Thursday, December 31, 2020

Looking back - the year in blogging

Michael - new year's eve

This is definitely not a survey of the top stories of 2020, it's not even the droll retrospective Zoe did a year ago in her Look Back and Wonder post. We all know what the top stories were, and how they worked out or are still working out. But since today is the last day of a year that won’t be forgotten for many more of them, I thought it might be interesting to see how the impacts developed over the year through the eyes of the Murder Is Everywhere team, and what other things occupied our minds.

Stan opened 2020 by introducing his Minneapolis visitors (and us) to the Museum of Russian Art. Yes, in Minneapolis. Caro wrote a moving tribute to writer MC Beaton who didn’t make it to 2020. Jeff solicited for a wedding present – his Aegean April given away on Kindle for 99c. (That was a bargain. I hope you didn’t miss it.) That kicked off of an excellent year for Jeff‘s excellent books. Susan horsed around on the Kaida Plateau. Cara reminded us about the strikes in Paris. 

There was a lot of book stuff in January. Kwei introduced his new protagonist Emma Djan in his personal Year of the WomanCaro struggled with copy edits. Stan and I launched Facets of Death, our Kubu prequel.

The first hint of one of the big stories came from Annamaria when she asked: Is the US a Democracy? Her answer was “sort of.” I think it’s now proved that it is, but it looked a bit shaky there for a while. The consensus is that the election is over. (2021 will see the kick off of campaigning for the next one!) 

Stan pushed the 24 hour clock and the clever Hanke-Henry perpetual calendar. (I wonder what happened to that idea? I guess people had other things to worry about in 2020.) 

All of this was refreshingly normal – lots of interesting stuff from all over the show. The world had big problems as it always does, but there were no hurricane clouds on the horizon - at least not ones that we could see. Jeff wrote a Call to Action – the refugee crisis in the Greek islands. Did that magically go away? Not at all. It’s just worse and more dangerous now. People’s attentions went elsewhere.

Thank heavens for Caro and her sense of humor! She reported on Scotland’s politics and failings, and updated us on haggises (if that’s the plural), finally inviting us to decide which part of the blog was fiction. Annamaria introduced us to politics and football. What could go wrong? Sujata reported from India where she was researching her new book. I worried about Big Data and what it meant to privacy. Mary Higgins Clark left the world.

And that was just January! I had fun rereading all the posts, but I realised I’ll never get to the end of the year at that rate. So fast forward.

In February I talked up some good news on pollution and climate change and Annamaria picked that up too, Caro travelled to Grand Turk, Stan renovated his place in Cape Town. Zoe introduced us to Worzel Gummidge. Susan continued to delight us with the sights and culture of Japan. And MIE hit 4 million page views!

Then in March it all changed. Caro had the virus coming a calling in Scotland. Jeff picked it up the next day. Zoe didn’t go to Venice the day after. Cara had a friend trapped on a cruise vessel. Sujata gently taught us we could greet and be polite without shaking hands. I tried a little kitchen epidemiology, and said a vaccine was a year out. (I’m delighted that it was three months shorter than that, but it will be a lot longer for many of us.)

There were posts on writing and rewriting. (Jeff even rewrote Shakespeare!) Susan reminded us that life is everywhere as well as murder, and exhorted us to share the toilet paper. (Remember the toilet paper shortage? I'd also forgotten. Where on earth did that come from?)

Then came the lockdowns. After that first week of March, the impact of the virus dominated most of the MIE posts through the end of May. Slowly, like everyone else, the blog team adjusted to the new realities like everyone else. We found new ways of having panels, new ways of operating and socialising at a distance. And all the old issue were still there. And lots of other quirky, curious things were too. The virus wasn’t behind us, but it wasn’t dominating any more. It stayed part of the conversation but the focus was positive. Kwei gave us an insight into the history of vaccines. Zoe wondered How are We Going to Write About This?. By the way, the US election and Brexit got hardly any airtime, although Black Lives Matter did. That’s okay, you could hear plenty about politics elsewhere.

So how did the team themselves look back this month? Jeff summed it all up in Welcome to Cassandra Times. Kwei finished his analysis on the Psychology of Cults. Caro gave us a Brexit road map, but I think it got lost when the snow ploughs didn’t arrive. Annamaria summed up the final step of the election – yes, the final step, really – in Patriots versus Traitors. Sujata showed how artists thrive on everything – even the virus – in When the Muse is named Corona. Susan, Annamaria and Kwei had different takes on Christmas. And yesterday, Sujata reminded us that the past is never dead, it’s not even past with a personal story of Johns Hopkins.

