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Aging in a Time of Pandemic

By Dr. Sidney Trubowitz

PROMPT — Who am I today?

Almost seven years ago, Our Town, a local New York City paper, published an article I had written on the subject of aging. I was 90 years old at that time. This year, on February 4th, I will celebrate my 97th birthday and I consider what changes the ravages of time have wrought. My previous piece began with the sentences, “I am old. I am not old.”

I wonder if that view of life continues to this day. I begin by noting that I am 96 and still alive. I no longer go to the gym regularly to do my thing on the treadmill, ride on a stationary bicycle, and relax in the sauna. With the onset of the pandemic, I stopped taking the subway or riding the bus. But I continue to walk. Each morning, I take a six-block round trip from my home to pick up my copy of The New York Times from the neighborhood stationery store. I sometimes lengthen my newspaper-buying trek to move to a bench in nearby Central Park to complete my perusal of the day’s events. When the weather cooperates, I walk with my wife, son, and daughter-in-law to the Central Park Conservatory to be surrounded by the beautiful foliage and the chirping of birds.

My son no longer refers to my age as only a number. But I remain separate from the men stumbling down the street behind walkers or holding tightly to the arm of a caregiver. When my posture tends to slope, a reminding glance or gentle touch results in a straightened back.

I continue to enjoy watching the athletes on television playing basketball, running and jumping at an unreal pace. One day I found myself on a playground accompanied by my son, my grandson, and a few of his friends. We moved towards the basketball backboard and hoop. I called for a ball and took a shot. I barely hit the rim. “Move a little closer, Dad,” my son advised. I stepped forward and shot again. The ball went through the hoop. My grandson’s friends turned to him to remark on what they saw as a significant event, “Your grandpa made a basket.”

I live in an apartment building occupied by residents of long standing. Their numbers dwindle as I get reports from the doormen of Dr. S. and his wife having moved into rehab, Mrs. R. having an automobile accident, and Mr. D. never leaving his apartment. But I continue to be gratified by the sight of an older woman who, each day, seated on a lobby couch accompanied by an aide, invariably greets me with a warm smile and a wave as I walk towards the elevator.

I attend my grandson’s soccer matches and flag football games. I marvel at his speed, agility, and all-around skill as he moves up and down the field. I cannot help but take pleasure from the thought that athletic ability has moved from grandfather to father to grandson. I recall my name inscribed on a plaque in the Athletic Hall of Fame located in a corridor next to the CCNY gymnasium which reads: “Basketball: 1943-44. New York City Unanimous Selection for All-Metropolitan Team. High scorer of the city.”

There are times on a long walk when I need to stop to recoup my energy. On occasion during the day, I get tired and I take a nap. But I resist the idling of my head. I can still handle numbers. I remember the home telephone numbers and the cell numbers of my children. I can still multiply numbers in my head: 45 x 23. Multiply 45 x 20, you get 900. Multiply 3 x 45, you get 135. Add 900 to 135, you get 1035.

Although I no longer maintain a systematic writing routine, I have had four articles published in recent years, one in BoomerLitMag, one in The Library Quarterly, one in Kappan, and the other in The Awakening Review. I am in the throes of completing a project describing my life in education, which I have tentatively entitled, “A Personal History of Urban Education.” It depicts the forces that shaped my development as an educator as I trace my path from student to teacher to school principal to professor to college administrator.

But as much as I try to deny the impact of age, there are changes. I no longer drive and I rely on my son for automobile travel. I surrender to the urge to look at newspaper obituary announcements, wondering whether I will find the names of people I once knew. In the store where I pick up my daily newspaper, I drop some papers to the floor. I pause at the prospect of retrieving what has slipped from my hand. Sal, the proprietor, rushes to pick up what has fallen. I allow him to help.

And yet, in many ways, things have stayed the same. My wife and I have been married for 60 years. We share morning coffee and talk— about “On the Waterfront,” the movie we had seen on television the previous night, about the progress we are making with our writing efforts, about our good fortune in having such wonderful grandchildren.

As I finish the writing of this piece, pictures serving as screen-savers flash across the computer. A lifetime of family scenes appears—a group gathered on the patio of the River Café to celebrate my wife’s 70th birthday; my grandchild, Leela, ensconced in my arms shortly after birth; my grandkids gleefully modeling their Halloween costumes; a pool side lunch on a shared vacation in the Dominican Republic; and other times of family fun.

I look forward to a year in which we will see the end of COVID and my daughter will be able to fly in more regularly from Evanston. I anticipate movie outings and attendance at museums. As I move into my 97th year, I envision a time when family visits no longer demand the wearing of masks.

 

Dr. Sidney Trubowitz is a professor emeritus of education from Queens College of the City University of New York and a former elementary school teacher, assistant principal and principal, high school English teacher, professor of education, and associate dean and director of the Queens College Center for the Improvement of Education. He is the author of The Good Teacher Mentor: Setting the Standard for Support and Success (Teachers College Press, 2003). His most recent pieces include "Running" and "Lessons in Obedience—and Resistance." Sidney lives in New York City with his wife and continues to share stories with his two children and three grandchildren.


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