Bethesda Friends Meeting

Dispatches from Bethesda Friends

Folks who attend BFM often want to share their writings with our meeting Friends. It might be research articles, personal writings or connections, as well as writings from outside of BFM that are personally meaningful to them  (click here to see previous submissions).

Pandemic Silver Linings

It is mid-2022, and we've been asking whether the pandemic led to any surprising, helpful, delightful, or important personal discoveries.

Sunlight shines on a glass of water next to a pad of paper and a pen. (iStock photo)

Some positive responses are below. And if the question speaks to you, please consider sharing what you learned. 

  • An outline might be: What did you discover? How did you discover it? What difference did it make? 
  • Writers of all ages are welcome. Brevity, too. Anonymity is fine; photos and artwork are very welcome.  
  • If you have questions, please call  Peggy E. or Frank G. (see your print Directory). You can also use our   "Contact us" form, mentioning a submission to  "Dispatches."
  • To submit your entry or entries, please email copies to both Peggy and Frank. 

Please note: These are submissions from individuals. The information and opinions are their own, and not that of Bethesda Friends Meeting. 

Photos are the property of the authors unless

otherwise attributed.

We hope this project gives you joy.

Pandemic Silver Linings from our Friends

From Stephanie K.

In 2019, my dear friend in California, Linda, had taught me to use Zoom, so we could “see” each other when we talked.  When the pandemic hit, I was happy to share this information with friends at BFM, my book group, my study group, my yoga students, other yoga teachers.  I, the tech-averse and tech-challenged, suddenly felt I could be of use with technology!  Amazing.

A beautiful spring day, 2020.  I’m in my daughter’s neighborhood in Chevy Chase, helping out  with her 4-year-old (who suddenly has no pre-school to go to) so she and 

Grandson James and friend up in the trees

her husband can work.  The street scene is rather remarkable – parents out in beach chairs, watching as the kids play in the street, talking to one another, and passing the time as if on vacation.  The kids are playing freely and happily – riding bikes, climbing trees, chasing one another, and playing obscure games I cannot make sense of, but which they seem to enjoy immensely.   All this reminds me of my childhood in post-World War II Levittown, NY, where almost no one had TVs and kids spent as much time outside as possible, in all kinds of weather, playing with other kids.  Suddenly, this unwelcome pandemic means that, 65 years later, if kids want to play with each other, it has to be outside.  No tablets, no TV, no Legos or other indoor toys – just the basics for outdoor play.  And they are full of energy and exuberance and delight.   And the parents, too, seem to ease into this outdoor scene, as if all this time, they’ve just been yearning for a reason to sit outside on beach chairs and enjoy the day.

January and February 2021 – following a call from a student of mine from 50 years ago, in which I find out there is a move to have a “reunion” (obviously not in person), I find myself on numerous Zoom calls with the “kids” (now in their mid-60s) whom I taught at an alternative school in the early 70s.  The pandemic has actually meant that, spread out across the country, we are all suddenly reaching out to one another via Zoom for one-to-one chats, and organizing a Zoom group gathering for the whole group.  It is a delight to talk to the adult versions of these “kids” who had found themselves drawn to a very off-beat alternative school.  As teenagers, each of them had been unique and a bit quirky, bright, curious, and unconventional, from backgrounds ranging from privileged, sometimes with supportive parents, to ones of deprivation and parental neglect or abuse.  Seeing how each of these lives unfolded, hearing of the surprising twists and turns in their lives, the challenges they encountered, their current passions and strengths, is so deeply touching.  One of my former students, Mary, it turns out, is very ill with cancer at this time.  She comes to the Zoom reunion, clearly weak and vulnerable, and shares how much we teachers and her friends at the school meant to her.  Others share with her how much they had admired the strength and independence that enabled her to create a rich and successful life from a very difficult beginning.  Mary dies just 10 days later, and the group shares poems, remembrances, love letters.  It is heart-breaking, and heart-opening to be part of this sharing.  Had there not been Covid at the time, probably there would have been a move to make this reunion in person.  Mary certainly would not have come.  Nor would a number of the students who lived at great distance.  We all felt so very lucky to have had these rich reconnections with one another.

