A New Enemy Among Us

It’s such a foreign feeling to be apprehensive of other human beings.

As children we were warned about the “boogey man.” And stranger danger. Sometimes we were fed images coupled with descriptors of what a so-called bad person looked like. There may have been role playing exercises so that a child’s naivety wouldn’t put them in jeopardy. “Beware of strangers,” and “don’t accept rides or candy from people you do not know,” our parents warned.

Today, there is a new enemy among us. One that we literally cannot see coming, but it’s presence is formidable as it is legitimate. What’s more frightening is that the “smartest” minds among us can’t thwart it, not even medical science. This enemy is viral. And while it has no specific personified target it seemingly has a mission.

Grocery stores now look like ERs and ICUs, over capacity with a sea of blue face masks, and hands adorned in pastel blue plastic gloves. Recently, and for the first time in my life, I wore a face mask and gloves before entering a grocery store. A grocery store. I caught myself carefully stretching out the fingers of the gloves as I prepped myself in the car, nearly mimicking a climactic scene from a medical drama. Except I wasn’t about to perform life saving surgery. I was trying to save my own life as I was preparing to go food shopping.

This crisis is revealing the most extreme spectrum of responses and personalities. There are those who now visit public places completely shrouded, some donning military-grade gas masks, and other makeshift versions of PPE. And there are others who carry on their regularly-scheduled lives as if they possess a level of immunity that alludes the rest of the planet. They still play contact sports. All but mock “social distancing” edicts, and yet are somehow inclined to stock pile (i.e., disrespectfully hoard) essential food, and household supplies “just in case.”

There are those who still stand dangerously close to strangers in shopping aisles, or other public spaces. These people will all but kidnap your shadow and stand in it’s place, hovering over you as you attempt to make your selections. This behavior is rude pre-corona virus, it is potentially lethal today. No hyperbole here. This is not a game, and it is not a drill.


We’re all in this together. So let’s act like it and do the right things together. More often than not. The lives of others…including your own may very well depend on it. There’s a so-called “threat” out there, and it shouldn’t be one of us.

Be careful out there.

Introducing Ask Rymarkablesteph

I’ve been asked by a few good friends to offer advice on pointed subjects. So, the format will go like this:

A subscriber will ask me a question, consenting that I post the question (anonymously), and response via an upcoming blog post.

As I’m not trying to run a full-on advice column, I will alternate between my regular posts, and a Ask Rymarkablesteph post. I might do a combo. The process is fluid right now. Let’s see what works. I will also provide details on how subscribers to the Rymarkablesteph blog can submit questions to be featured.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider subscribing and commenting, if you are so inclined.

Thanks for stopping by and be on the look out for Ask Rymarkablesteph! In the meantime, be careful out there!

Resiliently Coping

As the corona virus pandemic continues to make its rounds, I strongly suggest that other states and cities learn from the East Coast. As you watch the news it may appear as if you are witnessing an optical illusion. New York City streets, namely the infamous Times Square that has been brimming with life since the early days of the city, now eerily desolate.

You see the cars lined up for hours filled with anxious people seeking testing at mobile sites. There are stories of weary medical and health care professionals, working passionately to save lives even if it means compromising their own. There is mandated social distancing enforced by local police departments. There are also grim images of human remains being stored in 53-foot mobile freezers, highlighting the severity of this crisis. Countless celebrities have come forward disclosing their status…and those are the fortunate ones. What we know for sure is this emergency is not selective. It impacts people just like us regardless of income, social status, or other demographic descriptors.

As scientist, doctors, and other scholars work around the clock to understand this virus and identify a cure or remedy, what we do know is this:  this is not a game. This is not a drill.

There are people who wash their hands regularly, and still contracted this virus.  There are people who observed many of the precautions as dictated by the CDC and other health organizations, and they too tested positive for COVID-19.  Do I say this to alarm you? No.  Should you throw your hands up in apathy? Unequivocally not!

What you can do is adapt to this new way of being, interacting, and living for now.  It is be responsible and accountable for our own actions to the highest extent. If you are feeling unwell and interact with other people, if you are symptomatic, or have been exposed to someone with symptoms, or diagnosed with the corona virus, you have the potential to affect every person you encounter. 

