Coping Differently With the Pandemic

Submitted into Contest #104 in response to: Write about someone who everyone thinks is an extrovert, but is actually an introvert.... view prompt


Contemporary Creative Nonfiction


                                    By David L. Elkind

Many of us speak about the coronavirus in the past tense, because everyone we know has been vaccinated, and the stores and restaurants usually suggest wearing masks, but don’t require them. Now that we can view it as a recent event, it is fascinating to note how people reacted so differently to spending time with others during the pandemic. I know that some of our neighbors went more than a year without seeing anyone who wasn’t in their household. Even when they were fully vaccinated, they wouldn’t spend time with others unless everyone wore masks. I think that some of these people basically are introverts, and the pandemic gave them the chance to isolate themselves. Most of our neighbors undoubtedly think of these people, however, as extroverts, because they go to every neighborhood event and are very talkative. Appearances can be deceiving.  

Those people who are against wearing masks and won’t get the vaccine are at an increasingly high risk of getting the virus, yet they still go to crowded bars. There should be some ramifications for their behavior, but any sanction would be controversial and no doubt would lead to litigation.

My wife and I developed a different approach to social contact than those who isolated themselves. We’re extroverted. We aren’t the type to become hermits. My wife has more close friends with whom she keeps in touch than anyone I know. To us this was another challenge to overcome. We maintained safety, yet still managed to see people that we wanted to see. It took careful planning, but it was worth it.

We saw few neighbors who isolated themselves during the pandemic. Since almost everyone in our neighborhood is friendly, and we are close with many of them, it was unfortunate that we didn’t see some of them until late in the pandemic, if at all. This was very disappointing, because we like our neighborhood a lot and feel fortunate to live here. My wife and I once were at odds about remaining here, in Arlington, VA, where we’ve lived for almost 14 years, because of the high cost of living here, but when my wife focused on the fact that we have so many good friends in our neighborhood, she decided that she wanted to stay here. That was fortunate, because I loathe the thought of waking up somewhere else.

One of our first social acts during the pandemic was to get together with two other families, using social distancing, for a barbecue in the fall of 2020. We always tried to refrain from being too close to other people during the pandemic. One of the rare exceptions to social distancing happened when I played our neighbors’ oldest daughter in basketball. I thought that I would beat her easily, so I gave her a handicap to make the game competitive. That was a mistake. She torched me. She was as quick as a deer and had an excellent shot. I had always prided myself on quickness, but I learned the hard way that was a thing of the past. She matched my height, and had an excellent shot that I couldn’t stop. The strange aspect of her shellacking me is the fact that the older I get, the better I remember I was as a youth. I may eventually have been all-state in basketball, even though I never played on a team. The neighbor’s daughter who beat me is the starting center on the high school team, even though she’s only a rising junior, but for some reason she doesn’t want to play college basketball. Of course, that should be her decision, even though she’s likely going to be offered a scholarship to play at a college. The irony was that a few days later, her entire family came down with the virus, although I was fortunate not to be affected.    

The two families with whom we got together often during the pandemic have political views that are as different as night and day. Brian and Kate are die-hard Democrats, and she once worked on election issues for Obama. I don’t know about Rob’s wife Diana’s views, but Rob is a staunch Republican who does advertising for Republican candidates for office. Because of his disagreement with Trump, Rob voted for Mitt Romney in 2020. We are used to him working for Republicans, but once he started working for Mitch McConnell, we told him that he would likely be condemned for his actions. He is an anomaly in Arlington. I read recently that Arlington was the fourth most liberal jurisdictions in the country, behind only Berkley, San Francisco and Oakland, which are close together to each other. I jokingly refer to Arlington as the PRA, the People’s Republic of Arlington. In the 2020 election, we voted 81 percent for Biden.

Notwithstanding our differences (I am an independent moderate, but recently always vote for a Democrat), I love talking politics with Rob, because he is so knowledgeable. Our debates never get personal, because of our relationship. We’ve grown fond of each other, and finished an intense debate a few years ago on a controversial issue by hugging.    

As it got colder late last year, we took advantage of two things that made meeting with friends easier. First, we have a large front porch. We could maintain social distancing easily on less than one-half of the porch. My wife would prepare two identical plates of various types of food, and then put one plate in one visitor’s chair or on a small table. Second, we bought one large and two small space heaters. They were invaluable to making everyone feel warm and relaxed. I couldn’t understand how some restaurants had so many large space heaters, when they quickly go through propane gas that had to be replaced. We managed to have six couples and two men come over during the pandemic, and went to four neighbors’ homes. The one problem with getting together during this time was that most conversations focused on what we were watching on TV.

The last person that I know well to get vaccinated was my oldest daughter, who spent the last year and a half in Kazakhstan, and didn’t trust the Russian version of the vaccine. She now has been fully vaccinated.   

One person who has benefitted greatly from the recent reopening of businesses, shops and restaurants, is my Mother, who lives in Manhattan. She was champing at the bit to go out during the pandemic, and I had to tell her that going out would be tantamount to committing suicide.  Now that the pandemic is basically over, she wants to go out almost every day. We recently had a party for her at a restaurant in Manhattan to celebrate her 90th birthday. I told her that she was one of the few people that I know who doesn’t make me nervous about turning 90 because of her enthusiasm for doing things.    

I’ve had several people ask me what I’ve been most grateful for now that the pandemic has essentially ended. It’s easy to mention the joy of no longer wearing a mask anymore. I’m also glad to rediscover the lost art of the handshake. During the pandemic, the frequent greeting was to bump elbows, even though that usually put two people within six feet of each other. The first time that I shook someone’s hand again, I had to think of what I was doing. Since I hug most of my friends, which also was improper during the pandemic, I haven’t shaken that many hands recently, but it still gives me a thrill to do it.

The pandemic was the strangest event of my lifetime. Although the reaction to 9/11 was unusual, I think that the second oddest time was the reaction to the Cuban Missile threat in 1962 and subsequent fear of nuclear attack. We were trained in school during this time to get under our desks and bend our head behind us. Some of us believed that we were then supposed to kiss our rear end goodbye. The fear of a nuclear attack no longer dominates our lives, but the threat of another virus attack is constant, and likely to recur. I hope that it waits another 100 years to happen, like this one did. No matter when it happens, we had better be more prepared than we were for this one.          

July 24, 2021 17:07

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