Talkin’ to Trees or Lessons from The Overstory (and the Understory)

My father spoke to trees, specifically the oaks in his backyard.

And he was fairly certain they spoke to him.

As most of you know, Dad died of a heart attack this past May. For those of you who don’t know, he spent his career as a research scientist at Yale University, primarily studying skin cancer and the ways that cancer metastsizes. He often generated scientific ideas through his daily meditation practice, sitting in a chair in the backyard, facing his beloved oaks. We always knew the oaks were important as the setting for his practice—their presence deepened his experience, freed his mind for a-has and eurekas. Some of you from the Unitarian Society of New Haven might remember he gave a sermon on trees in late 2019. In that sermon he said, “I have had the distinct feeling that the trees were communicating with each other and maybe even with me.” More recently he reported that the oaks were giving ideas directly to him.

I have no idea if those beautiful, old oaks spoke to him. But I love the idea that they might have. So I’d like to make the case that they did speak to him, and, furthermore, that trees speak to all those who are open, attentive, attuned, curious, and genuinely willing to listen.

My father is not alone. In a 2019 essay entitled “Animism, Tree-Consciousness, and the Religion of Life,” University of Florida professor of religion and environmental ethics, Bron Taylor, describes an experience he had while running in the Arroyo Seco, a canyon carved by the Los Angeles River. “One misty morning, while descending into the canyon,” he writes, “I gained a subtle perception that the trees, shimmering in a light breeze, were trying to communicate with me—not with spoken words, but as thoughts that came into my mind. They told me how hard they were working to purify the air we were polluting. I perceived their ethical judgement as well: We should change our ways and learn our planetary manners.” [1]

In mainstream US culture this experience of trees speaking is outside the norm. Professor Taylor confesses he had a vivid imagination. But for most of human history, people across the planet believed spirits resided in natural things and were quite capable of communication. Scholars of religion often call this belief Animism. According to professor Taylor, “Animism … refers to perceptions that natural entities … have one or more of the following: a soul or vital life-force or spirit, personhood… and consciousness, often including special spiritual intelligence or powers…. Sometimes Animism involves communication and/or communion with such intelligences … or beliefs that these intelligences … are divine and should be worshipped and beseeched for healing or other favors. Animism generally [results in] felt kinship with [these intelligences].”[2]

Although scholars often describe Animism as an ancient, discredited belief, it has never disappeared from the world. We witness versions of it in indigenous cultures on every continent who hold the land as sacred and experience nature as kin. We also encounter versions of it in modern, technological societies. We encounter it in the way people express a profound sense of relationship to the natural world and its creatures when discussing environmental crises like climate change. We find versions of it in the American, English-language nature writing of Thoreau, Muir, Leopold and those who follow in their tradition. We find it in the nature-centered work of poets like Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry; in Tolkein’s Ents of Fangorn Forest; in Rowling’s Whomping Willow guarding the Forbidden Forest. We find it in Afro-futurist writers, oriented toward the African continent (Nnedi Okorafor, Tomi Adeyemi, Marlon James) who center the orishas or similar earth-based spiritual entities. We encounter it in Neo-Paganism, Wicca, Druidism, even in Religious Humanism.[3]

It lives in our congregation. As Eileen Driscoll sang, the trunk of the tree … the branches … the leaves are calling me. They speak to me…. The trees, they are talking to me.[4]  When I began my ministry at UUS:E, one of the first memorial services I officiated was for Nancy Johnson, at which we read her poem, “Trees.” She writes: Pressing against their sturdy trunks / I feel the sap surging through my veins, / And sense the sweet buds bursting forth. / In this embrace I gather peace, strength, hope / And a promise of renewed life.[5] My point is that myriad versions of this ancient spiritual belief exist today. We encounter them all the time.

Of course, beliefs don’t prove trees literally speak. When a respected research scientist acknowledges that his ideas come from trees, most of us, myself included, are likely to react, on our better days, with some measure of loving, tolerant incredulity; and, on our worse days, with concern for that scientist’s grip on reality. He doesn’t mean it literally, does he? Has he told his doctor?

We can get stuck here, feeling compelled to make a choice. Either the trees are speaking or they aren’t. Yes or no? Which is it? Make up your mind? But it’s also true: a well-lived spiritual life doesn’t require such choosing, advises us to avoid strict binaries, invites us away from black/white thinking into life’s grey spaces, shows us life as a continuum where the edges of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ blur and blend together, where connections, like tree roots, run deep, and where multiple possibilities reside.

I might have become stuck, but a friend who knew about Dad’s tree-talking lent me a copy of Richard Powers’ 2019 novel The Overstory. Dad had read this book. I’m sure some of you have read it. For those who haven’t, Powers tells the stories of how nine main human characters relate to trees. In doing so he creates what I call a tree communication continuum, which I find helpful as I reflect on Dad’s experience.

Underlying the continuum is the incontrovertible evidence that trees communicate with other trees, often through fungi that link their roots into vast underground networks. In The Overstory, the character Patricia Westerford, a dendrologist (one who studies the characteristics of trees), discovers and is the first to publish scientific evidence of trees communicating among themselves. She’s a fictional composite of the real-life scientists who’ve made these ground-breaking discoveries, such as the German scientist Peter Wohlleben who wrote The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (which Dad quoted extensively in his 2019 tree sermon); and the Canadian scientist Suzanne Simard, who recently published Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest.[6] Westerford’s groundbreaking book in The Overstory is called The Secret Forest. Again, she and her book are fictional, but the science is real. She writes:

“Something marvelous is happening underground, something we’re just learning how to see. Mats of mycorrhizal (fungi) … link trees into gigantic, smart communities spread across hundreds of acres. Together, they form vast trading networks of goods, services, and information.”[7] She writes about the way trees send chemical signals to each other when they’re under attack by insects; how they coordinate nut production, how larger trees “store extra sugar in their fungi’s synapses, to dole out to the sick and shaded and wounded.”[8] She writes about trees as communities.

She also offers a compelling view of trees as adaptable, responsive, creative, constantly seeking different ways of branching, spreading, flowering, acquiring water, sun, nutrients. She says they guess, they experiment, they see what works and they change accordingly.[9] In response to conditions they divide, multiply, transform, conjoin and endure.[10] This is all one end of the tree communication continuum. She isn’t literally talking to trees, isn’t hearing their voices. She’s studying, researching, experimenting. Though she seems very spiritual, she’s clear that one doesn’t need a mystical experience to learn what trees have to teach. The information is there for those who pay close attention. Science is thus one way for information to flow from trees to humans.

