COLUMBIA — The new phenomenon of drive-by birthday parties, where friends and family honk and wave from their cars while maintaining social distancing, always brings a smile to my face.

We’ve published stories and photos of several of them in the paper, and the celebrations are a great way to make people feel special when normal events are out of the question because of the coronavirus.

And it’s not just children who have held such parties. Many have been done for elderly people marking milestone birthdays. That’s particularly nice because older Americans have been the hardest hit by this pandemic. They are the most at threat of becoming seriously ill or dying, and because of that they are also having to isolate the most, cutting off their connections with friends and family.

That loneliness is one of the most insidious parts of this national emergency. I think all of us have felt the squeeze of being home way more than normal. We love our families, for sure, and have enjoyed spending more quality time with them, but sometimes we all need to get out and do something outside the house.

At this point I think most people in Columbia and Marion County are ready to eat out inside a restaurant again, go to church and otherwise interact like normal human beings.

Yet when we do that, we should remember that a significant group of elderly people are shut-in permanently and will not be able to resume regular activity.

Because of aging and declining health, many of these people spend all of their time inside their homes or in rooms at facilities. Stop and think about how you’ve been affected by these virus restrictions over the past six weeks or so. And then consider that you’ve known all the while that one day you will be able to get back out.

What if there were no such hope? What if you knew that for the rest of your life you would be stuck inside? That is the reality for many people.

I recall when I was in elementary school that my Bible class at church made a card for a shut-in from our congregation. It was on a big piece of cardstock, and we all wrote our names along with drawings and a short message. I never thought anything about it after the dismissal bell rang until maybe a decade or so later when I was in high school, and we went to visit that home. Up on the wall in a prominent spot was the card. That simple act, which I in honesty had not put much thought or effort into, had meant a lot to that person who had little else to hold onto.

It’s important for those of us who are younger to look after such people in need. And the great part about it is that just one phone call, letter, emailed photo or whatever other form of outreach can mean so much to them. Think about how some of the grandmothers you know can go for weeks in anticipation of a visit from their families and then continue for months afterward talking about the memories of how it happened.

And if nothing else, we should reach out because one day we will be in their shoes. As the Scripture says, “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.”

Once we stop growing physically around the time we reach adulthood, we begin the slow process of our outward body perishing. That’s unavoidable. In our nation we try to fool ourselves with plastic surgery, exercise routines and diets, and while those things can string the game out some, they cannot win it. Death is undefeated.

The only real solution, therefore, is to make sure that our inward man is renewed day by day. And the most time-honored, well-proven method of doing that will always remain putting the interests of others ahead of your own. Visiting the sick and shut-in not only helps them, but it recharges our souls.

Admittedly, I am among the worst about taking the time to do this. But I hope that one lasting benefit of the COVID-19 crisis will be that I’ll remember to do it more — and recall why it’s so important.

Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The Columbian-Progress. Contact him at 736-2611 or csmith@columbianprogress.com.

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