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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Joshua's Tree

Portland was hit with a surprise snow storm yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t a surprise to me, as early yesterday morning during my walk with Happy-dog through the park near my home, I could smell the potential for snow (I even documented my snow-sense in an email to my daughter, who is visiting family in France, announcing to her that I thought it just might snow. And it did!). We received a couple of inches in a few hours, the big fluffy flakes that fall when the temperature is hovering around 32 and there’s a mixture of warm and cold air in the atmosphere. Of course, once it began snowing, around 2:30 pm or so, the part of my brain I use for work went on strike and all I could do was look out the window and watch to see if the snow was going to accumulate or not. When I was sure that we were experiencing a real storm, I strapped on my snow boots, and Happy-dog and I headed back out to the park for a very long session of marveling and frolicking.

As the duskiness came, and the snow kept falling on us, I felt sad for my fellow Portlanders stuck in the bumper-to-bumper traffic I could see on one of the main commuter routes that flanks the east side of the park. I heard the cries of geese trying to fly through the snow, and the wails of ambulance sirens, so I gave a little prayer for whoever was in the accident toward which the ambulance was attempting to rush through the traffic and the slush. By bedtime, the real snowing was over and the temperature was high enough that I knew we’d be lucky if we woke up to still find snow blanketing our city. In bed, preparing to sleep, I wished it were still snowing—do you know that sound when it is snowing at night, when you are under the covers in bed, trying to fall asleep? And the quality of the light outside, even at night, when there is snow on the ground? How would you describe that sound, that light?

I am glad to report that when I woke up this morning, there was still snow on the ground, though it was melting. And that I didn’t have to go into work, as I’m working from home one more day, pretending to be on vacation (though I’ve only just been able to reactivate the work part of my mind—the snow had to be melted enough for me to be able to place my attention elsewhere.). This means that Happy-dog and I got to enjoy a last session of marveling and frolicking in the snow. We were out this morning for a nice long while, running sometimes, walking sometimes, sometimes stopping to look at the various water fowl, all of whom I’m in love with and learning how to tell apart (thanks to the field guide I received as a Christmas present!).

Toward the end of our walk, I decided to disrupt our regular routine, and rather than walking around the casting pond, we walked parallel to it through the big stand of trees that live in between the highway and the east edge of the pond. As we approached the last tall tree (a big spruce, I think), I thought I detected something out-of-the-ordinary about it; in fact, I saw something which caused me to stop in my tracks, catch my breath; I could feel my heart jump. There, wrapped around the bottom third of the tree (which is the shape of a huge Christmas tree), were yards and yards of ribbon garland, dark red and gold, about 8 inches wide. I quickly glanced around to see if any of the other trees were decorated this way, and none were. Then I wondered how long it had been decorated in this way – how many days had I not been aware of this little sweet miracle? The closer I was to the tree, the more I saw; in addition to the garland, there were little butterfly ornaments attached to various boughs. I walked a circle around the tree and saw blue, red, and white butterflies. They were wet from the melting snow, but intact. (I have many little bird ornaments in my Christmas tree at home, but next year, I think I’ll add some butterflies—how lovely and charming!) Happy-dog started pulling me, wondering why I was walking in circles around the tree (it is usually he who does so!), and perhaps also wondering why I was talking to myself. I was trying to record the experience so I could remember it, and the best way for me to do so is to start writing, which often means talking to myself.

Once I thought I’d seen all there was to see about this surprising tree, I began to turn away, and out of the corner of my eye, I caught site of something under the tree. I knelt down and peered underneath the heavy boughs, melting snow falling on my head, and I found there a memorial plaque, affixed in the dirt. It was in memory of Joshua John O’Leary, on the earth from 1978 to 1997, honored brother, son and friend. Again, I was stopped in my tracks, my mind racing with questions—What was Joshua’s relationship to this tree? Was this the tree he liked to climb? Was this his favorite park? How did Joshua die? Who are his people whom he left behind? Perhaps were his ashes strewn under the branches of this tree? Could it be that his family adorned “his” tree every December, to celebrate him during the winter holidays? I tried to take photos of the tree and the memorial plaque with my cell phone, but the resolution was poor and melting snow kept dripping down on the phone. (I’m notorious for cell-phone-death-by-drowning.). So I ran home through the melting snow, dragging Happy-dog behind me, hoping to keep all these details in mind.

Now as I come close to the finish of writing about my experience, I feel the very strong urge to walk back over to the park – without the dog!—to verify that I’ve got all the details right. The snow has stopped melting, so I can take photos and write notes without big drops of water pelting me. More later.

As I approached Joshua’s tree the second time, I saw that part of the garland had fallen off the boughs since this morning, probably the outcome of the drag of melting snow. My initial reaction was that I would fix the garland, but as I trudged through the slush toward the tree, the thought occurred to me that perhaps the decorations on Joshua’s tree are like Tibetan prayer flags which one hangs outside, allowing them to disintegrate over time, a reminder of impermanence. I decided not to interfere, leaving the garland where it had fallen. Let me also report that it is a good thing I returned to Joshua’s tree, because I misremembered his middle name, which is James, not John. He was, as I correctly remembered, 19 when he died. The inscription on his memorial plaque reads: “Our hearts forever touched. Son, brother, friend we love and miss so much.” Among the butterflies, there’s one who is silver, a detail I missed before.

As I walked back home to finish writing this little piece, the neighborhood blue heron (and my most favorite bird of all) flew overhead, a rare site to see in the middle of the day. I thanked the heron and I thanked Joshua and I thanked his tree and the folks who had the sweet thought to decorate it, and the snow, because the snow, the heron, Joshua, his tree and the other folks all reminded me today that intentional aging is fundamentally about intentional living—a commitment to a certain kind of attention to the smallest, most exquisite details of life as it unfolds in, around and before us moment-by-moment.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Positive Aging Conference Overview--Wellness

Unfortunately I did not hav ethe opportunity to attend any of the sessions for this topic so I am not able to write from my own experience. Many of the presentations were related to health care and nursing home operations which according to others did not have anything new to add to the discussions. However there were a few presentations which were thought provoking:

Several presenters related the importance of inter-generational interaction to a greater sense of wellness. Joan Chadbourne, EdD gave a presentation on how elders telling their stories to younger people increased energy and mended intergenerational riffs or misunderstandings. Storytelling accompanied with compassionate listening can create legacies and suggests new possibilities for positive aging.

Joan Chadbourne; Healing Conversations; www.healingconversationsnow.com

Kol Birke, Commonwealth Financial Network, gave a stirring presentation on how our sense of "satisfaction" can be linked to not just being less "dissatisfied" but to increased wellness and a deep sense of contribution by aligning how we spend our money with our passions and sense of life purpose.


Lesley Hart, University of Strathclyde, Scotland, talked about a program in Scotland that created new careers for long-term unemployed individuals through life-long learning initiatives.

In addition there were two presenters who made the connection between creativity and improved wellness and being in a meaningful community to improved wellness.

If you are interested in more information send me an email: dkrozell@comcast.net or comment to this post.

