Before was a long time ago. Before, there was no pandemic getting in the way of our lives. Before there were enough problems for, well, a lifetime. People got sick. Marriages went bad. Countries went to war and did horrible things. There were auto accidents and crashing airplanes and innumerable other catastrophes, like earthquakes, tornadoes, and tsunamis.
I would have thought we Jews particularly already had enough to keep our fertile minds worrying about the next whatever!
So, I ask you, on top of all the tzuris, who needed a world-wide disease called covid-19?
The answer is pretty obvious: None of us needed it. None of us wanted it. And none of us really knows how to cope with it.
When I was younger than 82, think merely 79 or 80, I hoped for an unexciting, uneventful old age, like my parents had. My mother always quoted Robert Browning’s poem, “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” which proclaimed that the best was yet to be. Mom was a pretty happy woman, at least as happy as one could be with the assorted infirmities that came with age. Her broken hip was supposedly fixed but she never walked normally after the surgery, and of course things hurt her later that hadn’t hurt in her youth. But nonetheless, she saw all of her great-grandchildren, grandchildren, and children often, and lived in simple peace with Dad, whose health didn’t announce itself until he was over 95. Well over 95.
The two of them would work all week to present an elegant and delicious family Friday night Shabbat dinner, and the meal’s topic of discussion often was the menu for the next week’s dinner. They were forward lookers, and it all worked out pretty much as planned. As is normal, death eventually did interfere, but not prematurely, and not tragically.
That’s what we hoped for in our own declining years. A decline, but not too much or too soon.
But that was not to be, for you or us! We got covided instead. Our normal lives, with their typical bad and good events, were now presented with something that no expert in this whole vast world would, could, or did anticipate. At the very least, if someone knew this would happen, why did no one ever tell us to stock up on cream cheese?
The truth was, and is, that no such expert even exists. Now they’re coming out of the woodwork on CNN, my favorite channel, but where were the prognosticators a couple of years ago? Why weren’t they telling us then to buy up KN95 masks? Did you even know what a KN95 was?
When I occasionally saw those old flu pandemic pictures from 1918, over 100 years ago, with everyone masked and people dying like flies (I don’t quite understand that expression because flies are not the only creatures that die, but you know what I mean), I would feel relief that that was then and this is now. In modern times, with modern medicine, something like that was never going to happen. Ha ha ha!
There is very little point in telling you what you already know, that this is our collective fate and we can wallow and think of what we used to do, and what we no longer do. If we’re careful, our lives have changed tremendously. If we’re not careful, we’re fools! So, here we are, in our house in West Orange, New Jersey, two octogenarians, multi-vaxxed, multi-boosted (two boosters each in Jerusalem), and multi-masked, dealing with this life-altering-life.
Time was when I used to barely cook in our kitchen. Sure, we always had breakfast there, but our main meal, on non-Shabbatot, was almost always prepared by someone known as not-me. We did take-out, eat-out, or ready-made from the freezer of one of our local kosher purveyors. We never, in those food-buying excursions, dreamt of worrying about standing in line and inhaling some vile virus from the folks around us. Our conversation was usually where shall we go or what shall we buy, but hardly ever what should I, me, cook?
Oh, yes, in addition, like old retired people everywhere, we used to love to go to the movies. The wintry weather is a poignant reminder of what we’re missing. Going to the movies on a nasty day and enjoying the huge screen and the surround-sound was always an adventure, especially if a good, or great, movie was featured. I’d guess that we were at the movies at least once a week and often more. Not any more.
We always used to love to travel. When we see the world map and realize how many places we’ve been, many obscure and many not, we long for the thrill of the planning and then the arrival and the discovering. And when we look at that same map and see how many places there are still left to see, we are frustrated that another trip is not in the works, that maybe our world exploration is now part of our history rather than our future. Maybe we don’t need to renew our Global Entry Pass after all. Maybe we should skip the Times Sunday Travel Section. Will we be travelers again?
Shul was always a major part of our lives. We loved to be there. Davening with gusto and kavana was meaningful and relevant and a particularly joyful experience. We loved to shmooze over Kiddush, with no fear that our chevra might share covid with us. A bagel yes, a bit of covid, no! Now, shul has been reduced to either a Zoom service or nothing. Of course private prayer is always available and is something we do as the circumstances warrant, but praying with a community is what we long to do.
We used to enjoy having what we called company. Visitors. Guests. Friends. People we knew and liked to spend time with. Where did they all go? Not to our house! OMG, we did it on Thanksgiving and each and every one of us had to do a rapid test before we convened. How crazy is that!?!
And time was when friends would invite us over. These days, never!
We no longer need two cars and obviously if you glance at us you’ll see that we no longer need or receive professional haircuts. We shop online and hope for the best, but what happens when someone is needed to repair the clothes-dryer or retile the shower? Oops! We let them in, nervously, tentatively, telling them to please wear masks and only to come if they’ve been vaxxed. Not being government officials (ha! And even if we were?) that’s the best we can do.
Is that good enough? Only time tells.
But the true suffering comes from longing for our loved ones. We have three little great-grandsons, all under 5, who know us only from FaceTime. (I stop to wipe a tear!) Where are the interactions, the games, the little discussions that we thrive on and that they don’t even know they’re missing? How can we not be with them? But how can we be with them?
There are no answers. Only questions.
Let me be perfectly frank, covid. I hate you. I really do.
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!