Blogmates and blog readers, it’s been a joy to be with you through this year. It’s been a challenging year, but we’re still all here and cheerful. There's light at the end of a tunnel that’s not an oncoming train. Have a good new year’s eve, even if it has to be a pretty private one.

May 2021 be the year when many things change for the better! I’ll drink to that!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Unraveling Myth of Johns Hopkins

 Sujata Massey

Johns Hopkins University Library

Have you heard? Another historic myth is being pulled apart like a sweater with moth holes.

Johns Hopkins, the great Baltimore businessman and founder of a university and hospital, wasn't quite the social reformer that history told us. Recently, Hopkins historians shared news that he was a slave owner, rather than an abolitionist. And this controversy has made me reflect on my own journey to Baltimore and my relationship with Baltimore. 

It started back in the 1980s, when I was a high school senior contemplating college. I knew I wanted to leave Minnesota, but I wasn't sure where I should go. Geography was not even taught at my public school in Minnesota, so confusion was perhaps natural. When faced with a choice, I wondered: was Baltimore a Northern East Coast city, or was it a proper part of America’s South? 

The Hopkins statue in front of the university

Baltimore lies south of the Mason-Dixon line, a geographic boundary from the 1700s that was later used to mark off Confederate and Union sides during the Civil War, it wasn’t entirely clear to me. The South was less appealing to me than the Northeast, but Baltimore, Maryland, was where I got the most out-of-state scholarship money. And I was desperate to leave the Midwest.


When I arrived at the Baltimore airport for the first time, I felt welcomed by a bus driver, but I could only understand a few of his words. So, it was the South! It took me at least a month to be able to translate the vowels of many locals. By the time I went home for Christmas, I didn't hear anything strange. Furthermore, my own accent had changed to the point that one of my sisters said I sounded like a ‘snob.’ I didn't care. By then, I was very excited about the place I’d landed: Goucher College, a historic women’s college in Towson, a suburb just north of Baltimore.


One of the first surprises at Goucher that another Indian-American student with my first name had recently graduated. It meant that “Sujata” was easily spelled and pronounced throughout the college—a big difference from Minnesota, where I was tormented for having a foreign name. Heubeck Hall, my dormitory was diverse, with women from around the world, and, like me, immigrant backgrounds in the United States. The Black students in my dorm had mostly graduated from Baltimore and Baltimore County high schools. It was easy to make friends with them as anyone else—a big difference from high school, where my name, skin color and national origin made me an outsider. 


Even though I had good friends and caring professors during two years at Goucher, my career focus shifted toward a writing career, so I transferred as a junior to Johns Hopkins to study in the Writing Seminars department. At Hopkins, I was embraced into the heart of a very international, multi-racial circle who socialized in Gilman Hall. Here, every Black student I knew either came from out of state, or the African continent. This was very different from Goucher.


I regret not thinking about this discrepancy during my time at Hopkins. I thought all that battling  racism meant agitating for the end of apartheid in South Africa by pressuring Johns Hopkins University to divest its stock portfolio. I didn’t think about the informal apartheid in Baltimore that sent white kids to private schools, lest they go to the “terrible” public schools. I was aware that the university was set on land that had originally been a plantation owned by wealthy Catholics, John and Harriot Carroll. The plantation house was a small museum on campus; the fact was not hidden. These days, there are markers throughout the campus pointing out more of its slave history, including where the slave cabins once lay. 


Homewood House Museum

I still come to campus regularly; and when the Hopkins library is open to the public, I’m usually there weekly, writing quietly away in the place where I first dreamt dreams of writing novels and articles.  My academic advisor, Bob Arellano, shaped my life trajectory by insisting I apply for an internship at the Baltimore Evening Sun. My junior year internship at the paper led to a Sunday work shift my senior year, and a full-time job after graduation. Although though the paper’s editorial workforce was majority white, I worked alongside many Black reporters, most of them University of Maryland journalism graduates. During this era, when the Baltimore Sun Company was privately owned by the Abell family, it was committed to building out a reporting force that mirrored the diversity of the city--which was 54.8 percent Black in 1980, and about 59 percent black in 1990. The friendships I built over five years in that newsroom endure to this day—and I know that the diversity project was not just good for the city, it was joyful for me as a person. I should note that my friends did not complain to me about racist behavior toward them at college and on the job. Decades later, I was to hear some of these stories. Why didn't they tell me then? I did not grow up marked as the descendent of slaves. I would not be able to understand, and how could I possible effect change?