By staying indoors as much as possible, you minimize the risk of inadvertently infecting as well as being infected unintentionally. Think on it this way-if you are in your neighborhood (at the store, running errands), you are likely to encounter someone that you know at least once.  If either party has the corona virus, it is almost certain that each person will encounter more people thereby creating a domino effect.   Sometimes we are fanatically trying to avoid strangers, that we forget that everyone is a part of a circle that interacts with other circles. 

All of this indeed sounds like common sense (because it is), however, there is an old and trusted adage about false assumptions around common sense. 

My other tip is to strategically buy household essentials versus panic buying.  Now is also the time for everyone to play nicely in the proverbial sandbox (while maintaining the prescribed social distancing standards, of course.)  As there is no known immediate resolution, any one of us could be forced to knock on a neighbor’s door for coffee, sugar, milk, rice, or toilet tissue (paper)…literally. 

My final point is I know a fair amount of people who have had or have tested positive for COVID-19.  And guess what?  They are alive.  They are THRIVING.  They are at home taking care of themselves and their health.  There are those who are working-business as usual, in public spaces, while taking as much precaution as one can under the circumstances. 

In the cases that I am aware of, these amazing people are going to be okay. 

As I optimistically hope and affirm that all of us will be.

Please remember that your individual actions matter now more than ever. 

Be careful out there.

Pandemic Blues

As a little girl, I used to watch the sitcom, “Hill Street Blues”, with my mom. It was a TV show about police officers working in a major metropolitan city. Prior to the officers going out to patrol their beats, they sat through roll call. The sergeant recapped the previous day; the current mission of the precinct, updates, etc. However, prior to dismissing his officers, the sergeant’s departing statement to them was, “be careful out there.”

Positive morale is critically important for employees working on the frontline.

It is imperative for businesses or organizations to take care of their employees. PERIOD. However, a higher degree of emotional intelligence and compassion is paramount during times of crisis similar to the current state of our world. Namely, the employees who will serve as the face and unofficial spokespeople of your company or business.

I decided to write this after a recent experience at a grocery store. After desperately trying to replenish my essentials, I sought the assistance of several services to deliver my groceries because I really wasn’t trying to go to the store. As you would surmise, there were no delivery slots available. So, I had to visit the grocery store in person. Nice.

The cashier was wearing plastic gloves, while she was blowing her nose (with said gloves on), ringing up everyone’s groceries, handling money, and making change. She was clearly unwell. By the time she got to me (and maybe because of the cautious look on my face when she blew her nose the second time), she voluntarily offered that what seemed to me as cold-like symptoms were “allergies.” She also mentioned that she needed to leave (work), because she had already worked two of her off days, and had three children at home.

She was tired. She was unwell. And she was in a bad mood. Which negatively influenced my mood-especially when she’s handling my purchases that were destined for my home and my consumption.

I hold the employer partially accountable. The cashier blew her nose on two separate occasions while I was in her line (which wasn’t very long.) I’m fairly certain those weren’t the first two times she exhibited signs of something being wrong. This woman was no actress. She was unable to conceal that she wasn’t feeling it. Literally.

Yes, she was performing a valuable service. Yes, she was potentially putting her own health, and possibly her children’s health at risk by working during a time like this. However, if her runny nose was not due to seasonal allergies, there is a potential public/health safety risk. COVID or otherwise. Which negates anything positive-no matter how well intentioned. What responsibility did the store have to protect her and customers like me?

Also, this woman demonstratively did not have the proper frame of mind to deal with customers due to how she was feeling. And based on her statement: she had been working without days off, which is a dangerous recipe for anyone, but particularly someone with weaken immunity. When does the employer step in or recognize the obvious signs that an employee is faltering?

This revelation doesn’t have to yield a disciplinary discussion or action. Maybe it’s simply pulling the employee aside and asking, “Are you okay?” Or, “what can I do to help?”

Customer-facing jobs are tough. Whether it be retail, or our heroes working in the medical profession in response to COVID-19. It is a character-building experience to deal with the public. PERIODT. Especially during a pandemic, when people are sick, scared, or other highly stressful situations. This is why a “roll call” or a touch base could serve as a lifeline.

Before your frontline connects with your customers and stakeholders, make sure that they are okay. Make sure that there are activities and resources available for employees to decompress constructively before or after work. Remain alert and watch for clear signs of burnout or distress. Take ownership of the situation upfront to minimize the need to send in the Calvary to do damage control in the end.

