COVID-19 and Pandemic Grief (Processing is a Process)

I am not saying Santa Claus is real. I’m not saying that. I am just saying I’m a jolly fat man with a red hat who lives where all the toys are made. Being a time traveler is hard, not because of the physics or the impossibility of designing reliable time travel yet, or even keeping all the timelines, possibilities, and happenstances properly in mind because I am hopelessly lost on that most of the time and clarity of time-space only coalesces occasionally like a lightning blast in the darkest storm. No, it’s because many of my zingers come off as lame ducks and take years to ripen, and often I’m the only one who ends up laughing in the end.

When my grandma wood passed away at 96.5 in 2018, my uncle Howie gathered the clan and 60 or so of us at a childhood resort in Gimli, Manitoba, Canada, to celebrate her life and an extensive brood of offspring. Shaolin had a shop at the time, and we brought Uncle Howie and Aunt Kim’s 5 grandkids some cute outfits and gifted her a Gucci handbag. She seemed excited, and Howie hopped up, generous and kind as always to say “she’ll look good with it, and I’ll look good standing next to her,” and I retorted, “and it’s real leather.” The comment puzzled them, and came off as a bit of a dud, until a year later when we were standing in Rome at Louis Vuitton looking at fashionable, relatively expensive canvas handbags, picked one out and brought it back as a souvenir and I thought the leather comment was pretty prophetic. Aunt Kim passed away while I was in Europe, and I could never make that connection come back around. I told you that, so I could tell you this: if time traveling is hard, multiverse shifting is harder.

There are many choices, infinite possibilities, branching in every direction. Many of my other me’s are dark, and at times I feel guilty for all my luck as if I’ve learned to Aikido shift the consequences of my fate into bubble worlds for another poorer Kai to shoulder. Some of my other us’s burn white-hot, and it’s natural to envy them; how many choices was I away from that incredible success story? Early ones, seeds, later ones, bitten tongues, or resilient shoulders. But this is the one where I write this, and this is the one where I meet you. So Amor Fati, I must learn to love my life, and all of those branching turns because it got me here to you, and this is a fine place to share a moment even if the world around us is literally burning. Resilence at this time will help us to get through the worst and darkest days, and a shift in priorities from capital and corruption to actually doing what is best for folks and our planet is our best Solar Punk shot at a happy tomorrow. But the path is dark, and there are many bumps ahead already baked into the cake.

In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the second wave has crashed upon their shores on an evening broadcast. For his part, he’s renewing CERB for another year and planning more social programs, but 60% of restaurants may be out of business by Christmas. He says Thanksgiving is canceled, but if we work hard, we may be able to do Christmas. With the amount of backlash people are giving even the most sensible precautions, don’t hold your breath. That said, with discussions of a second blanket lockdown on the table in many countries, I feel like smart lockdowns would be a much more popular option.

Consider this: by testing sewage in wastewater, we can identify potential outbreaks before they become symptomatic and begin viral shedding. I would put a lot of money into these programs all over the place. In Helsinki, they’re using COVID sniffing dogs at the airport and claim to have nearly 100% detection rates. I would be training a slew of these all over as well. Smart, controlled lockdowns, well ventilated public spaces, lots of air purifiers and masks when the conditions are unknown, and we could stop a lot of the problems. In the USA and the UK, the numbers are rising rapidly since September 1, and many colleges are looking at dorm lockdowns for students, which seems like the crappy sequel to the cruise ship COVID disaster. A lot of transfer is beginning to be seen from the young ones to older generations, and you can even see public health ads in Europe about kids who go to parties infecting their grandparents—- so we are looking at, as one possibility, kids in dorms stuck over Christmas holidays because we don’t want them infecting their whole families and causing more chaos. It’s going to be a real mess, and it didn’t have to be this way.

Instead of thinking “I have rights,” we could be thinking “I have obligations”, and work together for a better future. Those that are doing it, make it look really good.

Living in China has helped me with the time-traveling aspect. Yesterday was Sunday, but it was a nationally mandated workday because of the big national day holiday: a Wednesday. So I got up at 7, taught 5 hours 8-12, and then relaxed for the afternoon, went to the gym, and Shaolin and I had a nice dinner at the mall at the Thai place. They had a special from Monday-Friday. “Oh no,” she said, “it’s Sunday.” 