My Hopkins graduation photo


Working at the paper made me feel like I was growing up. Another step toward maturity was joining a spiritual community. Going to a university built from a Quaker bequest made me want to learn more about the Religious Society of Friends, the faith community my parents had been active with during their years in England. At a Quaker Meeting House right across the street from Johns Hopkins University, I found silent worship thrilling, and the absence of a minister made me feel empowered to dig deep. As I learned about Quakers’ work for peace and social justice, I felt sure this was a group I wanted to stay connected with.  Five years later, I visited a second Quaker meeting in Baltimore that felt even more of a haven, and I joined as a member. I’ve now been part of this meeting—as others might call a church--for twenty-three years. The essential tenet is that God’s presence is Light, and that Light exists in every human being. Everyone is part of the Divine, with no person closer to God than another.


Johns Hopkins was a birthright Quaker who became a member, and was later reduced to being an attender, of the Baltimore Monthly Meeting of Friends, the meeting in Baltimore that predated the two meetings I know. Which brings me back to the difficult information that’s been shared—that Johns Hopkins was never an abolitionist, as had been described previously by the University, based on a 1929 biography written by his great-niece, Helen Hopkins Thom. The fact was, he’d owned at least five slaves during his lifetime. This information was discovered by Johns Hopkins historians through old census records listing slaves, and then was fact checked and confirmed as true. The University immediately shared the information with its community and held a Town Hall a few days later that was open to the public, providing a place for people to express pain and ask more questions about the new information.


Did Helen Hopkins Thom repeat a story she accepted as true from an older relative, or did she have suspicions and want to lay them to rest? As a writer who researches history for my novel, I wonder if she accepted a story told to her from a contemporary of the times as truth. I know that I’ve done the same, when I was researching religious riots and the independence movement in 1940s Calcutta.  


And then I wonder about whether anyone at the Hopkins Press felt they had to fact-check…or if anyone who read Ms. Thom’s manuscript might have known something was off about the story. Yes, Quaker abolitionists existed and had safe houses on the Underground Railroad--but they were considered a radical, dangerous minority by  prosperous, big city Quakers. 


Today, cynical minds (realists?) may think that Johns Hopkins gave away all his money at life’s end to buff up his image. Others might think he regretted the choices he’d made and sought to atone, by not only founding a university and hospital, but also an orphan home for children of color, and making sure his Black servants (no longer slaves) were well provided for in his will. 


Johns Hopkins may remain an unknowable man, just as Baltimore can be both a Northern city, as well as part of the South. But I am here for the duration; and I give my commitment as an active alumna to Hopkins, just as I give my commitment to the city's public schools, arts, library and the hungry. 

We can't make it without each other. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Microbe Enemies, Microbe Friends, and the Meaning of Life

 Annamaria on Monday

Introduction: We've had far, far too much evidence this year of the way a virus can wreck havoc and suffering. But then, this past week, I saw a magazine story which reminded me that like humankind itself, there are good guys as well as absolute villains amongst the microbes.  The article about beneficial microbes talked about the "psychobiome" - microbes living in our bodies without which we could not live, and especially about the ones in our guts that, scientists are discovering, have a profound effect on any particular person's psychological state.  The latest news on that topic, I thought, would be my hopeful blog as we celebrate the end of beastly 2020.

Since I had blogged about this subject before, I looked up my post from almost exactly two years ago, to make sure I would not repeat myself.  Then I read Zoe's blog from yesterday and  her reference to "The Machine Stops," which I had also referred to.  The coincidence convinced that I could not do better than repeat myself.  So here is  my piece about microbe friends, originally entitled "EM Forster, HG Wells, Tom Stoppard, and the Meaning of Life."

Where to begin?

Chronologically perhaps. But my chronology—not theirs.

Somewhere around fifty years ago, while living in Brooklyn Heights and working on Wall Street, I was on a packed subway—going to work, standing up.  The train stopped somewhere under the East River.  It was summer, and the NYC subways were not air-conditioned in those days.  Sweltering! This incident was a common occurrence, and that day it lasted much longer than usual.  It would not have been at all memorable, but it sticks in my mind because of the book in my hand and the story I was reading—“The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster.  That fiction, published in 1909, seemed, at that moment, to have everything to do with what I was experiencing.


