Recalled to life

November 2021
Harvey Starkman

About a week ago, I received a summons to report for jury duty. Like most people, I was not happy to be called. I wasn’t concerned about lost time or wages, or the interruption to my daily routine. What I was concerned about was having to be indoors for an extended period of time in close proximity to a whole lot of people I didn’t know. But being over 70, I got to play my “Get out of Court Free” card, and the summons disappeared.

Not so long ago, serving on a jury might have seemed like a welcome and interesting diversion from my daily life. I’m retired, curious, a fan of courtroom dramas. I could have easily taken public transit to the courthouse. My wife and I would often subway to the theatre nearby and comfortably settle in to watch a play with hundreds of people around us. 

It’s been about 20 months since we’ve done that, and the thought of doing it again still doesn’t appeal to me. COVID-19 has made me and many of my generation not only careful but cautious. While young people have responded to the opening up of the city and the province with a joy super-charged by release from enforced isolation, folks like me are still holding back.  
Let’s face it: COVID-19 has been the greatest collective trauma most of us have experienced. If you were anxious to begin with, the sudden appearance of the virus and its terrible impact on what we thought of as our “normal lives,” magnified our anxieties exponentially. What exactly were we afraid of? A potentially deadly, invisible virus and people who might unknowingly transmit it to us or our loved ones? A future whose shape we could not make out? The pandemic scared many of us badly, and that tight, anxious feeling may take time to unwind. But it also gave some of us an excuse for not doing things that we didn’t enjoy anyway, a licence to shut down and to disconnect.
My court summons was actually a call to reconnect with people and the daily flow of life; a call to return to the wider world, even though we do not yet have a map of its new borders. Then how do you navigate a safe transition? If you’re lucky and have a lot of choice, you survey the landscape yourself and make decisions that reflect what you value and what you fear. In the simplest terms, you evaluate risk against reward; then you act.
I was blown away watching the crowds at the World Series games. Unmasked, tightly packed, loudly cheering – even in Atlanta, the home of the Centers for Disease Control. What were they were thinking! Did they weigh the risks? Did they believe that even if the risks were high, the rewards were too? Or did they believe that the rewards were high and the risks low? 
We are probably at a time where I could and should be reconnecting with society more than I’ve allowed myself. One of my challenges in reconnecting is balancing my desire to participate in the world again with what I know about the risks of COVID today. I know that high vaccination rates along with other public health measures have kept daily COVID cases low. Even so, I’m still not ready to go to a restaurant to dine indoors. Would it be high risk behaviour? Likely not.

But at this point the value I place on the reward is not high either, especially when other attractive alternatives are available. On the other hand, the rewards of watching any of my five grandchildren play hockey in arenas where I’m screened before I enter, masked, and able to distance myself from others is a risk I’m more than willing to take. For many, this may not be a big and daring step, but for me, it is a step in the right direction.  
Harvey Starkman finds writing for the HJN and its readers a very rewarding experience, worth all the risks that writers face. Happy Chanukah!