Reflecting Pool

                                                                           Logo design by Sharon Gresk; photo by Susan Barlow

Not-So-Random Pandemic Thoughts

by Marsha Howland, August 4th, 2020

 

One

I have a grandniece who will turn four years old later this month.

Actually, I have two grandnieces and four grandnephews. I never see three of these children, and rarely (perhaps once a year) see two others.

So, Audrey is my lifeline to her generation. She is smart, creative, funny (she makes up her own jokes), compassionate, energetic and quite beautiful. I generally see her several times a year.

But not this year. Not with Covid-19 a palpable and frightening threat. The last time I saw Audrey – with her parents, uncle and grandparents – was at Christmas. One FaceTime call doesn’t count, partly because it was a call and mostly because she was terribly busy with some toys in the next room. (I did have a great talk with her mom.)

I miss Audrey very much. I’ve been an aunt for 49 years, and a great aunt for close to 7. I love these roles, and I think I’m good at living them. Being cut off is very sad and very frustrating.

I can only imagine what it must be like to be a grandparent in the same situation.

 

Two

I’ve lived alone all my adult life, and I do this fairly well. I like my own company (and that of my cats, currently numbering two) and love certain activities that are best done without distraction – especially writing poetry. It seems reasonable that the heightened solitude would be something I could handle pretty well. True. But not true.

Being in quarantine mode was fine, at first. Groceries and other necessities were delivered to my front porch. Phone calls with friends and family kept me in touch pretty well. Virtual Sunday services were good at keeping strong my connections with the UUS:E family. Daily FaceTime calls with my partner were very  important.

After a while, those things, plus going out to the mailbox or for a brief walk without seeing anyone, weren’t enough. Like many people, I became stir crazy. I thought, for example, maybe I could put on my mask and pick something up at my local pharmacy, where we all know each other and chat on a regular basis. But no, it seemed best to continue having my items delivered. I rejected running other errands, too; I decided that I simply couldn’t risk it. I’m over 65 and have “an underlying medical condition,” so I start with two strikes against me. I’m not going to risk striking out.

In the midst of all this, my partner and I ended our relationship after very nearly two years. It’s difficult and sad. But lots of people have lots of “normal” (and in my case, unhappy) things going on during this difficult and often sad time of Covid-19. The pandemic makes hard things harder, sad things sadder. Even good things, happy things – graduations, weddings, milestone birthdays, being born days – create challenges to celebrations.

I remind myself of the people who are sick with the virus, who die of the virus. I think of them being alone, of their families and friends not being able to visit them. And then I remember that, all in all, I’m doing OK. If I continue to be very careful, I’ll get through this OK.

And if I’m very strict about quarantining myself for the next two or three weeks, I might just be able to visit Audrey. From six feet away.

*****

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The Pandemic Arrives in Manchester

By Maude McGovern

The weirdest thing was how fast and completely everything changed.  It wasn’t overnight the way 9/11 was, but, unlike 9/11, it affected everyone’s daily life.  Shutdown came like a tropical night descending—fast, steadily, inexorably.  A curtain pulled down separating “before all this” and “now.”

My appointment book and journal tell the story.  I’m retired but always have a lot of activities posted for the next few months—meetings, classes, concerts and plays, family get-togethers.  And for fifty years, I’ve kept a diary.

February:  I don’t pay much attention to the sporadic news of the novel coronavirus.  SARS and MERS and various flus have come and gone without significantly impacting my world.  On Sunday, March 1, Reverend Josh briefly mentions the possibility of cancelling in-person services, which sounds strange and unlikely.  People hug and shake hands, but we practice (awkwardly) elbow bumping. That Tuesday, I briefly join a meeting via something called Zoom—very handy this new tech.

March 4, a friend in Maryland asks me if I’m stockpiling groceries.  Uh, no.  (Such an alarmist!)  Around then I ask a couple of neighbors if they’ve been affected at all by this new disease.  Yes, one couldn’t visit a friend in a nursing home.  The other decided to cancel a trip to Florida.  A day later, I get my first cancellation—a senior citizen trip to NYC.  I cross it off my calendar.