If you don’t know the story, you can find it here:

It tells of a futuristic society in which the bulk of the human population live in tiny cells under the surface of the earth, where a machine takes care of all their needs.  It provides music and entertainment.  And the means to communicate with people half a world away through what reads (in this hundred+year-old story!) a whole lot like our FaceTime.  Food also comes through the machine (FreshDirect, perhaps?).    The main characters are a rebellious young man and his mother.  He wants to fight the machine.  She believes—as most people in the story do—in the omnipotence of the Machine.  Then the machine stops.  (Like the subway train I was on!)  And to survive, the people in Forster’s story have to fight their way to surface to survive.  You can see why I never forgot any of this.

The story is a masterpiece of what was science fiction a hundred years ago.  Scholars believe that Forster wrote the story as a response H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, in which there is a clash is between good and evil.  Forster, instead, foresaw a future where the central conflict would be between mankind and machines.

Where Wells comes into my thinking today is not with The Time Machine, but with his War of the Worlds.  That brilliant novel imagines machines long left buried underground by aliens.  The creatures from outer space return to dig up their technology and wreck havoc on humanity.  The Martians lose that war, defeated—not by human beings, however brave. It is the earth’s microbes that infect the invaders and kill them. The humans, therefore, survive.

Microbes cast as the saviors of humanity!

Of late, my beloved science section of The New York Times has published a few articles about research into the actions of microbes on humans.  We have known for some time about how they can cause disease.  But nowadays, it’s looking as if the flora in our guts might have as much to do with our behavior as does our upbringing or the rules of our religions.  Data has begun to show that the microscopic critters in our intestines might be the source of happiness, optimism, crankiness—all manner of motivational emotions. Certainly, they play a huge role in digestion, taking the food we eat and turning into new substances that profoundly affect our wellbeing—for good or for ill.  Which microbes we have in our guts determines what chemicals go into our bloodstreams and therefore into our brains.  This little creature takes in carrots and gives you Zoloft.  That one turns carrots into Valium.  Or something like that. 


Which brings me to this past week, when I had the pleasure and the privilege of seeing Tom Stoppard’s latest play, The Hard Problem at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center.  The main conflict in his story is between scientific researchers who hold two opposing prejudices.  Some believe that the brain is all we humans have, and in a more or less mechanical way, it determines behavior.  Others of Stoppard’s characters hold that there are greater forces, outside our human “mechanical” brains and the lust for self-interest.  They believe in God, for instance.  Or altruism.  Or coincidence as an active determinant of human connection.  Forces not explained by the mere clicking of synaptic endings.

In the midst of the play’s action, one of the characters describes the role of microbes that live in cows. As is always the case, when my brain comes up against Tom Stoppard’s, I have a really hard time keeping up.  I wish I had the script to go by in describing what the woman in the play said.  Stoppard may have gotten this part of the story from an actual occurrence from nature, or maybe he made up something that only sounds real.    Anyway, what the actress said went something like this:  a microbe that lives in a cow needs to stay in the cow to reproduce.  But it comes out in the cow’s poop.  To get back inside the cow, the microbe infects an ant and lays its eggs inside the ant. The “diseased” ant then finds itself compelled to relentlessly climb up and down blades of grass and in the process leave some of the eggs at the top of the grass, which the cow then eats.

I think I have this part of the play right.  It all went by very fast in the theater.  But—the point certainly was that the microbe is doing some pretty fancy maneuvering to get what it wants: back inside the cow.  Real or fictional (or botched up by me), the process sounds quite plausible, given the strange ways in which all kinds of critters on this planet control one another.

And it is especially fascinating since scientists are toying with the possibility that microbes, might—in some extremely complicated ways—be in charge of us.

Where do you think we humans all fall in this story?  Are we the cow?  The ant? Or the microbe?

Are we controlling the machines?  Or are they controlling us?  

Most important: Will the microbes be able to save our planet? 

As we say goodbye to 2020, my wish for all of us is that the plague that has been torturing us gets quickly under control. That the people now endangered will be safe. That the medical workers will get some rest. That we will soon get back to meeting, traveling, having dinner together, and that I will get what I have missed the most in the past ten months: hugs from friends!

