This afternoon, a student had to cancel our online lesson due to an emotional meltdown. Another has dissolved into tears halfway through the last two lessons. Another is noticeably edgy and short-tempered. Another is depressed and now has intonation problems (flat) that never existed before. Are you noticing a pattern here?
And in case you happen to be reading this a few years from now and everything is “back to normal” (will that ever happen?), I am writing this in Washington State, summer of 2020, in the middle of an extended quarantine.
These kids, ranging in age from nine to sixteen, are suffering. They are trapped inside, not allowed to play with their friends, with little to do (besides practicing) other than play video games, read, or take a walk with a sibling or parent (with a mask on, of course). Camp has been cancelled (except for online – a poor substitute that completely misses the point), swimming pools are closed, vacations postponed. Most are not even allowed to walk down the street to hang out with someone not of their household.
To some of you that might sound trivial, and perhaps it was – for a while. But we are social creatures. School-aged kids need time with their peers. This is a psychological need, invisible but still every bit a need. This is not an inconvenience or a momentary disappointment they’ll just get over. There is a real loss here. My goodness, I am so glad my kids are grown! And I feel so sorry for the parents of my students.
“Yes, but compared to loss of life, this is insignificant.” Except that these kids – or anyone under 40 – are more likely to die from a car accident than from covid-19. For that matter, anyone healthy and under 50 is in the same category. And yet, these children who have virtually no risk of dying have lost so much that makes life worth living.
“But what about the elderly people in their families or communities who might die if they caught the virus from an asymptomatic child?” First, only a couple of my students live with a family member who is vulnerable, and those students will continue with online lessons indefinitely. The rest of them are able to forego contact with grandparents, and other people in the community (such as my husband) who are at greater risk due to age or health can self-quarantine.
There is absolutely no reason at all why everyone else should avoid getting infected. In fact, the most responsible thing we could do about covid-19 is for everyone young and healthy to get infected as quickly as possible. Go to school, go to work, don’t wash your hands, touch your face. Get it and get over it.
Meanwhile, it’s not just children who are suffering from this stunted existence. Calls to suicide hotlines are up 6,000%. Domestic violence and child molestation are way up. Deaths from alcohol and drug overdoses are way up. And time will tell how many people die from cancer or heart attacks who should have gone to the doctor but were afraid of exposing themselves to the virus.
A friend of mine had a stroke last year and was scheduled for pacemaker surgery in March. Her surgery was cancelled because our governor declared it “elective surgery” and therefore not necessary.
And what about all the people who have lost businesses that took decades – maybe even generations – to build? What about their emotional well-being, and that of their families? That kind of stress can take years off people’s lives.
What about all the desperately poor people all over the world who now will not receive charitable aid from formerly wealthy Americans who have lost their livelihoods?
Don’t all of these lives matter, or is it just people who might die from covid-19?
Can you see now why I consider this quarantine to be incredibly selfish? We’re all afraid of getting infected. We don’t even talk anymore about “flattening the curve”, we talk about “stopping the spread of infection” as if getting infected, which used to happen quite regularly without a politician telling us to hide in our homes, is the worst thing that could happen to us. To us. What about all the other people in the world, the poor, the emotionally fragile, the children who are at virtually zero risk of dying? How selfish of us to be afraid of a virus.
Maybe I am more of a risk-taker than most people. I’ll admit it: I am not terribly interested in “staying safe”. But if we as a society are afraid of the risk of dying associated with many normal activities in life, we need to stop driving cars, never fly in an airplane, don’t go to theme parks, outlaw cigarettes and alcohol and salt and sugar, don’t ride a bike, don’t walk in the rain, and don’t own a dog because it might bite you.
The point is, most of the things that make life worth living involve risk. And trying not to die is definitely not the same thing as living.
So here you go: a little happiness at the end of another day –
Quodlibet: A piece employing several well-known tunes from various sources, performed either simultaneously or in succession. (Schirmer Pocket Manual of Musical Terms)