In a short month, my age (80, in case I haven’t told you that 1,000 times already) has gone from being a matter of delight to something rather disconcerting. The reality of old age in a global pandemic has sunk in, ahead of any major age-related changes.
I’m not scared for myself, but I’m hyper-aware of my responsibility to stay home as much as possible. Ruefully I acknowledge that yes, I’m over 70, which by definition means I’m vulnerable, regardless of my health and fitness. My lung capacity is normal for my age—in other words, way below that for a healthy 40-year-old. That’s not a worry but it is a fact, not an opinion.
“Age is just a number,” 999 people say merrily every day. It is indeed a number. We age at vastly differing rates but age is still a number. And that number is not open to personal interpretation.
Old age in COVID-19 has new implications. I stop seeing myself as purely individual and accept that I’m part of a cohort of people over 70. Is it true that when we are old or almost old, we might be rather quick to switch from a personal denial to a sense of community? Maybe I have run my course, maybe it’s a reasonable time for me to die*—but if there’s one thing I can do right now, it’s to protect others as far as possible, by simply staying home.
This isn’t all about me. I have children and grandchildren and my dear little city and my beloved country to consider.
In an earthquake I can imagine myself actively helping others in my neighbourhood. In a global pandemic, I have to accept help. It’s very strange. (It’s also a foretaste of being very old.)
Only 2 weeks ago I was saying, WOMAD hasn’t been cancelled, it’s in the open air, therefore it’s OK to go. Things have changed since then and so have I. Call me conservative: I can take it.
*Relax, I really really don’t think this is gonna get me: that’s not my point.