Until life returns to some semblance of normal, from time to time we will send out the Corona Chronicles. This publication will provide commentary, brief stories, poetry, book and movie suggestions, and ways to make our time at home meaningful and fulfilling. If you have ideas to submit, please contact Nancy Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waiting, Waiting, Waiting for . . . ?
Waiting, waiting, waiting – but for what? That is how I have been feeling recently. Senior College starting up was one of the things I was ready for. For the past year I had been re-educating myself about the Mayflower, Pilgrims, and English settlement of North America. It was going to be really fun to teach a class marking the 400th anniversary this year. Then came the pandemic. Maybe we could have a spring session anyway. No. It will have to wait – but until when?
Another expectation was getting back out on the golf course. OK for that to be delayed – the weather isn’t even all that good. Then there was a trip to see our son and family. Same for a trip overseas. When will it be safe? Life is in suspended animation. We might not mind waiting a while for any one thing, but it feels different now that it is everything.
Then beyond waiting, there is worrying. Waiting AND worrying, waiting AND worrying, waiting AND worrying . . . but worrying about what? That feels pretty global too. Getting sick – how sick? Vulnerable friends and family (one member living in a nursing home and another working in one). Where is it safe to go? What precautions? What chances to take? Are family visits OK? People you know well? Businesses and jobs? Financial security? Worries that the waiting only makes worse.
I’m not sure it is a good idea, but I am keeping a mental list of the strikes that are called against me – old, male, conditions similar enough to the ones they call “underlying.” That makes three, and I’m not yet out, but have just learned of a fourth – growing up in a highly polluted city – Los Angeles!
They say this pandemic is not so bad as many in the past – e.g., smallpox, bubonic plague, measles, yellow fever – because it is “mostly taking older people.” Do you find that thought comforting? Society will slowly revive just because a large portion get mildly ill and are done with it. But what about us seniors for whom infection may be much more dangerous? Is society going to move on with our demographic on indefinite lockdown?
Just when the corona virus hit, I happened to be reading William McNeil’s Plagues and Peoples as background for the Mayflower class. The Pilgrims arrived on the heals of several pandemics that had devastated both North and South America. The Wampanoags of Cape Cod had lost 80% or 90%. It wasn’t much better for the Pilgrims. Half died the first winter, and bubonic plague had recently taken 25% of London and would again in a few years. Those people truly “walked through the valley of the shadow of death.” Natives and English alike took the horror as punishment from the gods.
At that time, they found their hope in the possibility of mending their ways and restoring harmony with the gods. Knowing now about virus, bacteria, and vectors of transmission, we don’t expect that any amount of moral uplift would stem the tide. However, I suspect that some of that old dread is still with us, especially among us vulnerable seniors, that the gods, or God, or the universe might really not be on our side.
The founder of Maine senior colleges, Rabbi Harry Sky, believed that senior colleges would meet a spiritual as well as intellectual and social need for Maine seniors. What he saw is that seniors just as much as anyone else are looking for meaning and significance in their lives. Senior colleges would encourage that by being senior led, taught, and run and by providing classroom opportunities for seniors to reflect on their lives while exploring new topics.
Teaching at Senior College has been especially gratifying for exactly those reasons. Students and fellow faculty mature and experienced with life create a rich environment for gaining perspective as well as for learning. Perhaps this time of uncertainty and enforced isolation can prompt us to deeper reflection on who we are, where we have been, and where we are headed. Then being back together will be even richer. . . endowed with patience gained from the waiting and newly discovered insights from the worrying.
The Rev. Dr. Arlin T. Larson has taught courses at Senior College at Belfast since 2006. He has served on the Board of Trustees for eight years, three of them as president. He retired to Belfast in 2011 after serving as minister of First Congregational Church of Searsport.
I was recently asked by a friend how I had spent the past few months since my sequestering began after my back surgery in mid-January. Needless to say it has seemed like a very long time since I was out and about but I have found some activities I enjoy during this stay home period.
I have been engaged in a host of activities. Books, books, and more books have been read, the best of which was Ann Patchett’s lovely The Dutch House. I rediscovered the joy of baking bread only to find that it was just too good not to eat! I have enjoyed some excellent movies and a number of great European series on both Netflix and Amazon Prime. (If you have Netflix do not miss Herrens Veje, an exquisitely acted and produced Danish series about a present day family of ministers).
Zoom has become a very useful application in our household for church services, family chats, friendly gatherings, and Senior College. I particularly enjoyed a Zoom Class with the Lewiston Auburn Senior College on “Israel Today.” Thanks to modern day technology I have enjoyed delightful visits to a number of museums, gardens, and historic sites around the world which were not crowded at all. Plus no foot or back pain after an online tour. One outstanding tour site is the National Park Service which offers excellent online tours of five National Parks, only one of which I have ever visited. They include Kenai Fjords in Alaska; Hawaii Volcanoes; Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico; Bryce Canyon, Utah; and Dry Tortugas, Florida. I chose the Dry Tortugas because warmth and sunshine beckoned. I was not disappointed and lost track of time in the warm waters of this fascinating site.
I also enjoyed a virtual tour offered by the National Park Service which many of you would find interesting, a visit to Alexander Hamilton’s Grange Mansion in upper Manhattan. This tour is with a Park Service Ranger and Jordan Fisher a member of the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. I highly recommend this excellent look into the final home of Mr. Hamilton. To visit either of the above sites, click on the link or copy it into your browser: https://www.nationalparks.org/connect/blog/take-virtual-visit-national-park.
How have you been spending time while staying at home? Have you read a book you would recommend, seen a movie you particularly enjoyed, or visited an online site offering a unique experience? Share your experiences with us by emailing me at email@example.com.
Erik Larson’s recently published book The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz presents a very intimate account of Winston Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister starting in May 1940, just as Dunkirk was being evacuated, through the blitz bombing of London and many other British cities. Using many different diary entries from those who were closest to Churchill…..government ministers, staff people, family members and also the general public living through this perilous time before the United States finally entered the war to fight with the British to prevent a Nazi takeover of Europe, Larson presents a fascinating picture of Churchill’s inspiring leadership during that first year.
I found this to be a very engaging story of the crucial year when Britain stood alone in the fight against Hitler’s Nazi war machine, fortunately led by a man with a fascinating personality who led his country with tremendous energy and conviction and instilled in the British People the courage needed to prevail through such a dangerous, frightening time.
Reading this book of what the British people endured so stoically as we now face a world-wide pandemic reminded me of other equally perilous times in history and the crucial importance of honest, courageous and compassionate leadership.
Reviewed by Robin Kruger