“But is it?” I asked.

“Of course it is,” she snapped, annoyed with my constant undermining of accepted reality.

But according to the waiter, it was actually Wednesday, and so we bought the weekday special. When the second waiter came to accept the online coupon, he had to be convinced again.

“I’m sorry, that’s only for the weekday, it’s Sunday.”

“But it is a weekday, and today is Wednesday all over china.”

“Is it?” He asked.

“It is,” Shaolin said, this time with some certainty. “All of China is working today before the holiday, and we’ve decided it’s a Wednesday.”

He nodded. “Then I will accept your special weekday coupon,” and he scanned her phone and wandered off. Days of the week, time itself, is a tool, not a certainty. We can bend it, and we can even break it too.

I hate to say this, but I have to acknowledge it. My friend Andra has died. They said it was an accident, a car crash, and I haven’t seen her in a few years, but she was always the funniest, wickedly smart, and stylish person in any room I caught her in. She could read my mind, and when I’d look over to see someone doing something awkward, like a young male telling a horrible joke to get attention, or a catty girl doing something silly and mean, she would whisper the most cutting barb to me, even more, outrageous than what I had just been telling myself. We’d share a smile and a moment of kinship. She was like the little sister I always wanted but never had, and although we weren’t close lately, it hit me hard that she was gone.

I was reading some of Einstein’s theories of time to comfort myself because the more I read about him, the more his idea of time/space and the non-reality of linear time as a definitive concept is similar to mine. Where I consider time to be a knotty ball of yarn all happening at once, Einstein considered it a block of 4 dimension space, like a cube from beginning to end, existing all at once just in a way that we can’t generally perceive except moment to moment, as a goldfish can only conceive of our hand as it passes into the bowl but not where it has been or goes after or even the world outside of its fishbowl. When a good friend of his died, he wrote a letter to the friend’s wife saying, don’t be overcome with grief, for our friend is merely over the hill, existing somewhere still that we cannot experience directly, but his presence can still be felt.

Andra, succubus child of Loki, archangel of mischief and chaos, I know you still are, and while I feel your loss, here in this universe and now, at this arbitrary moment of time-space, I know you’re still with us, at many instances, and, in many other worlds. Lucky them, but feel free to visit, as you would, I welcome your barbs and arrows of outrageous fortune. You’re not the first, Medusa still comes by from time to time, and I think although you never met, you would become quite good friends, kindred spirits, both burnt too bright, flying too close to the sun, gone too fast.

Shaolin went to Sanya for a week with her family. At the same time, I processed this news, and the school renovated my kitchen, carving big holes into the walls and floors, removing my shelves. So I watched pictures of her oceanside seafood buffets while I basically ate bread out of a bag and scratched my head and tried to simply endure, and that’s ok, because it’s what we needed to do. She wore a mask inside the airport and on the plane for the whole experience, and said it felt safe and controlled. Good, I’m glad.

Experts in Shanghai, China are saying with all the second wave resurgence of COVID worldwide, we can expect it might make it back into China and prepare for lockdowns in the winter and fall. I am confident we will do a good, strong, and efficient job though. After finding a few cases that migrated across a river in Yunan from Myanmar (formerly Burma), the government locked down a city, tested a million people, located cases and asymptomatic cases, and treated them. This is the way.

Trump thinks trees explode sometimes and is afraid of paper mail-in ballots. He said if you don’t count all the blue states and 200,000 deaths, he’s done an excellent job managing the pandemic.

I remembered I have a favorite pair of socks. They’re from Stance, and I bought them at the gift shop of Yellowstone park after seeing Old Faithful explode into the sky. They’re amazingly comfortable, quick-dry, and high performance. My preferred travel sock, I don’t know where they could have gone, but now I will leave no stone unturned as I hunt for them. Winter is coming, and warm, dry feet are the front line defense to good health.