Another beautiful day, this time it is the summer of 2021.  We are with my son, daughter-in-law, and 15-month-old granddaughter at the new home they moved to in New Paltz NY, after feeling almost driven out of their small one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn by the exigencies of Covid – both parents trying to work from home with a babysitter and a baby in the same small place.  At this new place, little Ellie is happily walking around the land, finding blackberry bushes from which to pick berries.  Her mouth and fingers are stained purple, and she is in heaven.  We are simply hanging out, enjoying the day, the land, the berries; she seems utterly at home exploring the brush to find the berry bushes.  I look around – apple orchards across the way, hills in the distance, the air sweet and fresh, and I am filled with delight and gratitude.  And I know that weirdly, if it weren’t for Covid, and the fact that my son and daughter-in-law can now work from home (have to work from home), they’d most likely still be in Brooklyn, and not on this sweet piece of land they have come to love so much.


From Jan O.

I want to share two pandemic experiences that were the gift of an enemy. In this case, the virus was the enemy, and the gift was what it showed me. I want to say right away that the past few years have been the hardest of my life, but I’m not sharing that with you. I’m sharing what has been good, what has filled my heart with love and appreciation here in Portland, Oregon.

I would have been isolated if not for the TriMet bus system. No car and everything is closed. But the buses run. And the essential workers are working. After George Floyd was murdered May 25, 2020 there were protests all over Portland. And in June, I found a protest on Broadway. I’ve  stood at 14th and Broadway daily from 12:00 to 1:00 for the first year, and on Wednesday and Sunday ever since. 

We demonstrators self-select as far as values, but we are diverse: midwife, geneticist, hairdresser, IT person, nurse, gardener, professor, etc. And when you stand in the rain and snow and heat day after day, you forge real friendships. Every day is filled with surprises. We get cursing and worse sometimes. Spitting. One guy drove toward me as if to hit me. I just stood still and stared. A de-escalation fellow asked to meet with us by Zoom to coach us on how to handle threats. He did not want us to engage at all. Be safe! Get away!

God knows if it makes a difference, but to individuals it does. I had a young woman who was Black cross the street and come to me crying. She said, "I have been watching you for two years (same corner in front of 5 Star Cleaners), and I just had to stop and tell you how much it means to me that you’re always here." 

And the bus drivers! They’re the most compassionate, happy, friendly people in town. I ride bus 17 regularly. I’m usually toting my dolly trolley (for groceries, or Goodwill finds) I took a 4-foot flamingo and a Scott’s push mower on bus 17. Gary said if I brought that mower on his bus, I’d have to mow his lawn. He loved it! Anything I can haul on the dolly I can bring on the bus. Anything I can’t, my friends will drive home for me. 

There is one more thing, more COVID-related. I took a course on teaching English as a second language  through the Library/Literacy Council by zoom.  Now I have 10 Adult Literacy students from all over the world. Alexy had called from Dnipro, Ukraine, and I’m worried as he has stopped.  I have a Japanese lady who calls in from Paris. I just marvel at the library staff who manage all the volunteers and English students. 

Well, Friends, this is what I have. I miss you sooo much. Love and peace,  Jan 

When You Can’t Go Out, Go In

Gail Bingham Kohanek

The pandemic arrived shortly after it also was becoming harder to leave my husband home alone, given his increasing confusion with Alzheimer's disease.  I confess to too many dark hours and days, lost in wondering what to do, feeling more than a bit sorry for myself, and embarrassed knowing that I am very much one of the privileged ones!

It took a while, but the old photos in my computer eventually revealed themselves as a treasure box to open and play with once my complaints that I couldn’t go on the photo journeys I loved got loud enough for me to hear.  I learned how to create new landscapes of the imagination through which I could journey within, into the magical and the unknown, which the pandemic only reminds us is the truth anyway.  

"Stepping Forward" --Copyright Gail Bingham Kohanek, 2022

[For Gail's collection of four visual art pieces, please click here.]

In Rock Creek, Washington, DC, the sparkling water swirls under a fallen tree and around large boulders.Here's an entry a Friend has been playing with:


We thought we knew Rock Creek Park pretty well after 38 years of living two blocks from it. But we knew mostly the blazed trails and lesser ones within walking distance. So, when cabin fever struck during the pandemic, we'd drive to woods virgin to us and explore its trails for an hour or so. Iffy trails were especially tempting. Picnic lunches slowed us down perfectly. Creek surges after heavy rains made children of us. It was a vast and marvelous park when approached this way. And a perfect jailbreak for our cramped spirits.

