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Hallowed Memories

I was in the midst of my growing years. It was just a few months before I’d learn how to multiply, how to give a eulogy. All of the kids and grandkids were loading up and driving to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. My cousins drove thousands of miles to meet us there, but my family and my grandparents lived a little over two hours away.

I was the first-born, and subsequently the favorite of all the grandchildren. That’s why I got to ride in my grandma’s car all the way to the Pirateship Waterslide. That’s why we were going to an indoor waterpark. Because despite my grandma’s debilitating fear of drowning, she braved the water for her grandkids. She’d do anything to make her kids happy.

There’s a picture of that day in my Great Aunt’s home. Grandma is standing in the pool wearing a big black shirt that clings to her. I can tell she had just gotten off the waterslide from her dripping nose and red eyes. She’d just slicked her short dark hair back to keep the water off her face. She was beaming, talking to her sister, who had probably splashed her as soon as she broke the surface. She was young, strong.

That’s the last photo of Grandma before she got sick.

I only saw my grandma a handful of times after I knew she was dying. I don’t know how long she had been sick before we all starting acting like it, but my mom taught me about death shortly before I saw it. I got to visit my grandma during her last few weeks. I’d been begging for a sleepover because it was plenty overdue. I rarely went more than a week without seeing my grandma, and my mom had been staying over there without me.

When I finally got to see grandma again, my mom and I sat in the driveway for a few minutes before going inside.

“Grandma’s going to look different,” she told me. “She’s been sick, but you don’t need to be scared. She’s the same grandma you’ve always had. Just talk to her like you always do.”

I nodded and we headed inside.

I think everyone was nervous with how I’d react. My grandma was my very best friend. From the time I could memorize her number, she was the first call I’d make if I was having a bad day. And she was always there, ready to help me with whatever early-life crisis I was having that week. I was too young to be told I was seeing her for the last time.

I walked into the house, holding mom’s hand as she led me to the living room. Grandma was sitting in her favorite rocking chair, a cow print blanket draped across her lap. The first thing I noticed was the oxygen cannula. It was different–new. Last time I had seen her she was breathing fine.

“Hi honey,” my grandma rasped, “I missed you.”

I think I just stared.

“You’re not afraid of grandma, are you? It’s okay if you are, I know I look scary right now. This tube helps me breathe though, so its nothing to be scared of.”

I shook my head. I wasn’t scared of Grandma, I was scared for her. She had wasted away while I was gone. She was wearing sweatshirts, but her neck and face were too thin to hide the weight she’d lost. She looked like death himself was starving her, but she still said yes to a slice of cherry pie and a strawberry soda.

I sat down with my slice of pie and watched everyone. Everybody was acting like this was normal, like Grandma never finished her pie, like she hadn’t always eaten it warmed up with a scoop of ice cream. But I’d never had cherry pie before that day, so I figured we just had similar tastes when we both let it sit after the first bite.

After an hour I started to get antsy. I usually spent the day playing at Grandma’s house, but today all I had done was sit. Grandpa was ready to get out of the house for a bit and give my mom some time with Grandma, so he took me downtown to get Grandma a little surprise. We walked about five blocks to get to the little main street in town and went into the one of the small shops on the corner.

In the back of the store was a bin of stuffed animals. Grandpa said I could spend five dollars on stuff for grandma, and the little stuffed how I found was $4.99. He was small and shaped like a teddy bear with a plaid patch on each leg. Grandma loved cows, so Patches was exactly what Grandma needed to feel better.

I gave Grandma Patches the Cow when we got back. She loved him and his name, and I gave her a big hug as we said our goodbyes. I wasn’t allowed to sit in her lap like usual, but she leaned over to hug me and said, “put your head on my heart.” I put my ear to her chest and listened to her heart tick. We did this every time I got sad (usually because I had to leave). I closed my eyes and listened to her pacemaker as she told me for the last time, “My heart ticks like a clock Gretchen, and I am with you all the time.”

