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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

O! say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Yes, that is the first stanza of our national anthem, the star-spangled banner. It has been my experience, at ballgames and other public gatherings (remember those?) where the anthem has played, that many Americans do not know all the words. In fact, not a lot of the words. In truth, not any of the words beyond the first two sentences. Confess: that’s you or your spouse or your children.

Now there is always a story behind every creation. In honor of our nation’s upcoming birthday, I thought I would tell you some of the controversial story and remind you of the words of at least the first and last of the four stanzas written by Francis Scott Key.

So who was Francis Scott Key and how did he come to write these words?

Key was a good-looking, rich American lawyer, author and amateur poet who was from Frederick, Maryland. Born August 1, 1779, three years after the start of the Revolutionary War, he lived to be 63, dying at the beginning of 1843. He was married to Mary (“Polly”) Tayloe Lloyd and they had eleven children. Incidentally, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a distant relative.

We remember that we learned of Key viewing the attack by the British on Fort McHenry from a ship outside Baltimore during the brief War of 1812, and how he could not tell, through the dark night, if the fort had fallen to the enemy. But at dawn, when he saw the flag still flying, he was inspired to write the poem in 1814 that was to become our national song.

His friends called him “Frank,” which often blended with Key to come out “Frankie.” He had a high profile, having been part of Andrew Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet, the unofficial advisers who were so influential. He defended a young Sam Houston in court on the latter’s trial over beating up an Ohio congressman. He was U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and he prosecuted the would-be assassin of President Jackson, who by the way was a Southern slaveholder.

Key, as a youth, had almost become an Episcopal priest, helped found two seminaries and wrote about poetry’s influence on religion. He also had a complicated and contradictory relationship with slavery. He personally owned six slaves, though he allegedly opposed the practice and eventually set them all free. Yet he did not do so for the many slaves his wife inherited and who worked the farm that provided much of the family’s income. He represented slaves for free in court who were trying to win their freedom, yet he was bitterly opposed to the abolitionist movement, and as U.S. district attorney, challenged its efforts. He strongly supported the colonization of former slaves in Africa, helping to found the colony of Liberia.

It is no surprise, then, that in the recent rush to tear down statues, his was toppled on Friday, June 19, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Today we have come to recognize that the imperfect Key is inseparably linked with slavery and pride in our nation.

O thus be it ever when free men shall stand

Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation!

Bless’d with victory and peace, may the Heaven-rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Deer tick. Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Early Sunday morning, I had a close encounter with a tick. Now I know this is a bonanza season for ticks because we have had so much rain this past spring and there is lush greenery for the ticks to inhabit. Also, we have run articles cautioning readers about ticks and how the symptoms of Lyme disease so closely mimic those of COVID-19. I can advise you further that when you find a tick in bed with you that has already attached itself onto your person, you will experience shock and maybe even the creepy-crawlies.

Additionally, I could feel the lump, but because of its location, I could not see it. So since it was early and I was still more than half asleep, I tried to persuade myself that I could go back to sleep and we could deal with it later. But no, my brain was already on high alert and nudged me out of bed and to a full length mirror. 

Yep, it was a tick, tiny but unmistakable. Ech! What to do next? I have pulled them off my dogs many times over the years, but this one was smaller and out of reach. I googled “Tickssuck.org,” which told me not to slather it with Vaseline in order to smother it into releasing its hold on me, which I had done with the dogs. Instead it recommended getting tweezers, placing one tip under the head of the tick and carefully extract the beastie. Not wanting to wake the household, I found a smaller hand mirror, a pair of tweezers and a plastic bag to save the tick for diagnosis.

It was not pretty. I was in a convoluted position just to see the spot, and while one hand had to hold the mirror, the other could only fumble around with the tweezers. Somehow, after repeated stabs, I was able to yank the tick free, but I had left the head, the toxic part, still in my skin. I carefully, or so I thought, moved the tweezers toward the plastic bag only to have the tick slip out and fall onto the small bathroom rug at my feet. I uttered a not-so-nice word as I bent down to find the arachnid. After intense scrutiny, I could not find it. I carried the fluffy rug, carefully as you might imagine, out the front door and put it down in the sunlight. I saw nothing and was about to give up when I spied it and this time bagged it.

