all of the selves we Have ever been
I’ve lost my edge. And my bounce.
After a lifetime of rolling with the punches, my figure can only be described as “round,” and my squishy, inert orb rests on the playing field waiting to be kicked into play.
I thought it was my age, but many people of different ages are complaining of a brand of inertia that has become the new long COVID even for those who never contracted the illness.
The op-ed columns are screaming with commentary on “quiet quitting,” and yesterday, the mailman shared that he has been delivering mail for 30 years after a stint in the military. His days are getting longer because the post office is short on help. “There used to be a waiting list of people who wanted to work for the post office. It was considered a good job,” he tells me as he fills the mailboxes that line the lobby walls. “No one wants to work anymore. They don’t want to work weekends or long days. They don’t want to deal with the weather…” I feel for him as I rest on the steps watching him work and listening about folks who haven’t quit because they’ve never even taken the field.
As if the news media were reading my mind, a headline pops up: Coronavirus Linked to Personality Changes in Young Adults. According to a Florida State University study, the pandemic “may have fundamentally changed the personalities of young people.” The long periods of social isolation seem to have made them moodier, more prone to stress, less cooperative and trusting, and less restrained and responsible. Researchers speculate that these changes may be due to a disruption in the completion of specific and normal developmental tasks and in the maturing process in general.
My mind wanders to a Holocaust survivor I have known. He was herded off to a concentration camp when just an elementary school boy. He recalled standing in the morning line-up as wagons passed by the long rows of captives. The bodies of those who had died overnight or in the gas chambers filled the carts and hung from the sides. “These were our loved ones,” this survivor told me. “We were an emotional people, but we couldn’t even cry.” In his eighties, he now wept, grieving the loss of his loved ones along with the temporary loss of his own humanity at that terrifying and tragic time.
While our lives in no way resemble the tragedy of the Holocaust, I can appreciate the point of view of the shell shocked, those individuals who have faced intense, life-threatening circumstances that produced feelings of helplessness, fear, inability to reason or to carry on with the normal tasks of daily living. How especially true this must be for children with wild imaginations and limited life experience, perspective, and power.
In the last three years, we have been bombarded, not by bombs, but by disasters. First, COVID made its way into our awareness. There were the terrifying unknowns and dire predictions. The lockdowns. The disruptions to travel, daily life, work, school, and supply chains. There were loss and death, exhausted caregivers, and no end in sight. Anger and outrage were directed at the very people trying to assess the germ and protect us from its harm. And while we were trying to find a balance for living, we were inundated with news reports about climate change, wild fires, and shortages of every kind. Our government came under siege as our representatives attempted to complete the ceremonial task of certifying a presidential election. An unprovoked war broke out in the Ukraine, and new horrific war crimes were exposed each day on the news. That was soon followed by threats of a nuclear power plant disaster or the use of nuclear weapons. Fuel supplies were cut or sabotaged.
We continue to struggle with skyrocketing inflation as the world teeters on the edge of financial collapse with the British and Chinese currencies in trouble. We have argued long about immigration, and now we are treated to political stunts on the evening news even as the entire world is struggling with mass displacement due to famine, disease, hunger, human rights disasters, war, violence, and climate change. New germs threaten to get us: monkey pox is on the rise everywhere; Ebola cases are increasing in Africa; and polio has been found in the wastewater in New York. Devastating mass shootings and frightening political upheaval are daily news fodder. We learn that we cannot trust people in leadership to reach solutions or protect us even as violent crime increases. And this week, we were served a new poison--a once-in-a-lifetime weather event that has devastated Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, and parts of Virginia. And continuously humming in the background of all of this is the media shame machine. We have so many new labels to discredit people that we can no longer speak to one another in the civil manner needed to solve problems.
No wonder young people are quietly quitting. We are all weary and frightened. Like overstimulated two-year-olds, we just want to take a nap and wake up when the world is all better.
My mind wanders again, this time to the people aboard United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11. When it became apparent that terrorists had hijacked their airplane and intended to do grave harm to the country, these passengers decided to take action knowing they would likely lose their lives in doing so. “Let’s roll,” Todd Beamer is credited with saying. The plane went down but spared the much larger disaster in the making.
This morning electrical workers and Red Cross volunteers here in Columbus, Ohio and in many states both red and blue, started their engines. Their wheels began turning. Small armies of the tired but determined left home for disaster zones in Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia.
Hang in there, kids. We may be weary, but when it matters, this is how we roll.