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On turning 60 — and enduring a pandemic that focuses its eyes on ‘60 and up’

I wake up startled with that special brain, my gut, wrenched. It’s not just fear for me and mine. It is a primal fear for everyone.

I leapt into my 60s this year. After having narrowly avoided various health false alarms over the years, this has been a year of energy, transitioning from classroom teaching to new endeavors and ways of being an educator. It has felt like a liminal time, being poised on the edge of newness and adventure. Turning toward my friendships and family relationships. Learning to do one thing at a time, not 20. What a relief! I have my wall chart, 60 new things I have done at 60 posted above my creativity desk. I’m about halfway through the list, and now at number 32, I’ve added pandemic.

Kris Potter
Kris Potter
And not just any pandemic, but one that really likes to focus its eyes on “60 and up” and those with underlying health issues. Hmm. Suddenly my 60s swagger is knocked back to … I’m being grouped with my elders. We will know more about this virus as time ticks on. But right now, age plunks me into a slightly higher risk category for complications. Sixty, an age that in previous old-school world illnesses I would have been extremely happy to attain.

We spent time one weekend wandering in, of all things, a cemetery, in rural Minnesota. (We have been on the hunt for the grave of a settler who was killed in the U. S.-Dakota war of 1862.) Reading the gravestones, you can imagine the history. One family lost two children in 1900 … what happened? And there were, of course, stones for those lost in the 1918 flu pandemic. Likely no doctor, no reasonable treatment — and being early residents of our state, did they have any family there to bring them food, or broth? Or like my own Swedish history, had all the brothers in a family left Sweden, never to return, with no grandparents here to bolster the care of the sick little ones?

What about those in war, and those on the margins?

I wake up startled with that special brain, my gut, wrenched. It’s not just fear for me and mine. It is a primal fear for everyone. I find myself with tears just leaking out at random moments. What about people who are in a war zone and now a pandemic zone? What about people who were on the margins before this and are on the outside of the margins now? What are the children doing, who don’t have a computer at home and now they can’t even go to the library to access interesting learning opportunities? What are the families doing that were locked into domestic abuse situations before, and now are really locked into those situations?

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It is like there has been a death — you know that feeling when you know someone has died but when you first wake up you think, did they really die? Then your wonderful mind reminds you, yes they really did; they’re not coming back. It’s forever. This pandemic really is here and it really is something that will forever be in the history books.

Clinging to standbys for comfort

I’m clinging to my old standbys for comfort. Coffee, my faith community, family, friends, yoga, walking, the dog, my beloved books, music, information from the best sources (but not too much). They calm that morning slide and help me process the lightning speed of change we are being asked to download.

The future looks different today from the way it did in September, that wonderful month of starting. I feel older, but I feel prepared for this once-in-a-lifetime (I hope) event. I think about my grandmother, who lived through three major flu seasons, polio threatening her only daughter, two world wars, the ‘60s, Vietnam. People coming to their back door in St. Cloud for food. I know now why her pantry was always full, the freezer was packed with meat purchased at a bargain, and if there were seconds of food, you took some. Why her juice was the leftover fluid from canned fruit, all mixed together with pineapple always shining through.

She was prepared, and I guess so must we be.

Kris Potter is a writer, teacher and singer in Minneapolis.


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