A Strange Summer is Coming to the End
And the Piper is still to be paid
The summer of 2021 has been strange and troubling all over the world. The weather has been inconsistent and difficult. The politics have remained rancorous, divisive, with unsubtle threats of violence. The virus was here, pushed away, and has returned. The wars, bombings, random shootings, and incidents of more violence remain constant. My wife, my friends, and I continue to get older and feel more vulnerable. Some are now in terrible condition, and a few have already departed. Now, as the summer is drawing to a close, the future remains cloudy.
The turbulent, volatile weather has been the most obvious indication that the world has changed, and not for the better. There have been fires almost everywhere, with their smoke spreading across the globe. Some places have had flooding, more are continuing to have years of droughts. The hurricanes have been here, more are coming, and each is more intense. The tides are higher, the water is warmer, and the fish are fewer. Everyone is watching. Many new reports. Hurricane damage is great for TV ratings. Very little is being done for prevention or mitigation.
I have been fortunate to spend the entire summer at one of the world’s most desirable and beautiful places to spend a summer, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The weather here has been clearly different. We have not suffered any major disturbance or destruction. Even the hurricane that came close to us only blew through with a light wind. We have been coming here for decades. The usual summer is filled mostly with clear, sunny days, with temperatures in the eighties during the day, and then a cool breeze off the bay, cooling things down after everyone gets back from the beach.
This year, we had seven weeks during which almost every day was seventy-four degrees, overcast, with 97% humidity. Not really warm, not really cool, just sticky. In the evening the temperature dropped to seventy-one. The humidity stayed the same. We had to use the air-conditioning, as my wife melts in the humidity. That doesn’t help the global situation.
Meanwhile, everyone my age is again feeling trapped by the reappearance of the virus. We are lining up for our third shots. Since almost all of us are between 70 and 85, we all have some qualifying immune-compromising condition. Those of us who want to travel are again feeling restricted. Unlike last year, there is now an element of anger linked to these limitations. The anger is directed at the people who did not get vaccinated, and even more so at the idiot leaders who encouraged them to believe that the virus, and getting vaccinated, are some kind of political issue, rather than an illness and treatment. They preached that people should be free to believe in it or not, as if it was Schrödinger’s cat.
A few high-profile deaths are beginning to grab people’s attention. More people are drifting toward the reality that getting vaccinated actually does protect a person from getting sick. Yet, there remains a core of people in certain communities who are very hostile to those facts. These people scream at, intimidate, and threaten those who attempt to repeat helpful facts. It is almost reminiscent of the witch trials. There are people who are threatening those who will not agree to a set of obvious lies. These lies are based upon earlier lies and fantasies that were the result of trying to justify the demand for political loyalty to the party that lost the election. It is strange and frightening to see the fervor that supposedly civilized people display while supporting harmful, even fatal, lies.
However, for many of us who have already lived longer than our allotted three-score and ten, COVID is just one thing on our long list of anxieties. The hot summer just adds to the sense of malaise that has been creeping into the souls of my friends and colleagues. At this age, it is clear that if the virus doesn’t get us something else will. In too many cases, it already has.
Carole came to visit us for two days, but she stayed for four. She was exhausted and probably would have ended up in the hospital if she didn’t come for a rest. She has spent that last twenty months taking care of her husband, Reggie, who had a massive heart attack and would have died within a week if he had lived almost anywhere but near Boston.
Reggie fell when his heart got blocked and he hit his head and has neurological damage. He can’t walk by himself. He can’t even get out of bed without a lot of help. Carole is now paying for help, but the only time she really gets to rest is when he goes into the hospital for another test or surgery.
Still, that’s better than my wife’s friend, Franny. Franny and my wife have worked together on a big scholarship program. Fran was very capable and could do a lot of organization very easily. But last year she said she had a couple of medical issues to deal with. She kept in touch by email, offering a few suggestions when my wife would ask her. A couple of Sundays ago she sent a lovely email about how proud she was about everything they had accomplished. The next Thursday her husband called my wife to let her know that Franny had died on Tuesday. She had been in hospice for two months.
My wife was very upset for a few days. She was constantly teary. What made the whole situation more difficult was that my wife was trying to find a way to tell another person whom they worked with about Franny. This person was about to go into Dana-Farber for a bone-marrow transplant for leukemia. Learning that their friend had died was not an uplifting beginning to treatment.