The 2010 Positive Aging Conference will be in Los Angeles in early December.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

a moment of intentional aging

Today is my forty-third birthday. I have silver-shooting stars dancing on my head, having ceased coloring my hair a year ago. When I stand still and close my eyes, I might as well still be twenty-three, that's how good and at ease I feel in my body when it isn't in pain (yesterday it was, and the day before, but not today). The mind I have today is my favorite mind so far--I like how it has changed over the last year, the new ways it can think!

My sixty-three-year-old mommy is back in Portland, almost completely moved into her new apartment, just in time for the winter holidays. She has hopefully stopped running and is going to stay put, close to me and my thirteen-year-old daughter. She tried life in California with a man she's known since childhood and it didn't work out well, not at all well. So, she's back.

This is the first year of all of my years this time around on the planet that I've not received a birthday card from my dear Gramma Jewell. I can't help but see the absence of a birthday greeting from her as a sort of negative milestone. Without a reminder from someone she probably doesn't remember that today is my birthday; if someone does remember for her, I know she's going to be devastated that she forgot (so I almost hope she's not reminded.).

In addition to preparing for Christmas Eve and Day, big celebrations in our little funny household, we are preparing for my daughter’s big trip to France with her father--they leave the day after Christmas. How brilliant that she gets to live such an interesting, expansive life as a young person. It will be bittersweet for me to drop her at the airport and wish her and her father a bon voyage. It is always difficult, as happy for her as I am.

Positive Aging Conference-Creativity

For me, one of the really big takeaways from the Positive Aging Conference was a presentation from Dr. Michael Patterson, Founder of mindRAMP and Associates and board member of the National Center for Creative Aging. He spoke on 'Why Creativity Matters' using research data from a major study of the long-term effects of creativity on health and wellness in a senior population.

They found that as a result of regular creative activities (playing music, dance, visual arts, writing, painting etc) people used less medications, had fewer doctor visits, were more independent, less depressed and happier. Dr. Patterson then mentioned that if every nursing home were to hire just one artist-in-residence to coordinate creative activities for the residents it would save twenty times more in health care expenses than such a program would cost.

Although this "good news" is slow in getting spread there were many presenters who offered a variety of ideas on innovative creative activities. Here is an overview of other presenters and topics in from the Creativity track:

Lifelong Dancing: Rusti Brabdman, PhD, Shands Arts in Medicine
http://www.shands.org/aim/

Creating personal "elder tales": Jacquelyn Browne, PhD, Nova Southeastern University
http://www.nova.edu/

The Quicksilver Model: Arts for the Aging: Anthony Hyatt, Arts for the Aging
http://www.aftaarts.org/

My last post on the conference will be about the Wellness track speakers.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Positive Aging Conference Overview--Community

Community and Positive Aging:

One of the tracks that interested me at the Positive Aging Conference was "Community". Although many of the presentations were specific to care facilities or retirement communities there were a few new and interesting concepts presented.

I did not get a chance to hear many of the presentations because they were all going on at the same time but I did get to two sessions. Here are some of the things I took away.

Community through Social Networking: Carol Orsborne, VibrantNation.com and Sharon Whitely, ThirdAge.com.

The focus of this session was mostly about women and I was taken by the facts the presenters gave regarding the number of "boomers and beyond" who are familiar with social networking and the expected growth. It also reminded me that the meaning of "community" is changing and the electronic media is a growing option for building a new sense of community.

Still, isn't it hard to have coffee regularly with your cyber-neighbor in New Zealand?

For more information go to WWW.VibrantNation.com

Cultivating a Culture of Successful Aging David Gobble, Masterpiece Living Academy.

Dr. Gobble suggested that nursing home managers know that in order to attract the new, active, informed older adult, they must offer, in addition to exceptional amenities, an opportunity to remain healthy, vital and independent. However, the research on aging tells us that it takes more than a wellness program, as we currently see them, to age successfully. It takes an environment which believes that older adults can grow...a culture that is dedicated to helping them to achieve their life's goals.

For more information go to www.masterpieceliving.com

Dreaming and the Community of Generations: HR Moody, AARP

Rick, talked about how to interpret "big dreams" through ancestors, parents, children and even grandchildren. He used classic dream scenarios as discussion points.

For more information contact hrmoody@AARP.org

Other topics and speakers in the Community sessions were:

Sandra Timmerman; MetLife Mature Market Institute: How to discover what really matters in Community

Dick Goldberg; Coming Of Age; Jan Hively, Vital Aging Network; Community Networks to Support Positive Aging

Maria Malayter; Center for Positive Aging National-Louis University: Creating a Center for Positive Aging in Metropolitan Chicago

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Exercising Our Spiritual Organs

"The average woman generally feels once in her life the full happiness of love and once the joy of freedom. Once in her life she hates bitterly. Once with deep grief she buries a loved one, and once finally, she dies herself. That is too little for our innate capacity to love, hate, enjoy, and suffer. We exercise daily to strengthen our muscles and sinews that they may not degenerate. But our spiritual organs, which were created for a lifetime of full activity, remain unused, undeveloped, and so, with the passing years, they lose their productive power."

Have you used your spiritual organs today?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Elders and Wishes

"Like our shadows our wishes lengthen as the sun declines." Poet Edward Young

Isn't one of the key advantages of age that we have a broader more compassionate perspective of the world and those in it? Is this not also true for what we wish the world to be? The role of elders is to be the "keepers of the big picture". If we let them they can pull us back, individually and collectively, from the brink of destruction.

I sometimes advise people who are seeking inspiration about what they should really do in life to consult a trusted elder about what is really important in life. With their lifetime of wisdom they have wishes that are bigger than themselves. Perhaps we should all listen more!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Aging Denialist, Realist or Enthusiast?

One of the takeaways from the Positive Aging Conference last week was something that Bill Thomas said in his keynote speech, a call for each of us to embrace our own aging process.

For those of you who do not know Dr. Bill, he is a geriatric physician and a self-proclaimed nursing-home abolitionist who has, for many years, worked to create a new model for care facilities that empower residents rather than isolate or diminish them.

In his inspiring talk Dr. Bill touched on the three different types of personal relationship with our own aging process: denialist, realist, and enthusiast.

According to Dr. Bill, denialists say "Not me, Brother!" and refuse to even think about aging and certainly do not talk about it.

Realists acknowledge that they are aging but believe that there is nothing "good" about it and see it as something to be overcome. These are the people who take so-called age "defeating" drugs, vitamins and other associated products. They are the ones who must go to the gym to look younger. They are the "age fighters" and often feel defeated when their bodies or minds show their age.

Enthusiasts realize that they are aging and accept aging as growth and that it is sometimes painful. This group is also excited to realize that as a culture we don't know how this new aging paradigm will turn out. They relish the fact that they are "aging explorers" (pun intended!)

Although you can make a case that as individuals we might wander between these groups, Dr. Bill suggested that until we have more Enthusiasts than Denialists a new aging paradigm will not occur and we will have lost our opportunity for change.

The fact that he was talking to a room of mostly "enthusiasts" was not lost on him or the audience. In fact he called us out to go back to our communities, jobs, families and begin to foster a more enthusiastic attitude for aging. One that celebrates the opportunities along with the losses. To embrace the process as well search for new purpose and meaning.

He also reminded us that the prominent attitude in our culture is still "Denial and Realist" and to remember that for these people aging might be terrifying and scary. They will not change easily nor will their allies, the drug companies and others who sell eternal youth.

