“Those old people are really vulnerable right now.”
I’m 78 years old, and I must have missed the memo because — despite what everyone is telling me — I don’t feel vulnerable.
The media’s mantra is something like this: “We want to thank the first responders, doctors, nurses and hospital workers who are so dedicated and keep all of us safe… it’s so vital that we protect our most vulnerable.”
They don’t need to say it. Everyone knows that the most vulnerable are us old folks.
It really bothers me that 50 million or more Americans are being painted with a single, pitiful brushstroke, no matter how well intentioned it may be.
Well, this is our senior moment! I want to replace that mantra with a challenge to all seniors: Be more than vulnerable, and do more than nothing.
I don’t claim there aren’t vulnerable seniors. There certainly are. Yes, most of us have health issues as we grow older. But health issues do not mean we automatically turn into helpless, dormant and irrelevant figures, barely shuffling from the bedroom to the armchair for another nap.
While not every teenager should be on suicide watch, not every senior is feeble, frail, weak, and irrelevant. Far from it. Retirees could live another 30 years in their “post-working” life — and, for many, those years are an active time when we want our lives to count for something worthwhile, something noble, something better, and totally relevant.
The unintended consequence of the “vulnerable” message could turn out to be devastating. Characterizing seniors as vulnerable will leave a flawed emotional legacy — not only for this generation of seniors but for the next, and the next, and the next.
We all — seniors included — need meaning and purpose, a vision to make a difference and bring hope to others. When that vision, that purpose, is taken away, we curl up and die inside.
A recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association tells us 48 percent — almost half — of Americans are worried about getting the coronavirus. Meanwhile, 40 percent are worried about dying from the virus. And 62 percent are anxious about a friend or family member becoming infected.
But perhaps the biggest surprise is the high anxiety level among young people, including teenagers anxious about their future. They don’t have the life experience, perspective, or wisdom that comes with age. The unknowns of a terrifying experience can only be calmed by the reassurance of a trusted messenger. This reasoned assurance from someone older and more experienced, who’s been through crises before, is critical to reducing fear, lessening anxiety, and pointing to a brighter future. By sidelining seniors, we are wasting the opportunity to tap into this deep well of experience and wisdom.
That’s why today I’m sounding the alarm by issuing the COVID-19 Senior Challenge. My challenge to America’s elders is this: Be more than vulnerable and do more than nothing.
Too many of us are huddled in our homes or apartments, inwardly focused, scared and alone, convinced that we are “next.” There is the unexpressed fear of being — and dying — alone while nobody cares. This is not a plea for someone to care, although that is worthy, but a challenge to seniors to look outward and embrace the major precepts of the Retirement Reformation movement and its manifesto and apply them to our current situation.
What are those precepts? Seniors can make a difference in the lives of our families, friends, churches, and communities. We can move beyond immobile to motivated, from irrelevant to vitally important. These are the sirens of the Retirement Reformation movement — the call to shake off the label of “vulnerable victim” and put on the mantle of “hero” instead.
I urge America’s seniors to embrace the COVID-19 Senior Challenge and join our national movement of radical reformers who refuse to sit idly in our rocking chairs and watch the world define who they think we are.
We are not helpless victims. We are not vulnerable. We are survivors and overcomers. And we will show the younger generations that we are relevant, we are brave — and we have a future, too.
Bruce Bruinsma is the founder and leader of The Retirement Reformation movement and the author of the book by the same title. The Retirement Reformation aims to shake up America’s laid-back retirement culture and launch a new wave of mission-driven seniors into service.