It’s tempting to view 2020 as a lost year — unbearably sad, politically divisive and rife with disasters.
But last Sunday I turned 65, a natural time to reflect on one’s life and consider what the future may hold. And I’m not ready to throw in the towel on an entire year, even if COVID-19 has halted so much of what Americans enjoy about life.
The death toll of 200,000 is staggering, and knowing it will continue to climb is truly unnerving. That Wyoming is isolated and has the second-lowest loss of life in the nation — 49 people at this writing — is of no solace.
The fact we’ve had no national or state day of mourning is astounding to me. So is the lack of a coherent national policy for fighting the pandemic. The hodge-podge of individual state responses — each assembled on the fly — is only prolonging our collective pain and grief. The inconsistent, often self-contradictory messaging tweeted from the White House has neutered the science, eroded the trust and shattered the national unity we need to mount a viable defense.
How on earth is wearing a mask to protect others’ lives a red or blue issue?
I like to think that if my 21-year-old self had faced such a health crisis, I would have unquestionably taken such precautions. Then again, I remember celebrating my 21st birthday watching ZZ Top at the UW Fieldhouse in Laramie, standing a few yards in front of the speakers like an idiot for the entire show.
I walked out of the arena stunned to see people’s mouths move without being able to hear a word they were saying. They weren’t kidding when they billed themselves as the loudest band in the world. Luckily, my hearing returned in about 12 hours.
So when I see footage of college kids partying, I get it: Young people feel they’re indestructible, regardless of era. Still, during a health crisis that has closed many campuses in favor of distance learning, I wish students would understand their behavior is putting everyone at risk.
Including me. I check most of the high-risk factors for coronavirus. I’m old, have had a stroke and heart surgery and I’m diabetic. Throw in chronic depression and it’s quite a mix. I have no one to blame but myself for two other factors: I’m overweight and don’t exercise much.
In addition to wondering how many years I have left to accomplish what I want to do, my thoughts frequently turn to what I miss most about pre-pandemic life.
I love being on the open road wherever my work takes me in Wyoming. Usually it’s to legislative committee meetings. That may sound boring to most people — and they often are — but watching people we’ve elected wade through the process of crafting laws and public policies can also be fascinating.
Except when it’s done, like it is now, over Zoom from people’s homes and offices instead of in person. Then it becomes mind-numbingly dull. A few legislators I’ve talked to think so, too.
Like most people, what I yearn for most is a return to “normalcy,” however it’s defined. For me, that means going to a restaurant, movie theater or concert without being afraid of catching COVID-19. Those things are off the list of activities for my wife and I, as is visiting our son in Colorado.
He is extremely worried about us getting ill, and I understand his fear. Scenes on the news of patients on ventilators who die without being able to say goodbye to loved ones are the saddest scenarios I can imagine.
I visit my 86-year-old father every day, and while he is in reasonably good health, I can’t keep him from making his regular cookies-and-Pepsi runs to Walmart. He hates wearing masks, but reluctantly complies.
It’s not because he thinks he’s indestructible; he knows all too well how aches and pains intensify as we age. He is a Vietnam veteran, but thinks the pandemic is the worst thing he’s ever seen. That says a lot about 2020.
The last six months have largely been defined by loss. Perhaps, though, the losses have helped many recognize the power of things we previously took for granted, like simply interacting in person with friends and strangers. If and when life does return to normal, hopefully everyday activities like work, attending school and gathering in restaurants with friends will be newly appreciated.
Reaching the age that used to be known as the beginning of “senior” status is something I can’t yet grasp. So far the only impact I’ve felt has been the transition from Obamacare to Medicare, which I’m grateful to have. Thanks, LBJ! The fact our nation guarantees healthcare for people who as a group need it most affirms why I chose to be a life-long Democrat. But it should be available to everyone.
Our country is politically polarized beyond what I ever thought imaginable, and sometimes I don’t know if I can keep my sanity until Election Day. Every day seems to bring a new conflict or scandal or natural disaster, and it’s easy to be disheartened. The only remedy I see is to make sure everyone votes, and hope the nation as a whole accepts the results.
If we don’t unite soon to defeat COVID and end racial injustice, I fear for the worst in our society. Our democracy is at stake.
The pandemic has led to much economic strife in Wyoming, where state government was already reeling from the loss of mineral tax revenue. I’d like to say we’ll find solutions, but I’m not feeling confident about the outcome. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel yet, and it’s frustrating that many of our elected leaders don’t seem to grasp the severity of the state’s fiscal problems.
So here’s my birthday request: Please vote for people with new ideas.
In the meantime, as we all wait for a vaccine, it’s helpful to focus on ways that life can improve during the pandemic. I hope to be living proof that it’s possible.
My wife is using our self-imposed isolation to make our meals at home and upgrade my diet. After staying off the links for 20 years, I’ve also taken up golf again. I’m still a duffer, but getting out and enjoying the sunshine is a great treat, though undoubtedly a royal pain for anyone who has the misfortune to get stuck in the foursome behind me.
Nearly 15 years after quadruple bypass surgery, I’ve been worried that the warranty on my heart is about to expire. For weeks I dreaded a trip to a cardiologist and the battery of tests that followed, certain that I’d have to go under the knife again.
I was shocked to hear that my ticker is still in prime working order. In fact, the doctor said if she hadn’t known I’d had surgery, she wouldn’t have believed it.
“Are you sure they were looking at your chart?” my wife asked. Yes, I am, and the news was the best birthday present I’ve ever received.
The risk of COVID is ever present, of course, and the only tools we have to rely on to keep healthy are masks, social distancing and making good decisions about where we go. But I can see a future when life starts to look like it used to. Whatever year it happens, I will use a good portion of that time to see every concert I can afford to attend.
And if ZZ Top plays anywhere near Cheyenne, I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll be the geezer in the back row, wearing earplugs and a smile on my face.