Octo Observations: Role Models for Tough Times

As 2020 dawned full of promise only a few short months ago, no American would have predicted the rapid, rampant impact of Covid-19. No one would have predicted how fast our daily lives could be upended.  Not since the Spanish Flu following WWI or the polio epidemic of the 1940s have we Americans been tested to this degree by an illness. I am reminded of Thomas Paine’s wise words from The American Crisis: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” 

Suddenly, we Americans are jolted out of complacency. We, who have smugly assumed our sophisticated medical advances would keep us safe, are rocked into a new reality. We, who have led relatively carefree lives, are now altering our daily existence. To me, this is a magnified 2020 version of 9/11, but infinitely more pervasive. The fear of the unknown lurks inside each of us. We don’t know for sure when it will stop or who among our loved ones may be stricken.

A new virus that began last December (or before) in Wuhan, China, and a virus that we thought would never touch our shores, found its way to Seattle. Now it has penetrated all 50 states. Businesses are shut down. Families are scrambling to manage school and business closings. Restaurants and bars are closing, along with sporting events and Broadway shows. The list is endless. Breadwinners are laid off, or, at best, asked to work from home, creating inconvenience and increased worry.  Colleges and schools are closing for the duration of the semester. Some young people are annoyed. Students are being sent home to learn online. Teachers are scrambling to care for every age group. Travel is restricted. And solutions are oblique. Even unnecessary surgeries are postponed. EVERYONE is affected. And no one is immune to this frightening phenomenon.

As a significantly senior citizen, living in a semi-lockdown retirement facility (no visitors), no group activities, I feel compelled to seek positivity in this untoward adventure. 

What can I do to help someone else feel better? What can I do to calm the worries others may have about family well being, oneself,  friends and neighbors?  How can I possibly, in a very tiny way, “make lemonade out of lemons?” Most likely very little, if anything. But I can share a social distancing smile as I walk. I can pick up the phone to one of our fellow self-isolated residents. I can try to be extra kind to everyone on our retirement community campus who are working so hard to keep us safe. I can email or call a friend or grandchild living in the far west, New York City, Connecticut, and other precarious places. I can post upbeat thoughts on Facebook. I can support the tireless efforts of our medical, healthcare, and government workers who are trying to keep citizens safe. And I can talk daily to God.

Each day as this country grasps the gravity of the far-reaching virulent virus, we see elevated fears among many people. We hear and read incessant  political divisiveness. And my response, is “How would YOU do it better? How would YOU rewrite an archaic pandemic plan in a few hours? How would YOU feel if you were sleeping barely two or three hours each night? How would YOU feel if you were carrying the weight of the world, figuratively, on your shoulders? 

Regardless of how you will vote in November, we each have the responsibility to put aside our personal feelings and pull together. Personalities are different. We are free to like some and dislike others. So for now at least, let’s eschew personal bias and support all those who are exerting a herculean effort to help us through this stinky, awful time.

Okay, enough sermonizing. Obviously I am no minister. Each of us is trying to find our new normal. Sunday morning, while listening via radio to our talented organist play hymns of grace and peace and our minister preach a compelling sermon to an empty church, I inhaled words of peace and understanding found in scripture. I know I am called to be a better person. Only I can  control my attitude. I  must try harder to reach out to others and overcome my own worries. My husband John needs me more than ever. Being the 24/7 caretaker for my sweet husband these days offers opportunities to acquire extra strength, additional understanding. We know this won’t last forever, and I am determined not to cave to potential anxiety or depression without a fight. Little daily chats with God help.

On March 11, our Seattle Susie daughter was exposed  by a co-worker soon diagnosed with Covid-19. This reality brings the virus that much closer to home. Long distance chats help. So far so good, and our family is grateful. Yesterday Susie related that her Washington State college senior son wrote a letter for his older sister to give her boss. In it, Brad cited 25 documented reasons why his sister and all employees should work from home. (She is an asthmatic born with only one kidney.) Our granddaughter’s boss accepted the letter, and now all work is done at home…a beautiful example of sibling love.

Gradually we see an emergence of positivity, more random acts of kindness, and increased brotherly love. Each day it feels as if most Americans as well as people everywhere are re-prioritizing  their lives. And each day we are hearing uplifting stories of courage, sacrifice and incredible endurance by our health care workers, our first responders and our scientific researchers….Heroes of the highest order. As someone recently said, “we are each able to be first responders, by our own acts of kindness  to someone in need.” I love the video of Italians standing on their balconies, singing in concert.

I love how governors from New York, California, New Jersey, California, Florida and many others are putting the health of their citizens’ first. A true fact from Governor Andrew Cuomo spoken in a news conference two days ago: he announced that of all the corona cases in New York City, 54% of sick people are in the 18-49 age group. Startling….and how about those who are as yet undiagnosed yet carriers? He also shared this personal story that from an early age he taught his children the theory of “risk versus reward.” I love it that his own daughter, now a college senior banned from returning to classes or graduating in a traditional ceremony, made her own decision NOT to go on Spring Break to the beaches with her friends. I love how one of my own college age granddaughters cancelled her Spring Break plans to bask on a Florida beach and head home instead. It feels as if the ME-FIRST generation is hearing a wake-up call.  One day, many of them will become heroes.

