customs/rituals, death, death rituals, religion

Share the Vigil

In NYC, white refrigerated trucks hold corpses, victims of the COVID-19 virus.

I don’t know about you, but I feel so helpless during this Covid-19 outbreak. I am horrified by the accelerating numbers of infections and deaths. Besides trying to keep myself healthy and avoid spreading the virus, what can I do to help?

Physical limitations prevent me from volunteering, for example, at food banks. I have donated money to hard-hit communities, like the near-by Navajo Nation and to more local charities. But writing a check is not enough.

My solution arrived in the form of a recent email from Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips. Over ten years ago, I interviewed her for a book I co-authored (with Fredda Wasserman) called Saying Goodbye to Someone You Love: Your Emotional Journey Through End of Life and Grief. (New York: Demos, 2010.)

She expanded my knowledge about the Jewish tradition of preparing bodies for burial. Now she is involved with an interfaith organization that spiritually stays with the rapidly accumulating bodies in New York, and elsewhere in the world, until they are finally laid to rest.

Sandler-Phillips participates in an interfaith organization called, Sharing a Vigil for the COVID-19 Dead. Volunteers take shifts to focus on the dead while saying prayers, reciting poems, reading literature, playing music, or even remaining silent. This remote vigil-keeping is a way to bear witness and extend ultimate kindness to ALL dead – near and far, whether named or unknown.

When the Rabbi asked for volunteers, I signed up. I told her that every night in Las Cruces, between 11 p.m. until midnight, I would sing songs and accompany myself on the ukulele, while concentrating on the bodies elsewhere. Given the dire predictions about second waves of infection, this job will no doubt last for months, even longer.

Ordinarily, around 10:30 p.m., I am either at my computer in my office or streaming TV in the living room. I turn off the electronics and enter my bedroom for nightly ablutions before changing into my bedclothes. When I purchased the house, I loved having a reading nook inside the master bedroom. Years ago, I converted that space into a music nook that is ideal for my new endeavor, an improvised sanctuary.

Shortly before 11 p.m., I tune my ukulele and adjust the music stand holding a book of ukulele tunes, one for each day. Then at precisely 11 p.m., I begin to sing and play appropriate tunes. (I passed on Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey?) While singing and playing, I visually focus on a sight that will never leave me — in New York City, large white refrigerated trucks, temporary morgues, that are crammed with bodies awaiting their final disposition. The thought of these lonely crowded bodies fills me with great sadness.

For one hour, I sing and play songs on my ukulele, keeping company with the bodies of all faiths as well as no faith. My house is quiet: the neighborhood has mostly gone to sleep; and there I sit unselfconsciously singing.

Whereas in the past, when I entered my bedroom at night, I immediately turned on the TV listening to a wrap-up of the day’s news followed by watching one of the late-night TV comedians.

However, my new routine has brought surprises. When I enter my bedroom, I can no longer turn on the TV.  And after I am finished at midnight, once more, I can no longer turn on the TV. Somehow, this new late night routine has become sanctified, and I cannot pollute it with gags and nonsense. It’s as if I have divided my house into new zones: the sacred and the profane.

This new and moving experience satisfies my need to meaningfully participate in one of the most horrendous events of a lifetime.

 

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who strongly disagrees with those who want to end the corona virus lockdown and reopen businesses prematurely.

 

norinedresser.org

For more information about Sharing the Vigil, visit http://waysofpeace.org/share-the-vigil

Cultural differences, customs/rituals, health, hygiene

Bottom’s Up!

 

Coveted roll of toilet paper during the Covid-19 Pandemic. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

 

What’s with all the toilet paper hoarding here in the U.S.? Does it seem strange to you? Truthfully, tell me how many rolls do you have in reserve?

Toilet paper has become such a treasured item, that when my Passover Seder meal was delivered from the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center here in Las Cruces, they also brought a cellophane-wrapped TP roll as a bonus.

I can’t say for sure, but in my memory when I was a child I used an outhouse while staying at my paternal grandparents’ cabin near Carbon Canyon in Southern California. I can’t remember what we used to clean ourselves afterward, but in stories and in films it seemed that it was either magazine or newspaper pages.

Sharon Hudgins, in a letter to the New Yorker, recalls teaching in post-Soviet Russian during the 1990s. At her university, there was no toilet paper at all. Instead they used pages from old textbooks on Marxism-Leninism.

I’ve read numerous articles about why we hoard toilet paper, and the one that resonates most with me is that we are attempting to exert control over our lives at a time when deadly circumstances are beyond our control.

Much of our TP panic is culturally motivated. There are other parts of the world where toilet paper is not the preferred method of cleaning one’s bum.

