April 12, 2020

Coping with COVID in the Age of Ken

A Blog for Easter

By Kenneth Ring, Ph.D.

I don’t ZOOM. Hell, at 84 and with a severe case of spinal stenosis, I can barely walk these days. An outing for me -- or perhaps I should say, an inning -- involves my roaming, although usually with a sudden sense of urgency, from my office to my bathroom, where, needless to say, bathing is not my objective. These days, frankly, it is not even possible any longer. The last time I tried to bathe, I noticed that though I could descend into the tub, I could no longer arise. This led to a certainly perplexity, which was followed by a piercing cry for help I later discovered had emanated from my own throat. Fortunately, a neighbor to whom I had presciently given a key to my house heard my piteous wail of distress and rescued me from my watery predicament. Of course, I tried to conceal my privates and prevent them from becoming public, but was told in no uncertain but still in unnecessarily harsh terms, I thought, that given what I was fruitlessly attempting to hide wasn't worth the trouble. It was even intimated that a whole hand would not be necessary; a mere thumb would do.

But I digress. Last I looked I was discussing my failure at ZOOMing. Actually, failure is a bit too severe a term since I never even tried to ZOOM my way through the virus. After all, though I don’t think my mug is unsightly (even if I no longer seem to score high on the ogle meter), why should I think my friends would like to waste their eyes looking at the decrepit old wreck that I've become? Since many have not seen me for a long time -- and then there are quite a few of my "friends" from here and abroad I have made without their ever having met me in person -- I prefer that they remember or imagine me as I was during my prime rather than in my currently definitely sub-prime years. Visually, then, "I vant to be alone." Let me exist simply in the form of words on a screen that conceals my face. Even old men have their vanity.

But all this jejune folderol is really beside the point, which despite what it may seem, I actually have one in mind. It’s about not just how I am coping with the virus (I will get to that), but what thoughts living under the COVID cloud have occasioned in me.

For one thing, the pandemic has expanded time while it has also shrunk my horizon. And I'm sure what's true for me has been true for many. I mean, consider: Before the pandemic hit with its mandatory requirements for self-isolation, most people were busy with their lives out in the world. People, like all primates, are not only social animals but we are busy creatures and when we are busy, time flies. But now that we are immured in our houses or apartments, time has slowed to a crawl. Figuratively speaking, we have time on our hands now. What to do with all that time?

Of course, most people -- I do not include myself here -- are creative. My son, for example, tells me he is now trying to master the art of making baguettes. But since he is not French, good luck, Dave!  At least it keeps him occupied. And apparently many people have found this a propitious time to reorganize their kitchens (even I did that) or their closets (forget it). More creative types have been busy sending out sheets of surplus toilet paper full of humor, anecdotes, poetry and feel good stories. And then our inboxes are now groaning under the weight of podcasts, videos, essays, blogs (guilty!) in sufficient daily quantities to result, if we are not careful, with our eyes becoming permanently yoked to our screens. A writer friend of mine, who also works with clients on their own books, informs me her business is now booming because the pandemic has freed up so much time that everyone is writing a book or threatening to (not guilty!). The pandemic may be bad for our health, but it is apparently doing wonders for our creativity.

On the other hand, it is, as I have claimed, also narrowing our horizon. What I mean is that, once you stop watching TV (which I recommend), you wind up watching yourself, as it were. The outside world, from which we have been cut off, reduces to our own little world, to ourselves, to our petty concerns and trials. As if we weren’t already self-involved as it was, but now narcissism is having a field day. L'etat, c'est moi.

I certainly notice this in my own case, which is why I referenced "the age of Ken" in the title to this blog. But since I am also "of an age," that phrase has a double meaning. As I have already mentioned, surely to the point of tedium to some of my readers, I am not only old but decrepit and infirm. Virtually every morning when I awaken, I realize I have made an error. Why should I continue to live in a body that is clearly long past its expiration date? I am apparently doomed because I have a high bilirubin count, which seems to be associated with longevity. My dad died at 41, and I have always regretted his early death and have mourned and missed him for most of my long life. Now I think he was one of the lucky ones since he was spared the torments of old age. I joke with my girlfriend, Lauren, who is currently spending time taking care of me and without whom I am convinced I would soon perish, that I am fighting my own pandemic, old age, against which there is no cure. But the pandemic that the world is facing is just causing me to become preoccupied with my own troubles.

