What happens next depends largely on us — our government, politicians, health institutions and, in particular, 328 million inhabitants of this country — all making tiny decisions on a daily basis with outsize consequences for our collective future.

Washington Post

As is clear to everyone, the world we are living in today is dramatically different from a month ago. And as we eventually move through the current COVID-19 pandemic, the world we find on the other side will also be dramatically different. Our attitudes and our actions today will impact that world of tomorrow.

At 8 p.m. each evening from our front steps, my wife leads us as we join neighbors to make noise in celebration of and gratitude for health-care workers and other first responders. Add grocery store employees, garbage collectors, mail carriers, all delivery people and so many others whose labor we so easily took for granted up until a few weeks ago.

There are many inspiring examples from many countries of people offering helping hands and acting responsibly, and even courageously, on a daily basis. Truly, this crisis is our time to shine.

Of course, there is another face to this crisis.

The Spanish military, in efforts to help secure and sanitize care homes, has found older residents completely abandoned, lying dead in their beds.

According to a doctor in Parma, Italy, the instructions there are not to offer access to artificial respiratory machines to patients over 60.

I am reminded of the early years of the AIDS onslaught in this country. Ashton Applewhite recently blogged, “In some quarters the AIDS epidemic was considered divine retribution for sinful behavior. Shamefully, many of those most at risk, already marginalized by homophobia and racism, were overlooked and even left to die. Doing the same to those marginalized by ageism — the corrosive belief, at its ugly heart, that to age is to lose value as a human being — is just as reprehensible. It is not ethical, or legal, to allocate resources by race, gender or sexual orientation. Doing so by age is equally unacceptable. Period.”

Last week on national TV, the lieutenant governor of Texas asked all our older people, “Are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?” He was advocating that we discontinue social-distancing so America can “get back to work” sometime in the next month.

Are you kidding me? Of course grandparents would do anything for their grand-children’s future. But let’s not advocate stupidity as a cure for our economic recession. Prematurely ending social-distancing/quarantine will cause millions of people of all ages to get sick and will totally overwhelm our health-care system, causing even more loss and dislocation.

It is urgent that we avoid “either/or” or “old vs. young” ways of framing this crisis. We can and must struggle to accomplish the “both/and” orientation in this pandemic. 

Undoubtedly, over the next six months, all of us will be sorely tested in this regard. Today, we have an opportunity to shape that world of tomorrow. All of us, no matter what age, not just our current “leaders,” now have the responsibility to envision what changes we want to manifest in our post-pandemic world. 

This is part of aging consciously. Like all explorers, we will figure it out as we go.

Marc Blesoff writes the monthly Conscious Aging column in Wednesday Journal.   

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