I got Patches back five days later, along with a blue Kim Possible binder and loose leaf paper. My mom told me that every time I missed grandma, I needed to write down what I missed about her so I would never forget all the happy memories. I wrote her eulogy in that binder. And when we had Grandma’s memorial, my mom and dad walked me up to the podium and put me on a stool so I could reach the microphone. I’d never spoken in front of people before, but my parents stood next to me on stage as I told the story of my favorite vacation with grandma to the Pirateship Waterslide.

An Open Letter to the School

To Whomever has a Hand in These Decisions;

During Spring Break 2020 you were forced to make a tough decision. We all had to make tough decisions. Your students went home confused and frustrated. We had no idea what the next six months would bring, but we knew they would be full of tough decisions. Now, six months later, I’m left to wonder: why weren’t we consulted about our own future?

Over the last six (ish) months we have received a plethora of emails about our future as students, but we have yet to see the most important question: what do you want? There would be about 500 answers had you asked, but many would be the same. We want control of our futures.

As students, we fund your schools. We put food in the dining hall, games in the CIC and desks in your classrooms. We pay our professors to teach and create buildings for those who come after us. When we graduate, we celebrate our successes by giving back to you, the ones who taught us. We are the reason your doors open and your classrooms fill. We are the reason you exist.

But that has meant little to you. I asked Dr. Beach why students were not consulted about the decision to move online after Thanksgiving, and the response I got was bewildering: we had been asked. A focus group of students, along with student senate were chosen to speak for the student body, while the student body had no idea. Herein lies the problem: Student Senate is not an accurate representation of the will of the student body. they are made up of a small percentage of the student body. They do not ask the student body their opinions. They are a small governing body making decisions with the best intentions, but they are not a representative democracy. Therefore, they do not accurately represent the will of the majority. In the past Student Senate has not been tasked with making decisions as monumental as weighing in on the education of the entire student body. They are tasked with allocating funds and making campus better for students. By asking the Student Senate to speak for the student body, you caused an overreach in power and a misrepresentation of our beliefs.

You could have sent out an email. You did it all through the pandemic. You sent surveys asking where we were during Spring Break. A similar avenue could have been taken to most accurately gauge how your students wished to be educated. After all, retention is more important now than ever before. But you did not. You made decisions without consulting the people it most greatly affects. If this was unintentional, I am worried for your ignorance. If this was done purposefully, I am infuriated at the disrespect.

We sat idly Spring of 2020. We moved to “distance learning”, and had we received surveys at the end of our courses, you would’ve known how greatly our education was impacted by this transition. But once again, you did not ask. Instead we bit our tongues and understood the difficulties we all were facing. When the semester ended, we waited for information, for questions, for anything that would tell us what to expect next semester. For weeks we waited to be asked how we wished to advance, how we wanted to live during the three months we’d all be back together. We were never asked. Instead, we were given a plan, laid out before us with no prior consultation.

Our General Education requirements include courses meant to teach us how to learn and be independent. In Thinking Critically we learned how to ask questions, open our minds, form educated opinions and think for ourselves. In Concepts of Wellness we were taught that every part of our lives is important, and having a single spoke of the wheel out of place cause chaos everywhere else. You taught us how to make the best decisions for ourselves, and when it came time to decide our futures, we were bound and gagged. Silenced before we could open our mouths. And you continue to do so.

The year has begun, and still we have no voice. The world is not the same as it was a year ago, but you treat your students the same. We are not in control of our futures. We walk around campus your way. Live in our rooms your way. Eat our food your way without questioning it because we feel we cannot. Those who graduated last year are still without power. Twice you have taken away their closure. Now you’ve put them into next year’s graduating class. Do you think the pandemic will disappear by then? That having twice as many people on campus for graduation in May is safer than half as many in October? How are you going to ask your new alumni for donations in the coming years when their proudest moment was snatched away without deliberation twice?

