Let not your hearts be troubled.

The gospel scheduled for this coming Sunday is that of John 14. How especially appropriate is this, as we are surrounded by an almost hourly dose of fearful statistics and more stories of a virus with mysterious ways! We are inundated everywhere we turn by calls for reopening the economy / staying shut down / we will have to wear masks forever / people will die!! / suicides on the rise / businesses are failing / etc.

It seems that every utterance is one of fear or one of derision towards one school of thought or another. I hear and read comments that are diametrically opposed: We Should Already Have The Economy Opened up versus We Need To Stay Shut Down Until They Find A Vaccine. The irony here is that most people agree that this virus should not be taken lightly and we need to understand what will be the best approach for the greatest number of people. There is a point of diminishing returns, and everyone has different opinions on it – and those different opinions fuel the fires of fear.

I can’t help but wonder: If we follow Christ, then why do we fear?

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Of course, we fear for our loved ones who may be more vulnerable. We fear for ourselves, our family, friends, coworkers, those in the medical field, the folks who work at the grocery store, the baristas at our favorite coffeeshop, the folks who own and who work at our favorite restaurants and businesses, our country, and the world.

But it seems that we are forgetting the most critical thing: God’s got this.

Take a breath. God’s got this. We have a responsibility to do what we think is best – and then, let it go. Not everyone is going to agree on the same approach to this.

I keep hearing comments like “I get so angry when I see people running around without masks! They are so inconsiderate!” (Maybe they have a breathing or sinus problem that wearing a mask exacerbates. Maybe they’re trying to practice social distancing, so stay out of their way.) I also hear comments like “where are all these people going? Why are there so many cars on the road? They need to stay home!” (Maybe they’re just getting out of the house for a ride. Maybe they’re running an errand for someone who’s vulnerable. At any rate, their cooties are in their cars with them.)

Take a breath. God’s got this. All we can “control” (and I use that word lightly) is what WE do. We’re in charge of our own choices, and the rest is up to God.

Isn’t that a relief? Why are we forgetting this?

But people will die!

Well…yes. I hate the idea that I may lose someone (or my own life) to this virus, and I know we all feel that way. But have we forgotten that we all die anyway? Sure, we don’t want to go before it’s our time, but again…our time is in God’s hands.

There’s a lot of fear and disagreement about “opening up,” and I get that.

But when we fuel fear, we separate ourselves from God, and we encourage others to be separate from God.

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We focus on the fallacy that we can control this, and we can’t. Sure, we can be cautious, wash our hands, and do what we can to “flatten the curve.”  Let’s not forget that yes, there will be more deaths attributed to this virus. (There will also be more deaths attributed to auto accidents, cancer, influenza, heart disease, suicide, war, violence, etc.) As people begin to move around more, there will almost certainly be an increase in infections. Don’t forget the idea of the shutdown was to not overwhelm the medical system, and we’ve been successful with that.

We don’t have to live in fear. Importantly, we don’t have to wield fear as a weapon to “make people behave.” We don’t have to judge others or make them examples of our righteousness if they don’t behave as we (or some expert) thinks they should behave. We might do well to remember that the models we’ve seen have been wrong, and that logic tells us we should be cautious – but not panic.

Be not afraid. Let not your hearts be troubled. God’s got this.

Discombobulated.

We’re all a bit discombobulated these days. Even for those who are still working (I am), things feel fragmented because we really can’t count on much of anything.

Which is sort of silly when you think about it – life is never certain, and I laugh every time I hear anyone in a Covid-19 briefing say “we can’t guarantee that it will be safe to…until…” or “We won’t open up again until we can guarantee the safety of….”

Seriously? Can you EVER guarantee safety? Of course not.

But…I’m tired of the fear-mongering and the blaming that is going on. Yes, Covid-19 can be very serious. It is a strange thing, as many who get it show no symptoms, or have nothing worse than a bad cold or bronchitis. Others get it, and it’s pure torture or even deadly. I’m not downplaying the severity of this virus, and with all of the talk and numbers flying around, I’m looking at some perspective.

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Perspective in isolation.

 

The models that experts and leaders point to in decision making have been notoriously wrong. We’re told that’s because we’ve been “flattening the curve.” I don’t know if that’s really the reason, because I don’t have all the data. None of us do.

 

I’m worried, though, about the toll this is taking in mental health, and there is very little talk about it. Why should I be surprised? Mental health comes into play when there is a celebrity suicide or a mass shooting, and then it goes lurking back into the shadows again. This is something that has concerned me for years; I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, no matter when/where/how/if I am practicing currently, I keep my license and continuing education active.

