Saturday, July 16, 2022

Cold Water Covid

How It's Going

Today, Saturday July 16th, I sit in an apartment in Bucharest, Romania--recovering from Covid. Despite being fully vaccinated and twice boosted, I finally caught this thing. I felt yesterday like I had turned a corner. My fever is gone, my symptoms have become slight. But I have had quite a tough week. I wouldn't say it was the sickest I have ever been in my life, but it was in the top three. When the pandemic began in the Spring of 2020, there was always the thought of whether one would eventually catch it. I never imagined I would make it all the way to July of 2022, only to have experienced this here and now. 

Add in the fact that from our arrival on July 4th, half of the city of Bucharest has no hot water. And we are part of that half. Apparently the city has a centralized system of hot water that is then piped out to the various buildings. This probably made a lot of sense back in Communist days. Not so much today.  I had gone a month once while on deployment on a base in Iraq with no hot water. So I initially decided this was no big deal. Days of COVID illness will weaken that acceptance of this state of affairs.

As a school teacher. I was a frontline worker. I was exposed to Covid potentially scores of times. We all have our own pandemic story. I have been telling my students since the beginning of it that they would one day tell their grandchildren about this. Here's my story.

How It Started

I guess I first heard about this disease of concern in China back in December of 2019. As the first stray case reached US shores, then NJ where I live, the particular virulence of it was becoming known. As the end of February turned into the beginning of March, it was becoming clear that significant measures were about to go into effect. It was already known that younger people generally contracted very mild or asymptomatic cases. But there was the growing concern that schools would be a place where the teachers would be catching it and incurring danger. We were told to begin planning for what all remote education would look like.

I can remember in days leading up to the announcement of all virtual, a few scattered students had begun to wear masks. You may recall that the CDC at that time was not recommending mask wear, focusing instead on promoting hand washing. The public high school where I teach Latin is about half second or even first generation Korean immigrants. I knew that Asian countries had long promoted mask wear during cold and flu season, so I had seen this before. But it was strange to see it in the second week of March.

We learned on Thursday night, March 12, that school would be all virtual starting on Monday. The next day, Friday, was a half day for the students, in which we met each class briefly to try to explain what virtual education was going to look like when we ourselves didn't really know. Before we saw the students, the principal called a short meeting of all the faculty into our school theater. I can remember him saying, "Whether this is your first year or you have taught for forty years, none of us has have seen what is about to happen. 

As I met with each class in succession, I told them that I would be concentrating on pre-recorded content. I would be making video versions of my lesson that they would be watching on Youtube while our class met in Google Meet for questions and directions about online assessments. When I asked if there were any questions, one young lady raised her hand. She said, "This isn't a question. I just want to say I'm scared." I said, "I am too."

And so, Monday March 16 was the first day of all virtual school. Later that week, my governor issued an executive order closing churches on the upcoming Sunday. This affects me because, you see, in addition to being a public school teacher, I am an Eastern Orthodox priest. That Saturday, I performed a service on behalf of the dead with my wife and one parishion in attendance. I broke down more than once trying to get through those prayers because I knew that when I left I would be putting up signs on the doors announcing our closure by state order. Such a thing had never happened before.

How My Covid Infection Began

The school year 2021-2022 has ended. My wife and I are spending the month of July in her native Romania. I got permission from my bishop to be gone for three consecutive Sundays. The retired priest who still serves with me would conduct services in my absence. I served Divine Liturgy on Sunday July 3 and then we flew that evening. We will return on Friday July 29. 

Our flight from Newark Airport to Frankfurt had us two seats away from a man who basically coughed non-stop for six hours. We had not had to show negative PCR tests to get on this plane, even though we had gotten them just in case. Nor did we need to show them in Frankfurt or when we arrived in Romania. As far as air travel is concerned, the pandemic has ended.

Our first few days were normal. I mean, except for the fact that we had no hot water. A nice hot shower at the end of the day would have been nice, but a cursory cleaning with cold water will have to do. I went bowling one day. And it was fun. We went out to eat with friends at our favorite pizzeria here.

My wife did not tell me when she began feeling a little tickle in her throat from time to time on Wednesday. She did not tell me when on Friday she felt a slight rattle from time to time in her lungs. Because then it went away--for a while. On Sunday morning I got up earlier than she to go to the local Romanian Orthodox parish to celebrate Divine Liturgy with the other priests. She was going to sleep in a bit more and come later. At different points in the service I looked out in the congregation to see if she had arrived. When she never did, I came to the conclusion that she must have woken up not feeling well.

I had no idea how much.

When finally the service ended, I came back to our apartment, just four blocks away. She was on the phone with someone when I came in and started taking off my cassock. On the dining room table was a rapid test--reading positive. I picked it up and said, "What is this?"

"I have Covid," she said.

She had woken up that morning feeling considerably ill and had taken the one home rapid test we had brought with us.

I actually did say, and I'm a priest, and it was a Sunday, "Are you f&*ing serious?"

She got off the phone and told me everything leading up to this moment.

Talk about throwing figurative and literal cold water on our vacation!

It immediately occurred to me. She has been contagious for days. This apartment is tiny. I have undoubtedly been exposed. I just have to hope that four shots of Moderna keep me from getting it.