Special kudos to Dr. Anthony Fauci, now 79 years old. A tireless doctor worthy of title as Man of the Year. He is a hero of the highest order. He speaks with articulate patience and intelligence. Daily he reminds us of drug research progress taking place. He readily admits that as more people are tested, the numbers will rise. He never wavers in his belief that however long it takes, a vaccine and more imminently, an antiviral treatment will emerge. Our medical experts will not stop. They are working 27/7 in tandem with private sector companies. Dr. Fauci is a hero. His endurance secret? As a former marathoner, each day he factors exercise into his frenetic schedule…now in the form of brisk walking.

A few weeks ago our son and his wife who live in Westport, Connecticut, before it was virtually shut down, shared dinner with dear friends. During the 80s, the husband, an epidemiologist, studied under Dr. Fauci at Yale. Even at that time, this man was an incredible force in the field of infectious disease. His emerging reputation was flawless, admirable, and respected. Little did Sam and Joan realize that their doctor friend Jeremy had personal experience with a man who is now leading our nation’s battle against the coronavirus.

Early in the epidemic as Seattle cases multiplied and my concerns for our daughter and family living in its epicenter increased, I suggested to my husband that we  seek diversion with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, about the children’s TV show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. As John and I became absorbed in the movie, we kept looking at each other and smiling. Our children watched Mr. Rogers, although some more than others and probably not as faithfully as they did Captain Kangaroo. Tom Hanks portrayed the gentle, kindly Mr. Rogers to a tee. At that time, I wondered what soothing words Mr. Rogers would say to little children during this unfortunate crisis.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson at the 5th Biennial Stand Up To Cancer held at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, USA on September 9, 2016.

 After viewing the movie, we learned that Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, were diagnosed in Australia with the coronavirus. Their positive approach to the illness adds to a heroic image. Thankfully, they are recovering well.

The following morning, as my husband slept extra hours, I viewed several YouTube videos about the real Mr. Rogers. Now I understand how his upbringing as an only child, dearly loved by parents and grandparents, became the genesis of a forty-year career devoted to helping children feel good about themselves. Blessed with a soft and kindly personality, Mr. Rogers taught invaluable lessons via music, puppets, and gentle discourse. 

From his mother, Fred Rogers learned to “look for the helpers” in case of trouble. Those words resonate. Living in a retirement facility for us elderly residents, I am awed by the selfless “helpers” who work from dawn to dusk to keep us safe. They are unsung heroes and heroines.

Our chief in charge, Michael, and his administrative and medical team give daily briefings for all of us via closed circuit TV channels. We are also afforded call-in questions and answers. This week, with all dining rooms closed, we are receiving personally delivered meals. Social distancing is tantamount. As of ten days ago, recreational activities, fitness center, pool, movies, library access have been closed til further notice. Even couples (when one spouse lives in health care or memory unit) are forbidden to see one another. Only exception is  a visit with a hospice patient expected to live less than five days. Can you imagine how that would feel? One 90 year-old friend of ours has spent six hours each day for the last eight years with his wife in the memory unit. She has advanced Alzheimer’s. When I called Bob a few days ago, he reported, “This is so hard, but at least I can see her pretty face on Skype, and today she smiled back at me.”

Most people are adhering to the restrictions. Yet, according to Michael’s latest report, a few folks ignore the rules by gathering in each other’s apartments. I saw a disappointing example two weeks ago. After  entering the elevator to fetch our dinners,  I watched a woman ignore the posted notice and use her index finger. In response to my “we have been asked to use a knuckle on all elevator buttons,” she looked defiantly at me. “Well, “ she said, “I have always done it this way and I am not changing.” 

Later that evening as I stewed up a storm, I wrote an email to Michael. His response was prompt and grateful, followed by a stronger message the next day to residents: “behavior matters.” Apparently, even in a well-managed facility like ours, there are a few who believe the rules apply only to others. Sad, but true. These people, obviously, are not our heroes.

Thomas Paine was an early American hero. He, like so many others, set invaluable examples. The list of 18th Century heroes is long and extraordinarily impressive. Every era has its own heroic figures. To count them all would be impossible. Yet, opportunities to be heroic, even on the tiniest scale, are  limitless. We each are blessed with that chance to make a difference in some infinitesimal way. As our first President of the United States once said, “The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph.”

More recently the late poet and writer Maya Angelo wrote, “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for ALL people.” So…….let’s each one of us seize a chance to lighten the load of this pandemic for even one or two people in our lives.

Stay Safe. Stay Strong… and remember that “this too shall pass,” or as President Kennedy’s father Joseph P. Kennedy said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Photos: Bigstock