Yesterday, I read an opinion piece on CNN by a man named Ed Adler. It was about COVID-19. Adler is over 60 years old, and he’s upset because people are speaking and writing of “culling” the weak and vulnerable and opening up the world for the good of everyone else. In his piece on CNN, Adler wrote:
…we will not be back to normal for a long, long time. Others will venture out. My son (26) and daughter (22) will surely risk the threat of infection and try to resume some normalcy. But for older folks and those with pre-existing conditions, our isolation must be ongoing. We will be the last to resume activity and continue our lives.
And while we wait, we can hear the echoes of those who care little about our vulnerability. One example: As the virus swept across the US, a city official in Antioch, California, said Covid-19 should be allowed to run its course, even if elderly and homeless people die. Ken Turnage, chairman of the city’s planning commission, posted on Facebook that the country needed to adopt a “Herd Mentality” that “allows the sick, the old, the injured to meet its natural course in nature.”
Mr. Adler writes that Turnage later deleted the Facebook post, but refused to resign or retract his comments. He was later removed from his role as chairman of Antioch’s city planning commission when city council members voted unanimously to strip him of his “powers”.
Adler points out that not everyone expresses themselves in the way Turnage did, but many people still have the attitude that elderly and immunocompromised people are expendable and should sacrifice themselves for the sake of others during this pandemic. As one of those who is at a higher risk of dying from a COVID-19 infection, Adler appeals to people to be considerate toward folks like him. He laments that the world is permanently changed and he will never again be able to enjoy the New York City that he loves. He adds:
In a society that has always honored and been oddly enamored of youth and the young, it is not surprising that older folks are deemed disposable by some. But I’m in my 60s and I’m still vibrant. I enjoy working with clients to help them achieve their goals. I’d like to be around to see my kids’ marriages and continue to help mentor their careers. I want to hold grandchildren and play with Walter, my grand-dog.
As I read Mr. Adler’s piece, I felt pangs of sympathy for him. But then I noticed this, posted near his byline:
Editor’s Note: Ed Adler is a partner in a global strategic communications firm. He spent 36 years at Time Warner, many of them as head of the company’s corporate communications. The opinions expressed here are his own.
So Mr. Adler has had a long, productive career at Time Warner, and I’m assuming, has enjoyed a mostly “normal” pre-pandemic life. He’s had children, and given that he wishes to help mentor them in their careers, they are still on good terms with him. He’s not ready to die. He wants to hold his future grandchildren and play with his “grand-dog”. That’s all totally understandable. But what about the young people of today who haven’t had the chance to do any of the things that Mr. Adler has done? What about the new high school graduates who are wondering if they’ll ever be able to find work or attend college in the fall? What about the new college graduates who are struggling with unprecedented unemployment rates? What about their lives?
How about the children who are halfway through their school years and are now scared to go outside because of what they’ve heard about COVID-19? Young people growing up right now have been robbed of some very significant milestones that Mr. Adler probably got to enjoy when he was their ages. They aren’t the first youngsters who have missed out on prom or traditional graduation ceremonies. Certainly older generations have struggled with finding employment fresh out of high school or college, too. But those situations are usually caused by something like a recession or going to war. They aren’t typically caused by a global pandemic from which there is no practical escape.
How about the people who are forced to shelter at home with partners who abuse them? Should those people stay locked down so that people over 60 can live longer? What about the people who struggle with depression and anxiety and can’t get the help they need due to being asked to stay home? How about the people who will get sick and die of something other than COVID-19 because they don’t want to risk going to the hospital? What about the young families struggling to support themselves, or people on the verge of adulthood waiting for their independent lives to begin?
I truly empathize with Mr. Adler’s concerns. I think it’s awful to hear people speak of “culling” the weak. It’s a very cruel and selfish viewpoint, and it doesn’t help when the idea of pushing herd immunity and “culling the weak” is conveyed in the callous way Ken Turnage expressed it. But we can’t stay locked down forever. Life has to go on at some point. The last three months have been devastating on many levels to a lot of people. Moreover, everyone does have to die. That’s a simple part of living that we must all face. We all hope our deaths will be as “pleasant” as possible, but many people end up suffering before they die. There will no doubt be deaths caused by COVID-19 that weren’t caused by the illness, but because of other issues exacerbated by the virus and the way it’s affected living. I think consideration is a two way street.
