Dreaming isn’t much fun in the coronavirus era. While “sleeping” most nights now, I am restlessly and relentlessly confronting strange and overwhelming problems I am totally unequipped to solve. It’s a bizarre new kind of anxiety dream, way beyond exams for college classes I never attended. Pre-pandemic, I could wake from my nightmares, tell myself that nothing I was dreaming was true, remind myself of reality and the safety and security of my life on any given day, and go back to sleep. Now, however, I can wake and tell myself that the dream isn’t real, but I cannot reassure myself of the safety and security of my everyday life, because that life has been devoured by the Covid-19 crisis.
Despite my best efforts to subsume this anxiety with gratitude for the fact that we are healthy, food-secure, comfortable in our home, communicating with friends and family and still in love with each other even while strictly self-quarantined (because we are considered “elderly”), I can lose perspective. As our state “opens up” while we stay “shut in,” I feel further marginalized, and yes, sometimes depressed. I rail at my loss of control (someone else is picking out my produce at the grocery store!), and then at my lost opportunities to play with and hug my grandchildren, vacation with our family, travel to new places, socialize with friends, volunteer, learn new things, i.e., to live the life we’d planned for. The realization that life may, in fact, go on for some time without my being able to participate in it seems almost existential in nature. This is not the Aging-in-Place I had in mind. It seems more the Driving Miss Daisy version, with me in the back seat just going along for the ride now.
Nevertheless, I was trying to make peace with this version of My Life with Covid-19, when my dreams got worse. And far too easy to interpret. In the latest, my husband and I were meeting up with two of our grandsons and their dad to go to a Big Game in a huge stadium. We were all so excited to be together after months of sheltering-in-place, we practically skipped up the stairs to our section in the stadium. At the top, an usher directed our son and his boys to the left, down a dozen rows to great seats overlooking the field. We followed them, but the usher called us back and told us our seats were on the other side, to the right. There were lots of seats there, but all they faced was the big, dark wall surrounding the stadium. There was no view of the field whatsoever, not even a big screen to watch. There we were: neither players, nor even spectators anymore, just non-essentials consigned to the darkness. As I said, not hard to interpret.
I forget most of my dreams as soon as they wake me up, but this one has lingered, probably because it speaks to my fears, the fears I used to have about aging generally. I have never been so much afraid of dying (at least in the abstract) as I was afraid of not really living, not wringing meaning out of everything I could, not growing, not opening or changing my mind, not loving radically. What the Covid-19 pandemic has done is put that life on hold – which, really, I get it, in the scheme of things, is a very small price to pay for my health, the public health and a greater good.
What I worry about, though, on the dark days, is whether, when it’s safe, I’ll even be able to break though the ageist stereotypes (again), to disavow an identity as “elderly and vulnerable,” to repudiate our marginalization as a demographic, in order to live more fully once again. Once you’ve been pronounced dispensable, (by our President, the Texas Lt. Governor, Fox News and those protestors screaming for us to sacrifice for their lifestyles – though definitely not by our children and grandchildren), it may be hard to feel useful and productive again, to find your voice and use it, to take your seat at the table – or in the stadium.
I do, however, intend to try.
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by Ann Sentilles
May 26th, 2020