For perspective:

As of April 20, the CDC reports 746,625 cases of Covid 19 in the United States, with 39,083 deaths attributed to the virus. These numbers include “probable” cases. This is since 1/22/20, when that tracking began. (Note that the deaths include people who had the virus, not necessarily who died OF the virus.)

Now, let’s look at the 2017 – 18 flu season. (Yes, I know it’s not the flu. Bear with me a minute, OK?) Here are the CDC’s estimated rates of influenza-associated disease outcomes for all ages in the US:

44,802,629 infections

20,731,323 sought medical attention (that is, saw a doctor: Do I have the flu? Yep.)

808,129 hospitalized

61,099 deaths

But, as we are often reminded, Covid 19 is NOT the flu! We have a vaccine for the flu. (No, not really, but we have a sometimes-more-effective-than-others “shot” for the flu that is called a vaccine.) Wow, a good thing we have a flu shot, that keeps the numbers down to just…45 MILLION infections!!)

For more perspective, the National Safety Council notes that in 2018, 39,404 Americans died in automobile accidents.

For even more perspective, the CDC notes that every day, approximately 123 Americans die by suicide.

That’s nearly 45,000 Americans a year who choose to take their own lives.

SAVE.org (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) offers training to the public as well as to mental health and health professionals. They compile statistics from the CDC, NAMI and others, and those stats are even more grim than when I earned my MSW three decades ago.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages. (Where does Covid 19 fall? I’m just curious.) Depression affects 20 – 25% of American adults in any given year, and only half of Americans who have a major depression episode (which is VERY different from “the blues,” reactive sadness, grief, etc.) receive treatment.

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What will each day bring?

So what does this have to do with Covid 19?

My personal opinion, based on professional experience (aided by logic and an understanding of human nature) is that the effects of prolonged isolation, job loss, and downright economic disaster is going to have repercussions that may be even greater than those of the virus.

A recent article in US News & World Report noted that suicides have gone up by 35% in the last two decades. Jonathan Singer, the president of the board of directors of the American Association of Suicidology, noted that many “deaths of despair” happen in rural areas where there are fewer economic opportunities.

“Poverty breeds hopelessness, loneliness and depression, all emotions that increase the risk for suicide.”

Right now, most of the country is shut down. Following a great period of job growth and record low unemployment, many Americans were feeling optimistic about opportunities, work, and a chance to get ahead.

But now we have an economy in freefall, with over 22 million filing for unemployment, millions of Americans scared to death over a virus that hasn’t been anything like what was forecast, and poverty is getting up close and personal with a LOT of people. The models used to “predict” what was to have happened with Covid 19 haven’t been right yet.

But we can’t end these shutdowns yet! The infection rate and the death rates will go up!

BUT…the whole idea behind “flattening the curve” was to avoid overwhelming the health care system. I think we can safely say that we’ve done that. There will be people who point to increased infection rates (when things are “open” again) and say “see? We moved too soon! Disaster is on the horizon! Shut it back down again!!

The longer things are shut down, the more likely people will be to swarm everywhere they can once things are “open.” And yes, we will no doubt see more infections and , sadly, deaths. (I am interested in following the clinical trials on hydroxychloroquine. LSU is to be doing one, and they’re not alone. Fortunately, we already have a track record on that drug; it will primarily be a question of investigating its efficacy with treating Covid 19).

A prolonged economic shutdown breeds poverty…hopelessness…and loneliness. Those prone to depression and anxiety are going to have a worse struggle, and even those who aren’t “prone” to such things are likely having a tough time. (Let’s not even think about those poor souls with OCD! Hand-washing on steroids!)   If you’re worried about feeding and housing your family and you and your spouse are suddenly unemployed, you want to get back to work. For many small business owners, this economic slide means the end of their dreams.

But the danger…

Well, that’s why I included those flu numbers. We don’t freak out over the flu. We wash our hands, don’t go to work when sick, and do our best to stay healthy and not think about this deadly disease that kills tens of thousands each year. We could catch the flu, even if we had a flu shot. (It’s happened to me.)

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We do our best to stay healthy.

We don’t freak out over the prospect of dying in a car accident. We put that out of our minds, buckle up, check the rearview mirror, and drive to work.

I can promise you that somewhere in this country, right this moment, there is someone (and no doubt more than a few someones) worried, fearful, and in despair over the economic downturn. They may never have had to apply for any assistance before, and are overwhelmed with the “system” and the amount of paperwork they suddenly have to deal with.

Some are lost in the black hole of depression and desolation – and decide that’s it, and become another suicide statistic.

Stop reading for a moment and say a prayer for those souls; may their hands be paused from taking further action and may they reach out to someone for help.

