A Rose is a Rose

We were out hiking one day in mid February. The son and I eagerly packed our snacks, water bottles and headed off as the sun rose. It was a golden day in which we stood under trees listening to the blackbirds trilling overhead. Squirrels scuttled past with their duties, while woodpeckers drilled in the trees above. New born calves stood demurely by their mothers. We stopped to sniff at the flowers every now and then, looking indulgently at the buds waiting for the spring bloom. A thousand smells rent the air, and I said “How marvelous it must be to be a flower in spring time?”

He laughed – the sort of tumbling laughter that children have, and we adults can do with from time to time. His words tumbled out between his giggles, and he said, “Did you know? That a flower 🌹 comes up when its ovaries burst open?” 

I gasped dramatically and the little botanist went on to explain what his teachers must have told him in school. I listened enamored, wondering not for the first time why we ever grow out of schooling, and the shoshin of childhood.

Anyway, there we stood with the beauty of spring all around us. The rains had made the hills green, and in this verdure, it was hard to imagine anything but positivity and beauty. It was hard to imagine that in less than 2 weeks, the world would be reeling under the influence of a virus.

Talking to my colleagues & friends over virtual calls, and phone, reading what people have to say over Social Media, I feel a general sense of overwhelm, gloom and what-next overpowering some. Some seem to have taken to the new normal, doing the best they can with the new set of circumstances, others not so much. The relentless news cycles have been pounding us with streams of news that reminds me of Oogway. 

Oogway, the wise turtle: “There is no good news or bad news, there is only news!”

Master Shifu: “But Tai Lung has escaped” (But Corona has escaped!)

Oogway, the w turtle: “Oh, That is Bad News!”

Oogway & Shifu

As human-beings, we are always forward looking. We want to set forecasts for corporations, we want to predict & measure, and when all of these things are fluid, it is understandable to feel unmoored. 

We want to know we are in control of things, only rarely do we realize that Control is an Illusion. 

Walking past rose bushes one evening during this time, we stopped to admire the buds ready to bloom. I thought about the beautiful poem by Mary Oliver. A poem I often think of when the human calls of productivity and being busy beckon. 

Roses, 🌹🥀  Late Summer – Blue Iris 

 – By Mary Oliver

I would be a fox, or a tree

full of wing branches

I wouldn’t mind being a rose

in a field full of roses.

 

Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.

Reasons they have not yet thought of.

Neither do they ask  how long they must be roses, and then what?

Or any other foolish question

rose

 

The Dream Within The Dream

It was Saturday morning. I got up, convinced I had come back to the real world. The world outside looked beautiful. The dew drops on the cherry blossoms glinted in the morning sunshine . A Californian blue jay was sitting on one branch and pecking at the flowers – such a beautiful sight is to be seen to be believed.

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Was that a really vivid dream or what? Covid-19 did feel surreal – what a dream?!

I sat on my bed the previous Friday evening exhausted. It was the first week of large scale disruptions – schools, offices, and malls had closed; crazy grocery shopping was behind us; and while I was grateful for being to work from home during all of this, I also realized that I was enervated.

That was how, you found me on Friday evening, determined to not think of the Corona Virus anymore at least for the night. I put it resolutely from my mind. I eyed the stack of books near my bed. I retreated to simpler times in an English village with Miss Read, I read about gardening, and I read about the life and times of Jane Austen in the 1800s.

The daughter was happy to not Coronaspeak anymore, and magnanimously offered to sit and watch Little Women with me. By the time, I went to bed, I had restored the mind to a semblance of normal.

Maybe the preceding Coronaweek was in my version of The Lathe of Heaven after all.

The Lathe of Heaven is a marvelous book written by Ursula K Le Guin. The book examines a scenario where a young man is gifted with the ability to make his dreams come – his psychiatrist realizes this, and uses his condition to his advantage. He attempts to change the world by offering to guide the young man. While under hypnosis, he makes suggestions and leads his mind into conjuring up dreams. One such dream reminds me of this scenario the most.

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He dreams for World Peace and for all of humanity to be united.

