Now is the time to do big things
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“We may lose, and we may win. Though we will never be here again.” Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne wrote those words for The Eagles hit “Take it Easy” in 1972.

I am confident that my peers and those over 50 never want to be here again. The last nine months have snatched precious time from all of us, but especially those of us with more road in the rearview mirror than ahead. We’ve missed the births of grandkids and the chance to hold them in our arms. We’ve canceled vacations, dinners, and gatherings with friends and loved ones — moments that we may never replace.

And we are the lucky ones.

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The unlucky ones are missing paychecks, food in the refrigerator, and their good health — 95 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred among people who are 50 or older.

Times are tough, but there are tremendous opportunities on the horizon to tap the time, energy, skills, and experiences of millions of older Americans to help guide us through the many challenges our country is facing.

Simply stated, now is time to do big things.

There are times when you take incremental steps to improve things, and there are times when you take giant leaps. Now is the time to take a giant leap. We must improve access to affordable quality health care for every person in this country, tackle the impending climate catastrophe with the full force of the public and private sectors, and most urgently, we must hit this virus with a hammer and finally roll out a coordinated, comprehensive national plan to vaccinate everyone and safely reopen the economy once and for all.

COVID-19 has shown us some ugly truths about our health care system and what we value as a society at large — freedom over the wellbeing of our collective society. However, the pandemic has also come with a silver lining. It has compelled us to rethink the way we deliver care through telemedicine, focus on issues of race and inequities, and recognize that climate change is intimately tied to global health and well-being. I believe it will bring about a new age of investment in America, its public health, and the way we prepare for future pandemics.

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Serving in the Peace Corps in southern Iran when I was younger allowed me to learn a lot about myself, as well as culture, poverty, people and what families care about most. To this day, those lessons and stories have influenced my work in academia and government. Many of us don’t realize what matters most to us until we have faced tragedy and loss. This is where the perspectives of the 50-plus community — which has lost parents and children and spouses and friends — come into play. We have learned from our losses, and we hope to let these lessons influence our responses to future crises.

I am not very different than I was a few decades ago. I have the same goals, aspirations, and frustrations. Similarly, the people in the over 50 community in America are not so different from who they were as young adults. We share the same aspirations, frustrations, and goals of all Americans, but many of us have a more acute sense of the fragility of life and our remaining time here. We have a stronger sense of how we want to spend our remaining years — however many we might have.

Glen Frey died in 2016 after suffering from colitis, pneumonia, and complications from rheumatoid arthritis and being placed in a medically induced coma. Jackson Browne announced in March that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He has since recovered.

No matter what decade of life I am in, I want to continue to be a part of social change and public policy at large. I will continue to advocate and work on issues that matter to every American, regardless of age. Great change requires decisiveness, authority, conviction, compassion, and, most importantly, the ability to set the right example. The people in the 50-plus community can be that example — by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, and practicing the things we know that keep our families and communities safer in the face of a pandemic. Our decades of experience have given us the opportunity to set these examples, and I do not take that responsibility lightly. 

We know what it means to lose and what it means to win. We know that the COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as a loss, but hopefully, with the lessons we have learned from this tragedy, we understand what matters, and we will never be here again.

Donna ShalalaDonna Edna Shalala'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Pelosi, Schumer must appoint new commissioners to the CARES Act oversight panel Stephanie Murphy won't run for Senate seat in Florida next year MORE represents Florida’s 27th District. She is a member of the Education and Labor Committee and a former HHS secretary.