instead, I’ll take the song’s accusation and tie it back to my personal life.

What if my hyper-vigilance, against forces of nature (plagues and storms), has caused a paralysis? Six months ago, when I found myself home A LOT more, I thought it would be a boon to my writing. So far, that hasn’t panned out. Regarding the necessary re-writes and edits on my third novel, to quote Stevie, “I haven’t done nothin.”

So I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder for what I’m reading as a fortuitous kick in the pants. While it’s not in my nature to lose the vigilance completely, I’m planning to be more mindful of its negative impacts.

If the Path Be Beautiful

The quote on this month’s “Pathways” calendar page feels particularly poignant. One of the things that the stay-at-home guidance has afforded me is almost daily sunrise walks in New Orleans City Park. I have indeed seen some beautiful paths over the past 5+ months. And even though the paths are the same, the scenery does change, because the light hits differently as the Earth makes its way around our star. I’ve included a few of the more wondrous sights at the bottom of this post.

When I looked at the front of the calendar, to check its title, lo and behold, it features this quote: “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” Attribution unknown. Could there be a better overarching hope for this singular year?

Just a few observations about the quote for August, before I share some of my beautiful paths. “If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads” is attributed to Anatole France. Although I couldn’t find which work it’s from. I’ve also been curious about his name — a French writer with the last name of France — and found out it’s an assumed name. He was born Fran├žois-Anatole Thibault, which seems more likely for a child born in 1844.

Without further ado, here are some sunrise photos from the past several months.

April 13, 2020
April 24, 2020
June 2, 2020
July 4, 2020

How Can I Keep From Singing?

Pre-pandemic, I was a fairly regular attendee of a weekly Catholic Mass. However, I was not as hard-core about it as my parents. These are folks who, on marathon family road trips across the U.S., would be sure to find whatever Catholic Church we might be passing in Wamsutter, Wyoming, on a Saturday evening or Sunday, so that we could meet our Mass obligation. (To be fair, I think my father was more hard-core about this than my mom.)

Anyway, one of the things I like best about Mass, and one of the things I miss most, is listening. Not necessarily to the homilies, which can be hit or miss depending on the orator. But I miss listening to the readings and the music. Between the Old Testament readings and the Epistles, many times, something new will strike my ears. Of course, there’s nothing new about the readings themselves; but with the passage of time, I gain new experiences that bring a different perspective. So maybe it’s more apropos to state that I bring a new set of ears.

Case in point, several years ago, I especially noticed one of the songs used during a Mass I attended. The song was “How Can I Keep From Singing.” Now, this song dates back to the 1860s, credited to a Baptist minister named Robert Wadsworth Lowry. And I also discovered that Enya covered this song in the 1990s. So there’s a pretty good chance that I had heard this song before I took special notice of it.

The new set of ears I brought to this song relates to being married to a man who likes to sing. Tim comes up with a song for everything. This usually works out well for the both of us, since I like to listen. But from hearing the very first verse — “My life flows on in endless song” — I thought, that’s Tim!

It’s really a lovely song, too. Here’s another sampling of the lyrics:

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

From a certain point of view, I can say I have Mass to thank for introducing me to a beautiful, hopeful, song, that always makes me think of my husband. I can live with that.

If you’re curious, here’s an appealing rendition from Audrey Assad:

Within a Week

Saturday, May 16, 5:56 am. View of City Park’s Peristyle from across Bayou Metairie.

I considered titling this post “A Slice of Stay at Home,” but since only one of the pictures is from inside my home, I figured that might be misleading.

Maybe “A Slice of My New Normal” would be more appropriate. I was coming up empty on topics for this week — I haven’t read anything of note since Macbeth, and I’m taking a little break before diving into a new (for me) classic. It will most likely be The Canterbury Tales.

But I digress. In lieu of anything else, I figured I would share some photos from my iphone, captured over the course of a week. Most of them are from New Orleans City Park. I live a block away from City Park, and I’m very grateful for that!

