Being an octogenarian in a coronaviral world is no picnic
An omnipresent media establishment never ceases to remind those "of a certain age" how vulnerable to contagion we truly are, as if somehow that disquieting thought had hitherto eluded us. We are treated like children — even by our own children — who, for our own good, insist we analyze every sniffle and sneeze.
Don't get me wrong. In these perilous times, my contemporaries and I appreciate the attentiveness of our offspring, especially those who prior to the onset of the pandemic rarely kept in touch. But COVID-19 has somehow turned the generational tables, according them the upper hand. It is now those younger than ourselves who assume the important role of adults in the room, even if we're the ones sheltered inside it.
But whom are we kidding? Having survived seven or more decades, we're no longer children, no matter how convincingly Shakespeare drew a parallel between infancy and dotage in his "All the world's a stage" soliloquy. The Bard may have been spot-on about "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything," but as a demographic, we still have our pride. And we hardly need reminding that with or without a pandemic, we will sooner rather than later shuffle off this mortal coil.
On the other hand, a sense of our own inevitable mortality has heightened our compliance. We may have occasional flashes of frustration or feistiness, but when we're told to mind, we do. As a result, few of those entrusted with our safety during the pandemic have had reason to anticipate an uprising. Simply put, they do not fear us.
That is why it was relatively easy to impose a set of rules on those in senior-designated residencies, regardless of type. The lockdown three months ago of my "Over 55-Active Adults" community basically followed the same model approved and imposed by the Committee for Contagious Diseases on all such facilities, whether their residents require more care through Assisted Living or languish in "nursing homes" where their survival depends on round-the-clock professional caregivers.
For the duration, residents have pretty much been confined to their individual living quarters. Food is delivered to them, but visitors — even in some cases family members — are kept at bay. The best one could hope for has been a glimpse of, say, a grandkid waving from the street below. To keep in touch, a lot of seniors resorted to taking a crash course in Zoom.
There have been continual assurances — by those who are not confined — that the disruption, loneliness, and boredom we experience under the enforced protocol are for our own good. And it has made our families feel good, too. Yet one woman in her seventies compared her lot to that of being placed in solitary confinement, for the sake of protecting her from other prisoners.
Few seem to be talking about the psychological fallout from such isolation. Ironically, residents hit hardest are those who had fled the vacant feeling of an empty-nested family home, only to find themselves mired in loneliness. Nevertheless, we were buoyed by arguments such as "it's for your own good" or "we're all in the same noble boat, doing what is best — separately, yet together as a nation."
What we were, in fact, "doing" — basically corroborated by my college classmates across America — was reading books, playing bridge or mahjongg online, knitting, bingeing on missed Netflix fare, sorting through a lifetime of pictures, and watching too much TV.
Then one day we turned on our overheated TV sets and saw the streets of our large cities swarming with angry life. Some in the crowds wore masks; some didn't. Nobody bothered with the rules of "social distancing." Their concern was not about being six feet apart, and even less about the likelihood of ending up six feet under.
Suddenly, the genie was out of the bottle, though, of course, no wishes of ours were being granted. Those in authority still insisted that confinement in designated bastions was the safest bet for the elderly. New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo liked the arrangement so much that he unceremoniously dumped those still suffering from symptoms of COVID-19 back into those bastions to poison the well.
Yet there on screens large and small were thousands of protesters breaking the rules of containment. And where was the outcry? If any institutionalized seniors had ventured down to the lobby mailbox without wearing a mask, they'd have been hastily put in their place. So why did the protesters get a free pass? Was it because of their cause, or because of their youth? They are, after all, the future. We are the past. They would likely survive a brush with COVID-19; we possibly wouldn't. And, most importantly, they will be around for many Election Days to come.
Anyway, the fact is that this pandemic has been scarred by discrepancies from the get-go. Our leaders' decisions, presumably based on some rule of thumb, seem more likely to have been arrived at by placing a thumb on the scale of justice.
For starters, those in authority determined which enterprises in America were "essential" and which were not. This, in turn, established who would "shelter in place" while others mingled with crowds on their way to essential work.
Pot shops and abortion clinics stayed open, while pet shops and hair salons were shuttered. Some of the venue-signaling hinted at matters of life and death. Stores and businesses landed on one side or the other of the big COVID-19 divide, often without reason. Privileged employees were able to work from home. Those deemed unessential applied for unemployment benefits.
Businesses that made the cut sometimes flourished through sheer lack of competition. Department stores like Kohl's and J.C. Penney's were shut down for the duration. But Target was allowed to remain open because it sold food and drugs. As a result, its clothing section thrived.
That is not to suggest that there haven't been far worse examples in history of those in command deciding who should survive and who should not. And the sad truth is that the old have never had it easy in bad times. We may brag about having survived the Great Depression, world wars and other crises, but back then, of course, we were not yet old.
So despite our boredom and resentment, perhaps we should — if grudgingly — take Dr. Marc Siegel's advice and continue to "Sit It Out."
Graphic credit: Pixabay.