On being … gone

By Ingrid Sapona

I grew up in Western New York in a place called the Town of Tonawanda. Our house backed onto an expressway. If you looked straight across the expressway from our back yard, you could see the Town water tank. It wasn’t one of those tall ones that look like a huge bulb on stilts. It was more like the huge tanks that you’d see at an oil refinery. (Out of curiosity, I googled it and it really was big – it held 4 million gallons.)

The water tank fascinated me for a lot of reasons. I remember thinking that if it ever burst (or was bombed) we’d be flooded. But, the most lasting memory I have of it was that it was proudly painted with the Town’s green and blue logo and “population 105,000”. That was in the 1970s.

The Town took down the water tank in 2013, long after I moved away. In fact, it was friends from Virginia who were up visiting my mother who mentioned to me that it was gone. It seems the water tank was their landmark for where to get off the expressway when they were visiting us. When they told me the water tank was gone, my first thought was “Gee, how will people know how many people live in the Town?”

When you see a number day in, day out, it leaves an impression on you when you’re young. (Remember seeing the “Number of burgers sold” on the McDonald’s sign? That made an impression too…) Anyway, to this day, 105,000 is a benchmark for me – a handy reference regarding numbers of people for all sorts of things. For example, when I heard that the University of Michigan’s football stadium holds 107,000, I thought – “Jeez, that’s big enough to seat everyone in my home town!” When I got to Evanston, Illinois for university and I found out the town’s population was only about 80,000, I thought, “Wow, I guess I’ve moved to a small town.”

I find a benchmark like that a useful way to transform an abstract idea like a number into something I can relate to. So, as the number of Americans who have died of COVID-19 rocketed past the 100,000 mark this week, I couldn’t help but think about that number on the water tank. Indeed, by the time you read this, it’s likely that the number of U.S. deaths due to COVID-19 will exceed the population of the town I grew up in. Just think about it – it’s as though everyone in my home town is gone…. I know that for many Americans the Vietnam war’s 58,220 dead is an unthinkable benchmark. As the U.S. approached that number in April, like many, I held my breath. Now the U.S. death rate is closing in on double that!

No country has escaped the pandemic unscathed. But that people in the U.S. seem willing to take the staggering death toll as a given is simply unfathomable. The U.S. used to be the envy of the world. How can they not have the willpower to do what it takes to control the number of deaths when other countries have managed to?

If you’re fortunate, as I am, to not (yet) personally know anyone who has died of COVID-19 – count yourself lucky. But don’t just sigh with relief that you and yours have been untouched. I’m writing this column to urge you to make it personal. Start by thinking about all the deaths in terms that are real and meaningful to you. For me, it’s useful to think of losing all the people in my home town. For you, it might be something like thinking of it in terms of losing everyone in your church, or synagogue, or school district. How would you feel if all those people were no gone? Would you just accept it and carry on?  

Over 100,000 Americans are gone from COVID-19. How many more deaths will it take before Americans realize they all have a role to play and a responsibility to each other.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


On being … curated

By Ingrid Sapona

“Curated Content” was a popular (read: overused) phrase six or seven years ago. Folks used it to describe articles, publications, websites, and on-line postings where someone acted as a “curator” to filter things for readers. I didn’t much care for the phrase because it was often used in a self-aggrandizing fashion. Indeed, I developed a healthy suspicion of folks who were offering me curated content.

The phrase seems to have gone out of fashion, and yet it popped into my head last week as I was reflecting on the variety of things friends and others have sent me during the pandemic. My friends have always been judicious in terms of what they sent out. In other words, they’ve never swamped my inbox with nonsense or rantings and ravings about anything. That’s not to say they don’t forward things they think I’d be interested in – they do.

But the past two months I’ve noticed some changes regarding what’s landed in my email inbox. One change relates to the folks who have been in touch. Many friends and colleagues have made a special effort to reach out to check in and just touch base. I’ve done the same with many people. For the most part, these emails are brief reassurances that they – and their families – are weathering the storm.

Then there are emails I’ve received that have provided unique insight into friends’ personalities and interests I never knew they had. For example, after a discussion with a friend about the naming of COVID-19, she sent me a couple scholarly articles she had read on the Spanish Flu. Shanon’s quite cerebral, so I wasn’t that surprised she’d read in-depth articles. But, I was quite surprised when she later sent a link to a neat video of the last performance of an award-winning equestrian rider and horse (Valegro) explaining she used to ride. Another friend sent a link to a performance she had tuned in to by the American Ballet Theatre. I had no idea Eva – a pathologist – was into ballet. (I had to laugh when she also mentioned that her physician husband apparently didn’t find it as enthralling as she did.)

Poetry has never been something I thought much about until Ann, a lawyer friend, forwarded a newsletter put out by the American Association of Poetry. They’ve been publishing “Shelter In” poems to inspire folks during the pandemic. I enjoyed so many of the poems, I decided to subscribe to their newsletter. Now, every time I get it, I think of Ann and wonder whether we’ve both found the same poem – or poems – moving. Interestingly, Ann wasn’t the only one who has sent me poems lately – a surprising number of folks shared poems that they came across in April (National Poetry Month).

I’ve also gained insights into friends’ hidden talents and skills. I had no idea how many people know how to sew, for example. I’ve been amazed at the number of friends who’ve mentioned they’ve made face masks. Another friend links to YouTube videos of “house sessions” he and his adult kids have had because they’re all home right now. Honestly, I knew they were talented, but I didn’t realize how seriously they took their music – with all the equipment on hand, you’d think they have a staff of roadies standing by! Keith even mentioned they take requests, in case there was anything I might like to hear… How sweet is that?

I’m sure part of the reason friends are sending things that they might not otherwise send is because they have more time and they probably figure others do to. Be that as it may, I’ve loved these glimpses into their interests, knowledge, talents, and senses of humour, not to mention being introduced to some new sources of information and inspiration. They are awesome curators!

To everyone who has reached out during this pandemic and shared a little something about themselves and their interests with their friends, I say bravo. In these days of distant socializing I can think of no greater gift than curating some content for your friends.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona