Under the Weather

I am under the weather.

(For non-native English readers, this phrase is an idiom, meaning “a vague sense of ill health.” I am using it here as a double entendre—two meanings. )

Sunrise in smoke–my neighborhood, 1 Sept.

And so are you.

This is a lesson learned in Houston and along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey set a record breaking 50 inches (127 cm) of rain from one storm. This lesson was followed by Hurricane Irma destroying a string of Caribbean islands and then churning up Florida and Georgia… with more drastic weather on the way.

Image provided by National Weather Service of Irma

Out here, the West is on fire. On the first of September, 80 fires raged in western states, and western Canada is also ablaze. Where I live, it stopped raining mid-June, and barely spit for the next 83 days. Temperatures spiked into the 90sF (30sC) in a region where 70% of the homes and businesses do not have air conditioning—we’ve never needed it.

from http://cliffmass.blogspot.com

Globally, an estimated 41 million people are currently displaced by flooding, mudslides, smoke and fire, earthquake, volcano, drought—extreme weather and climate changes that are raising sea levels, melting glaciers and permafrost, creating conditions long predicted, long denied, and now consuming the life energies of people not in the power to change much, but whose lives have been disrupted along a scale from inconvenience to catastrophe.

The night that Irma was sweeping into Florida I went to my local theatre to see the documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. I was almost afraid to go, feeling so much the tension from storms and fires—but I’m glad I went. Yes the news is bad, and yes we keep losing time and momentum, but the documentary helped me focus on both immediate needs—to help people in trouble today—and long-term needs—to change systems and policies—that give us a future.

A livable climate must be our first global priority. And it is hinged to all our other priorities.

So— I’m IN for the Paris Accord. I’m IN for solving the problem! I’m IN for attention and activism for the rest of my life.

The science is IN, the technology is IN: other countries are already making the shift and their economies are discovering that alternative energy is profitable. Legislation is currently being offered in both houses of Congress. We citizens have to demand the right to another way of life.

It doesn’t matter whether or not a small portion of the people “believe” climate change is a real: the earth is proving the science. My dear colleague, anthropologist Dr. MK Sandford, has taken it on herself to have a similar discussion around creationism and evolution. She says, “People tell me they don’t believe in evolution, and I tell them, it doesn’t matter what you believe, because science is based on facts, not beliefs. Your belief system does not change the science, only research does that.”

Imagine this: you’re standing in the road. A large truck rounds the corner and aims right at you. You are loudly proclaiming, “Trucks are a hoax, a tool of the liberal, humanist, fake news, elite agenda.” And then it runs over you and keeps on going.

Some days I can barely withstand the tension, but I keep asking: What’s my relationship to this right now? Where is my point of empowerment?

For the people caught in these storms, the ones we see on TV and the ones we don’t, their job is personal rehabilitation of their lives and communities. Or their job is to move out of the path of the truck, and our job is to make a place for them to jump for safety.

For me, it’s building resilient, communicative, cooperative community now, that will help us stand strong together when the “truck” veers our way. It will veer our way–wherever we are, because we are all under the weather.

And for me, beyond activism, I also feel compelled to bring these conditions into my spiritual life. I send money: I send love. I dedicate the moments of respite and beauty in my daily life to the folks currently in the middle of the storm.

Putting away my dishes and getting into my own bed, I send out the prayer, “May daily routines, shelter and safety return to you in your life.”

Picking raspberries, I pray, “Today I send this sweetness and abundance into the chaos of your moment, a ripening on your tongue.” 

Taking a breath of fresh air, I pray, “May the rains fall on the fires that ravage our forests and our hearts; may they soften the earth and relieve our smokey misperceptions of one another.”

I don’t know, scientifically, if this helps, but I believe it does… and prayers of blessing are a good way to use a belief system.

We are one.


A Scholarship for Paramedics

The world is full of news about natural disasters as we in the northern hemisphere make the turn from summer to fall—Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, Hurricane Irma hitting the Caribbean Islands and Florida, wildfires all over the western United States, and then a huge earthquake in Mexico.

These disasters are profoundly served by emergency medical professionals—in my eyes the true modern day heroes.

photo by Houston Chronicle—emergency personnel help residents and their pets from a boat after being evacuated from their apartments.

This weekend also marks another cycle of the Brian Schimpf memorial scholarship. When Brian died unexpectedly in November 2013 of complications from a line of duty accident, we, his devastated family, decided to establish a scholarship in his name for students accepted into the Denver Health Paramedic School.

To date we have been able to give seven young people one-third of their tuition for either the 9 month or 12 month training programs. Each of the candidates writes an essay about why they are choosing this line of profession and includes documentation of need.

Five fine applicants have just submitted their forms for this year’s 12- month program. In the next few days a committee made up of Brian’s father, a Denver paramedic friend, and a childhood friend will review these heartfelt applications and chose one or two of them for awards.

The applications are inspirational. This year’s application includes a young man who is supporting his sister’s dreams to become an actress while supporting himself on the meager salary of an emergency medical technician (a level of training below paramedic). Another year a young father was determined not to put his family too far behind financially.

Paramedics do not make a lot of money. These young people are doing this because it is exciting, exacting work that enables them to help their fellow human beings. We desperately need their skill and devotion. It is an honor to be able to help them, even a little bit.

Brian was an instructor in this school. As the flyer from Denver Health Foundation below indicates, he won numerous awards in his too short career. Donations are completely tax deductible and can be mailed to: Robin Engleberg,

Denver Health Foundation, Program Manager

655 Broadway, Suite 750

Denver, Colorado 80203

mail code 0111

When you read all of the stories about accidents and natural disasters, remember to pause and give gratitude for all the emergency workers who quite literally are putting their lives on the line to help us out.

Notice from recent Denver Health Foundation newsletter