When he gets up, his dreams are realized. Humanity is united. United against the face of an alien attack. The aliens are already positioned on the Moon and are poised to strike Earth soon. Suddenly, Earthly borders and barriers melt away. All of humanity is united against the threat of green-belted aliens on the Moon

The psychiatrist tries making amends from them on, but the patient realizes what is happening and tries to distance himself. He is scared, vulnerable and refuses to fall asleep.

Could Covid-19 be a version of a dream playing out? It certainly feels like that at some times.

But if this were a dream, how would we know? I went and stood outside below the Cherry tree, and the cherry blossoms flitted down and landed gently all around me. The California blue jay was still there having a blissful breakfast as it let the petals float to the ground below. One petal settled on my hair, and I felt it. It was solid and soft. It was real. That settled it – the preceding week of Covid-19 must have been a dream.

Slightly shivering with the morning cold, I traipsed into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. It was full: stacked with extra cans of milk, vegatables and 2 cans of soup – so, we were in the Covid-19 reality. That wasn’t a dream.
The blue jay was confirming what with me exactly? That this too was a reality?
That our realities have a tendency to get warped?

I related this the daughter and son as they walked into the kitchen looking sleepy and exuberant respectively. The husband said, it did feel very much like a scenario in the movie Inception. The Dream within a Dream. That is how we always depicted it in our dumb-charades games.

The day wore on. As Saturday ticked into Sunday, I saw the digital clock in the microwave glow 11:59 – a moment in time that the young son loves to see. Maybe this was a reality within a reality too.

I am going to bed. After all, this version of reality does have some aspects that I dreamt about too:

  • I did hope to get a month to spend with the children at home.
  • I did hope to be able to spend at least time together without external demands on our time, to hear the clock tick in the quiet of the home.

I can understand why the whole thing seems so surreal. While some problems certainly unite humanity like Climate Change and our effect on the Planet, none seems to be as urgent and visceral as the Covid-19 reaction. It is happening, it is real, it is what it is.

This week seems less surreal than the week before. We have settled in to new realities of life. The life in which the simple, bare necessities of life will come to you. They’ll come to you!

 

Fascinating Hidden Worlds

The son sat next to me one evening as I was typing out this article and looking up the picture of the Corona Virus.

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Image By https://www.scientificanimations.comhttps://www.scientificanimations.com/wiki-images/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86436446

We both sat looking at the image that showed up and he said, “Wow! Is this really the virus? It looks so lovely, doesn’t it?” I had to agree.

The unimaginable beauty of the microscopic world is so rarely stopped and admired. Who knew a blade of grass could be this spell-binding?

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This particular virus has caused such unimaginable disruption world over, it is humbling to see the world buckle on its knees against the onslaught of this virus. While, viruses and bacteria often come to the spotlight in scenarios such as these, the truth is that we need a multitude of them to survive on a daily basis. There are studies linking gut bacteria  to mental well-being for instance.

Theodor Rosebury, a microbiologist, wrote in 1928, during his research that:

“The knowledge that micro organisms can be helpful to man has never had much popular appeal, for men as a rule are more preoccupied with the danger that threatens their life than in the biological forces on which they depend. The history of warfare always proves more glamorous than accounts of co-operation.”

The Corona Virus has brought the rich world of microbes to the forefront for the world. To give us an appreciation of how many microbes we regularly thrive on for our living, consider these figures: There are an estimated 100 Trillion microbes in our bodies. The estimated number of stars in our galaxy is around 100 billion.

Many children growing up in these times may well be awed by the power microbes, bacteria and viruses exert on us, and go on to study Microbiology and change our understanding of the worlds within us in unimaginable ways.

The microscopic world is a marvelous one. Revealed to us 350 years ago by the talented man often hailed as the Father of Microbiology, Antony von LLeuwenhoek, his letter about animalcules was published by the Royal Society in London. As Ed Yong says in his book, I Contain Multitudes, his letters were published by the Royal Society in “an extraordinary monument to the open-minded skepticism of science“. LLeuwenhoek had no background as a scientist, yet he applied the scientific method to sampling and studying the world around him. In 1680, the draper cum businessman, whose curious mind and hobby led to the revelation of Microbiology was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

I Contain Multitudes – Ed Yong – Article from Brain Pickings

For those of you wanting a quick, fascinating glimpse into a Universe within our Universe, please check out the book, Hidden Worlds by Stephen Kramer with photographs by Dennis Kunkel.

hidden_worlds
Hidden Worlds

While Lleuwekhoeks early microscopes could only magnify upto 260 times, the images revealed in the book, Hidden Worlds magnify images by upto 1000,000 times. The resulting images are breath-taking.

