COVID-19

American disunity at a critical time

Please remember my comment policy. Also, I’ve slightly revised this post to remove some language that might have been taken as condescending toward people who don’t share my views — that was fully unintentional. I also changed controversial phrasing “for the common good” to “taking care of each other,” which better captures my intent.

I’ve been masking up again when inside public spaces. I’m doing it because of news reports that vaccinated people like me are still able to carry the virus, especially the Delta variant. But when I wander masked around the grocery store, most people unmasked, it feels much more like a symbolic gesture and a statement of my beliefs.

While I was on the Ride Across Indiana I forgot to bring a mask, which wasn’t the end of the world because I was entirely alone the vast majority of the time. However, I did eat breakfast and dinner inside restaurants. Also, when I got that flat tire and in the repair lost the nut and bolt that secures my coaster brake, I did walk into a hardware store for a replacement. Even then, I was reasonably certain I wasn’t making anyone sick, because I had this:

The week before my Ride Across Indiana, I felt exhausted and I had a stuffy nose. It was bad enough that I took a full day and a couple partial days off work that week. I got a COVID test and, thankfully, it came back negative.

I think I was just suffering from stress. Work has been a skull crusher lately. I wasn’t fully recovered when I started the Ride Across Indiana, but I pressed on anyway. But I’m not here to write about work or the ride. I’m here to write about the new COVID spike in Indiana.

Source: https://www.coronavirus.in.gov/2393.htm, September 8, 2021

Eeeeeeyikes!

News organizations across Indiana are calling this “the Delta spike,” which seems fair. I’ve heard government leaders call it “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” which is pithy and sure sounds like it oughta be true. Yet in Indiana, vaccination rates have stalled:

That represents just over 3 million fully vaccinated Hoosiers, when the state has 6.7 million residents. Less than half of us are vaccinated.

Some of my connections on Facebook have ranted against the stupidity of the unvaccinated. Some of them have pointed their fingers squarely at the conservative media machine that’s feeding them the talking points they’re using to justify their anti-mask and anti-vax positions. But who on this side of the mask/vax fence is trying to understand where they’re coming from, and to build bridges to them?

Last Saturday morning as I prepared for the last day of my Ride Across Indiana, I had breakfast in a truck stop restaurant. Truck stops and and Waffle Houses are my secret pleasure when I’m on the road!

This large restaurant had just four people in it: the cook, the waitress, me, and a fellow the waitress chatted up so familiarly that he must have been a regular. They spoke at length of the vaccine and all of the reasons they wouldn’t take it. They repeated all of the talking points from conservative media, sometimes even in their own words. But it was easy to tell that they very much enjoyed these common beliefs and the feeling of a bond, of being on the same team, that they created.

The waitress said that she was in nursing school, close to graduation, but that she was unemployable because she wouldn’t be vaccinated. She also said that her mother, also a nurse, faced losing her job at a big hospital in Indianapolis because she wouldn’t take the vaccine either. The waitress and the fellow lamented the sad state of personal freedom in this country.

I was relieved that they never asked my opinion. I’m not sure what I would have said, as I couldn’t disagree with them more and wasn’t interested in an argument. It’s not about personal freedom, it’s about us taking care of each other. I seriously doubt their assertions that these vaccines are insufficiently tested, that they’re insufficiently effective, and that they can be deadly. I don’t fancy myself an expert in immunology or vaccine science, but in the end I have more faith in the CDC than I do in conservative media or in hearsay — even hearsay from people I trust.

What seemed clear to me, however, was that these two people believed that they couldn’t trust their government, and that they felt like the side of all of this that I’m on are alien to core American values.

I’m not sure I can trust my government, either, but I do not believe agencies like the CDC to be meaningfully corrupt. Therefore, I choose to have faith in the CDC’s guidance. And I think that American values need to expand beyond personal freedom to caring for each other. But therein lies the divide.

How did we get this way as a country? More importantly, how do we find out way back to unity? Even more importantly, what are you doing to encourage it? I worry that this fracturing of our national unity could well be our undoing as a nation, and how we lose our primary world power status to China in the coming years.

