Losing a Year
As we begin a new month sheltering-in-place I began to reflect on what it will mean to lose a year of our lives --- and how one’s age will affect your perspective on this pandemic. While it is clear that Covid-19 has hit older people, Black people, and men the hardest, it is taking its toll on everyone. Even if you are lucky enough to avoid contracting this disease, the trade-off may be losing a year of your life. I know, it’s only been about two months, and there are those who think the Federal retreat from “stay-at-home” orders means there’s “light at the end of the tunnel.” I am going to err on the side of safety and project that, even if we emerge from our enforced “hibernation” by the end of the summer (and re-start schools in September, say), our world will probably not be anything like what it was until after (and may be well after) New Year’s Day, 2021. (Which causes me to wonder how many infected people were in Times Square this past New Year’s Eve and did that contribute to NYC becoming our epicenter?).
As someone about to turn 71, losing a year is significant. After all, how many have I got left, realistically? I’m not trying to be fatalistic here, but realistic. Even if I’m lucky enough to have 20 more years, one of those years is 5%!! But it’s also losing a season of playing tennis with my friends (who are also mostly “seniors”), it’s a year of not going to Yankee Stadium (and wondering if I/we ever will go again), it’s a year of missing all those Little League and Junior League baseball games Carol’s grandsons would be playing this summer. It’s a year of, possibly, not seeing a granddaughter start Kindergarten! And what about all the high school and college seniors who don’t get their proms and graduation ceremonies? Even though we Seniors are hardest hit regarding this virus, the ramifications for every age group is significant and deep.
The Center for Disease Control (C.D.C.) divides its analytical categories thusly: under 20, 20 to 45, 45 to 54, 54 to 64, 65 to 74, and over 75. I would contend that “under 20” has sub-categories, based on school-age (pre-school, elementary, middle, high) because those categories are highly significant social groups. Let’s look at what this pandemic --- and its potential to steal a year --- means to each of these groups, starting with the oldest and working backwards.
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to combine the “65 to 74” and “over 75” groups, generalizing this as those who are retired. As I noted, losing a year for this group becomes significant because you don’t know how many years you have left. And you don’t know how many years your friends and relatives in this age group have left. But it also means losing out on some of those “benefits” that come with retirement. Just before the country shut down, I was beginning to plan a West Coast trip for the Lovely Carol Marie and myself. This means not traveling and visiting friends (many of whom are younger than we are) and places we love. I’ve already mentioned the sports events we’d miss but there’s also those “landmarks” in younger relative’s lives that will be missed by grandparents (we’ve already had one “online” birthday party and anticipate more to come). CBS Sunday morning interviewed Henry Winkler this a.m. and when he talked about how much it pained him not to be able to hug his grandchildren, the Lovely Carol Marie filled up with tears and agreed wholeheartedly. Not being able to “check-in” with my Mother, who resides in an Assisted Living facility in Stroudsburg, PA is another loss --- and will she survive this pandemic? All those “what if’s?” haunt people in the 65 and over group.
If we consider those 45 to 64 as one group what price will they pay if they lose a year? Many of these people are in the prime of their lives and careers, with families full of vibrant children. Even if they are “working from home,” their lives are altered significantly. If they have to assume “home schooling” as part of their responsibilities, that’s another huge challenge. The simple routines of daily life have been radically altered --- and what will the long-term consequences of those shifts be? How many businesses will begin to expect their personnel to work from home from this point on? What about the 45 to 64 group who are small business owners? Will they receive the government support they need to withstand this pandemic? And what of their employees? We have lived through more than a decade long “Boom” period but, typically of the U.S. economy, we are now staring a massive “Bust” in the face --- and what will the effect be on the 45 to 64 year old’s?
Then we have the 20 to 44 year old cohort. This, of course, covers a wide range of folks. We have those who are just finishing (or approaching the end of) college, as well as those who are in “starter” career and those who are just starting to “hit their stride” in a profession. There are also those who are now “established” in their chosen field. This group is our future. These people are just embarking on their lives (marriage, children, etc.) or just “finding their groove” (as parents, professionals, etc.). What happens to them if they lose a year? It may change their personal lives (possibly for the better --- spending more time at home with spouses and kids) --- and it may have consequential results on the professional lives of many of this age group. And, as with all the age groups: what will the psychological impact be on these people and their families?
In the “under 20” cohort, losing a year has a wide range of consequences, of course. Consider first that most of this group (age 5 through age 20) has not gone to school since mid-March and may not return in September (we can hope it is otherwise, of course, but we can’t be sure). What will the long-term effects of this be? What of those students who may not have the technology or broadband to effectively receive “home schooling?” What will it mean if children don’t start Kindergarten in September? Or 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th grade? What becomes of all those middle schoolers who have had to complete this academic year at home --- what if they don’t return to classrooms in September? High Schoolers? The high school athletes, musicians, actors, dancers, et al? The rising Seniors? The “all important” Junior year? How soon will Sophomores be able to make up for missed time? What of “entering” Freshman? And then there are all those who are supposed to start --- or continue --- their college careers!
I’m truly hoping I’m wrong about all of this. I’m hoping that somehow a vaccine miraculously appears sooner rather than later--- and we head back to “normal” lives by the Fall (or late Fall). I hope the economic consequences will be less devastating than some of the current projections. I hope that younger people are not damaged or scarred deeply by this experience and come out healthier and stronger for surviving the ordeal. But I have to say that in my darker moments, I consider what it might be like to lose a year of our collective life. However, even in those dark moments, I never believe that losing a year of our collective life will at all cause us to lose a year of our souls --- and that’s what I believe will ultimately carry us through, together.
Stay home. Stay safe. Wash your hands.