Thursday 31 December

I’m starting this blog on an auspicious day. The end of one year should not necessarily be a harbinger of anything. To think that the change of a digit makes any difference is crass stupidity but it is often the occasion to hope that things will get better. For many people there is little hope.

UK readers will have heard that President Trump denounced the paltry financial support offered to all Americans. To be fair $600 is paltry if you are desperate and it is very little if you are not. Earlier in the year the same administration gave $1200 to all its citizens (and resident aliens like myself). That was in the early stage of Covid-19 but now months have passed and such payments are completely inadequate. I feel for those who are directly affected by the financial pressures they never expected a year ago. I remember my mum feeling awkward about accepting winter heating payments when she had money. I feel the same and it such a shame that despite all our technology and algo-rhythms we cannot achieve something more means-tested and fair.

President Trump has had his moment and President-Elect Biden is in the wings. Trump has not been seen much at all! Biden is an old and experienced statesman but at least he is a statesman. With half the country voting for both candidates it is difficult to see that the future will be peaceful particularly since President Trump seems to be in denial of the electoral outcome. Will Biden deliver? I don’t know, but the promise of a return to Paris Climate Accord, to the WHO, to serious concern about Covid-19 and to dialogue in general are, at least, reasons to be hopeful.

UK readers will appreciate the seriousness of the pandemic as they have spent the last few days in lock-down. To be fair an unexpected ‘new variant’ strain of the virus was detected in London and the South East. We have highly developed detection systems in UK to thank for this discovery but already this variant has been detected elsewhere. I do hope that no one in Europe stoops to the blame culture that has been so much the pattern of the last four years here. I recognize that the possible origins of the virus were in China and that there were some unusual local cover-ups for which one young journalist is now serving 4 years in a Chinese prison for publicizing but the blame culture does not make anything better. I have always been of the opinion that when God created, God did not destroy Chaos. Cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes and viruses are all examples of Chaos breaking through what God saw to be very good. I remember someone in Scotland writing that cancer had been found in the bones of dinosaurs!

Two of my friends through the Iona Community have died this year. Both were only 62, the same age as myself. The Community celebrated both lives with joy, honesty and tears. I was able to pray simultaneously with friends gathered in Glasgow for one of these lives, Graham. I had managed to get the texts send to me and with another Iona friend who was visiting Florida with family we gathered at 6am to join with the prayer for Graham Maule, singer, liturgist, wordsmith, architect, social drinker and what they in Glasgow would call ‘ a big man’. Peter was Leader of the Iona Community for much of the period I have been in USA. Before I left I spent a weekend with New Members in which a shopping trip attracted me to a banana protector. I will never forget the astonishment on Peter’s face when I showed him my purchase.

I am glad to have survived 2020. I suspect that increasingly future years will be full of similar griefs.

How has the virus affected you? For me, I have continued going into work. I was offered the chance to work from home but felt that for my employer to unexpectedly open an office in my home was a massive invasion. I can be perfectly safe in my office so that is where I continued. The detail of my job has changed. There is no choir to rehearse or delight in but in its place there are several Cantors whose ministries have become so important. Until Pentecost we had only live-stream Masses but since then we have opened up the church. My usual regime of 6 Masses over a weekend was reduced to four and I welcomed this imposition. Although attendance is rising we are still able to keep people safe. You have to remember that in Florida’s climate we can always open up the sides of the church to let air in and people experience the liturgy from outside. But there are still families and individuals and choir members I miss. There was one young woman who got married two years ago and I hadn’t seen her since the pandemic broke. The mind comes up with all sorts of explanations (and of course, the obligation to celebrate Mass is still lifted) but when I saw here a month ago the reason was clear. She was heavily pregnant and gave birth on 22 December. This is a sign of hope, and I need to encounter this.

I have been ‘lucky’.

I can still visit a local Irish Bar. It is an outside bar which we are told reduces the risk of transmission and I keep to a small cohort of people with whom I relate. We need to do this. It’s not just the alcohol we consume but we need the interested company of our friends.