Even pre-pandemic, I was in the park for exercise, maybe three times a week. Now, with no morning commute to contend with, and with the sun rising earlier as we move toward summer, I’m usually able to get out for a sunrise walk most days of the week. A bonus for heading outside that early: it’s very easy to maintain social distance.

I put my favorite photo of the bunch at the top of the post. The rest are in chronological order.

Monday, May 11, 1:50 pm. An uninvited visitor found his way to my home office.
Tuesday, May 12, 6:09 am. Sunrise over Bayou St. John.
Tuesday, May 12, 6:13 am. Still sunrise, still Bayou St. John, looking toward St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.
Tuesday, May 12, 6:22 am. Left the sunrise behind and headed home.
Monday, May 18, 7:27 am. Had to head to a different part of town for an early morning appointment. Got a view of the Mississippi River.

206 Years Ago

Sunrise, April 13, 2020.

On April 11, 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated the throne of the French empire, and was sent off to exile. The first time he was exiled, it was to the relatively accessible island of Elba in the Mediterranean. (Those seeking to be done with him would not repeat the mistake — the second and final time he was exiled, it was to the island of Saint Helena in the south Atlantic Ocean. This place is exceedingly remote, even by today’s standards.)

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time with Napoleon in the past year. I read The Count of Monte Cristo in the middle of 2019, and that book is set in the immediate aftermath of Napoleon’s reign. And Napoleon’s all over War and Peace. I’m 89% of the way through Tolstoy’s epic, and currently in the story, it’s October 1812 and Napoleon is hightailing it out of Russia.

Napoleon’s doings seemed to be the cause of a lot of uncertainty back in the day. I’d never really thought of it that way before, I think because I tend to look back at history as a concrete thing. “This happened, and then this happened because of it, and these were the effects.” But reading War and Peace has put me right back in that time, as only good fiction can. I felt the uncertainty of the characters as Napoleon’s army came into Moscow, and I feel it as the French abandon a burnt-out city and country.

It’s hard not to draw parallels with our current level of uncertainty.

So on Saturday, when I read that it was the 206th anniversary of Napoleon’s abdication, it had a little more impact than if I had not spent the better part of this past 12 months in Napoleon’s world. It was like a reminder of the fact that the French really did leave Russia, and Napoleon was forced from public life, eventually. And, oh yeah, he’s been dead for almost 200 years.

The live oak pictured at the top of this post could have been around 200 years ago. It’s not far from some oaks that are believed to be between 750 and 900 years old. While it may not be too long before we can all say, “this is what happened as a result of our 21st century pandemic, and these were the effects,” that’s little consolation for our immediate anxiety. Thinking of what that tree may have been around for, and seeing it still standing strong, makes it feel like a beacon of hope.

Nearsight

Noticed this tree for the first time yesterday, even though I’m sure I’ve passed it dozens of times. It seemed to be responding to the predominantly gray light in the sky.

So, I’ve had these quotes appear in front of me in the span of just a few days:

“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of seeing things.” — Henry Miller

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” — Dr. Wayne Dyer

Kinda getting the feeling, maybe I might be due for a lens change?

I’ve been nearsighted most of my life. I think I was 10 years old when I first got glasses. I had Lasik surgery about 12 years ago, but its effectiveness is beginning to wane as my eyes age along with the rest of me.

And it feels like nearsightedness is a pretty big issue right now. The path forward seems very blurry. What is the world going to look like tomorrow, next week, next month? In non-pandemic times, many of us can make reasonable assumptions about the future and its shape. Not so much right now.

So I’m going to try to quiet down and stop asking those questions for a while. Maybe in the silence, a different kind of question will present itself. A new way of seeing things.

One Sunrise, Three Ways

So, I had lots of ideas for today’s post, like: sharing some of the nicer and/or funnier COVID-19 communications I’ve received from a myriad of sources; or a Quarter Report, since today is the start of the second quarter of 2020; or a handful of other thoughts not worth mentioning.

But, for many reasons, none of these ideas materialized. Instead, I’ll share these pictures of the sunrise on Monday, March 30. Captured at 6:54 a.m. Central Time. Not shared on any other social media (until now).

