There’s an old musical from the early ‘80s called “Barnum,” and one of the songs from it is “Thank God I’m Old.” Amen, brothers and sisters. If ever there were a time to be grateful for the later stages of life, it’s now.
We are labelled “elderly” at the tender age of 65. In a fit of political correctness some decades ago, we shifted to “senior citizens.” There are plenty of more annoying labels, such as “old folks” or “old-timers” or “golden-agers.” That last is perhaps the most cloying, suggesting gauzy photos of us in lawn chairs, adoring grandchildren rushing up for a hug, or the loyal retriever dropping a slimy tennis ball in our lap. Or there is the handsome, white-haired gentleman with his arm around the shoulders of his lifelong love, strolling along, always in the sunset, reveling in the life they have made together.
In truth, our last decades may be far from golden. We are not popular in the workplace despite a continuing need for income and remaining in reasonable health well beyond “retirement age.” We may be raising grandchildren, or widowed, or broke, or under-insured, or homeless. But if we are fortunate enough to not be in one of those worst-case scenarios, we may just be the best-equipped demographic to withstand the coronavirus pandemic.
We are among the most vulnerable populations if we fall prey to the virus, though as we learn more about this disease, we are learning that other age groups may be equally susceptible, if for different reasons. But we are also well-positioned to take on the social distancing and isolation that are the recommended lifestyle of today.
The pre-school set are good to go. They are by nature selfish, unable to empathize. As long as a loving parent or carer is present, they are going to toddle around experimenting with novel uses for everyday items, the laws of gravity and the limits of adult patience.
Elementary schoolers are more restless. They are not as content hanging out with mom or dad. They have buddies, and they want to run around with them, or bike, or hit, kick or throw a ball. And now, even in quarantine, their parents may be among the unforgivables who limit screen time. That. Is. The. Worst. Yet if space can be found for them to run around, they may develop a new-found tolerance for the little brother or sister who can be designated a supporting actor in the older kid’s action fantasy.
Lucky are they if they have a love of books. There will still be wails of, “There’s nothing to dooo,” but they will also relish a world where they may curl up on their beds and read, uninterrupted, for hours.
The teen-agers among us are the worst off. They are caged animals, longing for their friends, wondering what they’re missing. Of course, duh, nothing, I know, right? Because everybody’s parents are making everybody stay home! The social crises that energize their daily lives have come to a screeching halt. They are stuck at home, which happens to be where their parents (shudder) also live, and their siblings (eye rolls) too. Torment!
Old people take the long view. We have seen trouble before. As the insurance ad says, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” What we can’t do today, we can do tomorrow. Or next week. Some of us, especially in Maine, know how to “make do.” We can make a meal, or a pie, or a loaf of bread, out of a few things from the cupboard.
In our late middle years there may be a sense of urgency to complete work goals or get almost-adult children launched. We may be trying to finish building the shed or taking on some final home renovations or doing some traveling or taking on an extra job to beef up the retirement account.
As the sum of our life begins to total up, we grow able to just watch the years roll by. We may be knitting or reading or gardening or woodworking, but all at a different pace. In these years, luck means a companion with whom to share the time, or the gift of taking pleasure in solitude. We work around the daily aches and pains, learning to go little by little instead of flat out.
We treasure our friends. We seek out people in similar life circumstances who can help us find new pleasures despite the loss of the old. We excel at isolating because a lot of the time we just don’t feel like going out anyway. If we have food, health and company in whatever form they come, we will just wait to see what tomorrow brings. Thank God we’re old.