Not long ago, my youngest son started a sentence, “At your age . . .”
It stopped me in my tracks.
For many of us, this pandemic has been an awakening. Until we were told it, we didn’t think of ourselves as “elderly.” That was a word applied to someone who was, say, 100. And frail. Me, I was just hitting my prime.
I’ll be 70 in July, and clearly, during this pandemic, I am classified as old. I am the most at risk. I have special hours at the grocery store, my children have special rules for me, and I’m told over and over again that, at my age . . . You can fill in the blanks.
Am I old?
I run two households, one in a foreign country. I am self-sufficient, manage my own money, make my own decisions, even take my own trash to the recycling center.
I walk at least five miles every day. I dispense love and advice (only when asked, thank you very much) to my three children. I travel frequently and often alone.
Although officially retired, I still do occasional work and am often asked to do more. I buy my own cars, take care of my own taxes, and select my own clothes. I see a doctor once a year for no more reason than I probably should.
I am old.
I don’t pretend to be young: I have more wrinkles than I can count, and the skin on my arms is crepey. I inherited from the women in my mother’s family a protuberance under my chin we call the wattle. (Truthfully, I could use a little plastic surgery.) My hair has not turned gray, but it’s not what you’d call brown, either. And many nights I go to bed with a heating pad placed strategically on places that are hurting today.
I can no longer eat anything I want, like the days of my youth, without finding it on my waist. Sitting cross-legged on the floor to play with my granddaughter is an agony. And those five miles I walk every day? Sometimes I’m counting the light poles to get me home.
Am I old?
And I am left wondering, will I get un-elderly again once this is over? Will I feel as free and freewheeling? Will I manage my life with the same aplomb I always have? Will I fly to Vienna, fly to Mexico, fly to Morocco, as I had planned for this time of the pandemic and to celebrate turning 70? Will I trust myself that much?
And how about all these other “elderly” people, the ones I have filled up my life and heart with, all these friends who do daring things like going on the world’s second longest zip line at 60 miles per hour and think nothing of traveling to Machu Picchu, taking the long trail, or going to Portugal alone for a month?
Has the coronavirus created a world of old people, never to regain our buoyant spirits?
I am old. Am I old?
Jan Pogue was the cofounder, with her husband John Walter, of the publishing company Vineyard Stories. She lives on Chappaquiddick. She accepts that she is pretty old.