Dragged into the world of the elderly by a virus

By , Guest Columnist Published: March 21, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Guest Columnist

Susan Adler Thorp

Susan Adler Thorp is the former political columnist for The Commercial Appeal. She is the owner of Susan Adler Thorp Communications.

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

Two weeks ago, it dawned on me.

Early one morning with coffee in hand, I turned on my favorite TV morning news show. The news anchor was blunt as she announced: “The coronavirus is dangerous for the elderly and that includes people 65 and older.”

Elderly?

It was enough to cause me to drop my coffee. Or give me a coronary.

Whatever happened to 70 is the new 50?

I’m a Baby Boomer, born in 1949, and it seems like yesterday when the mantra of my generation was “don’t trust anyone over 30.” That’s when 30 was elderly — from our perspective.

<strong>Susan Adler Thorp</strong>

Susan Adler Thorp

My grandparents were elderly; so were my parents. But not me. I’m in great shape. I go to the gym six days a week. The treadmill, weights and a strength trainer are part of my daily routine. I can outrun two of my grandkids, toss one in the air, and outshop the third.

I was aware that I had hit middle age 30 years ago, but that also seems like yesterday. And now I’m being dragged into the world of the elderly because of a virus I can’t see or swat like a fly, but which threatens to kill me if I venture into a crowded restaurant for dinner.

I never thought about being elderly, not even when a man 12 years my junior was elected president. Or when four different people younger than me were appointed as justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oh, sure, there was evidence along the way that I was heading into the realm of elderly. There was the time I saw a very young woman on TV pitching anti-wrinkle cream. Why, I thought, would anyone under 50 worry about wrinkles? Or when I spoke to a group of students and I mentioned the Vietnam War and one student asked, “What is Vietnam?” Or the time I tried to speak with my cousin’s 13-year-old grandson, who shrugged his shoulders under his oversized hoodie and looked at me quizzically as if I was, well, elderly.

The evidence was always there, but along with others in my generation, I was too busy enjoying life to pay attention. Perhaps I keep hoping that this is just a late-in-life correction for a generation that toppled a dishonest president, demanded the end to an unjust war, propelled the fight for equal rights, and then consolidated our strength by turning Woodstock into Wall Street.

As post-World War II babies, (insert the dreaded Boomer label here), we were shielded by our vast numbers and numbed by the notion that youth was on our side. By middle age, we ruled the world.

Now doctors and scientists — many Baby Boomers themselves — are telling me that I am elderly. And my favorite news anchor who, by the way, is 65, reminds me that they’re right.

I’m not sure what it is about being labeled elderly that’s so hard to accept. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but as we age we keep moving the goalposts that mark the different stages in life. Especially now, when all of us are threatened by the insidious cruelty of the coronavirus, these goalposts are stationary.

So, I’m working from home. Cleaning the closets. Playing with the dog. Calling my friends. Promising my children that I’ll stay home — or close to it. Worrying about going to the grocery store. And learning how to balance the dread of what we don’t know and can’t see with the beauty of just being here.

I still don’t think I’m elderly, but this sure is making me feel like I am.

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