I have a birthday this week. Another birthday. I won’t tell you which one, but I am in the age group that, according to a study in the UK, if I get covid I will be 20 times more likely to die than if I was 20 years younger, and hundreds of times more likely to die than if I was 40 years younger. With that in mind, I’m being careful.
At this point, I see every birthday as an accomplishment. There were plenty of times I didn’t expect to make it to this age. In fact, I was a little surprised when I turned 30. I don’t think of myself as a pessimist, and it isn’t like I’ve lived a high-risk life. But I’ve been foolish at times. Perhaps we all have.
Twenty-one was a memorable birthday, as much as I can remember of it. I was working the graveyard shift at a plywood mill in Grants Pass, Oregon. Some of my workmates took me out to a bar after our shift ended at 7 AM and proceeded to get me blind drunk. I don’t ever want to do that again.
Forty was another one. I suddenly realized that my life could be half over. If I was going to do something with it, I’d better get started. It’s funny how that works. Before 40, I had all the time in the world and drifted about. After 40 I buckled down, more or less, and signed up for graduate school.
When I turned 70, I figured I’d entered old age, but a girlfriend insisted it was just late middle-age. But now even she would agree I am old.
And I can tell I’m old. I don’t have the balance or stamina I did when I was younger. I’ve had to give up motorcycle riding, which I loved. I thought about getting a bicycle, but when I got on one I felt too unsteady. I’ll just walk. (Those hoverboards sure look like fun, though.) It’s not like I’m feeble or doddering, but I’m aware of my limitations. Not like when I was younger and thought I had no limitations.
I’ve never broken a bone, but I’m aware that a fall now could mean a broken bone or two. And those breaks would take longer to heal than they would have 40 or 50 years ago.
That’s one reason I’m not downtown at night. The right-wing media has painted Portland as a city under siege, but it looks like it usually does, with some exceptions. A number of stores boarded up their windows when they shut down because of the covid lockdown, and those windows remain boarded up. Many of the window coverings had been beautifully painted, with murals supporting Black Lives Matter or less political artwork. It is the area around the federal building that is fenced now. The bottom six to eight feet of the federal building is covered in graffiti, much of it objecting to current federal policing and policies. And there are federal police in cars with flashing blue lights around it. But it’s just those few blocks. In the rest of the city, life goes on. Or at least covid life goes on.
The acting Secretary of Homeland Security came to town. (Why are so many departments in this administration led by acting secretaries? Maybe because an acting secretary doesn’t need senate confirmation, so there’s less scrutiny of their ethics or fitness for the job.) The acting secretary admitted that the federal police force — the force hurriedly cobbled together from various agencies and sent here — that force has had no riot training. And it shows.
One young man was struck in the face with a so-called non-lethal projectile. It fractured his skull and required facial reconstruction surgery. His offense? He was holding a sign. Another, older man was beaten with a baton, breaking his hand, which also required extensive surgery. This man is a Navy veteran and graduate of the US Naval Academy. This ex-Navy man said the officers’ actions showed lack of leadership. I agree, although that’s not all it is.
Both of our senators, a couple of our congressional representatives, the governor and the mayor have all said the officers are not welcome and not needed. The Oregon Attorney General has filed suit, and an investigation into the shooting has started. I haven’t heard whether those across the country who usually decry government overreach have spoken up. Maybe it’s OK to send uncontrolled troops into Portland. It’s not like it’s Fort Worth or Tulsa or Jacksonville. I read now that they want to send more of these troops to Chicago and maybe Detroit and New York. Usually threats to the rule of law come from the bottom or from outside the country, but now they come internally, from the top.
I’ve had friends in other places contact us to make sure we are safe. Out of range and at home, we are. But there are videos of unidentified camouflage-clad men abducting people off the street and into unmarked minivans. These are scary times, but we remain safe. For now.
And I’m old. For 24 years I put my body on the line to protect this country, but I was younger then. I’m not ready to do it again, not yet. Not quite yet. I didn’t expect to last this long, but I’d like to get to at least one more birthday just to see if this country survives.