Where to start? Well, have you seen the cartoon that shows an oldster sporting a T-shirt that reads something along the lines of “DON’T PISS ME OFF. AT MY AGE, THE PROSPECT OF LIFE IN PRISON ISN’T MUCH OF A DETERRENT.” it’s a given that most of us seniors are well aware of our mortality. On the other hand, darned few of us have jobs. Since retirement, my nightmares, while infrequent, regularly feature an overwhelmingly unpredictable and dangerous school; ironically, working teachers in 2020 are now living my nightmare. These brave hard-working people have my complete sympathy. The course of history having dictated otherwise, I remain grateful never to have had to teach during a pandemic.
The OED usually selects a word or phrase “of the year.” However, 2020 stymied these redoubtable lexicographers, — they had to settle for a constellation of Covid-Related language. My personal favourite is “social distancing,” an oxymoron if I ever heard one. The root “socio” is all about relationships, never thought to be improved by distance unless you are trying to make the best of a bad thing. Thanks to a 1935 book I read in my twenties (the title - Rats, Lice and History - made me do it) I was not only expecting a second wave but likely also a third and worse, one, as they had during the Spanish Flu of 1918-1921. That Philadelphia chose to host a parade still finds a place in every list of NOT RECOMMENDED PRACTICES, followed by a discussion of the math of “exponential growth.” I am holding my breath and hoping that once again, that getting and maintaining the infection rate at less than 2 will flatten or even aim that exponential curve downwards again.
Before you decide that the mathematical nature of a pandemic bodes nothing but hell, and I will partially grant you that point, some clouds do have silver linings -- foregoing all social activity is not a death knell for those of us who harbour reclusive tendencies. Artists in particular are perfectly happy puttering away by ourselves for indefinite lengths of time, even if they are going through a dry spell. Family matters and generalized exhaustion have put painting on the back burner this year, but I am becoming the very model of a model household manager. All that means is that 2020 has restarted my love of organizing if only because there has been time; I think of all the stuff in our life as an enormous flock of unruly sheep which I, as the border collie, must put where they belong, even though our farm is on the small side. First it was food and toilet paper, followed by room-by-room deep cleaning, and finally record-keeping and stacks of paperwork which needed shearing. The basement is oh, so much better. Drawers all sorted. I feel oddly exhilarated. So does the Salvation Army, now that its doors have reopened.
When I speak to friends and confess that I have been morphing into a recluse*, albeit a happily married one, 9 out of 10 respond instantly with a whispered but heartfelt “Me too!”. I wonder if we had all slipped into too much busyness. We will have to wait for a year or two to know if there’s been a generalized re-set into a different and voluntary type of social distancing. In the meantime, attention to distance has allowed me to dodge my annual plagues of killer colds and the flu.
Of course, we have technology to thank for our apparent ease with isolation. My parents wrote weekly to their own parents, who died before long distance phone calls became affordable. By the time my own mom was elderly and still in Winnipeg, it was a huge comfort to be able check in with her by phone every day. (Moving her here was an even bigger blessing.) On a normal day in my dotage, I can, while remaining on the couch, read and handle mail; read The Star and The New York Times; shop for necessities and order delivery on line; check the weather to plan the appropriate number of layers for comfortable walking; talk face to face with one person or a group through the miracle of Zoom; learn Spanish; and even attend educational seminars.
I am filled with thanksgiving.