Our role is to accept our own mortality no not just accept but "love" it. Accept the mystery and the unknown as the great explorers did and arrive on new shores where aging is seen as natural and actually empowering. Until we can do this for ourselves we can't expect change in others.
=====================================
Dr. Bill Thomas web site: http://changingaging.org/

Friday, December 11, 2009

After the Positive Aging Conference

All the way back yesterday from the the Positive Aging Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, I was thinking about the quality of people that come together each year around this issue of positive/intentional aging. We are fortunate to have the quality and committed people from all walks of life who are working to make our culture more empowering for elders and generally supportive of a new way of aging. Even though I return tired and with a sore posterior I have a briefcase full of information, a full notepad and very nice memories. Over the next couple of weeks I will write about some of the thought-provoking information and presentations from the conference.

Generally, here are a few overall thoughts that I took away from the conference.

What's In A Name: Isn't it a little unfortunate that we have a conference called the Positive Aging Conference. That says a lot about what the dominent paradigm on the subject of aging in America. I look forward to the day that we all automatically see this time of life as a natural continuation of human development. A time where we recognize that along with some physical diminishment there is even more room for personal growth and contribution to the culture. A time when we see the value of our elders and create opportunities for elders who choose to play a bigger social role.

Where are our leaders? The conference was keynoted by Bill Thomas, M.D. author, nursing home abolitionist and advocate. He did his job wonderfully and greatly inspired many people in attendance. (I will write more about the specifics of his presentation.) Although I have heard Dr. Bill talk once before he was "on fire" Monday evening. He called on us all to work to change the perceptions and meaning of aging in America starting with own attitudes and biases. He also challenged us to speak out in support of a new aging paradigm.

What was disturbing for me was that other than Bill, there were no other inspiring speakers at the conference. Don't get me wrong, there were many great and very committed people and plenty of good information, but no one else who I would want to put up in front of an audience to lead the way in this movement. Maybe it's a sign of the void Gene Cohen's passing means to us?

Tribute to Gene Cohen: Susan Perlstein, Founder of the National Center for Creative Aging, gave an emotional tribute to Dr Cohen who was the recognized national voice, scientist and advocate for the idea that the human mind is capable of continued develop throughout the life-span and that creativity is the door to unlock this ability. Susan talked about her relationship with Gene at the start of the Center of Creative Aging and with the landmark research project Dr. Cohen did in the 90's.

Best Conference Track: The conference had 4 tracks: Life planning; creativity; wellness; and community. Although, due to timing, I did not get a chance to really delve in to all the tracks I was really taken by the quality of presenters in the "creativity" parts of the conference.

Everything from dance and theater to dreams and writing fairy tales were topical sessions.

Biggest Disappointment: Attendance! If you go on attendance for important gatherings as a measure of growth then we are not doing very well. In 2007 the first Positive Aging Conference brought 300 plus people to St Petersburg. In 2008 the conference was held in St Paul, Minnesota with about 700 people linked in electronically at more than 20 sites across North America. Marylhurst Univ. was one of the sites and we could not find room for all the interested participants settling for a packed house of 80.

Sadly, according to one official at the conference there there were only about 130 enthusiasts at the 2009 version.

Hope each of you will find the interest, time and money to attend next year's conference which will be in Los Angeles.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Functional elders

Where are our functional Elders?

If they are around they are certainly hard to find. I’m not talking about the demographic of everyone over a certain age. I’m looking for those men and women, of any age, who make it their calling to continue their own spiritual, psychological and emotional development at the same time they are being in-service to the following generations. Are they culturally hidden or really not there? Are they even relevant in this day and age? Hmmmm!

I did a quick search, recently, for elders in my neighborhood on the internet and it illustrated part my point. To be an elder in our society, it seems, you have to have a physical ailment, in need of a place to live, in need of a price discount, need legal advice for dealing with abusive families, or have any number of other problems that need to be solved. If we were to believe this as the total representation of an elder then it would seem that elders can’t take care of themselves and are, indeed, are nothing but a ball of problems and a burden to society. I don't believe this to be true.

Ancient societies had a place and purpose for the elders. They were often honored for their wisdom and contemplative skills. I love the story that American spiritual teacher Ram Dass tells. I think it goes something like this: While traveling in the Himalayas he was approached by a friend who upon greeting him said “You’re looking so old!” Ram Dass, being a typical Westerner, reacted with some horror to being called “old”. Then he realized that his friend was actually congratulating him for becoming an elder, white hair, wrinkles and all. In some places in the world elders are still cherished and even celebrated. Why not here?

Personally, I want to believe that there is a growing group of individuals who seek peacefulness and emotional stability; contemplative yet authentic lives; life-long self-discovery and growth; and show a commitment to emotional, intellectual, and personal integrity. Individuals who are wise, spiritual, generative, and humorous. Furthermore, I want to believe that our culture is smart enough to create special places where such individuals would thrive and have a recognizable positive impact on our communities and society. I'm fascinated by this issue and will be writing more about functional elders in the weeks to come.


I wonder what such civic structures would look like? Maybe we need an Elder assigned to every school yard as a soothing presence over emotional or physical nicks and scrapes? Maybe it is an organized group of Elders tasked with testifying at every city council meeting to advocate for future generations? How different would our lives be if we knew that we could have access to someone with these qualities to provide council and console us at any age? Imagine! Now that would be radical!

Please give us your Elder story!


Note: this article was first posted on the Intentional Aging Collective September 2009.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mortality and Spirituality

According to Gay Luce, author of Longer Life, More Joy, elderhood is a time to discover inner richness for self-development and spiritual growth. Elderhood is also a time of transition and preparation for dying, which is at least as important as preparation for a career and family.

Many of us in this culture, and I include myself, fear that even thinking about death will somehow bring it's certainty closer and hasten the inevitable. So we ignore it or pretend that we will live forever. However, I think this only acts to minimize our opportunities in the second half.

When we come to terms with our mortality we start to look at the moment with open eyes and maybe a sense of fearlessness or increased urgency. Maybe even a profound sense of gratitude for our lives. In fact, maybe if we lose our fear of dying we can also lose our fear of living. And in doing so will live more intentionally and authentically with integrity, compassion and acceptance of each precious moment we get.

Individuals who chose to age intentionally refuse to follow the well-worn aging path. Instead they create their own new path that leads them to exciting and fulfilling possibilities that include developing their full human and spiritual potential in the second half.

Imagine a world where elders were actually supported and encouraged to do this kind of personal development. Now imagine what a gift these individuals could be to society and the world!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Importance of Purpose

"During my long life, I have learned one lesson: that the most important thing is to realize why one is alive----and i think it is not only to build bridges or tall buildings or make money, but to do something for humanity. To bring joy, hope, to make life richer for the spirit because you have been alive, that is the most important thing." Musician Arthur Rubinstein

[This topic is one that Jenny and I will want to share about from time to time in this space.]

To know why we are alive is a great gift--to ourselves and others. To be able to go to bed at night and feel like we have been purposeful brings joy to our life and a sense of meaning. And this does not necessarily have to be on a grand scale, either. It can be as simple as a exemplifying a quality we want to see more of in the world (ie love, laughter, compassion) or as grand as contributing to world peace or eliminating hunger. Having a purpose is like having a "life compass". It is a powerful tool!

