The Pandemic’s Unseen Toll

The headlines tell the big story: hundreds of thousands of people struck ill; residents of senior facilities dying in huge numbers; children unable to go to school; many workers losing their jobs; and people evicted from their homes. But there are smaller hardships from the pandemic, things that go unnoticed over time but can add up to big losses.

I think of friends who are grandparents who either don’t see their grandchildren or see them rarely and under controlled circumstances. Hugs and overnight visits are things of the past.  Over the long term, it means missing out on key elements of a child’s life: their first words, when they start school, when they make friends. These are life events that, once missed, can never be recovered.

I have friends who haven’t seen their adult children in more than a year because it’s too dangerous to fly during the pandemic. Phone calls and Zoom interactions can’t make up for being together for several days of intimate conversation and sharing favorite meals, going through old scrapbooks or visiting treasured places together.

The isolation is hard on every age group, but because older people are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, we are less inclined to get together with friends or family. Under even normal conditions, isolation increases as we get older and the rest of the world gets younger. But now, as we need to work harder to stay connected to the world, the pandemic is removing or lessening our connections. Research has shown that isolation negatively affects our health. How many people who are stuck home alone are slowly dying?

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Driving While Old

I had an uncle who, well into his 80s, loved to drive so fast, taking the curves of country roads at 40-50 mph, that my father, his younger brother, had to tell him to slow down. But I think most of us, as we get older, become slower and more cautious drivers.

Not only do our aging brains process information slower, there’s more to process. I live in a college town, where I encounter not just cars and buses, but bicyclists, skateboarders and wandering pedestrians—college students studying their cell phones or homeless men stumbling  into the street without looking. Because Boulder has pledged to be bicycle and pedestrian friendly, the city has installed cross-walks all over town, forcing drivers to be extra vigilant in watching to see if a pedestrian is about to step into traffic—or worse, someone in a wheelchair, which is even harder to see.  

The situation can be confusing when you’re young, but when you’re older it takes more concentration to figure out the whirl of traffic: a pedestrian crossing the street, a bicycle coming up behind you, a car suddenly turning right, lights flashing at a pedestrian walkway.

On top of that, as the world has sped up, the pace of traffic has picked up. My theory is that people have gotten accustomed to the speed of the Internet, to everything happening fast and on demand, and that carries over into their driving. Many drivers, especially younger ones who grew up with the Internet, are impatient and don’t want to be slowed down by an old lady in front of them.

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Dropping Out

I’m not quite there but I’m getting to the point where I can see the pleasures of dropping out—not like in the 1970s, when young people wanted to flee a materialistic society and live simply  off the land. That life sounds more appealing now than the virtual one I scramble to keep up with. Long ago (in the time line of the Internet and social media) I got on Facebook, but I sometimes wonder if I should be on Twitter or Instagram in order to keep up with things. Am I missing out by not being more fully engaged with social media?

How much of my precious time do I want to spend in an online world that is moving so fast I can hardly keep up?

It’s that “keeping up with things” that I struggle with. As I get older, I want my life to get simpler, while social media complicates it and challenges me with new terminology (meme, troll) and new platforms that I struggle to make sense of. I’m so out of touch with the electronic world that when I first read a long article in the New Yorker several years ago about a new program—I mean, platform—called Twitter, I was skeptical and scornful. Why would anyone want to write in a format where you were limited to 140 characters? Well, our president for one, along with millions of others.

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