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Surrogate Living

Zoë Sharp


Back in 2009, a movie came out starring Bruce WillisRadha Mitchell, and Rosamund Pike, called ‘Surrogates’. The basic idea was that everyone had stopped going out in person, preferring to remain in the safety of their homes and experiencing life outside by being hooked into a robotic surrogate—a younger, more attractive version of themselves.

Pure sci-fi, of course.


This year, though—as going outside and mixing with other people seems increasingly risky, and with the virus mutating rapidly—is this the direction in which humans are heading?


In some ways, I can appreciate the attraction. Sitting in your all-encompassing pod, you can see, hear and feel everything that your surrogate feels, without the risk or pain. Plus, of course, everyone you meet is invariably beautiful, healthy, etc.

At the other end of the scale is a story by EM Forster called ‘The Machine Stops’. In this, a civilisation in the far future lives entirely away from the surface of the planet, with their every need tended to by the Machine. They message each other and speak via video conferencing. The only occupation appears to be the communication of what passes for ‘knowledge’.


Does this sound familiar? Does it sound like Facebook, Twitter, Zoom and Skype, all rolled into one?

BBC Out of the Unknown drama of The Machine Stops

‘The Machine Stops’ was first published in 1909, pre-dating any such means of communication in quite a remarkable way. It was published in various anthologies and collections, was voted one of the favourite short stories published up to 1965. The following year, the BBC dramatised the story, under the same title, as part of its Out Of The Unknown series. It was also included in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume II, in 1973, edited by Ben Bova.

In the novella (it was approximately 12,500 words) Forster tells that those who do not agree with the overall control of the Machine are considered ‘unmechanical’ and are threatened with expulsion to the surface—‘Homelessness’.


In many ways, this is the premise of Hugh Howey’s very successful Silo series, where humanity has been forced underground into massive silos, with the threat of being sent outside into the toxic atmosphere for any transgression.


I’ve been thinking about this type of science-fiction quite a bit during this past year, as fears have grown of what lies outside our homes and our borders, and misinformation and conspiracy theories have spread more rapidly than any virus.


Human nature rails against anything that is enforced. It’s lovely to work from home in your pyjamas, it seems, but not if that’s all you’re allowed to do. When we are given time to sit in solitude, to catch up on all those books we feel we should have read, or hear all those pieces of music we feel we ought to have listened to, all we really want to do is chat with our absent friends and mix with strangers.


We are, as ever, a contrary and discontented species. My hope for 2021 is that we learn to appreciate what we have, and work constructively to make it better.


Here’s wishing you Health, Luck, and Happiness for the New Year.

This week’s Word of the Week is pandemic, which is one of the words of the year for 2020, not surprisingly. It comes from the Greek pan meaning all, and demos meaning people. Then the English addition of ‘ic’ onto the end. First came into use in the mid-17th Century. As opposed to an epidemic, which comes from epi meaning upon. The difference between the two words is that an epidemic is an infectious disease that has spread through a community, region or population, whereas a pandemic has spread across countries or continents.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Mystery Writer's Night Before told on Boxing Day.


Whenever I think of Christmas, I think of traditions.  This year I have an additional memory to treasure, for in two days Barbara and I celebrate our FIRST wedding anniversary.  Wow, how time flies when you're isolated with no one but your spouse for ten months of your first year of marriage. Some wags might say that would likely make it the last year. Au contraire.  It's been blissful, at least for husband. Wife tells me she agrees. Whew.

To all of you from the many different corners of our world who so kindly follow us on MIE, the very best of the Holiday Season, no matter how you may choose to celebrate the time.  As I’m blessed to be part of the MIE family I have a little tradition I like to sneak in here during the holiday season.  It’s something I composed for my Christmas Eve post a few years back and whether or not you’d like seeing it again, it’s a tradition so we’re stuck with it…though updated to include the new members of our MIE family. I take great pleasure in brutally fracturing the classic poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston—history is still not sure who wrote it, so apologies to both. 


Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a laptop was stirring, nor even a mouse.
The reviews were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that new readers would soon find them there.

The critics were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of best-seller danced in my head.
And DorothyL in her wimsey, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for the hiatus nap.

When out on the Net there arose such a chatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the keyboard I flew like a flash,
Tore open the browser and dove in with a splash.

The glow on the screen cast like new-fallen snow,
A lustre of brilliance onto writing so-so.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the sight of a blog with ten writers so dear.

