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I have accepted and adjusted to some limitations that come with aging. I no longer have the energy I had when I was young, and the svelte figure and smooth skin are a distant memory. My knees ache and arthritis too often visits other parts of my body. However, until now I never felt old and vulnerable. 

This feeling of vulnerability surprises me because before our world was invaded by a new and deadly virus, I believed that I was strong and that issues of aging applied to other people, to people who were actually old, certainly not to me because I could not be old.

Today, every time I hear the news or read a news article, I am bombarded with the headlines screaming that this coronavirus targets older people, and as a 70-year-old I must finally admit that I am old. This virus running rampant in our world has now compelled me to consider my age a risk factor, something that unsettles me. Wealth, education, position — all the things I worked so hard to achieve when I was young — no longer protect me. l am at a greater risk simply because of the years I have lived.

Until today, the positives of growing older outweighed the negatives. The free time my husband and I have shared since we retired has been a blessing. We have traveled and spent time with our grandchildren. We now have time for the hobbies and pursuits that were limited before retirement. My husband built a new woodworking shop and is now happily constructing furniture for our home and for our daughter. All the stories of growing up in the mountains of North Carolina that I vowed to write for my grandchildren are well on their way to completion. We stay up at night as late as we want and sleep until all hours of the morning. 

The constraints of work and providing for a family no longer hold us hostage. Indeed, if I decide to sit in my recliner and read a book all day instead of cleaning or pursuing something productive, I allow myself this privilege without guilt. I have also given myself permission to say the word “No” to others and even to my children.

I asked my husband what surprised him the most about aging and his reply was, “It's not as bad as I thought it would be.” 

I agreed with him, that is until now. Today, 70 seems like a scary place to be.

Barbara Painter

Barbara Painter is a retired school teacher and counselor.

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