Multi-functional watering can for those who prefer water for after- toilet cleansing.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

 

While living in Southern California, I used to visit some Iranian Muslim friends. I noted a watering can in each bathroom. They informed me that in Iran, most homes had bidets because they believe that water is the most hygienic way to clean one’s self. Since most American bathrooms lack bidets, having a watering can nearby can simulate the effect.

Water is the preferred cleansing method in many parts of Asia, India, Islamic Middle East, and Europe. In Italy, in 1975, a hygiene law stated: “For each accommodation, at least one bathroom must be equipped with the following sanitary facilities: toilet, bidet, bath or shower, washbasin.

During this pandemic crisis, some Americans have reconsidered that if they had bidets, they wouldn’t have to depend so much on toilet paper.

According to an article in the Guardian, if Americans gave up toilet paper, they could keep 15m trees from being turned into pulp every year. Manufacturing a roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons a roll. Bidets save both trees and water, using only one-eighth a gallon per flush.

Jason Ojalvo, CEO of Tushy, a bidet company founded in 2015, claims that in the first week of March, 2020, sales doubled, then two days later sales tripled; then it was 10 times the normal sales. A few days after that, business peaked at a million-dollar sales per day.

Visitors to Japan marvel at their toilets. They have heated seats; posterior and front washes; adjustable water temperature; nozzle sterilization; adjustable water pressure; air deodorizer; white noise, even classical music to mask natural sounds; automatic lids and seats that lift up and down; with additional features of self-flushing; self-cleaning; warm dry air or air conditioning for hot days.

The newest trend has a small water basin located on top of the tank cover. After toileting, people wash their hands, then flush the used water from the basin that then drains into the tank and into the bowl.

 

Before flushing, user washes hands in basin attached to water tank.

 

So how much will one of these fancy toilets cost? Fifty K more or less. I’m afraid that’s not within my budget, but I can dream, can’t I?

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who would love to have one of those fancy Japanese toilets.

 

norinedresser.org

 

Cultural differences, racism

Here We Go Again (unfortunately)!

 

Chinese American pin to refute Japanese ancestry and avoid assault during WWII. Pin owned by George Tom. © Copyright IHSF, Las Cruces, NM, 2020.

 

A Facebook post tells of a hospital patient who refuses to be examined by an Asian doctor. Prior to that, a different post tells of a Chinese international student at UNM in Albuquerque, who was distraught when going to his dorm room. Pranksters had draped his door with plastic and a sign, “Quarantine. Keep Out.” The student didn’t find it funny. He felt threatened.

For weeks, we have seen photos of empty Chinese restaurants whose patrons fear feasting there because of the Covid-19 Virus. And up to now, Americans have always savored Chinese food.

Did you know that Americans were first introduced to Chinese food during the 1849 California Gold Rush? That’s because many Chinese came over to participate in searching for gold.

Today there are over 50,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. and their appeal, in good part, rests on the large portions and generally inexpensive prices. Still, when I first tasted this delectable food as a child during the 1930s, I was hesitant already having heard the rumor about the unexpected finger found in the chop suey. That was a not-too-subtle attempt at looking down at the Chinese.

Irrational beliefs rise to the surface when panic sets in, and our culture has long been leery of Asians and their cultures. Most of you are probably too young to remember the anti-Asian sentiments of the last century when Chinese and Japanese were referred to as “The Yellow Peril.”

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Anti-Asian sentiments in Los Angeles soared. Most non-Asians couldn’t distinguish between Chinese, Japanese, or Korean residents. Los Angeles Chinese, fearful of being mistaken for Japanese, placed “Chinese American” stickers on their cars or wore ”Chinese American” pins or “ABCD” (American Born Chinese Descent) pins to stave off dirty looks or worse from suspicious Angelenos. Even Life Magazine, probably the most significant disseminator of public information at the time, was caught up in this preoccupation with distinguishing between different Asian populations. They published an article, “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese.

To demonstrate patriotism to the USA, Chinese American men in Los Angeles, awaiting induction into the regular military branches or unable to serve because of age or physical disabilities, created a special unit of the California State Military Reserve that they dubbed the “Chinese Militia.”

Another pin worn by Chinese Americans to avoid assault during WWII by those thinking they were Japanese. ABCD means American Born Chinese Descent. Pin owned by George Tom. © Copyright IHSF, Las Cruces, NM, 2020.

 

Although this home guard branch of service was short- lived, they designed a shoulder patch and pin to wear on their uniforms. The designs were based on Sun Yat-sen’s famous Three Principles or San Min Chu I, incorporating Chinese symbols of blue sky, white sun, golden pagoda, and the color red.

 

Shoulder patch and pin worn by members of the Chinese Militia. Courtesy of George Tom. © Copyright IHSF, Las Cruces, NM, 2020.