Students’ future generosity will depend on the experiences they had during their time on campus. Our positive experiences with peers and professors does not overwhelm our anger and powerlessness. The voices of the majority are being drowned. We are the ones living on campus; we are the ones in danger. We are the exposers and the exposed. We are the reasons for the rules. It is us that have to quarantine, us that have to learn. Our masks may cover our faces and muffle our words, but 500 angry voices are enough for even the deafest of ears to hear. Our lives depend on our education. Why don’t we have a say in it?

Sincerely,

A Voice

Believe in the Hashtag

When scrolling through my social media feed I see posts about how Black Lives Matter wants to “destroy the nuclear family” and attempts to discredit their leader. I see people fighting against an organization rather than fighting for equality. It’s infuriating.

You don’t have to stand with the organization to follow the hashtag.

Let’s start with context. The Black Lives Matter organization started in 2013 and stands firmly upon the idea of creating a world with no “anti-blackness”. Not only eradicating racism, but putting an end to everything that unfairly puts black people a step behind others. They move to “disrupt” the nuclear family structure by “supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another” (Black Lives Matter). This isn’t new! The western nuclear family is exclusive of its relatives, but many other cultures are inclusive of all relatives, with extended family often growing up in the same home.

#BlackLivesMatter or #BLM resurfaced in 2020 after George Floyd was unjustifiably murdered by a police officer. It took the world by storm, with other countries joining the U.S. in protesting Floyd’s injustice and the injustices of systemic racism. But the problem with a hashtag is finding clarity, finding a platform of specific issues to stand for. Here’s what #BLM means to me:

  1. Black Lives Matter. They shouldn’t matter more or less than any other race.
  2. Black lives do not currently hold as much value as white lives. This is because of systems put in place that have benefited the white majority, leaving black people in a cycle of poverty and oppression comparatively (Business Insider) A disproportionate amount of black people are:
    • Killed by police officers.
    • Imprisoned
      • Therefore unable to vote
      • In 2018 a black male aged 18-19 was 12 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white male of the same age
      • Three times as many black people are arrested for marijuana use, even though white and black populations use at a similar rate
    • Unemployed
    • Underrepresented in high-paying jobs and in the government
    • Making less annually than white men (overall income was 42% lower in 2018)
    • Receiving worse education. This is because non-white school districts on average receive less funding than white school districts, affecting the quality of education in minorities
  3. We are all responsible for contributing to the systems that inhibit black people from being equal. The first (and arguably most important) step is to recognize this.
  4. Recognizing your privilege does not make you anti-racism, actively fighting against racist constructs makes you anti-racism

#BlackLivesMatter is about equality. There is active inequality in this country that directly benefits white people while leaving black people and other minorities at a distinct disadvantage. Now that I’ve brought clarity to my beliefs, I can more effectively analyze Black Lives Matter as it sits today.

When I first heard of Black Lives Matter as a Marxist organization, I was confused as to why people thought of this as negative. As a literary scholar, Marxism at its core is about the oppressed rising to abolish the systems in place that keep them impoverished. It’s a terrifying thought to the powerful in our capitalist society, but it’s a liberating idea for those who are middle and lower class. Black Lives Matter is about making all people equal, regardless of race. They’re trying to start a revolution to change the systems that keep black people poor and white men rich. They’re certainly Marxist, but not to our detriment.

Systemic racism has found its way into all parts of life. Small businesses, large companies, health care, police and prison systems, education, entrepreneurship, music, television, sports, food, religion, banking, and so much more have all become compliant in systemic racism. Until every American cares about equality, it will remain unattainable.

#BlackLivesMatter

Me and My Thoughts: The Intro

I sat down today for my weekly meeting at Writing Club with a newfound motivation for life. COVID-19 has gotten us all down the last (six?) months, but as I sat today, waiting to start today’s meeting, a thought struck me: I’ve been told my entire life that greatness will come. That I need to keep moving and learning and I will “turn out well”.

But when do I start working on my own greatness?

I’ve never known what I wanted to do growing up. I always chose the default options when my grade school teachers asked, but I never really knew who I wanted to be. What I wanted to do.

