There has been so much conversation, especially in foreign countries, about the value of the life of a person over 65. What is lacking within us that we can so casually discuss the disposability of the elderly? It is so incredibly sad that there are people out there who think that being older would dictate whether a life is worth saving.
At 77 this has made me take a huge step back to ponder how in the world did we ever come to even having this discussion? I had a friend of many years tell me last week that if anything happened to me it would be ok because I have lived a full and productive life. I would of course agree about the life part, but who is that person to tell me that it would be ok if my life was suddenly over?
I have written two books that specifically address what happens to our presence as individuals as we age. It is assumed by society at the age we retire our life and value to society is somehow over and as older adults we are immediately compartmentalized from the rest of society. What we were, what we did in our profession, who we were as people, what we contributed to society suddenly disappears as you utter the word “retired”. I have come to the realization that being dismissed as obsolete as you age is a national sport unto itself.
What happened to us? When did we stop appreciating our elders? As a child I could sit at my grandfather’s feet and listen to his stories for hours. He was from Poland and 27 members of his family perished in the Holocaust. The sadness of this was carried on his shoulders his whole life because he left before the Nazi invasion and blamed himself for leaving too soon. When he talked of his life and theirs, it was with humor, love, pride and of course, sadness. He was a tender loving man and his stories live deep in my heart. My father-in-law, a retired Navy Petty Officer and over the road trucker after WWII, was one of the most fascinating men I have ever met. His stories were riveting about where he came from and the choices he made. John Wayne big with a huge heart and wise beyond words, at the age of 65 he was smarter than most of the younger and more educated men I knew. I learned so much from these two that helped shaped me as an individual. Their counsel, wisdom, and life lessons were invaluable.
The 55+ community I live in is vibrant and filled with people who are making a difference. The average age is around 70 but you would not know it. When COVID-19 hit out came the stored away sewing machines, old pieces of fabric and elastic as thousands of face masks were produced on their own time and at their own expense. The masks were donated to the surrounding community and any hospital, medical personal or store clerk that needed them. No one asked if they could help, everyone just did and supplied and worked round the clock in shifts to make someone else’s life a bit safer. That is the elderly in America. We rallied for a crisis because that is how we were raised. Everyone stood up and those that could not do wrote checks to help out. It was empowering, awesome and electric! Nora Ephron said, “Above all be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” There were no victims here, just heroes!
As we all know, the crisis has brought out the best in people and the worst in people. As all of you I have seen both sides. I ponder what is the purpose of life if we do not see the humanity in everyone? The media has constantly expressed “the problem” of what to do with the elderly. Really! Are they talking about their own grandmothers or grandfathers or just everyone else’s in general?
These past two months have certainly been eye opening in so many ways. I don’t know about you but I am definitely following Erma Bombeck’s advice, “Light the tulip candle.” I am now using my grandmothers beautiful crystal glasses, my lovely “company” dinner plates, drinking wine I have been saving for that special occasion and burning the candle I was holding on to for another time. Because this is the time, this is our time, no more waiting.
Stay safe and well.