I don’t have Long Covid and am grateful for that. But like many others, I do have a metaphorical long covid. A social or psychological long covid. For some, life was delayed. For others, life accelerated.
For working people and children, delays have been damaging. Young people starting college, children in K -12 lost an entire year of education, their skill levels plummeting. Due to its immeasurable socializing and communication development, we’ve discovered that in-person education cannot be replicated on Zoom. High school graduates had no prom, no awards ceremony, no commencement, those major rites of passage. One of our grandsons delayed a year starting college because he did not want to do it online. Metaphorical long covid meant delays that seemed interminable to the young, impatient to start their lives.
For us old people, life paused and then accelerated. Before Covid we went to the gym three times a week, met with neighbors in a Saturday morning coffee group. I had walks with friends and attended an in-person yoga class. Phil had coffee dates with a former graphic design colleague with whom he could talk typography, a language in which few laymen are fluent. We went out to eat, to movies, traveled to San Francisco to see family, to Mexico and in 2019 took our bucket list trip to Europe, just under Covid’s wire.
Since Covid, we rarely go to the gym. I resumed yoga via Zoom. The other women in the class keep their cameras off. I suspect them of not doing the Warrior poses. We order takeout, stream films at home, traveled once in three years. Phil has graphic design coffee dates less often. He still does the book jacket restoration and I still teach, both activities online from home. We sit at our computers much of the day.
Since Covid, we don’t drive comfortably at night—because our eyes have worsened, because we’re out of practice, or both. Since Covid, we are stressed by noisy, crowded places. We were becoming uncomfortable with crowds anyway, but Covid spiked that intolerance. We tried Saturday morning coffee once and were overwhelmed by the number of people, the crosstalk and noise, couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Covid increased our tendency to stay home, where it’s quiet. Covid accelerated our aging.
The long covid afflicting many of us left young people with ground to make up and pushed old people nearer our finish lines. I don’t mean to be grim: we’ll live as long as we were meant to—excepting those old people who died of Covid, of course. Of the 1.1 million U.S. Covid deaths 2020 – 2022, about 70% were people over seventy. Many families are missing grandparents sooner than expected and they were grief-stricken. The rest of the country found it easy to discount those elder deaths. Past seventy, whatever the cause, death is no longer notable.
Our grandson has finished a French intensive and his sophomore year and will spend half his summer in a French immersive course in Tours. He’s been to Berlin, Prague, and London, learned to travel as seasoned youth do, with just a backpack, been a waiter on the side and is nurturing interest in writing and philosophy. He’s hungry for experience, making up for lost time.
Meanwhile, natural processes like reduced involvement in the world have been given a boost for some of us. I force myself out of the house from time to time, like taking medicine because I know it’s good for me. Once I’m at dinner with friends or an art opening, I enjoy myself. We’ve even been out to a few movies lately, one or two restaurants.
Nevertheless, the long repercussions of Covid have pushed us further along our unwinding paths than we’d otherwise have been by now. Unwinding as loosening of bondage, shuffling off nonessentials, reducing life to its marrow. Unwinding like the Hindu tradition of renouncing life as you age, becoming a hermit or ascetic; like the Thoreau tradition of seclusion. Such extremes are beyond most of us, beyond me. But if Covid hadn’t happened, I might still be going to the gym three days a week, still meeting that raucous group for coffee, still traveling once or twice a year—still, in short, a more active participant in the world than I am now.