Regardless of which side you’re on, we all need to build bridges.

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COVID-19

Trending the wrong way

It’s been a while since I wrote a COVID report. It’s been an even longer while since I showed the Indiana positive cases graph. We looked like we were coming out of the woods for a while, but the Delta variant has caused a new surge.

Some headlines have read that this is now a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” But someone on my team at work tested positive for COVID this week despite being fully vaccinated. She didn’t have a bad case — she was out of work only for a couple of days, and reported fatigue as her primary symptom. It remains to be seen whether vaccinated people who get COVID are at risk of long-term effects.

In Indiana, Delta and this spike have not led government to order lockdowns or even masks. There’s a tussle in our state government over whether the Governor has the powers to invoke the emergency measures he did in months past. The state legislature passed a law giving it powers to intervene during public health emergencies, curtailing the Governor’s power. In response, the Governor sued the state legislature. In response to that, the state Attorney General asked the state Supreme Court to prevent this suit, but the Supreme Court refused.

To me, this all seems like a bid to prove who’s the reddest Republican. Our state government is fully controlled by Republicans — this is the party fighting within itself.

Whitestown Meijer

Meanwhile, in this climate the government has issued no orders, not even advice, for how we should behave in the face of Delta. We’re on our own. Some stores are requesting masks of everyone, even those vaccinated; the Meijer across the street is among them. The CDC recommends masks for everyone in areas of high transmission. That would, it appears, include grocery stores and restaurants.

Yet I am loath to give up the freedoms we have only recently won back. I don’t mind masking up in the store, but every part of me wants to pretend that my vaccination will cover me when I sit at a bar or enjoy a burrito in the Mexican joint around the corner.

Indiana’s government is surely dysfunctional right now. But I wonder if a part of the reason it hasn’t ordered any COVID protections is because they would be unpopular with everyday people like me.

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COVID-19

Returning to the world

It was quite a week: I went to church, and I went to work.

Margaret and I are both vaccinated, as is one of Margaret’s kids who lives with us. The other isn’t, despite our admonitions. But she works in retail, and with nobody masking anymore she’s far more likely to get sick at work than because Margaret or I brought COVID home. So Margaret and I are no longer restricting ourselves. We’re also not rushing to Do All the Things in the world, either. We’re taking measured and deliberate steps.

When I walked in at church, everyone about fell over. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, I just showed up. We hadn’t seen each other in 15 months! I took my usual place in the back and enjoyed the service. I was almost overcome with happiness when communion was passed. In my faith tradition, we take communion every week. I really missed it.

Last month I said that when Margaret and I felt safe to return to worship, we’d find a new church together. That’s still our aim, but in the short term I will attend at my current church about every other Sunday. There needs to be someone from church leadership in attendance every week, and the fellow we’d been leaning on for that is going to be away most of the summer. So one of the other leaders and I are alternating weeks.

I won’t go every week because our granddaughter comes to visit on Sunday mornings. Without getting into all of the complications around this, I’ll just say that this is the time her mom can bring her, and that’s that.

I worked in the office on Tuesday. The company opened its office on Monday, allowing anyone vaccinated to work unmasked. I had to provide a scan of my vaccination card. I understand how some people might find this to be too invasive, but in this instance I didn’t at all mind sending in my scan.

This is a brand new office for my company. We were in the building next door until March, and then we were homeless for several weeks while finishing touches were placed on the new office, which is in a new building. The photo above is from the window near my desk, where I have a commanding view of the Eli Lilly & Co. building. The pharmaceutical giant is headquartered here.

My company is allowing us to work some days at home and some days in the office. My plan is to work in the office Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for sure, and maybe on Monday. But I’ll work from home every Wednesday for sure.

I’m going to add in-office days slowly. I found it to be intensely stressful to suddenly work from home every day last year when all this began. I hope that by easing back into my in-office schedule, I can adapt more easily.

It’s as if I am given a limited number of “energy cards” every day, and when I’ve given all of those cards out in the course of a day’s events, I’m out of energy. Truly, when that happens, I’m fried. I make routines out of anything I can, because it reduces how much I have to think about them, which conserves energy. When the pandemic sent me home to work, every last one of my workday routines was upended. I had to figure out all new ones, and until I did I was exhausted at the end of each day.

