Remember when you were 15 or 16 and you’d just gotten your driver’s license? Remember the first time you took the car out without one of your parents being with you? You may or may not have been nervous, but your parents were scared half to death! We knew all the risks, all the things that could happen, but … you had to grow, you needed your autonomy … so we bit our tongues, worried ‘til we saw the headlights when you came home later, and let you fly free (relatively). We trusted you (mostly) to make wise decisions, to do the right thing.
Now, we are asking the same of you. We are asking you to respect our autonomy, our ability to make our own wise decisions. While we know you love us, know you will worry, we need to decide for ourselves during these dangerous times what level of risk is acceptable. Think about it for a moment … we all risk our lives multiple times every day from the time we get out of bed. We could fall down the stairs, could have a heart attack or stroke without warning, could get hit by a truck on our way to the grocery, and the list is endless.
Yes, the coronavirus pandemic is dangerous, and I do not minimize that. But I would like to give you something else to think about. Older people, especially those who live alone, are prone to loneliness and depression. We worked hard all our lives, had friends we socialized with, had … purpose. And now, suddenly, you are telling us that you want us to stay confined to quarters. Some may be satisfied with this arrangement, but I think most of us are not.
One thing I’d like you to remember is that our emotional health is every bit as important as our physical health, and in fact one almost always affects the other. We greatly appreciate your offer to do our grocery shopping for us, but … we like to select our own celery and chicken legs. Some of us thrive on that briefly exchanged smile with the man stocking the apples, and the short, “Hey, how ya doin’?” We don’t just like that … we need it.
There is a difference between being alive and living. After all these years of hard work, of raising our families, we feel that if there is no joy in life, then … why bother? We feel we’ve earned the right to be respected, to be trusted to make our own decisions, and it is deeply disturbing when we are told what we must do, no matter how well-meaning the intent is.
The reality is that nobody knows how long the threat of the coronavirus will last. I’ve heard that it might be August, I’ve even heard that it could last into next year. Now, if you tell us that we must stay in our homes for 2-3 weeks, that’s one thing. But you can’t do that, for you just don’t know how long it may be. Keep in mind that our days are numbered anyway, that some of us wake every morning and say, “Wow … another one?” Most of us don’t expect nor desire to live to 100. Yes, we know you’d like to keep us around that long, but really, once we aren’t living our lives, but merely existing, then … why bother?
My own daughter and I had this conversation many years ago, under similar but different circumstances, and while I’m sure she sometimes bites her tongue, she does understand and respects my autonomy. But I have seen too many friends these past two weeks having their autonomy, their joy taken from them by those who would wrap them into a plastic bubble to preserve their health … at the cost of their emotional well-being.
We’re not asking to go run a marathon, or snuggle up with a group of 100 people — we’re only asking that you let us live — take a walk, go to the grocery store, maybe even visit the library or bookshop (if they’re even open), or visit a neighbor for a cuppa coffee. By all means, if you hear me say I’m going to go skydiving, though, please feel free to stop me! But seriously, we’ve lost so much of our ability already to do things we enjoy — we are hampered by arthritis and other physical limitations — don’t take any more away from us.
Most of us will likely survive this, but I’m not sure what sort of world we’ll step back into at the end of the day. I just read something a friend sent where scientists are predicting it could last up to 18 months. Will there be a world left to come out into? How many decades will it take to rebuild global economies? I don’t know … nobody knows. I only know that today I am alive, and I wish to live my life … not as others dictate, but in the manner that I see fit. I’ve earned that right. I know you all have the best of intentions and what you do is done out of love … please love us enough to let us decide how we will live these next days/weeks/months. Thank you.