On Sunday, March 8, I participate in a volunteer event.  I shake hands with a number of people I meet.  At home, I wonder to myself, “What were we all thinking?”  Monday and Tuesday evenings, I have meetings—the novel coronavirus comes up in conversation.  It’s definitely on people’s radar now. Tuesday, I go to bed feeling “a bit antsy” according to my journal.  On Wednesday, WHO declares Covid-19 a global pandemic.  The garden club cancels that night’s meeting.  I comment in my journal, “This is new for us—we’ve read about the 1918 flu and saw those horrible pictures from the Ebola outbreak.  But this is new territory.”

Thursday, March 12, I take a long-planned trip with a few family members to a local art museum.  The employees at the front desk greet us enthusiastically.  The four of us may be the biggest crowd they’ve had all day.  The galleries are almost completely empty.  Lovely for seeing the artwork.  Also, creepy and ominous.  One guard irately assures me that this is all the media’s doing.  I don’t get into a discussion.

The next day, I join the throngs stockpiling groceries at Stop & Shop.  Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what that was all about.  Perhaps no one, not even the authorities, really knew – except it made sense for everyone to be prepared in case… of what, we didn’t know.  Maybe in case you had to self-quarantine for 14 days.  What was clear was that the library would be closing in a few days for an indefinite period.  I stockpile books, especially my “drug of choice,” cozy mysteries.

Sunday, March 15, UUS:E holds its first-ever virtual service via Zoom.  Lockdown begins.  My appointment book is empty.  My journal fills up with fears, observations, speculations.

*****

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It’ll Only Hurt a Bit: 65 years after Jonas Salk, the world awaits another vaccine

by Malcom Barlow

Today’s universal fear of COVID-19, and the steps we have been taking to deal with it, reminded me of the fear of polio we all felt prior to 1955.

 I was born in 1943 in Manchester, one of 6 children of Francis and Osee Barlow.  Our parents talked with each other about this polio thing, particularly in the warm summer days.  It struck hardest at children. How it picked which children seemed a mystery.  But summers were tense.  Our parents warned us not to go swimming in local pools like Globe Hollow.  Polio cases seemed to happen most in the hot, late days of summer.  We know now that it was transmitted between children by touch and by water – water such as in a warm swimming hole.

 As soon as the vaccine was available, all of us were vaccinated.  There was a sharp prick, and then we were rushed on through the lines of children.

When a vaccine is found for COVID-19, there will be another sharp prick on my arm, about where the Salk vaccine entered me.  I will remember the first vaccine prick, what it represented to my parents – such relief.  And I will not feel the pain.

****

Note: This piece first appeared in the Manchester Public Schools e-newsletter with the following Editor’s Notes:

Fear of the Coronavirus is, for Malcolm Barlow and many of his generation, rooted in memories of the polio epidemic, which afflicted children through the first half of the 20th Century, only ending in 1955 when Jonas Salk developed a vaccine.

Each summer before that, though, the highly infectious virus would arrive and no one was sure how it was transmitted or what caused it. 

The worst year was 1952, when there were more than 57,000 cases in the United States resulting in more than 3,000 deaths. Those who survived often ended up with some form of paralysis, forcing them to use crutches, wheelchairs or to be put into an iron lung, a large tank respirator that would pull air in and out of the lungs, allowing them to breathe.

However, once drug manufacturers made the vaccine available more than 400 million doses were distributed between 1955 and 1962. Cases dropped dramatically and although polio still exists it is extremely rare today.

*****

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Trash Day

By Coryn Clark, 27 May 2020

 

I try to get out before the garbage trucks arrive,

my pockets bulging with single-use plastic bags once banned

and now considered cleaner than my own reusable bags

sitting idly on the back seat of my car.

I carry bamboo tongs to pluck bits of trash

from empty sidewalks where painters’ tape marks

every six feet for the queue to pizza take-out,

past sandwich boards for curbside pick-up #1, #2, #3

at the dog grooming salon,

past the new ice cream shop,

closed by the pandemic before it opened –

essential businesses, all.

I target the debris of despair:

nips, needles, beer cans, gloves, masks, dryer sheets…

and shiny stuff that will not rot:

plastic bottles, metal caps, cellophane, foil…

but not the cigarettes –

I’ll not get past the bus stop if I pick up all the butts.

I hope when we wake from this coma

and when children are let outside to play

they won’t see how we trashed the world;

they won’t know that in our despair we didn’t care about tomorrow.

