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Some days it feels like all we can do is to look into the abyss while counting our blessings.

Beyond our boundaries there are forest fires in California; the effects of floods in Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania; and allies still trapped in Afghanistan.

Here at home COVID-19 cases are rising again quickly. The maps on the New York Times home page show West Virginia among the hot spots with the most cases and the least people vaccinated.

We are watching people with COVID-19 start to fill up hospitals and close schools with no back up plans. Our governor either sits on his hands or throws them up in dismay. He points a finger at everyone else instead of owning his own power to help to mitigate the disaster.

Our state Democratic Party is in danger of being paralyzed by warring factions that include some members who appear to be addicted to the fight at the expense of supporting actions being taken right now to improve the lives of vulnerable citizens and working families.

A vociferous spearhead of Republicans with apocalyptic visions threatens to pull everyone else down with them.

All of this is in the mix as I write at the end of a gloriously beautiful day with white fluffy clouds in a deep blue sky, gentle breezes and temperate weather that makes walking outside almost effortless.

It is a day to count our blessings for what we have here while continuing to try to figure out how best to make a difference to the good.

I enjoy small pleasures that have become weekly routines, like lunch (generally outside) at Danny’s BBQ Shack and fresh fish from Joe’s Fish Market. I find an unexpected note in my mailbox from an artist with good memories of our FestivALL arts fairs. An old friend texts lively music by a highly energetic Andes mountain musician.

I watch an excellent webinar combining younger gifted voices with a veteran UMWA organizer, all honoring the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain. They talk about how best to promote and protect unions here and now through the federal PRO Act.

Then I join an interactive zoom meeting to refine details of the annual policy statement from an organization of faith leaders.

I continue to trust that the skilled Democratic legislators and other dedicated activists in our state will find a clear path out of the thicket that we now find ourselves in. I am confident that they will be able to refocus our party on the ideals and service that have drawn so many of us to it.

It even occurs to me that the formal party apparatus and leadership may actually be irrelevant at this point. Maybe the real action is with the individual candidates and elected officials who develop funding and volunteers on their own within their districts and caucuses.

We are also surrounded by amazing advocates throughout the state who are fighting day in and day out for better federal, state and local policies and programs that invest in our people and build on our strengths.

Still, I cannot give up on the dream that the party’s resources will be used to support the organizing and expertise that can help all of these dedicated Democrats and our allies from throughout the big tent who are actually getting the job done.

I hope and pray that things do not have to get worse before they get better related to COVID-19 and other public health issues. The best we can do may be to focus on the multitude of daily decisions that each one of is called to make.

We are challenged as never before to figure out how to balance the risks we are willing to take while enjoying our quality of life and taking precautions to protect ourselves and others.

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As for the larger issues related to the climate, global warming, and international affairs, it is an ongoing struggle to match our own advocacy with our greatest concerns where we feel we can make a unique difference. While the clock is ticking we also know that major changes can involve incremental steps over a period of time, and no one person can effect the necessary change on their own.

Sometimes it really is a matter of turning things over to God, or to whatever is our faith tradition, to lead us all beside the still waters.

We need to find peace in ourselves in order to keep going.

The other day I stopped by Taylor Books and happened upon the book, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times,” by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun. I am only part way into it and already am finding it to be helpful.

This sentence really jumped out at me: “The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment.”

Chodron reinforces how courage is not a matter of being without fear. Rather to be brave involves knowing and embracing fear and other unknowns as a source of compassion and understanding with relationship to ourselves and to others.

This is far easier said than done, to be sure. Very few of us can leave our present situations in order to live in a monastery on the coast of Nova Scotia to focus solely on refining a spiritual practice.

Still, we all have the capacity to take care of ourselves in such a way that we attend to what is happening at any time and wherever we are. There are many sources for instructing and supporting us in learning how to do this. I am curious to see what more I can learn from this book.

I think too of our own Amy Williams, a professional therapist who has channeled lessons in self care through a plush pig named Wanda Petunia. From her home in North Carolina she reaches out to all of us with an unending variety of creative approaches to help us to learn and grow through hard times.

We also continue to have outside events, where we can safely distance, to hear music and otherwise find ways to relax and gain perspective on what is going on. It would be great to see more outside discussions like the panel of authors on the mine wars during the Blair Mountain Centennial. Hybrid cultural experiences allow us to plug in from the safety of our homes.

It is only human and natural to want things to be better and safer than they currently are. I know I want more than anything to be able to visit with my family who are the most important blessing in my life. I have to continue to have faith that I will see them again when the timing is right and that this will be sooner rather than later.

In going through old papers in my storeroom I found the following notes that I wrote to myself. This is undated, which means that challenges continue to recur in our lives, at least they do in mine. The photographs I refer to are the products of the fine art landscape film photography that I did for many years.

I am concluding with these notes, as follows:

“We need to ache for the beauty of trees as we do for a lost love who’s left us. Those remaining are our friends, to protect and cherish. It’s the same for the deep blue sky, the clear light, and the sparkling waters. We are part of them, as they are of us.

“The photographs are reminders: there are remnants still among us. Old buildings, still in use. Old towns, with a calm and deep sense of purpose. People of all ages, finding pleasures in their paths through everyday life.

“We have to find a way to manage all the craziness, near and far away, so that it doesn’t overwhelm us. Breathing deep and embracing our surroundings, finding our God – this is a way.”

Betty Rivard, of Charleston, is a retired social worker and planner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

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