May 25, 2020

It’s Memorial Day. The day we are supposed to reflect on those who have given their lives for our country over the generations. In reality, however, it’s the long weekend that kicks off the summer season of lightened schedules, better weather, family outdoor activities, pool parties, outdoor concerts, and all the other things that we associate with a more languorous time of year. But not this year. We’re all engaged in another sort of fight, one that doesn’t fall into the traditional conventions of armies clashing. The enemy is unseen, of completely unified purpose, and is part of the usual design of nature with no ability of understanding the rhythms and rituals of the human race.

I, like everyone else, saw the pictures and video of the enormous pool party somewhere at Lake of the Ozarks full of squealing and slightly inebriated twenty somethings doing their best to violate every rule of social distancing. I saw the vituperative comments from their elders bouncing around social media. It didn’t make me angry, it made me profoundly sad. They are young people doing what young people are supposed to do, acting goofy in a large group full of energy and hormones. I did it in my day. I’m sure my parents and my grandparents had their variations (although my grandparents probably involved a great deal more layers of clothing). I completely understand their wish to gather and let off steam after this horrible spring and I completely understand the revulsion that their engaging in what would be otherwise completely normal and unremarkable behavior engenders as well. The public health failures that have allowed Covid-19 to become entrenched and endemic in the community are putting us all in an impossible situation. The few weapons we have that we can bring to bear as a society – social distancing, masks in public – are completely contrary to every social impulse present in those under the age of thirty or so. And it’s a population who isn’t neurologically able to make the connection between actions and consequences. Those frontal lobes don’t finish developing until after the age of 25 which is why frat boys think it’s a great idea to light fire to the couch and throw it off the roof of the house. How do we balance the needs of the mature for safety with the needs of the young for socialization? I really don’t know unless we all decide to become Shakers or some such.

I can confine myself to work and home because, at the age of 58, I’ve had my youth and know it’s another generations turn. I will admit that I spent all of my 20s on the educational treadmill so I was never able to get too wild and crazy and I more or less got married to Steve about half way through them which also slowed me down some. I still had my share of group road trips, late night parties, slightly excessive alcohol intake, heart to hearts in corner booths of all night diners, solo travel to distant parts with groups of young people from all over the world bonding in hostels or sleeping on the floor of the train station. and it breaks my heart that we’re stuck in a world at the moment where the young will have a difficult time going through these rites of passage, if they’re even possible at all for a few years. Because of my theater work, I’m around a lot of young people in their twenties and have enjoyed settling into the wise/wicked uncle role with them. Telling the stories of what the world was like back before computers ruled our every move, of how things were the same and how they have radically changed. That’s what our job is, we of the grandparent generation (I’ve finally woken up to the fact that even though I never had children, i”m definitely paw-paw) to tell the stories and provide the cultural continuity. Those friendships have kept me young and without those people around, whom I mainly see at rehearsal or theater related activities, I feel like I’m aging at an accelerated rate.

These are my friends… See how they glisten…

Speaking of theater, some of the Birmingham musical theater performers got together to do one of those virtual musical theater numbers which is now complete and posted to YouTube and linked above. I think it’s worth three and a half minutes of your time. I have fond memories of moments on stage, backstage or just shooting the breeze with pretty much everyone in it so give them some love. I don’t know when we’ll all be able to be together again in person, but when we are it will be a marvelous moment. All of my upcoming theater gigs are either cancelled or postponed along with everyone elses and I have barely sung in three months. I need to find someone who will do some virtual voice lessons/coaching or I’ll barely be able to croak out a tune at the end of the summer.

What are we to do as a society? The death toll will break 100,000 in the US in the next day or two. It shows no signs of slowing down. Locally, we’re spiking again in the rural areas as Alabama’s underfunded health care system starts to buckle. The news on Friday was that rural cases were flooding into Montgomery which was essentially out of ICU beds. I’m assuming they’ll be heading up I-65 this week putting more strains on UAB. We’re in a damned if we do, damned if we don’t situation. We can continue opening up some and contribute to the spike or we can stay the course causing additional social damage. I don’t have the answers other than continuing to do my part to keep the infection rate down – stay home as much as I can, wear a mask in public, keep my hands clean, avoid enclosed spaces with lots of other people as much as possible. It’s what I have to do to fulfill my pledge to my patients. I’m not ready to write off the elderly or the chronically ill en masse unlike certain other societal forces. All of us are having to look within and ask ourselves very tough questions. I think I know my answers but it’s testing my fortitude to keep moving forward.

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