It’s been six months since the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in the US. Life increasingly changed during this period, with sheltering in place beginning in March and limited social interaction becoming the new normal. Now, in June, some easing of restrictions for commercial and social transactions are rolling out – with a corresponding increase of new infections.

During this time, government programs have tried to assist businesses which were closed and/or individuals who were unable to hold their jobs. In short, this has been arguably the greatest mass change in our society since its founding.

HSE issues social distancing warning to employers | IOSH Magazine

Sure, I know that the great wars, the great depression, the great recession, and the Spanish Flu affected millions of lives – and led to separations, financial hardship, shortages, rationing, and emergency government programs. But in no case I can think of, has the daily pattern of life for every American been altered as fundamentally. Seemingly, this is the first time that social intercourse has been so universally interrupted.

Masks hide facial expression and social distancing prevents casual physical contact. Distance learning isolates students. Digital friendship has surged in absence of proximal companionship – a new form of social rationing.  It is stressful, as though a pneumatic force is compressing our daily routines. The outlet for this additional pressure has led to acting out on a grand scale, whether for justifiable causes or simple rebellion against regulation.

This is a season of loss:  lost lives, lost opportunities, lost items. People are losing track of the days while on this interpersonal furlough. We have lost friends – few to COVID – most from pre-existing medical issues. But I wonder if weariness plays a role – or suffering from lack of continuity. One thing that has become very clear is the effort that people will place in maintaining a sense of continuity. We don’t like tears in our social fabric. Perhaps we’ll look back at this COVID time and appreciate the positive change that endures. Honestly, I’ll likely grieve for the missing gifts – the gifts to be free and easy.

Yeah? So’s Your Old Man!

I tend to be the nay-sayer in this group so I especially related to Wally’s perspective!  The last few weeks have been harder for me. Things should be getting easier, more normal but they aren’t, at least for me.  Then I realized I’m angry!  My entire demeanor is more aggressive and impatient.  

When this started we were hearing about what we had to do.   It was spelled out, Isolate, social distance yourself, shelter in place, wear a mask,  STAY HOME. I felt like I was being patriotic and helping to protect myself, my family, and fellow walkers on this planet.  I was contributing to the well being of all us and although it was going to be a sacrifice I was willing to do my part.  And for 2 months I rarely went out except to get food.  I wore my mask religiously and sang Happy Birthday to Me twice every time I got home. 

 But now, and I realized this is partly why I am angry, the directions are unclear.  We can go out to dine, always with masks, shopping, but with no clear directions from anybody I feel less safe and less willing to sacrifice when I see people around without masks and in groups.  Why bother?  I know the answer but why don’t we have as clear instructions now, when the danger is every bit as great as we did at the start?  Our country can’t seem to agree on what to do!  No one is telling us a consistent message and the number of cases is increasing!

Living alone is difficult, too.  Just having someone in shouting distance to share a comment with or a laugh, or even a testy, cranky exchange over some minor annoyance.  I really miss that! Someone to build you up when you are struggling is so important because by myself I don’t have the strength to be both Dr Jekyl AND Mr Hyde!  Perhaps a stronger person can do both.  And that doesn’t even mention the value of a hand to squeeze, a hug and kiss before climbing into bed at night.

Thank God for Devon, my pooch.  He got me through two stents and a scraped carotid artery years ago so I value his loyalty and companionship beyond reason.  But he doesn’t laugh at my stupid jokes, or cry with me over a sad movie.  He can’t tell me to “knock it off” when I get upset.  But he does sense when I am sad and knows it is time to climb up on whatever I am sitting on and cuddle In an attempt to make me feel better.  AND he does.  But I  still would enjoy a member of my own species for companionship!  

We will all get through this!  

Pause, Reflect, Reset

Wal captures the enormity of our present human condition.  There is little argument, that this is a colossal intrusion into life, as we knew it.  And, it impacts each of us in varying degrees of the losses Wal describes.  Of course, each of us, try as we might to see or feel from another’s perspective, cannot.  All we can do is share from our own experience.

Several facts/phrases come to mind that help me to frame my story.

  1. Weather, before climate change became a global topic, has been less extreme during my lifetime, than is usually experienced.  (Our normal has been historically abnormal.)
  2. It’s not what happens to us but how we respond that matters in and to our lives.
  3. I grew up poor without realizing how different we were.
  4. I’ve been addicted to fairness and blinded by how it unconsciously affects my perspective.

According to an article I read many years ago, we’ve been living in a relatively calm and consistent weather pattern since around 1950.  If this is true, we have lost a more long-term perspective of a violent and ever-changing planet and seduced into thinking that what we’ve been experiencing is the way it’s supposed to be.  What feels like a loss, as we move into a period of more extreme weather conditions wouldn’t exist if this is what we’ve been used to all our lives.

Epictetus is credited with saying, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”  This simple to repeat but hard to hardwire into practice quote, reminds me that I can influence my daily life to a point but have no real control over what happens.  I can only chose to examine my best course of action for responding and then decide how I intend to move on.  I will feel the differences and, at times, miss deeply what I had but, since it no longer exists, it makes little sense to revisit or whine about it.

My mom raised the three of us, cared for my debilitated grandmother, and made ends meet without any assistance from anyone.  And through all the struggles and losses, we somehow had relatively happy childhoods, food in our bellies, and a roof (albeit very small) over our heads.  We stayed home a lot but had numerous distractions and options to keep busy.  Perhaps, since that was my “normal” navigating today’s limitations is somewhat easier to accept.

“It’s not fair!” has been my battle-cry for as long as I can remember.  I don’t know whether this was learned or I created this scenario on my own, but I always believed that hard work, good will, and kindness trumped disappointment, loss, and bad beats.  Duh!  Life isn’t fair, despite what I think and the more I remember that and continue to make the best choices I can under the circumstances (See number 2 above) the less disappointed and angry I’ll be.

These provide the context for how I’ve been living through the threat of Covid-19 for me and for the world around me.  They have helped – a lot.  But, like George, I feel the loneliness.  All the logic and preparatory experiences can’t eliminate the impact of being a single senior.

But like George, I agree that we’ll all get through it.  And, as Wal suggests in his closing, down the road, upon reflection, I will remember and be grateful for the positive outcomes that emerged. 

Finally, I will also remember the suffering and loss of life that impacted so many and lament what might have been had we handled this better.  For now, I must embrace these new rules of engagement and continue to find ways to celebrate my remaining years.

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