When we left 2020 behind, many of us topped off a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” with “Good riddance!”
It was a year of living dangerously, with the constant threat of COVID-19 hanging over us, and it became a year of living very differently, adding social isolation on top of social and political unrest. It was an accidental leap year, as we were forced to vault over our daily routines, carrying on work, school, socializing, and shopping mostly online. What began as an advertising tagline for Mazda 20 years ago —“Zoom-Zoom!”— took on a new meaning.
Now that it’s 2021, the problem is…it still feels like 2020. Years and decades may be convenient astronomical markers, but real human history does not usually fit neatly within these artificial boundaries. The coronavirus continues to be an ominous threat, even with vaccines being rolled out in the next several months. Our political and social unrest is far from resolved; our economy is erratic and uneven and faces daunting long-term challenges. And we’re fatigued. Seriously fatigued.
What, then, can we do?
Well, a few weeks ago, a friend forwarded to me an email message that had come to him anonymously, titled FLIGHT 2021. Here’s an excerpt:
Welcome to Flight 2021.We are prepared to take off into the New Year. Please make sure your Positive Attitude and Gratitude are secured and locked in the upright position.
All self-destructive devices — pity, anger, selfishness and resentment — should be turned off at this time.
All negativity, hurt, and discouragement should be put away.
Should you lose your positive attitude under interior cabin pressure during this flight…reach up and pull down a prayer…
There will be no baggage allowed on this flight.
I believe this is a good start, no matter how you pray, or what your faith is. The main thing is to keep steadfast in trying to make our troubled world a better place, for us, and for the generations after us. It will a lot of perserverence, and most successes may be small steps, after numerous missteps.
As my late mother, a first-generation Cuban-American, would tell me and my brothers when we were faced with seemingly formidable tasks: Poco a poco. Little by little.
So I’m not going to make ambitious New Year’s resolutions, but do whatever I can in three areas where I believe I can make a difference: Crisis planning. Connecting with people. And Caregiving. I call them my three C’s of COVID time.
Crisis planning. Ever since Superstorm Sandy created havoc in my area more than a decade ago, I’ve been slowly gathering ideas for how to help create community-wide plans to help families cope with crises of all kinds. Our society does not do well with this kind of planning. We mostly react to crises, but this leaves many people (particularly seniors) vulnerable to pain and loss and suffering that probably could be alleviated with flexible contingency planning — especially critical communications systems. I’m going to start working with professional organizers and emergency planners who are skilled at these kinds of projects. One resource worth checking out is a local expert I’ve worked with, Linda Fostek (www.lindafostek.com), who has developed what she calls “The Crisis Planner Home System.”
Connectivity. If we’ve learned anything from dealing with COVID-19, is that social isolation can have physical and mental health consequences almost as serious as the virus itself. We’ve known for some time that in spite of the proliferation of social media, there is an epidemic of loneliness in modern society, and that social isolation has a measurable impact on human longevity. We can do better. The pandemic has focused a lot of attention on social isolation and I’m going to try to do my part to connect more often with family and old friends, many of whom I haven’t been in touch with for some time amid the busyness of our lives. And I’m going to promote programs and initiatives that are already doing good work to combat loneliness, such as AARP’s Friendly Voice Program (www.aarp.org/friendlyvoice; 888-281-0145), which uses trained volunteers to call seniors nationwide who are feeling lonely or isolated.
Caregiving. Like many adult children, I became steeped in family caregiving as one of four brothers who took care of our aging Mom for more than 20 years. We went through practically every phase of caregiving, from helping our mother age in place to handling end-of-life needs. I came to realize that what families need most is a practical guide to help them navigate the challenges of caregiving and find reliable resources and community care partners close to home. I’m now close to completing this guide for Long Island families, called The Caregiving Navigator, and will soon do another one for those caring for loved ones from a distance. Stay tuned. I’ll have more information soon about its publication date this spring. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to promote a number of great websites for family caregivers nationwide. Here are a few of them:
AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center
National Alliance for Caregiving
National Clearinghouse for Long Term Care Information
I know that making progress on these three areas is going to take me a lot of time and effort, amid the evolving pandemic. Successes will come slowly.
But like I said: poco a poco.