Three days ago we got an email from one of our neighbors where we live when we are not on The Cape. The message told us that Mike was doing alright, better than expected. He too had suddenly fainted, fell on his face, broke his teeth, a bone in his neck, bruised his ribs, and is recovering from a small stroke.
Everyone is happy he is still alive and will recover. Mike was silently compared to Harold who lived at the end of the street, but we didn’t know him well. We didn’t even know he was sick. Harold died three weeks ago and had kept everything private.
I could go on. There are friends on dialysis, with MS, and most scary, with dementia. When people reach seventy, eighty, or older, despite all of the fabulous medical advances, people still get sick and die, or else they just die. It makes me appreciate every day that I am upright and breathing. It also makes me realize that in an instant, due to one slip, pop, or unexplained pain, everything can be totally different — and not usually better.
Over the last two years, we canceled two trips to Portugal and one to Argentina. We have no idea if we will ever feel comfortable leaving our restricted safe zones. We had been going to Miami in the winter to enjoy an internationally flavored, urban vacation. When will going to Florida ever feel safe again?
Maybe going to Florida is safer than flying in and out of Kabul, but it is still a higher risk than I’m willing to take. And anyway, they now both seem to have a dangerous and repressive form of government.
As a result of all this is I have come to feel more discouraged about America, and what life will be like here for the next decade. Too much is falling apart, and still, there are forces that continue to keep pushing us over the edge. They encourage greed, selfishness, and discord when planning, cooperation, and caring are the only things that can help us. The piper has taken our children and we have stubbornly refused to pay the 1000 guilders. Some are now saying that they never liked those kids anyway.
I am not worried about myself. I’ll consider myself lucky to still be typing in ten years. I believe my children and their children will survive, and even thrive, as they are on the up-side of the great divide. They have more resources, connections, and money than I do. The parents all have jobs that are doing something that may benefit all of humanity, either sooner or later. The kids are over-privileged and it has served them well. They have each developed different ways of getting along, but they are socially and academically skilled, and each has already developed methods of discerning opportunities from dangers, and deciding whom to trust, and whom to avoid. They know that many unknown and unforeseen difficulties will eventually confront them, but right now they have mastered the highest slides at the waterpark, so things are good.
But, for the other 90% of the world, the 2020s could have horrors similar to, but very different from the awfulness of the twenties century. There won’t be carpet bombings or the use of nuclear weapons (although that is never completely assured), but there will be hurricanes, fires, plagues, and waves of migration due to climate change. There will be no water in several US states, and it will average 115 degrees for months. New skills will be needed for the fewer new jobs, and there will be fights over access to expensive life-saving medicines. The divide between the rich and poor will continue to increase, which will add to the constant, low-level threat of terrorist attacks. People will create clever new ways to rapidly spread misinformation, and we already have technology that helps authoritarian governments more than protects us from them.
Maybe, my current negativity is due to having the first cold I have had in two years, and I am a terrible patient. It wasn’t COVID, and three of my friends are suffering with exactly the same cold. For me, it blocked my chest and due to my chemo-damaged lungs, there were times I was wheezing heavily. It probably originated in one friend’s grandchild. It was worse for that person because he is still undergoing cancer treatments. Now, ten days later, I still cough. Total COVID restrictions had kept us all healthy. I may never take off my mask again.
Perhaps my views are too negative, and my cold has made me even more cynical. Perhaps Joe Biden will succeed in turning the economy around and getting 80% of the country vaccinated. Maybe the Justice Department will arrest those who have incited and participated in the violent attempt to overthrow our government. They will be punished and their movement destroyed. Maybe some of those innovative and creative young men and women at our local tech school (MIT) will develop methods of sucking the CO2 out of the atmosphere and using the carbon to make food and the oxygen to help everyone breathe. Or Maybe they can combine the oxygen with hydrogen and pour all of that H2O into the Colorado River. Maybe the sun will come out.
I’ll do my part to push things in the right direction, Sisyphean task that it has always has been. Yet, it must be done, or else the world could slip into another Dark Age, led by despots who preach lies and superstitions. We must keep shining the light and taking good care of all our children. Pay the 1000 Guilders.
For now, I’ll need to take this box of tissues with me.