According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), I am “old.” Not only that, I am “elderly.” WOW! I have spent my entire life keeping my mind, body, and spirit as healthy (and youthful) as possible. And I am still convinced that was (is) the right decision.
These days, however, chronological age is in full focus and older people are in the spotlight. It seems that it was only a month or two ago that “older people” were complaining about being invisible? Well, with the pandemic coronavirus state of emergency, older people are the most visible and it appears, the most vulnerable. And because the virus is often spread by those who are asymptomatic, it appears as invisible but is quite virulent.
This whole experience is both fascinating and confounding to me. Not only because I have spent the last 30 years intentionally living healthfully while writing, teaching, and giving talks titled as “Aging Gracefully,” “Age is just a Number,” “Aging Well with Grace and Style,” and “You’re Only as Old as You Feel.” I believe myself to be (along with many of my peers) one of the “Young Old.”
My mother, who died sixteen days before her 98th birthday, was definitely one of the “Young Old.” She seemed ageless. Maybe that’s the reason her passing took us all by surprise. She was the poster child for living with grace and style as well as graceful aging because she lived with the verve and vitality of a healthy 50-year-old! I often joked that she was a teenager masquerading as a grown woman. Not until the very last days of her life did her chronological catch up with her. Till then, her “numbers” (biological age) were those of a young, healthy woman.
Not long after her death I became sick with a respiratory virus. No, it was not the coronavirus. It was Adult Respiratory Syncytial Virus (“RSV”). I was knocked for a loop! I don’t ever remember feeling as sick as I was at any other time in my life. My recovery was long (surely made more difficult because of my sorrow). In addition, because I was already compromised, I contracted a sinus infection (which probably persisted because I was traveling and dealing with grief). I can analyze it all and consider the various contributing factors, one of which is my chronological age.
I eat healthfully, exercise, meditate, try to get a good night’s sleep. I am blessed with a loving family, friends, a fabulous dog, meaningful work, and I believe that my life has purpose. I feel fortunate and grateful. I learn, laugh and look at the bright side of almost everything. I have been called an eternal optimist. I marvel at sunrises and sunsets and often feel overwhelmed with emotion when in nature. I take few things for granted and if I were to die tomorrow it would be with the gratitude and knowledge that I have lived a very rich and fulfilled life.
I’m hoping that my number does not come up anytime soon. Yet, these last few weeks I’ve become more aware or my mortality, vulnerability, and yes, the reality that if I get very sick, someone other than God will decide “Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die,” and because of my chronological age, my chances are not in my favor. Is it because the CDC thinks of me as “old?”
Even if I am one of the “Young-Old,” I need to be careful. I need to be aware. I won’t panic. I will be a bit more cautious than I might have been had this warning not reminded me that sometimes one does have to pay attention to a number. Certainly, those around me are insisting that I do. I need to be smart and listen.
So, in these extraordinary times, when my son reminds me that I am in the “high-risk group” because I am “elderly” and I should not go to a gathering where there are lots of people because each of those people has been in touch with plenty of other people, and I should work from home, and I should arrange for anyone who used to come to our home to help us should now stay away, I am paying closer attention. I plan to work remotely, write more, and address some of those lingering projects that I keep putting aside because “I just haven’t had the time.” Truth is, now I have the time, and for that, I am grateful.