Purpose keeps us in alignment with who we really are, our values and dreams for humanity. It helps us make choices every day for how we will spend our time, money and life energy. Purpose also points us in a direction so we find or attract like-minded people who want to support our life and us as individuals.

Intentional aging brings a commitment to develop ourselves throughout the entire life span and letting our purpose or passion guide our choices is a powerful way to "make life richer for the spirit".

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

wet and windblown

December 2, 2009
7:30-8:40 a.m.

Just in case we needed more direct evidence of the power (and necessity!) of collaboration, let me acknowledge that my dear friend and colleague David has been holding down the fort single-handedly for the past several weeks. You may not have noticed that I’ve been missing from the Intentional Aging Collective for awhile, but I have noticed that I’ve been missing, and I’ve sure felt my absence, and quite acutely! Since September when we launched this space, I’ve grown accustomed to the sweet pleasure of having a place to engage in ongoing conversations about our shared journey of traveling through this strange life together and our exquisite potential for deep development.

Lest you think I’ve had a dry period in terms of intentional aging inspiration, in fact the opposite is true—I’ve had a rainy period, a deluge of experiences. If you’ve seen me lately you know I’m all wet and windblown (I’m pretty sure when Tash dropped by my office yesterday and witnessed me trying to return voicemail messages in between an endless string of meetings, she noticed my eyes were spinning and I was rather disheveled.).

As I write this posting, I’m doing so in small segments as I race around getting the morning started—dog to walk in the full-moon dawn, lunches to make, clothes to iron, fifteen minutes (not enough!) of meditation, teenager to wake up three times and invite gently into the day…once I get started writing, I don’t want to stop, I don’t want to be interrupted by these “mundane” activities! Not to mention that today is not a day (no day is for me) to be running late—so many meetings to attend once I arrive at the university. Bad combination—being possessed by the muse on a day when there’s little time to entertain her!

My daughter is up now and wondering if she could have the cup of tea I said I was making for her over fifteen minutes ago. (As I make her belated cup of tea I remind myself that part of the commitment to learning to live intentionally is to be mindful of where we are and what we are doing!) Okay—more later.
_______________

11:50 while eating my lunch in my office:

I’ve started many postings in my little brain – some that were might have had some potential – but time and energy, the stuff of this universe, have been in short supply for me recently, and so getting the ideas out of my brain on onto the blog has seemed impossible.

Some days recently it has been all I could do to get out of bed as my chronic intestinal condition has been so painful. Some days recently it has been all I could do to do anything besides sit on the couch next to my daughter, who was swooning with a high fever from the swine flu. Some days recently I have felt so heavy with worry for my mommy that my brain has seemed to shut down temporarily.

Also in recent days – early this morning, in fact – I've experienced moments of such staggering beauty, the profound, fleeting thrill of being aware of my present experience: watching the blue heron rise from the cold stream and fly off in a big arc, first to the north, then looping around to the south-west; glimpsing my daughter’s sleepy face as she emerged from bed; acknowledging to my dog as he follows me around the house after our walk and his breakfast that he is a brilliant creature and that I, too, enjoyed our time together; admiring my new haircut, the way my the streaks of silver in my dark hair are almost all the way grown in; noticing while sitting in a two-hour meeting how varied and lovely my colleagues are in mind, body and spirit.

So, that’s what I got to say for today, and maybe also for tomorrow and the next day. And any way, it is almost time for the next meeting!

Hope you are all well and enjoying whatever moment you are in.

--Jenny

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sense of Place

"As we move into the second half of life, we inevitably confront the question "Where in the world do I belong?" Changes in relationships, work, and physical health naturally precipitate the need to reconsider our sense of place. And this means both our external place--where we live--as well as a more internal sense---where and to whom do I really belong. Fortunately, the second half can provide us with a unique opportunity for renewal; we cannot avoid the freedom to choose whether we stay, grow, or die." Richard Leider and David Shapiro; Claiming Your Place At the Fire

I am intrigued by the question that Leider and Shapiro pose above: "Where in the world do I belong?" In my retirement coaching practice I notice that this is usually the question that stymies and confuses many clients. Especially the implied second part "To whom do I belong?" Finding and creating a network of people who support our life and our continued personal, spiritual and psychological development is just as important as finding the correct address.

However, if it were just a matter of finding a specific place, our task would be easy. We might choose a place that is warm or near our favorite recreational opportunities or close to family. We might choose a place close to a major airport so we can easily travel or live in a city for the urban amenities. But "home" is more than the physical place. And as Leider/Shapiro say, the warm climate that we feel on the outside might just be masking a coldness inside.

A real sense of "home" involves more than just physical comfort. Having a sense that we matter in other people's lives and that we can be seen and supported for who we really are plays a bigger role in knowing where in the world we belong. Are there opportunities to be in-service to others and to do my inner exploration? Do I have people in my life who support me just as I am for who I am? Are there plenty of opportunities and resources to develop a new calling?

If you like, as someone interested in aging intentionally, sit down with your loved ones or friends and inquire about what is it about your sense of place that would make you feel most supported or at home? This is a great jumping off point for answering "Where in the world do I belong?"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Creative Aging Pioneer Passes

As I get ready to attend the 3rd Annual Positive Aging Conference I am thinking about Dr. Gene Cohen one of the loudest proponents of aging creatively in the world. Here is an article from the Washington Post (edited for brevity):

Gene D. Cohen, an impish geriatric psychiatrist who championed the idea that people past retirement age have untapped stores of creativity and intellectually rigorous skills in their later years, died Nov. 7 of prostate cancer at age 65.

"The magic bullets are all blanks," he said in 1998, advising people to rely on "intellectual sweating" instead of pills and herbs for good mental health. "Make it a point to learn something new, instead of turning to hormones or ginkgo biloba."

Although the medical establishment tended to treat aging as a disease when he started his career, Dr. Cohen found that the later adult years can be a time of great creativity. Brains create new brain cells as long as people are encouraged to keep trying new pursuits, he reported, and people in the traditional retirement years have almost limitless capacity for intellectual growth.

"He wanted to move the paradigm from a focus on problems to a focus on potentials," said Gay Hanna, executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging.

Among his many research projects, a 2002 study showed that those who engaged in the arts late in life had fewer illnesses and injuries and more independence. Dr. Cohen, as a former federal employee with an eye on the looming national health-care debate, reported that arts programs also appeared to reduce "risk factors that drive the need for long-term care."

"Single-handedly he changed the image of aging from a period of senescence to a period of creativity," said Dr. Walter Reich, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University.
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Wielding a light saber at his lectures, with a cherubic face surrounded by untamed curls, Dr. Cohen sought to re-introduce fun to those suffering from physical ailments and provide a way for younger family members to engage with those whom he considered "keepers of the culture."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fun and Humor

"Unfortunately, many people do not consider fun as important item on their daily agenda. For me, that was always high priority in whatever I was doing." Astronaut Chuck Yeager

If ever there was a time to have fun it is the second half of life. Most of us are better able to laugh at ourselves and we can also see the humor in life's journey.

And humor and fun are wonderful gifts we can give to the "adults" that are younger than us.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Letting Youth Die

"Inside every seventy-year-old is a thirty-five-year-old asking, "What happened?" Ann Landers

Another way to look at this is part of a David Wilcox song, "In the years it takes to make one man wise....a young man dies." Our job as intentional elders-in-waiting is to embrace our older self and let our young woman/man die away.

