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DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: What matters most, and what doesn't

by Debra Hale-Shelton | May 10, 2020 at 1:59 a.m.

The older I get, the easier it is for me to say thank you ... and no, thank you.

Here are a few things I'm grateful for:

• Newspaper readers while I wrote, first for The Associated Press and later for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Without them, I would have likely spent most of my adult life in another profession--a blessing, some readers might say.

• The readers who contact me, even when they disagree with a column, for we learn from each other. Most recently, several people emailed me about last week's column on my dental problems. Some were from people who empathized, others who sympathized, and still others who cheered me on.

One woman said I was not alone and added, "This is the first time in my life I am comfortable 'talking' about my dental challenges."

"I'm embarrassed and smile less and less," she wrote. "My friends and co-workers are disrespectful about this unspoken topic."

A dentist wrote to encourage me and to tell me to "smile if and when you want." Her email also taught me a new word: edentulous. It means toothless.

• The front-line emergency and medical personnel who work long hours and risk their own health to care for those recovering--or dying--from covid-19. These workers are our nation's real public servants and deserve our respect, including everything we can do to slow down the spread of this deadly virus.

• My new covid-19 face mask with a fun beehive pattern. I value your health, my health and pollinators.

• Speaking of that mask, I'm thankful for the small farmers market where I shop weekly. The area farmers wear masks and invite only a few people at a time into the Conway building where they deliver their produce, ordered online earlier. They also offer no-contact delivery of purchased goods to customers who park nearby.

The market has introduced me to the good taste of fresh eggs--brown, white, blue and green; a wide array of mushrooms--blue oyster, chestnut and lion's mane among them. I've also discovered great artisanal cheese varieties such as halloumi and fromage blanc.

• My friends and family who visited or called, sent cards and gifts, and prayed for my recovery from heart surgery.

A book-club friend whom I don't even know well saw my Facebook post about missing the birds that frequented the feeders behind the house where I formerly lived. When I came home from the hospital and rehab, I was greeted by her gift: a bird feeder, a wrought-iron hanger and a bag of sunflower seeds..

And I still sleep with the blue-and-white blanket friends from church gave me.

• The online class I'm taking on cultivating joy. A St. Louis social worker who used to lead my book club's discussions has made our classes fun, educational and personal as each of us ponders what contributes to or detracts from joy in our lives. We read, meditate, write, talk, and listen. We learn.

• The quiet gathering my daughter, Annie, her dad and I had recently to celebrate her birthday. It is my prayer that her dad and I, now separated, can continue to get along, mostly for Annie's sake but also for our sake. A few days later, we got together again, this time with my small family, and feasted on pasta, shrimp and more, all courtesy of my oldest nephew, Audie.

• Our aging part-chihuahua, part-weenie (and maybe part-terrier) dog named Shadow, aka Shady Lady, who entertains me daily with her love of belly rubs, "walkies" and cat chases. Speaking of cats, I'm also grateful for our aging cat Blackie who, like Greta Garbo, just wants to be left alone; and our young calico cat Jupiter, who sleeps almost all day and starts meowing, jumping and playing chase with Shady after midnight.

• My first-grade teacher who taught me to read, As a result, I can feast on books like Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, Patti Smith's Just Kids, Roxane Gay's Hunger, Herman Koch's The Dinner and Barbara Gowdy's The White Bone.

• The time I get to spend with my mother, who turns 90 in June, and the wonderful father I had until Sept. 4. I now live next door to Mama and can easily visit her day or night. We've talked, laughed and cried together. We've argued and then smiled: We are family.

I'll keep my "no, thank-you" list shorter because it doesn't help to dwell on adversity. But some things I am not grateful for include:

• The politicians, the conspiracy theorists and the greedy who profess to be pro-life but think it's acceptable to return to "normal" for the sake of the economy despite the covid-19 pandemic, even if doing so costs a few more--like maybe thousands--of deaths.

• The politicians who pander to the worst traits of many voters by promoting racism, xenophobia and hate. As a result, white supremacists marching with torches or rallying with weapons and swastikas get called "good people" while journalists simply doing their jobs are publicly attacked for asking questions that someone simply doesn't like.

Mr. President, there's something called "no comment" that doesn't require you to label a legitimate question as "nasty" or a reporter as "third-rate." And, by the way, it was an unintentional compliment to the women reporters you described as not Donna Reed, a reference to the actress' namesake TV sitcom of the late 1950s and early '60s in which she portrayed an ideal suburban housewife and mom.

• The coronavirus that has killed so many nursing-home residents. The way we take care of our weakest neighbors says much about the rest of us.

• The same virus that has ravaged prisons, affecting inmates and staff. If we truly want to rehabilitate the best inmates and want quality staff, we don't wait until a problem is out of control to take essential steps.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at dhaleshelton@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.

Editorial on 05/10/2020

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