I can still do the job I enjoy and it pays the mortgage. OK, we didn’t get a pay rise because the church collections dropped but this is far better than the experience of many. Financially I took a hit on Airbnb which was becoming something of a second business. I also lost income from the fact that I could not teach organ to my scholarship students at Jesuit High School but in the big picture I was doing OK. Of course this was probably not the best year to decide to refinance and reduce the term of my mortgage but there you go. Who has a crystal ball?

Where the virus hit me most was in my ability to travel and more particularly to return to UK for what has become an annual visit to see brothers and more importantly my mum. She has not been so well this year and this makes the enforced separation more painful. I am lucky that I have great brothers who ensure that important decisions are well-made. I speak with mum regularly and she is still ‘mum’.

I know we all hate Zoom meetings but this and other platforms have enabled us to connect. I can skype-phone my mum easily. She doesn’t need top go to the computer anymore. WhatsApp has been great with the rest of my family particularly because we know that mum will not use it! we need to remain connected. That is why I fear the worst with the current generation of students. Whether you are are in university or school at whatever level the importance of social interaction cannot be underestimated. Of course children can be awful to each other and this can provoke young minds to feel inadequate and depressed and even to end their lives but the day to day interaction with your peers is really important. We humans spend a long time in a close -knit family and then we gradually introduce others so that they come to realize that these new encounters can be safe. The birth of virtual schooling may prove that there is more to learning in school than we ever realized.

So what of the time since my last blog?

I got pulled over by the Police for running a red light. Moments earlier I had realized that I had left my office keys, diabetic medications and wallet in the office and was anxious to get there before they closed. I agreed with the female officer that I wondered if I had run the light. She asked me for my licence, which I could not produce because it was in my wallet at work. When I told her where I worked she returned to her car and ran my plates against my name. She returned stating that the offence would have cost me $240 and 3 points but that today was my lucky day. She gave me a ticket for non-disclosure of the license and days later I went to the Court and showed my license and was freed on payment of $10. Phew! I think the english accent might have had something to do with it!

I was delighted to be invited to play in the opening recital of the new organ at local Christ the King Church. I played Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster which I thought would be a good tribute to my origins and organ builders in general. there were 9 organists from the Dioceses who played but they did me the especial honour of asking me to close the recital.

For the last few months I have been composing a psalm for each forthcoming Sunday. I’ve been in the business since I was 13 so 49 years later i have a few ideas of my own! It’s been a great project for the creative person in me. I don’t ask that anyone publish them but you never know, someone might like them when I’m gone. I shared one of them with a n English composer-friend and he advised me to leave it in my bottom drawer. I understood the advice but the parish (and more to the point the Pastor) loved it!

I love kayaking but it’s been cold here. By that I mean that there has been reason to wear a sweat-shirt for the last two weeks. This is unusual. But I am pleased to report that warm weather has returned. Kayaking again seems possible. Today we reached 83F but don’t ask me what that is in Centigrade. America uses Fahrenheit and Europe does not but UK used to. I wonder if that will change?

A few hours ago UK left the European Community. I voted to remain because I felt that this was for the Common Good. I suppose I feel that at last it has been done and I admire the negotiators on both side for delivering something when this seemed unlikely. Time will tell what the detail delivers. I am pleasantly surprised by the more conciliatory language from both camps over this and I am certainly not depressed that Nigel Farage (whose name I continue to pronounce in the same way as ‘garage’ ) has not appeared on the Queen’s New Years Honours List. Such is royal wisdom!

I do wonder about Scotland that was told that appeals for independence could not be countenanced until Brexit was completed. That time has arrived so watch this space, friends.

I leave 2020 in good health albeit dented by neck pain. In 2012 in UK a car crashed into me while on a bike. Later in USA I was ‘rear-ended’ twice and this exacerbated my injuries which seem to be severe in terms of herniated disks. Recently this has become a real problem. I went to a friendly chiropractic but it did not relieve things for long. 2021 will be the year I explore solutions to this.

2021 will also bring me a new niece via Richard and Camille. Their wedding was every bit worth the journey home a few years ago and I’m hoping that as soon as I am able (two quarantines providing) I will be able to meet the latest member in what is the great family Jakob!

Happy New Year and peace and love to all!

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