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A New Normal

A new normal?

It would seem that things are not about to return to “normal” (whatever that was) any time soon. From what I read in the news and between the lines, we are in this for the long haul. One of my most interesting observations to date has been the reaction of people to this new status quo. Kicking, screaming, shouting, crying, moaning, bitching, swearing, more moaning and more bitching. At one point I had to stop engaging, as I could not bear the vitriol, the “hard done by-ness” of people who in fact were not hard done by at all. For the same token, it has been incredibly rewarding watching the mobilisation of support, positive engagement and outpouring of compassionate support to those who are really hard done by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, I cannot help drawing conclusions and comparisons. I listen to “Why can we not play golf? Why can I not visit my children, Why can I not go on holiday, why why why?” Talk of infringements of human rights (often misguided) and civil liberties abound. We have become an angry bunch of whining and winching individuals, as we sip away at our contraband wine. Somewhere deep inside me, I get a feeling of “lekker kry”. I know that none of us can actually contemplate our own ageing, but maybe, just maybe, COVID-19 is bearing the gift of downward compensation. Perhaps, just maybe, in a brief moment of insight and self-reflection, we will have a glimpse of what it must be like to be old, dependent, and perhaps living with dementia.

I know this is the last thing anyone wants to hear or think about at this point. We have more pressing issues to contend with. But, in all of the frenzy, there is perhaps the most significant gift, forcing us to become quiet, to contemplate, and to reflect. To look further than our own reality, to see the type of person we will be one day when we are no longer fully in control of everything in our environment. Perhaps we can look in the mirror now and see the type of older person we will be when we truly have no control over something as mundane as our own bladder, let alone our cognitive abilities.

I believe that life up to 60 or 70 is simply a rehearsal. It is our opportunity to train for what is supposed to be the best time of our lives. Well-being and “the good life” does not happen by chance, it is the result of a long-term investment, the dividends that will pay off in our 60 to 80/90 years of Being. It is the investment of good friends, good health, eating habits, exercise, exploring hobbies and interests and so forth. These are the investments that pay off in the later years of our lives. And of course kindness. Kindness is the compost that we dig deep into the soil, the nurturing of friendships through kindness, the kindness to our own bodies, to those that will pay off dividends with their visits when we can no longer drive our own cars or use public transportation. The friends (and their children in my case) who will bring us our favourite food or drinks when we can no longer go shopping, who will share our silly and simple pleasures with us when we can no longer go to the bottle store, who will listen to our stories even though they have heard them a thousand times.

All our talk of agency and power and citizenship and rights will mean nothing when we get to a point where we can no longer use the toilet on our own, dress or make our favourite sandwich, much less so when this is due to cognitive decline. If we are out of sorts now because of COVID-19, imagine how out of sorts we will be when we do not understand what is happening around us, when we are told what to do by people who truly only do their job to keep us safe, when we are locked up with other people whom we don’t know, don’t care to be with and absolutely do not like.

Maybe we should take a long and hard look at the older people in our lives – I know that the ones in my life are teaching me about gratitude, patience, tolerance and forgiveness. I chat to Tannie Hermien who has now been in her little at, locked up, for weeks. There is no anger, no vitriol, no hatred. Instead, the conversation is an inspiration to me. Maybe it comes with age. Maybe it comes with investment.

I am deeply aware of the fact that mental health issues are very real during this time. People are truly suffering, and I am not making light of this. I am however also aware that COVID-19 is shining a very bright light into the dark corners of our Selves, giving us the opportunity to look at our long-term investment. If COVID-19 is freaking you out, I suggest you better start thinking of how being old and perhaps living with dementia is going to freak you out…it is not too late to change your Mind.

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