I went to the pharmacy and bought several more home tests, realizing we could be needing them in this apartment in the coming days. The rest of that day I felt fine. I was wrapping my brain around not catching it. She was going to recover. My 96 year old mother-in-law also living here with us is also somehow not going to catch it. I did remember that during the Divine Liturgy, my voice had felt like it was weakening. I didn't think anything of that at the moment. As I went to sleep that night, I felt fine. No symptoms. 

How Virtual School Went for the Rest of that Year

You have perhaps heard otherwise, but my report is that the students were great. We all need to remember that their world was turned upside down overnight. And they were kids. They showed up to the Google Meet on time. And when they didn't and reported that the reason they were late was because their internet was down or their computer was rebooting--I believed them. 

We were originally told this would be "Two Weeks to Flatten the Curve." But as days and weeks dragged on, we began to suspect that this would continue to the end of the school year. But at least the next school year would be normal, right?

I did my best to provide them the same content they would have gotten in the classroom, but in pre-recorded format. And this meant for me dozens of hours of recording hours every weekend for the upcoming week. As the strict quarantine was dragging on, I was informed from teachers around the world that they were using my videos to supplement their instruction. And I did not mind in the least. For the work I was putting into this, I am happy more people benefitted than just my students at Leonia High School.

The school year 2019-2020 ground to a close. We had somehow continued instruction in the midst of the madness. One encounter in a Google Meet one day has stuck with me. A young man told me after class that he and his mom had only two days left of food in their apartment and would need to go shopping to reprovision. And he asked my advice on whether they should shop together to get it done more quickly--but therefore both potentially get exposed--or just one of them go shopping--and therefore restrict the potential infection to just one of them. I felt it was not my place to give advice on something that was theoretically a life and death decision. My thought, however, particularly in light of what happened in the apartment I currently live it, is that one person infected will mean the other catches it anyway, so go together to get it done fast. That is what they opted for. The next day I would hear from the bleary-eyed boy the account of how they went shopping at 2AM and provisioned the house, successfully avoiding any real proximity to others. And, again, my heart is broken that he would have these very real concerns. 

How This Week Continued for Me

I woke up at 1AM early Monday morning and got up for a bit. I went to the kitchen so that I would not awaken my wife with the light of my phone as I read some news. (In this tiny apartment, there is basically just a kitchen, a living room with our hide-a-bed, a bathroom, and my mother-in-law's bedroom.) As I read news and caught up on correspondence with some people back in the US, I realized my nose was running. And I knew immediately--it was starting. I went back to bed but barely slept. As the night dragged on, I felt my running nose become fully stuffed. I slept in fits and starts and woke to realize I had a touch of lung congestion. When I finally got out of bed, I was unambiguously sick. And a rapid test confirmed the obvious. I was positive for COVID.

Conflicted emotions met me--anxiety, even fear, certainly. I know people who died from this. But also relief.  I had avoided this for so long--worried that it would eventually catch me. And it finally has. Now I just have to recover from it.

What I really could have used, what really would have made me feel at least temporarily better would be a long hot shower. You know, the kind where you slowly increase the temperature to a point you could never have tolerated when you first stepped in. But instead I continued to clean myself as quickly as possible with what might as well have been ice water. Oh, and now I have COVID.

The Following School Year

The academic year 2020-2021 would be what is called "Hybrid." Students had the right to stay either fully virtual or to come in the building under some strict COVID protocols and receive the lesson in the classroom with the teacher. We had one Hybrid class in the morning. We were then given a lunch break which allowed teachers to get home and then there was an afternoon all virtual session. But the reality was, since the vast majority of students chose to be all virtual, the lesson had to be designed around the ones at home. For me this meant continuing to spend dozens of hours every weekend making a video version of the lessons I used to give in the classroom and now assigning them as the lesson for both virtual and hybrid student alike.

In January, 2021 I got the vaccine the very first second I qualified for it. You may recall those early days. The vaccine was almost impossible to get--until three weeks later when they couldn't find enough people to take the vaccine they took out of the deep freeze every morning.

One day that Spring, as I had launched the lesson to the students, I said to one of the three in the classroom, "Since the lesson is all virtual, the only value added I really give you is that you get to hear me say 'Good Morning' to you in person." 

He said, "That's the reason I come in the building."

And that about sums up the academic year 2020-2021.

The Long Week Continues

As Monday dragged on, I had the aforementioned symptoms, but I didn't really feel very sick. And I had no fever.  If this was COVID, it wasn't so bad. But at about 7 that evening, I said to my wife, "You know, suddenly I am feeling worse than I have all day." Everything I had been experiencing became worse. And I was having trouble concentrating through a descending fog on my brain. I took my temperature--101.5. Within the span of one hour, I was downright miserable. And so was my wife by now. We were wearing masks hoping still desperately to keep my 96 year old mother-in-law from catching this. She has a level of dementia that would make it impossible to explain to her what was going on and thus get her to wear a mask as well. But so far she exhibited no symptoms. 

Even more so than yesterday, a hot shower would have helped this misery. There is a rumor swirling in Bucharest that the hot water turns back on tomorrow.