Here's another writer's pandemic encounter:

I was sitting in my backyard enjoying a warm Spring morning when a crow in a nearby tree began to caw. I was in a good mood, so I cawed back. We began a long call and response. If the crow cawed once, twice or three times, so would I. I think it was highly pleased that it had taught me to count. 

A little later it brought a piece of bread to soak in the water dish that we have out on our old picnic table for the birds and squirrels. I decided to put out some cat food for it on the table in a small plastic container. It flew down, inspected, and flew away with the entire container. II wondered if and when it would bring the container back for a refill.

The same writer lauds his quintessential pandemic neighbor:

Joan knows everything.  If you need a handyman or a new person to mow your lawn, Joan knows whom to call.  If an ambulance appears in front of any house, Joan soon knows all about it, and can tell you the details. If someone needs to borrow a tool or piece of equipment for a day or two, she knows who has it. When the pandemic struck, Joan knew the woman who was brewing up scarce hand sanitizer, and gave us some for free.  When the grocery truck wrongly delivered (at no cost to us, thankfully) a large bag full of pepperoni pizza and other meat products, and then for "safety reasons" wouldn't take it back even though we were vegetarians, Joan knew which family most had need of it.

Two young children, masked, converse quietly in a playground.

From a Friend who cares for her grandchildren

It was lovely to see that children often adjusted quickly to the new rules.  Masks did not stop my grandson from making a new best friend on the first day of Pre-K. 

From Frank G. Shirley Who? 

Lots of accomplished writers re-read Shirley Hazzard’s novels every year, the New York Review of Books told me early in the pandemic.  A month later, a Times reviewer declared Hazzard’s most celebrated title, The Transit of Venus, “one of the most important postwar novels.”  A speaker at a Hazzard symposium hosted by the posh and gravely serious New York Society Library (founded in 1754) called Hazzard “a literary treasure of the world.”

So why had I, an English major ever keen to keep up, never heard of the late Australian-American winner of the 2003 National Book Award? The question begins to answer itself.  But the pandemic led me to realize that blown-away Hazzard fans were on the money. 

Granted, some of her work should be forgotten. (Case in point: short stories based on her days in the United Nations bureaucracy.) Yet, like the Girl with the Curl, when Hazzard’s good, she’s very, very good.  Like a Joyce you’ve never heard of.  Both are deep and difficult writers who demand something rare in readers: enough time to read slowly. Let’s say six pages an hour instead of 60.

             Thank you, pandemic. You need serious time to appreciate Hazzard’s greatest gift: unique, complex sentences that she’s burnished by her famously tireless rewriting.  Sounds grim, but listen to a medley of them, skimmed from The Transit of Venus.

  • “Signs of last month’s storm were difficult to find: however hard you might look, the earth insisted that there was nothing wrong.”
  • “She said, ‘I am Grace Bell.’ She had a very good new woolen dress, color of roses. They both knew—it was impossible not to—that he saw her beautiful. But both, because of youth, feigned ignorance of this or any other beauty.”
  • “Mrs. Thrale had been brought up to believe, on pain of losing her character, that her back must never touch the chair: never, never. This added to her air of endurance, and made it seem also that she looked at you in the face more than usual.”
  • “Maybe the element of coincidence is played down in literature because it seems like cheating or can’t be made believable. Whereas life itself doesn’t have to be fair, or convincing.”

The critic Alice Gregory writes of Venus: “The terms of the novel’s contract are clear: one must read it with unusually close attention; in exchange, astonishment will be granted.”   

To publicly comment on one or more of these submissions, please send an email, with your comment, to our FORUM email ( After moderation, your comment will be posted on this public page with only your first name and last initial.  

Bethesda Friends Meeting

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 30152, Bethesda MD 20824

Our Meetinghouse is on the campus of the Sidwell Friends Lower School at the intersection of Edgemoor Lane and Beverly Road in Bethesda, Maryland

We are a member organization of the Religious Society of Friends
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