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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: The feelings of Japan's seniors who gather amid pandemic

Rika Kayama (Mainichi)

During a lunch break at my clinic, a young doctor sighed, "Ah, I've turned down all of the various invitations I've received this year -- like my high school reunion, and meeting up with people who are into the same things as me. Because you can't have a doctor going into a closed or crowded area and getting infected with the coronavirus, can you?"

    The doctor says the bars and Chinse restaurants he passes on his way home from work are quite crowded. "A lot of the customers are groups of seniors. I wonder if they think there's no risk of infection?" he asked. For a young doctor busy at work who also has to put up with refraining from private gatherings, he may have felt a little irritated to see groups of people casually having dinner together.s

    Then an older doctor who is from my generation responded, "I can understand this year has been really tough for you, isn't it? But you doctors have a future, and you'll probably be able to have as much fun as you want later. When you reach our age, on the other hand, you would think, 'If we suspend the reunion now, we'll never have the chance to meet up again in the future.'"

    I couldn't contain my laughter when I heard this. For young people it probably is tough to hold back from taking part in parties and sports activities and the like. But having said that, they have a future. After the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control, they will have plenty of time to regain what they've missed out on up until now.

    But for those in their 50s and above, when someone talks of canceling an event this year, the thought that runs through their mind is, "Is this really OK? If we don't do it this year, when we are finally able to do it a few years down the track, I may be too frail."

    Of course, it's no good to go out of one's way to travel or to dine together at this time. In particular, when thinking of the risks associated with infection that increase with age, there's no better approach than being cautious. But I can completely understand the feelings of people who say, "It would be a shame to cancel gatherings altogether, so how about we gather with a small number of people for a short time?" and then meet up for a small-scale meal, seeing each other face to face.

    The season for year-end gatherings and Christmas parties is ahead of us. It's obvious that things will not proceed as normal this year. For young people, it will no doubt be sad to see their plans diminish.

    But it's the same for seniors. Actually, I want young people to realize there are those who are thinking, "If I miss this chance now ..." I hope next year will be one where we can all casually gather and enjoy meals and conversation together.

    (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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