Remember, risk is something we must live with every day, in everything we do. No one can guarantee our safety or wellness, not even the most respected doctors. The best any of us can do is mitigate the risk the best we can and carry on with life, and lend a helping hand to those who need it.

But please, let’s carry on with life; for ourselves, and for each other.

Holy Week: Canceled?!

Louisiana is one of the states hardest hit by CoVid-19. Consequently, we are all under a “Stay at Home” mandate – even if the local Wal-Mart parking lot indicates otherwise. Everything has been canceled, even regular Sunday church services.  Like many others, our own Epiphany church has gone to online services, calling us to a new experience of community through technology. (As I often say, technology is wonderful…when it works. Plans for streaming a live service were abandoned when the wi-fi service inside of the church proved to be less than robust. Hence, it was recorded.)

As our choir director, Leon, is safely tucked away in a neighboring state taking care of his elderly and high risk parents, I received a call from Fr. Matt asking about help with music. So last Sunday, Fr. Matt, Deacon Andrew and I gathered for Morning Prayer in a quiet church. Andrew and I played guitars and sang, and  Matthew 18:20 became very real to me.

I was reviewing guitar translations of hymns and looking ahead. Palm Sunday. Easter. Holy Week.

Holy Week. Holy –!

I can tolerate Palm Sunday without a Procession of the Palms. I can even tolerate – barely – Easter without trumpet, choir, full-on-“smells and bells,” etc.

But Holy Week without my church family?

This…is gonna be a challenge.

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It’s not the music. While Maundy Thursday is filled with music I love, most of it is easily translatable to guitar. It’s not even daily church attendance, as I don’t make it on the Monday or Tuesday. I do love the Tenebrae service on Wednesday, though.

Frankly, I’m not sure exactly what it is, except that the prospect of missing it leaves me feeling a bit lost.

Well, maybe feeling a bit lost is what Holy Week is all about.

I should know that; I’ve written songs about it. Yet this feeling of loss and of being lost are different. I know it’s nothing like Christ’s disciples felt: After an enthusiastic welcome into Jerusalem, their whole world fell apart as they watched their beloved rabbi captured, condemned in a farce of a trial, tortured and crucified. They watched, helpless, without the knowledge of what was to come. How can my own feelings possibly have anything to do with what they were experiencing?

How can my own feelings be even remotely related to what Jesus suffered and what His followers felt?

Perhaps those are questions to ponder during this upcoming Holy Week.

Our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Jacob Owensby (affectionately known as “Bishop Jake”) sent out an email to members of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana this week, stressing the need to stay home and reminding us that we don’t stay put out of our own desire for self-preservation. Rather, we do so in order to slow the spread of the illness and to not overwhelm our medical system. He points out “This makes it possible for those needing a hospital bed and life-saving equipment to have access to them. We will literally be saving our neighbors’ lives. That sounds like love to me.”

That sounds like love to me.

Amen.

Epiphany welcomes all to our virtual worship. I’ll be posting them here.

There is a Well

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, and their subsequent conversation. I’ve always been fascinated by the Samaritan woman (as you can tell from the title of this blog). She was pretty fearless.

She recognized first that He was a prophet, and when He began to speak of Spirit, she tested the waters (no pun intended) of the Messiah issue. She didn’t quite come out and say “are you the Messiah,” but spoke of the Messiah

Jesus confirmed that I who speak to you am He.

The woman left her water jar behind, a significant act in itself. Not only did she abandon her task (a critical one that had to be fulfilled on a regular basis), she abandoned her tool. Simply reading the words as written, we may get the impression that she set down her water jar and wandered into the city and chatted with some folks on the street corner.

I rather have the idea that she was blown away enough to drop everything and run. Wouldn’t you? How long had they been waiting for a Messiah? She had the proof she needed.  Not only had He spoken to her, He had spoken to her as an equal, an individual capable of grasping deep truth. He immediately treated her as a disciple.

She ran to the city. Can you imagine her breathless as she told people (the men, as John tells us, another important point) to come, see a Man who told me…could this be the Christ?

She must have had a reputation for being truthful, as people believed her words. Later, when they had seen for themselves, they came to believe what they had seen.

I wrote the lyrics first for There is a Well:

There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry;
a deep well that’s flowing inside of me, where my soul does lie.
Some days it’s clear fresh water
Some days it’s sweet red wine
That makes my head start spinning with a love divine.
There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry.

Well, I left the village, to fill my jar
with a thirst throughout my very soul.
And I met a man (can you understand)
He said “my water will make you whole.”
He said, You been thirsting,
I know you’ve been looking
and you’re not the only one……
so go back to the village, and sing it on the streets
the Son of Man has come!