I walk home under a bright blue sky after filling all my bags,

leaving many other bits of trash for another day,

except one:

a small square tequila bottle perfect

for a few sprigs of lily of the valley,

yesterday’s trash,

today’s treasure.

*****

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And On

by Michelle Spadaccini, May 23, 2020

 

Another mangle of sheets

as sleep again eludes me

rolling in an ocean of blankets.

The nightly routine I know well,

long for and yet dread.

Endless streams of dreams

my mind sifting through the day’s anxieties

familiar yet strange

grasping for peace unattainable.

 

Resigned to failure again

reaching deep for resolve out of reach

I embark bleary eyed on another day

in a string of days bound together seamlessly

challenging my sanity.

 

A husband’s devotion to routine

a source of amusement

grateful for the normalcy it brings.

Fleeting touches,

lips brushing.

 

The soft pad pad of feet from the hall,

son searching for a favorite muffin,

emptiness disappoints,

a leaning embrace.

 

I smile inwardly at the familiar scene

awaiting the daily deluge of emotion.

Waves of feeling breaking over me

threatening engulfment

as I struggle to find the words to soothe,

ease his mind

seemingly more fragile daily.

 

The to-do list beckons

interest long ago dulled

projects linger.

Each achievement feels a colossal accomplishment

yet no longer provides satisfaction.

 

The usual knock on the door

the mumbled response

a nuzzle of hair

a son’s mind enveloped in a strong hold impenetrable.

 

Friends voices break the monotony

read or heard,

I am grateful for either.

A skirmish threatens the peace of the home.

Space and time appease wounded egos.

The day’s events drone on,

hours crawl.

 

Fatigue threatens any daily efficiency

evening news refrain numbs the mind.

Night looms.

A sigh of resignation.

 

And on it goes…

 

*****

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IF I KEPT A DIARY: EXCERPTS   

by David Garnes, May 17, 2020

Day One: I have plenty of food, no worries there. Have a lot of projects planned.

Day Six: What’s with the toilet paper nonsense that’s in the news? Guess I didn’t realize how much TP a bigger household than mine goes through…though a general public flare-up of anal-retentive personality behavior does come to mind.

Day Eight: Delilah the cat seems to have gotten used to another being occupying  her space all day and has settled down into what I imagine is her usual daily routine, which involves more sleep than I imagined.

Day Ten: Realized supplies of produce, dairy, and a few other items need regular replenishing. Went to the supermarket. Seemed pretty much business as usual except that a few people were wearing masks. Also, the paper products aisle was noticeably depleted. It’s true about the toilet paper!

Day 12: Still haven’t figured out the protocol for retrieving my two daily newspapers from the front porch. Have settled on gingerly picking them up, removing the elastic or plastic covering and depositing them in the garage for a few hours. Handwashing follows. Same with mail.

Day 14: Except for the shadow looming over everyone (and for many, much worse), I’m not feeling bored, lonely, or deprived. I have two lists: one of stuff I aspire to do (writing and reading, mostly) and a fallback list of movies to watch, chores to do, and people to chat with. When I’m not engaged in the former, I keep busy with the latter. At the very bottom of that second group is chores to do.

Day 25: Today at the supermarket I didn’t see one person without a mask, and several with more complicated regalia involving goggles, coverings, and gloves. I always thought eyes revealed how a person is feeling, but I think I’m wrong. Not seeing the whole face makes me wonder if the shoppers I encounter are angry, happy, resigned, or in a zombie-like state. Can’t tell. One nasty woman very definitely scolded me when I inadvertently started up a one-way aisle in the wrong direction. (OMG, I said “nasty”. Have to stop watching press conferences.)

Day 30: I think Delilah the cat is enjoying my unusually constant presence in the house. Or maybe she’s really annoyed and is demanding attention just to divert me from whatever I’m doing or  wherever I am (especially at the computer or iPad, where she has become a frequent and familiar participant in Zoom meetings).

Day 36: I thought I’d welcome the occasional grocery run, but today I felt a bit reluctant to leave the house. Is it fear, sloth, or am I beginning to express what I’ve always thought is an Emily Dickinson-like tendency toward reclusiveness? Can’t quite decide. But, hey, that should help with the writing.

