Covid Obituaries

April 20, 2020

As is my morning routine in retirement I pour a cup a coffee, open up the Boston Globe and head to the section on obituaries. I am not proud of starting off  the day with an overview of those fellow humans who have passed in the last few days, but as a member of the senior set such an exercise comes with the territory.

In the last few weeks the short bios of those smiling faces now gone to their eternal rest have multiplied to encompass a whole section of the newspaper. Many of the obits added a phrase like ” succumbed to the Covid” or ” died fighting the Covid-19.” The majority of the bios with the smiling faces do not mention the cause of death or Covid but it is a safe assumption that the virus has claimed an ever increasing number of my age group.

Staring at the death notices does remind me of my mortality, although I brush off the dismal thoughts and move on to the sports section. But what lingers on in my thoughts is the impact of the virus on my family – my wife Carol, our three daughters, our sons in law and our four grandchildren. All of us have dreams and plans, hopes for the future and an inner confidence that because we are Americans all will get better and return to the life we all led before Covid-19. As we believe with little hesitation, science will save us, a vaccine will be developed, the economy will return from the abyss, and all of us will continue to enjoy good times again.

But at the same time I tell myself that normalcy, real normalcy, i.e. the good ol’days, is really two years away. No matter what our president says, we are on a long journey to finally beat the virus. Sure there will be slow and partial openings of the economy, a return to work for a new definition of essential workers, and a feeling of relief that we are on the right track to defeat the virus.

Yet I keep thinking of my family- their world will change dramatically, as it has already. While those obituaries may decline in number, there could be another spike down the road, a new pandemic to face, an economy stuck in years of weakness. Sadly, unexpected death, cruel death, lonely death will remain a fixture of the way we will live for longer than we hope.

Hope, however, is what we have in abundance in this country and hope will get us through this crisis. Americans have always been about the future; we possess an unfailing optimism. What is in short supply these days is realism and a practical understanding of the enormous challenges we will face to not only beat the virus but also to reshape our world in ways that improve the way we think and live. As Dr. Anthony Fauci says quite accurately, there is no magic light switch that turns on the economy or for that matter returns us to the good ol’days. This will be a struggle, a long march with disappointments and sadness, and yes many obituaries.

It is thus important to accept the reality of disappointments and sadness and many obituaries, but at the same time to infuse that reality with hope and optimism. We’ll get through this together but not tomorrow or the next day or for that matter the next year.




The Economy or Death

March 26, 2020

You might have seen that some of the “out there” conservatives and Trumpers have redefined patriotism by stating with a straight face that seniors should accept the possibility of death from the Covid-19 virus in order to save the economy. Going back to work and “normalcy” by elder Americans, even though public health experts warn of the dangers, is what this nation needs now as the stock market is heading south, unemployment is skyrocketing and businesses are in real danger of bankruptcy.

So to bring  some measure of science to this proposal of the economy over death, I posed the question to our three daughters and asked them it they would be OK if Mom and Dad cashed out in order to provide them with a stronger economy and a brighter stock market future. Thankfully, our daughters answered in the negative and assured us that they would choose life rather than death, a temporary attack on the economy over visiting our grave site, and seeing us for years to come rather than resurrecting the nation on Easter.

It would seem that our family and I am sure millions and millions of Americans define patriotism in a far different way then those right wing blowhards and the billionaires who they shill for. For our family patriotism means love of country, love of American traditions and principles, and love of all those fellow citizens who believe in their hearts that we are all in this together and need to stick together to fight the virus. To some, patriotism may be the status of the Dow Jones or the value of their 401K,  but our country and our democracy is about people, not the corporate bottom line. There is not a legitimate economist or financial guru who predicts that this virus will forever destroy our economy and our way of life. We’ll get through this, and yes there will be hardship, sacrifice and uncertainty but grandma and grandpa need not give up their lives.

Carol and I will be around, alive and kicking; we are not going anywhere other than a walk around the block. Stay calm, wash your hands and be a real patriot.