On the other end of the tree communication continuum is the character Olivia Vandergriff, a college senior who suffers a near-death experience and, upon coming back to life, hears trees speaking to her, follows them to northern California and, at their direction, becomes an anti-logging movement leader.

She definitely hears tree voices. She also feels, perceives, intuits, tastes, smells, hugs and, eventually, inhabits trees. I read her as undergoing a sustained mystical experience, and assume that is how Powers wants us to read her. He never implies she is living with mental illness, though he is aware people who hear voices are often diagnosed this way. Maybe it’s a mystical experience, maybe mental illness. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe what matters is that as a college student she is shallow and lost; but as one to whom trees speak she gains clarity, purpose, vision, a sense of profound urgency for the planet, and is willing to take action.

How do I interpret my father’s claim that the oaks spoke to him in light of Olivia Vandergriff? Given that he heard the voices in response to his spiritual practice, I observe him as similar to the fictional Olivia, undergoing a regular, meditation-induced mystical experience. It was not distracting. It didn’t reduce his ability to function. Rather, it increased his clarity, purpose, vision and sense of urgency. Furthermore, I see a person perceiving, in a healthy way, that the world is alive, and that he was guided, held, and nurtured by trees.

Finally, between the scientist and the mystic on the tree communication continuum is what I like to call the sensualist. Throughout The Overstory, a number of characters become so attuned to the physical lives of trees that they begin, not to hear voices, but to receive messages through their senses. Earlier Susan Barlow read The Overstory’s opening passage, in which the character Mimi Ma sits on the ground and leans against a pine tree. “Its bark presses hard against her back, as hard as life. Its needles scent the air and a force hums in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune down to the lowest frequencies. The tree is saying things, words before words.” The scene continues later in the book:

“Messages hum from out of the bark…. Chemical semaphores home in over the air. Currents rise from the soil-gripping roots, relayed over great distances through fungal synapses linked up in a network the size of the planet.

The signals say….  The air is a mix we must keep making.

They say: There’s as much belowground as above.

They tell her: Do not hope or despair or be caught surprised. Never capitulate, but divide, multiply, transform, conjoin, do, and endure as you have all the long day of life.[11]

Divide, multiply, transform, conjoin, do, endure—a compelling message from the physical bodies of trees about how life responds to being alive.

We humans share a significant amount of DNA with trees, as we do with all living things. Doesn’t it seem possible, that if we slow down, sit still, pay attention, attune ourselves to the patterns, the currents, the hums, the smells, the hardness of bark—to all the connections that are already there, just beneath the surface—that we might actually experience the trees communicating, signaling, bathing us in sensual meaning, speaking words before words, telling us what they want us to know? Doesn’t it seem possible they speak this way constantly, and it is our task to listen?

That possibility was the heart of my father’s faith.

What words before words do the trees speak to you?

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Taylor, Bron, “Animism, Tree-Consciousness, and the Religion of Life: Reflections on Richard Powers’ The Overstory,” posted in the Minding Nature Journal (Winter, 2019, Volune 12, Number 1). See: https://www.humansandnature.org/animism-tree-consciousness-and-the-religion-of-life-reflections-on-richard-powers-the-overstory.

[2] Taylor, Bron, “Animism, Tree-Consciousness, and the Religion of Life: Reflections on Richard Powers’ The Overstory,” posted in the Minding Nature Journal (Winter, 2019, Volune 12, Number 1). See: https://www.humansandnature.org/animism-tree-consciousness-and-the-religion-of-life-reflections-on-richard-powers-the-overstory.

[3] Furthermore, a popular life coach and self-help author named Holly Worton says the idea for her latest book, If Trees Could Talk, was given to her by a yew tree she encountered on a forest retreat. See “Interview with Holly Worton” at NFReads.com at https://www.nfreads.com/interview-with-author-holly-worton/. Also see Worton’s blog post, “Tree Communication: How to Talk to Trees,” on HollyWorton.com, July 18,2020. She writes: She writes, “When I talk to a tree … I’m talking to its spirit…the thing that makes it alive…. It’s the soul of the tree.” See: https://www.hollyworton.com/how-to-talk-to-trees-communicating-with-tree-spirits/.

[4] Driscoll, Elieen, “Tree Song,” unpublished. Composed for UUS:E worship service, August 29, 2021.

[5] Johnson, Nancy, “Trees,” unpublished. Composed for UUS:E worship service, April 18, 1993. (Special thanks to Sandi Hartdagen and Donna Johnson who found the poem!)

[6] For an excellent overview of Suzanne Samard’s work, see her May 4, 2021 National Public Radio interview, “Trees Talk To Each Other. ‘Mother Tree’ Ecologist Hears Lessons For People, Too” at https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/04/993430007/trees-talk-to-each-other-mother-tree-ecologist-hears-lessons-for-people-too.

[7] Powers, Richard, The Overstory (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2018) pp. 218 – 221.

[8] Powers, Richard, The Overstory, pp. 218-221.

[9] Powers, Richard, The Overstory, p 491.

[10] Powers, Richard, The Overstory, p. 500.

[11] Powers, Richard, The Overstory, pp. 499-500

Public Health Metrics Used to Guide Opening, Closing and Using the Meeting House for Indoor Events

(Adopted August 17th, 2021)

Background: The UUS:E Policy Board has charged the Emergency Preparedness Team to develop procedures to safely reopen, close and use the meeting house. This was to be done using scientific data to provide guideposts to measure and predict an acceptable level of risk to all members, staff and guests.

The Emergency Preparedness Team has recommended, and the Policy Board has accepted, the following guidance for evaluating the continued reopening and using the meeting house safely.

1. The Unitarian Universalist Society: East (UUS:E) will use the resources developed by Covid Act Now, an independent, national non-profit coalition created to provide COVID-19 predictive data analysis. This group is a consortium of multidisciplinary experts including technologists, epidemiologist, health experts and public policy leaders from Georgetown and Stanford Universities. The data is updated daily to display real-time information. Predictive trends are calculated for important indicators to assess the current relative risks of COVID-19. In a word, this resource identifies the information needed, and the data required, for any group to determine when it might be safe to reopen. (Visit www.covidactnow.org and find the data for Connecticut.)

2. Covid Act Now has identified five data trends as being advisory or predictive of when a safe (or safer) environment might emerge. These data sets will be tracked by UUS:E’s Emergency Preparedness Team to monitor the reduction of the COVID-19 threat to an acceptable level of risk.

  1. The following metrics will be used to evaluate the continued safe reopening at varying levels of increased risk designated by covidactnow.org’s graphs for each metric.