*****

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Baseball Hats and Face Masks

by Peter Marotto

I’m not comfortable wearing hats. Baseball hats in particular. I wear them now, from time to time, but never without apprehension. My reluctance stems from late elementary and middle school. A great uncle living in California had sent my brother and me baseball hats from Santa Anita Racetrack. I remember wearing it to school one day and having some kids grab it off my head in the cafeteria prior to school starting. This wasn’t the first time I was bullied for how I dressed, my haircut, facial hair, etc., and it wouldn’t be the last. For whatever reason, however, a reluctance to wear baseball hats stuck with me.

Skip ahead some 30 odd years and we are presented with the requirement to wear face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Prior to the face mask recommendation, we were told the virus spread primarily through touch. How many times did I opt not to wear disposable gloves and only sanitize my hands? Now, that work around isn’t available. So, the weekend after April 9th a 46-year-old going on 11 donned a face mask, checked the fit in the rearview mirror, and sweated bullets entering a grocery store; more afraid of ridicule, and the proverbial hat being torn off my head, than of the virus.

Navigating a pandemic is hard in any political climate. Navigating it amidst overt distrust and ridicule of the very scientific and medical community working to protect us and pull us all, regardless of ideology, out of this pandemic is disconcerting. To be fair, I wonder how disconcerting navigating this pandemic is for the very people who think it’s all fake? We are all shouting into the winds of social media as if anyone else has stopped shouting long enough to notice.

I personally know people who have been scoffed at and made fun of in public for wearing a face mask, all while having their personal space invaded by deniers who refuse to maintain a six-foot distance. Here is where my being a moderate and, contrary to all my willingness to debate, a relatively shy person ends up on knife edge. The same people who make disparaging comments online are often the same who exhibit this behavior in public, and for all the headlines of workers shot for enforcing that the public wear face masks, these low-level offenses rarely make headlines. Yet for those of us who may shake our heads in dismay at someone not wearing a mask, or wearing one incorrectly, who never actively confront, taunt, or bully them, but simply keep our distance; how do we rectify the childhood fear of humiliation?

Thankfully, the number of people wearing face masks far outweighs the number who do not. People are, when required, able to adapt quickly to new social norms. With our new normal firmly in place I continue to don the mask, check it in the rearview mirror, and go out into the world.

Whether it has become easier, or just become easier to ignore the unease, is still in question.

*****

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Lost in this Masquerade?
by Mark Gilbert, May 2020Masquerading is embraced during carnival season, complete with costuming of choice, and there’s a tendency outside of carnival for many to indulge in a masquerade of sorts with their ego.This pandemic has exposed the charade of masquerading to some degree, and opens opportunities to connect with others in a direct and personable manner, even at six feet apart.

*****

Reality 2020

by Laurie Semprebon, May 10, 2020

What keeps me up at night is not the virus itself, although I am horrified and saddened by so many who are ill and dying, but by the political game-playing of the leadership in Washington. It seems that, almost everyday, one more thing happens to bring us further down the path of inhumanity and horror and further away from democracy and compassion.

What keeps me going are the things in my life where I find joy and inspiration:

  • The sun peaking out from behind a fluffy cloud;
  • The extra time with our daughters, who are here at home during quarantine, to talk, share, cook, play games, and to enjoy each other’s company;
  • Getting to know our daughter’s little dog Dexter, as he becomes more comfortable with us and our giant dogs Rigger and Ally;
  • Being able to share with some non-profit organizations, order pick-up meals occasionally, and feel comfortable financially, although I sometimes feel guilty that we are in such solid shape when others are not;
  • The beautiful setting of our home in a rural area with many places to roam, including the state and Yale forests, our pond and stream, and just the lovely natural area here;
  • Feeling comfortable at most places I need to go as people are respecting the social-distancing measures (at least here);
  • Appreciating the extra time at home which allows me to feel more centered and relaxed;
  • Access to joys and responsibilities outside the home (church, local town boards and commissions, and other groups) through on-line meetings or by phone without having to travel anywhere;
  • Occasional video chats with relatives with whom I had never done this before, even though all of my family is away from the East Coast;
  • Spring advancing (and retreating before advancing again) slowly, allowing for more outside time. We love our screened-in porch during the warm weather, and we have been doing a lot of local hiking;
  • Contact with family and friends through social media, although I need to disengage with that which creates more stress in my life.