What did I do next? I sat down back inside my house and considered throwing up. Not a good idea in the living room. I considered going to a hospital emergency room but dismissed the thought in this time of real emergencies. I had the specimen, it was no longer attached, it would make a good story when everyone was awake, and I would wait until the beginning of the week to see a physician.

Monday morning, I tried to get an appointment. “When are you free in August?” I was asked sweetly by the receptionist. There ensued a lengthy exchange about 72 hours being critical for treatment, followed by a couple of phone calls back and forth throughout the day and finally a Tuesday slot. “Yes, it appears the head of the tick is still there, in the center of the red circle,” confirmed the physician who was good enough to squeeze me into his already overbooked schedule. “Would you like to wait until your body extrudes the head, which normally happens with a foreign substance in the skin, or would you like me to anesthetize the area and cut it out?” he asked. “Makes no difference.”

Well, it did make a difference to me, and I opted to wait. I left with two doxycycline and the warning to make sure the red spot doesn’t turn into a rash, to call immediately if it does for a full 21-day prescription, and an order for a blood test for Lyme after six weeks will have passed.

I share this with you to urge you every night to check yourself and your loved ones for ticks.

Photo from METRO

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Sunday is Father’s Day. When I think of my father, one of the most immediate memories I have of him is of his telling us stories. He loved to talk about his childhood days growing up on a dairy farm in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. One of nine children, he distinguished himself with his claim as “the middle child,” and made his adventures sound daring and riveting. Somehow he and his siblings always survived, always came through relatively unscathed. And the conclusions to the stories were inevitably happy ones.

For example, there was the time the six boys climbed to the peak of the hill behind their farmhouse, arranged themselves onto an oversized sled and careened down on the hard-packed snow. It was great fun until they saw a train in the distance coming along the track at the bottom of the mountain. Their oldest brother, sitting in the front, quickly calculated the speed of the sled and the speed of the train and shouted a command to those behind him: “Jump off to the left when I count to three.” They obeyed and huddled together watching, as down below the rushing train crushed the sled crossing in its path.

Then there was the day my dad and a couple of his schoolmates climbed atop the one-room schoolhouse roof and jumped down in front of their young teacher just as she was arriving for the day. She screamed, which was satisfying to his buddies, but my dad also screamed as, barefoot, he landed on a glass shard. His father, who was of necessity the “emergency room doctor” for his family, isolated as they were in the rural farmland, stitched his foot and spooked him by saying that he would bear the scar of that misadventure “all the rest of his life.” To my young father, that sounded more ominous than the pain of his sole being sewn up. If we begged, he would show us the jagged scar, evidence of his exciting youth.

What would he say about living through the present pandemic? It still feels like a dream, this novel coronavirus, from which we will shortly awake. I pinch myself, but I know I am not dreaming. For sure these times require daring just to go shopping in the supermarket, and judging by the amount of media coverage, are also riveting.

For many, sheltering in place has proven to be most difficult. Those who like to be in motion constantly are now restrained to their few rooms and a daily walk. Relationships with spouses or others sharing the house or apartment may have become strained to the breaking point. In Wuhan, China, made famous as the origin of COVID-19 for example, suits for divorce have increased appreciably compared to the preceding year. There has been an uptick in the use of alcohol and drugs in the U.S. by those feeling isolated or lonely or simply in limbo from their normal lives. Depression is an increasing complaint.

Yet others, at the same time, have found the pandemic a time for reevaluation of their lives. They have slowed down from their frenetic pace, deepened relationships with partners and children and colleagues, and if they have been fortunate enough not to have anyone fall ill, and to keep their jobs, perhaps have seen a new way occasionally to work: remotely from home or elsewhere in the world. They have probably saved some money by not venturing out to shop, dine or vacation and have maybe enjoyed some healthy home cooking.

There is a better prospect ahead. After all, we are in Phase Two now. It appears that Phase Three is on the immediate horizon. By wearing masks in public, practicing social distancing and avoiding crowded indoor settings, and by sheltering those who would be most vulnerable, we seem now to be co-existing with the virus, at least until a vaccine becomes available or sufficient herd immunity evolves.

How would my dad tell this story? I believe he would share his experience as a great adventure, even as he would hold up his scar.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is the year we all disappeared behind our masks. “Who is that masked man?” people would ask about the Lone Ranger, as he rode the range decades ago in every child’s imagination and kept the peace. Now they might ask the same question of us, masked men and women and children, as we peacefully go about our new freedoms of shopping and ordering meals for alfresco dining. We are not always immediately recognizable behind the variety of face coverings we see on the streets. The importance of wearing a mask has been accepted by almost everyone, and with good reason. An example of the benefits can be found in Japan.

According to Motoko Rich, a reporter for The New York Times, face coverings are common in Japan during flu and hay fever seasons, on crowded public transportation when commuters commonly have colds and even when women “don’t want to bother putting on makeup.” Mask sightings are routine.

Could that be the explanation for Japan’s surprisingly low number of victims of COVID-19 compared to other countries?

Initially, we Americans were advised not to wear masks, that they were unnecessary and should be saved for hospital workers. We all know what happened next. Cases of novel coronavirus spiked and the number of deaths exceeded the capacity of morgues and funeral homes for weeks. We were directed to shelter-in-place. Yet in Japan, which did not order a lockdown or massive testing or emphasize social distancing, and kept karaoke bars open and public transportation packed, terrible spikes in cases and deaths did not occur. The numbers there were 17,000 infections and 900 deaths. Yes, they have a smaller population, but in the United States, whose residents number two-and-one-half times that of Japan, some 1.9 million have fallen ill and 110,000 have died.

Eventually bars and businesses did close, and schools were shut early, as cultural and sports events were canceled, but note that none of those restrictions was mandatory. What the people did do was to nearly universally don masks. That response follows a cultural tradition of hundreds of years. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, mining workers used masks to prevent inhaling dust. The Japanese wore them during the 1918 flu epidemic and more recently during SARS and MERS outbreaks, as well as to protect against pollution and pollen. The country was “relatively unscathed,” during the epidemics, according to Motoko Rich.

Members of the scientific community weigh in on the matter. “I think there is definitely evidence coming out of COVID that Japan, as well as other countries which practice mask-wearing, tend to do much better in flattening the curve,” said  Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale, as quoted in the NYT. 

Masks can block respiratory droplets that are emitted when people speak, cough or sneeze. Those droplets may carry the virus, even when the wearer has no symptoms, and hence transmit the disease if not captured by the mask.

The reporter goes on to emphasize that masks alone are not sufficient to prevent disease, that social distancing is also required. Even with masks, crowds are a danger for the spread of infection. It will be informative to learn the unintended health consequences of the many protests against racism, triggered by George Floyd’s death under the knee of a police officer, that have occurred over the past two weeks. Most of those protesters, crowded together, seemed to be wearing masks.

From my travels to Japan, I would add a couple of cultural differences to this story. We found the Japanese to bow rather than shake hands and to be a little physically distant with each other rather than hugging often. Their country is, for the most part, amazingly clean and uncluttered, and they seem fastidious about themselves. These traits would also argue in favor of less contagion when disease is present.

I would also like to predict that masks — designer, decorated, color coordinated, whatever — will be with us well after the pandemic ends.

Hundreds of protesters stand at the corner of Routes 112 and 347 in Port Jefferson Station Monday, June 1 to protest police violence, especially against people of color. Photo by David Luces

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This year will be remembered in much the same way as 2001, 1968 and even 1941 are remembered. And the year is not even half over yet. Those were years when we were embroiled in conflict; we the people of the United States of America. In 1968, we experienced internal strife, with protesters taking to the streets against the Vietnam War and racism in society. The other two historic years, the strife came from outside the country. This year we have both.

It required protests in 140 cities across the nation, triggered by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, to push aside the daily counts of illness and death from COVID-19 at the top of the news. And like 1968, this is a year of national elections, so throw in a heavy dose of politics into a climate of extreme political partisanship.

Peaceful demonstrations catalyzed by grief and anger at the video proof of police officers killing George Floyd, a black man in their custody, have morphed in many instances into chaotic and often deadly attacks on police as they try to control rioting, vandalism, fires and looting in the cities. 

Protesters have sometimes tried to stop looters, adding to the wrestling for control of the streets. And all of that is happening as more than 100,000 Americans have died and close to two million have been sickened, victims of the coronavirus. The possibility of a spike in the pandemic from the gathering of crowds pouring out of their sheltering-in-place homes in protest is another concern for health officials. The situation is certainly not helped by the more than 40 million people now unemployed. Disease, economic challenges and social unrest are combining to inflame our country.

Where do we go from here?

For our health problem, the answers are simpler. As our lives become more liberated by the phased openings, we must still maintain caution during our comings and goings. We need to wear masks when interacting with others, even one other. We must practice social distancing of at least 6 feet of separation when we are with others who are new to our antiviral sheltering circle. We can get tested more easily now should symptoms prompt such action. We should continue to diligently wash our hands, especially after touching any common surfaces, like doorknobs or railings. And extra resources must be given to areas with extra caseloads.

The racism problem is not so straightforward. It has been embedded in our country since before its founding, and it will take much more than words to alleviate. 

We need to work together across communities to root out discrimination and inequalities in health care, educational access, employment opportunities and policing. That starts with the birth of each baby in a safe and professional environment, and follows that child through pre-school right up through full schooling with competent teachers, administrators and resources, jobs that can pay at least a living wage and housing in a safe and pleasant neighborhood.

Is it possible for societies to do all that?

Many systems have been tried to help level the playing field. None of them has worked so far. While all people might have equal rights, not all people have equal abilities or equal good luck. Some will always be better off than others. Democracy offers vital freedoms and choices. But the will of the majority must always be accompanied by protection for the rights of minorities. Good governments can do that. Capitalism offers rewards for enterprise. But good government must control its excesses. Presumably we can all agree on these principles.

But how do we end bigotry?

Racism is bigotry based on differences of skin color. Anti-Semitism is based on differences of religion, as is anti-Catholicism and anti-Muslimism and countless other theological beliefs. People kill each other over such defining differences. At different times in human history, such bigotry seems to lessen. People intermarry, live together in diverse communities, even vote each other into office.

But bigotry doesn’t disappear. It merely slumbers, like a pandemic gone underground. If we are to survive as a species, we must first unite.   

Photo from METRO

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Perhaps the worst is over. With this first phase of recovery for Long Island, suddenly there is hope that the strange pandemic life we are leading will pass into history. Of course, we are far from home free. The virus is still just as contagious and the threat is still real. We continue to ache for those whose lives have been cut short by this virulent disease, and our hearts go out to the families who lost loved ones without even a farewell or proper service. 

But we have, to a great extent, adapted to a coexistence with the virus as we wear face masks, habitually practice social distancing, wash our hands frequently for at least 20 seconds each time and otherwise limit our interactions with family, friends and colleagues to regular Zoom sessions. 

Working remotely, for those who can, has proven not to be so bad and will probably carry over well beyond sheltering-in-place. And for those on the front lines of response, the intensity, if not the fear, may have somewhat diminished.

We are thrilled to see the stores open up, if only for curbside or doorway pick up of items. Some of the establishments have constructed barriers to keep customers safely apart or added ultraviolet lighting to kill the microbes. And perhaps those on unemployment can now be called back to work. 

Some may not return even though they are required to respond to their employer’s call. Ironically, they may be doing better financially by being on unemployment, at least for the short term. The federal government has put itself in competition with small businesses, who can’t pay workers as much, and sometimes the Feds win. Those small businesses that have received the Payroll Protection Plan money are able to call back workers and to pay them until their eight-week period runs out.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who has built up quite a following for his daily briefings and won positive ratings for his down home manner, offered this as he rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday: “Wearing a mask has got to be something you do every day. When you get up, when you walk out of the house, you put the mask on. This is cool.” 

He also admonished people not to be rude to those who might not be wearing masks, that we should encourage them to do so nicely and politely. He did go on to add, recognizing that he was, after all, governor of New York State, “But it’s New York. We have to be careful that nice and polite stays nice and polite.” 

Cuomo met with President Donald Trump (R), a longtime fellow New Yorker, Wednesday, and urged spending for infrastructure as a way to provide many jobs. That goal was mentioned by Trump shortly after he took office in 2017 and is considered one of the few subjects on which there could be bipartisan support. In particular, Cuomo advocated for an AirTrain to La Guardia Airport, a rail tunnel under the Hudson River and a northern extension of the Second Avenue subway.

It is most unfortunate that, along with the deadly consequences of the novel coronavirus, there is an underpinning of highly partisan sentiment in the country. Traditionally, when there is a crisis, Americans pull together. Certainly that was true during Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, for example. But the nature of this pandemic is asymmetrical in that areas of greater density tend to be more stricken, while those more rural or away from the big cities and the coasts are more lightly touched. 

It is hard for those not in the throes of the ghastly metrics of death and affliction to feel the extreme stress of those who are. It just so happens that the divide between red and blue states overlays our map, not perfectly, but remarkably. Suffolk County, considered a red county, yet in a dense area, is an exception with its high casualties. 

So we have those demanding an “opening” of the economy vs. those who are concerned about contagion. We must unfailingly continue to practice what has worked to win us entry thus far into Phase One. 

Cécile Rol-Tanguy with her husband Henri. Photo from public domain

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Here is a script for the next Academy Award-winning film whenever we get back to making and viewing movies. It has all the right elements: white-knuckle suspense, bad guys, good guys, some who were both, Nazis, women of courage, men of valor, Charles de Gaulle, a love story, Auschwitz, a close family, children, heartbreak, resilience and especially a tale that truly happened. 

What’s it about? It is the life of Cécile Rol-Tanguy before and during WWII.

You probably never heard of her. I hadn’t until I read her obit. She died earlier this month at the age of 101 in Monteaux, 130 miles from Paris.  Born Marguerite Marie Cécile Le Bihan April 10, 1919, she was the daughter of Francois, an electrician who served in the French Navy and was a co-founder of the French Communist Party (PCF) in 1920. 

Cécile was raised in a highly politicized family that frequently hosted foreign communist agitators on the run from Italy, Germany and eastern European countries. As a communist, her father was arrested for the second time by the Nazis in 1943 and was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.

Cécile dropped out of school in 1936 and got a job with the Comite d’ Aide a la Espagne Republicaine, an organization helping the Republicans against Franco in Spain, and there she met Henri Rol-Tanguy, who was 11 years her senior and a fellow communist. He volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War, returned wounded in 1938, and they married in 1939 when she discovered she was pregnant. Sadly, she lost the baby girl in June 1940, two days before Paris fell to the German army. Shortly thereafter her father was arrested for the first time, and her husband, Henri, joined the French Resistance (Forces Francaises de l’Intérieur, or FFI).

Cécile too worked for the resistance, and when she gave birth to a second girl, Henri asked her to work elsewhere and leave the baby with her mother in case both of them were arrested. She refused.

They were separated during the war and were forced to hide their identities and their relationship, only communicating using code names. Cécile would adopt disguises and frequently change her hair style. She moved around Paris often hiding guns, grenades and clandestine newspapers in the baby’s stroller. She worked to set up a command post in an underground shelter, from which the couple received and distributed information and orders. Henri continued to move about the city, but Cécile felt confined to the headquarters, sending out communiques.

Then Aug. 19, 1944, the couple published and distributed a pamphlet calling the citizens of Paris to arms for a general mobilization, and, on Aug. 25, Paris was indeed liberated by the French division of the Allies’ army. In the underground, she said she could not hear the bells but she and the other women there celebrated by having a pillow fight.

Her husband went on to become an officer in the French Army, and while she was initially recognized for her efforts, Cécile felt that the many other women who had participated in the French Resistance at great peril to their lives were not. After the war and throughout the rest of her long life, she represented and advocated for recognition of the role of women in the French Resistance.

After 63 years of marriage, Henri died in 2002, and in 2008, Cécile was asked to become the Grand Officer of the Légion d’Honneur. Reluctant at first, she accepted the great distinction in the name of all the women resistance fighters whom she said were too often forgotten by history.

Cécile Rol-Tanguy died May 8, remarkably on the exact day of the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII in Europe, known as VE Day. As she went along, giving lectures and interviews during her last years, she continually stressed the importance of fighting for one’s freedom. She wanted future generations to receive that message.

Fortunately, she lived long enough to see the reopening of the Musée de la Libération de Paris moved, in August 2019, to Place Denfert-Rochereau, the location of the underground from which she and her husband launched the insurrection that helped in the liberation of Paris. 

Photo from METRO

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Zooming has become a verb in the same way xeroxing did many years ago. When a product assumes an important role in daily life, the manufacturer’s name sometimes becomes the name for the process. So it was for many years with photocopying. And now, I don’t know about you, but for those of us who are working remotely even part of the week, participating in calls over the Zoom platform is a regular occurrence.

