An Open Letter to our ISD and School Board

[Names other than my own and have been redacted. Needless to say, we are in Texas near the DFW Metroplex.]

This is an open letter to the Superintendent, ISD Administration, and the ISD Board of Trustees:

My name is James Jarrett. I am 46 years old and in reasonably good health. My family and I have made ______ our home for the past 14 years. I am a front-line healthcare worker supporting patients and their families in hospice care both here in ______ and in the surrounding region.

At my wife’s and my request, our youngest daughter (a student in the 5th Grade at ______ Intermediate School) has worn a mask to school every day since the 2021-22 school year began. Remember, however, that her mask protects other people from her germs. Other people’s masks protect her from their germs. As I’m sure you are aware, hardly anyone is wearing masks in _ISD so far this year.

This past week, that same youngest daughter tested positive for COVID-19 (with symptoms). Yesterday, a PCR test confirmed I also am positive for COVID-19 (with symptoms). I am fully vaccinated and in reasonably good health. Because of that, I am hopeful that my breakthrough infection will pass in the next several days without more serious symptoms or the need for hospitalization.

I write today not so much for myself as on behalf of the medically fragile people in our community. People for whom a COVID-19 diagnosis may still be a death sentence. These are our parents, our grandparents, our siblings, our spouses, our friends, and our children. They are the people that our _ISD students, teachers, and support staff go home to each day bringing the miasma of germs they have picked up in _ISD facilities. These people are us.

Vaccinations are an important component in protecting the people in our community and around the world from COVID-19. I applaud _ISD for providing information and the readily accessible vaccine clinics you continue to make available in our community. This is not enough. Personal protective equipment (masks), physical distancing, regular hand hygiene, and symptom screening remain 4 necessary tools in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and for protecting the people who need it most.

As an example of the effectiveness of these 4 protocols, I offer the example of UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Every day on its COVID-19 page, UTSW publishes the infections rates among its 19,000 employee population in the following table:

[https://www.utsouthwestern.edu/covid-19/. Accessed 9/12/2021.]

As you can see from the right-hand column, the total number of COVID-19 infections due to on-campus exposure among UTSW’s 19,000 employees since March 1, 2020 is 72. Seventy-two people out of 19,000 have contracted the virus. Why is this number so low? This is partly due to the vaccines. Also, because UTSW has required masks, physical distance, hand hygiene, and symptom screening for all employees and visitors to its clinical facilities since March, 2020 when the pandemic began–long before the vaccines became available.

When these 4 necessary protective measures were in place in _ISD during the 2020-21 school year, I was confident that the 4 _ISD students living in my household were as protected as they could have been from COVID-19. And everyone else was too. As soon as the vaccines were available, everyone in our immediate family got them and are now fully vaccinated. Except for our youngest daughter who just turned 11 in August 2021–the 5th grader at ______ Intermediate School who came home from school with COVID this week. She is too young to be vaccinated.

I have been dismayed at _ISD’s refusal to keep in place the protections it did during last school year. And my concern has proven valid. These 4 protective measures are even more crucial now with the delta variant running rampant through the people in our community.

Under the Health Protocols section of the _ISD website the district states the following regarding face coverings:

“Per the Governor’s Order (GA-38), school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask. However, we are encouraging all students, staff, and visitors to wear masks while indoors when social distancing is not feasible.”

This year, there are 3 _ISD students living in our household attending 3 different campuses (______ Intermediate, ______ High School, and ______ ______ High School). The daily emails we receive from _ISD about the COVID-19 infection rate on each campus reveal that “encouragement” is not enough. It is not working. The number of infections are already noticeably higher than they were at any point last school year. Especially in light of the more contagious delta variant, why would we not do everything possible to protect the weak, the vulnerable, and the medically fragile people in our community?

Wearing a mask, washing our hands, maintaining physical distance, and symptom screening are simple practices by which we can help each other through this perilous time. This pandemic has demonstrated more clearly than anything in any of our lifetimes that we are not isolated individuals. We are all connected with each other. What affects one, affects us all.

“Individual freedom” is not valid if its exercise impacts another person’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “Following orders” has been used before to justify unspeakable atrocities against humanity. There is what is legal and there is what is right.

Requiring masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, and symptom screening for all _ISD students, staff, and visitors, is the human thing to do. I appeal to your humanity and implore each of you to use your positions of public trust to do whatever is necessary to act without delay for the protection of the people touched by our _ISD community–our ______ Family.

Thank each of you for your consideration and attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

James Jarrett

Love One Person

Wisdom

“Your joy is sorrow unmasked…

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Kahlil Gibran

Love One Person

Poetry

Tickled Pink
by: Kevin Kling

At times in our pink innocence, we lie fallow, composting, waiting to grow.
And other times we rush headlong like so many of our ancestors.
But rushing or fallow, it doesn’t matter
One day you’ll round a corner, you’ll blink 
And something is missing
Your heart, a memory, a limb, a promise, a person
An innocence is gone
Your path, as though channeled through a spectrum, is refracted, and has left you in a new direction.
Some won’t approve
Some will want the other you
And some will cry that you’ve left it all
But what has happened, has happened, and cannot be undone.
We pay for our laughter. We pay to weep. Knowledge is not cheap.
To survive we must return to our senses…touch, taste, smell, sight, sound.
We must let our spirit guide us, our spirit that lives in breath.
With each breath we inhale, we exhale.
We inspire, we expire. 
Every breath holds the possibility of a laugh, a cry, a story, a song.
Every conversation is an exchange of spirit, the words flowing bitter or sweet over the tongue. 
Every scar is a monument to a battle survived.
When you’re born into loss, you grow from it.
But when you experience loss later in life, you grow toward it.
A slow move to an embrace, 
An embrace that holds tight the beauty wrapped in the grotesque, 
An embrace that becomes a dance, a new dance, a dance of pink.

*****************

Many people get this.
Many do not.
It happens anyway.
Breathe.

Love One Person

Poetry

Poem
by Mary Oliver

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body’s world,
instinct

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
sweetness
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is—

so it enters us—
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

Love One Person

What Is a Humanist Chaplain?

For the past two years I have presented a didactic on this question to Clinical Pastoral Education residents at one of the ACPE accredited centers in Dallas, Texas. As a chaplain endorsed by The Humanist Society, I am a provider of spiritual and existential care to people regardless of their ideological, religious, or philosophical perspectives.

What follows are my current answers to the five survey questions posed in the article: C. M. Schuhmann, J. Wojtkowiak, R. van Lierop & F. Pitstra (2020) Humanist chaplaincy according to Northwestern European humanist chaplains: towards a framework for understanding chaplaincy in secular societies, Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, DOI: 10.1080/08854726.2020.1723190, in which the authors observe, “we need a broader understanding of chaplaincy that is not (necessarily) characterized by religion.” (Id., p. 2.)

  • How would you describe the mission of humanist chaplains?

The mission of humanist chaplains is to provide human-centered spiritual and existential care (according to established standards for professional competence); meeting people where they are; and holding space for them to explore meaning and purpose in relation to their own sense of the transcendent. Simply being accepted and loved as one is, with all that is happening, can produce profound healing effects within a person. Such sacred encounters between human beings allow new discoveries to be made, affirming care seekers in all their beautiful and mysterious humanity. Humanist chaplaincy results in greater “existential resilience” for care seekers in the face of life’s changes and difficulties. (Id., p. 4 citing Van Praag.)

  • What does ‘humanist’ in humanist chaplaincy mean to you?

“Humanist” means human-centered with the goal of enhancing human flourishing in relationship with oneself, other people, and the universe. The humanist chaplain’s attention is on whatever is happening in and with the human being in front of them in the present moment. Many forces are at play in the care seeker (e.g., religious, ideological, cultural, medical, familial, economic, psychological, and social). The humanist chaplain uses deep listening and naming skills to bear witness to the experiences and story of this particular complex human being; to companion them in the present moment; and to facilitate the care seeker’s own life-affirming sense-making in relationship with all these forces.

  • What kind of challenges do you meet with as a humanist chaplain or in promoting humanist chaplaincy?

Misunderstanding. Human beings are far more complex than the labels we attach to ourselves and to each other. Many people tend to think “humanist = atheist” and may subscribe to the myth that “atheist = bad person”. Many humanists are atheists. I am a humanist, and am not atheist. I am more interested in what is possible in the space of unknowing as I practice living with uncertainty around ultimate questions and companioning others in the same process. Humanists have faith in the goodness of humanity and in our interpersonal potential as an interconnected species. (Id., p. 12.) More advocacy is needed for positive humanist philosophy and values, especially in the southern US. (A great starting point for education is The Ten Commitments: Living Humanist Values.)

  • What motivates you to work as a humanist chaplain or to promote humanist chaplaincy?

I love people. We are endlessly fascinating, frustrating, and fabulous beings. We are remarkably similar in how we experience wounds and what we do with them as a result. Across all imaginable diversities, every person wants to experience happiness and avoid suffering for themselves and their loved ones. Simultaneously, we each have our own one-millionth part* in our unique expressions of life and of love. The tension between our beautiful similarity and mysterious uniqueness has captivated my attention and motivates my work every day as a humanist chaplain supporting people in hospice care as well as their grieving loved ones.