The Summer of 2021

For a brief period of time, COVID numbers were low everywhere. We were able to come here to Romania, albeit showing negative PCR tests at every step of the way up to and including inside Bucharest airport. We had a nice stay, saw all our friends for dinner at least once. Back home, I fished daily at the river that forms the northern edge of my property. Perhaps this nightmarish pandemic has come to an end. And anyone who had not caught it during the first deadly wave, could begin to hope that they had escaped it altogether. Churches had been allowed to reopen by now, and even though we wore masks inside the sanctuary, we otherwise had a normal church service. Most of the clergy I know did not themselves wear a mask when they performed the services. I knew, however, that the indoor mask mandate didn't have a clergy exemption, and I also felt I needed to model good behavior, so, with the exception of lowering my mask to receive Communion, I wore one continually.

A New School Year Begins

The announcement came that in the upcoming school year, the virtual option would no longer be available without explicit permission from the State Board of Education. School would be in-person, but wearing masks. I am not going to go into some of the deeper issues we began to encounter, such as the challenges of the significant learning loss that had occurred since March of 2020. We all did our best to move on from where we had left off. In my case, being the only Latin teacher at the school, my job was a bit easier than most. I knew what my students had studied and I could tell how well they knew it, so as to address gaps in their knowledge. 

The Mother-In-Law Takes Ill

I slept poorly Monday night. As Tuesday wore on, my symptoms did not abate. My fever would fluctuate between 99.5 and 101.5. The woman who is the caregiver for my mother-in-law during the year lives a few blocks away. She dropped off some supplies for us at the front door, such as Tylenol, a pot of soup, more home tests, and wine. That's right, I didn't stop drinking wine just because I was miserably ill with COVID. 

We noticed my mother-in-law wiping her nose from time to time. Attempts by my wife to ask her how she was feeling were inconclusive of whether she was coming down with anything. My wife attempted to administer a nose swab test, but my mother-in-law, not understanding the reason for this, become very resistant such that it would be impossible to perform the test. Since the test had been opened, I administered it on myself. Still a solid positive test line--not surprising since I was now more miserable even than the night before.

The hot water did not come on. The new rumor is that it comes back on this Saturday. That is too many days away for people suffering with COVID!

The School Year 2021-2022

As this most recent school year continued, normalcy was returning. The mask mandate eventually was lifted. People were free, of course, to continue wearing one. I made the decision that this thing has to end some time, and so I stopped mask wear. But it was not unusual for me to be the only person in the classroom not wearing one. State policy continued to be, however, that a student out with COVID had the right to join class via a Google Meet or Zoom. So every morning I had to survey my attendance to see who had quarantine status and remember to open up a Meet for them. In my case, helping those students stay caught up was fairly easy, since I was also able to email them the link to the video version of today's lesson, made at some point in the previous year and a half. 

During the Omicron surge midyear, there were times when I had multiple students in quarantine status in every single class. And it goes without saying that on countless occasions I was aware of having had close contact with a student one day and learn the next that they were now symptomatic and quarantined--meaning they were undoubtedly contagious that previous day. I was potentially exposed to COVID every class period, indeed, I was exposed while passing through a congested hall between classes. Somehow, however, I had made it this far and never caught it. Many of my colleagues did catch it, and every school day also seemed to include covering as a substitute in a classroom for a quarantined teacher.

As this school year came to end, we had already booked our tickets for Romania. Which brings me back to the start of this story.


My mother-in-law's symptoms grew stronger. My wife very much wanted some way to test her, just to know definitively if she was indeed positive. It occured to me that we could theoretically administer a test on her without actually putting a swab up her nose--if we could get something from inside that nose. As she was sitting at the dining room table blowing her nose, I opened up a test kit. What I am about to describe is a bit disgusting, but my wife really wanted to know her mother's status. I took the kleenex and found areas of it wet with her mucus. I put them directly into the vial that comes with the kit, containing the reactive fluid. The mucus stained kleenex soaked up the reactive fluid. I then squeezed three drops of the resulting combination onto the test bar. The result was positive. My wife was obviously not happy to learn her mother had COVID, but she was relieved to have the knowledge.

Our symptoms seemed to come and go in waves. At times we almost thought we were improving, only to have other times when we were right back into misery.


My mother-in-law got sicker and spent nearly the entire day in her bed sleeping. We let her, figuring she was doing what her body was telling her was needed in this moment. I felt definitively better in the morning, but a part of me was still worrying that maybe I had just become accustomed to feeling sick. My wife felt likewise.

Still no hot water. Really hoping this Saturday rumor is true this time.


I woke up feeling so much better that it made me realize I had still been somewhat sick on Thursday. We both had turned a corner on this thing. And we realized by the end of the day that my mother-in-law was no longer sneezing or coughing either. Rapid tests we took show still a strong positive line for my wife--mine is visibly lighter than the control. This is understood to mean that my viral load is diminishing. We won't test again until Sunday night.


Last Sunday feels like a month ago. Even though I feel so much better, we are not out of the woods entirely. My mother-in-law was wiping her nose again this morning. And she is coughing and sneezing more today than she was yesterday. My wife continues to have a persistent cough and has had blood in her phlegm. She feels it is just acute bronchitis. Until this clears, I worry it could be something worse. 

