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Senior citizens and the “mark of Cain”

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Two weeks ago, I emailed my Governor, Gavin Newsom, to tell him of my concern that we senior citizens will soon be branded with “a mark of Cain” due to the coronavirus.

The Governor promptly responded, saying that any actions California takes with respect to seniors would be “deliberative.” I’m not sure that entirely reassured me. When I wrote the email, there were already reports—admittedly speculative—that seniors would be “protected” even when the shelter-in-place was lifted. And by “protected,” in my mind I heard the Newspeak word for “isolated” and even “barred” from certain activities that younger people would be allowed to enjoy.

Now we come to yesterday’s article in the San Francisco Chronicle whose headline revived all my concerns, and then some.

RISKS FOR SENIORS COULD LINGER FOR YEARS

The article predicted severe prohibitions older people “likely” will experience: “no dining out, no public transportation, no travel.” An emergency medicine doctor who works at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center was even blunter. “They’re not going to be going to Target or Best Buy.”

Well, admittedly, this is also speculative; no guidance has yet gone out from anyone in California state government concerning limiting senior activities. But it certainly feels like someone is floating trial balloons, to gauge the public’s reaction to these proposals.

As a senior, I have to be candid: this stuff scares the hell out of me. The concerns I had two weeks ago—which then were inchoate and vague—are now getting fleshed out. Another expert quoted in the Chronicle article said we seniors may not even be able to shop for our own groceries, which so far has been permitted. “But they can still get fresh air, groceries delivered and FaceTime.” Cold comfort for those of us who may be, in essence, incarcerated in our homes “for a year or two.”

I’ve quipped, as have others in my age cohort, that so far the shelter-in-place rules haven’t really interfered with our lives. Most people my age (I’m 73) are retired. We already spend a great deal of time at home, eating, reading, watching T.V., that sort of thing. That’s what I was doing before coronavirus and it’s what I’ve been doing for the last six weeks. But at least I can shop, to a limited extent. I have gone to Target, and I’ve been waiting eagerly for restaurants to re-open (I promised Marilyn I’d take her to Samovar for her birthday, a trip for which I’d have to take public transit). I look forward to Bayfair Mall reopening so I can shop for sox, underwear, sneakers. And lord knows I can’t wait to get back to my gym.

But if the Chronicle article reflects what officials are thinking, none of that may happen for seniors. Which is exactly what I meant two weeks ago when I told the Governor I feared the mark of Cain. Now, admittedly, I do have a tendency to catastrophize. I learned that about myself after the Madoff incident; learned, also, that catastrophizing is pointless and even dangerous. Usually our worst fears never materialize.

But with coronavirus, “usually” isn’t the operative term anymore for anything. I look into the future, murky as it is, and see myself, and millions of other seniors in California (and tens of millions around the country) becoming the new “internal aliens,” like those pitiful insects in the movie, District Nine, who were locked up in internment camps and let out only under strictly regulated conditions. And I have to admit feeling my internal compass gravitationally shifting towards the “re-open now!” people who are demanding an end to shelter-in-place and an immediate reopening of the economy. A cousin of mine, my age, stated matter-of-factly that she would join the re-open protesters if government tries to take away her rights—and she’s a lifelong Democrat.

I’m torn. I don’t want to catch coronavirus, which easily could be a death sentence. I don’t want my older loved ones to catch it. But I long for “re-opening,” or some semblance of it. So I have to make a decision, and I have: If and when Gov. Newsom issues draconian orders regarding senior citizens, I will understand and—reluctantly–respect them. Why? Because I trust my Governor.

Still, I’m tired of being cooped up alone (except for Gus, a godsend). And I’m afraid. For a single old man like me, isolation and depression can be just as deadly as coronavirus. I hope Gov. Newsom takes all this into account, when he figures out exactly what he wants to do with us old folks.

  1. Bob Rossi says:

    I haven’t heard of anything like that before. One big problem I have is this. Right now, the major reason for restrictions is to prevent the spread of the virus. And even if I were to say that I accept the risk and won’t wear a face mask or stay 6 feet from others, the retort is: “It’s not just to protect you from me, it’s to protect me from you.” Well, if everyone except the elderly are able to engage in their usual activities freely, the you’re now trying to protect the elderly themselves (barring any evidence that the elderly are more likely to become infected, as opposed to being more likely to die if infected). So you’d be telling elderly people that they need to be protected from their own actions. This is when “choice” really comes into play.

  2. Jeff Knight says:

    It might be time for some good make-up and hair coloring. Or just go full burka.

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