Southern Florida can be somewhat enigmatic. It has the hustle and bustle and the edgy attitude of an East Coast metropolis. Many residents live part-time in the beautiful winter months and move back to the Northeast and the vicinity in the summer when the hurricanes and the brutal humidity visit the tropics. Within this high-energy commotion lies another group of people– elderly retirees living in senior communities, finding their peace and social activities quietly amongst the vibrant multicultural exterior. It is a place to retire, eat out, and play games with others like themselves – septuagenarians and octogenarians finding new friends in new places. Frequently they are starting over with the hope of living the good life – finding peace after a lifetime of hard work, raising families, and all the stresses that go along with that. The good life takes on simple activities like – playing cards, pool, or boccie – an Italian ball game played on an outdoor court. Or sitting by the pool listening to the latest gossip and enjoying and few tanning rays to lift the spirits and aching bones.
One of the recently arrived retirees is Eli, a retired anesthesiologist who spent the last 10 years helping to raise his grandchildren. An immigrant to the US who never quite settled down, he moved from state to state as work and family demands dictate. As the years ticked by, he eventually saw the grandkids grow up and realized that he had been helping others for so many years that he had neglected his own social needs. He found himself somewhat isolated in a city and feeling the need for a new beginning before the opportunities for new beginnings were no longer possible. The clock was ticking, and it was now or never.
Eli, along with his wife of over 60 years, moved back to Florida – the state he moved to when he first came to the United States over forty years ago. They settled in an over 55 community – a nice place, with palm trees spaced evenly between houses and a man-made lake in front of the house. Even the occasional alligator came to visit, a. A little excitement to complement the beautiful herons and egrets who were their frequent visitors. He had found the place he was looking for. The soft hazy sun shone from blue skies filled with billowing clouds that drifted by the swaying palms. It is an idyllic place where they quickly met new friends and found much of what was missing in their lives over the past decade – mostly friendship and social activities with similar travelers looking for the same.
And then suddenly, it was over. An unwelcome visitor called COVID-19 arrived. The community residents, those at highest risk due to age, retreated to their homes and locked their doors. Neighbors were fearful of interacting with each other. The fear was palpable, and although the trees continued to sway to and fro just as before, the residents had changed. Their paradise had become a prison. Those brave enough to go outside would walk distantly from their neighbors and friends – not daring to interact in the way of the past. No more activities. No more games. No more boccie – the game Eli had come to love for its need for skill, its competitive nature, and the social good times that he had started to love. No more practicing at the boccie court late in the afternoon. No more competitions on Thursday mornings. No more boasting who was the best player in the neighborhood. No more walking with his head looking down after a bad day at the courts – there was always tomorrow to recover one’s pride after all.
But it was not so easy to keep Eli down. Although in relative isolation, he focused on cooking and bread baking to pass the time and keep the spirits up. As an inveterate tinkerer, Eli could not leave any recipe alone. He had to perfect it one loaf at a time. New dishes, new desserts, new ideas for soothing the soul. But his beloved boccie was forbidden – the courts closed, and the competitions canceled. Time was ticking. Would the dreams that brought him to Florida evaporate like the mirages in the sand. Or would he be able to meet his friends again – to challenge them to a game of honor and bragging rights? Would they go out for a meal or be able to support their friends going through difficult times – or would they stay inside their houses?
And finally, the sun started shining again – just as the previous years. It always shines in Florida. The invisible enemy was in retreat. The vaccinations had given the residents sufficient confidence to slowly poke their heads outside of their houses, greet their neighbors again, and start angling towards the boccie court. The crowds began to grow. First one, then two, then competition resumed. A bit rusty, a bit out of practice. The beloved boccie was back! The palms were still swaying, as they always do. The quiet street was not so quiet anymore. The slow migration to the courts was back again. The smiles, and the competition, were returning. And Eli was heading back home, with his head held upright and his stride confident!