As I think back on the week, I naturally think back also on the entire pandemic. I remember actual fear the first day I went back into the school building in September 2020. But the fear of being near people was not sustainable. We all let our guard down out of necessity. The potential of catching COVID went from being a considerable concern to being a hypothetical worry. By the end of the school year 2021-2022, I guess I had come to a place where I really didn't imagine I would catch it. Afterall, I never had. 

Then, wonder of wonders. The hot water has been turned back on. A long hot shower will make me feel almost human again.

My knowledge of this historical event now includes direct experience of the illness itself. I am still a long ways off from knowing if I will yet exhibit lingering symptoms of what is termed Long COVID. My hope and prayer for any one who has still not caught it is that they continue to somehow avoid it. It was horrible.  And may this all somehow, some day--truly end.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

The War Next Door

 I've been in a war. Wars are horrible. But I am currently in Romania for the month of July and I was wondering prior to arrival if I would see any evidence that I am next door to a war.

Romania shares a border with Ukraine. I actually illegally entered Ukraine briefly many years ago. We were on an excursion in the Danube Delta, at a place where a river divides the two countries. We crossed the river to the other side simply so we could say we were once in Ukraine. 

The somewhat high-ranking Romanian border official who was conducting the trip told me it was a bit reckless to do so, since being found there even in the remote possibility that Ukrainian authorities appeared on the scene would have meant that I, a former Intelligence officer, would be detained for probably some days while they sorted out that the incursion was harmless. We did it nonetheless, by my insistence.

But I think back on it now, in light of Ukraine having its sovereign territory invaded by another country and I am ashamed I did this. It was, in principle, wrong. I mean, sure, it goes onto the long list of things I have done wrong in my life, but it was indeed wrong and I own it as such.

I was downtown in Bucharest yesterday. I half expected to see a number of US soldiers there. A few thousand extra US soldiers have been stationed at bases we have here in Romania as part of NATO's ramp up of forces to show Russia we are willing to protect our eastern front. I thought that some of these US soldiers might be showing up as tourists in the downtown while they enjoyed time off from duty. But the fact is, these bases are nowhere near Bucharest. They are probably enjoying Constanta and the Black Sea coast, not the charming downtown of this city.

Evidence that we are next door to a war is not completely non-existent however. We invited our neighbors Vali and Virgil out to our favorite pizzeria here. Working there right now is a Ukrainian refugee named Svetlana. We had met her a few days previously while inviting another friend to that spot. Svetlana speaks no Romanian and very broken English. She works very hard while she is all alone here in Romania. Her only family is a mother still in Odessa. Trust me, she is not stealing a job from some Romanian. The staffing shortage/crisis is as bad here as anywhere. 

She is late 20's, very blonde. And she doesn't really ever smile. Under the current circumstances, you can't blame her. With her broken English, we had been able to learn her name and her situation. But last night while she was clearing our table of plates, my wife told our neighbors her back story. And my neighbor Virgil, knowing they don't share a common language wanted to express solidarity with her. He put two fingers below his eyes, drew them slowly down, signifying tears, then touched his heart and pointed to her. 

She said, "Thank you." Virgil does know what that means. And she smiled.

This simple yet profound gesture of sympathy for another person moved me greatly.

As a priest under the Patriarchate of Moscow, I pray at every Mass "May this sad fratricidal war speedily cease." The unwillingness of my Patriarch to speak out against this war is, in my opinion, a moral failing. 

A look at CNN right now does not acknowledge that there is a war in Ukraine. And so, I set out into another day next door to that war--a war I fear is barely discernible anymore outside those borders I once also breached.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Watching Fireworks Across the Lake

Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, watching fireworks for our family meant taking blankets and heading down to Lake Monona to find a spot to spread out at Hudson Beach and watch the fireworks display across that lake. I would estimate that these were shot off perhaps two miles from where we and so many of the neighbors sat to watch this. This was so far away that in fact, if you were to stretch your hand out toward them, you could block the entirety of the show from your vision. But we loved it. We "oohed" and "aahed" as we saw them. We always knew that at the end there would be a dramatic finale of multiple fireworks. When it was over we all clapped.

The way my life evolved, I would watch the amazing fireworks display at the National Mall in Washington DC on July 4, 2002. My twin brother, mother, and aunt were there for the show with me. We had to go through airport level security. I had just two weeks earlier started work as an Arabic linguist at the National Security Agency. There were vague unsubstantiated hints of threats against the event. I could not tell my family about that, and I went to the event with them anyway.

While visiting the Capitol a few days later, my mother could not continue walking and after getting her to an emergency room, we would learn she had the congestive heart failure that would take her life four years later. My father would follow her in death two years after that. My younger sister would follow them fifteen years later.

The way my life evolved, I did not see another fireworks display for twenty more years. I was either too busy with work, or on deployment outside the US, or then, after I left government service, in my wife's native Romania on the 4th.

Just yesterday, with the generous invitation of the father of my friend's boyfriend, my wife and I found ourselves on the banks of Lake Hopatcong here in New Jersey. In conjunction with a barbeque, we watched an amazing show, set off only half a mile at most from our position. This meant that I was watching glorious fireworks filling my field of vision.

You have perhaps heard of this concept that fireworks noise is triggering for "Vets and Pets." My friend's dog hides in the closet whenever a thunderstorm is happening, and she has shared with me poignant pictures of the poor creature truly scared by the noise. So did the noise of the fireworks remind me of the times I ran from mortar fire while on a deployment in Iraq in 2004?