The images revealed are only black-and-white by the microscopes. Scientists then use computer modeling to color in the images and the stunning pictures are better than works of Art. For instance, the picture below shows some common allergens and pollens that cause so many to sneeze all Spring.

The book briefly explains about SEM and TEM microscopes, the work that scientists typically do to prepare their specimens.

  • Transmission Electron Microscopes: TEM can magnify images by 1000,000 times
  • Scanning Electron Microscopes : SEM can magnify images by 10 – 300,000 times

Looking through the pictures in the book, we realize how marvelous life is, and what a fragile ecosystem we have to thrive in.

Covid-19 has also made us realize the importance of our normal lives. The gratitude to be alive and healthy, to be able to do the work that interests and moves the world forward, to be able to revel in the beautiful companionship of our friends and family.

“As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.” 
― Laura Ingalls Wilder, Writings On Wisdom and Virtues

References:

Is It Only Tuesday?!

I don’t like to go on about First World problems when the world is grappling with the stifling effects of the Covid-19 lockdown, but as a chronicler of the Nourish-N-Cherish household, my job is a tough one. There is much to write – my list of unwritten posts grows by the day.

In the latest news, I had to shoo out protestors before my meeting started. The protestors were noisy, marched with placards and while their motion held merit, I could not allow protests of this nature to carry on into my meeting slot, plus they did not have the critical mass of individuals required to ban the protest altogether.

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The morning had started with the son asking “Is it only Tuesday?” and we laughed.

“Yes it is only Tuesday my child – only the second day since school closed! I hear you!” I said. The daughter was singing the Disney song “When will my life begin?!” and looking forlorn before her day started. Covid-19 has us all in Shelter-in-place mode, and that has thrown all of us in a loop.

While we are grateful for the ability to be able to work from home during these times, it also makes for an interesting dynamic in the home. Do we wear gloves and arm wrestle for the office space? The daughter has online classes and is therefore quite happy to be holed up in her own room.

In what is a low move, the Television in the house has decided to go into social distancing and is sheltering-in-place. When asked to glow and sing, and generally make merry, the television has decided to go mute and shut down with a satisfying click.

The daughter, when she heard of it, moaned and said
“What?! Oh my goodness! Do you really think we can spend all that time together without TV and not drive each other nuts?” I laughed and said that I was touched she thought that way of her kind family. She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean!”

The son rallied as best as he could and said it would be lovely since he has never spent a summer with parents with all of us at home through the day. I was touched, and also glad to see the silver lining. He, too, did not take the TV blow stoically, however.

That is how I found the pair of them crouching and writing up protest slogans on a piece of cardboard, which in happier times would have been used for making traps for St Patricks Day. patricks_day_ij-v1

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 11.57.17 PM

They came marching noisily protesting for the TV and I found myself laughing.

I was reminded of the New York Times article that a friend shared with me a while ago, “Let Children Be Bored”. One thought in that article particularly spoke to my heart, As children, we rarely complained of boredom, because we knew where that would get us. It would get us the task of cleaning our room, or cleaning up our clothes cupboard, or worse yet, the haunted, “Why don’t you study?” refrain. It was vastly better to draw five hundred versions of a snowflake than to concede your boredom to an adult.

Thich Nhat Hanh said, We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.

Life is boring and the sooner we learn to keep ourselves occupied, the better for us. We learnt that lesson quickly did we not? So, why do we feel the obligation to whip out a form of entertainment for the children or feel the need to engage them in anyway? By doing so, are we not starving the creative self in some way? The eternal self , as Mary Oliver calls our creative self, needs solitude, it needs boredom to whip up an imaginary world, a novel game or a piece of Art.

Three days of no television, shelter-in-place mandates, no school, and continuing work will quickly have me begging for the Television, but for now, I have a list of chores ready.

“Come children – let’s start dinner! While you put away the dishwasher, why don’t you help me with the vegetables?” I said in my best head-chef voice humming loudly – “When will my life begin!?”

