Flowers and Face Masks

This guest post is from BCC blogger emerita Christina Taber-Kewene. Christina is an admissions coach, writer, recovering lawyer and wrangler of four locked-down kids just outside NYC.

When I arrive home from my evening walk with my older son, six new cloth face masks are tied to my porch railing. My FIT-graduate friend has sewn them for our whole family and left them for us. I don’t sew, but another friend has pulled out her sewing machine and started production, so earlier in the day I put out my giant Ziploc bag of thread for her to pick up from my porch. I don’t know why I have approximately 78 spools of thread in a rainbow of colors, but now they can be put to good use. That same afternoon my younger son and our next door neighbor chase a bike thief all through the neighborhood and then run down a police officer in an attempt to rescue our neighbor’s bike. And earlier that morning another neighbor leaves me a bag of fresh dry erase markers so I can continue to teach my students online using my whiteboard. Through all these interactions we keep our distance, bleach exchanged items, and express gratitude profusely.

All day long teachers supervise thoughtfully prepared lessons, helping my children stay on track academically. I see doctors and nurses don their scrubs like armor for a war even though in fact they have only inadequate protective equipment. They show up anyway and serve. Garbage trucks barrel through town, grocery store clerks stock shelves, and our mail carrier drops off letters, while the rest of us have the privilege of sheltering in place. All these systems support my family of six as we adjust to a new lifestyle and pace.

The needs of my family are small, but the needs in our communities are enormous right now. Many of my friends have lost all their income, small businesses are shuttering or struggling to stay afloat with remote delivery and creative online offerings, and Instacart shoppers are risking their health shopping for food for more privileged households. Wealth buys health here: a review of the data for the towns in my county shows that infection rates are several times greater in poorer towns than in my own, and increased economic duress surely goes hand in hand with that divide. The infection rate in our region has reached into the tens of thousands, surpassed in the US only by that of New York City, just across the river. Friends are sick, and each day brings news of another death, sometimes of someone in my own town.

Every day of this lockdown can feel like the one before: I raise my children, teach remotely, and prepare, serve and clean up enough food to feed a small army several times a day. When I need a respite, I go walking. All around me the earth is bursting forth in blossoms of color almost too obscene to be real. The cherry blossoms weep from the trees in pinks and whites, the magnolia trees flower open, dropping ripe petals that spread in blankets across green lawns, and yellow daffodils and forsythia peek through hedges and garden beds in flames of color as bright as the sun.

The flowering of service in our community echoes the beauty the earth is showering forth. This is what I witness: community-based volunteer organizations that are sending food to support hospital workers, supplying food pantries for food insecure families, and sewing masks for those on the front lines. I can’t open my social media accounts without being inundated with posts asking questions about where to send masks, food, and money. Everyone is alert, awake, and ready to serve. Leadership is not found at the head of our nation but rather from our small-town mayors who disseminate accurate information, our hard-working janitors and nurses and delivery people, and from this groundswell of caring. In the darkness of a pandemic, in the shadow of death and disease, I see the greatness of the human spirit, seeking love, seeking service, seeking connection, and seeking one another.


  1. Leadership is not found at the head of our nation but rather from our small-town mayors who disseminate accurate information, our hard-working janitors and nurses and delivery people, and from this groundswell of caring.

    Beautifully said, Christina. This is a time which brings out the necessity for–and the beauty of–local service, neighbor to neighbor, family to family, person to person, mostly done organically and spontaneously, all throughout our cities and communities and congregations. Your friend is part of it, as should we all be. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Thanks, Russell. There is beauty all around.

  3. Mary Elizabeth Madabhushi says:

    THanks for a thoughtful and hopeful essay, Christina. Loved reading your of your community experience, it motivates me to be more helpful in my own corner of Dallas.

  4. Thanks, Mary!

  5. Dr Cocoa says:

    “ Wealth buys health here: a review of the data for the towns in my county shows that infection rates are several times greater in poorer towns than in my own, and increased economic duress surely goes hand in hand with that divide.”

    Does anyone have any thoughts on the best way to help decrease the economic and health gulf covid is widening between classes? Is there a nonprofit/charity I can donate to (such as the money saved by fasting tomorrow) which will help those hardest hit by this pandemic? I’m interested in hearing ideas on both a national and global level.

  6. Dr. Cocoa, there are so many organizations doing great work, from advocating for the release of non-violent prisoners to decrease the spread of disease, to raising funds to provide meals for hospital workers. At least where I live, that is all happening. I am not as familiar with things on the national or international level other than donations to fund research, which I have seen.

  7. Geoff-Aus says:

    You appear to be putting in the individual sacrifices, but without the national leadership, they are much less effective.
    The leadership from the top makes an incredible difference to the result. As does having universal healthcare, so uniform treatment. It is reported here that more than twice as many african americans dying there, per head.
    To give you an idea of the cost of bad leadership, where the consequences are measured in lives, here is a comparison of conditions in Australia.

