Even though I no longer have a television and only listen to the radio when I am driving, the news comes to me without me looking for it. So I already knew about the virus predicted to kill globally, I was surprised when I went out to lunch last week with friends I hadn’t seem in three years. I was taken aback that no one would touch me, no one hugged me, no one would even do a fist bump. They were all afraid of getting COVID-19. All but one of us was over sixty years of age, and most of us had serious medical weaknesses. The consequences were in deed worrisome.
After I regained my composure from being told there would be no touching, my first thought was “We’re all going to die anyway.” I don’t want to live my life in voluntary seclusion. I get energy from being with people. In my childhood I spent days, sometimes weeks, confined to a bed and wondering about what my friends were doing in school or at play. Over my lifetime I have learned to adapt when I needed to be hospitalized but, I never learned to enjoy social distancing.
I also have considerable experience being told I would not live long. At a young age I not only knew I was going to die, I thought it would happen soon. I’ve meditated on my own death, a spiritual practice that help me gain some perspective on my minuteness in this world. I’ve developed a rather cynical sense of humor. I’ve recently read “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory,” It’s a book I recommend. The author, Caitlin Doughty is on a mission. She also has a blog and a podcast because she is serious about normalizing death or as she puts it, “Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety and terror of modern culture are not.”
It still astonishes me when I’m confronted with death deniers. I chuckle at folks who believe that mid-life is age fifty. In a way, I understand. My imagination isn’t broad enough to fully comprehend a world where I do not exist even if I know that will happen. Knowing I will die sooner rather than later leads me to think about what I want to do while I am still alive. It does not make me want to crawl under the bedcovers.
What startled me last week escalated into a swirling vortex of anxiety as more and more friends began expressing concern when I said I intended to do little to protect myself from getting the virus. Peer pressure has made me reevaluate my attitudes. So yes, I am taking precautions now.
I’ve always been a planner, trying to anticipate what could go wrong and taking steps in and attempt to prevent injury. At the same time I recognize the limitations of any plan. To quote President Eisenhower, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
The only thing I can have the possibility of controlling is my mind and that is challenge enough for me. The worrier in me wonders about random things. All of the presidential candidates are in the high risk category. What will happen if they all die? What will happen if all the children are asymptomatic but infect their caregivers? How many sick people will hospitals be able to help before they become over burdened and can not accept any more patients?
“Breathe,” I tell myself with a bit of sarkiness, “while you still can.”
Hallelujah! I have lived more than seventy years and it has been mostly a great life, full of love, and caring. Perhaps it would be for the best if vast numbers of we old people and those with weakened immune systems did die off. Would it help to save the planet, at least temporarily? Would it give the younger generation a chance to do a better job than we have?
“In the end these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?”
— Jack Kornfield, Buddha’s Little Instruction Book