 

Mandatory metric 1. “Daily New Cases per 100,000 population” for 5 consecutive days:
– Green – Low – at or below 1
– Yellow – Medium – above 1 to 10
– Orange – High – above 10 to 25
– Red – Critical – above 25 to 75

Mandatory metric 2: “Infection Rate” for 5 consecutive days:
– Green – Low – at or below .9
– Yellow – Medium – above .9 to 1.1
– Orange – High – above 1.1 to 1.4
– Red – Critical – above 1.4 to 2.0

Advisory metric 1: “Positive Test Rate” for advisory use only without setting a threshold to initiate additional mitigations.

Advisory metric 2: “ICU Capacity for advisory use only without setting a threshold to initiate additional mitigations.

Advisory metric 3: “Percent Fully vaccinated.” for advisory use only without setting a threshold to initiate additional mitigations.

The UUS:E Policy Board will use these public health metrics to evaluate when and how it is safe to continue reopening the meeting house safely. Depending on the level of risk indicated by the two mandatory metrics, the UUS:E Policy Board could consider the following Mitigation Options in addition to other mitigation steps it might consider. This list is in categories (such as Mask Wearing, Social Distancing, etc.) and is in increasing order of risk reduction with the least restrictive at the top of each category:

Mask Wearing (bullet points from least restrictive to most restrictive)
* Vaccinated people with consent of others can remove masks
* All persons gathered in the building must wear masks (currently in place)
Note: Sunday service speakers and singers on the chancel may remove masks.

Social Distancing at gatherings (bullet points from least restrictive to most restrictive)
* 6 feet apart (currently in place)
* Consider different spacing in identified rooms

Number of people at gatherings (bullet points from least restrictive to most restrictive)
* Unlimited # of people (for hybrid services and RE program)
* 15 for Sunday Services (currently in place, with RE currently conducted outdoors)
* Outside groups (e.g., AA) (currently no limit)
* Impose further limits, such as outside groups limited to 15.

Building Closure
* Close the building for two weeks with an ongoing assessment (Default: reopen unless decision made to remain closed)
* Close the building long term. Reopen and remove restrictions at any time the diminishing metrics reach the point where the restrictions were imposed.

Consumption of food and drink (ie, Sunday morning hospitality, receptions or memorial services)
* Meals and drinks allowed
* Snacks and coffee / drinks allowed
* Only coffee / drinks allowed
* Not allowed (currently in place)

Baseball Ready

 

I want to say a few words about baseball, the USA’s national pastime (though there are football and basketball fans who will vociferously debate that claim).

Baseball: played on brown dirt diamonds in grass green parks in every municipality in the country, not to mention scores of other countries. (Gaze down from any airplane window when taking off or landing on a clear day anywhere in the United States—you will see that familiar ballpark shape, usually more than one.)

Baseball: the game in which the majority of players, though always poised to make a play, nevertheless pass most of the time, like the fans, waiting. As writer Levi Stahl put it in a 2007 essay: “Baseball is a game of punctuated stillness, of dramatic seconds surrounded by casual hours. The quiet intervals of nothingness between pitches make up most of the time spent watching a game.”[1]

The first thing the best little league coaches teach their eight- and nine-year-old fielders is the concept of “baseball ready.” Knees bent, glove forward and open, eyes on the batter. Every pitch: be alert, attentive, mindful, present. Otherwise, it’s as Bob and Carol sang, famous words from songwriter Willy Welch: “Off in the distance, the game’s dragging on. / There’s strikes on the batter, some runners are on. / I don’t know the inning, and I’ve forgotten the score. / The whole team is yelling and I don’t know what for. / Suddenly everyone’s looking at me! / My mind has been wandering. What can it be?”[2]

I was chatting with my neighbor about baseball. He said his own little league career lasted exactly half an inning. Top of the first, the coach put him out in right field. The ball never came to him. Overcome with boredom, when his team finally came in from the field to bat, he quit. “Brutal,” he said. “Never again.” That’s a kid who knew his limits. Baseball is not for everyone.

Baseball is for me. When my younger son, Max, made Glastonbury’s fifteen and under American Legion travel team, and I learned they would be playing 25 games around Connecticut from early June to early August, and other parents were telling me, “your life is not your own for the next two months,” “you are now married to baseball,” “don’t make any vacation plans,” I was genuinely happy. I was happy for Max, certainly, and proud he’d made the team. But I was happy for me too. I enjoyed playing baseball as a kid. I enjoy watching baseball now.

I enjoy the physical game: the coordination required to hit a ball with a bat, or lay down a bunt, or catch a grounder in a glove and throw it, accurately, to first base ahead of the runner, or correctly judge the trajectory of pop fly deep to the outfield. I also enjoy what UUS:E member Dorothy Reiss, a life-long softball player pointed out. She spends the winter months practicing pitching by tossing food into her cat’s dish. She says, “you see, it’s spatial judgement, not just body strength.”

I enjoy the mental game: the way a player knows what they’re going to do with the ball if it comes to them in the field; the way a batter knows when to swing and when not to swing; the way a pitcher knows when to throw a fastball vs. an off-speed pitch.

I enjoy the spiritual game: the way the batter’s confidence at the plate can make all the difference; the way a fielder might bobble or drop the ball, but doesn’t give up, stays with it, still makes the play; the way players learn to keep themselves “baseball ready” to respond to any of thousand possibilities with every pitch; and the way Max’s team, who are 1-13, nevertheless keep showing up, keep doing their best, keep having fun, keep running out onto the field, inning after inning, with the improbable faith they are a better team than their record indicates.

Body, mind, spirit. After a few innings, I stop trying to tease them apart. The truth is, they blend beautifully together. I’m mindful that sages, mystics and yogis through the millennia have offered some version of this truth: the body-mind-spirit separation is an illusion. In reality, they are one. Of course, baseball isn’t unique in demonstrating this truth. Every sport invites this body-mind-spirit alignment. But perhaps because baseball is such a slow game, “dramatic seconds surrounded by casual hours,” the keen observer can more easily witness the aligning, can more easily discern body, mind and spirit working together, merging, blending. A seamless whole.

*****

I can’t convey to you the depth of my enjoyment without talking about my dad. (UUS:E members and friends know that he died two months ago of a heart attack.) His father instilled a love of baseball in him. Briefly, Dad grew up two blocks from Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, then the home of the Baltimore Orioles. In the winter of 1954, the Orioles announced a contest for local kids to serve as honorary batboys during the upcoming season. To attain this honor, submit a poem to the Baltimore Sun that explains why you want to be a batboy. My grandfather wrote a poem and signed Dad’s name to it. The Baltimore Birds are my favorite team / To see them play ball is my fondest dream / To be with the players and manager Paul / Is not only a dream, / But the greatest thrill of all! He won the competition, and served as batboy for home games for part of the 1954 season. He loved it. He had stories about meeting players like Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle when the Red Sox and Yankees came to town.

