Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 21, 2021

Lessons from my grandparents

By KATY WILNER | April 4, 2020

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Is this what retirement feels like? I keep asking myself this question as I begin to lose track of what day it is, begin to forget the feeling of stress and begin to plan my days around taking walks. Recently, I went grocery shopping. The experience of doing something productive outside was exhilarating. 

Life has become a lot smaller since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. School feels like an abstract thing of the past and the entirety of my existence orbits around my bedroom. Although this sounds depressing, I don’t hate it. I can still remember how I used to dread leaving the house to make it to my early morning classes, knowing that the moment I stepped out of bed my day would consist of a nonstop To Do list.

But now, I feel old. I reminisce about college, my friends, my old habits. I wake up early, eat my dinner early and go to bed early. And although I miss spring semester so much, I’m oddly content living in the tiny bubble of my quarantine.

However, when I think about how COVID-19 affects certain demographics, particularly the elderly, my anxiety skyrockets.

My sister and I dropped off some cookies at my grandparents’ house the other week. It felt strange and empty to not have our grandma give us her customary shower of kisses and to not have our grandfather pat us on the back. 

My grandparents typically have an extensive routine that keeps them busy. They go to the gym, walk on the beach, go to the theater and hang out with their friends. Now, since all group gatherings are banned, they don’t have any of that, but they still seemed in high spirits when we visited. They’ve adapted in their own way to this pandemic, just like the rest of us, but with higher stakes because they know the statistics about older people contracting the disease.

Then I realized that part of the reason why all of the changes we’ve experienced feel so strange and frightening is because we don’t have anything to compare it to besides the movie Contagion. Reality feels apocalyptic and surreal because we grew up reading history books that told us to be frightened by war and famine, political corruption and greed. We were never told to be frightened by a novel virus that would kill thousands of unfortunate people regardless of their nationality or status.

I asked my grandma if she had ever seen anything like this before. She told me that when she was a little girl, people were still frightened by things we now think of as routine vaccinations. Measles, smallpox and polio were all once invisible killers that dominated worldwide fear. Although there are still places in the world where people don’t have access to vaccines to prevent these horrible diseases, modern science at least was able to create some kind of control.

When I feel a sense of anxiety about the current pandemic, or when I worry that this kind of living will be our forever lifestyle, I try to remind myself that this, like measles or smallpox or polio, will also be controlled.

My grandparents love to tell stories about things that happened years ago. And to me, they’re just stories, even though I know once upon a time they were their reality. Now, as we live through a period of time where we face such uncertainty and worry, I try to think that someday I’ll be telling my grandchildren about all of this. And to them, it will all just be a story.

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