Think about how the world might be changed if we all embraced age as something of value and honor...starting with our own self.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Be Outrageous

"Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week." Activist Maggie Kuhn

Intentional aging is about being authentic and giving the world our best. Sometimes our best is "outrageous"!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Developmental Aging

I'm personally intrigued by the different ways people seem to go about aging. In today's society aging is not one thing, it is many things and it is different for each person. And I would not want it any other way. The second half of life is when we are the most different.

Having completed our child rearing duties and perhaps our career chasing too, we are free to express ourselves in new ways with the diverse set of beliefs and experiences we have accumulated. Each person unique as individual snowflakes! Consequently, any single theory of aging is probably going to be flawed.

So how can we think and talk about this stage of life? Is it just the physical and mental diminishment process? Is it the unlimited possibilities that the "longevity revolution" might offer? Is it someplace in between? I suspect that the real answere lies in each of us. And frankly that is what excites me so much about this time in human history; there does not seem to be a blueprint for aging! We are all going to make it up as we go...together, I hope! Consequently, I have come to really appreciate the concept of developmental aging.

The idea is that Developmental aging allows us to see the aging process as part of the ongoing wonder of human development. It connects all parts of our life span from birth to death as a continuum with different developmental tasks in each part. As a result perhaps we are creating the possibilities for the greatest cohort of elders ever.

"Developmental aging seeks the unification of aging and longevity, understanding that each needs the other, each informs the other. Our longevity grants us a magnificent opportunity to age. Aging brings depth, richness, and meaning to our longevity. Together, they are humanity's most treasured possessions." Bill Thomas, M.D.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Is Community?

What is the meaning of community in the second half of life? Is it the city we live in? The church or organizations we belong to? Our family of origin (or choice)?

I recently gave a presentation on Community in the Second Half of Life to a group of fifty retirees at a local University. I was amazed that a topic of this nature could attract that many people. In the room people openly shared what they thought community was or wasn't and generally we had a lively discussion even though there was no consensus about the meaning of community.

Some participants thought it was the political climate, or being physically close to grandchildren or having good friends. For others it was more about the amenities that were provided by the country or city they lived in. Finally, a gentle woman at the back of the room chimed, "I guess community to me means that I'm free to be me!" Afterward I started to think about this and it's importance for intentional agers. And the more I thought about it the more I appreciated that wonderfully simple answer.

Maybe community is the particular set of relationships and physical and political attributes that support each of us to be authentic, to be who we really are in the world? If this is true our community should support our continued personal development by providing opportunities for us to explore the person we want to become in the second half of life. Such a community would foster a sense of creativity in life through opportunities for new relationships and experiences. The important factor for intentional agers is to remember that we are free to choose our community (or at least part of it). And If it doesn't support our continued emotional, physical and spiritual growth in the second half of life than we can choose something else.

This is not free, though, and here's the rub...it might require more risk-taking and a willingness to be uncomfortable with the unknown than we are used to. Being who we really are is that way, I guess! I think it is a minor expense for what it buys, though!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Noticing

"The heart of most spiritual practice is simply this: Remember. Remember who you are. remember what you love. Remember what is sacred. remember what is true. Remember that you will die, and that this day is a gift. Remember how you wish to live." Wayne Muller, How, Then, Shall We Live?

Today....today I want to notice everything. The rain falling and running off the roof, the soft light on the fallen leaves in the yard, the spider webs in the garden, the dust bunnies behind the door, how this key board feels under my fingertips, the tangy taste of sourdough pancakes.

Over and over I have confirmed that "attention" or "mindfulness" or "awareness" (whatever the word) is the most healing practice for me.

I just get off the path every now and again and need something or someone to gently guide me back. Thanks, Wayne!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wisdom and Age

Does wisdom really increase with age, or is it something we bestow to elders because we can't think of anything else nice to say?

Dr. George Vaillant inquires about this question in his book, Aging Well. He ask if perhaps we as a culture give too much credibility to the wisdom of oldsters. He poses the question "Do we endow the elderly with wisdom only as a good-hearted effort to jolly them along...or is wisdom a special boon that life bestows upon the elderly? Or were the wise always that way and in old age we finally notice it? Or perhaps the reason that we associate wisdom with age is simply that, unlike motor skills, sexual prowess, and memory, wisdom does not usually decline with the passing years?"

I don't claim to know the answer to this paradox and any or all could be true. And, according to Vaillant, there have been many scholarly attempts to quantify 'wisdom' with no real definitive answer. However, I do have a personal sense that wisdom is somehow associated with the ability to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. I also have a belief that older people have the potential to be much wiser than their younger counterparts just because they have more experiences to draw on. At least I want to believe that.

I also wonder if there are a few qualities that are reflected in a wise person. These may include being empathetic, showing tolerance, being self-aware, having a sense of wonder about the world around them, displaying moral discernment, seeing the irony and humor in life, a well developed common sense, and a discernment of when to speak their minds at the appropriate time.

As I write this I am particularly drawn to the last item. A discernment of when to speak their minds when it will have the most impact. Wisdom is the opposite of being self-absorbed. I don't have scientific data to back this up but I have found this quality in 20 somethings and 80 somethings in about the same percentages. So what is it that we see in elders that we associate as wisdom?

How many of us have felt "trapped" in a conversation with and oldster who wants to tell us "the way it should be"? I have, and I admit that, at times, I have been the one doing the telling and have noticed the glazed eyes and the uncomfortable distracted stares as I tell "the truth according to DR". Somehow, I just know or feel in my body that this is not a quality of being wise!

Then maybe wisdom has something to do with knowing the right time to speak up? When to ask questions and when to pull out an example from the past that adds perspective to a discussion or maybe solve a problem in the present. I wonder if this is the quality that is most affected by maturity, knowledge and intelligence and as such is what we see in oldsters that we think of as "wisdom" that maybe is not as developed in younger "wise" individuals? Perhaps it is this quality that has the best chance to be on display in the second half of life.

I'm really curious about this topic. What do you think? What is it to be a wise person?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Being Young At Heart

"I want to die young at an advanced age." Journalist Max Lerner

I notice young children a lot! How they see the world. How they live in almost constant wonder. I'm also curious when they stop? What is it that we do to them that forces them to lose that wonder?

Ever notice when a child comes in to a room where there is a parent and grandparent together. The child immediately zeroes in on the grandparent and the parent becomes almost superfluous. In fact the grandparent usually becomes more child-like. Maybe that is the attraction!

Try to find that sense of a child's wonder in yourself in each day!

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Song

One of my life's secret desires (Besides finding the World's Best Cinnamon Roll!) has been to write songs. I love quirky lyrics about life, love, and maturing and felt like I could do that too. But after many attempts over the years I was drawing a blank. I just did not know how to spark the creativity I thought I had inside to get anything on to paper and guitar. So I did what many people do, I gave up!

My reasons were: too old, too uncreative, and too silly! Sound familiar?

Well then came Zoe! A 77 year old woman who I met last summer. Zoe had sparks in her eyes and fire in her belly and she had just taken up playing the ukulele last year and was also writing songs. Not the kind of songs that would ever make it to the "Top 40" list. Just songs about her cat and her garden and her favorite places. Precious songs that only meant something to her.