When you’re paying people to take care of the people who are paying you, sometimes a business or an organization has to invest a lot more than money.

On both sides.

Be careful out there.

“Hello Betty” Part 2

It’s been three days. I’m not the kind of guy who gives in easily. Betty isn’t a push over by any means and she doesn’t give in until she’s ready also. But three days is a long time even for her. I checked my phone. No calls, no texts. I looked closer at the number that I had been calling and texting. Something didn’t seem quite right.

On the night that I met Betty she wrote her number on a napkin and kissed it leaving a red lipstick mark behind. I kept the napkin and decided to find it. Just to look at it and reminisce about her. To recall her handwriting. The napkin was safely tucked away in my sock drawer like a cherished keepsake.

I remembered being magnetized by her smile and the look in her eyes as she handed me her phone number. Everything about this woman guaranteed that I was going to call her. The way she signed her name was as if she had given me an autograph. The name of the restaurant where we met was inscribed on the napkin in a fancy black script font. As if I were holding a relic, I felt like I was transported back to the day that we met. I could see everything vividly. Her hair, the colorful dress that she was wearing. Strangely, I remembered how I felt. Was this love at first sight?

I glanced again at the ten digits that Betty wrote down. There’s something different about the numbers. I grabbed my phone to compare the two numbers. My stomach dropped. I had been calling and texting the wrong number these past three days. I even left voicemail messages. I have officially lost my mind, embarrassed myself, and lost all of the cool points I’ve ever owned.

Well at least that explains why she hadn’t responded.

Her name was Rebecca

Her name was Rebecca and she was my grandmother. She was born today with her fraternal twin, Robena. The only grandmother I knew. Briefly.

One day I opened the top of a bottle of Patchouli essential oil to smell, and her essence unexpectedly enveloped the room. My senses immediately recognized the scent. It was hers. My grandmother returned to me in that brief moment for a short visit.

As I remember my grandmother today on her birthday, I feel a sense of gratitude for her life. A life that she lived fully and loved sharing with so many. A gift that she passed on to many benefactors including me.

Happy Birthday Mother. I love you.

“Hello Betty” (Part 1)

Hi there,
So, I’m switching things up a bit. Instead of my customary essays, four-cent musings, etc., from time to time, I will share one of my fiction stories. The following is one of those pieces that will be shared in two parts. Here is part one of a story that I call, “Hello Betty.”

Part 1:

It was a huge misunderstanding. Things got heated and nothing was resolved despite the boiling blood pressures of both sides. She was right. I was avoiding the question. I was trying to end it…the phone conversation at least. Well, in that moment…I felt like I was being attacked, provoked and interrogated at the same time. She kept going. It seemed as if she was capable of continuing her rant for hours. I don’t recall her taking a breath not even once as she continued volleying threats veiled as options, and ultimatums disguised as decisions. I just needed an out or a reprieve. She is the only person in the world that confuses me. She is the only person in the world who causes me to choke on my words mid-conversation. I literally mentally stall like an old jalopy on a highway during rush hour. She scrambles my brain by invoking thoughts which causes me to feel. What the f%*K is this feeling ish?

Our conversation wasn’t going well at all because Betty thought that I was avoiding her questions, and not acknowledging how she felt. So, I decided to text her. I know she thinks that it’s a lazy form of communication. I just want her to know that I’m not done with us.

I’m ready to explain myself to her satisfaction and do whatever it takes. I could let go of what we have built so far, but I don’t want to. I’ve called her multiple times and she hasn’t responded. Maybe it’s too late.

Corona(virus) has got me conflicted

I just don’t know. And I don’t enjoy not knowing. Not knowing makes me feel unsafe, vulnerable, uneasy, and human.

Without watching a single newscast. Without reading many news articles on the latest COV-19 reports, I’m getting new information from everyday people like me, like you; from family and friends who have become pseudo reporters, informing me about the latest municipality that has decided to prioritize public safety over commerce. I’m hearing from social media how some cities are closing schools, quarantining the city; modifying how businesses operate, and even how people congregate for religious services.

And you know what makes all of this “real”? I’m receiving this information from people whom I trust. This isn’t coming from a wire service, or from some paid “talking head” reading prepared news copy. Real people are sharing their experiences, some of which are not pretty. Some people are losing their jobs. Some people are in financial peril or are dangerously close to it. Some people are ill and therefore even more susceptible to this pandemic.

