Aging is a funny thing. Clearly, from birth to a first driver’s license and beyond, it doesn’t stop – until of course abruptly, it does.

Most typically, we’re more than able to ignore the process – save for those exceptional times when our loving compatriots insist on celebrating the accumulating birthdays that end specifically with a zero. So 30, or 40, or 50 become times of reflection.

I am saying nothing new when I reaffirm, we live at a time and in a culture that celebrates all things young. Hence, the ubiquity of facelifts and tummy tucks and gym memberships, purse-emptying skin creams, hair-transplants and Viagra.

But if your occupation is other than performing on network television or acting in movies, it is relatively easy to age unremarkably with just a passing acknowledgment of our first grey hair or our deepening smile lines.

Obviously, being privileged to ignore aging at any age presumes good health. I know that people are born with disabling disease. I know that sometimes a 20-year-old woman suffers an aneurysm and dies on her bathroom floor. I’m not unaware that living in our aging bodies, without paying undo attention to the process, is a privilege.

American society favors the young but at tremendous cost to others. COVID-19 makes that even clearer.

Flickr: Rishikesh Gawade

In my 70-plus years I have embraced that privilege. Call it genetics: My mother was singing her favorite song the day she died a month shy of 101. My father celebrated his 91st in his own home, with a fresh haircut, and a table full of Maryland crab cakes.

Call it attitude: I’ve lived a pretty adventurous life, and when the physical inevitability limits one adventure, I’ve managed to find others. Call it luck … or blessings.

I live with a man who is equally inattentive to the limitations or the processes of aging — perhaps, equally genetically endowed, or attitudinally insistent — or just blessed.

In sum, aging hasn’t been in the forefront of our lives.  Until now.

The Pandemic

There are so many things that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and exposed. Important things like: the dire inequality of health care; the scarcity of a social safety net; the corruption within big business; the ineptitude of the federal government.

Important things like: the unbelievable selflessness of our health care providers, our grocery clerks, our police and firemen, our mayors and our governors, our big and small businesses.

In all matters: it’s been a knife that cuts both ways.

But today, I write about a singular exposed and exacerbated raw nerve: the incessant repetition that this disease disproportionately targets people over age 65.  And that, too, becomes a knife slicing hard and fast into the cultural issue of aging.

It exposes me to the assumption of disposability. Is my life — lived fully and fairly purposefully — worth my favorite eatery’s inevitable forced closure? (And these owners are my friends!)

Am I selfish for choosing life, not simply my own, over the minimum wage earner’s inability to feed her young children? Are these glaring choices — the economic vitality of the nation versus human life (most particularly, those of us who’ve lived ours for a good long time) legitimate?

Feeling Targeted

I feel exposed by these questions. I feel targeted by them. I wonder: What kind of people have we become to allow ourselves to seriously debate (and act on) these choices.

Where is the collective agreement that mandates we feed every hungry child? Where is the cultural agreement that ordains we join our lives with our community’s small business owners? Where is the singular choice that — heart and soul — we care for and about every single human life?

What have we become?

We live at a time and in a culture that celebrates all things young.

I know that each of these choices are being realized by individuals and individual organizations across our nation — and by the grudging federal government. But I’m shouting to the hilltops here. (And I swear, not from my own very healthy self-interest.)

Where is that national — no, global — communal commitment to caring? Caring, for and about our neighbors six neighborhoods away, or eight states distant, or a global ocean removed from our comfort? Caring that refutes any economic trade-off for what may be judged an unworthy life.

Where is our American compact to care?

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About the Author

  • Inette Miller
    Inette Miller was a national and international journalist for 16 years — a war correspondent for Time magazine in Vietnam and Cambodia. She is the author of "Grandmothers Whisper," which was awarded the Visionary Award for memoir. She is currently writing her Vietnam memoir, "Girls Don’t!" The website that she runs with her husband is www.ReturnVoyage.com.