Now here I am, 21 years old and just starting to figure it all out. But I’ve spent so much of my life waiting for my career to wave at me through the window that I’ve developed an unfortunate vice: idleness. There hasn’t been motivation in my soul for years except for little sparks. Those sparks have led me here, to Just My Thoughts.

I’ve spent 21 years learning as much as possible, so that when I find my vocation I can put my heart into it. There have been times it’s felt hopeless. There have been times I didn’t think I’d live to find my passions. But here I am. I’m a writer, and this is where I write.

Welcome.

COVID-19 With Context

In the beginning, it was a frenzy. Who could do the most in the least amount of time? Businesses shut down, March Madness was cancelled, schools closed (with no information on given to students on what their futures held), and all travel halted in a matter of weeks. The country went from go go go to a standstill. It’s been six months, and now its time to ask ourselves: what was it all for?

Throughout the COVID-19 (COVID) pandemic, I have held a variety of opinions. I’ve stayed up to date on information regarding the virus and its destructiveness as it has surfaced. The science has been consistently changing as more information has been published, but as I look around, I see little change to daily life. Before I elaborate, lets start with the facts:

The Beginning:

COVID was introduced to the U.S. in March of 2020. News channels were picking up the coronavirus in China in February. It wasn’t until the second week of March that everything started to close. There were people stuck on cruise ships, with and without the virus, waiting until they were allowed to go home. I was in the middle of Spring Break when my University decided to move online for the remainder of the semester. My boyfriend was across the country in Arizona playing baseball while the country was being shut down. Nobody had any clue how badly the U.S. would get hit with COVID, but the numbers from Italy and China made me as nervous as anyone else.

Cases spiked in the beginning of April, but quarantine quickly flattened that curve. April peaked at around 30,000 cases, and May’s were lowest at 21,000, with a consistent decrease in positive case numbers.

Then June hit.

People got antsy. The data coming out on how best to protect ourselves was all over the place. Everything was necessary but nothing worked. The President even joked about home remedies (Bleach in the bloodstream? Really?). The media was convinced that every move made was incorrect, no matter which “side” you were on. COVID started to become political, and people followed the science their political party published (news media included). Positive cases went from 20,000 to 41,000 in just four weeks (CDC). COVID hit its stride while we lit fireworks and played cornhole on our lawns, because two weeks afterward we hit our peak at almost 75,000 positive tests.

It’s the end of August now, and we are approaching the end of the bell curve with 40,000 positive tests (CDC). People continue with the same rules and regulations as before, citing 183,000 deaths as their reason for continuing isolationist regulations.

Necessary Concessions:

  1. In Iowa 75-80% of people who test positive for COVID are asymptomatic. (TestIowa)
    • I assume the number to be similar in other states
  2. Multiple states (Florida and Colorado especially) have admitted to giving people positive results without being tested. Florida has admitted to making up thousands of positive tests
  3. The tests being used are known to produce both false positives and negatives
  4. Without mass testing there cannot be a truly accurate death rate

About a month ago (July–when cases were reaching their peak) I did some digging into this death toll. It just didn’t add up that a virus which laid dormant in such a large amount of the population could turn around and kill this many people. I went to the National Center for Health Statistics (which works in conjunction with the CDC) to do some research on how this virus was leading to so much death. The NCHS is constantly updating its numbers because they verify their results with death certificates. This provides the most accurate information available on how COVID is killing people. Below is a table from the NCHS reporting on COVID death certificates:

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/COVID19/index.htm

This table includes a key word: involving. “All Deaths Involving COVID-19” gives us the large number. Each column to its right breaks down the circumstances for people who have U07.1 on their death certificates (the code for COVID-19). There is no column in which “COVID-19” is the only cause of death. The CDC writes in its technical notes that “Deaths are coded to U07.1 when coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 are reported as a cause that contributed to death on the death certificate.” The go on to report: “COVID-19 is listed as the underlying cause on the death certificate in 94% of deaths.” That means 94% of the 169,419 deaths above reported COVID-19 as an underlying cause of death. This goes against every narrative I’ve seen in the mass media. That puts an accurate death toll (where COVID is the cause of death) at 10,165.

