Staying alive: Pandemic 2020

05/06/2020

“And now it’s all right. It’s okay.

And you may look the other way.

We can try to understand

The New York Times’ effect on man.

 

“Whether you’re a brother

Or whether you’re a mother,

You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”

— Bee Gees, 1977

 

I have the amazingly good fortune of being alive. I’m 84. More than half the people who were born in 1935, the year of my birth, are gone. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but as I age, my personal mortality has become an increasingly ever-present fact of daily life. Having survived two bouts of life-threatening cancer—the first was when I was 45 and the most recent was 30 years later, when I was 75—I live my life as though there might be no tomorrow. That’s not to say that I don’t plan for the future; I most certainly do. But at the same time, I do my best to live every day in the present. Every day that I am still alive is a gift and—every action is important. 

All we can be sure of is that we are present today, in the here and now, and every moment is precious. Tempus fugit. There’s no time to waste being anxious, miserable, scared or wasteful. And, it’s also okay to do nothing, to take a rest and just be. Maybe taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon? Having a siesta is a really good thing. Or a cuppa’ at 3:30? Very civilized things to do. Being just at home for the past couple of months with the days just running on, one after another and seeing people on Zoom, I find that if I just stop and take a whole day of rest—say, from sundown on Friday until the first stars come out on Saturday night—my entire week makes a lot more sense.

I just finished reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man's Search for Meaning,” which I should have read years ago. First published in 1946, Frankl recounts his horrific years in the concentration camps during the war, during which time he developed and refined his psychoanalytic theory, logotherapy. Frankl posits that the primary motivation of humankind is not the pleasure principle, as described by Freud, or the will to power, according to Adler, but instead the will to meaning—the desire and motivation to live a meaningful life with purpose, despite the pain, suffering and loss we all experience.

I have the good fortune to live where I do and to be around people of every age. Now, of course, since the middle of March, I haven’t been around people at all, of any age. The coronavirus of 2020 has changed everything. I wasn’t alive for the flu epidemic of 1918 but I clearly remember infantile paralysis—the polio outbreaks of the 1940s and ‘50s and the iron lungs that were needed to keep people alive when they couldn’t breathe on their own. 

Living as long as I have and with my memory—gratefully, mostly—still intact, I have the benefit of hindsight. I have memories of the Great Depression and the scarcity of goods and services during the war years. Unlike today’s younger generations that grew up with an abundance of goods and services and easily replaceable and disposable new products every season, I hang on to old stuff—to a fault. I buy practical items and classic styles. And I don’t wear my newest clothes or use my best dishes because I am saving them for a “special occasion.” Some of my nicest clothing items stay hanging in the closet and my good dishes remain put away in the sideboard. 

Well, you wanna know something? I’m changing things. One thing I’ve been doing during this pandemic season is taking the time to throw out some of my old stuff—stuff that I’ve been hanging onto for no good reason (except that I tell myself that someday I might wind up missing them or needing them). I’m taking my good dishes out of the cabinet and using them every day, even if I’m eating most of my meals alone until this godforsaken social isolation business is over.

 

Suzanne Sadowsky has lived in the San Geronimo Valley since 1975.