We’re trying to get through this with a vaccine without truly exploring our soul.

              Mike Osterholm


We have to take off our shoes and socks and walk in the dirt of 2020. Dig into it with our toes. Feel it give a bit under our feet.

You want to go back to normal? It was “normal” that got us where we are.

Recently, Ed Yong wrote in The Atlantic, “As we get vaccinated, we have to decide whether to remember the people who sacrificed to keep stores open and hospitals afloat, the president who lied to us throughout 2020, and consigned our people to disaster, the families still grieving, the long-haulers still suffering, the weaknesses of the old normal, and the costs of reaching the new one.” 

The old normal was very different depending on where we were standing. Some of us had the luxury of intolerable tolerance. Looking but not seeing, or seeing but not feeling. Those of us with resources at our disposal have weathered the past year quite differently than those of us without. 

But what else is new? Will this be part of the new normal?

AARP recently noted that residents of long-term-care facilities constitute less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, yet 43 percent of all COVID-19 deaths through June of last year occurred in those places, and the number has changed little since.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of Nov. 30, compared to white, non-Hispanic persons, the death rate for Native Americans is 2.6 times higher, and the death rates for Black and Latinx persons is 2.8 times higher.

Will this outrageous ageism and racism be part of a new normal? If so, it won’t be so “new” after all. On this brink of a new year, to borrow from Ben Lerner, what usually feels like the only possible world is actually one among many. Even though this can always be our individual opportunity, at this moment we have a collective opportunity.

No matter our age, each of us can find our own way to leave a better world to the next generations. In our last third, however, the balance shifts. Now we join with the next generations, sharing our experience, our resilience, our spirit and, perhaps, our wisdom. Intergenerational is key. We become less the doers and more the “be-ers”. This balance shift happens naturally, if we are aware and allow it to happen, if we don’t block it.

How we get through this moment of opportunity is the operative question. Which reminds me of a quote from William May: “The question we need to ask about aging is how are we going to behave toward it, not what are we going to do about it.”

These are words to remember as we co-create the new normal.

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