I reflect on my international students, now studying all night taking online classes in the west for insane tuition; or in one case, I have a student who left grade 12 in the international program to take another crack at grade 9 in the normal Chinese track. I wonder how hard and humbling that must be, to redo high school. He’s a nice boy, though, and I’m sure he’s doing what he thinks is best. After years of struggling to help the kids reach their highest potential and succeed internationally, I’ve realized it was time for a change. Some of them became incredibly successful, and I’m proud of them, others were sent away, I believe, because of behavioral issues, or to help buy a fancy house in the USA or Canada, and I dealt with a lot of attitudinal problems and just being with the normal, high achieving, respectful high school track kids is a refreshing change and they are really fun and positive. These days, Chinese universities are some of the safest around, why not stay here?

Eden has chosen a university, she’s studying to be a physical therapist, and she’s gotten her COVID test. It’s negative. Now they will cocoon her with the other students, safe and sound, everyone tested and negative, staff included. She won’t leave for the semester. It sounds strict, but it’s safe, and everyone understands. Compared to colleges’ chaos in western countries, it’s amazing to see how these small disciplines and sacrifices allow for safety for her and the family. I am glad I am here.

Finally, I have some good news about Vitamin D. One piece I was always sort of missing to understand why Vitamin D is the key to getting a better COVID case result has become clear thanks to a few new studies. The key is this: Vitamin D deficiency leads to more ACE2 receptors, the primary bonding vehicle for COVID-19, so take your vitamin D, have less ACE2 receptors ready to get COVID, and you are more likely to get a weaker, less serious case of COVID. What’s the connection? I asked my friend Krystal, an expert in molecular neurobiology. “When a body is deficient in vitamins/essential elements/neurotransmitters, in this case, D3 which helps the body create calcium, the receptors responsible for initiating their metabolism in the body increases to be able to transduce (or absorb) more and hence be able to create enough in the body to maintain homeostasis (stay alive). When the body does get enough of, say in this case vitamin d, it doesn’t need as many receptors to transduce (absorb) the amount that the body needs to be alive (maintain homeostasis).” So that is an easy way to understand the connection. If you are vitamin D deficient you’re twice as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 (according to a JAMA study) and much more likely to get into the ICU or even die if Vitamin D is not part of your treatment plan. The Sun will make you strong, so get “half as much exposure as it takes you to burn” every day, or take a supplement. Why is D3 better than just vitamin D? Krystal says: “the basic vitamin d is d3, which is the natural one we get from the sun or in supplement form it is cholecalciferol. which comes from an animal source. Vitamin d2 or ergocalciferol is the other kind which is from plant sources in supplements only, but both break down into 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the body. Research suggests that d3 is better at raising the body’s levels 25-hydroxyvitamin D but most supplements are made of vitamin d2 because it’s cheaper. I think it also goes by preference, if you are a vegetarian than take vitamin d2 or if you’d like to go the most natural route for the body(and aren’t a vegetarian) than d3 is the best option for that.” This Calciferol is what we give patients in serious COVID care in some countries so we don’t have to wait a week for their body to break down the D3, it can be absorbed right away. This is great news for COVID treatment, and even as the winter weather brings us inside into stuffy, poorly ventilated homes and public spaces and the COVID second wave numbers are quickly rising, our methods of treatment and care are vastly better than they were last winter and spring, and we are getting very close to a vaccine, with many studies on the final legs of their Phase III trials, and good news being reported from Russia and China for the early applications of their vaccines.  Some experts are saying the future of schools may be outdoors, even after this pandemic, and I’d call that a silver lining. If I was in government in Canada, or anywhere, I’d be sending bottles of Vitamin D3 to every home. We know that in northern countries like Finland where it’s infused into the food we have better outcomes than even very sunny countries like Italy and Spain where people can tend to avoid the sun and be vitamin D deficient. Science tells us beyond socio-economic factors that darker skin is less able to absorb vitamin D quickly into the body (a defense mechanism for equatorial and extremely hot countries) but many people could really benefit from ensuring they have a proper level of Vitamin d in their body this winter.

Oh, news on my book. The English edition was released in September on Amazon. On Wednesday, I did a live stream with some YouTubers to promote it, and the Chinese version will also be out very soon. The international version is being reformatted but should be available soon. I heard it was quite a struggle to publish this book in China in such a sensitive geopolitical time, about such a sensitive topic, so I will take it as a big win and an incredible journey that we made it this far. 

The moral of the story, it’s ok not to be ok, processing is a process, and we’ll get there eventually, but I struggle to remain resilient, bend without breaking, and be prepared for what is to come, even if it hurts.

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