I heard the daughter say, “Is it only Tuesday?!”

Read also:

 

In 1 Week! – Covid-19

I had written this to be posted on last Monday: I then decided to not post it since everyone was worried about the Coronavirus. It is an eerie reminder of how quickly things can change.  How drastically they can change. 

Due to the pandemic of Covid-19, Bay area was issued a Shelter-in-place mandate.

It had been a regular, noisy midweek day. The trains tattled and battled their way through to the city. Cars whizzed around on roads & freeways. In the city, planes, trains and automobiles honked and blared their way through the streets. Ambulances and fire trucks screeched by.  The elevators and public transit announcements were incessant and usefully useless to the point of comic relief. 

“Elevator F, F as in Foxtrot, opening doors, closing doors, Elevator F, F as in Foxtrot. ”

“Now arriving at Bay Fair.  Doors are opening. Doors are closing. Now departing Bay Fair”. 

Even at the gas station, it seemed the world was intent on tugging my attention towards world events – a screen blared CNN news in the few minutes it took to fill the gas tank. By the time I made it back to the home, I was craving for some quiet. But the bustling urban noises went on – humming and drumming out the quiet. 

We have become such noisy inhabitants of this planet. I would like to hear how we sound in outer space – I hope our atmosphere provides for a decent enough insulating layer. 

Quiet

I then went on to write about a book that calls out the different kinds of Quiet in the world, but I shall save it for another day. Quiet – By Deborah Underwood

Like everyone around us, I am still in a state of shock at the rapid change in world affairs. Where last week, I wrote about the noises in the environment, this week I am writing about the eerie feeling that links us all together – the lack of noise on roads, the lack of noise from the joyous parties with happy people singing into the night, the lack of laughter even. The world has become a sober place.

Our street has not looked this empty since the time I went for a walk during Super Bowl. People are scurrying with their heads bent in worry and hands full of supplies to calm anxious minds in the stores that do remain open. Shelves are empty.  We have so many doom sayers, we need more doom slayers. 

Never has so much changed so rapidly and this drastically in my lifetime. It truly makes me appreciate the delight of the ordinary. Social media has given me a bad case of wanting to read about anything else – 10 things to consider before buying soap anyone? What happened to those posts?

“It is like that David Vs Goliath story huh Amma? You know the virus against humans?” said the little fellow the other day, and I smiled at the analogy.

It’s true: Covid-19 has created ruckus. If ever we thump our chests on how high and mighty we are as a race, the humblest virus is there to bring us down to size.

When I started writing the piece above, I did not anticipate in my wildest dreams that such a scenario would pan out, and yet it did in 1 week. In the past week, the World Health Organization classified Covid-19 as a Pandemic, and world-wide countries started responding with varying levels of success to contain the spread of the disease. This post reminds me of the normal then, and the new normal we are adapting to. Everyone is worried by the effect of the virus on us; on hospitals, nurses and doctors; on the infrastructure and economy.

3D_medical_animation_coronavirus_structure

Image By https://www.scientificanimations.comhttps://www.scientificanimations.com/wiki-images/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86436446

Please watch: TED Talk By Bill Gates in 2015 where he says that our next big catastrophe to prepare for is not missiles but microbes.

 

United in Social Distancing

This post was published in The India Currents magazine: Unity in the face of the Virus-that-must-not-be-named

“This is the Ministry of Magic all over again!” I said.

The Ministry of Magic, as Harry Potter fans know completely botched up the rise of Voldemort – they were in denial, then went on a campaign of outright lying with false facts, bravado, and then a rude reckoning of the truth. The Order of the Phoenix, is one of those books that really opens our eyes to incompetent leaders.

order_of_phoenix

We were discussing the United States’ handling of the Corona virus, COVID-19 health threat.

Everywhere on social media there was information – some true, some untrue, some alarmist, some pacifist, many telling us not to worry, but worrisome all the same. Our President, it seems, has not yet arrived at the true reckoning of the situation, and continued his bravado. The President blundered on about his building walls to stop the spread, his biggest problem seemed to be the Stock market index.

Meanwhile, the CDC did not have enough testing kits ready, so we do not know how pervasive the situation really is.