  • What do you consider to be sources of inspiration in your work as a humanist chaplain/as a promoter of humanist chaplaincy?

My greatest sources of inspiration as a humanist chaplain are people–diverse human beings and their life stories, their courageous expressions of love, and their endurance of suffering to which I bear witness with compassion.

(* The phrase, “one-millionth part” is from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.)

Love One Person

Poetry

Roses, Late Summer
by: Mary Oliver

What happens
to the leaves after
they turn red and golden and fall
away? What happens

to the singing birds
when they can’t sing
any longer? What happens
to their quick wings?

Do you think there is any
personal heaven
for any of us?
Do you think anyone,

the other side of that darkness,
will call to us, meaning us?
Beyond the trees
the foxes keep teaching their children

to live in the valley.
So they never seem to vanish, they are always there
in the blossom of light
that stands up every morning

in the dark sky.
And over one more set of hills,
along the sea,
the last roses have opened their factories of sweetness

and are giving it back to the world.
If I had another life
I would want to spend it all on some
unstinting happiness.

I would be a fox, or a tree
full of waving branches.
I wouldn’t mind being a rose
in a field of roses.

Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.
Reason they have not yet thought of.
Neither do they ask how long they must be roses, and then what.
Or any other foolish question.

Love One Person

“A Different Relationship to Death”

So much of the sorrow which the war inflicted on me still resulted from my incapacity to reconcile the perishing of so many talented and indeed extremely distinguished individuals with God! We all carry in our blood some kind of misunderstanding of God’s “protection,” which cheats us of the freedom that belongs to us and whose first consequence (if we knew how to use it) would be a different relationship to death.

The distance between birth and death above which we write “I” is not a measure for God; life & death constitute for him probably only a small degree of separation, and perhaps a continual series of lives and deaths is needed for God to have the impression: one. Perhaps only all of creation in its totality is permitted to call itself “I” before him, and all the fluctuations of appearing and vanishing inside it would then be its own concern.

It is a shame that God did not know little Lucie Ramé there is no way of letting him know that the bus crushed her to death–for even that bus, the “char d’assaut,” he never caught a glimpse of! We have to get used to the fact that we rest in the pause between two of God’s breaths: for that means: to be in time. It is conceivable that he was linked to creation only via the act through which he externalized it out of himself. In that case, only that which has not been created would have a right to think of itself as continually attached to God. The brief time of our existence is probably precisely the the period when we lose all connection to him and, drifting apart from him, become enmeshed in the creation which he leaves alone. We can rely only on memories and premonitions, for there is surely an even more urgent task of applying our senses to what is present here and to expand them so much that they converge into a single sense of awe and admiration.—

– Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to Nanny Wunderly-Volkart.

Love One Person

Poetry

WHEN DEATH COMES
by: Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Love One Person

Poetry

I KNOW THE WAY YOU CAN GET
by: Hafiz

I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:

Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
And nose.

Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.

Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
The innocent
And into one’s self.

O I know the way you can get
If you have not been drinking Love:

You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.

You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.

You might pull out a ruler to measure
From every angle in your darkness
The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once
Trusted.

I know the way you can get
If you have not had a drink from Love’s
Hands.

That is why all the Great Ones speak of
The vital need
To keep remembering God,
So you will come to know and see Him
As being so Playful
And Wanting,
Just Wanting to help.

That is why Hafiz says:
Bring your cup near me.
For all I care about
Is quenching your thirst for freedom!

All a Sane man can ever care about
Is giving Love!”

Love One Person

“Right on Time”

I want this song played at my memorial gathering (along with “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J.S. Bach and “Let it Be” by The Beatles).

“Right on Time”
by Ellis Delaney

I wish for you to be free from doubt
When you feel left behind or left out
When the world seems brighter everywhere else
And your mind is lost inside a wishing well

Right on time
You are right on time
You’re right on time

Remember the heart is a tender thing
Restless and hopeful
It cries and sings
Sometimes you need shelter and a space to be
A little tough, not tough enough, a little lost at sea

And when everyone’s racing and you join in
If you can, try running with a smile
Because there is a danger in going too fast
Getting too far ahead can set you back

Right on time
You are right on time
You’re right on time

When you’re tired and on your own
Cried so many tears they’re all gone
When there’s nothing you haven’t tried
To fix this uncertain road.

When everywhere you look you see regret
Caught up in the past and what might have been
What we can never know can make our head spin
A little love, a little trust, a lot of forgiveness

Right on time
You are right on time
You’re right on time
What if we’re right on time

************

And here she is singing it.

ELLIS: “Right on Time”

Love One Person