This is bigger than toilet paper. This is unprecedented times for most of us. And while some are able to see the silver lining, and maintain the coolness of an experienced cardiologist preparing to perform major heart surgery, others are forced to contend with a reality for which they are unprepared. We can judge and chide folks for failing to have a financial back up plan, but guess what? All of us have an area of our lives that we would rather not expose. That said, a little humility and empathy is in order.

Are the local mandated social distancing measures too excessive? Is everyone over reacting? I suppose time will tell.

In the meantime, this virus has me feeling conflicted. For example, I love Starbucks. I visit my favorite store every week day. I’ve also developed bonds and have gotten to know the PEOPLE who work there. Is my penchant for espresso more important than the people who make my drink? What about me and them? Whose needs matters more? Or, when I need to replace perishable food items same day, I need a place to go and get what I need. What about those employees? Sure, I can use self-check out to minimize contact, but I’m already in the store. With employees who are working and vice versa.

We live in a heavily-consumer based society. Even though e-commerce is dominating many industries such as retail, there is a person (for now), who must pack, ship, and deliver our items. If you shop online or order food, there is a PERSON involved in the transaction. So what is the right thing to do right now? For all of us? I have more questions then answers. And I feel conflicted about it.

What about you?

Pandemics and Cap’N Crunch

Hi there! How are you?

I’ve been feeling a mildly delirious and topsy turvy as COV-19 (Coronavirus) dominates just about every conversation I’ve had as of late. And I don’t even watch the news. I’ve had to divert my attention from my writing and other plans in general because of this. And I’m not happy about it. From checking in on family and friends-encouraging people to get their immunity supplements, to ensuring that I have my own…this has been taxing on the soul. I’m sure you feel the same way.

It’s real out here, guys and dolls. One of my local (brand new) Whole Foods stores was a hidden jewel…until the Coronavirus. The parking lot was packed like a shopping mall. And that was just for that store.

I suspect a lot of people will be going plant-based sooner than later at the rate we’re seemingly going…you heard it here first.

I can’t tell you how to feel about any of this. There is a lot at stake. With many businesses modifying operations to remote work settings, my concern is for those who don’t have a similar option. Or, who don’t get paid if they don’t work.

We can come back to the topic of healthcare. Please complete the 2020 Census, btw.

I hope the world recovers and heals soon. I hope that some of these involuntary quarantines and corporate mandates to work from home, create much needed space and opportunity for us to cleave closer to what and WHO matters most in our lives.

I definitely need a break. And I’m taking it. I stumbled upon some toilet tissue (I’m from Chicago), and I feel like a freakin CHAMPION!!! I have succumbed to the “sheeplike” mentality of semi hoarding everything from mayonnaise, jasmine rice; there may even be some Little Debbies and Cap’N Crunch in here. Who knows and who cares?

I’m loving and living my life until the wheels fall off.

Join me. ❤️

Healing

We want to feel better.  We want to emerge from a spiritual or an emotional pain recovered.  How do we do that…how do you heal? In some of my examples (that I can immediately recall), it began with the belief that the person who hurt me knew me well and therefore chose to hurt me, thereby making it pain with intent.  When your pain is caused by people you know and care about, there is a necessary pause inserted in the middle of the relationship or friendship, that requires a meaningful assessment of the level of betrayal or breach of trust that has occurred.  

So, what do we do? How do we heal?

You ready?

This may sting a bit…

Healing is an inside job.  I know, I know.  If you really want to restore your peace, you must make a conscious decision that you are ready to move on.  If you really want to be free, healing is your responsibility. 

I have been hurt before.  I have been devastated.  In some instances, I have been betrayed.  The aftermath of emotion ranged from disappointment, sadness, to feeling as though someone mistook my heart for a wash rag and attempted to squeeze all evidence of my life from it.  The worst part about all of this is my pain was caused by people whom I loved and trusted.  I was hurt, and I retreated because there are levels to healing.  I had to “get over” the fact that I was hurt, which meant that I had to acknowledge that something unthinkable took place.  Next, I had to re-evaluate the acquaintance.  How well did I really know the person?