 

Parades were one of the most important activities of the Chinese Militia. When they marched, the Chinese American community always clapped and cheered them on, and the non-Chinese community enthusiastically received them, as well.

 

Judging by current behavior and the xenophobic commentaries posted on social media, we haven’t learned anything from past experiences about our irrational fear of Eastern cultures and the virus and China. Unfortunately, bigotry thrives. And we have no available badges to wear that identify us as non-threats to public health:  “Free From Symptoms;“ “Never been to Wuhan;” “I haven’t visited Italy in 20 years.” “I Just Took a Purell Bath.”

Even though ugly memes come to mind during this pandemic, please make a strong effort not to pin it on any race or religion. Help your neighbors, and last but not least, “Stop Hoarding Toilet Paper!”

 

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser witnessed extreme anti-Japanese racism during WWII when her Japanese classmates were whisked away and placed in Internment camps. Those were ugly times. Let’s not have history repeat itself.

http://norinedresser.org

aging, cats, friendship, Uncategorized

Zoe and Sweetie Beattie: Friendship

 

Zoe, Sweetie Beattie’s BFF. Photo by Norine Dresser. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweetie Beattie chilling in a flower pot. Photo by Norine Dresser. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2020.

Last Summer, an adorable young black cat showed up in my backyard. From her ID we learned her name was Zoe, and we alerted her nearby family who quickly rescued her.

For six months, Zoe visited our yard daily, to drink fresh water and to play with my house-bound cat, Sweetie Beattie. Zoe’s visits became the highlight of Sweetie Beattie’s day. They’d paw at each other, one on each side of the sliding glass door, and were adorable to watch. Sometimes, Zoe even brought gifts for Beattie.

This half-mouse is one of many treasures Zoe brought Sweetie Beattie. Photo by Norine Dresser. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2020.

I found their relationship endearing. And I loved that Beattie had a friend. Then one day Zoe disappeared. Sweetie Beattie anxiously waited for her and every day after that. She acted depressed. I feared Zoe was a goner because we have many cat predators around here: hawks, owls, coyotes, cars.

After an absence of months, Zoe returned the other day. Sweetie Beattie was all excited once again, but this time Zoe ignored her. She was on to more satisfying activities like looking for prey. Then she left again. Will she ever come back?

The friendship between Zoe and Sweetie Beattie resembles  human friendships. Sometimes we spend a lot of time with a certain person, and then the friendship cools and we go our separate ways.

In November, 2019, I visited Los Angeles where I reunited with a group of friends for lunch.  Some were colleagues from CSULA; others were women I knew from an arthritis swimming class called, “Twinges in the Hinges.” The others were individuals I encountered in a wide variety of circumstances: a co-author; a former folklore student; a former guitar student, and a writer with whom our friendship evolved over, of all things, an L.A. Times obituary.

 

My wonderful friends from over the decades at Shiraz Persian Restaurant in Glendale, California, November 2019. Photo by Ann Bradley. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2020.

Unfortunately, one of my oldest and closest friends, couldn’t make it because  she was in a hospital psychiatric lock-up. Recently, she had escaped from an Assisted Living facility where she was being treated for dementia. While wandering down a busy street, police officers tried to rescue her and she fought them off. Consequently, she was placed in a lock up. What a sad situation for this gifted woman who had such played a significant role in my life.

We met as neighbors when she was 14 and I was 12. She introduced me to horses and Asian art and music, and we had many fun-filled hours shared at school vacation times. As adults we remained lifelong friends and socialized with one another up until I left Los Angeles in 2012.

When I arrived in her small sterile-looking hospital room, she was asleep, so I awakened her.  Her voice was low-pitched and difficult to understand. Desperate to connect with her, I brought up old memories of good times we had shared. Then I remembered a song parody we had written together to serenade a friend who had been injured in an auto accident. About fifty years ago, she and I and our husbands, stood outside our wounded friend’s window singing as cars with curious drivers whizzed by.

I began singing this same song in her hospital room, and to my amazement, she joined in.

(To the tune of Simple Gifts)

Here’s to Jerry Hundal and here’s to his wife.

Here’s to Jerry Hundal and God who saved his life.

And if we find ourselves in a similar plight

Will you sing to us in the middle of the night?

When true mobility is gained.

To bow and to bend we will not be in pain.

To turn, to turn will be our delight.

Till by turning, turning we come out right.

Despite the dreariness of the setting, when her voice joined mine, I felt uplifted. We  re-lived a joyful moment and laughed together. Given our ages and that we are geographically apart, I may never see her again. And if I never do, I will carry this poignant memory of my cherished friend with me forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, pets

Pain, Poop, and Patience/Patients

I never dreamed while contemplating my reverse right shoulder replacement that I would actually have a good time during the process. That never happened after previous surgeries. I’ve had my gall bladder removed; back surgery; both hips and my left shoulder replaced, yet nary one laugh escaped me during those ordeals.

