Chasing 58 While Running From a Pandemic | Introspection on Blog#42

Chasing 58 While Running From a Pandemic | Introspection on Blog#42

It’s been five years since I wrote a birthday blog post. I ended my 53rd birthday post with:

So, for at least another year, you’ll find me still shaking it up and getting into trouble. My hope is for a 53rd year of rebuilding, personally, and an electoral year ending in the rebuilding of our broken system of politics, culminating in the renewal of a national vow to rebuild and anchor our broken social contract. Hope. Maybe.

Fast forward five years and everything around me has changed. I still feel the same inside and it is strange to know that I am closer to 60 and senior citizen status while my mindset and how I feel about myself is the same as it ever was. When I see myself in the mirror, I am sometimes surprised at the image looking back at me. That’s really me? The image I see doesn’t superimpose exactly with the feelings inside.

On the other hand, my health has been changing in a way that is consistent with aging. Arthritis has reared its ugly head and I am headed for dual diagnoses of psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Those are difficult enough to handle, depending on the day, but there are other things going on with my spine that will require surgical intervention.

Five years ago, we said goodbye to our dog, Speedy. A year ago, in September, we welcomed Kyra, a Shiba Inu-Siberian Husky mix. At 70 lbs., Kyra is hardly petite. We got her as a comfort dog for our daughter. She came to us under unfortunate circumstances for her previous owner who fell on hard times and could no longer keep the two dogs she’d raised together. Kyra is now five years old. She’s a mellow, affectionate dog, and perfect for my daughter. She’s still young and in need of a rigorous exercise regimen that the pandemic has complicated. We can’t go to the dog park for her to run free. So, I set myself the goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. Most days, I push myself very hard to make the goal. Some days, I just can’t push hard enough.

As difficult as some things have become, I still push ahead as I always have, no matter the barriers in front of me. I guess that is what hasn’t changed about me.

This past year began with getting away from a really bad housing situation after five terrible years unhoused, in terribly expensive extended stay hotels, with daily worries how we would keep a roof over our heads. Thanks to a lot of generous friends, we were able to achieve the impossible feat of moving from a rat and insect-infested  basement apartment, ironically, into a condo rental just a block away from the last apartment we rented before our fall into homelessness. We are literally back where we started and more stable in this terrible pandemic that has befallen the entire planet. Even with all of the uncertainty of the future ahead and the difficulties we are faced with, I am ever so grateful to be where we are at this moment.

Soon after we moved, I was finally diagnosed with a tear of the glenohumeral tendon in my left shoulder and placed on the schedule for surgery on March 2nd. I underwent surgery on the appointed day and immediately began rehabilitation. We were officially notified of the pandemic days later and, as a result, I continued my rehabilitation at home, with the help of videos the hospital provided on a phone app. A couple of months into the pandemic, a process server came to our door to serve what appeared to be paperwork from a mortgage servicer. While I refused the papers – they weren’t addressed to me – I did call my landlord, who didn’t deny he was underwater. Again, with the tremendous support from a cadre of donors, we moved again to a different condo on the same block. The condo community we live in is huge, with hundreds of units within an area that is several city blocks. It has been erie to witness the rate at which people are moving out. It is rare to see people moving in. The sub-development I live in is half empty.

The woman who gave me our dog moved to a different city in Southern California. About a month after the pandemic began, I received a text from her informing she moved to South Dakota. My local paper reported recently that over 600,000 people moved out of California in 2019.  That figure is considered a dip in departures. I wonder how many left this year, when the economic situation is so dire? How are people surviving when their jobs have been interrupted or eliminated entirely by this pandemic, with no help whatsoever from the federal government, beyond the paltry $1200 stimulus check? It has been reported that millions in each state are still having difficulties applying for unemployment, months into the recession and have yet to receive any assistance. The level of cruelty and deprivation this Republican administration has demonstrated should be the number one focus of our media, alongside with their reporting on the pandemic. Yes, from time to time, we are shown the long lines at food pantries. But there is far more to this than those lines. Those stories need to be told, on-air. We are told by the media that Congress is close to voting on a COVID bill. But when you scrutinize the details, you find out how little that bill will do for individuals who’ve been deprived of everything for almost a year. Watch!

We were very fortunate to be gifted a twin-sized Sleep Number bed. Our daughter has chronic spine issues and this gift has significantly improved her quality of life. The bed she was using before this gift arrived was almost brand new. Rather than posting it on Craigslist’s free stuff, we decided to ask our downstairs neighbor if they could use it. A friend of theirs who was visiting said she was looking for a bed for her teen son and that they would come back to get the mattress and frame. Several days went by and I heard nothing from them. So, I inquired with our neighbor who said they’d contact her. She came by on my birthday with a measuring tape in hand. Because of COVID, I didn’t use it. I measured the mattress width for her and her face fell. The mattress is 39 inches wide. She said she only had 35″ to work with in the room she rents. She then went on to tell me that she used to work 120 hours before the pandemic. Now, she’s lucky to work 30 hours. She is a single mom.

I’ve been witness to many such stories over the past year, right here, where we live. Before that, during our five years in hotel hell, I saw misery daily, in the aftermath of a recession that didn’t end for so many who were in their forties when it began. Now, we have tens of millions new people entering this hell that is an economic depression and it is frightening to me to know that there is a risk that many more will go unacknowledged and unaided going forward. Millions of people who were laid off at the start of the recession in 2009 never went back to good paying jobs. They are much older now. and, since the end of long-term unemployment, were left to languish. Without anti-ageism laws on the books, how will those people retire? As it is, before the pandemic, the numbers of workers aged 65 and above was staggering. I still see them at work in Walmarts and other big box stores near me.  Camperforce was such a thing in 2017 that a documentary was made of these nomads in their 70’s working at Amazon distribution centers.

What are workers in their 70’s doing now in this pandemic? Are they still in Camperforce?

What of the millions of hungry children and adults all around the nation? What lasting impact will this deprivation, in combination with the fear of infection, have on them?

Looking back at certain periods in my life, there are a few that had lasting impact on my own psyche. As an eight year old, I lived through a summer of deprivation when my mom couldn’t find work. That period left a mark, just like going to store after store, in March and April of this year, and finding that there was nothing left to buy left a mark. My husband, a former 99er who never got back to his career and jumped with both feet into the scam that is the Gig Economy, finally had to stop working for Lyft on March 8th, when we got the news of the pandemic. What little he had, as far as an occupation is concerned, is gone. That, too, leaves a deep scar and fear for the future. What will become of all the 52 year olds whose careers were derailed permanently and whom prospective employers’ online application algorithms weed out? Will the incoming Biden administration and, presumably, a Democratic Congress finally do something about age discrimination of perfectly able workers? If history is our guide, it seems unlikely.

I fear the scarring of this past year will leave an indelible mark on our nation, just as it has left an indelible scar on those who suffered, well past when they made it out of poverty. I am also fearful that the rift between the classes will widen and sharpen even more. Watching the incredibly talented Viola Davis on 60 Minutes brought a flood of memories, both recent and distant:

It makes me angry whenever, as a nation, we engage in discussions about resilience. Yes, humanity is resilient. No, resilience doesn’t erase pain.

I will close in much the same way I did five years ago:

So, for at least another year, you’ll find me still shaking it up here on my blog and getting into trouble in the comment sections in the New York Times. My hope is for a 58thd year of continued rebuilding, personally, and an incoming Congress and Biden administration focused on the rebuilding of our economy, broken system of politics, culminating in the renewal of a national vow to rebuild and anchor our broken social contract. Hope. Maybe.

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