Effective healing also requires speaking up.  Just because people have been in our lives for an extended amount of time doesn’t guarantee that they really know us.  I am a firm believer that people know what we tell them. You have a responsibility to set boundaries and alert others when they are out of bounds.  Passive aggressive behavior and innuendos only prolong and support undesirable or dysfunctional situations.  For example, the other person may be unaware that your sarcasm or hostility is a thinly-veiled declaration of “I see you and I am tired of you.”  The general litmus test is if the problem bothers you on a meaningful level, this is a signal that the matter must be addressed sooner than later.  The repercussions for failure to speak up is continually tolerating unacceptable treatment without consequences.  

When it comes to verbalizing your truth to the other person, understand that the other party has to be willing to participate in a discussion.  In a period of estrangement, the other person may not be receptive to talking to you or anyone else about the problem.  And perhaps they don’t feel that a problem exists in the first place.  It is their prerogative to decide when they are “ready” to engage.  It is also your right to heal without them.  Sometimes healing is a solo journey once we become clear that the other person is not interested  in or is incapable of healing together. 

Healing is personal, and you must want to be better.  Some people don’t want to be better with us.  Their better is without us in their life.  You don’t get to control other people by pressing an outcome.  All you can do is offer an apology, an explanation, or opportunity to hear them out.  I will use an extreme example of road rage- one person decides they are not going to move or yield the right of way, which means both vehicles are blocked from moving forward.  If you are in one of those vehicles, are you going to spend your entire day in a standoff because you insist on being “right”, or enforcing the law?  There are times that being right is expensive because it costs you so much more in the long run, and usually yields a Pyrrhic victory at best.  

Think of healing as a gift to yourself and those who love you

When we refuse to heal, we sequester ourselves from the (other) people who love and care for us.  Our bonds with the people who remain in our lives become strained when we only focus on associations that we lost.  Whether it is verbalized or not, when we remain fixated on what or who we have lost, we show the people who remain by our side that they don’t matter as much as the absent relationship.  We rarely if ever, suffer in isolation.  The people who love us often feel neglected when we are engrossed in battles that we cannot win. 

For example, if you have a good girlfriend who you talk to multiple times a day every day for years, and then there is a falling out, there will be casualties because of the dispute. Routines become disrupted which means it takes deliberate action to cease doing something that was previously so natural.  Which means it takes extra energy and effort to be “okay” with not talking to her, accepting her calls, socializing with her, liking her social media posts, etc.  This new normal takes a period of adjustment not only on behalf of the friends, but their spouses, children, remaining friends, or even coworkers. 

What happens when estrangement involves family? If the feud is between siblings, parents, other siblings, children, and other extended family members are caught in the middle and are often triangulated into taking sides.  Someone must decide to heal and sometimes, there is no straightforward process or definitive resolution on how to do so.

There are instances when ties are severed between a parent and an adult child.  In situations where the adult child chooses to discontinue contact with the parent for (fill in the blank) reasons, some parents find this decision reprehensible.  Some parents will insist on maintaining a relationship with their child believing that they have the right to do so. The parent may demand an explanation or swift resolution, while the child insists on boundaries or distance.  In such situations there may be two different perspectives on the quality of the overall relationship.   Many parents will profess that they did their best to raise the child, and the child may retort by saying the parent’s best was not good enough.  

Sometimes, the child holds resentment towards the parent for reasons either known or unknown to the parent.  There are some parents who refuse to apologize let alone consider any behavior (past or present), that would be assuaged by a sincere apology.  There could be generational differences that make some parents believe that they are above reproach thus absolving them of any accountability.  On the other hand, some adult children fail or refuse to consider how their own parent was raised or socialized, which may have considerable influence on their parenting, or ability to parent effectively.  Some adult children never really grow up and continue to mistakenly judge the parent on an unrealistic set of terms.  In such situations, perhaps the key to healing requires both parties, or even an individual to seek assistance from a qualified counselor or therapist who is trained in family conflict resolution. 

The hard pill to swallow is some people will never change and if they do… (brace yourself), they changed because they were ready and because they wanted to.  We must change also.  Sometimes we must accept that though we never intended to do so, there have been occasions when we’ve hurt someone during the course of our lives.  A lack of intent does not erase the result or outcome.  

Heal, because you have other people who are doing “life” with you. 

Heal, because you deserve peace.

Heal, because you no longer want to be defined by an act, or circumstance that almost broke you. 

Heal, because you are done existing.

You are now ready to live.