There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry;
a deep well that’s flowing inside of me, where my soul does lie.
Some days it’s clear fresh water
Some days it’s sweet red wine
That makes my head start spinning with a love divine.
There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry.

Oh I thought I lost out on Salvation’s call
because a sinner oh, that’s what I am
But I drank of his living water and I heard him say
“Sister, you’re a part of the plan.”
He said, It’s a hard life
That you’ve been living
And sister, I know you’ve got the blues
But it was a new day dawning, when you woke up this morning
So go out and tell the good news!

There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry;
a deep well that’s flowing inside of me, where my soul does lie.
Some days it’s clear fresh water
Some days it’s sweet red wine
That makes my head start spinning with a love divine.
There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry…
There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry.

The words came easily, but I struggled with the music for a while. Then, I realized:

She had five husbands. Obviously, this was meant to be a blues song.

CD COVER only front

And a blues song it is. You can listen to the song here.

Greening the Season

It always makes me a little crazy when I see Christmas trees and greenery parked out by the side of the road awaiting garbage pickup – on Dec. 27. Good grief! Don’t they realize it’s TWELVE days of Christmas? I’m doing well if I have greenery in the house by Christmas Eve! And yes, it stays until Epiphany. While I’ve switched to a small “faux” tree in recent years, I do enjoy using fresh greenery. Living where I do, we have an abundance of it at hand. It’s become sort of a family tradition.

Thursday, the weather was good, and my brother, sister-and-law and I headed down the road to gather a few goodies for decorating. While south Louisiana isn’t home to lovely Fraser Fir trees and the like, we do have our share of evergreens.

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Cedar trees are everywhere. One Christmas, many years ago, we decided to cut our own tree. This was long before tree farms offered such a thing. We went along “the ditchbank” (a wooded area by the house) and chose a lovely cedar, cut it down, and brought it home. (Disclaimer: It was on family property. We weren’t poaching a tree.) It was fun, a new experience, and — very tall. About 2 feet too tall, so we had a bit of a bent-over tree, but what the heck.

Palmettos aren’t what you think of with “Christmas greens” (and neither is Spanish moss), but they are pretty handy.

Then, there’s Yaupon. This North American holly is full of berries, and grows wild along the road.

Greenery has been used since ancient times, and even before Christianity, to bring color into the homes during the darker days of winter. Even in our mild southern climate, we have a starker landscape – so we love our evergreens.

Who needs the decorating section of your local craft store when you have this amazing decor in your own backyard?

Using the same materials (OK, I skipped the palmetto), Greg and I had different styles on our doors.

But it was a fun afternoon, on the hunt for greens and “weeds” that would make the season festive.

I’ll be spending Christmas with family and friends, and plan to continue my own Christmas enjoyment throughout the season by spending time with people I love. I hope you’ll do the same, even if you can’t “visit everyone” on Christmas day. (Who can? Oh, yeah, the big Jolly Ho Ho Ho Guy. But he just drops off gifts, scarfs down milk and cookies, and takes off again, hopefully NOT leaving reindeer patties on the roof.)

Have a wonderful and blessed Christmas!

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving, and – dare I say it – a very American holiday. We’ve seen decorations of pilgrims and pumpkins, corn and horns of plenty. We’re used to our holidays being commercialized, and today is particularly a good day to reflect on what, exactly, this holiday means and how it began.

In 1789 (over a hundred years after “the first Thanksgiving”), George Washington issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation. I think it is particularly important to consider this document, as we are inundated in the media by claims that “God had nothing to do with the founding of America.” A recent “man in the street” video piece by The College Fix asked students whether or not it was acceptable to celebrate Thanksgiving.

“ooo. I’m leaning towards no. I feel like with, you know, the historical context, the, kind of, you know, the really awful oppression of, you know, indigenous peoples, is like the holiday is really like, praised by I think, people more like the conservative side of things, to like uphold that sort of tradition…”

“Well, the entire thing is sort of based on indigenous peoples, and [shrugs] murders of indigenous peoples”

“Ummm, no. I mean, it’s probably not as bad as Christmas or Easter…”

The reporter was at a small Christian private college in Minnesota. Are you freaking out yet? I am, and not just because of the fact that these students obviously need to take Speech 101 and remedial English. Some of the students even admit that their “standard public school education” Thanksgiving story was this great meeting between the pilgrims and the Indians where “the Indians showed ‘em how to plant corn, and obviously that’s not true.”

