all of the selves we Have ever been
My head is exploding along with coronavirus cases.
Is it just me, or do we have a major messaging problem?
Do government and health officials really believe they can harness the energy of youth and youthful feelings of invulnerability and optimism by pleading with young people to save the old?
Seriously? Were these experts not young once themselves? Are they as completely out of touch as young people believe them to be? Let’s get real. Young people don’t go to crowded bars to drink to the health of senior citizens.
The public is confronted with horror stories as droves of older adults die in nursing homes. Many young people, and some not so young, don’t know anyone living in a skilled nursing facility. Some folks believe that older adults go to nursing homes to die, so what’s the big deal? With all of the focus on frailty and “underlying conditions,” the picture painted is one of aging citizens about to tip over the edge at any moment. Why shut down the economy for such a hopeless cause?
Adding to the misperceptions of older adulthood is advertising. If most of your education about aging comes from television, what is a person to believe about the quality of life and the value of seniors?
Let’s take a look. Turn on your televisions sets.
Senior citizens watch a lot of television and are the big consumers of cable TV services. Cable? Yes, cable. How quaint. Didn’t cable go out of style along with typewriters and rabbit ears? How can you take someone seriously who does not stream?
“Active” seniors are depicted out in the park walking their dogs. The really hip grandparents are busy snapping smartphone photographs of their pets and sending three of those pictures each day to their grandchildren. What a full life! Really groovy grandparents might work part-time and still manage to walk a couple of miles twice a week, but the fact that they can still concentrate and remember their names is due to brain-preserving over-the-counter medications.
And speaking of medications…how many erectile dysfunction advertisements do you think a child sees in the years from preschool through college? It is not a wonder young people can’t imagine adults with intimate relationships and full lives. Based on advertising, a viewer might believe the number one problem facing older adults is sexual dysfunction. Forget about loneliness and poverty.
And why would senior citizens care about sex when they are the subject of so much advertising for arthritis pain relievers, heart disease remedies, and diabetes medications? How about those sexy ads for bladder and bowel leakage products? If you were a teen, wouldn’t you rather die from COVID-19 than humiliation?
Body and mind problems aside, older adults fall and they can’t get up. When the ads come on, they take notes about term life insurance, reverse mortgages, and pre-paid funeral services. None of those products implies a future.
I was young once. I get it. And the picture we paint is not pretty. And not accurate.
I loved the older generations of my extended family. In the past adults did not grow old out of the sight of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Old age was not an image contrived by advertisers and used to play upon fears and stereotypes. Aging loved ones were associated with wisdom, special skills, soft hands, stories, recipes, good food, family gatherings, and the gifting of heirlooms.
Time with the family’s senior citizens was part of the rhythm of a child’s daily life, and we all cared for older family members as they aged and experienced declining health. My parents would not have tolerated disrespect toward elders at any age or stage of life. Adults of that era were not ones to add “okay?” to the end of every sentence. Important value-driven decisions were not optional and did not require a child's agreement.
Society has changed. I get that too. And not all young people are without concern for older members of our society. And not all older people are showing regard toward one another or toward the young.
For the herd immunity and anti-maskers among us—I agree: this virus could get all of us at some point. But it doesn’t have to. What is important at this moment is that the virus must not affect all of us or even most of us at the same time. People of all ages are getting sick. Those who do become ill are in for a long haul, hospitalized for weeks and months at a time followed by more recovery and rehabilitation at home. With such long lengths of stay, there are no rooms available for the newly ill, not to mention those who become sick due to other health crises. If a mask is an assault to freedom, try being sedated and tethered to a ventilator.
So here’s an updated message. This virus is not a hoax. It will not disappear through the power of magical thinking. The coronavirus did not come just for the old. It came for everyone. Perhaps, it will take the frailest lives first, but it doesn’t have to. If it doesn’t take the young now, it may alter their health and vitality for a very long time, perhaps, forever. But it doesn’t have to.
There is still so much we do not know, but upon this I think we can agree: everyone wants an ambulance to come when they call. Everyone wants and deserves a bed to lie upon if they get sick. Everyone wants clean sheets and a hospital gown, medicine, and a caregiver who is well and has PPE. Everyone would like a loved one at their bedside when the end of life nears.
As far as I can see, we are not “all in this together,” as I hear on the TV commercials--at least, not yet. But we must get there because all lives matter. That sentence does not end with an “okay?” All means every single one of us. Being selective about the use of that tiny word “all” has wrought big problems in our lives and in our history. The coronavirus does not discriminate. It is here to define what “all” really means.