The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
I’m 79. That sounds a lot older than I feel. I still have the perk and humor of bygone days when I made my way as a teacher and business owner. I just don’t look like I feel now. Even my formerly trusty mirror won’t lie anymore.
However, I am ensconced in my little apartment for the duration of this virus, an ill-wind blowing across the nation and the world. So, no matter how I look, feel, or my actual age, it makes little difference. Like many in their antique years, I feel boxed up as I stare out my window and look at a world not open to me, due to edict and common sense. In the meantime, mealtime is for one.
I do not ordinarily think of myself as lonely. Aside from 25 years of marriage, now only a dim memory, I’ve spent the rest of my life living by myself in house or rental, always enjoying the freedom to come and go as it pleased me. My usual stimulating social life, being active in church, keeping my body toned and ready at the gym, and many a jolly time with friends in coffee shops and cafes, has taken a hiatus. My signal event of the day is my big trip to the mailbox.
However, to have to stay alone to stay safe is new and not so easy. I have plenty and good books to read, classics mostly, subscriptions to newspapers, PBS, CNN, and writing projects scattered about my table. It sounds like a lot, and it is if I could have some people around me occasionally to cut the gnawing sense of mental emptiness and fatigue that makes the bed and couch more inviting than the computer or book. And then there is the clock. It moves inexorably slow when most I want it to show some dash and pick up the pace.
I guess the lesson I am beginning to come to grips with, and I am sure many are in the same position, is that people need people. Folks of 70 years and greater already have unexpected indignities to deal with, like crinkling skin, a retreat in eye and ear, and a lost bounce in their gate. But what is missing now is a measure of emotion that other people can bring to soften all of that. We like to know someone is nearby and feel their presence.
I’ve heard it said that solitary confinement is a special sort of abuse used to control men in prison. I can see it, and although this is far from that in my apartment interior, with my gaze catching the many entertainments I have to tend my time, it does give me pause to consider the horrible effects that four hard walls, and nothing but, would take from a person’s spirit.
I’ve read that over 1 billion people are now in some form of social separation because of the coronavirus. This is a world built on connectivity, face to face, where laughter can be contagious and a gentle touch can stir well-being, not the isolation of 6 feet of space. Maybe all these smartphones and the vast array of electronic devices are but training for a new world of no-touch.
I wonder, after the danger is passed and personal contact is permitted or at least tolerated, will I more vigorously glom onto my family and friends, knowing how tenuous is the hold of such? And will I begin a new way, a different chapter, ever more appreciating what there is to love among my fellows, a fellowship of the heart that I miss dearly.
Ronald Lancaster is a retired teacher and business owner living in Tucson.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!