Language is dynamic. The meaning of words is changed by time and circumstance and new ones are constantly being “added” to the English lexicon. This year, for example, Merriam-Webster will be introducing 455 new words to its dictionary. Although a list of those is not easily available, it is not hard to imagine what some of them might be. “Pandemic” is not a new word, of course, but its meaning or least the circumstances and frequency of usage here in America are.
But that is not the word, or words, on which we want to focus now. What are they? Two that have become quite familiar over the past couple of years. “Emergency” and “Preparedness”.
Before you question what is novel about them, consider this response an official from one State Unit on Aging when NFESH staff asked how effective its emergency preparedness plan – which is required of every State Unit on Aging under the Older Americans Act — was in responding to the coronavirus. “Emergency Planning did not meet the need. No emergency plan could have prepared us for the reality.”
The admission is straightforward and the sentiment is a concept with which we all can certainly agree. What had seemed unimaginable happened, was real, and had an impact on us all of us. At times it still seems persistent. With those hardships came many lessons. One was this: as we as a nation and the aging network move forward, we will need to address the issue of preparedness anew.
But today we want not to look back at the lack of planning as the speaker above described it, but to recognize the four positive qualities that emerged and prevailed in the aging network as they faced the unprecedented. Dedication. Resolve. Innovation. Resilience.
While there is no “right order” in which to acknowledge those invaluable virtues of character and qualities of strength, we mention dedication and resolve first because those were both critical qualities of character which were driving forces that kept workers in senior nutrition programs motivated — and the that senior nutrition program clients, their families and citizens throughout local communities most readily recognized and relied on.
As the nutrition programs caseloads expanded in response to quarantine, so did the critical nature of that work. Hand-in-hand with that responsibility and response came a widespread awareness of a sometimes overlooked fact that we and literally tens of thousands of older individuals across this nation have long known – namely the absolutely vital role that local senior nutrition programs play not only in the lives of individual seniors but also in the well-being of the whole community. Always. In spite of, and often because of, circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
Maybe this, in some sense, is what the proverbial notion of the silver lining inside the cloud means. We like to think so. And to suggest that the love, care and services that the aging network in general and the senior nutrition programs in particular provide older individuals across this land is, well, truly more valuable than gold.