The Year of Driving Dangerously

August 13, 2019

Up here in Boston, and I suspect in most major urban centers, traffic congestion is becoming unbearable, and only getting worse. But what is even more unbearable and getting worse is the increasing danger of just plain driving your car, whether to the mall or simply to fill up at the gas station.

It is now commonplace to experience being cut off by an impatient driver, passed on the highway by someone exceeding the speed limit by 20 mph, seeing stories on the news of drivers beating each other up on the side of the road or shooting it out, usually over a minor infraction. My pet peeve are the people who enter an intersection at 40 mph and then at the last second come to a stop as you wonder whether they are just going to ignore the traffic sign. Meanwhile you fear for your life.

Road rage is now commonplace, courtesy is a virtue from a bygone era, and obeying the rules of the road are just an inconvenience to be ignored. Speed is all important and weaving from one lane to another at 80-90 mph is now the new rule of the road. Then of course there are the proliferation of middle finger salutes by those kings and queens of the highways who can’t understand why someone would drive the posted limit.

I must admit that I come from a different era  and with my age take a more cautious approach to driving. I am not a Sunday driver out for an afternoon stroll, but I do obey the rules and expect that others would do the same.  Sadly, I am quickly becoming a minority, an old man who just can’t adjust to the new way of driving.

I suspect that all this aggressiveness behind the wheel is the result of depressingly long rides home from work or the frustrations at the office being released on the way home. But not a day goes by without the news of a major crash on a highway with deaths the story line. As I watch the news of another deathly accident I plead to the television set, “Please, just settle down and drive carefully.”

Unfortunately, we are not a country that uses mass transit as a means of traveling to a destination; it’s all about the car and the privacy of sitting alone in traffic. Now sitting in a overcrowded subway car or commuter train is not my idea of fun, but it does give people an opportunity to relax, sleep, read or converse while someone else does the driving. This option is not going to move to the forefront of transportation in this country, but instead will be replaced by driving dangerously. Watch out, keep alert and follow the old refrain – drive defensively, only now drive defensively as if your life depended on it.



The Sources of our National Divide

May 7, 2018

As a result of responsible data collection, reasoned analysis from trusted public thinkers, and some old fashioned common sense from those with a keen historical sense it is now clear what has driven and continues to drive our terrible political polarization and unrelenting social anger. Let’s take a look at the sources of our national divide.

One of the primary foundations of our national divide is income inequality. The renowned French economist Thomas Piketty in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century  and University of Michigan social scientist Ronald Inglehart use a wealth of data to verify a twist on the old adage- the rich are getting richer the while rest of us are standing still. In the United States the top ten percent of Americans now take home nearly half of the national income. For the rest of Americans wage growth is relatively stagnant. There have been some recent small gains, but most of the working classes are pretty much where they were ten years ago. The nation’s largest employer, Wal-Mart, pays most of its workers in the $ 8-12 range. The United States is now one of the leading countries in terms of income inequality.

With that kind of pay inequality it is no wonder that people are angry as they live paycheck to paycheck and have to scrape together money in case of a family emergency, even as simple as paying the deductible for a car accident. That anger is part of the answer for Donald Trump’s base of support and the joy over the tax cut which put some money, usually a modest amount, in the pockets of the “forgotten Americans.” But a few more bucks in a paycheck is not going to ease the anger or solve our national division. That same Trump tax bill actually increased the gap between the rich and the working class and will continue widening the gap in the coming years.

