A View from the Hill: Coming clean

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I’m guilty. 

I should turn myself in to one of the great doctors leading the nation and Maine in the COVID-19 response.

I don’t think it will be to Dr. Deborah Berx. She’s terrific, but she seems tired and preoccupied and doesn’t need me pestering her. God knows, she gets enough of that.

Then there’s the ever-popular Dr. Anthony Fauci. He seems like a super nice guy and I think he would accept an apology for my transgression and send me on my way. But he works 37 hours a day, so that won’t happen.

That leaves Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Mainers have turned to his daily briefings for his calming and reassuring demeanor. He is unflappable and endlessly patient. He’s my guy.

So, Dr. Shah, here is my confession: The other day I visited my grandchildren and their parents outside their home in Falmouth. We kept our distances, but there were still a couple of close brushes. We did not wear masks. It was both exhausting and wonderful and when it was time to go my 9-year-old granddaughter begged me to stay. That hurt.

This may sound like I am being facetious or sarcastic, that I actually don’t think I take all this social distancing stuff seriously. I do, or I did, then I slipped, and now I regret it. Why, I asked myself on the way home, would I do all the work I’ve done in the last few months only to risk it for one sunny Saturday afternoon with the grandkids?

After all, I pride myself on knowing as much as I can about the virus and behaving responsibly – to a fault, many of my friends and family members might say. But from the beginning of this whole thing, it has been my goal to set a good example for my family and to be a good citizen just by staying out of the way.

So why did I relapse on Saturday? 

There is certainly no advice anywhere that suggests it is OK for grandparents to visit grandchildren yet under any circumstances. I knew that, but things seemed to be loosening up, people were getting their hair done, we had made big progress against the curve. So I loosened my standards.

Now I regret it.

I actually don’t know the last time before this occasion that I had seen my five grandkids or great-grandkid. I know from my Corona calendar that it was not after March 16, the last day I went into a grocery store. I live alone, and alone is where I’ve been almost ever since.

Until Saturday, when I went to Falmouth. 

Oh, recently there had been socially distanced walks with a few neighbors, a 16-year-old grandson, and a friend who had recovered from the virus. After so many weeks alone, even these events made me anxious.

It got me thinking about how in such a short time an entirely new context has developed from which we see the world. Even when I sleep, social distancing makes an appearance in dreams. The virus has altered, and will continue to alter, the way we perceive our world in profound ways.

How long will that stick?

My father was born in October 1919 in New Jersey. One year earlier, on Oct. 3, Spanish flu, the deadliest pandemic in modern history, was raging and shutdowns had begun. The drill was similar – social distance and flatten the curve.

The pandemic continued until 1920, but by the time dad was born in 1919 things were returning to a semblance of normal. On Oct. 1, the Cincinnati Reds routed the White Sox in game 1 of the World Series. On Oct. 7, a new airline, KLM, took to the skies.

In the current context of things, those events seem unimaginable.

But there were also lasting behavioral changes. Germ theory, according to the Washington Post, “had a profound impact on almost every aspect of human behavior, just as the novel coronavirus could do after the current pandemic ends.”

One tragic aspect of that impact was that parents developed a fear of displaying physical affection to their children lest they catch some dread disease. So an entire generation had difficulty showing physical affection.

That certainly was the case with my dad and my grandparents.

That is certainly not the case with me and my kids and grandkids.

I long for hugs and affection, which is probably what launched me on my ill-fated trip to Falmouth on Saturday. 

I just wanted a few hours of normal. I guess I’ll have to wait a while longer, and that’s OK, as long as I know it’s out there somewhere.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.