By Hannah Berman


It was not so long ago that the word phase had an entirely different meaning than it does today. Often, boys and girls of all ages go through what we call a phase. If consulted, even professionals acknowledge that kids do go through phases.

When parents would note that their obedient child was no longer obeying, they figured it was just a phase. If an easygoing kid suddenly became rebellious, that, too, was considered a phase that would pass. And if a formerly good student did an abrupt about-face by no longer doing homework or paying attention in class, causing his grades to slip, as concerning as this was, it was hoped that this was just a phase. When a modestly dressed girl became a teenager and suddenly began to wear her skirts too short or to use a heavy hand with her makeup, or when a well-groomed boy suddenly let his hair grow to an unacceptable length, some parents thought of it as a phase and waited for it to pass. That’s what was meant by “a phase” way back when, and parents were advised not to make waves, that it was best to pick their battles and just let these things slide for a while. When no amount of reasoning got through to the offender, unhappy parents just waited and hoped for the behavior to pass.

All of that is ancient history. Today, when we hear the word phase, we know it relates to something entirely different. Every news announcer and on-site reporter lets viewers know what phase they are in. It is possibly the most oft-used word in the English language right now. In some cases, an entire state is in a specific phase. That is not so here in New York. Here, there are some areas that are in “phase one” while others are in “phase two,” and some lucky folks are just about to enter “phase three.” However, in the opinion of some, those who are about to enter into “phase three” may not be so lucky after all.

It is a strange new world that we live in, where confusion reigns supreme! There are over three hundred million people in this country and they seem to be evenly divided. It appears that half the population is listening to what health professionals are saying. These are the folks who practice social distancing, wear face masks and gloves, and wash their hands for 20 seconds every time they return home. The other half of the population does none of that. They gather in large groups, standing shoulder to shoulder, and don’t bother with masks or gloves. There’s no way to know if they do the 20-second hand washing routine, but it’s a good bet that they do not.

The most recent news, delivered by the doctors who routinely appear on television, is that a great many health professionals feel that people are not likely to get COVID-19 from surfaces but are far more likely to get it from being too close to others and not wearing a mask. There are, however, some people, with zero medical training, who seem to believe that they are the experts. Behavior, with regard to the coronavirus, is all over the map. There are those who say that wearing a mask is enough, and others who feel that social distancing is all that is necessary. The more cautious souls feel that both should be adhered to, but some think that a good hand washing will keep them safe.

It’s hard to know who to believe and what to do. What is obvious is that everyone is doing his or her own thing. Many thousands of protesters filled the streets of NYC. Some stood still and others marched, but none of our elected officials said much about it or made an attempt to stop it. In fact, the brilliant mayor joined the protest. The right to peaceably assemble is a First Amendment right and nobody can argue with that. But Dr. Fauci and the CDC warned that mass gatherings were risky. As of this writing, the Trump rally took place last evening and approximately one-third of the seats were empty. Today, the claim is that hundreds of teens made bogus reservations, thereby preventing people who wanted to attend from doing so. However, it is possible that the turnout was less than expected for another reason — maybe some people felt it was an unsafe space.

Right now, I wouldn’t think of heading into an area, whether enclosed or outdoors, with a large group of people. It’s a pity that this isn’t a horse race, since, on a personal note, I hit the trifecta: I’m a Nervous Nellie-type, a devout coward, and obsessed with safety procedures. Since mid-March I have yet to go into a store. I order all my food online but, because I had a harder time placing online pharmacy orders, I did make an attempt last week to go into a local drugstore, hoping that the store would be empty. But when I pulled into the parking lot and saw five cars there, I stayed put. After some calculation about how many customers were inside, and adding that to the number of store workers that were in there, I made my decision. I hightailed it back home and continued my self-imposed lockdown.

If I continue to have trouble ordering online, I’ll ask someone who I know goes in there to pick up the items I need. People don’t like having to rely on others to shop for them, but, for some of us, right now that’s just the way it is!

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435. 


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