Read here for underlying condition risk factors: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/evidence-table.html

Looking at death statistics there is another important piece to create context: the epicenter. Governor Andrew Cuomo was the face of the epidemic in the beginning. Thousands of people were dying despite the shutdown. Cuomo made the decision to send those who were old and sick back to nursing homes in order to make room in the hospitals for COVID patients(Business Insider). Gov. Cuomo introduced COVID into nursing homes, the container of the most fragile age demographic. The New York City death toll currently sits at 23,703. 21,612 (91.18%) of those who died of COVID in NYC were over the age of 65. New York City has the highest death toll in the U.S. today.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1109867/coronavirus-death-rates-by-age-new-york-city/#statisticContainer

The CDC website includes old age as a risk factor for COVID-19: “8 out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older.

Another note: New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey make up 18.56% of U.S. deaths, but these states contribute to only 7.4% of the U.S. population. The top seven states contribute 43% of all COVID-19 related deaths; they contribute 38.6% of the U.S. population.

All of this leads me to wonder: what is this all for? If there was mass testing throughout the country, there would be a more accurate case count and death rate. Most of the world has moved past COVID-19, but for some reason the U.S. believes we are in the middle of the fight. I’ve seen little research from other countries being broadcasted. COVID-19 is a new virus. The world should be banding together to share information on how best to flatten the curve, and it seems as though it has, but the U.S. has not looked outside itself for an answer.

The scientific data suggest that COVID-19 weakens the immune system, which allows other illnesses to become more deadly. If this is true, the best way to fight the virus would be to boost your immune system. Why has there been no preventative care? Immunity boosters are common during flu season, so why not with a pandemic? The majority of U.S. COVID-19 deaths are people with a complicated health history. I believe this demographic would be much safer had the country worked on boosting their immune systems rather than wearing face masks. Masks and social distancing are used to take care of symptoms rather than the problem. Millions of healthy individuals being proactive in dealing with symptoms they do not have rather than keeping themselves from getting sick at all.

The most important demographic to take care of is people aged 65+ and those with preexisting health conditions. Most who die a COVID-related death are both. For whatever reason, the government has decided to keep outdated policies in place and the media has continued to push an outdated narrative. These decisions make it difficult for any single person to find the truth. These decisions make it impossible to spread the truth.

What is our next step? That question has been continually answered with a jab into the abyss. Nobody knows the next step. We just keep moving forward, trying to figure out how to live. Step into the light. This flu season could prove disastrous. People have been wearing masks for the many months. The healthy have not been able to continually expose themselves to potential viral and bacterial threats in our ecosystems, leaving us all with weaker immune systems for the coming winter. Our body was designed to keep us healthy: mucus, nose hair, eyelashes, skin, white blood cells– all designed to help your body fight Earth’s microscopic monsters. These guys haven’t exercised in months! We haven’t been training our bodies for this season’s marathon, and Phidippides isn’t going to volunteer for this one.

COVID-19 wipes out the body’s immune system, leaving us vulnerable to attack from viruses we already know and hate. Mono, influenza, the stomach flu, pneumonia and many more illnesses already run rampant during the winter months. People get incredibly sick each year from all kinds of winterized illnesses. Except this flu season, we have an incredibly contagious virus acting as the bouncer for any number of viruses and bacteria to swoop in and shut our club down. And with improper mask use introducing these viruses to our bodies, it’s only a matter of time before the flu becomes the killer in this pandemic.

In order to keep people safe and healthy, we need to worry less about testing positive and more about keeping our immune systems stronger than ever before. Going outside for fresh air and Vitamin D, taking vitamins to boost immunity (C, B6, E, etc.), eating fruits and vegetables, proper mask use in appropriate situations, getting the yearly flu shot, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, minimize stress (as much as you can in a pandemic), and drink more water. Drink more than that. Eradicating COVID-19 doesn’t start by sterilizing our environment (though it helps), it starts by arming ourselves internally.

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