With a little bold driver so quick with a thrill,
I knew in a moment he hailed from Brazil.
More rapid than eBooks their creations they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now, Kubu! now, Aimee! now, Charlie and Emma!
On, Vera! On, Justin! on, Hiro and Rei!
To the top of the Times! to the top of them all!
Now Anderson, slash away! slash away pall!”

As wry thoughts, that before the final deadline fly,
When they meet with an obstacle soar to the sky.
So off to their blog-posts these non-courtiers flew,
With a sleigh full of ploys, and opinions not few.

And then, in a twinkling, I saw not from aloof,
The prancing and gnawing of hard comments and spoof
Taking aim at some points so to bring them to ground,
Brought on by hard thinkers from near and far ‘round.

The writers were dressed from each head to each foot
In bold clothes that were tarnished with gashes well put.
A bundle of ARCs each had flung on its back,
They looked like kind peddlers bringing books to a rack.

Their eyes—how they twinkled! Their dimples how merry!
Their cheeks like Jeff Bezos’s, their noses like sherry!
One’s droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
‘Til his bottle of bourbon fell out on the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
Threw up smoke of the kind to fire scotch from the heath.
He had a broad face that would fill up the telly,
And as he reached for his bottle mumbled, “Just jelly.”

Neither chubby nor plump, more like jolly and svelte,
I laughed when I saw him, ‘til his stare I felt.
But a wink of his eye and no twist to my head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

They all spoke not a word, but went straight to their work,
And filled all the bookshelves, then turned with a jerk.
And crossing their fingers aside of their noses,
And giving great nods, passed around the Four Roses.

They kept all at play ‘til the ladies gave whistle,
Then each turned as one to read an epistle.  
And I heard them exclaim, ‘ere my charger lost might,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-fright!”

And, of course,“Kala Kristougenna.”

—Andreas Kaldis


Friday, December 25, 2020

Yuletide joy.

I suppose in these times, everything has a new meaning.  These three have allowed their masks to slip

And in a ever increasing online world some folk took delight in pointing out the obvious.

It was the year of fake news. This isn't a reindeer.
And he's a she.
Or is identifying as a she.
Or I have identified her as a she.
Doh! or as we would say  Doe. 

Jupiter and Saturn got together in the sky, the nearest cloud free sky to Glasgow was in Utah.

We have even had Covid 19 advice from Santa's Elf and Safety Council....

But in Glasgow, the famous statue looks ahead to a brighter future.

And of course, as of midnight tonight, we are in yet another lockdown.

So a Merry Christmas from where ever in the globe you happen to be.

Wishing you a healthy, prosperous 2021.

Indeed, I will see you in the new year.....


Thursday, December 24, 2020

A spectator to it all

 Stanley - Christmas eve of the terrible 2020

I wish all the readers of this blog and my fellow bloggers a very placid and peaceful end to a year that none of us will forget.

The holiday season has brought into sharp focus something that has been on my mind for a number of months - namely the huge number of people who have died from the COVID virus over the past nine months. It is not the sheer magnitude of the number of deaths that I have been thinking of (1,738,013 worldwide as of writing this), although that number is shocking, it is how detached I feel from it all.

I have been zealous in following guidance to keep safe, including five months of solitary lockdown as well as very few in-person meetings, indoors or outdoors. I have, of course, Zoomed with friends around the world, but nowhere have I had to confront the reality of someone I know dying because of the virus. It is as though I am in a bubble looking out at a chaotic world where people are succumbing at a horrific rate.

I read the statistics and look at photographs of cemeteries with hundreds of newly-dug graves; I watch news clips of overwhelmed intensive-care units with refrigerated trucks outside to hold the corpses that undertakers can't immediately handle; I am blown away by the courage and dedication of healthcare workers and others, many of whom die while serving.

Cemetery in Manaus, Brazil

Emergency room

What it takes to keep someone alive

All this is happening around me. 79,070,049 cases of COVID-19 as of today. 1,738,013 deaths. Millions of families in mourning; millions facing eviction; even more millions out of work, facing hunger, not knowing what the future holds.



Lined up at a Texas food bank

Lined up at another Texas food bank

All this is happening while I enjoy good fortune. I'm safe, well-fed, financially secure, and healthy. 

However, my mind keeps returning to the sadness and despair so many must be feeling this holiday season; to the sense of abandonment so many must be gripped by. I know it is happening, but I feel apart from it - a spectator. 

I can only hope that in the gloom of the waning of 2020, those who are suffering will find some solace, some happiness. And that the vaccine and time will bring some normality to 2021.