Who ever heard of Zoom before sheltering in place began? Well, maybe I did, but only as a possible growth stock to invest in, and running at $100 a share, it struck me as too expensive to be interesting. When I googled (another such example) the name, it was described as “an American communications technology company headquartered in San Jose, California. It provides videotelephony and online chat services … and is used for teleconferencing, telecommuting, distance education and social relations.” Until I actually went through “joining a meeting,” it had no relevance to my life.

Enter the pandemic and sheltering in place, and we all discovered that unlike some other high tech stuff, Zoom was easy to use and helpful for work and play. We now have departmental meetings and community board meetings via Zoom, and I enjoy weekly rendezvouses with my children and grandchildren. For now, seeing everybody is free.

Like all technical marvels, however, there are positives and negatives in connection with Zoom. After three Zoom meetings, each for two hours, in one day, I found that I was exhausted and feeling out of sorts. The first such day, I just assumed it had little to do with zooming. The next time, with a similar schedule and the same result, made me realize there was a cause-and-effect taking place, but I didn’t understand why.

Then I read, “Why Zoom Is Terrible,” a column in The New York Times by journalist Kate Murphy, that made a lot of sense. Before I share the particulars, I want to rush to say that I don’t think Zoom is terrible. I think it is what it is, like all new inventions that change one’s life: a miracle. However difficult our lives are today, imagine if there were no video conferencing available to us. Even physicians have embraced telemedicine as a substitute for office visits for now, but surely as a way of communicating with remote patients who cannot get to the office in a life-or-death emergency in the future.

There are, however, some drawbacks, as Murphy’s article explains, and we should be aware of them. The way the video images are “digitally encoded and decoded, altered and adjusted, patched and synthesized introduces all kinds of artifacts: blocking, freezing, jerkiness and out-of-sync audio. These disruptions, some below our conscious awareness, confound perception and scramble certain social cues. Our brains strain to fill in the gaps and make sense of the disorder, which makes us feel vaguely disturbed, uneasy and tired without quite knowing why.”

This explains a lot to me. Just the audio delay alone tends to make me speak more loudly to the screen than I would normally in an unconscious attempt to get my words to the listeners faster and get their responses back more quickly. After six hours of yelling alone, I can feel pretty tired. And when I look at the others on the grid, in a manner reminiscent of the television show, Hollywood Squares, I am not looking them in the eye. There is no eye contact, and often people are actually looking at themselves — checking out their hair and whether their collar is covering their chicken neck.

We are, as the author points out, “exquisitely sensitive to one another’s facial expressions …and [that is] essential to our understanding of one another.” But such subtleties are frozen, smoothed over or delayed on the screen, however hard we might strain to see them, hence our fatigue and even a bit of alienation.

So now you know. And by the way, Zoom is now selling at $164.55 a share. I never bought it.

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” is a poem written by the great Walt Whitman as an elegy for the great Abe Lincoln, who died around this time in May of 1865. For me, it too honors my mother, whom I also regard as great, as I guess we all do our mothers, if in a more personal context. I think of my mother whenever lilacs bloom because she loved the flower, with its heart-shaped leaves and its perfume fragrance, and because she died right around Mother’s Day when, to me also in her honor, lilacs bloom.

My mother grew up in the earliest years of the 20th century in Corona, a then-countrified section of Queens in New York City. She told us that on her way to elementary school, she sometimes had to wait for the cows in front of her to finish crossing the road, which is certainly a different picture than what I saw of the neighborhood when I was shown the house in which she and her siblings, parents and maiden aunt lived. (That last is an expression from a century ago.) She also lovingly described the backyard as “completely filled with lilac bushes whose scent filled the entire block.”

My mother was the bridge for her parents and older siblings between the Ukraine, from which they emigrated, speaking not a word of English, and America, the repository of their dreams. She was probably 4 years old when they arrived and moved into the house on Corona Avenue, and she was sent off to school where she learned the language and brought it home, along with the ways of the new country. That she was bright must have been apparent to the teachers because she was skipped grades twice during those early years and graduated from junior high or middle school when she was 11. Although she yearned to go on to high school and college, her father had suffered a debilitating stroke, and she, along with her older brother and sister, were obligated to work and support the family of nine. She won a scholarship to what was then called a “business school,” where she learned in record time to be a credentialed bookkeeper and was hired as such by a man named Mr. Mosler, a member of the well-known family that made Mosler Safes and Vaults.

