With the winter solstice
recently been and gone, and 2021 ending in just a few days, it feels like a good time to look back on the autumn just past with the latest installment of The Wild Reed
’s “Out and About” series.
Like many people, I was hoping that 2021 would bring an end
to the time of stress and uncertainty
, loss and grief
that we’ve been living through for almost two years now. And while in some ways things have improved from the earliest days
of the global coronavirus pandemic, we’re not there yet due to the Delta variant and now the Omicron variant. Why is this happening?
, many people ask. Well, throughout the course of the pandemic, scientific experts have continuously warned that COVID-19 variants will continue to emerge until we are able to suppress the ability of the virus to circulate and mutate. Science tells us that we suppress this ability through widespread vaccination efforts. The frustrating and sad reality is that there are still too many people choosing
not to be vaccinated.
Also, here in the U.S., both getting vaccinated
and wearing a mask
have become mind-bogglingly politicized. Throughout this past autumn, this has contributed to an increase in infections, to hospitals being overwhelmed, and to unnecessary deaths. Working as a spiritual health provider (or chaplain
) in a hospital setting, I witness these things every day. And like many “frontline workers,” I’m seeing (and at times feeling) the toll that all of this is taking, not only on patients and their families but on health care providers across the board.
for Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) News
in mid November, Mark Zdechlik explored this toll, noting the following.
A year after the promise of COVID-19 vaccines led to hopes the pandemic could be extinguished, case counts and hospitalizations are surging again in Minnesota, and exhausted front-line health care workers are fighting the virus and misinformation about how to treat and prevent it.
“We went from being heroes right in the beginning to pariahs now when we confront people – this remnant group of members of our community that have chosen not to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Craig Matticks, an emergency physician with nearly 30 years experience who works at North Memorial Health and the Urgency Room.
. . . One of the biggest frustrations for front-line [healthcare workers] is resistance among the public to the COVID-19 vaccines.
“I just was caring for somebody who had been in the hospital for a month who contracted COVID, and I asked why he didn’t get vaccinated,” said Dr. Bryan Williams [of M Health Fairview]. “And he said he wished he would have, and he felt misled. He pointed directly at a TV, at a station I won’t mention, and he said, ‘That’s why I didn’t get a vaccine.’”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson in particular has amplified vaccine misinformation.
In the autumn of 2021, the COVID-19 surge that was experienced (and which continues to be experienced as we enter the winter) saw more constraints on health care resources than anytime previously in the pandemic, with people requiring medical care experiencing significant delays – including for surgical care, intensive care, and emergency department care.
In response to this crisis, a full-page open letter signed by the chief executive officers of the nine major health care organizations in Minnesota, including Penny Wheeler, MD, the CEO of Allina Health, the system I work for, was placed in newspapers across the state.
Following is the text of this letter.
We’re heartbroken. We’re overwhelmed. Our doctors, nurses and people working in health care are doing everything we can to take care of you when you’re sick. And yet every day we’re seeing avoidable illness and death as a direct result of COVID-19. The situation is critical. Our emergency departments are overfilled, and we have patients in every bed in our hospitals. This pandemic has strained our operations and demoralized many people on our teams. Care in our hospitals is safe but our ability to provide it is threatened. At any time you or a loved one might need our support. Heart attacks. Car accidents. Cancer. Stroke. Appendicitis. Now, an ominous question looms: will you be able to get care from your local community hospital without delay? Today, that’s uncertain.
How does this happen in 2021 – almost two full years since this deadly pandemic began? How can we as a society stand by and watch people die when a simple shot could prevent a life-threatening illness? Your access to health care is being seriously threatened by COVID-19. We need to stop the spread! Today we ask you to:
• Get vaccinated and get your booster
• Wear a mask (even if you’re vaccinated) and socially distance
• If you feel sick, get tested for COVID-19
• Encourage neighbors and loved ones to take these steps
We’re in this together, and we can only finish it together.
Despite all of the challenges presented by the pandemic, including the misinformation about vaccines, I continue to find my work as the Palliative Care
chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, MN (left
) meaningful and thus rewarding. I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful for my health, my family and friends in Australia, and my friends here in the U.S., many of whom (as you’ll see) I have been socializing with now that we’ve all been vaccinated and, in many cases, boosted. When I’ll be able to visit family and friends in Australia, however, is anyone’s guess. Hopefully sometime next year.
