Updated: Mar 20
As the news of coronavirus moved from a novelty that felt very far away and into our own neighborhoods, there has been a bit of morbid reassurance going on. Many keep using phrases like, “you’ll be fine. It’s only really hurting the elderly and those with compromised immunities.” For the vast majority of people, hearing that may have caused a sigh of relief. I suppose most of us aren’t in our seventies or living with compromised immune systems. But it is surely a bleak reassurance to pass death off of us and onto someone else.
What happens if this pandemic moves at the most alarming and catastrophic rate imaginable? What if we reach a worse case scenario? What if we don’t but those numbers that people keep floating around start to include the people close to you?
Many of us may have strained relationships with our older relatives. Certainly in a post-Trump era, we’ve seen a harsher ideological generational divide than can be recalled in recent memory. But every one of us has elders in our lives that pour into us, even if they aren’t blood relatives.
Our elders have much wisdom to teach us and sometimes it happens without us even knowing we are receiving a lesson. I’ve had many friends and adopted grandmas and mentors that have nourished my life over the years. Some of them have passed on by now. Each of them left a permanent and beautiful mark in my life.
Like Father David my confessor and dear friend. We used to speak weekly on the phone and he would share stories and anecdotes that would heal my soul. He once said to me, “the church isn’t like a square building with one big door in the front that if it’s locked you can’t get in. The church is like a coliseum with doors all around, if one door doesn’t open for you or if someone is holding it shut, there’s always another door for you to try.” That truth stuck with me and changed the whole way I saw my relationship with God. David was a monastic and lived in a small monastery surrounded by beautiful icons and relics. He suffered from brain cancer for many years. He would have victories and setbacks. Ultimately, he succumbed to the cancer. But if he had made it to now, he would fit into that category of people used as disposable numbers of the old and sick.
My beautiful friend Rodney was, according to him, likely one of the longest living persons with AIDS in the US, and overcame insurmountable odds to survive. We met at the theatre while doing a show. The first story he ever told me was how he had to fight so hard to find someone who was willing to do back surgery on someone with AIDS. But he was determined to do it because he wanted to travel to Europe. Every story for him was a performance, every individual an audience. I remember once asking him how he knew he was one of the oldest living people with AIDS. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “because, dear boy, I slept with patient zero.” I’ll never know if he was serious or just teaching me a lesson in the value of something being none of my damn business.
The stories are innumerable in my life of people, like David and Rodney, who were my elders, my grandparents, my friends. I think of all my friends now. Grandma drag queens and beautiful old Benedictine monks and so many other dear friends that I love so deeply. Friends that hear words like, “it’s only killing the old” and are feeling written off, dismissed, and unimportant.
There is a wisdom in the ages. As much as we can point to the “Ok, boomer” breaking point (and there is validity to it) we also must acknowledge the grands in our lives. The Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warrens and Betty Whites and the lady who always puts extra pickles on your sub at Publix and calls you “suga.” I’m not ready to say goodbye to them.
So let’s not dismiss the old or the sick or those who are struggling with their bodies betraying them. Let’s do our part and wrap them in bubble wrap. Let’s hold them tight by not touching them. Let’s give them sugar by washing our hands. And let’s make sure that they know they aren’t a life we are willing to write off, because we need them.
I’m not ready to live in a world without grandparents.
Nathan Monk’s new book, Charity Means Love, addresses many of our cultural blind spots in how we give. Order your copy today!