As an indication of just how much of an Orioles fanatic my grandfather was, know that his dying wish was to have his cremated ashes dropped from a helicopter over Memorial Stadium.

Dad loved introducing me and my brothers to the Orioles when we were kids. When visiting my grandparents in Baltimore, we would take lazy afternoon walks to the stadium to get tickets – upper deck, section 34 on the right field side, where Wild Bill Hagy used to lead raucous chants. Then we’d drive to a crab shack and buy crabs, steamed in Old Bay seasoning, eat them on my grandparents’ front porch in the humid, mid-Atlantic summer air, and chat with other fans as they walked by on their way to the game. Then we’d go to the game ourselves, gloves in hand, in case a foul ball should fly our way. Pure bliss.

Dad passed on the gift of playing baseball to us in the form of a mandate. We had to play little league once we got to third grade. We had no choice in the matter, which didn’t matter, because we loved it. After our first year in the minors, Dad became our head coach. Our team was Kitty’s Drive-in, then the AM/PM Mini-Mart. Our uniforms were orange with black lettering, a blatant Baltimore reference, a risky move up here in Yankees/Red Sox territory. I have so many memories—the way Dad worked on fundamentals with our teams—hitting, catching, throwing, fielding; the way he stressed the mental game—staying focused, present, baseball ready; the way he would walk out to the mound to calm down a pitcher who was getting frustrated, which frustrated the opposing teams’ coaches by making a slow game even slower; the way he taught us to work on our batting by playing stickball with the neighbor kids; the way, before every game, he would take us up to the local elementary school where we had painted a black strike zone on the brick wall, and throw tennis balls to us, very fast, at close range, to hone our timing. But perhaps most importantly, he never berated us or any other kid for making a mistake. He consistently encouraged us. An error or a strike out didn’t matter. It was part of the game. “You’ll get ‘em next time.”

There are countless ways parents raise their children, pass on values, skills, life lessons. Baseball was Dad’s way, one of them at least, one of his gifts. It was a way for him to be close to us, support us, teach us. I’m sure that’s the reason I experience so much joy in watching Max play today.

*****

One day our star pitcher, Kenny, was in trouble. He was throwing wild pitches, walking batters, getting angry at himself. Dad took his characteristic slow walk out to the mound to help Kenny settle. The opposing coach, tired of Dad’s patient, game-delaying style, said something like, “Oh great, here we go again.” In front of everyone, Dad gave him the finger, which resulted in a three-game suspension. Dad, who coached us so well on not making mental errors, had just made a huge one. It was embarrassing. And worse, my brothers and I privately knew it probably wouldn’t have happened had he not had a few glasses of wine before (and possibly during) the game. This remains one of my most vivid childhood memories.

Levi Stahl says “baseball … consists largely of failure; even the best hitters have to accept that nearly six times out of ten, they’ll trudge back to the bench in defeat.”[3] There’s nothing extraordinary about the Mighty Casey striking out and the Mudville nine going down in fictional baseball infamy. As much as that classic poem serves as a cautionary tale about hubris, it also describes what happens in the game more often than not. The question in baseball is not whether you will fail, because you will. The question is how you will live with your failures, how you will come back from each one to play again, how you will hold your head high despite your unavoidable and very human proclivity to mess things up from time to time.

I can’t remember if my father expressed remorse for what he’d done. I can’t remember if he ever apologized. I don’t think he sat us down and said, “I shouldn’t have done it.” But I do know that his players and the other coaches forgave him, just like he was always forgiving us. When his suspension was over, we welcomed him back with open arms, the same way he welcomed us back to the dugout, without judgement, after every error, every mental mistake, every strike out. “You’ll get ‘em next time.”

The poet, Jill McDonough published a poem in 2012 called “We’re Human Beings.” It’s about then Boston Red Sox shortstop, Julio Lugo, whom fans booed one game when he came to bat after having made an error in the field the previous inning. “Lugo / wants you to know,” she writes, “he’s only / human: We’re human beings. / That’s why we’re here. If not, / I would have wings. / I’d be beside God right now. / I’d be an angel. / But I’m not an angel. / I’m a human being that lives right here.”[4] Julio Lugo wasn’t asking the fans to forgive him. If anything, he was forgiving the fans for booing him, for expecting perfection from a slow game riddled with imperfection.

When body, mind and spirit blend seamlessly, we are at our best. We play the game flawlessly. But as the mystics will tell you, reaching that state, let alone maintaining it, is very rare. More often than not, we’re out of alignment, and we’re not quite ready for what’s coming at us. Yes, baseball nudges us patiently toward alignment, toward moments of glory, but it also teaches us to live gracefully and graciously with our mistakes, even when they cost us the game. If we don’t learn that lesson, we’ll never make it back onto the field. That was a big part of the gift I received from my dad, and the gift I continue to receive from baseball.

Put me in coach. I’m ready.

May we all strive to be baseball ready.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Stahl, Levi, “Baseball and Verse, from Tinker to Evers to Big Papi,” fall, 2007, the Poetry Foundation. See: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/68945/baseball-and-verse-from-tinker-to-evers-to-big-papi.

[2] Welch, Willy, “Right Field.” See: http://holyjoe.org/poetry/welch.htm.

[3] Stahl, Levi, “Baseball and Verse, from Tinker to Evers to Big Papi,” fall, 2007, the Poetry Foundation. See: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/68945/baseball-and-verse-from-tinker-to-evers-to-big-papi.

[4] McDonough, Jill, “We’re human beings”, Where You Live (Salt Publishing, 2012). See: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57870/were-human-beings.

For the Love of the Game — UUS:E Virtual Worship, June 25, 2021

Music (Mary Bopp) (Begins at 9:50)

Welcome (Rev. Josh Pawelek)

Announcements

Centering

Prelude

“Centerfield”
by John Fogerty
Performed by Kate Howard-Bender and Adam Bender

Chalice Lighting and Opening Words

“We’re Human Beings”
by Jill McDonough
spoken by Rev. Josh Pawelek 

Opening Hymn

“We Give Thanks”
by Wendy Luella Perkins
#1010 in Singing the Journey
led by Bob Hewey and Carol Simpson

Oh, we give thanks for this precious day,
For all gather’d here, and those far away;
For this time (food) we share with love and care,
Oh, we give thanks for this precious day.