As I said in my previous Out and About post
, I’m actually choosing to remain hopeful about many things – both in my personal life and in the world. My seeking to stay grounded in the present moment, and thus in the Divine Presence within and around me, has been a constant theme in my spiritual life this past autumn.
I’ve come to think about the cultivating of this groundedness as “aligning with the Living Light
,” something I’ve been doing very intentionally since the beginning of the year through a daily meditation practice. It’s really made a difference. Of course, I can still encounter chaotic and challenging situations on any given day, but I’ve noticed that I stay more centered and calm, more able to accept and deal with such situations, when I’ve meditated for five minutes in the morning.
I think of it as a form of sacred pause
, one that not only centers me, but also prepares me for embodying and experiencing what French philosopher Lucien Lévy-Bruhl calls “mystical participation
,” the idea that as humans connected in deep and intrinsic ways to the divinely-infused world around us, we have the capacity to recognize and be in relationship with all kinds of natural realities and processes. It’s long been my experience that such recognition and relationships lead to positive transformation, in both our personal lives and, if we’re willing to step up to the challenge, the socio-political realm.
A contemporary figure who inspires me in all of this is author and activist Marianne Williamson
), whom Cornel West describes
as “one of the few in the higher echelons of public life and public conversation who understand the intimate relation between the spiritual and the social, the personal and the political, and the existential and the economic.” Continues West: “It’s very rare that people have this synoptic vision, [one that ensures that] spirituality, morality, and integrity sit at the center and at the beginning of any serious discussion about the relation of a self and a society.”
Marianne Williamson has such vision, and inspires me to develop it also so that it informs and guides my actions of body, speech, and mind.
I realize I’ve gone far beyond what I need to say in introducing this post. So without further ado, here is a look back at the people, places, and experiences that were most meaningful to me in the autumn of 2021.
Standing at left with fellow members of Mercy Hospital’s Palliative Care team – November 2, 2021.
Mercy’s Palliative Care team is comprised of incredibly competent and caring health care professionals, and I’m honored to be the interfaith spiritual care provider (or chaplain) on this team.
Mercy Hospital is dealing with the most COVID-19 cases of any hospital in Minnesota. This is because it is located in Anoka county, the most pro-Trump county in Minnesota. And as Daniel Wood and Geoff Brumfiel document in their December 5 NPR News article
, there is a correlation between a county’s support for Trump and its COVID-19 infection and death rates.
Following is an excerpt from their article.
Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That’s according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic.
NPR looked at deaths per 100,000 people in roughly 3,000 counties across the U.S. from May 2021, the point at which vaccinations widely became available. People living in counties that went 60% or higher for Trump in November 2020 had 2.73 times the death rates of those that went for Biden. Counties with an even higher share of the vote for Trump saw higher COVID-19 mortality rates.
In October, the reddest tenth of the country saw death rates that were six times higher than the bluest tenth, according to Charles Gaba, an independent health care analyst who's been tracking partisanship trends during the pandemic and helped to review NPR’s methodology.
. . . The trend was robust, even when controlling for age, which is the primary demographic risk of COVID-19 mortality. The data also reveal a major contributing factor to the death rate difference: The higher the vote share for Trump, the lower the vaccination rate. The analysis only looked at the geographic location of COVID-19 deaths. The exact political views of each person taken by the disease remains unknowable. But the strength of the association, combined with polling information about vaccination, strongly suggests that Republicans are being disproportionately affected.
Recent polling shows that partisanship is now this single strongest identifying predictor of whether someone is vaccinated. Polling also shows that mistrust in official sources of information and exposure to misinformation, about both COVID-19 and the vaccines, run high among Republicans.
Republicans appear to be killing themselves off.
Of course, it’s not just Trump-loving Republicans who can be anti-vaccine. I know two young people, not in the least supportive of Trump, who have both chosen not to get vaccinated. Their rational is that they are young and healthy, with no “pre-conditions.” They seem to think they’re invincible, an expression of bravado not uncommon among the young but highly problematic, to say the least, during a global pandemic. As much as I’ve attempted to explain how “it’s not just about you
,” they (and others) remain opposed to getting vaccinated. It’s both deeply disappointing and frustrating.