Then there is the 21st Century equivalent of the industrial revolution – the information revolution. As documented by Walter Russell Mead in the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs and Paul Krugman of the New York Times that smartphone or laptop may be a godsend to you and your family but it is part of a gigantic shift in how we work in this country.  Foreign trade is not putting people out of work, rather it is automation, all those mechanical robots on assembly lines, those cameras that have replaced toll takers, the swanky new garbage trucks that pick up the refuse without the help of two assistants, and computerized banking programs that have put tellers on the unemployment lines.  The list of automation destroying old line jobs is endless and will only grow in the coming years. It would be great if there was a public-private partnership to retrain workers in the new growth areas of work, but right now there is only anger and despair as the information revolution replaces the industrial revolution. The divide marches onward as more and more Americans blame somebody, anybody, usually a politician for their sad future. Of course the answer is in the willingness of people to adapt to a new age, but that is easier said than done.

Then there is the immigration/racial divide.  The history of this country has too often been defined by periods of anti-immigration nativism, racial animosity and plane old bigotry. From “No Irish Need Apply” to the Know-Nothing Party to the Neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville there has unfortunately been a strain of antipathy toward those who appear different and are not “American.” Trump used this antipathy for his benefit as he championed the wall, harshly criticized Muslim-Americans, and made clearly racially charged comments against African-Americans. He got the votes he wanted but in the process pushed this country into a national divide as too many of us forget how we became a great nation and how we often welcomed those “huddled masses longing to be free.” Sadly, it has become easier and easier to find a racial reason for our all that ails us, rather than see racial harmony as the key to building unity.

Finally, our national divide continues and even spreads because of our longing to return to the days of family, church and community of the 1950’s. Especially for those who were brought up in that era of calm and order, today with its open society of gay marriage, LGBT rights, recreational marijuana, pornography, violent video games, atheism, and a growing secular bent America is a place that is viewed as headed to hell in a hand basket unless we return to the old days when we didn’t have all these free thinking abominations. If we would only say Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays in order to accommodate those who make up a growing diverse nation, all would likely be better, at least that is the argument from  those who remember the Ozzie and Harriet 1950’s television show. But of course the 1950’s are not coming back – the family is in tatters, nearly 40% of young people are irreligious, and more and more people are holed up in their bunker homes afraid to become part of a vibrant community.

So what to do? Peace and unity are not around the corner. We will just have to struggle through this mess for a while, perhaps for another generation.  We just don’t have the political leaders or the political will to unify and compromise and find consensus. We very well could be headed to hell in a hand basket, but one thing to remember, this country, despite difficult times in the past, has always found a way to rebound from adversity. The American spirit may be in retreat but it is not dead and likely will re appear to bring us to a better day; it just won’t happen next year.


The Elderly

January 8, 2018

Our son-in-law Jim called during the massive winter storm and said he was following the directions of the weather people who said that the elderly should be checked on to make sure they are safe. My wife and I know that Jim was only kidding (we think) but it did strike up a conversation about how best to define two 70 year olds.

Are we best described as senior citizens? Are we retired folks? Are we aging? Or are we just plain old? No matter what some have said, 70 is not the new 50, but rather 70 is 70, so let’s not kid ourselves.  Thankfully my wife and I are still in good health and have most of our thought processes in tact, although the hearing is slowly slipping away. 70 may not be the new 50 but in our case it doesn’t feel like the end of the road of life, and of course there are those 10% discount days at Target and the fact that some people even hold a door open for you. One bit of advice-at 70 perfect the art of looking a bit confused and you often get the sympathy vote and the benefits that follow.

As we finished our discussion of how best to define us, my wife and I kind of settled on the senior citizen tag because it adds a bit of dignity to the title as in “senior manager”, “senior vice-president” and ” head of the senior class.” But whatever title is chosen, these days reaching 70 means you have entered the ” slow go” years when vacations, nights out on the town and sporting events have to be planned with more attention to the impact on the heart, the legs and the back. At 70 we would all like to state that ” you are only as old as you feel” but by this stage in life not everything is working to perfection.

My wife and I are enjoying our senior years and we don’t mind if Jim in jest ( we think) calls on us to see how we are weathering the storm. We believe there are many good years ahead, so we will stick with senior citizen and put off for awhile the title ” elderly” and certainly just plain ” old.”