Vox article: here

We all pass through these phases of denial, a state of holy-moly, and a surreal settling in to things. (I had been vacillating between astonished denial & mild panic, up until the 1st week of March in California). We do the best we can. We see the terms quarantine & social distancing, and try to come to terms with this new mode of functioning. We are social animals now united by the need for social distancing.

Our company announced an ‘Encouraged to WFH policy’ like many other tech companies. That has now been upped to a ‘Mandatory work from home’. I know many of us used the public transit systems to get to the office, so we were obviously grateful to be told thus, and to have the kind of jobs that can be done remotely for a short period of time. It was not lost on me that a great many people did not have the same luxury.

Covid-19 is unprecedented for many of us. People who had lived through the SARS outbreak 18 years earlier are probably the ones who have seen something similar in their lifetimes. For the vast majority of us though, this is new territory. How do we determine the best sources of information?

How do we learn lessons from the countries who are already dealing with the situation? Taiwan, China, Singapore. How did Italy quarantine their entire populace?

Humanity always comes together in the best & worst of times. When our leaders do not provide timely guidance, our collective reasoning can, and much like the Wizarding World united in the face of Voldemort, I am sure we shall do the same this time around: by collectively, voluntarily, distancing ourselves socially, being responsible, and putting the greater good ahead of us.

Read also:

Blame the Toxos

Good Food Mood

Click to access 2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf

The tiniest virus it seems brings us closer to the human condition than any other thing can. We are human and are therefore at risk.

 Books: 

  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J K Rowling
  • We Contain Multitudes – Ed Yong

 

Thoughts Gained & Lost

I looked at this note written a few days ago: both amused and exasperated at it.

**** The children said something – what? As I was walking around by myself, it came to me loud and clear, and now cannot seem to remember it! But remember, and remember to WRite about it!!

It had obviously been something marvelous that I felt the need write myself this note. I have tried and tried to jog my memory though. I don’t have a clue. It could have been anything.  Sports, tea, school, politics, travels, books or social media?

I remember the walk though.

The full moon was beaming – there was no other word for it. It looked larger than usual, felt much closer to earth and glowed a golden yellow in the early evening skies. I am a confirmed selenophile (a lover of the moon) there isn’t a doubt. The pinkish hues of the sunset was just giving rise to the purplish hues and slowly but surely the inky blues of the night would creep in, as though slowly covering the blanket gently over the world.

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The family had all called or texted me to look up at the skies from wherever they were, and I glowed in the beaming moonlight, fading sunlight and the glorious inner light born of happiness that the children in particular had thought of me when they had seen something beautiful.

I was enjoying the quiet of a moon that rises on an early evening over a week-end. Things seemed surreal in this light and time. This, I felt, was the truest way to bring oneself down to our marvelous Earth.

The birds don’t fly any faster just because the world around them pants and coughs up smoke in automobiles charging from one place to another. The buds are still furled in the tree boughs or the plants below – they don’t rush to unfurl their petals just because February sped past, and beautiful March roared its way in. The grass sways to the speed of the winds whipping them – the winds react to the atmospheric pressures, no one can change their pace.

The world moves on measurably, one moment at a time. The full moon grew predictably over the past fortnight, and there it beamed at me, and my little family, wherever we were at that point in time.  I thought of different posts to write up, beautiful phrases flitted in, and then by the looks of it, evaporated just as quickly. If only I could shore up the energy and determination to write up all the lovely things that occur to me as I walk on!

Later when I read this Brain Pickings post on Walking as Creative Fuel, I nodded along at the wise words of Kenneth Grahame.

Kenneth Grahame – the author of Wind in the Willows wrote:
“Not a fiftieth part of all your happy imaginings will you ever, later, recapture, note down, reduce to dull inadequate words; but meantime the mind has stretched itself and had its holiday.”

Out on the walk that day, what he says seems to have been true. I relished the enthusiasm and the energy in the note to myself – the asterisks, exclamation points and the half-capitalized words written out in haste. It definitely wasn’t the first such note to myself.

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Well, the universe alone knows how many great works of literature have been lost, and gained by writers enjoying themselves on their walks. I am glad for the simple act of walking and musing. The meandering of the soul is special because of them.