     “Health Minister Greg Hunt says the curve continues to flatten, with fewer than 100 people contracting the virus in the past 24 hours. As of lunchtime, 6013 Australians have tested positive, 260 are in hospital, 82 remain in intensive care and 35 are on ventilators. The death toll stands at 51.  We reached a peak on march 28.  All deaths are over 65.”

    435000 cases 15000 deaths and this is expected to reach between 60,000 and 100,000 deaths.

    America has 11 times the population of Australia so you could have 11 times our figures, would be 66,000 cases, and 561 deaths, if you had the health services and purposefull government.

    Will that leadership be held accountable for the consequences of their actions?

    Will this result in change to your healthcare system?
    To a living/minimum wage?
    To how people vote in November?

    Questions are being asked here too, because we have a conservative government, that has been doing things they normally wouldn’t to fight the virus and keep the economy going. The unemployment benifit has been doubled because more people need it and you can’t live on it. Pre school is now free because the essential workers need it. And much more. Can these things be taken back when this is over?

  8. Dr Cocoa says:

    Yes, Geoff, we get it. You hate America, its government, its healthcare, its political system, its culture, etc, etc. Clearly the current death, illness, and economic hardships are nothing but us foolish Americans reaping what we sowed with for being so republican, American, bigoted, homophobic, etc.

    Perhaps you should go read Michael Austin’s post from the 7th about the friends of Job.

  9. Geoff-Aus says:

    Actually don’t hate America. Been there a number of times, quite like it. How many times have you been to Aus? I have noticed it is very insular? Lived in Idaho and saw very little news from outside the mountain west.
    Were you aware that there are similar lifestyle countries like Aus that are handling things much better?
     “Clearly the current death, illness, and economic hardships are nothing but us foolish Americans reaping what we sowed with for being so republican, American, bigoted, homophobic, etc.”

    How many people have to die unnecessarily to prove that to you?

    This is a situation where leadership has measurable consequences. I wrote above so you have something to measure against.

  10. Kristine says:

    Geoff, I am inclined to agree with many of your criticisms, but also to think that they are a strange response to this particular post. Even if our government were responding well, it would be important for individuals to behave humanely and helpfully.

  11. Geoff - Aus says:

    Sorry Kristine, I agree that we all need to help each other as we can. I was putting what perspective I have to the first commenter Russel about leadership having a measurable effect on our lives in a time like this.
    At other times you can debate whether this or that response by the government is effective.
    In this situation the results are measured in bodies.

  12. Kristine says:

    Geoff–again, I don’t disagree with your assessment of the leadership.

  13. Geoff-Aus says:

    When did you get to a place where someone puts a point of view you disagree with is assumed they hate you. Is this a Trump thing? I am not aware of it here.
    Perhaps in the spirit of the blog it might be something to question in this time when we are all in this together?

  14. Kristine N says:

    Beautiful post. It is wonderful how our communities are pulling together in the middle this trying time. Like Mary your words inspire me to look for more opportunities to reach out to people around me who are in need.

    I’m pretty insulated here in Adelaide, but my impression of the pandemic response is pretty similar to Geoff’s. It’s true that we’re seeing a similar flowering of small-scale generosity and service, but the situation here is so much less dire that it feels less essential, more precautionary. I suspect we’re thus far more relaxed than people are in many other parts of the world.

    Now, I think a big part of why Australia has such low numbers is dumb luck. Yes, our government’s response was *eventually* where it needed to be, but Morrison was slow to adopt a lot of measures. He dithered; it’s lucky those first few days of him being uncertain haven’t produced an epidemic here, too. Schools still haven’t officially closed in Adelaide, though it sounds like a majority of parents are voluntarily keeping their kids home. The government’s rationale is that healthcare workers need their children in school so they can continue to work. I did read an article the other day that suggests keeping kids home only yields a 2-4% reduction in cases for SARS-type diseases. It suggested kids aren’t vectors for coronavirus the way they are for seasonal flu. But many of us, recognizing the schools need to stay open for critical workers are still keeping our kids home.

    But having lived in both Australia and America, I think there are substantial differences between the countries that would have changed the course of the pandemic had it gained a foothold here. Universal healthcare means even poor people have access to basic healthcare. As racist as Australians are (and they are!) they haven’t enshrined that racism structurally to nearly the same degree that America did, at least for non-Aboriginals. As someone who loves America I would absolutely love to see Americans adopt the more robust social safety net that Australians enjoy (and I’d love to see Australians appreciate what they have and be more willing to extend it to Aboriginals and immigrants). I thought that was the gist of Geoff’s argument. It is wonderful that local leadership is blossoming, but I too hope that it translates into a broader accountability for government leadership.

  15. Christina Taber-Kewene says:

    These are fair criticisms of the American governance system. I happen to agree. But the point of my piece was not to focus on lack but on surplus of care.

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