There is certainly underlying stress about the future and many unknowns, but if I try to focus on what’s good and right, it helps me to deal with everything else.

*****

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Coming to My Senses

by Marsha Howland. April 2020

 

I look to my eyes:

I see the first daffodils, and the

azaleas starting to bloom.

Rainless clouds skating along

the horizon; sunshine falling

through a window onto a

sleeping cat.

 

I listen to my ears, opening a

door on a cool April afternoon to

hear the birds singing in nearby

trees. I choose my favorite music

to fill the family room, and make

calls to hear the voices of

brothers and sisters, old and

new friends.

 

I feel all the things touch brings

me – the soft fur of my lounging

cats, the gentle smoothness of

the silk scarf I inherited from

my mother. The warmth of

a long, comforting bath.

 

I smell early spring drifting

to me through the door on a

light, welcome breeze.

I bake cookies, almost thrilling to

the scent of chocolate chips,

hardly able to wait for them to

cool so I can taste the delight.

The scent of cinnamon tea

completes the experience.

 

For these times – and, I

confess, just for these times –

the overwhelming truth and

fear of the virus are forgotten.

But night comes, sun gives way

to rain, birds disappear for sleep,

cats go to their secret places.

The door closes on the earth

smell of early spring, bath water

cools, the cookies are finally

done and stored in an old

Christmas tin. The tea is gone.

 

Tonight, fear of the virus will

return, and it will be hard for me

to sleep. I will be up before dawn,

waiting for daytime and the

reassurances of my precious

and brilliant senses.

 

*****

The Nature of Things

by Penny Field , May 2020

 

In my yard they gather

at the beat-up old feeder that leans,

as if a little drunk on too much

wind, on its rusty pole.

 

This restaurant is open, no

social distancing or reservations

required, it’s strictly first come

and get it, and they come.

 

The female cardinal sidles up

to the bar, her Revlon red beak

making up for what she lacks

in male feather flash.

 

She preens and pecks the black

seeds, chasing off the tiny chickadees

and nuthatches with a flap

of royal entitlement, until she

 

is driven away by the bully blue jay.

Below, the doves and squirrels

scuffle over the spoils that spill

from the top just like the poor

 

and black and brown and nurses

and grocery clerks fight for

masks and flour and anything that

seems like help, battering each other

 

over what freedom means in terms

of money or health and how best to

battle for your life in the backyard of a

global pandemic and like the birds,

 

when it’s all over, the starlings will

flock the yard in their funereal garb

and profit from cleaning up the mess.

 

*****

Untitled  by Beth Hudson-Hankins, May 6, 2020

I’ve been thinking about the global coronavirus epidemic as a vast jigsaw puzzle with a gigantic pattern made up of the tiny pieces that are individual lives, each uniquely affected.  In my case, the effects of the pandemic are overlaid on top of other significant life transitions.

My 35- year professional life has been as a social worker and therapist, working primarily in medical systems.  In December 2019, I left my position as crisis clinician in the Windham Hospital Emergency Department, where I had spent my days in the darkest times of people’s lives. The emergency room is the mental health treatment provider of last resort, the place people go to when they are safe nowhere else. Every day was someone’s worst day. I saw people who were at risk of suicide, were in the midst of a substance abuse crises, or were actively hallucinating in their own private worlds. Their families accompanied them, confused, afraid, and sometimes relieved.  As the only mental health provider in the emergency department, I felt the responsibility of completing a thorough evaluation and making a recommendation for the next step of care.

I loved the intensity, immediacy and action of this hospital just five miles from my house. I felt that I had my finger on the pulse of the community, always aware of mental health and substance abuse trends as they were happening.  But being fully present with seemingly unending suffering began to take a toll on me. I noticed a loss of creativity, a deep exhaustion, and a spiritual fatigue, and I knew I needed to recover.

As the coronavirus swept toward eastern Connecticut from New York and Fairfield County, it was a strange and very uncomfortable feeling to be sidelined. I felt like a bystander, not a player. I was used to people looking to me for information and liked being part of a team that would meet the needs of my community.  I was on the edge of returning to work because it seemed unthinkable not to respond to a need, but then my pregnant daughter, a New Jersey resident married to a New York hospital worker, accepted our offer to return to her old bedroom in Connecticut.  Initially I felt very guilty not returning to work, but it didn’t make sense for our daughter to leave one medical professional family member only to risk exposure from another family member.