My mother worked all her life, arranging her work hours somehow around the responsibilities of caring for my father and three children. She was well ahead of her time, of course, as a “businesswoman,” but apparently neither she nor my father thought it odd that she should have a work life outside the home. It was apparent to me at an early age that she was different from the mothers of my friends. She didn’t bake cakes or cookies, was a terrible cook — except during holidays when she focused on preparing delicious meals — didn’t knit and didn’t seem interested in stylish clothes. Indeed, it would have been strange had she been restricted to the home for all her adult life since she was both worldly and had a manner that I would today call “commanding,” despite her short stature. She was occasionally asked if she were a lawyer.

For all of that veneer, my mother was generous, warm and affectionate with all of us, had a great laugh, had a close and supportive relationship with my father, and together they provided a safe and nurturing home in which we were raised.

My mother reaches the level akin to sainthood, in my opinion, because of the way she welcomed and raised my younger sister, who had Down syndrome. Despite the prevailing attitudes then, in 1942 when my sister was born, of stigma and institutionalization, my mother insisted that my sister had a right to a “normal” life within the family and to learn and grow to the fullest extent of her capability.

Again, my mother was way ahead of her time. 

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“It’s May, it’s May, the merry month of May!”  according to the Elizabethan poem by Thomas Dekker and then twisted a bit to “lusty month of May” by “Camelot’s” Lerner and Loewe. I’m willing to believe them, if you are, and there are a couple of items of good news that we can celebrate in our war against the novel coronavirus as the
month begins.

First is the unexpected progress coming from the University of Oxford toward a vaccine. Despite the earliest hopes for such an effective halt to the COVID-19 pandemic involving a 12 to 18- month timetable, which would suggest toward the end of 2021, it turns out that scientists at Oxford’s Jenner Institute are way ahead. 

They have been holding previous clinical trials against an earlier coronavirus that are proving harmless to humans. Having cleared that major hurdle, now they can go to the head of the international race. They will be holding trials involving over 6,000 people with their new vaccine toward the end of the month. Not only do they want to show that the vaccine is safe but also that it works.

Then, “with an emergency approval from regulators, the first few million doses of their vaccine could be available by September — at least several months ahead of any of the other announced efforts — if it proves to be effective,” according to an article by David D. Kirkpatrick that appeared on the front page of this past Tuesday’s The New York Times.

There is evidence from the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana that this new Oxford vaccine may indeed work. It has been in a limited animal trial there and found to protect against COVID-19.

Other scientists at Oxford “are working with a half dozen drug manufacturing companies across Europe and Asia to prepare to churn out billions of doses as quickly as possible if the vaccine is approved. None have been granted exclusive marketing rights, and one is the giant Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest supplier of vaccines,” according to the Times. The idea of having several is to obtain billions of doses quickly and to avoid anyone making a lot of money from the pandemic.

There are a couple of American companies that are also doing research, along the same lines as Oxford, of altering the virus’s genetic material and conducting small clinical trials. They too must demonstrate both safety and effectiveness. The same goes for a Chinese company.

Another avenue of defense against COVID-19 is the use of blood plasma from the disease’s survivors on other desperately ill patients. Again, according to another article in Wednesday’s The New York Times by Audra D.S. Burch and Amy Harmon, the treatment may work. This involves finding survivors, with the same blood type as the ill patient, who will then volunteer to donate blood. The plasma in that blood, now termed convalescent plasma, is then injected into the gravely ill patient in order to bolster the patient’s immune system with new antibodies, “giving him more soldiers in his body to fight this war,” said Dr. Leslie Diaz, an infectious disease specialist at the Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center in South Florida where there was such treatment administered.

Initially to find such a donor, a frantic search was launched on social media that discovered an appropriate donor some 80 miles away. There is now a national program overseen by the Mayo Clinic, with the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, to use this experimental treatment on 2500 patients in U.S. hospitals. It should be said, however, that it is not clear whether having antibodies that are not their own would ultimately help or harm patients. This is only an experimental treatment under study.

So as we leave April behind, we should salute the American writer, T. S. Eliot, who began his 1922 landmark poem, “The Waste Land” with the words, “April is the cruelest month.” A hundred years earlier, he knew.