On December 10, 2021 MPR News reported
Minnesota’s newest COVID-19 data shows the pandemic remains firmly dug in across the state. . . . Hospitalizations and intensive care cases remain high. Bed counts that fell below 100 in mid-July jumped in the late fall; 1,678 people are hospitalized now with COVID with 338 needing intensive care. Hospital executives across the state have warned for weeks that COVID-19 patients combined with other care needs are overwhelming short-staffed care centers.
The current surge, driven largely by the highly contagious delta variant, has been particularly hard on greater Minnesota. Minnesota last week also confirmed its first case of the omicron variant. The state’s tallied 956,779 cases in the pandemic, including reinfections.
Data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show all Minnesota counties currently with a high level of virus transmission. The state's death toll stands at 9,872, including 58 deaths newly reported on Friday. Given the pace, Minnesota is likely to record 10,000 COVID deaths in the pandemic within the next few weeks.
With the onset of winter, hospital officials and workers, along with state health leaders, are hopeful that an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations and booster doses has increased protection and caused the downturn now beginning to be seen in the latest pandemic wave. However, the concern remains that holiday gatherings and the new omicron variant will disrupt this progress and fill up hospitals again.
Above and left:
Two portraits of my friend Adnan – November 25, 2021.
As I’ve mentioned previously
, Adnan is something of a muse
for my creative outlet of photography, specifically my photographing of male beauty. I’ve photographed other male friends before, but Adnan has something about him that, to my eyes at least, conveys something very special.
My photography is inspired, in part, by the work of Liam Campbell
, founder, editor, and chief photographer of Elska
, a bi-monthly male photography, culture and travel magazine. I appreciate how Campbell describes the images of his subjects as “natural, un-airbrushed and spontaneous,” and his subjects’ stories as “personal tales rather than regurgitated press releases.”
I like to think that the spirit that inspires these words (and thus Campbell’s art) also inspires and is reflected in my portrait photography, including my images of Adnan.
Above and below: Autumn in Minnesota.
Above and right:
On Saturday, September 25, 2021, my friend Karla and I visited Oheyawahe
(also known as Pilot Knob), a hill in Mendota Heights, Minnesota
that is considered especially sacred to the Dakota people.
For more images and commentary, click here
At left with friends (from left) Brent, Joan, Cree, Matt, Omar, John, and George – September 25, 2021.
On Saturday, October 3, 2021, I joined with about 50 others in south Minneapolis to rally against the “endless wars” of the United States government, wars instigated and waged regardless of which of the two main political parties are in power.
Organized by the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition
, the rally was held in the heart of the Cedar-Riverside
neighborhood of south Minneapolis, which is right next to Seward
, the neighborhood I’ve lived in since October 2019
. Cedar-Riverside was actually the first neighborhood I lived in when I came to the U.S. from Australia twenty-seven years ago
. Today it’s home to one of the largest Somalian communities in the country, ensuring the nickname “Little Mogadishu
For more images and commentary, click here
With my friends Calvin, Kathleen, and Joseph. . . . Oh, and Frodo – October 22, 2021.
I live with these three wonderful people (and Calvin and Joseph’s dog, Frodo) in a triplex
in the Seward neighborhood of south Minneapolis. I live in the third floor attic apartment of this triplex.
Above and below:
My attic abode in the Seward neighborhood of south Minneapolis – Autumn 2021.
Above: My friend Deandre – October 31, 2021.
Dinner with friends, from left, Eddie (the Wonder Dog), Madeline, Fred, Liana, Dee, Phil, John, Noelle, and Amelia – Sunday, October 10, 2021.
My buddy Raul who, on the evening of October 20 took me to see the “Immersive Van Gogh
” exhibit currently showing in Minneapolis. It was an early birthday present for me on Raul’s part.
For more images and commentary, see my special birthday post
of October 23, 2021.
Celebrating my 56th birthday with my work colleagues and friends (from left) Kate, Steph, and Jenna – October 21, 2021.
A birthday lunch at Pizza Lucé
with friends Mandy and Angie – Saturday, October 23, 2021.
For more images and commentary on my various 56th birthday celebrations, click here
Above: A birthday portrait – October 23, 2021.
