And Miles to Go Before I Sleep: Contemplating Stopping my Life
What is non-essential? I am struggling with this warning. I am struggling against it. “You should avoid non-essential events and non-essential contacts”, I hear on the television, as I search for less melodramatic warning — melodramatic warnings that can be found all over.
However, even as I am tempted to see that the media is exaggerating, and even though I also mean that statement and know that the media is making lots of money on our hyperactive attention and our being glued to televisions, radios and computers, well that is not all I mean.
I am addressing here, the feeling, the experience of being older, with the passion and felt need to do, to travel, to live my life as fully as possible. And specifically, we have tickets to go to Italy mid-May, and I hear you saying “Carol what are you thinking? Of course, you have to cancel; isn’t that obvious.” And it’s not the money that concerns me. Lino has family which means that I have family, after all these years, after so much affection and love and experience growing and growing over so many years. And we have a home in that country — no small thing either.
But I am starting to give in to the logic and to the evidence of this being a pandemic. And I have stopped dwelling on the word “elderly” as a term that seemed to me, at least, discriminatory and very vague at that. But the idea of contagion in such huge volumes has to rate, has to count.
The line from Robert Frost’s famous poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, the title of this piece, was haunting me earlier this evening. The title hints at a journey while my own more personal meaning had to do with the timing of feeling alive and being alive and doing the living we can do while — well — while we are alive. And it doesn’t seem easy to me right now to put that on hold.
Lino and I are supposed to — if we’re okay — celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary November of 2020 and we’re supposed to have a vacation on the sea in Greece this coming August as an intimate celebration. That is looking increasingly less possible or at least probable. And I want us to go to Italy before that and to see Lino’s older brother who will soon be 89, elderly by just about any standard. He is sick now, not with the coronavirus but with a serious respiratory illness, and he is urgently wanting to see us, feeling the need to see Lino soon. We are reassuring him with the date in May that we are scheduled to travel down south, in the country of Italy where the entire country is on quarantine.
Those of us who are older — can we recognize the fact that time seems of more urgency than for some people who feel they are at the beginning of their lives? And at the same time, tragedy befalls people of all ages and there are consolations in our lives that we can admit — and perhaps need to admit — to feeling fortunate about.
We — Lino and I — have exercise equipment in our homes. We have Netflix and Amazon and can hunker down with a good movie or see a loved series for the first time or over and over again. We have lots of books. We have a daughter (with children) here near us who is a medical professional and a son who is a scientist in California, and they are both caring and informed about this health crisis. We have enough money not to starve and to feed ourselves through deliveries without desperate measures. We have health insurance, no small thing. We have the luxury of not being without heat or warmth or clothing or comfort — physical and emotional.
I have talked in my own writing of what I’ve called the “gift of disappointment”, the consolations of being able to work things out together even after we learn we can’t have everything we want or command, even sometimes what we need. Having a part of this — what we want and crave — may have to be enough.
As you have heard, I still want to travel and am already thinking about whether road travel in the States will be possible. I always make travel plans in advance. So, I look at the countries that are still safe, in terms of this virus. And then I immediately think of the dangers of contagion in airports and in a host of other venues.
I also realize there is no way of being sure of what lies ahead, in any of all the ways that might mean. I don’t know how things will look politically, economically, in terms of climate change and in terms of the needs, not only of the older people like me, but for the younger people who have been increasingly at risk because of climate change dangers as but one example.
I suppose I need to follow some of my own advice, heeding the notion of the gifts of disappointment, for all of us at any age. I am going to give it my best shot, even though my finger is resisting any buttons that will cancel our travel plans, our Italy, as it is partly our country too (even I am a citizen of that country as well.)
It seems we need ways to speak and share about the emotional costs — whether that be depression, anxiety, panic or loss. It doesn’t belittle the magnitude of physical dangers and threats and the disaster this illness is bestowing on us. It only says we need vehicles, virtual at times, to share the emotional pain we are experiencing. It seems in this case, that none of us — literally and figuratively — is excluded.