Of course it did. 

Just a week or so ago, when watching Top Gun: Maverick in the theater, only upon watching a plane explode, I suddenly thought, Shit, today is June 24. It's the day my life in Mosul Iraq changed. I heard and felt that day a deep thud. I told the CIA instrument technician working with me, "Did you hear that?

"No," he said.

"Something just blew up in the city," I said.

And I was right. What would follow was a coordinated al-Qaeda attack of car bombings. 

Everything was more dangerous after that day. I ran from two mortar attacks directed at our base. I would be the target of sniper fire. But I would survive my deployment and go home.

And so, as I watched those fireworks yesterday, I tried to remind myself--those are fireworks. You enjoy fireworks. Those sounds are not mortars. It has been twenty years since you saw this. And this is fun.

And it was. When the final flourish was over, I was not thinking of Mosul. I was thinking about how so many of the people with whom--much deeper in the past--I watched fireworks across the lake--are gone.

I miss them, but I smiled and very much enjoyed that show.

Friday, July 9, 2021

And May Her Memory Be Eternal


My mother, who died in 2004, was a terrific bowler. 

We know she had a 600 series. If you don't know bowling, that means she once bowled three 200 games  (or the average thereof) in a three game set. 

We know she didn't ever bowl a 300 game, a perfect game of 12 consecutive strikes, but a 600 series is a very significant accomplishment.

I also know that she picked up two very difficult splits--what is known as the Big Four and also the dreaded 7/10 Split, a nearly impossible feat.

When she bowled in leagues she had a vest with patches certifying the three significant accomplishments I have described. For frequent bowlers, such patches are like the medals on a military uniform. If you saw someone with the 7-10 patch, you would take notice that you are in the presence of greatness.

The reason I am talking about these things right now is that I am spending a month in my wife's native Romania, and going bowling at a local mall has become a nice way to spend part of the day here.

And as I have been bowling, I have been increasing my own score by remembering advice she gave me over the years. A few years back, here in Romania, I bowled my highest game ever--a 205, and crucial to achieving that was remembering at a key moment advice that my mother gave me. I tell the story of that game in this video.

And this got me to thinking that I don't know what my own mother's actual highest scoring game was.

My father, who bowled in leagues with her for many decades, has also passed. I asked my living siblings, one of whom also bowled in leagues with her for some years, and he doesn't remember. He knew the information about the 600 series, and those two splits, but does not remember the high score. Obviously it was good, somewhere way up in the 200's. But the exact number of it is now officially lost.

I am taking this kind of hard because I know this is a fact of history that at one time was extraordinarily important to someone. Someone important to me.

But this information is gone. This saddens me and I have to let this go, but I decided to write this post just to acknowledge it all.

So here's what we can assume. Getting a 600 series means you score a high percentage of strikes across three games in a row. Like anyone, she had days that were better than others. But there must somewhere in there have been a day when an even higher percentage of strikes managed to land inside of one specific game. Again, we know she didn't get a 300, but a score beyond 250 seems almost certain. Past that it becomes purely speculative what that best game could have been.

So I content myself with this thought. I wasn't there, but I know what the scene certainly must have been. It would have happened some evening when my parents were bowling in a league. Something like every Thursday night. And the first game was just a warm up. But let's imagine, in the second game, she had a run of strikes. She left a pin standing at some frame, but she picked it up for the spare. Some more strikes. I remember her always saying that a strike in the 9th frame is crucial to higher scoring game. She got it. And when that game was over, her team and the opponents were congratulating her and were happy to have even watched this terrific game unfold. And she knew that she had just bowled her highest scoring game ever. Whatever that number was, it replaced her previous best game. 

This new number would remain her best game until her death. And she thought about that game from time to time. For a number of years before her death, her health faded in such a way that bowling at all would be impossible. And that itself sad because of how much bowling had meant to her in her life. But she still always had the memory of that highest scoring game. 

I put together a pretty decent game myself this morning (I use the name Andrei here in Romania). If things had not fallen apart in the middle, it would have been a 200 game. Indeed, it was more than a 100 in the 5th frame.

And I can never bowl without feeling close to my mother.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Dogs as Pets in Ancient Israel

It is well known that cats were revered in Ancient Egypt. Ancient Greeks and Romans had domesticated dogs as both pets and household guard animals, evidenced by the mosaic below from Pompeii, Cave Canem, "Beware of Dog."

But did ancient Jews up to and including the Roman period have household pets? While the evidence is scanty, in this post I will demonstrate that, despite the status of dogs as an unclean animal under Mosaic law, they were definitely held in regard and kept as pets. 

Cats and Dogs in the Bible

Cats are mentioned only once in Scripture--in the deuterocanonical book of Baruch 6:21, where the author mocks idols by saying that:

Bats and swallows alight on their bodies and on their heads; and cats as well as birds.

Dogs are mentioned significantly more throughout Hebrew and Christian scriptures. There is a word in Hebrew for a domesticated dog (kelebכֶּלֶב), distinct from the word for wolf (ze'ebזְאֵב). The fact that the Arabic cognates for these are the very same word with the predicted phonological differences (kalb; كلب and dhi'b; ذئب respectively) is proof that domesticated dogs had a relationship of some sort with Semitic peoples from very ancient times.