When I told her my tale of woe about my trials with songwriting. "Well listen Mister", she said "you just get going and get your songs out! The world is a better place when it hears your song!"

I was inspired and motivated by Zoe and last weekend attended the NW Writers Workshop where one writing opportunity was song writing. And at the end of the weekend I had my first song. Imagine! Ol' "too old, too uncreative, and too silly" me! (A little "country and western" ditty.)

I feel rejuvenated and somehow happier maybe even a bit "giddy". I have been walking around with a little more "zip" in my step and my brain feels like it is getting used in new ways. I'm even half way through my second song and ideas are churning up to the surface during the day and in dreams at night. But most importantly I feel that with this one success I can have others and I am seeing more room for opportunities in life in general.

Imagine, all as a result of this old guy taking a little risk to write one uncreative and silly country song!

Bless you Zoe!

Now it's your turn! What is your secret desire that has gone unfulfilled?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Advice Is Cheap!

"Advice about life is now so cheap and abundant, it floods us from email greetings, tea bags, coffee cups, and the sides of city buses..." Richard Leider, Something to Live For
(...and blogs like this one, too! :-))

I wish I could just take someone's advice from the side of a bus or a tea bag and be successful in this time of life. My life challenges these days come from not knowing where to turn to get support to be different than I was in the first half of life.

When I was younger and on a career path I knew what I had to do to "succeed" and I gathered resources and advisers to help me. But, you see, I had a blueprint of things I needed to be, do, or have to be successful. I also had people in front of me who had walked a similar career path who I could observe, lean on and learn from.

It isn't the same for this time of life. There is no checklist, map or blueprint for how I can be successful in my life after age 60. Each of us is making it up as we go! There is no other person who I can look to who understand exactly what I need to do to be successful. This one I have to own and create.

So where do we turn for support, nurturing and unconditional love in the second half of life. I many cases it is not our family of origin as they have a comfortable vision of us as we have been in the first half as provider, nurturer, cook, teacher, healer or just Mom. They are reluctant to let that go. Even our old affiliations (church, community, schools, etc) don't always bring the type of unconditional support essential to being true to your self in the second half.

So I guess we must look to new and different and maybe nontraditional places. For me this has included joining an "Elders Council" group where 6-10 people come together once a month and share and discuss the whole aging process. Physical and mental health, spirituality, finding meaning, passion, volunteering etc. are often the topics of discussion. I also have joined two organizations which bring together the younger generation and "olders" in community service projects. I learn something from each and also feel like I can be my true self in these situations. Which helps.

However, I have discovered that the most important thing for me at this time of life is to listen to others. In the first half of life I got paid for solving problems and having the answers for the organization or family. Frankly I didn't have time to really listen deeply. Now I listen more and answer less. The wisdom from the "20 somethings" to "80 somethings" is all around us. There is amazing wisdom there that I can apply to my own life. Like the meaning of modern relationships and family and community. What is important to them is not so different from what I value. It just comes packaged differently.

If you want to create this time of life differently than your earlier life, then do something different! As the saying goes "If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten!". Get inspired and engage your community in new ways that reflect your values and passions. And in my opinion the world can use all the intentional agers it can get!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Home Port

"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves..."
---Mary Oliver

I carry this poem around with me and refer to it often. To me it feels much like a home port does for a sailor. Grounding and safe! It reminds me, at age 64, to show my real authentic self to the world and let that be enough. With all the imperfections, passion and whatever wisdom I have accumulated.

It's not always perfect but it is grounding and safe.

Blessings!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Because........."

Jenny's wonderful story about her Mother reminded me of a story about my Paternal grandmother.

She was as "hard-baked" as they come. Sixth-grade education, married very young and then widowed by the first world war. Remarried and divorced years later. With no money or job she spent the last 15 years of her life living alone in a single wide trailer in Garden Grove, Calif with a view of the Disneyland Matterhorn from her front steps.

She was "rough" and toughened from years of being a camp cook, single parent and the only woman in several logging camps and on cattle ranches in northern California. She could cuss with the best, drove a team of horses by age six and a tractor by age eight. She also loved to tell stories in a matter-of-fact way about shooting her "kitchen gun" through the open back door and bagging any stray bird or critter that wandered in to her garden. She was also honest, loving and a source of great support and care for me growing up. And I never, not once, heard her complain about her life or even wish for something more than she had.

After my son was born she came to visit us ..well actually she came to see her only Great grandchild. One day she and I were out driving to get groceries and I was a little agitated as she drove the highways letting car, after car, after car cut in front of us. I wrote it off to her advanced age and diminished driving abilities. I was provoked to ask why she was being so nice...didn't she know it was just slowing us down?

After I was done ranting she paused for a long minute and looking straight ahead and in a very warm and loving voice said "Because that's how I want to be treated!"

That moment still lives brightly in me. I hear her voice all the time and it guides me in my daily interactions with others. It reminds me to slow down and act kindly to others because I need to "be" the change I want see in the world.

Recently I was driving with a young friend who was a bit critical of my letting others "barge" in to the lane in front of our car. I turned to him and in the best "grandmother" voice I could muster responded to his inquiry with; "I do that because that's how I want to be treated!"

I hope he passes that on to the next generation!

Each of us can be a source of wisdom, support, care and inspiration everyday to those around us. We may not even know it though. Let your real self shine and enjoy each moment.....Just because that's the kind of world we want to live in!!

Blessings!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Transforming trauma by telling our stories

There is a silly thing I sometimes say when I’m teaching. Though I’ve been saying it for far too long, I still get laughs, which I love, so I keep making the joke. More to the point, I keep making the joke not just because I get laughs, and students don’t laugh because it is especially humorous, but because I suspect what I say is apt, it accurately describes our shared embodied experience and it gives us an unexpected chance to release our built up tension, it provides a small moment for relaxation. So, it happens something like this: A student will be complaining about a particularly difficult reading assignment (usually something theoretical) or discussion topic (usually something theoretical!), lamenting the impenetrability of the ideas and how they’ll never be able to get their minds around “this stuff,” and describing vividly the excruciating pain involved in thinking deeply. I listen closely to their plaintive cries and only when I am sure they are finished speaking I ask, “Does your head feel like it is going to explode”? And they always respond, “Yes!” and then laugh, to which I reply with something along the lines of, “Good, that’s exactly the experience I was hoping you’d have. If your head doesn’t feel like it is going to explode once in the while, then you aren’t doing your job!” Also, the “joke” might happen this way—Sometimes, when a student says something particularly insightful, brave, or innovative for her or him, I exclaim, “Everybody out of the way – that’s so amazing what you said, my brains are about to explode!”

I never once imagined that my mother’s brains – or mine, for that matter – could explode for real.