I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. I doubt that they learned about George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, issued 3 October 1789:

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“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor —and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

The Proclamation goes on to specify the date of the holiday, and then that the day “be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…”

Washington’s proclamation came a little more than a hundred years after the arrival of the Mayflower. He was closer to that history than we are, and no doubt was aware of the dreadful first winter the Pilgrims endured. He would also have been aware of the history of the native tribes that played a role in the lives of these early settlers and the warring between them. The Wampanoag did work with the settlers, and were no doubt glad to have help in their own struggles with the Iroquois (who were warring with the Wampanoag and others).

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The Mayflower Compact by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

The travelers had set up an agreement based on Biblical principles that would establish how they lived and worked when they settled in the New World. Laws were established that would apply to everyone, regardless of political or religious beliefs, and all property would be community property. Basically, “from each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs.” Sound familiar?

Well, after a dreadful, difficult voyage over, they settled in and got to work. And you know what happened? Their setup didn’t work. They had created this “group venture” so as to be able to repay their sponsors back in England, but it was failing, because there really wasn’t any personal responsibility.

And…this was happening with a group of Christians who believed in sharing and caring for one another. It wasn’t a bunch of criminals or shysters; if any group could have made such a socialistic setup work, it was this bunch. Fortunately for us, John Bradford, the colony’s governor, realized it wasn’t working. Instead of beating a dead horse (possibly not a metaphoric saying in this instance), he started over. Each family received a plot of land, and was able to use it as they saw fit. If they had surplus, they could sell it. If they didn’t have enough, they could buy what they needed. They had a basic capitalistic society, and it worked.

To be sure, the Wampanoag had pitched in to help them survive their first winter, and had a good relationship with the colony. But it was more than just their assistance that helped the settlers at Plymouth survive and build a colony. Religious freedom and the right to work and make one’s own success also had a lot to do with it.

For anyone disturbed by the “Americanism” of the holiday, I will remind you that while Washington himself had the good of America as his primary concern, he didn’t close out the rest of the world as he encouraged prayer to God:

“…to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”

Amen to that. I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

To read George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation:

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0091

Life on the farm…

My brother jokes about that line from the old John Denver song,  Thank God I’m a Country Boy.  While I agree with that (Girl, in my case), I’m not so sure about this part:

Well, life on the farm is kinda laid back….

Hm. Sometimes, but not usually.

Friday afternoon I walked down the driveway to collect the mail. What greeted me but this scene:dead box

I let loose several choice (French) exclamations. Post…still standing. Mailbox…in the ditch. (The mail, fortunately, was still in it.)This wasn’t the work of a baseball bat, but a car – someone wasn’t paying attention and took out our mailbox, as well as his or her rearview mirror, which was found nearby.

Now, we had a few baseball bats when we first moved here (for me, it was moving back here), but quickly solved that problem with a little Cajun Engineering.

inside new boxTwo different sizes of mailboxes, one sunk inside the other with an insulation of cement. On a 4 x 4, sunk in more concrete. That put an end to joyriders with baseball bats. Can’t y’all respect other people’s property? And isn’t destroying mailboxes against some federal regulation?

Our rural Postal Carrier, bless her, brought the mail to my door on Saturday and asked about the box. Her eyes grew big when I told her what happened. She just shook her head and said “get off the phone and drive, huh?”

Even though the baseball bats have stopped, this is the third – or is it the fourth – cement-reinforced mailbox we’ve put up. Every few years, some drunk couillion takes the curve too fast and winds up in the yard or the ditch. Occasionally they take a mailbox with them. Although the curve is very well marked and drivers are given plenty of warning, there’s always that special someone who just doesn’t pay attention.

Like the guy who recently flipped his F150 pickup and landed on the top of a cane tractor across the road. A sheriff’s deputy knocked on the door and very politely asked if we knew anything about what had happened. Seems that the driver took off after the accident. I’d actually seen the truck earlier, but it was perched so perfectly I didn’t realize that it wasn’t quite intentional (you really never know around here).

Another time someone put their jeep through my cousin’s fence. He, too, took off. I don’t know if the penalty is stiffer for leaving the scene of an accident or for a DWI, but I’m sure those drivers found out.

It’s never dull in the country. And it’s not exactly laid back, either. A couple of months ago, David asked “did you see the alligator in the pond?”

My response:  “Another one?!?!”

Petey the Pond Gator stuck around long enough to be named, but took off eventually. Probably a good thing.

gatorThere’s always work to be done here, but pleasures and rewards are many. I walk to work in the morning to the song of birds and the view of the pond (with or without gator), with occasional egrets, blue herons or ducks (and even a pelican) dropping by.

CardinalThese are precious sights that keep me grounded and make me laugh about things like the gator and the mailbox.

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Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny, funny riddle….thank God I’m a country girl.