And also, this quote, which has been in my head a bit, that I remember as such:

“For this command I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious or remote; it is already in your head, and in your heart — you have only to carry it out.”

(If you’re curious, it’s from the Book of Deuteronomy. Chapter 30, Verse 11. I couldn’t find a Bible excerpt that matches those words exactly, [they’re closest to the New American Bible], but they definitely carry the gist.)

Duck Life

Around this time every year, I usually see the duck couples. Waddling around in pairs, touring the local environs. I’ve always fancied they’re house hunting, or habitat hunting, or something.

Several years ago, I remember a pair walking down the sidewalk in my Mom’s neighborhood. Mom’s been gone more than 5 years now, so maybe this was 7 or 8 years ago? Her house was a good half block of paved street away from the nearest water source, a drainage canal.

This pair took a detour onto her lawn and perused her garden, then continued down the street. Why they chose to waddle, and not fly, I couldn’t tell you. I’m not fluent in duck-speak (though I kinda wish I was). I suppose you get a much better feel for a place when you’re on the ground, rather than many feet above it.

I had a surprisingly emotional reaction when I encountered a duck couple, just a few days ago. Yes, it’s the time of year I’d expect to see them. But so much is extraordinary about these times we find ourselves in, I was touched to happen upon something so ordinary and expected. I guess it’s business as usual for aquatic fowl.

Since I’m accustomed to practicing social distancing with wildlife, it was business as usual for me, too, as I observed the pair for a moment. I hope they find what they’re looking for. And I look forward to seeing more duck couples in the few weeks ahead, and then certainly again next year.

The couple from a few days ago is pictured above. Below are some other photos I captured on that solitary, sunrise walk.

In times of war, disaster, epidemic, and illness

Spotted during a “socially distant” walk along the Mississippi River levee.

So, a couple of things. First, it’s rapidly becoming clear that New Orleans is a hot zone for the COVID-19 outbreak. While these are strange times all over, it feels extra strange and scary here. It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to assume that this contagion was silently spreading among us as the city celebrated Mardi Gras, just three weeks ago.

Second, I continue to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. (Why wouldn’t I continue, now that isolation is the order of the day/week/month?) I’m at the spot in the story where Napoleon’s march on Moscow is imminent. This quote struck me in a particular way as I read it:

“As the enemy closed in on Moscow the attitude of the inhabitants to their situation, far from becoming all serious-minded, actually became more frivolous, as always happens with people who can see a terrible danger bearing down on them.”

Now, New Orleans is not Moscow, nor is this viral pandemic Napoleon. But New Orleans is no stranger to either war or epidemic. We had our own war in 1812, the same year Napoleon invaded Russia; and yellow fever was a major scourge to New Orleans for most of the 19th century.

Which brings me to the title of this post. It’s from a prayer, specific to the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I’m pretty fond of this prayer. While I don’t know all the details of its provenance, I assume it was crafted with the intention of stemming the tide of gun violence in our city. Now feels like a good time to share it.

A few notes, regarding some very New-Orleans-Catholic references: Our Lady of Prompt Succor is the Virgin Mary, a long-time patroness for the city. (Prompt succor means “quick aid.”) Mother Henriette DeLille was a woman of color who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family holy order in the 19th century.

Here’s the prayer. May you read it with the faith that we will get to the other side of all these scourges.

“Loving and faithful God, through the years the people of our archdiocese have appreciated the prayers and love of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness. We come to you, Father, with Mary our Mother, and ask you to help us in the battle of today against violence, murder and racism.

We implore you to give us your wisdom that we may build a community founded on the values of Jesus, which gives respect to the life and dignity of all people.

Bless parents that they may form their children in faith. Bless and protect our youth that they may be peacemakers of our time. Give consolation to those who have lost loved ones through violence.

Hear our prayer and give us the perseverance to be a voice for life and human dignity in our community.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us. Mother Henriette DeLille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.”

More photos from the river levee walk.