I’m sure by now you’ve seen the meme: “Your grandparents were called to war. You are being called to sit on the couch. You got this.” (I’ve been trying for the past two days to get the photo to upload, but WordPress problems aren’t letting me add any photos. Sigh).
I have to admit, the first time I saw this, way back on Saturday, I laughed. Sitting on the couch did seem like a pretty easy thing to do. At least at first glance.
But then again, it’s easy to be cavalier about a quarantine before it actually starts.
Over the past couple of days, and it really has been only a couple of days since the quarantine began in earnest in [parts of] the United States, I’ve had a lot more time to think and scroll mindlessly through social media. And this meme, that keeps appearing on my feed, has really begun to irk me for a number of reasons.
First, it smacks of privilege.
My family is lucky – we have a couch to sit on. In fact we have two, or even three if you count the one in the basement. All of said couches are situated in front of large screen televisions. Those televisions are connected to an endless supply of streaming movies and television shows to watch from the couches (at least for now). We have games to play and puzzles to do and music to enjoy and books to read and phones and laptops to connect with others and food to eat, and most importantly we have lots and lots of support and love from one another. Our family certainly isn’t happy about the current situation, but we are enjoying spending time with each other and making memories that one day, when we are hopefully past this crisis, will be recalled with fondness.
When we get sick of one another (and we do get sick of one another), we can retreat to our individual rooms, or the basement, or even the patio outside and find some much needed privacy to recharge.
But not all families are so lucky.
For many families in America, there is no couch. There may be a cold floor, or a bare mattress or some tattered pillows. There are cramped quarters and too many people in too small a space. There aren’t a variety of diversions, but rather hours upon hours of boredom and way too much time to think and worry.
And there is so much to worry about right now. For many children there is no food to eat. No books to read. No pencils to write with. No computers to learn from. And I’m not just talking about the children who relied on the structure and safety of school for meals and health care and love before this crisis hit – although you should be aware that there are many of these “invisible” kids right in your own school district.
Today, there are countless Americans who lost their jobs overnight because their work places have been closed indefinitely due to COVID-19. People like you and me, who suddenly have no idea how they are going to feed their children or themselves, or keep the lights on, or pay the mortgage, let alone suddenly know how to teach common core math.
There are also parents who, while lucky enough to still have jobs, simply can’t work from home. Health care professionals, first responders, truck drivers, grocery store employees, pharmacists, delivery drivers and more – not everyone can work remotely from a laptop. Sitting on their couch isn’t option, scrambling for child care and fear about getting sick themselves or bringing the disease home with them is.
This is reality for a lot of people in America today. So, I’m sorry if I don’t think that chilling out and “sitting in the couch” is a simple solution.
Even for the lucky ones, what we are asking people to do is unprecedented. I am not saying it isn’t right, or suggesting that people shouldn’t follow the orders. But I am pleading with you not to belittle the sacrifice. Even during times of war, it was connection that got people through. Baseball (albeit in a very different form because most MLB players were in the military) was green lighted as a necessary distraction during WW II. People gathered in movie theaters for both news and social connection. Dance halls and rallies and social clubs gave people the strength they needed to get through hard times. After 9/11 people flocked together as soon as it seemed safe to do so to lean on one another and deal with the uncertainty together. In the pst, gathering together was the sign that life was going to be okay.
This time, we don’t have that option. And while we are fortunate to have social media and digital connections, it’s not the same thing.
“Social distancing” is hitting some groups harder than others, particularly our seniors – high school seniors, college seniors and senior citizens. (As I sit here on my own couch I feel so grateful for so many things right now and one of them is that my son is only a junior and [hopefully] life will have returned to at least a “new-normal” by next year).
Yesterday, I read a story about a couple of seniors from Duke who had 48 hours to clean out their dorm rooms and get off campus. A photo showed the two young women dressed in a borrowed cap and gown posing for pictures on the steps of a chapel, presumably the quintessential graduation shot, and before I knew it I was sobbing. I don’t know these women, and I know their plight is not unique, but that picture really spoke to my heart. All across the nation, all across the world really, students who have worked their entire lives for these diplomas and degrees are being sent home to commence the next stage of their lives with none of the fanfare they have looked forward to and dreamed about for years, and none of the celebration they deserve.
There will be no senior days or last sports seasons, no awards nights or final concerts, no class plays, musicals or recitals, no senior trips, no proms or even graduations. In many instances there is no chance to even say goodbye to friends and to the “family” they have crafted over the last four (or more) years.
And this is heartbreaking.
So many of my son’s friends are in this boat. Kids I know and love are losing a huge part of their high school experience, a huge part of their youth. They are missing out on rites of passage that have been a part of American life for generations. For these kids, these are enormous losses. And to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.
To those seniors, I want to say, “I see you. I see your disappointment. And I am sorry. So very, very sorry. If you feel sad, that’s okay. If you feel angry, that’s okay. If you feel helpless, that’s okay. While you will go on to do great things (of that I have no doubt) and you will always have this amazing story to tell, you will never get these days back again. And that just plain sucks.”
These kids are really hurting. Please don’t offer them platitudes right now.
I know they will be okay. They are highly educated, well-connected, tech savvy, incredibly resilient, service-minded, and quickly adaptable. I have no doubt that in no time they will be finding new ways to connect, offering assistance to their communities and making their mark on the world. But, before we force this resilience upon them, let’s give them time to grieve.
Then, of course, there is the other group of seniors, our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents – who are also suffering enormously from the effects of this disease. Some of them are falling sick and even dying and that is the most tragic outcome. Many others are suffering alone. Afraid to go to the grocery store. Unable to have visitors. Worried about doctors’ appointments and prescription refills and buying toilet paper and bread. While this is the very group “social distancing” is most meant to protect the truth is that the guidelines put in place to keep them safe have left them lonely and scared and anxious and isolated and depressed.
Please understand, I am not criticizing the measures. I understand why we need to keep people away from one another. Lord knows I have used lots of breath trying to convince my dad to abide by these restrictions for his own safety. My own family is hunkering down and staying home.
But just because something is the right thing to do, does not mean it is not difficult. In fact, the right thing to do is often the most difficult.
So while we all come together, follow the rules and stay home, we must also understand that the sacrifices people are making are enormous, and will have effects for a long time to come.
Stay safe my friends. #bettertogether