Like everyone in this city — county, state, country, world — I have been impacted by COVID-19. Our agency, Human Rights Initiative, has been uniquely impacted. Most courts have modified operations, canceled trials, and allowed appearances by phone. Immigration courts have been functioning until the last day or so. So my staff was required to still meet with clients and prepare for trials. Now they have canceled hearings for people who are not detained. Because of that, our agency modified to a work-from-home schedule. We have moved all of our meetings to phone and Zoom video meetings. We’ve brushed up on our skills and are trying to serve as many people as possible, as safely as possible.
I’ve been socially isolating at home, working remotely as much as possible, but I come to the office every day, to check mail and to support my staff as they continue to see and serve clients. I carry wipes and sanitizer and clean all the surfaces I touch. I stay 6 feet away from any staff who are also there working. Shout out to my BRAVE AMAZING STAFF, who are fighting every day with everything they have! RESPETO! Same respect for the other agencies in our city, my colleagues whom I love and respect at: RAICES, Catholic Charities, North Texas Dream Team, International Rescue Committee, Mosaic Family Services and Refugee Services of Texas. ALL of them continue to provide services in this chaotic moment.
One modification in my schedule is that I start every day with a hike. Luckily D Magazine has some great articles about hiking! Because frankly that’s about the most healthy thing you can do. You can get outdoors, away from people, and do a little something for your spirit as well. I drove up, foregoing the news and opting to listen to Justin Townes Earle instead.
Wednesday morning started with fierce storms. I slept in a bit, got up at 7, and checked the weather. No rain in the forecast, so I headed up to Spring Creek Forest, in Garland. This is my go-to hiking spot, as I am certain to have solitude and also to see something interesting. As I drove over the narrow bridge on Holford, I saw that the creek was running very high. I was looking forward to seeing that up close.
I parked, pulled out my oak walking stick, and started down the trail. There was water running across the paved sidewalk, which indicated that there had been a heavy rain there that morning. I walked under the newly leafed-out Elms and noticed the Red Bud fully leafed out. Then I headed across a patch of native prairie, part of which burned last year. I was pleased to see clumps of green grasses and the spikes of new grown Arkansas Yucca. This prairie should be in full bloom in a month. I walked down a hill and past Trout Lily colonies that are now past blooming. There were thousands of them a month ago. I made my way under the Garland Avenue bridge and hit the dirt trail. I had to divert around a downed Ash tree, but that was no real barrier. Soon, I was walking across fields of bright green wild rye. Shouts of yellow Groundsel also filled the forest floor. The woods were quiet. I’ve been here when the floodwaters were all the way out of the banks, but today I could see the floodwaters had not breached the bank, although I was walking through large patches of standing water. I remembered I had an extra pair of socks in the car. So I kept going.
I stopped at an overview of the creek, where Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum flowers. I noticed the plants were laden with buds, and they should be showing their white blossoms soon. I made my way toward a small creek crossing. But I noticed a giant dead Chinquapin had fallen. This tree is huge. It must be over a 100 years old, and it has been dead for at least three years. It uprooted and collapsed, splintering smaller trees. I was glad I hadn’t been standing there when it went over! I walked past beautiful native Coral Honeysuckle, brilliant red in the mostly bare winter woods. I walked over to the small creek. I had laid logs across it and usually walked on those, but the force of floodwaters had washed them away. I decided not to wade the creek and walked over to a bluff overlooking the floodwaters. I sat, pulled out my thermos of Cultivar Coffee, and had a sip. Cultivar has donated coffee to HRI for the last two years, delivering fresh roasted Salvadoran coffee. But this month I bought it for the office. I sat and recited the Shema Israel, as I do each day, and read a Psalm. This morning’s was Psalm 98:
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy
I took a phone call from a staff member. I normally unplug when I hike, but now I need to be available all the time. We were discussing our policy on advocating about how immigrants are being treated at the border. Think about that for a moment. Think about how vulnerable you feel right now. Now imagine what that would be like if you were a young mom or dad, and your entire plan was to come to the United States for safety, but you were stuck in a squalid camp in Mexico. That’s who we’re fighting for.
I made my way back to the car, basking in the quiet of the forest, hearing the occasional Chickadee or Red Bellied Woodpecker. In another Psalm, the Psalmist says that God “restores his soul.” Nature is the primary tool for me.
One of the burdens of leadership is never showing fear. Every leader knows this. You must have a steady hand at the wheel. Right now, we have leaders in our city like Clay Jenkins, spiritual leaders like Rabbi Nancy Kasten, Reverend Michael Waters, and many others. They are leading without panic, despite the anxiety they no doubt feel. I’m thankful for them. A short walk in the woods steadies my nerves, grounds me, and I’m ready to come back tomorrow and fight this fight for immigrant justice, because the xenophobia that has a stranglehold on this country is a deadly virus, too. Indeed, it has already killed people and continues to do so. But we will overcome that, too. I believe that with all of my heart.
We will survive this. It was be hard as hell. Especially for our service-industry friends whose livelihoods are being severely impacted. And for vulnerable people like homeless neighbors.
What you do right now matters. It is who you are. Prepare but don’t hoard. Take care of your family. STAY HOME if you can, for God’s sake. Do takeout meals from the restaurant that will break your heart if it closes. Cook meals at home. Finish that book you’ve wanted to read for years.
And one of the healthiest things you can do is go for a walk in nature. Go alone. Go home and write a series of emails and messages to people you love. You have likely not told them you love them enough.
And that, too, restores our souls.