Op/Ed: Sorry, Not Sorry. No Palms on Sunday

by | Apr 7, 2020

By Jenny Souther

Since this pandemic has invaded our country and basically shut down everything about how we lived our day to day lives, there are few things I do with near certainty on a daily basis. I take my medicine… avoiding acute or chronic rejection of my transplanted lungs is probably like number 2 on my list of priorities. I do my absolute best to self quarantine, and if I leave my house, I still abide by all the social distancing rules.  I watch Governor Raimondo’s daily press conference. Why? Because in 45 minutes I know exactly where RI stands in containing, managing, and preparing for the peak and surge of this virus. It’s not that I don’t care what is happening in the rest of the country or the world, it’s just that right now for my own mental health I need to focus on my immediate surroundings and take one day at a time.

So needless to say, over the the last month my opinion of our governor has gone through the roof. Like I keep saying, I may not always agree with her politics, but you can’t argue with her leadership!  Plus, “facts not frenzy”. Anyway, today a reporter asked her why it was ok for liquor stores to continue to be open, but that it wasn’t ok to distribute palms today for Palm Sunday.

First of all, any person who thinks that liquor stores are not essential has ABSOLUTELY no understanding of chronic alcoholism and acute alcohol withdrawal. Here’s the deal, withdrawal from any drug of abuse sucks. I’m sure you can find some pretty accurate portrayals of the symptoms and course in movies, on TV, or on the web. The difference between alcohol and many other substances is that in addition to it sucking, it can actually be fatal. Yup, people can die!  So the reality becomes abruptly stopping and active alcoholic’s access to liquor can lead to to acute withdrawal which is dangerous and potentially lethal. Additionally, I’m sure there are more than a few every day folks out there who are having a few drinks to help them keep their shit together right now.

Anyway, that’s a different soap box for another day. My real thought was that if Governor Raimondo could have found any safe way to allow palms to be distributed today wouldn’t she have done it. First of all, she and her family are practicing Catholics. On more than one occasion she has lamented about how hard and sad it is for her and her family not to be able to go to church together on Sundays. I’m sure it’s something she has been doing her entire life. Furthermore, as a practicing catholic, I’m pretty sure her phone call to the bishop telling him to “shut it down” was an item on her list of shit things to do even she wished she could avoid.

Gov. Gina Raimondo

I don’t know Governor Raimondo or her family personally, but I do know that they are a strong Italian American (and catholic) family. I’m also neither Italian nor catholic, but I was born and raised in R.I. so suffice it to say that I have known my share of Italian Catholics. When I was a kid, RI was so overwhelmingly catholic that I didn’t know that that was NOT the majority religion in America. It was only when I learned in school that JFK was the first catholic president that I realized this. Now this is clearly stereotypical, but would you want to piss off an Italian mother?  Especially by doing something to interfere with her going to church… and on a holy day of obligation… and not even get a palm on Palm Sunday. I can almost sense the anger, and hear the stream of 🤬🤬🤬.

Here’s a question: do you think that Governor Raimondo learned the phrase “knock it off” by reading parenting books so common of our generation where we learn to tell our children to use their words?  Not! I actually have a scene that plays out in my head of the Raimondo family driving home from church on a Sunday 40 years ago. The Governor’s parents are in the front seat and Gina and her siblings in the back, no seatbelts, nagging and poking each other.  I can almost see my own mother when my sister and I would be be I the backseat antagonizing each other and her head would spin around and we’d get the death stare, and her arm would raise in preparation to swat, and “KNOCK IT OFF!” would rise from her lips.

Anyway, my point is that even though I don’t know the Raimondo’s, I can imagine that Gina was raised by a strong mom.  A mom that she definitely doesn’t want to let down or cross. So having said that, putting the science of viral transfer aside, I’m sure Gina didn’t want to let her mom down, or piss her off, or both by prohibiting palms on Sunday. In a funny way I wonder if she told her mom herself, or maybe she learned by watching the news conference, or her friend from her parish called to tell her.  Were there 12 missed calls on the Governor’s phone when she stepped away from the podium from her mom wanting to know what the hell was going on? Maybe her mom called one of the Governor’s siblings and started the conversation with “did you hear what your sister did?”. Perhaps our relentless leader was a little relieved that she is practicing social distancing so that she would not have to face her palmless mother at Sunday dinner this week.

I just thought that I would share a lighthearted twist on what was I’m sure a difficult decision.  But thankfully, in the face of this crisis we have a leader on R.I. that listens to experts and makes hard decisions. And that my fellow RI’ers will save lives.

Jenny Souther, a proud mom, transplant survivor, and a former family doc, lives in East Greenwich.


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