Outliving the pandemic

Lauretta finally made it to Chapel Hill in her 17th year, but she had dreamed longingly of this day since she was in 6th grade and discovered that she could write. A kindly editor at the Rocky Mount Telegram hired her to run errands and write obits when she became a senior at Tarboro High School. At the Telegram she learned of Rochelle Riley, respected  columnist with the Detroit Free Press for two decades, now director of arts and culture for the City of Detroit.

She wanted to be like Rochelle, who left Tarboro after high school and headed to Chapel Hill to study at the University of North Carolina, whose school of journalism was considered one of the best, if not the best, in the country. Lauretta wanted to follow Rochelle’s path to a career in journalism. She finally had taken that first big step two weeks ago as she hauled her things into Ehringhaus dorm on the Carolina campus.

Then everything stopped. Students became infected with the corona virus in large numbers, UNC officials halted classes and emptied dorms. Suddenly, Lauretta’s dream went poof.

Officials and faculty scurried to shift to online study for all students, and Lauretta, sick at heart, returned to Tarboro.

We can multiply her story by thousands of young adults from California to Maine. Lives change suddenly. Appropriately, we pity the dedicated, exhausted professionals laboring in health care, first responders, teachers, merchants whose businesses are drying up, multitudes of workers laid off.

On this day I think of all of the Laurettas and their shattered dreams. Betsy and I are blessed with three daughters, all of whom got to chase their educational dreams in the 1980s and now serve their communities as professionals in careers they chose. When I was a faculty member at UNC, hundreds of Laurettas enriched my life with great relationships, so naturally, my feelings are strong for students, whose dreams are on hold because of this pandemic.

But for how long? We desperately want to know when it will end. Join me for a moment to consider this pandemic’s effect on those of my generation. Besides our our special vulnerability to the virus, I mean. To be blunt, how much longer can we expect to be alive? Now 86 years old, I am one of this group who view this pandemic with this specific concern. Just as everyone else’s, our lives are on hold: no church attendance, no singing in choir, community chorus, with the dance band, no visits to be at the side of our spouses in nursing homes.

All generations need to face the unpleasant reality that we are in for a long wait for this virus finally to go away. A long wait. Eventually, we expect that most of us will be able to resume our lives, our jobs, our contact with those we love. Laurettas around the world will return to college to continue to  pursue their dreams.

But not all of us have the luxury of time. Will the pandemic end soon enough for us elders whose remaining years are limited? How long can we wait? Will we live long enough to survive the pandemic?

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