Sure enough, working in the office on Tuesday left me spent. It had been a long time since I’d dealt with rush-hour traffic, and that spent a whole energy card by itself. It didn’t used to, probably by sheer daily repetition. But after a 15-month hiatus, I had lost my chops, I guess.

Of course, I did all the things you do when you work for the first time in a new office: set up my desk, figure out how to work the coffee machine, and find the restrooms. But I also took all of my meetings over Zoom just as I did the day before working at home, as nobody I met with was in the office that day. So I had Zoom fatigue on top of everything-is-new fatigue.

When I go back to the office this Tuesday, I won’t have so many new things to figure out. But I’m sure the commute will still be tiring, until I get used to it again.

Another reason I plan to add in-office days slowly is because when I work from home, I can ride my bike on my lunch hour. I’m reluctant to give that up, as this is the last summer I will get to do it. I’m even considering taking a long bike tour later this year, covering 150 miles or so over a few days. Riding most weekdays will help me prepare for that. I’ve wanted to do a tour for years, and if ever there’s a year to do it, this is it.

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COVID-19

Like sex without a condom

Indiana’s mask mandate ended in early April. While a few counties opted to continue it, the one I live in did not.

Even though Margaret and I are both vaccinated, we have continued to wear masks even where it isn’t required, and we have continued to stay out of indoor public places except when strictly necessary. Two of our adult children still live with us, and they are not yet vaccinated. One of them has a health condition that puts them at extra risk. We didn’t want to risk bringing it home to them. We know that our vaccinations make the likelihood low, but the impact sure could be high if it happened.

My chiropractor’s office was the first place in my world to shed their masks. The woman behind the desk directly encouraged me to leave my mask behind on my next visit. Then I started seeing a small number of people ignore various businesses’ mask requirements.

Meijer

Last Saturday, when I went to Meijer to do the week’s shopping, they no longer required masks. I’d say 70 percent of shoppers shopped bare faced.

Meijer was a bellwether for me. If they aren’t requiring masks, other businesses assuredly aren’t either — including the restaurant and retail store where our two adult children work. Shortly, none will.

Margaret said, “If the kids get it, it is going to be from where they work. We can’t protect them anymore.” She was right.

We’ve been strongly encouraging them both to get vaccinated, but neither has been interested. One was concerned about side effects. I told them both that my own reading says that they were far more likely to have a bad time with COVID than they were with any of the available vaccines, but it didn’t move them.

I’m the kind of dad who would say, “Look, my house, my rules. Get vaccinated. If you want to follow your own rules, get your own house.” But these are Margaret’s kids, and Margaret doesn’t parent in the same way I do. She continues to encourage them. One of them finally agreed to do it and has one Pfizer shot in him. The other remains disinterested.

BW3

I said to Margaret, “I don’t know what you think about it, but I think it’s okay for us to relax our vigilance.” She agreed. So we’re no longer masking up in places that don’t require it. And Sunday we took the plunge: we walked over to the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant near our home, went inside, and ate cheeseburgers and drank beer. “It feels like sex without a condom,” Margaret said as we sat down.

I did feel slight anxiety as we entered, but it melted when our first round of beers arrived. (I had a Porter that tasted like coffee and chocolate. I love a good Porter!) It felt like it had been only a week since our last visit to a restaurant, not 15 months.

Meanwhile, my company has announced that they are opening the office June 7. They aren’t requiring anyone to return just yet, but working in the office will be available for those who want it. Anyone vaccinated will not have to wear a mask, but we have to place a copy of our vaccination cards on file with HR.

Switching suddenly to working from home last year was surprisingly stressful. I had to learn a lot of new habits and figure out how to cope with Zoom fatigue. (On a typical work day, I’m on Zoom six or seven hours.) I suspect that if I were to return full time to the office, I’d experience similar stress. To spread out that stress, I’ve decided to work one day a week in the office, and add days slowly.