 Meditation

“Casey at the Bat”
by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
spoken by Rob Stolzman

Musical Meditation (Mary Bopp)

 Joys and Concerns

Musical Meditation

 Offering

 For the month of July, 2021, our weekly community outreach offering will be split between the MACC food pantry, the Hockanum Valley food Pantry, and the East of the River Mutual Aid Society.

 Offering Music

“Right Field”
by Willy Welch
performed by Bob Hewey and Carol Simpson

Homily “For the Love of the Game” (Rev. Josh Pawelek)

Closing Song

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”
by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer (1908)
led by Bob Hewey and Carol Simpson

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.

 Extinguishing the Chalice

 Closing Words 

May faith the in the spirit of live
And hope for the community of earth
And love of the light in each other
Be ours now, and in all the days to come

 Postlude (Mary Bopp)

Virtual Coffee Hours With Breakout Rooms

 

Arriving on These Shores of Hope: Thoughts on the New Normal

[Note: This homily was addressed to the congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Society: East in Manchester and the Universalist Church or West Hartford]

In a new collection of Unitarian Universalist pandemic meditations entitled Shelter in This Place, my colleague, the Rev. Daniel Kanter, writes: “Arriving on these shores of hope, embrace the here and now, the blessings and the presence of holy matters. Here, now, we are together and we are stronger for it. Whether you are forlorn or uplifted, let us together enter worship as if it [were] a new matter, a new day, a new chance at life.”[1]

Members and friends of the Universalist Church of West Hartford: You may remember when you visited us in virtual Manchester this past January, I spoke about the need to interrogate the concept of “normal.” The old normal failed too many people. We need a new normal once the pandemic recedes. It has always been my intent, here in late June, to name the emerging new normal we have helped or are helping to create; to name, in Rev. Kanter’s words, this new matter, this new day, this new chance at life.” What prominent landmarks ascend from these shores of hope on which we are now arriving?

I’ll speak first about the new normal regarding our relationship to the wider community; and then share thoughts on the new normal in congregational life.

We know the pandemic exposed and exacerbated the already stark racial and class inequities in our larger society. I first started talking about a new normal in April of 2020 in response to the stories of colleagues of color – Black and Hispanic clergy serving predominantly Black and Hispanic congregations – about how the pandemic was impacting their people. Illness and death from Covid 19, job loss and financial hardship were clearly much more prevalent in their congregations than in ours. Furthermore, names like Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, and Ahmaud Arbery had already been making headlines that spring when a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd on May 25th, unleashing a racial justice uprising across the nation. Given all we were witnessing, how could we remain content with the old normal?

And so we engaged in a number of social justice organizing initiatives aimed at creating a new normal. From one angle the outcomes are impressive. In June, 2020, members of both our congregations joined Moral Monday CT’s eleven-day “Solemn Fast for Justice” at the State Capitol, demanding that the legislature reconvene to substantively address police accountability. The legislature did reconvene, and a number of us provided testimony in support of the bill, which eventually became law—still one of the farthest-reaching efforts in the country to address police violence.

Both our congregations are members of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance (GHIAA). All year long, with a variety of institutional partners, GHIAA has engaged in legislative advocacy on a number of issues. We won on Clean Slate, which expunges most criminal records after a certain period of time so that formerly incarcerated people can get a true second chance at building a meaningful, productive life. We won on the abolition of welfare liens, which had required welfare recipients to repay state assistance, a requirement that often kept them in poverty for life. We won on the statewide declaration of racism as a public health crisis which, among other things, directs the state to reduce racial inequities in education, health care, criminal justice, and economic matters.

With our partners in the Domestic Worker Justice campaign, the Manchester and Danbury UU Congregation helped secure funding to prevent wage theft for this highly vulnerable worker population.

These are victories. Even though most of us here weren’t directly involved in the organizing, you supported those of us who were. We can all feel proud that our congregations contributed people, passion, expertise and money along the way. We can take a moment for celebration.

But do these victories amount to a new normal? They all address racism and class inequity at a structural level, so they certainly represent more than symbolic change. But the change is incremental. It doesn’t touch the deeper roots of oppression in our society. If they do amount to a new normal, the degree to which it differs from the old normal is minimal at best. I suppose most social change, at any given time, is minimal at best; and I’ll take that over change in the opposite direction.

Yet there’s a harder truth: we were involved in campaigns that could have touched those deeper roots of oppression had they been successful. The Campaign for Affordable Health Care sought a state sponsored health care public option, an avenue for undocumented immigrants to access HUSKY, and an overall expansion of eligibility for Medicaid. These efforts would have transformed health insurance in Connecticut, would have signaled a new day: health insurance for people’s health, not for corporate profits. These efforts largely failed. Similarly, the Recovery for All Campaign sought a transformation of the tax code to definitively address Connecticut’s starkest-in-the-nation racialized income inequality. That effort largely failed. Despite everything we’ve learned from a year of pandemic and racial justice uprising, the old normal is proving highly resilient.

Reflecting on it now, I’m certainly proud. There’s been a lot of effective Unitarian Universalist social justice organizing in the political realm over the last year. I’m also mindful that when progressive people of faith engage in that kind of organizing, we can easily forget the faith that inspired us to act in the first place. That’s an all-too-common feature of the old normal for Unitarian Universalists. But I think we’ve learned over this year to not forget. We’ve learned to loudly and proudly proclaim our faith in the public square. We don’t engage in these campaigns because we are mostly Democrats, progressives, left-leaning culture warriors, or part of a liberal social club. We engage because we are Unitarian Universalists. We engage because our principles require respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person; and when social and economic structures erode human worth and dignity, action becomes necessary. We engage because our principles prioritize justice, equity and compassion in human relations; and when social and economic structures result in injustice, inequity and the absence of collective compassion, action becomes necessary.

We engage because our Unitarian forebears bequeathed to us the theological conviction that our character—as fraught, limited and human as it may be—matters; that our character—

who we are and how we live—matters; that our character, in the end, is the only thing we possess that can lead us to any semblance of salvation in this life or, if you wish, the next. We engage because our Universalist forbears bequeathed to us the simple and stunningly beautiful theology of an all-loving, inclusive God, and we want our lives to bear witness to that love and inclusivity. All are welcomed. All are saved. All are loved. May our actions in service to that theology be our new normal.

*****

Now some thoughts on the new normal in congregational life. Earlier we heard the story Cat Knit by Jacob Grant, about a cat whose best friend was a ball of yarn. One day the cat’s owner sews the yarn into a cat sweater. “Cat did not like this new yarn one bit. He was itchy and stuffy and no fun at all.” Eventually Cat adjusts. The lesson of the story? “Warming up to something new takes time.”

