At Sweet Readers, we train middle school students to discover the person behind aging and Alzheimer’s by giving them a set of tools and then empowering them to figure out which tool or set of tools to engage given frequently changing circumstances.
In January, after an intense battle with two large Lymphoma masses outsizing my spleen, I underwent a successful robotic splenectomy. In February I began an 18-week course of chemo to obliterate any possible microbes on my journey to be fully cured. In March, COVID19 set in and hospital conditions in Manhattan changed dramatically, leaving me feeling unsafe and a burden for a hospital under siege.
As conditions escalated quickly across the country, finding a safe haven was a challenging and immediate need. The best and closest Cancer center was Dana-Farber in Boston, however once the Governor made the prudent decision to quarantine anyone coming into Massachusetts from New York, I had 36 hours to uproot my life, pack up my home for what may be months, find a sterilized new home, a car, a safe and loving home for my dog and try not to skip a beat managing our team for Sweet Readers CONNECT. My daughter Sophie (who Co-founded Sweet Readers with me) had just arrived in Marfa, Texas when the Pandemic set in. As I write, she is still three airports, two planes, a train and three cars away from our home in Manhattan.
The overwhelming and humbling love, generosity and kindness of friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, friends of friends and strangers helped me through and over the next ten weeks, it will be a pleasure to share some of those wonderful stories with you.
Last week, after my first hospital visit at Dana-Farber (which was an almost dreamlike relief), I found myself drawn to writing a poem (see below). It felt cathartic to write about my layered experiences during this extraordinary time. With so much uncertainty, trauma and tragedy, through poetry, I found a place of peace.
With Sweet Readers CONNECT we are working through significant challenges to help isolated adults and young people feel loved, seen, engaged and to have purpose. Those basic needs will be with us through and beyond the pandemic.
Collaborative poetry is one special way we do this. Gary Glazner, of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, based in Brooklyn, New York, first shared his gift with me and Sophie back in 2011 and we have built upon his incredible work ever since. Thank you Gary, for bringing poetry to so many people in need!
Next time you are feeling stuck or stressed, perhaps try your hand at poetry? A little like jazz, you can improvise, or if you like structure, that’s okay too. Feel free to express yourself and find your own peace.
In Manhattan, sounds of sirens
face seven o’clock shout outs.
Love & death
peace of mind
What is essential?
Empty streets, devoid of human touch;
choked culture, shut schools, retail down.
Restaurants struggle to survive,
Overwhelmed medics, unprotected
Hospitals ill-prepared and under siege
Are COVID and chemo patients separate?
Can anyone receive medical care?
Orange bags of bodies
Where will they go?
The City stays awake
Our hearts beating still
When does this end?
Daffodils & Magnolias
Butterflies a flutter
It’s spring in Central Park.
A makeshift, Samaritan made hospital
to support suffering citizens
fills a family field once home to
laughter, loungers, chasing dogs & balls.
Friends, lovers and strangers
give subtle and dramatic supports
Who is vulnerable? Who is not?
Artists, educators and administrators plan & perform
Culture goes virtual, learning remote
Meals are delivered, families pull together
Some get petty
Publications post free updates & distractions
We find a way.
Expanding Circles of Friendship
on screens with squares and rectangles
around the world
a phone call…
Who do you love?
Sophie cycles in Marfa,
her voice singing loud to a
Texas sky still open wide.
Rooted in the land,
she lifts up,
sees the light,
reaches loved ones,
becomes a chef
and finds her way.
Boston is a ghost town
poised for a plague
The ballet is closed
Sports seasons stifled
The convention center, like Javits,
is a hospital.
People struggling to survive.
Life continues behind
masked faces, turned heads & closed doors.
We wash our hands and
watch the numbers rise.
Each city, hospital & town
negotiates for supplies
N95s? Ventilators? Beds and more.
What is essential?
Isolated elders and
trapped in small spaces
Anxious + Afraid.
Millions suddenly out of work
Hungry families, protestors
Small businesses shut
Prisoners facing pandemic punishment
How can we help?
We come together
and stay apart.
We keep our humor
and our faith.
We slow down
and reach out.
We find a way
to take action!
to stay still