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Good Days and Not So Good Days


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By Kathy Kaiser of

It’s tricky enough being an older person navigating a world that belongs to the young. But in this time of pandemic, it’s becomes even more problematic.

A few weeks ago, I was walking on a path near my home, when a group of children and their mothers were heading straight for me. When we saw each other, we all froze in place, unsure of what to do. Because the path had a ditch on either side, I couldn’t move off the path and keep our distance at the prescribed six feet or more.

Finally, I squeezed myself as close to the ditch as possible, and they silently walked by.

In normal times, they would have seen me smile, and I likely would have made some conversation like "How are you doing?" or "Beautiful day," but the mask prevented them from seeing that I was happy to encounter a bunch of children enjoying this spring day, and anything I said would have been muffled.

The situation felt awkward and after they passed me, I heard one little girl say: “Some people are just jerks.” Was she referring to me or someone else?

Since then, I’ve made it a point, when I encounter others on the path, of stepping off and loudly saying (through my mask) hello or waving. If they’ve stepped off the trail for me, I thank them loudly. Yet each encounter feels slightly tense, as if my presence requires some action on their part.

Or maybe they regard me, as an older person statistically more susceptible to the coronavirus, with some suspicion. Maybe I'm a reminder of the deadliness of this disease, as if they spotted the grim reaper coming down the trail.

Many writers on aging have noted that this pandemic is exacerbating ageism. As public health agencies warn that those most susceptible to COVID-19 are people over 60, we seniors are being lumped into a category of people who are helpless, weak and close to death (even as some 70-year-olds might be healthier than a sedentary 35-year-old).

More than ever before, I feel I'm the "other" — separate from the rest of humanity because of my age and vulnerability to disease.

I appreciate my fellow hikers and walkers who are considerate enough to give me a wide berth on the trail but I want nothing more than to go back to normal, to a time when an older woman hiking on a path was nothing to fear — or even notice.

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Keep on walking. A sedentary 35-year-old is just a susceptible to complications from the disease as you are.

I have noticed on walks around my "hood" that I am the person who moves off the sidewalk to go into the street to keep the social distancing, not the younger person even if they are
not accompanied by children. But that's OK with me; I figure I am setting a good example.

I always take my mask now on my arm and put it on as I see someone approach, but sometimes I cannot see the woman running with a stroller behind me, or the cyclist, and most of those do not wear masks. Then I put mine on real fast.

At the grocery store I indicated to a young woman with a kid who was too close behind me that she was to stand on the yellow mark...she said, "I'm 6 feet from you" but she was in reality about 3 feet. I just turned around and took my time unloading my basket. Most people are considerate, but not everyone.

I am 80, have no underlying health conditions and one reason I am so healthy is my outdoor activities, and my held on Zoom, so I plan to continue to walk and to hike with precautions as ordered by our California governor.

So glad you brought up the topic of walking--such an important part of staying healthy. It is difficult to see if we are smiling behind the masks we are wearing. Crinkling your eyes as you smile helps, smiling widely behind the mask changes our expression above the mask as well. And finding yourself, as Kathy writes, on a narrow trail with no room to make way, is an impossible situation for everyone. Rail trails are a good alternative option, but they have issues as well, the first being they are generally quite crowded. I urge people to #getoutearly to #avoidcrowds, and being familiar with your local trails helps in strategizing how to maintain distance. Thanks for sharing this topic.

Personally, I think that the mothers and kids were the jerks. What is so hard about passing you single file so you don’t have to be the one squeezing close to the ditch? Sometimes the cluelessness and rudeness of others astounds me!

Even people who are complying with the 6' and masks are not used to it yet. Sadly we will get a lot more practice the way things are going. Here I've seen people abandoning the sidewalk for each other going into the street and over open lawns to maintain the space. I love that you are gracious about this and being an "old fashioned granny" I'd have bopped an of my grandkids on the head if they said something like that. Keep truckin".

It's possible that the parent was having the Why We Do This conversation with the kids (because continuing to motivate the change in habits is part of building a change in habits) and part of the Why We Do This conversation is sometimes "because lots of people are doing X, Y, and Z and increasing community risk so that other people are in danger, so we have to be even *more* careful to try to make up for that extra virus spread" - and that latter bit [which might reference people who publicly refuse to wear masks and keep their distance, and who cough on anyone who objects] would quite reasonably call forth a "some people are just jerks" from a kid.

That said, I'm in favor of enthusiastic greetings in part so that we're less likely to be silently resenting each other or imagining we're being silently resented. :-) (it is harder to silently resent someone for extremely minor offenses when you're smiling at them - usually, anyway?)

I am continuing what I have been doing for 9 years during this pandemic -- walking mostly in residential neighborhoods of my city, taking photos. So I have lots of opportunity to see what people are doing about finding a new civility.

Away from commercial streets, most people are like me: masked when in sight of one another, careful about distance as much as is safe, including going into the street sometimes.

I have taken to saying "hello" often, since the mask keeps people from seeing my smile marking that we're all on the same page ...

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