Two weeks after she celebrated her sixtieth birthday and one week after returning from a cruise to Mexico with her younger sister an undiagnosed aneurysm ruptured in my mother’s brain as she was driving from the library at the university where I work to my house in order to meet me and my daughter for dinner. I had recently celebrated my thirty-ninth birthday, my daughter had celebrated her tenth birthday, and we’d all felt as though we were emerging from a period in our lives that had been extraordinarily challenging, even traumatic. In my own life over the past decade there had been many unanticipated events that demanded of me what felt like an almost constant process of adjustment and adaptation, periods of recovery and reflection followed by rebuilding of self and life-world. But in the most recent months there had been my maternal grandmother’s rapid decline and near-death, followed by her equally rapid and unexpected improvement. This woman, my only surviving grandparent, had been my “best person” throughout my growing-up years, my primary source of care and regard, my model for the reality-bending possibilities of intent, curiosity, will, and the belief that there could always be something better. Rushing to her side and caring for her during what we thought were her final days on earth had been in many ways a singular experience – when I arrived at her bedside, she seemed to be dying; I climbed in beside her and slept with her all night. In the morning, she woke up, toileted and dressed herself, whereas I woke up vomiting and continued to do so for two days. This was an unexplainable yet empirically verifiable event that deeply shook me.

Also during the half-year prior to her ruptured brain aneurysm there had been the unexpected and violent end of my mother’s second marriage and her first sustained experience of living alone. She and her first husband, my father, married when they were both eighteen-years-old; I was born nine months later. Three years later my brother was born with severe and irreversible auditory and visual impairments caused by a congenital syndrome, the existence of which was heretofore unknown to my family, and until he left home in his early twenties, my mother’s daily reality -- her identity, in fact – was organized around the considerable responsibility of parenting a child with disabilities. She’d been married to my father for twenty-five years and had cared for my brother for twenty-one of those twenty-five years when, the day after my brother’s twenty-first birthday, when I was a twenty-four year-old married graduate student, for the first time in her life she chose herself. Quite courageously, she walked away from life as she had (and we had) known it, as she felt her responsibility to keep the family together for my brother’s sake was over. I’d known for several months that something of significance was going on as each time I saw my mother she’d hand over to me another small box of objects that were important to her, that she wanted me to protect for her. I even suggested to her on the occasion of one of these exchanges that it seemed that she was “preparing for flight.” And so, when she called me and asked that I pick her up and help her “run away from home” I wasn’t too surprised – I’d always wondered why she hadn’t fled sooner -- though I was in shock because of all of the foreseen and unforeseen consequences of her actions. After a few months, in between staying temporarily with me or friends and for a very short while alone, she met and married her second husband, to whom she was married for thirteen years until the day after Mother’s Day 2005, when she found herself, for the first time in her entire life, truly on her own.

In the months that preceded the sudden explosion in her brain she had gone a long way toward establishing her life as a single woman who’d already traveled through the life-course for several decades, to fully embracing her “third age” with vitality and purpose. I’d helped her to acquire an apartment in the neighborhood where my daughter and I are established; a friend and I had moved her into the new place and had kept her clear of her second husband. I’d also suppressed another wave of mild shock and even some panic when she announced that she had decided to return to college – in fact, the university where I am a professor – in order to complete her undergraduate degree and fulfill a life-long dream that had been disrupted so many years previously, a dream that she shared with the majority of my students who are also mid-life women.

She’d worked for over two decades as a medical assistant without a college degree in a managed-care setting. (And it is important perhaps to know that this was the same setting where she’d be a patient after the aneurysm ruptured; the same stubborn institution that I’d have to navigate as her caregiver, with varying degrees of success and a lot of exasperation; the same setting that would attempt to renege on their commitment to her as an employee and client, threatening to deny her medical claims and discontinue her relationship with the specialist to whom they had referred her.) She had decided that with the approach of her sixtieth birthday it was the ideal time to pursue as many of her dreams as she could: going back to school; training for a walking marathon; building economic security; developing current and new friendships. She felt an unfamiliar vitality, clarity, and purposefulness; she said she’d never felt better or younger in her life, that for once her “insides” and “outsides” matched, she felt a coherence and symmetry she could grow accustomed to and wanted to make last as long as possible. (When my mother speaks of her “identity” in this way, I can’t help but think about the subtle and sufficiently complex analysis of the self-constructions grown-ups engage in offered by Biggs, 1999.)

As well, there seemed to be a more fundamental shift happening throughout the substrates of her identity, her very way of being in the world was transforming; for what felt to me to be the first time in the almost forty years I had been her daughter, she started expressing her thoughts and feelings in a way that impressed me as representing some deeper truth that she’d carried around for decades but never felt up to narrating. And she not only expressed herself in an increasingly open and innovative way, but she began, at least discursively, to assume responsibility for her choices in a way I was completely unaccustomed to and wanted to put my faith in with a desperation that surprised and somewhat concerned me because I hoped so much that her new habits of thinking and being in the world would “stick” (And I must admit here that I wanted this as much as for my own sake and the sake of my daughter as I did for my mother’s sake.).

My mother was asking the kinds of questions that she’d never allowed herself to ask before without being paralyzed by fear, as if to ask such existential questions about the universe and her place in it would unleash uncontrollable and destructive forces. And I noticed that she was inventing a wholly new language to describe her current self, whom she aspired to become, not only whom she’d been in the world in her “past life.” Before my eyes, my mommy, who seemed resistant for so many years to engaging in self-reflexivity and assuming her own agency, was evidencing the possibility of the “reversibility of discourses” about her life and self . For the first time in my life as her daughter I experienced her as a growing-up person, by which I mean to say, she was exhibiting the characteristics I had come to associate – theoretically and in my own struggles with personhood -- with grown-up-hood, an intentional commitment to our own deep development and a purposeful and responsible life.

All of this was jarring – largely because of its unfamiliarity to me from the standpoint of being my mother’s daughter – and it instigated for me what felt like yet another spiraling period in my own identity work. But the innovations my mother seemed to be making in herself and her life-world were also a source of new hope for me about potentialities for her life and our life together as growing-up mother and daughter.

She was becoming – how to say it? Not so much a new person but a larger person in the world, an expanded mommy who took up more space, a fuller-being.

Telling Our Stories

Recalling one's life story and offering it to the world can be a major part of the intentional aging process. However if it is ego-driven it loses much of the value to following generations.

Our lives are built on the relationships we have accumulated from the past and those we will create in the future. So our story is not just about us but also about others who have come into our life. In fact Richard Leider writes in his book "Claiming Your Place At the Fire" that our lives can be connected to people spanning more than two-hundred years. Imagine!

This reminds me that our lives will influence other peoples lives, no matter how we choose to live. This also reminds me that our time on the planet has not been for naught....no matter how successful, affluent, healthy, or creative we are. In other words your life makes a difference. How do you want it to be?

Our life stories then should not be a rehash of the events of our lives, rather they can be about the very principles of humanity and the concepts that bond us all together no matter our age. Using life stories to illustrate these principles and illuminating how we learned from our experiences is an inspiring way to influence others.

We did not get here alone. Leider further says "Our historical circumstances are as important as our genetic makeup. Unique advantages or disadvantages, challenges or privileges, opportunities or handicaps are ingredients of our own story. Neither are we born into, nor do we live our lives, in a vacuum."

Here on the Intentional Aging Collective we will be using specific examples of life stories from time to time and we would love to have your stories here. I think that Jenny had a great example of this when she told her story here about the Four Generations. Check it out!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

No Map

To accept the challenge of intentional aging means you are seeking something different..something special in the second half. You want to leave something more of yourself to the world.