Who cares, Ken? They are trivial in the scheme of things. You think billions of people who have already lived and died or who are still living, haven’t experienced what you are, and far worse? What you are going through is simply par for the course if the course happens to extend far beyond the 19th hole.

But that, you see, is the point I have been driving toward, despite these jocular asides. Because of the pandemic, it's easy, even if you are not old but in the spring of your life and not its winter, to turn to your own pursuits and problems -- and to forget the world in which you are living now. And what is that world? Well, a good part of it is that a lot of people -- many hundreds of thousands, if not millions -- have become sick, and many of these have already died. And although the eventual totals may prove to be fewer than the alarming figures that were originally forecast, many more will become ill or die. Not just their lives but the lives of their families will be upended and in some cases ruined beyond restoration. Death leaves a hole in families that can never be filled.

And what about all the health care workers who have been forced both by duty and compassion to attend the sick and dying, risking and in many cases losing their own lives in order to help to save others, or even if not succumbing themselves, becoming infected and sick? How many such people throughout the world have had to deal with these energy-draining duties, day after day, sacrificing themselves, if necessary, for the sake of others?

And what about all the people -- millions, just in our own country -- who now find themselves out of work? They don’t have time to organize their closets. Many of them are wondering where to get their next meal or how they are ever going to manage without financial ruin. Not to get too political -- but at my age, what do I care what people think? -- but this country in my opinion already had been in deep decay, with so much poverty, so many homeless people, so much suicide, so many addicted to and dying from opioids, and so on -- long before the pandemic struck. And now this on top of everything else? It is almost unbearable to think about the sheer quantity of suffering that people have had to endure in recent years, now compounded manifold because of the pandemic. How do such people cope with this?

Added to this are just the more ordinary burdens that many people, especially families with children or elderly loved ones at home (or worrying about their elderly relatives in nursing homes or old age residences), have been forced to shoulder -- how hard their lives must be. Parents going nuts with their kids underfoot all day, trying to keep them entertained or getting them to do their online learning from school, trying to figure out meals, desperate to find time to rest, wondering how long this will go on?

But I don't need to go on, do I? I trust I've made my point.

In our understandable concern for ourselves, let us not forget the wider world of which we are an inseparable part. Truly, we are all connected, we are indeed one, we are part of the whole, and our collective identity as humanity itself and what it is going through now must never be allowed, not just to be forgotten, but felt! Let us remember who we really are beyond the porous boundaries of our own egos and physical bodies. We are all those who are suffering and dying as well as those who are striving to make this a better world when at last the COVID cloud will lift, the sun will shine again on our lives, and we can finally wipe away our tears.

1 comment:

  1. Brian Anthony KraemerApril 15, 2020 at 12:39 PM

    Ken, I am always grateful for your words. I so appreciate your good humor even in the midst of what we call dying. A few years ago, an uncle of mine, my Uncle Dan, when facing death from pancreatic cancer said, "We're all going to die. Now is just as good a time as any other." I don't think I'll ever forget those words. I'm 56 now. You are the same age as my father. It's been difficult to watch my father's physical decline, but not nearly as difficult as for him to experience it. I can only hope that I might have the grace to approach death with half the courage and strength that my father and your generation has. It is only because of your many books on near-death experiences and other authors' writings on out-of-body experiences, after-death communications, reincarnation examples, and the like, that I am able to enjoy each moment for what it holds, eternity. I am grateful for your friendship and I am grateful for your words. I hope you will be typing out your thoughts and experiences as long as it gives you pleasure. If it's even literarily possible to be with you in the closing paragraphs of your life, I want to be there with you.