So many congregations across the country are warming up to something new right now. It rarely feels good at first. We’re warming up to the idea of a soft reopening. That is, we’re not moving back to full in-person worship and programming right away. We’re taking our time, making sure, from a public health standpoint, that we are being responsible, safe, inclusive, ethical, and grounded in the best scientific data available. We are recognizing that our reopening decisions are not just about us, but about how we potentially impact the health of the wider community. That’s never been a priority concern for us. Now, it’s part of our new normal. It won’t feel comfortable in these early months of reopening, but it is a new matter, a new day, a new chance at life, a hopeful shore.

We’re warming up to this idea of hybrid or multi-platform congregational life, so that as many of our programs as possible can be experienced simultaneously in person or online. At the heart of this new normal is an assertion of the value of inclusivity. People can join us from other parts of the country, from sick beds and hospital rooms, during cold and flu season if they’re feeling vulnerable or ill and wish to stay home. People we never imagined would explore our congregations now have a new way to engage through technology. This is a new inclusivity normal for us. It won’t feel comfortable in these early months of reopening, but it is a new matter, a new day, a new chance at life, a hopeful shore.

I’m wondering also about our new spiritual normal. We don’t yet collectively know how these past fifteen pandemic months have shaped and transformed our spiritual lives, but surely they have. Humanity has been and continues to journey through a public health trauma. Each of us has navigated, to varying degrees, fear, anxiety, despair, illness, loneliness, loss; and for many of us there have been equally profound moments of joy, elation, courage, steadfastness, learning, growth, connection, relationship. I’ve been asking members and friends of our congregation these past few weeks: do you have any words to name the impact all of this has had on your spiritual life?

The responses are wide-ranging. People speak of a deepened sense of gratitude for life’s blessings great and small; a deepened appreciation for simple pleasures, for the mundane, for steady routines, for reliable, everyday experiences; a deepened understanding of the value of human connection, human relationship, face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh, body-to-body human interaction, human presence, human love, human being; a deepened sense of embeddedness in the natural world, a more focused attention to critters and creatures, a sense of earthly oneness more felt than named; and a deepened sense of divinity breathing, flowing, reaching, stretching, dancing, quieting, resting, bringing comfort, solace, peace, and joy, carrying us and all life on and on and on.

Of course, after all we’ve been through and all that is still coming, how could there not be a spiritual deepening. But will this depth become our new spiritual normal? Or, as the infection rates drop, the risks fade from our consciousness, the uncertainty wanes, the ambulance sirens sound more infrequently, the arguments over masks and what is true recede into the background, will this deepened spiritual sensibility recede too, the tide going out from these shores of hope?

I hope not. However these fifteen pandemic months have so far shaped your spirituality, however they have introduced you to realities larger than yourself, I hope it will become your new spiritual normal, a new matter, a new day, anew chance at life. I hope you will keep it all alive, in motion, on fire, pulsing, blowing like a soft summer breeze. I hope you will continue to practice, be present, pay attention, engage, relate, connect, embody. I hope you will remain open, humble, resilient, courageous, caring, loving. I hope the tide will keep carrying you in to these shores of hope.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Kanter, Daniel C., “The Shores of Hope,” in Riley, Meg, ed., Shelter in This Place: Meditations on 2020 (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2021) p. 103.

Policy for Closing UUS:E in the Event of a Surge in Coronavirus Cases in Connecticut

(Adopted June 15th, 2021)

The UUS:E Policy Board will evaluate reclosing the building if:

  •        Any one metric over the threshold for 7 consecutive days (one week); or
  •        Any two metrics simultaneously over their thresholds for 5 consecutive days; or
  •        Any three metrics simultaneously over their thresholds for 3 consecutive days; or
  •        If the governor closes the state from holding indoor gatherings, the church will reclose immediately.

 

 

Policy and Protocols for (a soft) Reopening (Adopted June 15, 2021)

Effective from June 15th to October 3rd, 2021  
A.    Outdoor Meetings:
  1. Wearing masks outdoors is not required.
  2. Social distancing is not required.
  3. The maximum number of attendees for any outdoor meeting or event will be 75 people including staff. (Apply to the UUS:E Policy Board to wave this requirement.)
  4. Arrangements for using outdoor spaces must be scheduled with the office administrator to avoid duplicate meetings, and to allow staff to know that any group meeting outside the building is authorized.
  5. Event leaders are still urged to ask people to register with them for events ahead of time.  
 
B.     Sunday services, and general meetings of the congregation: 
1. From Sunday, June 20th through Sunday, September 3rd, the Sunday Services Committee and Rev. Josh will welcome a limited number of people to attend services in person. (Sign up by calling the UUS:E office.)
2. On Sunday, September 12th, we will revert to full hybrid worship, meaning that all are welcome to attend services in person; and we will continue to offer life-streaming so members and friends can view the services at home.
3.      The Meeting Room will be ventilated with open windows. (Necessary upgrades to our ventilation system should be completed by the end of September.)
4.      Masks will be worn by all people in the service at all times with the following exceptions:
a.       Children under the age of two will not need to wear masks. Parents of unmasked toddlers are urged to do what they can to help their children practice social distancing.
b.      Pulpit speakers may remove masks when speaking.
c.       Musicians may remove masks when performing.
5.      Modified social distancing should be practiced (protocols under development as of 6/15/21)
6.      Coffee and snacks will not be available inside the building until after October 3rd.
6.      During services, singing guidelines include:
a.       No in-person group or choral singing until further notice;
b.      One or two vaccinated musicians may sing from the chancel without wearing masks if they stay at least 12 feet distance from others.
c.       Congregants may sing or hum hymns while remaining masked.
7.      Offering baskets will be placed at exits for people to make donations. Baskets will not be passed during services.
 
C.    Religious Education For Children and Youth:
1.      Religious Education classes will be held outdoors, except in the event of rain or excessive heat.
2.      Masks do not need to be worn while outside.
3.      Refreshments and snacks will be outdoors, and in commercially prepackaged containers.
4.      In the event of rain or excessive heat, classes may move indoors with masks and social distancing; or plans may include multi-generational services in the meeting room so children can remain with their parents.
 
D.    Small group adult meetings (non-church groups, committee meetings, activities, etc.):     
1.      Meetings can be held at any location in the building, with windows open.
2.      If all those attending are fully vaccinated, the group can make a decision to remove masks and relax social distancing measures.
3.      If anyone in the group feels uncomfortable with the removal of masks and the relaxation of social distancing measures, group members will remain masked and will continue to practice social distancing, until a satisfactory solution can be worked out.
 
