• Jody Kussin

In These Times #39 Hello in there, hello

Family Matters

#39 In These Times, by Dr. Jody Kussin April 22, 2010

Maya Angelou, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was interviewed at a conference organized by LeadingAge. Angelou, who passed away in 2014, was the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (and 31 other books) and a speaker of English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Italian and the West African language of Fanti.

Asked about her greatest accomplishment she said, “My greatest blessing is giving birth to my son.” Asked if she has any regrets, she said: “I wish I had known more, but I didn’t. I only knew as much as I did at that time. The most wonderful thing, as soon as possible, is to forgive yourself. People do only what they know what to do, not what you think they should do. Not because they were experienced or were exposed to this and went to this school and have this degree. We think they know, but not necessarily. Intellectually they might memorize certain statements, but they don’t know. In fact. When I have made mistakes, I forgive myself. I forgive anyone who comes in my earshot. I try to make sure I don’t make that one mistake again.

And finally, asked “what do you hold most dear?” she said: “Love. I don’t mean indulgent love. I mean that condition of the human spirit that is so profound that it can allow us to look at people and not eat each other up, to accord to each other some rights and to go further than that, to try to love them, whatever that mystery is. To love people who don’t look like us, who have different complexions and different hair, and to love them. To feel empathy for pets and wildlife. It’s amazing.”

In these times, it’s nice for us to practice empathy. Be understanding of those living with fear, some of which is irrational, and some of which is HIGHLY rational. Be respectful. You do not know what is going on inside your neighbor’s house. Do not assume everyone is experiencing this crisis in the same manner. Some people are struggling with chronic health conditions unrelated to the pandemic, which are now trickier to treat. Some people are struggling with fiances, even though it does not ‘appear that way’ to you. Some people have histories of trauma, neglect, abandonment, grief, poverty, hunger, all of which are currently being ‘triggered emotionally’ even if they are not in an acute crisis this moment in time. Some people have family who call and check on them. Some do not. Some people have pending legal cases which are now up in the air. Some people have lost their jobs, are about to lose their jobs, and/or are about to lose their housing. Some people are working with those who are sick and dying or have died. And some people are sick and dying.

Although it feels like we’ve been ‘stuck inside forever’ this is only the beginning. This is a long long marathon, not a sprint. We cannot use up all our good yet. We need to save some up. We can delay gratification.

Do you know that study, with the little kids – asked to sit and wait awhile until they can eat marshmallows. The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a study on delayed gratification in 1972 led by psychologist Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University. In this study, a child was offered a choice between one small but immediate reward, or two small rewards if they waited for a period of time. During this time, the researcher left the room for about 15 minutes and then returned. The reward was either a marshmallow or pretzel stick, depending on the child's preference. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes. Not all of this study was replicable, but the basic principle that self restraint can lead to positive results holds true.

Which is where we are now.

Can we handle a challenge? Can we continue to adhere to public health and safety measures. Can we focus on meeting our own needs as well as those of our neighbor? The children in the study ranged in age from THREE and a HALF to FIVE and a HALF.

I feel very confident that we, in adulthood, can take a page from their book. And wait things out. And smile on our brother. And attempt to walk in someone else’s shoes. (Well, maybe not that – we’d have to wipe them down with Clorox wipes, which are still nowhere to be seen so….)

We lost John Prine to Covid-19 a few weeks ago. He reminded us – say hello in there, hello.

We had an apartment in the city, Me and Loretta liked living there. Well, it'd been years since the kids had grown, A life of their own left us alone. John and Linda live in Omaha, And Joe is somewhere on the road. We lost Davy in the Korean war, And I still don't know what for, Don't matter anymore. You know that old trees just grow stronger, And old rivers grow wilder every day. Old people just grow lonesome Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello." Me and Loretta, we don't talk much more, She sits and stares through the back door screen. And all the news just repeat itself Like some forgotten dream that we've both seen. Someday I'll go and call up Rudy, We worked together at the factory. But what could I say if he asks "What's new?" "Nothing, what's with you? Nothing much to do." You know that old trees just grow stronger, And old rivers grow wilder every day. Old people just grow lonesome Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello." So if you're walking down the street sometime And spot some hollow ancient eyes, Please don't just pass 'em by and stare As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello."

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