As I listen to the debates about opening schools and universities, I ponder again how this pandemic pits young people against old. It is a struggle that is going on in households (I want to go to the party! cries the teenager), in extended families (have the grandchildren been quarantined safely enough to allow me to visit? asks Nana), in communities (can we safely open the schools? frets the school board), and on a national and global scale. Opening the schools provides a good window into this conflict. Children are less at risk, but how about everyone else they come in contact with?
Having tried to Zoom with my grandchildren (where did he go?), I know that distance learning is not a great way to teach the young. I can’t even imagine how the teachers do it. I think children need to go back to school. But they need to go back safely. I think old folks need to be protected. We need a culture which values everyone, and the stock market is not the measure of all success. I may be an old lady, but apparently all the idealism hasn’t been beaten out of me quite yet.
Some few of you may be members of the “greatest generation,” who lived through the Great Depression as young children and then fought WWII. I give that honor to my elders; I was a boomer baby. But during WWII it was the young (male and female) who went off and fought, staffed the field hospitals, went into the munitions factories. They were defending the old, who stayed home and planted victory gardens, kept track of food coupons, knit gloves and sweaters for the troops, wrote letters, and prayed. The old knew that the young were fighting to defend them. The young knew who was thinking about them back home.
In my last post on this subject, I cited the statistics as to who was getting Covid-19 and who was dying from it. The statistics have not changed much, although there seems to be an improvement as nursing homes have implemented stricter procedures for testing and visiting. We are all getting tired of whatever level of quarantine we are at, but the old seem to have hunkered down while the young are often frustrated and rebellious. Maybe the difference is that younger people do not have a clear path for action, as the greatest generation did when this country entered WWII. Or maybe we do not have a national voice (think FDR) which can inspire when motivation lags. Maybe the young partying on the beach or at the bars do not mean any harm. But apparently no one has quite convinced them what the right thing to do is. We wonder if they appreciate that their risk is our risk; we wonder if they care.
And some of us older people have difficult decisions to make. My daughter, a single mother by choice, decided to provide her 2-year-old with a sibling this year. It turned out to be twins, born in the middle of the epidemic and now, after an extended hospital stay, at home. My daughter lives in a college town where the students are returning (physically not virtually), and yet we feel the need to go visit and show some support. I am at once thrilled to go and scared to death. I know families all over the world are facing these kinds of dilemmas. The real prospect of our own mortality makes such choices stark and real. I fear those local college students won’t be thinking about my safety, but I wish they were.
In this topsy-turvy time, the old need protecting. I hope that as schools and businesses open, they think about the older employees, the elderly members of households, the general level of infection in our communities. The economy is important, but it is not the most important thing. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.
Maybe we need a slogan. “Save Grandma!” “Children need grandparents!” “Do the right thing!” I am not a speechwriter; there are speechwriters galore in Washington, yet I am hearing little that helps.
I have posted my first “Covid story” this week, which I think has a little something to say about quarantine, social media, and human nature. (And with a nod to Becoming Duchess Goldblatt –thank you Sean – highly recommended.) Like war, however, I really don’t think we will write about this time well until it is over. Assuming it is ever over.