I didn’t really want to write about anything related to the coronavirus, but it seems disingenuous to write about anything else right now.
Jon and I went Nordic skiing with the kids on Saturday and while I was safely maintaining my 6 feet of social distance — which was absolutely no problemo, since I am the weak link in the family ski chain these days — I had a chance to think about those most vulnerable in our community: our seniors.
I realize that Methow Valley seniors are not exactly representative of their demographic. In the Methow, 70 is the new 50. These so-called elderly residents, who ski and run and bike and buck hay and mend fences and drive cattle nearly as heartily as they did in their youth, defy all stereotypes about slowing down with age. But still, this virus is affecting their age group more dramatically than any other, and most of them will likely be choosing to dramatically limit their in-person social engagement for a while.
What will this diminished presence of seniors look like to the rest of us? It’s hard to imagine. Our seniors are the beating heart of this valley, our most treasured community asset. Our seniors are the memory keepers, the history holders, the leavers of legacy. They volunteer at every nonprofit in the valley, staffing the welcome desks, organizing the mailings, preparing the materials, sorting the recycling, and handling the boxes of donated clothing and housewares.
They meet the school bus and caretake grandchildren, allowing parents to remain in the workforce. In many cases, seniors are raising their grandkids in the parents’ absence. Our seniors offer the vision and hearing screenings at the schools; they provide reading assistance, shop for infirm neighbors, ferry fellow congregation members to services, and provide companionship or end-of-life care. Our seniors check trail passes, pull weeds, shelve library books. They create ballfields, build parks and keep the Barn and the Community Center — our largest indoor public gathering spaces — afloat and maintained. When someone in our valley is in need, our seniors are the first to respond with assistance.
One thing our seniors know well that many of the rest of us may not is how to weather long-term hardship. They know how to make do with less. They understand that taking the long view is sometimes necessary, and they have the patience to sit tight with an eye on a brighter future. Above all, our seniors know better than the rest of us what it means to make personal sacrifices for the common good.
Without our seniors at their usual volunteer stations, a lot less will get done around here. But for a while, at least, the rest of us need to step up. We need to give our seniors a free pass to protect themselves by keeping low profiles, and we need to do our part to prioritize their health, and the health of everyone around us. Every day our seniors show us what it means to be a conscientious member of a community; now it’s our turn to show them that they have taught us well.