Learning Matters: Reflecting on spring and the changes the coronavirus have brought to life

Walking can provide time to think about how the world has changed since the coronavirus and the people who are helping others during these difficult times.
(Patrick Sinkel / AFP Getty Images)

For this spring’s Lenten season, which started the last week of February, our church members were challenged to walk each day, according to our abilities, and to share some of our reflections about the experience.

I loved the plan when it was announced, imagining a month and more of disciplined walking, an activity I already enjoy, whether in our hilly neighborhood or with the small group of “Talking Walkers” to which I belong.

I also confess my appreciation for the added discipline of a challenge to encourage more order in my somewhat unscheduled daily existence. It’s one of the reasons I agreed to write this column several years ago. I’d always enjoyed writing but needed the push of a deadline.

I’ve written before about some of my favorite times when our children were little: the PTA read-a-thons when, come what may, we met the challenge to read aloud at least half an hour every night.

Similarly, one of my earliest Learning Matters columns was inspired by a pedometer challenge among the female members of Curves. This spring’s walking and writing challenge seemed tailor made for my enjoyment.

Little did I or most any of us know that the transition into spring would be such a dramatic shift.

Even with an advanced warning in early February of the potentially unprecedented reach of the coronavirus, relayed through a family member whose friend works for the CDC, even after hearing from our son in Tokyo about the empty streets there, where the lines at the sushi counter had never been so short, we entered March in pretty much a business-as-usual mode. We were aware of the epidemic, but felt removed from it.

I went on with my usual activities and causes, with little more than a nod to the virus. March is our church’s month for hosting the Sunday lunch program, a meal served by downtown area churches to the housed and unhoused who come for a meal and fellowship each week.

March 1 was a Sunday, so there we were. We served close to 40 guests that day, with most returning for seconds and thirds of the chicken or seafood pasta they’ve come to expect as a regular feature on our menu.

They know the local Olive Garden has been donating pastas and soups for use with the Sunday lunch and other programs, like Ascencia and Family Promise of the Verdugos, for well over a decade now.

They know “Olive Garden Pasta Medley” is one of our specialties.

My calendar that first week of March also included the Super Tuesday election as well as various Glendale Educational Foundation meetings in advance of its March 6 gala, an event I enjoy each year, particularly when I know some of the honorees personally.

This year, I knew two of the four Glendale Unified graduate honorees: playwright and children’s author Jennifer Berry, a neighborhood parent and friend whose book I’ve been pleased to give to several young parents; and Dr. Peter Navolanic, Glendale Unified Class of ’63.

He is the identical twin brother of Pat Navolanic, who died tragically in 1965 while studying abroad. The Pat Navolanic Memorial Award has been presented each year since 1966 to the Glendale High graduating senior who most exemplifies Pat Navolanic’s leadership traits, scholarship skills and athletic prowess — traits his brother possessed, too.

It wasn’t until 1997, 31 years after the memorial award was established, that Peter Navolanic first learned of it. Since then, he has been flying down from the Bay Area each year, taking time from a busy medical practice to present the award, and, with a faithful group of his classmates, to share stories of his brother’s many gifts.

This year, the Glendale Educational Foundation honored Peter Navolanic for his own gifts, and most especially for his efforts in inspiring a generation of Glendale High students.

Given how the month has progressed since that evening, I feel especially grateful that the foundation had the chance to celebrate these individuals and its two other accomplished honorees, Marineh Tchakerian and Ani Zadorian, and to highlight the foundation’s efforts on behalf of Glendale students. Already that evening reflects life in another age.

By the following Friday, COVID-19 had seized all our attention, and within the space of a few days, my calendar and most everyone else’s had cleared.

Off came the galas for Family Promise of the Verdugos, Ascencia, and the YWCA Glendale. Off came the March meeting of the Women’s Civic League of Glendale, choir rehearsals and church services.

Last Sunday, we went ahead with a grab-and-go Sunday lunch, wearing a mask and observing other precautions, but now even that is off the table.

“What’s really important, Mom?” one of our sons asked in a phone call, concerned that I’d continue with my frequent comings and goings.

Now I think about that question as I walk. I think about the sheltered and unsheltered who still need services and about the staff members who are still at work serving them — Glendale’s homeless services staff and case workers from the organizations whose fundraising galas were so recently canceled.

I think about officers with the Glendale Police Department, working with outreach teams to offer food to the homeless on the streets and encourage movement into the shelters available outside Glendale.

I wonder about the kitchen staff at Olive Garden, some of them still working to fill take-out orders, and the doctors and nurses risking contracting the virus as they care for their patients — doctors like Peter Navolanic and my brother in Michigan.

Both men are both of retirement age and at high risk of contracting the virus, but they’re still working, as I get ready to take a walk.

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