 

I tried to focus on the outcome of the procedure rather than the process. Does Dr. Sawbones refer to the method of removing the old shoulder parts? OUCH!

Several days after this surgery they transferred me to a brand new rehab center. I should have suspected an unusual environment when the head nurse introduced herself as, “Nurse Anthrax,” (not her real name but one equally toxic). I was incredulous at the naiveté of her parents for giving her such a moniker. That set me off on a scavenger hunt of other ironies, such as entering the physical therapy room and noticing that they were playing “Masonic Funeral Music.”

One day, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Fritz standing in the doorway. His neatly trimmed grey beard and hair reminded me of my late husband. Imagine my excitement when he sat down on the bed, his body touching mine. I wished that he would kiss me. Instead, he turned away and eagerly kissed my red-headed woman visitor. This aroused my jealousy, but then suddenly he disappeared. Could I hold a grudge against him?  No! I knew that next Tuesday, Fritz the Schnauzer therapy dog would visit me again.

 

Stand-in for Fritz the Therapy Dog.

When you look around the dining area, superficially all you see are old bodies in wheelchairs, some with oxygen cannulas in their noses, others with drains coming from their kidneys, or those with broken limbs in splints. It’s so easy to discount these wounded folks. But that would be  a big mistake. Many of them had led adventurous lives and had had marvelous careers.

Once I opened myself up to their stories, I was constantly stimulated and amazed. I learned the gory details about a husband who dumped his wife for a much younger woman he met on a Greek Island; Wynona entertained me with descriptions of being in Tehran just before the Shah left and the Iranian Revolution began. Nursing attendants told tales of being abused by ex-mates; or about the suspicions single dads encounter when they accompany their teenage daughters to buy underwear. And do you know the difference in the way male attendants give showers compared to female attendants? Mine washed me like he was washing his car, spraying first down one side of me. Then I turned and he washed down the other side. I took care of my own headlights.

One dinner hour I said to my tablemates, “Aren’t the nights long here?” To my  amazement, one ordinarily quiet woman began reciting lines from “Macbeth.” Then she told me about attending Yale and her life’s work as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and nursing instructor.

I met the son of a patient who’s a retired probation officer.  Guess what he does in his retirement? He collects and repairs fountain pens. He has written articles about his collection and even had an exhibit of them in nearby Alamogordo. This was a folklorist’s delight.

Sometimes snippets of conversation captured me:

I miss my dog more than my husband;

I married a Roman Catholic priest;

If you leave off your brassiere, your wrinkles disappear;

My dog knows how to spell D-O-G-P-A-R-K.

Food services were excellent and unique for such an institutional setting. For example, one time they served eggs benedict for breakfast; chicken Alfredo over fettuccini for lunch; stir-fry steak and veggies and rice for dinner. And there was an alternative menu available for all three meals.

I met Angelica Wagner, also a patient at the rehab center. She teaches cooking and does catering when not recovering from surgery. As a special occupational therapy exercise, she taught us how to make cherry-filled empanadas. The following week we made mini-cinnamon rolls. This was a very enlightened healing environment.

 

Angelica Wagner teaching Occupational Therapy patients how to make empanadas. Step one, cutting out the dough. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.
Finished product. Notice fork for using tines to seal the empanada.© Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2019.
Putting cherry filling inside dough circles. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2019

 

 

 

 

Still patients complained:

“Can you believe they call this bean soup. The beans aren’t even white?” (I had a cynical hunch that her attitude applied to people, as well.)

“You know, I have to hit the TV remote button FIVE times before it will change channels.”

Overcoming pain and getting the digestive system back to normal after anesthesia and medications are the two most difficult post-op tasks.  It takes patience to be a good patient, something that I lack. Nonetheless, social interactions go a long way in helping rehabilitation. From the many colorful get-well cards to my many visitors, two laden with Stroopwaffel McFlurries, and to my almost-daily visits from Damien, a Papillion, and his driver Carol Witham, fellow patients and staff with their intriguing stories contributed toward my recovery. After almost a full month at the rehab center, I eagerly returned home and with thanks to all of you.

 

Damien, a frequent visitor who always brought me cheer. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Oops! I forgot to mention something. While I was away I had Liza Chase take care of my cat’s meals in the morning and Roxana Gillette gave Sweetie Beattie the night feeding. Liza left the TV on for the cat 24/7 so she wouldn’t feel alone in the empty house. Often Liza turned on the History Channel. However, one day as she was leaving, the History Channel was airing a show about Hitler. Liza thought that was inappropriate for a Jewish household, so she changed the channel to one about Aliens.

 

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is relieved that the surgery is now in the past, and she is home at last with Sweetie Beattie.

Visit the Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org