At loose ends, I read frantically about the disease, as if knowing the details would somehow protect the people I love. I developed an impractical plan for rescuing my son-in-law in our van if he got seriously ill and had to be transported out of New Jersey. We made donations to the soup kitchen, I shopped for elderly neighbors, I went for long walks, and I pulled out my sewing machine to make curtains for my newborn grandson. As I did that, I discovered that my very modest sewing skills and my backlog of unfinished sewing projects were the perfect raw materials for Covid-19 mask-making.  Going through odds and ends of fabric, from old Halloween costumes to 30-year-old curtains, brought me great joy.  It turns out that mask-making is my strength. I brought masks to all my local friends and mailed them to family in Maine and Philadelphia. In the process, I learned that group home workers are a population with high risk of exposure and little PPE, so I made 40 masks for a friend who is a group home worker. The local psychiatric hospital has patients who are at risk of exposure, so another 30 masks went to them.

The creative process of designing masks for different groups, choosing colors, handling the fabrics and completing a product has satisfied a deep yearning that I had known was there, but had not previously had the time or energy to address.

My eyes well up with grief when I read the New York Times.  I worry about the future of my grandchildren, and I wonder when and how I will return to work, but in the midst of disappointment and loss, I find a return to sewing to be a consolation prize. It has been a gift to me to include a personal note with the masks: “This mask was made for you with care and concern for your health, appreciation for the work you do, and hope that you will stay well.”

*****

The Security Illusion  by Lorry King, May 4, 2020

It’s funny, the places your mind can wander. As I began my walk, I noticed a rough piece of plywood with a hand-painted red heart with a “thank you” scrawled across the bottom.  I’ve seen more and more hearts in doors, windows, and on cardboard signs in front yards. Along with impromptu parades, cheers, and television spots, there is a groundswell of genuine gratitude for those nurses, doctors, medical technicians, and first responders who are so selfless in their service. There is an authenticity to these expressions that is lacking in the rote and reflexive “thankyouforyourservice,” directed toward those in the military. Perhaps we are seeing the emergence of a new kind of hero, one without the trappings of military authority but who does dangerous, even life-threatening work, to care for individuals.

For all the wealth lavished on the military-industrial-technology  complex, it has been impotent in the face of the covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, deaths in the United States have exceeded those of traditional wars. That a miniscule particle like the coronavirus can cripple the social, economic, and political life of the United States compels us to think hard about what really constitutes security.

I know it is not bigger ships, faster planes, or yet more powerful explosives.

I do know that it is about healthcare, understanding nature and society, and the critical need for social trust and connection.

I don’t know that there are political leaders with the courage to reject the notion that it is only a voracious military that defines what it means for a society to be safe and secure.

*****

Untitled  by Penny Field, May 4, 2020

Self-compassion is such an important practice and can calm my inner critic and curb the urge to sink into anxiety or depression but receiving compassion from others is what really helps. To allow another person to really see me and to have them hold my pain with loving kindness is the most valuable gift I can receive. My decision to be vulnerable and the other person’s decision to respond with compassion creates the intimacy and connection that I believe we all crave in our deepest selves and what truly heals.

*****

For a welcome and instructions on submitting original writing to Reflecting Pool, click here.

Welcome and Introduction to “Reflecting Pool”

Reflecting Pool

Welcome to the UUS:E Reflecting Pool, a quiet place where members, friends, and children, are invited to send their personal observations, experience, concerns, thoughts, and meditations during these unsettled times.  We hope that it will be one more way to draw strength and inspiration from one another, to remain connected, and to learn what is on our minds and in our hearts.  There are just a few simple guidelines:

Contributions are personal statements, not words from others, analytical commentaries, or comments best posted on social media sites.

Each piece should be approximately 500 words or less, have a very short title, and include the author’s name, date of submission, and (optional) email address;

Contributions to Reflecting Pool invite direct contact between reader and writer, but not a string of public on-line dialogue;

Please send your contributions to marshahowland13@gmail.com who will review for grammar and typos (but not content), prior to posting on Reflecting Pool.