With coronavirus comes news we need to protect “older people” — those 60 and above.
A protected class? As a 63-year-old, I’m all for protection — and not just against robocallers and people who would put oil wells in our national parks.
Still, I find the term “older people” disturbing. In a heartbeat, we went from climbing Mount Hood, running the Duluth Marathon and leading, following or getting out of the way of companies, to being older, a protected class. Sure, now Hood appears to be 99,000 feet above sea level and we get winded rolling down the automatic car window for takeout at a drive-through.
But hey, we’re older. No matter how much we protest, it’s true. We deserve respect. Most of us worked 40 or more years, sometimes at weird jobs like restroom maintenance, to gain these privileges. We’ve spent years not calling in sick despite feeling like a dog that got kicked by a cow.
Now with COVID-19, we’re told, especially those of us with pre-existing conditions, we are the most vulnerable — and should call in sick at the first sniffle.
The news unnerves me. Every time I sniffle, even if the air is snowy with cottonwood drift or yellow with pine pollen, I think the end is nigh.
Age 60 comes on fast. One day you’re 20 and fighting your way through the thickets of college, trying to not get herniated carrying textbooks with names like “Educational Competencies Critical Analysis Diversity Methods.”
Then you’re 30, going strong. You’re pumping objects overhead the weight of a Volkswagen bug full of rodeo clowns; your skin is tanned, smooth, vital.
At 40, you have a midlife crisis. You’re buying aviator sunglasses and the red convertible.
Then you hit 50. You’re losing muscle mass, seeing your first “silver” hair and joining others your age in a group panic.
Next 60 greets you with a wrinkle-and-age-spot handshake. It’s not all gloom, however, mostly because of senior discounts: maybe you look “younger” and get carded.
Then you get your order and can only eat half — and gain weight.
After working for 40-plus years, fighting traffic, turning green under fluorescent lights, who can blame us for not wanting to die with the retirement finish line in sight?
We read the obituaries religiously now to determine years from retirement to death. Did they travel? Collect lawn ornaments? Do crossword puzzles? Believe in conspiracy theories? Become part of a conspiracy theory?
We just want a chance to climb that second-childhood tree, to see grandchildren graduate college and get married.
What’s more, we don’t think of ourselves as older. We think “older people” are 10 years older than we are. Sure at 90, we might finally admit we’re old. But don’t count on it — even if the old military uniform or sports letter jacket fits like a sausage casing.
Calling us “older people” is fine, as long as younger people do their part to keep us around. They might be glad they did. Older people carry around a lot of wisdom, or at least memories of the Woodstock music festival and the moon landing. You might learn “older people” are even far out and groovy.