The ritually unclean status of dogs is established in Leviticus 11:27:

Of the various quadrapeds, all those that walk on paws are unclean for you;
everyone who touches their dead bodies shall be unclean until evening.

While at first glance one might assume that such an animal cannot therefore be a pet in the home, note that a person only incurs ritual uncleanness by touching the dead body of one of these. This verse primarily establishes that dogs would not be kosher for eating. Horses are also non-kosher, in that they do not have a split hoof (Leviticus 11:26), but they would have been routinely touched while used for travel and warfare.

Dogs as Pets?

The primary biblical example of a dog as a pet in ancient times comes to us from the deuterocanonical book of Tobit. The son of Tobit, Tobiah, goes on a journey, accompanied unawares by the Archangel Raphael, to recover a large sum of money that his now blinded father had deposited in another city. And we read in Tobit 6:2:

When the boy left home, accompanied by the angel, the dog followed
Tobiah out of the house and went with them.

It is evident from this verse that the family has a pet dog that actually lives in the house. 

Later in the book, when, with the help of Raphael, Tobiah has not only gotten the money, met and married the maiden Sarah, and obtained an ointment of gall that will heal his father's blindness, we read in Tobit 11:4:

So they both went on ahead and Raphael said to Tobiah,
"Have the gall in your hand!"
And the dog ran along behind them.

So even though the dog was not mentioned throughout the entirety of the story, we are to know that the dog was always there behind the scenes. 

Dogs in the New Testament

That dogs were known to live in homes in the New Testament period is proven by the exchange between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenecian woman in Matthew 15:27. While entreating for a healing for her daughter, and told by Jesus that it was not right to "take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs" (giving a healing to a gentile), she replied, "Please, Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters (τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν)." He marvels at her faith and grants her the healing.

No one lets a stray dog just wander into their home and eat food under the table. This text makes it clear that these are animals owned by the people in the house, since they are the dogs' "masters."

God and Man's Best Friend?

Now, one could assert that the story of Tobit, set in Nineveh (modern day Mosul, Iraq) after the exile of the Northern tribes, but likely written during the Hellenistic Period (perhaps 2nd century BCE), does not reflect the mores of Jews regarding dogs in more ancient times. 

There is a verse, however, from Isaiah that I feel has been overlooked for its implications regarding the attitude of more ancient Jews toward dogs. In a passage asserting that the old sacrificial system is not as important as obedience, we read in Isaiah 66:2-3, words reported as speech from God:

This is the one whom I approve:
the lowly and afflicted person who trembles at my word.
Slaughtering an ox is like slaying a man
sacrificing a lamb is like breaking the neck of a dog.

Surprisingly , this passage equates the murder of a human and the killing of a dog.

Hebrew poetry is based on parallelism, not rhyme or meter. One line makes a statement. The next echoes it. Another example from Psalm 89:14:

Strong is your hand
Exalted is your right hand

The two parallel statements are equivalent, albeit employing different vocabulary.

Chapter 66 of Isaiah is understood by scholars to have been written in the early post-exilic period (post 539 BCE). It is clear that the culture that produced the above verse considers the indiscriminate killing of a dog to be a senseless and morally reprehensible act on par with the killing of a human.

If the author feels that strongly about the killing of a dog, it would not be unreasonable to believe that, in the world of this author, dogs living as pets in homes is a common and accepted practice.


That dogs were kept as pets in their homes by ancient Jews at least after the exilic period seems abundantly clear. The esteem for dogs implied by the above cited verse from Isaiah is quite remarkable. Despite a dearth of explicit references to dogs as pets in the Bible, in all likelihood, beloved canine companions should be inserted mentally into all of your familiar Bible stories. They were there and cherished as much as they are today, even if the focus of the subject matter only attests them scantily. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Why You're Seeing So Many Dead Squirrels on the Road Right Now

Anecdotally, people are reporting seeing an unusually large number of squirrels, hit by cars and killed, on the road right now.

I killed one myself just this morning on the way to work. This happened in the center lane of an interstate with three lanes going each direction. That squirrel had no business being there!

And if I had attempted to avoid running over that pool fellow, I would have endangered myself and everyone around me.

So here is my theory. All of the squirrels born in the Spring reached maturity at a time when there was basically no one on the road. They became quite accustomed to going anywhere they wanted with absolutely no repercussions.

It takes squirrels 14 weeks from birth to their adulthood. So the timeline checks out.

Now, just in the last couple of weeks the number of cars on the road has increased dramatically. The return to hybrid education, which is the reason I have been on that highway for the first time since mid-March, is just one example of why. Indoor dining has also recently be resumed here in New Jersey.

So these young squirrels have been doing things like running across interstate highways and other roads for months, and almost all of them have lived to tell the story of why there's no reason not to do it.

Until now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Learn a Language with Dr. Massey

In my continuing mission to help promote language learning, I have made some videos describing how I first began learning languages and how people can achieve this worthy goal themselves.

Learn a Language with Dr. Massey: The Hows and/or Whys:


Learn a Language with Dr. Massey: Practical Methods for Success:

Follow the links in the descriptions of the videos to go to my language learning webpage.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

COVID-19, He or She?

