Flummoxed is a good word for a bad feeling. I had hoped 2020 would end on an upward trajectory, but things are not looking rosy. Locally, too many news story include the phrases “exponential growth,” “uncharted territory” or “school closure.” From what I can tell, locally means “everywhere.” Speaking for those of us who have seen the better part of six decades or more, it is has gotten hard to tell which way to move. So I sit here flummoxed.
When I was 12 years old, Hurricane Agnes visited our home in Manassas, Virginia. Agnes did not bring much wind, but relentless rain pounded us like we had Noah in the backyard. Bull Run creek ran along the backyards of our across-the-street neighbors. The creek rose gently but surely throughout the day. We watched it; we watched our neighbors sandbag their houses; we watched them move possessions to the attic, and finally we watched them escape to higher ground. Our house sat on a rise in the street, probably the high point in the subdivision, so we were safe.
Or were we? The rain kept coming and the creek kept rising. Pretty soon dad was moving valuables to the upstairs of our 3/2 split level American Dream. Later that night, we left through a backyard with enough water to swim in. A week after we returned to a reclamation project.
Looking back, mom and dad did a remarkable job of not freaking out in front of the children. They had to be deeply worried and maybe a little physically afraid. The most frightening aspect of it all is the powerlessness, the sure knowledge that nothing you can do will stop the rising tide. You just try to get you and your loved ones out of the way.
Individual situations create that feeling for people who are at the wrong place at the wrong time. The generation who came of age with Reagan as our leader, however, has never seen America writ large as frail or vulnerable for any extended period of time. Even the horror of 9/11 quickly gave way to cheering our response. America might use or misuse her power, other countries or ideologies may be seen as long-term challenges, and domestic agreement could elude us, but for close to 40 years we were the world’s only superpower and we had the answers.
Until February of this year. Like Agnes, Covid-19 does not much care about our circumstances. The tide just keeps rising and it is getting later in the evening. Perhaps ironically, the virus strikes hardest on those of us who have grown accustomed to having all the answers. Over 90% of “Covid-involved deaths” hit age 55 and up. The terrible toll the disease inflicts on the “elderly” grabs most of the attention, but from my rocking chair, “elderly” means something different. I have plans to travel, read, golf and generally raise mild hell when I am 74. In my mind at least, my life will looks promising for that age.
As of last week, about 10% of this year’s death toll for ages 55-74 could be traced to Covid-19. 70,000 dead American of my approximate age seems like something to be alarmed about. M’Lissa and I have tried to do what we should. A consistent diet and exercise plan moved us out of the obese co-morbidity BMI range. We are religious mask wearers and stay vigilant about social distancing. We limit restaurant visits to infrequent patio dining. Hand washing, mouthwash, and multi-vitamins with plenty of zinc are habits. Truth be told, we are much healthier than we have been in a long time.
But as I type this, I get a push notification that Central Texas added 400 cases yesterday. Two weeks ago the end of the virus was just around the corner, today the vaccine will “likely be widely available by April.” Meaning next summer. Until then M’Lissa has a school to run, which is challenging enough. I have a law practice. More than our work, we desperately want the family holidays to be like they always are; for my brother in the restaurant industry to be able to do the work he loves; for my daughter’s business to succeed; to visit M’Lissa’s 97-year old dad without anxiety and maybe, if isn’t too much to ask, just one damn night of live music. I want all that, but I can’t have all that. Flummoxed.
All our good new habits seem like two lousy sandbags with no hope of stopping the water. I am not sure it has to be this way. Other generations have met their crises with a sense of purpose and resolve. We more closely resemble the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys. So help unflummox me.
Wear your masks. Stay more than six feet away from anyone outside your immediate circle. Work out and eat at home as much as possible. Wash your hands early and often. Get a flu shot. If you are symptomatic or exposed, stop what you are doing at that moment. Get a test immediately and quarantine yourself until you are cleared. Do all of these things without fail and make sure those around you do them as well. If we act with purpose and urgency, we can still build a decently sized wall of sandbags. Things might get a little damp, but we can avoid the reclamation project. And for Kelsey and Kendall: sorry about freaking out in front of the kids.