Sunday, August 2, 2020

Super Hero or Wimp? The Staying Home Dilemma

Photo: Ed van der Elsken
By Madeleine Kando

Being on self-prescribed ‘lockdown’ since the pandemic began has not been very difficult for me. Why? In order of importance, I would rate my age, my life style, my expectations and my lack of social contacts.

My friend Jane, on the other hand is a social butterfly. She is only a few years younger than I, but I would qualify her as a ‘lockdown rebel’. When we first realized that there was this killer at our doorsteps, targeting the most vulnerable in the herd, Jane and I prepared ourselves for a Coronavirus long distance run. Time will tell if she is the hare and I the turtle, or vice versa.

While I am sitting at my desk, sweating profusely in the summer heat, reading New York Times articles that scare the bejesus out of me, Jane is running along the Charles River. She goes swimming across Spy Pond, flies to L.A. to see her sister and invites her many friends and neighbors over for social distancing dinners in her backyard.

I am sure Jane thinks I am a wuss. She keeps asking me over, but I always find an excuse so I won’t have to drive the 20 minutes to her house. Me, who in her younger years, hitchhiked across half of Europe, lived and worked in England, Holland and Spain, who most recently went deep sea diving in Belize and hiked in the jungle of Kauai where Jurassic Park was filmed. When did I turn into such a fraidy cat?

It’s been 5 months now, Jane is having a ball, not worrying about her body fat creeping up on her. Her hair is fashionably cut, her refrigerator is full of exotic foods from the many stores she visits. She goes to Town meetings and demonstrations, while I am sitting here typing, watching my backyard, like it was a TV screen.

Wild turkeys enter from the left, then a squadron of pigeons descend on the bird feeders, squirrels jump out of the trees and chase each other at lightning speed for some incomprehensible reason, until the whole screen is full of activity. My cat watches with me, permanently quarantined inside her outdoor enclosure, so she cannot kill anything and nothing can kill her.

There is something serene about the whole thing. I wake up and rack my brain to remember which day of the week it is. Then, I mentally go over my ‘obligations’ of the day. Who am I supposed to Skype with today? If it is not a shopping day, I breathe a sigh of relief, since that is one of the very few holes in my coronavirus proof cocoon.

The highlights of the day are long walks in the surrounding forests and getting my knees dirty while I pull out the minutest weeds from my garden. I have turned into Baba Yaga with my uncut hair, but my garden has never looked so manicured.

I berate the people on my forest walks for not wearing masks. I wash down the steering wheel in my car every time I go shopping. I close my car window when I drive by a crowded café. In short, my OCD nature is having a field day these days.

Then, I read and article that says that Flying is strange these days, but it's possible — even safe, if it's done right, and I start doubting my own behavior. Am I putting my life on hold for no good reason? Am I turning into Freud’s frustrated female, whose unsatisfied libido finds an outlet in anxiety? Should I have more sex, even at my age?

Were it so simple, I tell myself. I try to find analogies to give more weight to my decision to ‘stay at home’.

The secret, I believe, is to know that there is a purpose to all this. I am a war baby, born while bombs were flying over my native Hungary. Had my parents not believed that the war would end one day, they might not have had the will to survive. Is wearing a mask such a terrible inconvenience compared to all the things that the world had to cope with during the war?

Is isolation or wearing a bloody mask so bad compared to having to run for your life to a bomb shelter, from being separated from your parents for the remainder of the war? In 1939, England evacuated 1.5 million children from the big cities. There was no school then, food was rationed and if you were not Arian, not having enough to eat was the least of your worries.

But this enemy doesn’t wear a Nazi uniform. We pooh pooh the danger because it is invisible and the outcome is unclear. So we pretend that we are in control by creating ‘phases’ to reopen our society, which often directly contradicts the spikes in the number of infections. We are told that it is a modern day act of patriotism to go out and mingle. Spend time being a tourist. It’s really on YOUR conscience if your state’s economy tanks. So you better shape up and be a good consumer, or the capitalist world as we know it will collapse.

Consumerism and capitalism have taken over our sense of self-preservation. What is more important than people’s health and well-being? Where did Americans get the idea that ‘the economy’ is as important as staying alive?

I know, you think I am an old woman who thinks this way because I am in a ‘high risk’ group. The young crowd that goes to beaches without masks, having a good time while feeling invincible… those are people from another world. Even my husband sometimes thinks I go overboard and calls me a ‘creme puff’.

But as far as I see it, there is one correct Coronavirus road, the one that keeps as many people as possible safe. Somehow a fork appeared in the road marked ‘personal choice’. But your choice to mingle ends when my health is put at risk. Your right to smoke stops when your fumes affect my lungs. Your right to pollute the water supply ends when it causes cancer in my children. It’s as simple as that.

I would love to go deep-sea diving again before I end up in my coffin. I might not make it back to the diving boat in one piece, but at least Covid19 will not be the one to decide. It will be MY decision. Right now, I am staying put and I am ok with that. I am waiting for a vaccine, which we will develop, I am sure.

Until then, I will march in place and enjoy the small pleasures of life. Diving will have to wait. leave comment here