Now, in English, the title of this blog post makes no sense. But for Romance languages, in which everything has gender (and in Romanian, still a neuter without gender), a word must have a gender so we know what forms of adjectives to use when we describe it.

I stumbled upon the interesting issue of the French Language Academy (L'Académie Française), charged with authoritatively issuing rulings on the proper use of that language, formally declaring that COVID is feminine, not masculine. 

People all on their own had been saying "le COVID" as if it were masculine. But L'Académie has pointed out that the term COVID-19 refers to the disease caused by the virus (maladie provoquée par le corona virus). As a result, the whole term hinges on the word maladie, which is feminine. As a result, the acronym is feminine and should therefore be referred to as "la COVID."

Granted, there has been a lot of imprecision in the use of the terms describing the virus and the disease. Properly speaking, the official name of the virus itself, whether it is on a doorknob or in someone's lungs, is SARS-COV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2). It is the disease caused by the virus that is described by the term COVID-19 (Corona Virus Disease 2019 [the year it was first documented]). 

So the French Language Academy is certainly correct about what the gender of the term COVID ought to be. They cite as evidence for their case the acronym CIA (in French Agence centrale de renseignement). Since the term ultimately refers to an agency (agence), and every French speaker knows that agence is feminine, it is la CIA, not le CIA.

The reason I suspect that the French Language Academy is fighting a losing battle on the COVID front, however, is that knowledge of what exactly that acronym is describing is not exactly common. I'm a fairly well educated man, and I admit I googled all this to double check it while writing this post. 

So French speakers were assigning the term COVID masculine grammar simply because the acronym, turned into a pronounced word, has nothing that would have suggested feminine.

I decided to conduct a linguistic experiment. With no background as to why I was asking, which might have invalidated the response, I asked my Romanian wife this morning, "How would you say, in Romanian, 'COVID is bad'?"

With no hesitation she replied, "COVID e rău," using the masculine form of the adjective. I asked, "So the word COVID is masculine?" Her response, "Yes, and the definite form is COVID-ul." (-ul being the suffix on masculine nouns to product the definite form "The COVID").

If there were a Romanian Language Academy, trying in vain to prevent the tsunami of Americanisms from currently entering Romanian, they would have the same argument as the French Academy. The Romanian word for illness, boală, is feminine. (It is an apparent Slavic borrowing, cf. Russian bolnoi [больной].)

From there, Google searches confirmed that the rest of the Romance Language world agrees with the instinct to just make this masculine. It is:

Spanish: el COVID
Italian: il COVID
Portuguese: o COVID

So time will tell whether L'Académie Française will have any greater success in winning this battle than they have had in stamping out the term Le Week-End.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Story of the Novel "A Place of Brightness"


I am married to a Romanian-American and, as school teachers, we spend our Summers there (though unfortunately not this Summer, due to COVID-19).

In the Summer of 2010, while we were in Romania, I happened to see on the television a story about how, in 1962, the Communists there finally managed to crush an anti-Communist insurrection that had struggled for some years against the government. 

And the Communist government had kept any knowledge that this insurrection was even happening completely hidden and secret from the vast majority of the populace, lest they share such sympathies and rise up as well.

The insurrectionists called themselves "Haiduci," which is a Romanian word that originally meant "Bandits." In areas mainly in the mountainous Carpathian regions north of the capital city of Bucharest, they carried out acts of sabotage against Communist interests. 

But in 1962 they were finally crushed, and widespread knowledge that they even existed did not come to Romania until after the Revolution of 1989.

So I found myself imagining, what became of these insurrections that maybe managed to escape notice or escape Romania at that time. And so in my mind I began to picture the final mission of a family of Haiduci. And the characters of A Place of Brightness came to life.

Autobiographical Elements

I grew up in Wisconsin, but, having studied Arabic for my PhD, I served at the National Security Agency for four years after 9/11. During that time I was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Civilian Service Medal for my service in Iraq in 2004. 

For full authenticity of emotion and experience, I used certain characters of my novel to process some of what I had gone through. The main protagonist, Andrew Valquist channeled much of that for me. My middle name is Andrew and I made him experience what I had--a tour in Iraq. 

I gave him an identical twin, Stefan, as I also have an identical twin, Kevin. Forging dialogue between the twins was therefore a very natural expression for me. 

Interestingly, while Andrew was my original doppelganger, so to speak, my life has evolved to become more like that of Stefan. He is a Romanian Orthodox priest, and I was ordained a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church just two years ago.

A Place of Brightness

The phrase "A Place of Brightness" comes from an Eastern Orthodox prayer for the dead. That the dead would be in "A Place of Brightness, A Place of Greenness, and Place of Repose." I imagined that these Haiduci, virulently anti-Communist but still also practicing Orthodox, would feel the tension between their Faith and their Mission. And so I envisioned them as praying thus for those they were about to unfortunately kill in their pursuit of a free Romania. 

I won't give any spoilers to the story. When a second generation descended from the Haiduci return to their ancestral land, they will be pulled into deep danger and intrigue that somehow goes back all the way to the events of 1962 when the movement was crushed.

Read A Place of Brightness for the rest of the story...

Sunday, May 3, 2020

A Latin Language Version of "Here Comes the Sun" - Latin Teachers Greet their Students During Quarantine!

