"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Friday, February 25, 2022

The Re-entry Cold

      I've developed a terrible disease. No, it's not Covid. I've been careful with the masks. I've taken all the vaccinations, avoided crowded indoor spaces.

     But there's another disease out there. And we are all vulnerable, especially since we've masked ourselves away from the usual bugs and germs that live in our environment. It's the simple, old-fashioned cold.

     The background: In February we came to Charleston, SC, to visit children and grandchildren. The kids have been careful. They have all been vaccinated. The grandchildren don't even go to the playground for fear of being exposed to Covid. They do go to preschool, but both teachers and kids wear masks.

     However these grandchildren are age two and four. And if you know anything about two and four year olds, you know they have runny noses. Pretty much all the time.

     So my wife is wiping their noses. And pretty soon she's wiping her own nose -- and coughing and hacking and feeling terrible. She tested for Covid, but the results were negative. Just a cold. She spent three or four days confined to the house, two of them never even getting out of bed. It was the worst cold she'd had in ... well, she couldn't remember when. She's mostly better now. But it's been two weeks, and she's still coughing.

     When she came down with the cold I took no chances. I moved into the guest bedroom. I used a different bathroom. I washed my hands about every ten minutes. Just maybe I could avoid getting this disease.

     But still, we ate dinner together, watched TV together, and when she started getting better we spent some time together in the car. And sure enough, by last Wednesday I could feel something. By Thursday I knew I had the cold. But it wasn't too bad. Sometimes, we thought, the second person in the household to catch the cold doesn't get it as bad.

    Wishful thinking. I spent Saturday in bed, popping DayQuil and listening to my wife cough in the distance. On Sunday I could barely move. My throat was raw from coughing. My head ached from the fluid in my sinuses. It was horrible.

     I thought I might have turned the corner by Monday. But then ... why couldn't I muster the energy to roll out of bed? I couldn't eat a thing. I tried to drink water. You're supposed to drink water. Man, I felt like I was drowning.

     Now it's the end of the week. I am finally starting to feel a little better -- just in time to go home. I feel like I wasted a good portion of my vacation -- didn't see the grandchildren for a week -- and of course the days I was in bed were the days when the sun finally came out and temperatures started to climb into the low 70s.

     Was this a particularly virulent strain of the cold virus? Maybe. But we wonder if all our social isolation, all our mask wearing, meant that for two years we were never exposed to any germs. Our immune systems were out of practice. They forgot how to respond to a normal, common virus. So when a garden variety cold comes along, we are sitting ducks. We have nothing to fight off the virus. And we were laid low.

     The consolation is that now, hopefully, our immune svstems are back in shape. We've had our re-entry cold. Now we're ready for real life when we'll be exposed -- and able to fight off -- the normal germs and common colds.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

We Are Old But Are We Wise?

      Older people are supposed to be wise. I think our current crop of seniors has lost some of that reputation -- partly because many older people don't keep up with technology. Younger people make fun of us for not knowing how to work the newest gizmo in the car, for not following the latest social media site.

     We don't know the hippest trends in fashion, movies or music. Were you familiar with the entertainers who sang at the Superbowl? Even stodgy old IBM is reportedly pushing out older workers, calling them "Dinobabies."

     Of course young people probably made fun of their elders back in caveman days for not embracing the newest styles in cave art, and not appreciating the latest design in spears and clubs. But the pace of change is so much faster now. Skills become outmoded. Attitudes become set in stone.

     But does wisdom really involve keeping up with the latest trends? What do you think it takes to achieve wisdom, to be wise?

     I think a wise person first and foremost provides perspective. Older people see things in the context of a larger picture and focus on what's actually important. We don't love our smartphone. We don't love our car. They are just things. They don't love us back.

     We love our children, grandchildren and friends, realizing they are much more rewarding than anything we can purchase. We appreciate experiences more than acquisitions. We know it's important to focus on truly fulfilling things like love, joy, knowledge, memories.

     We also also know some history. We don't panic at the latest news event or daily depressing statistic. We've seen it all before and realize that progress takes time. But we know it happens. That's why so many of us volunteer to help out in our communities -- because it makes a difference.

     Think not just about our longer life expectancy but also the improvement in our daily lives, thanks to everything from knee replacements and heart medications to developments in social and psychological attitudes. And as dangerous as our world is today, it's certainly less perilous than it was during World War II or the Cuban Missile Crisis.

     We also know it's important to have a skill or two, and to keep learning even as we get older. Our brains never get full. As we learn more, what isn't important eventually recedes to the background, but still provides a foundation for incorporating new information into something resembling real truth, rather than passing fancy.

     I think the wise person is skeptical, but not cynical. The cynic takes a dim view of everything. The skeptic is open to new things, but not before testing the veracity of fresh ideas, the sincerity of new people. The wise person is unlikely to fall for the latest demagogue, the newest health panacea, the fad diet.

     We are also aware that we can't research everything ourselves and we choose to believe accepted experts, not the TV huckster or internet sensation. We don't automatically accept that someone is as brilliant as they claim, and we're not necessarily impressed with status or diplomas.  But we don't place ourselves above anyone else either. We are willing to admit we're wrong, willing to accept new points of view.

     The wise person also knows their limits, and will push them, but not gamble their future on untested theories or ideas. Sure, we make mistakes, but we achieve wisdom by learning from our mistakes, not endlessly repeating them. It was John Foster Dulles, secretary of state under President Eisenhower, who told us: "The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem, but whether it's the same problem you had last year."

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Where Am I?

     Theoretically, you should be able to triangulate from this sign to figure out where I am -- assuming the mileage figures are accurate. So can you make a guess?

     I'm 619 miles from Cleveland, 7368 miles from Tianjin and 4270 miles from Amsterdam. To help you out (in case you can't read it) I'm also 8100 miles from Guam. I'm not even sure where Guam is. But that's what it says.

     One thing you can tell for sure. I am not in the snowbelt.

     And I'm near the beach.

     And . . . not to stereotype or anything, but I'm in the South.

     I'm about ten miles outside Charleston, SC, where the weather these days is . . . well, it's a lot better than home, but with a high in the 60s it's more playground weather than beach weather. But that good. We are visiting grandchildren, and spending more time at the playground than the beach. Some grandparents -- the lucky ones -- live near their grandkids and get to see them all the time. But our kids moved away. So we have to go find them.