Personally, I haven’t had any trouble isolating from people. I don’t mind staying home. Bill and I get along great, and he makes enough money to support us comfortably. But I realize that we’re extraordinarily lucky. There were times earlier in our lives that this pandemic would have destroyed us, not because of illness, but because of everything else caused by the lockdown. I remember being young and trying to launch my life. It was very hard for me then, and I didn’t have to worry about simply going outside without a mask. In those days, I made my living dealing with the public. How would I have managed with my very modest income suddenly cut off due to a pandemic?
For about 25 years, my parents ran their own business out of our home. My mom taught knitting, needlepoint, and cross stitch, and sold the supplies. She also played the organ at different churches. My dad sold art and framed pictures, but also collected retirement pay from his years as an Air Force officer. I can’t even imagine what they would have done had the pandemic struck when they were making their living as small businesspeople. As it stands now, my mom collects monthly payments for our former home from Deborah, the woman who took over the business. She worked for my dad for years. When it came time for my parents to move into an assisted living complex, my mom worked out a way for Deborah to buy the business and the house. I have no idea if the business will survive… or how it will survive. I’m just glad it’s not my problem. My mom worries, too. In fact, she even loaned Deborah her $1200 stimulus payment and told her to pay it back whenever she could. She wants Deborah’s business to survive, because she doesn’t want to repossess the house, and neither do my sisters and I.
I think about the people who depended on us paying them, too. As a teenager, I used to have a horse, and we boarded him at the barn where I took riding lessons. What would have happened to him if my parents couldn’t pay for his board? What about all of the other kids taking lessons? Horses are expensive, so if they can be employed with riding lessons, it’s a good way to keep them in good homes. What about “mom and pop” landlords who have to keep paying mortgage, but aren’t collecting rent because no one is working? How about people who cut hair for a living and now can’t make any money? And what of all the people who make their money in the travel industry? I could probably sit here for hours thinking of ways people’s lives could be ruined if society doesn’t reopen soon.
So… while I don’t agree with people talking about “culling the weak” and I can empathize with Mr. Adler’s concerns about the elderly facing the world again due to COVID-19, I also think that it’s not feasible to keep everything locked down for months on end. Besides being disastrous to the economy, it’s simply not a healthy way to live. COVID-19 is a horrible illness for those who get severe infections, but it’s not the only way to die. People can die because they’ve given up on living. Hopes and dreams can die, crushing spirits. I worry about people getting sick from a virus, but I also worry about those who will drink themselves to death, overdose on drugs, lose hope and kill themselves, or get beaten to death by an abusive partner or parent. I worry about those who will lose their homes and businesses and plunge into despair. I worry about people who will decide it’s not worthwhile to live in lockdown.
I’ll be honest. I’ve noticed some scary things about myself lately. I’ve pretty much lost the desire to go out. I used to love traveling. I miss it somewhat now. Life has been pretty boring. But I don’t feel like going out, now. I don’t want to deal with the hassle. I’m probably not the only one. That’s not healthy, either. There has to be more to life than just breathing. There has to be some level of acceptable risk. Three months is a long time for most people to give up “normal”. As much as I cringe when I hear about someone suggesting “culling the weak”, I also think that Mr. Adler might want to consider what younger people are missing out on… experiences that he was lucky enough to have and enjoy because he didn’t come of age in a pandemic. A lot of people may never get to enjoy working many years for one employer. Some people won’t ever get to have children or grandchildren. And some people will die, not of COVID-19, but of something related to this altered existence we have from living with the virus. They deserve some consideration and empathy, too.
Incidentally, Europe is pretty much opening up today… just in time for this weekend, which is when I will celebrate my 48th birthday. Bill says he’s planning to take me somewhere. Maybe it will rekindle my love for life outside of the house. Or maybe I’ll get sick and die. But sitting here in the house for months on end is not a good way to live. It’s time to take a chance. Besides, I have a feeling that if I don’t, Bill will eventually drag me out by the hair. He’s ready to get back to living life.