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To the Young Woman Who Met My Eyes Today

You don’t know me. I’m the sixty-plus woman who was behind you in line at the grocery store today. I watched as you ignored the taped lines on the floor that designated the requested six feet of distance between shoppers. I noticed as you crowded the elderly woman in front of you. You looked back at me, glanced down at my feet on the taped “X” behind you, glanced at my grey hair, and then turned to the young checker and said, “I don’t know if old people are worth saving from that virus.”

During my lifetime, I have experienced prejudice against me because I am a woman, because I was a single mother (my son is now a computer scientist with a degree in astrophysics), because I am a Physician Assistant (not a “real” doctor), and because I cherish the teachings of Buddha. I have usually responded to such attitudes with silence, avoidance where possible, and withdrawal from offending persons and organizations. The prejudice you seemed to aim in my direction today, though, was of more concern to me than any I’ve encountered before.
You looked to me to be in your late twenties or early thirties. Thirty-three years ago, I resuscitated a newborn baby who would be about your age now. Two years ago, I rescued a toddler who was being beaten by his thirty-year-old mother’s boyfriend. In the years between, I’ve cared for countless others. Now, in the midst of the current pandemic, I will go to work every day and take care of young people who carry viruses that will likely be temporary and mild for them, but could potentially kill me.
My generation invented the personal computer. We laid the foundation for all the technologies of that cell phone you hold in your hand. Folks who are now over sixty invented DNA fingerprinting, the artificial heart, the world wide web, the internet and free shipping. Thirty-five percent of the nation’s caregivers are sixty-five years or over. Thirty-five percent of our nation’s volunteers are over fifty-five years of age.
Most elderly people could tell you their own stories of the small but cherished and very valuable contributions they have made and continue to make to their families, their charities and their communities.
My young friend, I imagine you are worried, just like most of the rest of us, about the future, your future.
How do we balance the needs of so many lives? How do we weigh our history of individual freedoms against the backdrop of our traditional value of holding every life as sacred? When will we be able to return to the security of knowing that tomorrow will again be a time of the plenty and wealth we have enjoyed in our part of the world for so long? It is difficult to be patient, to forebear curtailed freedoms, to trust older people in high places who we don’t even know.
Our collective past, and its authors, have built the roads to where we now stand. We need your youthful energy, new ideas, and hope for what’s to come. We also need the memory and wisdom of the failures and remarkable successes of our past.
Your Older Neighbor

Sandra Relyea

Port Angeles, Washington


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