By Maggie Shandera Linden | Special to CalMatters
Until recently, Baby Boomers were being hailed as the generation redefining what it meant to grow older in America – “60 is the new 40” and all that. Now we’re an “at-risk population,” members of that “older, compromised generation” everyone’s so worried about in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guess what? We’re worried too.
The first week at home my doctor called asking how I was. I told her I gyrated between abject terror, mad cleaning, cooking, binge reading, binge watching and then, at night, back to abject terror.
She set me straight: Her family, she said, were all doctors; they wish they had the time to cook, clean and read! Take that you selfish twit, I thought to myself!
So now, going into our second month of staying home, when so many are experiencing the horror of COVID-19’s reality and what it means to live with it and in fear of it, I’ve begun to reflect on how I’m coping and what I’m learning. My grandchildren, 17 and 20, love using the “OK, Boomer” epithet. So here goes, kids. I give you 10 Truths from a quarantined boomer:
- The terror is real. I know I’m lucky: I’m retired, live on California’s Central Coast and, so far, the contagion seems mild here. But we only have three small hospitals which, if we get a surge, would be quickly overwhelmed. At 72, with a heart condition, I’m one of those at-risk souls who, if the virus came for me, would face an uphill battle beating it. Every time New York Andrew Cuomo – our new hero – says that 80% of folks never come off that ventilator, I head for the valium. Literally.
- Being alone during an enforced isolation deepens your loneliness. Married twice and lucky enough to have comfortably retired near my only daughter with two grandchildren, I’ve not wanted anyone to live with for years. Why would I need a someone else in my space, my life, my bed? My family shops for me, I see them when they drop off food, they drive by for mask-covered conversation. But right now, I so envy my friends who live with their partners, husbands or lovers. Having someone you can safely hug when you need it or someone to help calm the terrors of the night seems such a gift.
- Talking helps. And texting isn’t talking.When Alexa is the onlyother person in the house who speaks English, the days are longer. My cat’s English skills are limited – although, he’s pretty adept at reading me. But listen up everyone: TEXTING isn’t talking. I need to hear real My generation didn’t grow up with hand-held devices. Talking means picking up the phone and having a conversation. It’s the human contact we cherish right now.
- Religion, however you define it, is important. Raised a liberal, casual Presbyterian, I haven’t been a churchgoer in years. But many of my friends take great comfort in the teachings and the ritual that organized religion brings – even if it’s over the internet. Getting together to worship tempts the common sense God gave us; but tapping into faith, spirituality – whatever your belief system is – offers comfort in how you cope with this virus.
- What to do about my hair is an actual thing.When I was young, my mother said: “My dear, never forget grey hair makes a man look distinguished and a woman old!” I – and millions of my sisters – embraced that … until COVID. Now our hair is betraying us, getting too long, showing its true colors and we are experimenting with barrettes, bobby pins, baseball caps … anything to hide a situation we are slow to accept. Grey will not be my new black!
- I want to help but feel so helpless.My generation thrived on action. Protest a war, plan a march, save the earth, run for office. Now, when so many make daily, dangerous sacrifices, it pains me to sit idly while others carry the burden. I’d volunteer at a food bank, or help the homeless or distribute food to children … but my pre-existing condition prohibits that. I amcooking for neighbors who I check on; donating to charities and ordering take-out from local restaurants, but not being able to do more is damning.
- My disdain for the federal government is total. When we were young, some brilliant scientists developed a vaccine in the form of a sugar cube that could cure the terrible scourge of polio. Then, the government made sure every single person in the country went to their local high school gym and stood in line for a public health professional to give them that sugar cube: the result: we eradicated polio. The federal government can fight this too. Our national leaders in the 1950s and 60s didn’t say that’s the “job of the governors” because it did require the whole of government to win that war. And, really, how were we caught so flat-footed? I read, I listen, I pay attention. In early February I ordered 100 face masks from Amazon. To think this administration who gets security briefings more sophisticated than local news didn’t order PPEs until March, while still sending masks to China, is unfathomable.
- Empathy, sympathy and concern for your fellow men and women is paramount.At some time in my life every one of the men (sigh) who were our president evidenced an understanding, empathy and, yes, love for the citizens he had led. Think President George W. Bush after 9/11; President Lyndon Johnson after 11/22/63, President Barack Obama singing “Amazing Grace”. But not this guy. He only expresses concern for our dead or first responders when he begins his press events reading from prepared notes. Once he begins his riffs on whatever personal grievances he has for the day, concern for suffering Americans seems to vanish. Leaders need to care –and mean it.
- Despair is dangerous.New predictions scare me. If compromised individuals who are old like me have to stay in for months; if we can’t participate in things that matter to us – social interaction, play, travel, community, family we can hug and kiss – then perhaps Scrooge’s observation “that we best be quick about dying to decrease the surplus population” is a real and growing possibility. And that’s when deep despair begins to creep in. But we mustn’t go there.
- Because the only real antidote to despair is HOPE.So how is this Boomer? I continue to be hopeful. Sometime early in the pandemic, I got a chain letter – which we all hate – asking for a quote to consider during our isolation. Mine: Eleanor Roosevelt: “Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”For now, that candle continues to burn, and it is what holds me back from the darkness.
A dear friend and her lover live in New York City. They both have the coronavirus. They’re not in the hospital but holding on to hope and each other as they battle it every day. I’m so much luckier than they. And they have hope. And every day the sun comes up and I can walk outside.
So, for now, this Boomer will – as another one of our icon’s once said – keep on keepin’ on.
Maggie Shandera Linden is a former executive vice president for Ogilvy Public Relations and a former advisor for three California Assembly Speakers, Maggie.pol@Icloud.com. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.
The author wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.