E.     Concerts, speakers, advertised events that are open to the public:
If such events take place prior to October 3rd, 2021, organizers will follow the protocols listed above for Sunday services. Specific concerns beyond these protocols can be addressed by staff.  
F.     Large scale church events (Trunk or treat, Fall Festival, Auction, etc.)
If such events take place prior to October 3rd 2021, organizers will follow the protocols listed above for Sunday services. Specific concerns beyond these protocols can be addressed by staff.
  
 

FAQs on a Soft Reopening, June 15th to October 5th

Courtesy of the UUS:E Emergency Preparedness Team, the following Frequently Asked Questions and responses may provide the information you are seeking about UUS:E’s soft reopening.

When can I start attending Sunday services? During the summer of 2021, the Sunday Services Committee and Rev. Josh will welcome a limited number of people into the meeting room to observe the production of our live-stream services. If you want to attend, you must sign up with the UUS:E office in advance. We anticipate launching regular, in-person services on September 12th.  At that time, we will no longer require advanced sign-ups.

Will we continue to live-stream our services once we’re fully back to in-person church? Yes. We have invested throughout the year in live-streaming technology, always with the plan to continue live-streaming indefinitely even as we return to regular, in-person Sunday services. We’ve realized during the pandemic that live-streaming our Sunday services allows us to connect with and include many people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot join us regularly for in-person worship.

What about other programs? Will there be virtual options so that people can participate from home? Yes – at least that is our goal. All programs offered at UUS:E will be presented simultaneously in person and through Zoom or some other virtual meeting platform. Having said that, we are aware that not every program leader has been trained in offering simultaneous in-person / virtual events. It will take time to achieve full “hybrid” programming. We ask for your patience.

Will we wear masks? For now, yes. Because some members of our community are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and others are not able to be vaccinated for health reasons, we will reopen with a near-universal mask mandate. That is, at least until October, 2021, everyone (except children aged two and younger) will be asked to wear a mask , regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated. This policy is in alignment with our first Unitarian Universalist principle, “respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” In addition to children under age two, worship leaders, as well as certain musicians, will not wear masks while speaking or performing. We will review this policy at the end of summer and hope to relax mask wearing once vaccinations are available to everyone in our community.

What if everyone in a meeting is vaccinated? Do we still need to wear masks? If all those attending a meeting are fully vaccinated, the group can make a decision to remove masks and relax social distancing measures. However, until we re-evaluate our policies in October, if anyone in the group feels uncomfortable with the removal of masks and the relaxation of social distancing measures, group members will remain masked and will continue to practice social distancing until a satisfactory solution can be worked out.

Will the church ask my vaccination status? No. Anyone who feels comfortable is welcome to attend our worship services and other programs in person regardless of vaccination status.

What about advance sign-ups for other programs? For all other programs, committee meetings, gatherings, etc., leaders will communicate as to whether or not they want participants to sign up ahead of time.

What about Children’s Religious Education? RE for children and youth will continue to meet outdoors for the rest of the summer. In the event of rain or excessive heat, those classes will meet indoors.

When will the Sunday morning nursery re-open? We are anticipating the resumption of nursery on September 12th, 2021.

Will we have coffee hour? Not yet. Our current policy states that we will not provide coffee or snacks during the first few months of reopening. We anticipate that we will reinstate coffee hour in the fall of 2021. In the meantime, if anyone is running an event for which they would like to serve food, they may apply for a waiver from the Policy Board.

Will we sing hymns? Not yet. As we know, singing is one of the most effective ways of spreading airborne disease. We will wait until September, 2021 to determine how to reinstate congregational and choral singing at UUS:E.

Does the sanctuary look like a TV studio? Not anymore! Over the next few months we will be adding some new technologies to enhance the live streaming of our services. We will make these enhancements as invisible as possible.

Can I sit wherever I want? Not exactly. In addition to our near-universal mask mandate, we will also institute social distancing measures for the first few months of reopening. As of writing this FAQ, we do not know exactly what the social distancing protocols will be for Sunday services. We will do our best to give clear directions when people arrive for Sunday services. For all other programs, we ask that participants follow the social distancing directions provided by leaders.

Will I appear on camera?  Possibly. If you are involved in the delivery of a Sunday service, you can anticipate being on camera. If you are sitting in the sanctuary for worship, the back of your head may show up on camera from time to time in a wide-angle shot of the entire congregation.

Will we continue to use videos in worship? Yes. At least that is our goal. Many people have asked that we continue to use videos. We are currently investigating the best way to do this so that people at home and people in the sanctuary can view a video in worship at the same time.

Other questions? Please e-mail me at [email protected] with any questions you may have.

 

“Love Outside the Box” — UUS:E Virtual Worship, June 6, 2021

Gathering Music (Mary Bopp) (begins at 9:50)

Welcome and Announcements (Martha Larson, co-chair, UUS:E Sunday Services Committee)

Centering (Martha Larson)

Prelude

“Sonata No. 2 in A Major for Violin and Clavier,” first movement
by J.S. Bach
performed by Sharon Gunderson and Mary Bopp

Chalice Lighting and Opening Words

“A Universal Love”
by Rebecca Ann Parker
(unison reading)

Even when our hearts are broken
By our own failure
Or the failure of others
Cutting into our lives,
Even when we have done all we can
And life is still broken,
There is a Universal Love
That has never broken faith with us
And never will.

Opening Hymn

“Love Will Guide Us”
words by Sally Rogers
music, traditional, arr. by Betty A. Wylder
#131 in Singing the Living Tradition
led by Sandy Johnson and Dan Thompson

Love will guide us, peace has tried us,
hope inside us will lead the way
on the road from greed to giving.
Love will guide us through the hard night.

 If you cannot sing like angels,
if you cannot speak before thousands,
you can give from deep within you.
You can change the world with your love.

 Love will guide us, peace has tried us,
hope inside us will lead the way
on the road from greed to giving.
Love will guide us through the hard night.

Meditation (Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull)

Musical Meditation (Mary Bopp)

Joys and Concerns

Musical Response (Mary Bopp)

Offering

Offering Music

“All You Need is Love”
By John Lennon and Paul McCartney
performed by Sandy Johnson and Dan Thompson

Sermon

“Love Out of the Box”
Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull

Closing Music

Ahavah Rabbah (“Love Great”)
by Elana Arian
performed by Sharon Gunderson and Mary Bopp

Translation: How deeply you have loved us.