Probably later this year, my company will end this flexibility and ask us to choose among working remotely full time, or working in the office full time, or working a hybrid schedule at home Monday and/or Wednesday but in the office the rest of the week.

I choose the hybrid schedule. There have been big benefits to working from home — shedding my hour round-trip commute, being able to walk and ride my bike more, slipping in a load of laundry here and there, even being able to cut the grass on my lunch hour. I’d like to keep some of that. Truly, these benefits are so strong that I considered never returning to the office.

But I miss the people. As a pegging-the-meter introvert, I don’t need much human contact. But I need some, and my needs have not been met during the pandemic. I didn’t realize until I didn’t have it anymore just how much of that need is met in the office. Also, when I’m back in the office I will have a much easier time building the relationships I need at work to influence things to go the way I want. Most of the company is choosing the hybrid schedule, so I’ll see most people there and be able to have the casual interactions with them that I’ve always used to build bonds.

I know the pandemic isn’t over. Not enough people are vaccinated to create herd immunity. We don’t know how long the vaccines last just yet, and we don’t know whether they protect against the variants yet to come. I’m moving forward on some faith, recognizing that we might have to isolate again. I’m sure I’ll experience that as a blow if it comes. But I can’t defend against every possible future event. I’m choosing to act on the current reality.

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COVID-19, Personal

Freshly tuned bicycles

Picking up our bikes from the bike shop

I picked our bikes up from the shop on Monday after having them tuned up. The shop was inundated with repairs. The owner told me that she had 450 bikes for repair hanging in the back, plus a hundred or so in the front of the store. There was a single path from the door to the counter, there were so many bikes in there. She said it has just been crazy this season with people wanting their bikes made ready for the warm months.

I like my Schwinn but it is 35 years old and has old-bike issues. I hoped the shop could resolve, or at least improve, some of them.

I had to air up my tires every few days last season. The tires and tubes dated to my last tuneup in 2011, so I asked for replacements. I was thrilled when they said they had gumwall tires in stock for it, since that’s what my Schwinn had on it originally. But then they called to say my tires were in fine shape and didn’t need to be replaced, unless I was dying to have gumwalls. I decided to save a little money and just had new tubes fitted.

My brakes were very weak, so much so that I wouldn’t ride this bike in city traffic as there is no way to stop fast. The bike has a front hand brake and a rear coaster brake. The coaster brake is part of the three-speed hub, which is sealed. The remedy is replacement, and I wasn’t prepared to make that kind of investment in the Schwinn. So I asked them to either tighten or replace the front brakes, whichever it took to make them stop surely.

I also mentioned that the gears came out of true a lot last season and I was constantly adjusting them. They noticed that the cable was very loose and they said they’d tighten it, which should do the trick.

They clearly tightened the shift cable, which I hope lets the bike’s gears stay true this season. They improved the front hand brake slightly, but not nearly enough. Stops are still far too long. I’m disappointed in that. But they didn’t write my instructions for the brakes onto the work order. I feel sure that by the time they put my bike on the bench, they’d forgotten all about what I’d asked. I don’t want to schlep the bike all the way back there, so I’ll see if I can tighten the brakes up a little more myself. There’s plenty of pad left, I think I just need to bring the calipers a little closer to the rim. I used to do that to the 3 speed I had as a teenager.

It’s likely I’ll continue working from home most or all of this summer, which will let me ride a lot again this year. Before the pandemic, I worked in the office every day, and seldom found time to ride. I used to manage a half dozen rides every season. Last season I made that many every week, because I could go out on my lunch hour. It was glorious!

I’d love to buy a new 3 speed, to escape the old-bike blues. I’m fixated on 3-speed bicycles because not only do I love their upright riding position, but I value the simplicity of the sealed gear hub over a derailleur. I’ve owned two bikes with derailleurs and both of them dropped their chain from time to time. What a pain in the rear. Also, I hardly need more than 3, maybe 5, speeds here in flat Indiana. I once had an 18-speed bike and it was just too many speeds. I keep drooling over this Bianchi 3 speed. It looks just right!

