As lockdown began I hit 70. In other times it would have been a pause to party and then continue with life, continuing with my other responsibilities as school governor, helping with child care and the other activities those in their 70s and more carry out in our society.
However lockdown meant a complete cessation of this. Suddenly I had been defined as elderly and vulnerable. I was unable to help in my usual way, as were many other over 70 year olds of my acquaintance. No wonder charity shops had to close, not just because of risks of infections but also so many of the staff are over seventy. The fund raising, shaking a tin, organising activities all had to stop, together with the vital child care for families, support of neighbours, volunteer driving and pastoral activities within our parishes, all of which is frequently done by those in the above 70 age bracket.
With the raising of retirement age universally, and people continuing in paid employment for longer the over seventies have had a particular importance. Many charities rely on that age group to carry the activities in fund raising, staffing charity shops, helping in food banks and other ways. They are also major spenders in concert halls, theatres, galleries,which of course, are now closed. And of course, our parish churches are full of active, energetic over 70s.
Suddenly the over 70s are invisible, advised to self isolate, not to visit shops and to keep their distance. The younger age groups had much the same instruction, but they were welcomed as helpers in the different roles previously undertaken by the older members of society. The furloughed younger people now had the time, and probably more energy to be really helpful at this time.
My concern is the future. The over seventies have been unseen, invisible for several months. Will they be welcomed back again into the playing full parts of society? Or will the elderly remain invisible because of their increased risks of infection. Many of our families have been supportive of their older members. While they were furloughed they have had time to spend hours on Facetime or zoom. Now the return to work is happening across our society will those stuck at home still be remembered, will they become even more invisible.
In January this year there was an international congress in the Vatican 'The Richness of Many years of life'. And Pope Francis spoke to the participants of the importance of older people in society. He recognised that where for some old age may be a time of frailty and decreasing strength, for many, 'it is the beginning of a long period of psycho-physical well-being and freedom from work commitments.' With the definition of 70 as a time of increased vulnerability and with the reluctance of the authorities to accept anyone in the age group as capable of activity we now appear to be condemning an age group which has so much to offer to a healthy society.
Pope Francis spoke how civil society needs value and meaning for the third and fourth senior stages. He spoke of how 'there is not only the past, as if , for the elderly, there were only a life behind them and a mouldy archive. No the Lord can and wants them to write new pages, pages of holiness, service, or prayer.' Pope Francis continues to urge us, 'the elderly are also the present and the future of the Church. Yes, they are also the future of a church that, together with the young prophesies and dreams.'
There is a risk in living, we will all die sometime. Lumping all those over 70 in one bracket - from the working active 70 year olds to those who are frail and may be in the fourth stage of life seems to be a over simplification of the potential risks. Condemning the elderly - over 70s - to just memories, isolated in their homes should not continue. We need to accept the risks and re-enter a different world from pre-lockdown. And find relatively safe ways of continuing to be a visible part of the community serving each other as best we can.
Reading Pope Francis' speech to the congress gives me as a 70 year old some hope,and some courage. As a society we do need to recognise that just because you are seventy you don't want to stay at home. We want to get up and be full and active members of society in the best ways possible.
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