Extinguishing the Chalice

Closing Circle

May faith in the spirit of life
And hope for the community of earth
And love of the light in each other
Be ours now, and in all the days to come.

Postlude (Mary Bopp)

Frequently Asked Questions about Covid-19, Week of June 1, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 Update on reopening! 

Q: How close are we to reaching a decision to reopen?

 A:  All 4 mandatory metrics documented on the website Covid Act Now (www.covidactnow.org) were met on May 24th!  The countdown has begun.  All 4 metrics must stay below their individual thresholds for a total of 21 consecutive days (3 weeks).  That target is now June 14.

Don’t forget: if any of the 4 metrics go above their thresholds before June 14 – even for one day – the count will go back to the beginning for a new 21-day count to start when all are again in place.  Caution: COVID-19 is known for its surges.

BUT WAIT!  We don’t actually reopen on that date after 21 consecutive days!  The Policy Board will be informed that the community risk of COVID-19 will be at an acceptable level as of that date.  There are other teams at work evaluating and modifying the ventilation system, and a whole lot of logistics being worked out.  All of these will have to be evaluated before THE POLICY BOARD DECIDES ON THE ACTUAL DATE WE WILL REOPEN!

 

  1. Confusion clarified over conflicting messages about booster vaccines 

Q:  Will there be a need to get a booster of refresher dose of the vaccine soon? 

A:  Politically, the Biden administration has faithfully followed the formula to base its decisions on science.  The CDC has cooperated without interference from politicians since the vaccines have been available   But other variables can get in the way.  Pfizer issued a press release several weeks ago announcing they have been developing a booster shot and this may be needed in the weeks or months ahead.  Scientists are still busy studying the need for this, but they are limited by the short time people who have been vaccinated can have the duration of their immunity evaluated.  Pfizer had been criticized earlier by releasing to the public their findings from the vaccine clinical trials by press releases before it was evaluated by the FDA or the CDC.  Pharmaceutical companies have much invested in and much to profit from their work.  Whether announcing their booster vaccine was advertising for future sales, or simply bragging about their progressive research and development, Science still has yet to find if immunity will fade over time.  The need for booster shots is not at all certain.

According to researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine, basic immunity from the original novel coronavirus-19 could last a lifetime.  They studied 77 patients who had recovered from mild cases of COVID-19. Of these, 18 submitted to periodic bone marrow sampling over a 5-month period.  The bone marrow cells sampled continued to secrete antibodies capable of preventing COVID-19 infections for years to come.  More research is called for because of the small size of this study group and the need to determine variability with different mutations of the disease.  But this and other studies shows the need for the public to be patient and accept that science is not a technique to learn immediate answers to complex questions.  And to recognize that pharmaceutical advertising is driven by competition and pricing.

 

  1. Myocarditis (heart inflammation) after vaccinations present but rare 

Q: I read in the newspaper that teens have come down with a heart problem after getting vaccinated.  That’s why I won’t let my son get vaccinated!

A: It’s true that last week one Connecticut newspaper reported there were 18 heart inflammation cases in the state after being vaccinated.   It went on to say that this condition is mostly found in teenagers and young people, but is extremely rare.  Only 18 cases have been reported, and all of these were resolved quickly with no lingering after- effects.  In fact, there is no evidence the vaccines actually caused the conditions.  There are many events that appear alongside each other, but a common maxim of logic states, “correlation does not prove causation.”  For example, many “anti-vaxers” of school children still believe that vaccines can cause autism.  Even though that assumption has been scientifically disproven, there really is a correlation of children who have been vaccinated and the display of early signs of autism.  Causation means that one comes first and directly leads to the other.  But perhaps there is an underlying common cause of both.  In fact, childhood vaccinations are usually given at the same age as autism first appears.  Thus, these events are correlated, but one does not necessarily cause the other.  For the recent news report, perhaps there is a factor of age, or hormone levels during and post- puberty.  Or another “common cause” might exist.  Specific to the mild myocarditis, or mild cardiac inflammation, scientists are studying the specifics in relation to the COVID-19 vaccines.  So far, there is no evidence that the vaccines trigger and cause this condition.  Yet another lesson can be found from this phenomenon: people have a difficult time perceiving, evaluating and reacting to different levels of risks.  A few alcoholic drinks, or driving sober without using seat belts to many feel safe behind the wheel.  But information about a very rare incidence of a medical problem can cause paralysis and withdrawal.  As one pundit was quoted, “People are funny, aren’t we?!”

  1. Long term effects of non-hospitalized COVID-19 studied for 8 months

 Q:  How do COVID-19 non-hospitalized patients fare in the long term?

 A:  In a research paper due to be published in July in The Lancet, a group of researchers in Europe have followed 958 patients who have had confirmed COVID-19 disease, but were not hospitalized.  Most other research to date has focused on the serious cases who were hospitalized.  This research was to explore what, if any, long-term health issues remain for those who had milder disease.  These patients were observed from April 6 to December 2, 2020 – a period of 8 months.  The percentages of the group showing signs of the most common conditions that remained long-term were 12.4% anosmia (loss of smell), 11.1% ageusia (loss of taste), 9.7% fatigue, and 8.6% shortness of breath.  Overall, at least one of these symptoms was present in 34.8% of the group at 7 months from infection.

This study begins to define the need for a new category of long-term follow up care identified as “post-COVID-syndrome (PCS)

 

  1. Lawsuit dismissed against requirements for school children to wear masks

 Q:  Whatever happened to that lawsuit filed by parents demanding children be free of wearing masks while in school?

 A:  This lawsuit was filed last August by the CT Freedom Alliance after the State Education Commissioner ordered children in school to wear masks.  Many parents were upset about this and a series of legal actions were taken to reverse that order.  The legal basis of the claim was that a single department within the executive branch did not have the authority to issue such an order.  An initial court hearing was heard earlier where the decision was moved to a higher court.  In a filing last week, Superior Judge Thomas Moukawsher decided that the Connecticut constitution did allow Governor Lamont to issue the emergency orders including the wearing of masks in school.  In addition, Judge Moukawsher cited the legislature had tightened the standards governing emergency powers and approved his previous acts.  His conclusion: this further demonstrates that the order was made in accordance with the sate constitution.

It is noted that previously, the legislature authorized the elimination of the frequently used “religious waiver” for parents to avoid having their children vaccinated before enrolling in school.  Parents, acting under the “practice of medicine,” had assumed the authority to waive this practice as the guardians of their children’s health.  But in the “practice of public health,” many rules exist to force a person’s compliance to protect the health of others.   Quarantines, isolation, vaccinations, – and masks are part of the need to protect others.