As I was nearing completion of the music side of a Latin language cover version of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," the idea struck me that the video version needed to be a way for Latin teachers to greet and encourage their Latin students as we all struggle through this unprecedented experience of Distance Learning.

With the help of Meghan Kiernan, who is a better connected Latinist than myself, I received enough video clips to forge what I think is a nice tribute to this moment in time. 

Following the names of contributors, I include an explanation of my translation choices that went into the Latin lyrics for the song.

I thank all who participated in this project:

Magistra Jessica Anderson, Mineola High School 

Magistra Jenn Armstrong: Shenendehowa High School, Clifton Park, NY

Magistra Keziah Armstrong, Shenendehowa High School, Clifton Park, NY

Magistra Gemma Ball, Bolton School Girls’ Division

Dr. Jason Blackburn, Lexington HIgh School, Lexington School District One, SC

Magister John Bracey, Belmont High School, Belmont Public Schools

Magistra Stephanie Buckler, Stafford HS, Dixon-Smith MS, and Drew MS, VA

Magistra Cassie Caplan , Bronxville School

Magistra Kathleen Durkin, Garden City High School, NY

Dr. Brenda Fields , Windermere Preparatory School

Trish Gibson, Oxley College

Magistra Laura Holland, Garrison Forest School, MD

Magistra Jennifer Jarnagin , The Episcopal School of Dallas.

Mr Andy Keen, Bristol Grammar School, Bristol, UK

Ms Meghan Kiernan, Freehold Township High School

Magistra Maureen Lamb, Kingswood Oxford School

Michael Maguire, Boston Latin Academy 

Dr. Keith Andrew Massey, Leonia High School, Leonia, NJ

Dr. Jason Nabors, Central Magnet School, Murfreesboro, TN

Magistra Cathy Pinkley , Franklin County High School Rocky Mount VA

Magister Ben Revkin from East Greenwich High School in East Greenwich, RI

Ms Claire Rostron, Winchester College, Winchester UK

Magistra Francesca Sapsford, Strathallan School, Scotland.

Dr. Abigail Simone, Houston High School,

Allyson Spencer-Bunch, JFK Middle School, Northampton Public Schools.

Magistra Melanie Streed , St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School, Alexandria, VA

Explanation of Translation Choices for “Here Comes the Sun”
Keith Andrew Massey, PhD

“Here Comes the Sun”
The first and arguably most important  decision involves the often repeated titular phrase, “Here Comes the Sun.”

One is immediately forced to make a decision on what exactly is the grammar underlying George Harrison’s statement. One option is to see the word “Here” as meaning, “It is coming here.” If this is the case, we want the Latin word that means “hither,” “to here,” i.e, huc. 

My instinct, however, is that the word “Here” means something more along the lines of, “Look! The Sun is coming!” And so I have rendered it with the word “ecce.”

I take as corroboration St. Jerome’s translation of Genesis 37:17, widely translated into English as “Here comes that dreamer!” (vid. RSV, NIV, et al.):
“Ecce somniator venit.”

“Little Darling”
To render this frequently repeated form of address I have gone with the well attested term of endearment “Deliciae,” which fortuitously has the same number of syllables as the original English, thus making it perfectly singable.

“It Feels Like Years Since it’s Been Here.”
The question we must first address is, what is the referent of the word “IT”? Is George talking about the aforementioned Winter? In other words, Oh, it’s still winter, it feels like years since it’s been here! Or is he talking about the Sun, which has theoretically NOT been here for a long time and now is finally here?
For me, the deciding factor comes from the parallel phrase in another verse:
“It seems like years since it’s been clear.”

In this case, it has NOT been clear, but finally, with the arrival of the Sun, it is now clear. 

The fact that he also completely repeats the phrase in the next verse, following the mention of the “Smile” makes it further unlikely that he is switching up what the “IT” is referring to. 

Why does this matter? It matters because I will be rendering both of these sentences as Indirect Statement Constructions. And the choice of the accusative pronoun requires me to know the referent, and therefore its gender to choose the correct one! If he is talking about the Winter (hiems) I need the feminine “eam.”  I am deciding that the “IT” here is the Sun, and so I use the masculine “eum.”

And so, I render the phrase “It feels like years since it’s been here” as an Indirect Statement with a literal English translation:
“It feels (that) for years it (the sun) not to have been here.”
Sentit annos eum non fuisse hic

The precise word order is chosen primarily to make it sing more fluidly.

“The Smile[’]s Returning to the Faces”
What makes this one a bit tricky is that what George seems to actually sing in the recording is different from his original handwritten lyrics, which read:
“The smiles are returning to their faces.”

I put the apostrophe in brackets above because potentially George actually sang what his handwritten lyrics first attested, but the key words “are” and :”their” just didn’t come out clearly in the recording. 
I have decided to just translate based on what it sounds like and make the word which sounds like “Smiles” into “Smile’s” (contraction of “Smile is”).

“I Feel that Ice is Slowly Melting”
If you look up “to melt” in a typical Latin dictionary, you will find “liquefacere” in the transitive and the intransitive “liquescere.” I am again going to St. Jerome for a different option, such as in Psalm 67:3:
“Sicut fluit cera a facie ignis”
“As wax melts before fire.”