I’ve been given the option of working from home full time when the pandemic is over, but I’ve decided not to take it. Instead, I’ll work in the office about four days a week and at home about one day. I can ride on my lunch hour on work-from-home days when the weather supports it, but I’m not sure how I’ll ride as often as I’m getting to now thanks to the pandemic. I’m not sure it makes sense to invest in a new bike unless I’m going to ride it frequently.

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COVID-19, Faith

Church homeless

I haven’t set foot into my church since early March of last year, just before Indiana locked down for the pandemic. That level of lockdown ended after several weeks, and West Park Christian Church decided to reopen last July.

WPCC

It was challenging to arrive at that decision. Some of our elders wanted to open sooner, saying that we shouldn’t live in fear, and that us staying closed was starving our members of Christian community.

I took offense to the first point — it’s prudent, not fearful, to avoid a disease that can kill you, or leave you with chronic health difficulties, or at least lay you up for a solid two weeks while it has its way with you. God won’t protect us from it simply because we gather to worship him. Anyone who thinks so has a gross misunderstanding of faith and the nature of God.

I conceded the second point. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Other elders, including me, took the position that our first duty is to keep our congregation healthy, especially given how many of them are elderly or have health conditions that put them at serious COVID risk. I wasn’t eager to stand before God one day explaining the people who suffered or died because I voted to open too soon.

We reached a compromise: we would ask at-risk people to stay away, require masks for all who enter, and alter the service to limit physical proximity. I’m naturally drawn to compromise so I said yes, but soon after I felt a regret I’ve never shaken.

Margaret and I have not been willing to expose ourselves to COVID risk, so we’ve stayed away. Most Sunday mornings we take in the services of North Point Community Church on our TV via our Roku. We both value the teaching of North Point pastor Andy Stanley; even before this, we often listened to his sermons on long car trips.

But a sermon is not the complete church experience, and it is not the main reason to attend church. We go to church to be a part of a community where we can encourage each other in the faith. Hebrews 10:24-25 lay it out very well:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.

West Park CC Sanctuary

Sure, a sermon is part of the worship experience. So is singing, and praying, and giving — other Scripture provides for all of these practices. But the point of these verses in Hebrews is that we’re meant to be Christians in community. This is a faith we do with others, if for no other reason than we can help each other stay with it and keep growing in it. Classically, we find Christian community in church.

That’s what’s been missing for Margaret and me as we’ve watched Andy Stanley preach every week. I can’t write with certainty about Margaret’s experience, but I can about mine: I feel increasingly isolated in my faith. I’ve lost feeling connected to fellow Christians. In parallel, the habits of my faith have fallen off, or feel increasingly stale. I don’t pray as often. I’m not in the Bible as much, and when I do study it, the words often fail to connect with me. And I’m not doing very much that expresses my faith. My faith is action-oriented: what mission am I on and what am I doing to move that in service to him is critically important. I’m not doing anything related to God’s mission right now. Margaret and I have our hands full holding things together with some family challenges during a time when everything is more difficult anyway.

For a long time, I believed that God wanted me to be a part of my church’s urban mission. We did our best to meet our neighbors, most of whom know the problems of poverty, lift them up as best we could, and introduce them to Jesus. My ability to organize and run things helped my church execute on its mission more effectively.

Since the pandemic, I’ve become disconnected from that mission. What is right in front of me is my family, whose spiritual needs have been underserved and often unmet for months now. I feel compelled to give all of my attention to us.

It’s become clear to me over the last couple years that my church’s leader’s need to live in its neighborhood. People like me who don’t live there just can’t be fully involved, and full involvement is needed. We live a good 30 minutes away. And we don’t feel at all led to move there.

Moreover, as an elder it’s my duty to minister to our people. But I and my family need ministering. We’re out of spiritual gas.

I think that my time at West Park is coming to an end. Margaret and I agree that when we think it’s safe for us to return to in-person worship, that we will choose a church together. (I was at West Park long before we met, and she is technically still a member at the megachurch she attended with her children for nearly 20 years.) We want to find a community of Christians where we can make friends and find mutual encouragement in life and in the faith.

As we contemplate and (soon) search for a new church home, we feel church homeless.

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