On Sunday, October 31, 2021, my friend Tim and I attended El Grito de los Ancestros/The Cry of the Ancestors Procession and Festival. (For pictures of this event, click here
Presented by BareBones
and Festival de las Calaveras
(a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration), El Grito de los Ancestros was dedicated to “honoring our ancestors, remembering the beloved dead, and fostering community unity.” Afterwards, Tim and I enjoyed a meal at Reverie Cafe + Bar
A Halloween neighborhood gathering – October 31, 2021.
For The Wild Reed
’s Halloween 2021 post, click here
Above: Friends Brent, Pete, and Jeffrey – November 13, 2021.
Friends Kathleen, Joseph, and Calvin in my attic abode – November 25, 2021.
Above: Adnan, just chillin’ in my attic abode – November 25, 2021.
Standing at left with friends (from left) Darlene, Brigid, Tom, and Kathleen – Friday, November 26, 2021. I’m wearing my Hare and Tabor
With my dear friend Kathleen. We’re both wearing the beautiful scrafs that a mutual friend made for us.
With Brother Tree and the great Mississippi – Saturday, November 13, 2021.
An early Christmas present for my “best mate in the States,” Deandre – November 26, 2021. It’s a snowboard.
Above and below:
Celebrating my friend Matt’s 70th birthday – Saturday, November 27, 2021.
Above: My dear friends Joan and Matt – November 27, 2021.
Above: Friends Omar, Zach, and Brent – November 27, 2021.
Above and below:
On Saturday, December 4, 2021, my friend and Palliative Care colleague Dr. John Lynch crossed the threshold into the “third act” of his life! It’s a transition that others refer to as retirement. But not John. :)
As part of John’s “Third Act” celebration, I shared a Threshold Blessing that I wrote for him. It was an adaptation of John O’Donohue
’s “Blessing for Retirement” in his book To Bless the Space Between Us
John, this is where your life has arrived after many years of meaningful effort, dedication, and toil. We join you in looking back with graciousness and gratitude on all your great and quiet achievements.
We also join you in looking forward as you stand at the threshold of an expected though none-the-less daunting invitation; an invitation to open your life to new and perhaps unfamiliar pathways and possibilities.
As you cross the threshold into this untrodden realm, let your spirit find a home in the new ways of journeying that are being offered to you; the new ways of being present to – and in relationship with – those around you, including the ones you hold most dear.
In the lives of your family and friends, similar opportunities to see and do things differently are present. And so in loving solidarity we join you in crossing this threshold, mindful that for each of us, it represents a commitment to something new in our lives; lives that are made all the richer for knowing you.
Above: Friends Raul and Teddy – December 12, 2021.
Above and below: A couple of fun pics of Teddy!
Above: My colorful and glittery Christmas tree – December 16, 2021.
On the evening of December 18 I was invited to help friends in St. Paul decorate their Christmas tree. Above
from left: Liana (with Amelia), John, Phil, Noelle, Alicia, and Scott (with Gordie).
Above: With my dear friend Noelle – December 18, 2021.
NEXT: Out and About – Spring 2022
Autumn 2021 Wild Reed posts of note:
• Autumn Bloom
• Colin Taylor on the “Moral Obscenity” of Obstructionist Democrats Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema
• In the Garden of Spirituality – Thomas Crum
• Rallying to End U.S. Militarism
• “Everything Is Saturated With the Sacred”
• Remembering Uta Ranke-Heinemann, 1927-2021
• Marianne Williamson on the Tenth Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street
• Autumn, Adnan . . . and Art?
• Home to Myself
• You Are My Goal, Beloved One
• Remembering the Beloved Dead
• Will Democrats Never Learn?
• The Return of ABBA
• Republicans Pose an “Existential Threat” to American Democracy
• Awakening the Wild Soul
• Autumn . . . Within and Beyond
• The Beauty and Challenge of Being Present in the Moment
• That Time Tammy Stood by the JAMs
• A Special Day
• Renae Gage: Quote of the Day – November 28, 2021
• A Queer Aria
• Celebrating the Proverbial “Soulman”
• “My Biggest Worry Is for My Country”
• When We Choose to Love: Remembering bell hooks
• Progressive Perspectives on Sen. Joe Manchin’s Refusal to Support “Build Back Better”
• To Dream, to Feel, to Listen
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• Out and About – Summer 2021
• Out and About – Spring 2021
• Out and About – Winter 2020-2021
• Out and About – Autumn 2020
For previous Out and About series, see: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021
Images: Michael J. Bayly.