But, alas, there are no maps! No "12 Step" program for successful aging. No hard bound textbook on the "do's and don'ts" for aging intentionally. Not even an agreement about what the term really means. We are all in a metaphorical boat together leaving our comfortable port and going out on uncharted waters. Are you excited or do you feel lost? I admit to feeling both!

There have never been so many people on the planet who will live to be 100. There has never been a more educated, healthy, and, some people believe, affluent group than the Baby-Boomers. There has never been a collective age group of world citizens who will venture in to the uncharted waters of an extended second half of life. Indeed this is a revolution and there are tens of millions of people who are going through this process.

If there are no maps, where will we, then, find guidance for the trip? Jenny and I believe it is from inside our selves. It comes from a willingness to look deeply at who we are at this time of life as we locate the nexus of personal values, a lifetime of experiences, and renewed sense of life purpose. And then..... letting that guide our life choices!

It is a commitment to living authentically as we really are and to find ways to be a unique blessing to our communities and the world. This is the challenge of aging intentionally!

We are all writing the Book of Intentional Aging together. Neither is this a solo journey. This demands that we create relationships that support this inner exploration. It also requires that we look out for one another and communicate our findings as we go. I am very much looking forward to it!

I hope you will share your journey in this space.

Blessings for your journey!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Legacy is caring in all directions

The usual framing of legacy is that it is a planfull activity engaged in by elders on behalf of youngers, it is about ensuring a good future for the generations that come after one’s own, and it is about the transmission of resources, both material and cultural.

I’d like to assert that legacy is not only about planning for the future, but it is an activity that happens in the here-and-now, in the context of our present relationships with each other, and – and this is an important point – it happens in all directions and amongst people of all capacities, not only from elders to youngers, but it goes in the other direction, too, and between age-peers, as well, and not only from the well-resourced to the less-resourced.

Creating legacy is about planning for the future, certainly, but it is also about how we care for each other now, how we are present to each other and share our greatest resources, ourselves, most especially our loving attention, with the wisdom that what we do now for each other shapes how the future looks for all creatures on the planet.

These are must my notions. I'd invite you to share your thoughts on legacy, too.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

She loved the earth so much she wanted to stay forever...

Speaking of the role of illness in our lives and how it reminds us of our frailty, our impermanence, and offers us an opportunity for self-reflection, I've been struggling for the past week through an episode of a strange, chronic condition I developed a couple of years ago--thus, my lack of visibility in the Collective. I'm down to the basics right now--self-care, teenage-daughter-care, and teaching (and a few meetings and such that can't be avoided). Otherwise, the pain makes me puny and tired. So puny and tired today that I just woke up from a short nap on my office floor (I even put a "do not disturb" sign on the door knob!); when I'm having an episode of my condition, I can't teach for three hours without a bit of rest.

In August of 2007, I was hospitalized with painful "twirly guts," as my former student Darcy calls my ailment. A much more eloquent and playful designation than the official diagnosis: "transient jejunal intussusception without lead-point." Bottom line--part of my small intestine got knocked out of commission, perhaps by a virus, and now it is limp and poorly functioning. When the areas around it are spasming, either normally in the process of digesting food, or abnormally because my system is irritated (like now), the "twirly" section twists and folds back on itself (try this with the arm of your shirt and sweater; then imagine trying to drink, eat, and generally function!). Though this is a rare condition (especially in the absence of underlying pathology), I'm in good company with other creatures: horses and babies are prime candidates for intussusceptions because of the nature of their anatomy. And so, it seems, am I.

The title of this post, by the way, is borrowed/adapted from Stanley Kunitz's poem, The Long Boat.

I hope you are all well and I look forward to future posts. Thanks for holding down the Collective, David!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Prescription for A Longer Life

How would the medical establishment and our political leaders respond if they found an unknown virus which prematurely killed people more than 7 years earlier than expected? Wouldn't there be a huge outcry to find a cure? Wouldn't we spend hundreds of millions of dollars to find a remedy?

For years now studies by American researchers have known that those individuals with a positive perception of aging live 7.5 years longer than those with less positive attitudes. These studies also determined that self-perceptions of aging had a greater impact on longevity than did age, gender, status in the community, loneliness and functional health.

Researchers considered that negative stereotypes of aging play a key role in fostering ideas about our own aging. And yet....and yet, such stereotypes are all around us. A one-size-fits-all belief that older people over 50 are rigid, forgetful, dependent, unattractive, boring, etc. And this belief is sanctioned by society.

The long term answer is to shift society's attitudes about aging. The good news is that the short term answer is simple and does not cost any money! It does require some individual vigilance, fortitude and resistance by each of us. Because if we resist absorbing negative images and messages about our own aging, we are likely to ultimately live longer, happier and with more fulfillment. This is the gift we can leave to those generations which follow.

And what a great legacy of aging intentionally that would be!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ideas to Live By

'A life directed chiefly toward the fulfillment of personal desires will sooner or later always lead to bitterness." Albert Einstein

This is a theme that I am becoming more and more certain could be one of the biggest social contributions from older people. The challenge is to find the appropriate opportunity to share this or any wisdom with the following generations.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grace and Wrinkles

"When grace combines with wrinkles, it is admirable. There is an indescribable light of dawn about intensely happy old age....The young (person) is handsome, but the old, supurb.", Writer Victor Hugo

Here's a wish that we can all see the opening and the light for new opportunities no matter our age.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Benefit of Aging

"The older I get, the greater power I seem to have to helpthe world; I am like a snowball----the further I am rolled, the more I gain." Feminist Susan B. Anthony

This is a reminder to "keep rolling"!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wisdom In Action

"When I was young, I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock. So I stopped wearing socks." Albert Einstein

I'm wondering how many people he got to share this piece of wisdom with in his life?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Acceptance of Mortality

Jenny and I have been having a side discussion on the relationship between accepting our mortality and living intentionally. So we decided that it might be a discussion which our blog readers might like to join.

"How many of us," asks author and minister Wayne Muller "are secretly waiting for some magical permission--like a diagnosis of terminal illness--before we truly begin to listen to the quiet dreams, the desires of the heart?"

To live intentionally is to live authentically. To show up for each day ready to create something special that reflects of our unique blend of values, wisdom, passion and skill. It takes some courage to live this way. And I wonder if it is this fear of our own mortality that keeps some of us stuck and unable to live authentic lives.

Perhaps, if we had a terminal illness maybe we could more freely let go of tasks and responsibilities we have no other excuse to avoid. Would we feel less rushed in life and live more quietly, peacefully and purposefully?

Muller suggests that if we can accept our mortality we can be set free from the illusion that "one more phone call, one more meeting, another hundred dollars will buy us safety, happiness, and immortality." Does our presumed immortality permit us to be sloppy and imprecise in our lives? We can always clean up later, right? We give hardly any thought to what we hold sacred as a fully franchised adult member of the human species...let alone let that guide our lives.

And what's our culture telling us about the aging process? Is it affirming our mortality? From where I am, I don't see this! So each of us who really strive to live life intentionally will have to find this acceptance of our mortality and in so doing free ourselves to live each day with courage, clarity, purpose and love.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Upcoming Event: Global Aging--Emerging Issues

The little private Catholic university where I teach, Marylhurst University, is celebrating homecoming all next week, October 13-18, 2009. At a place like Marylhurst, which is a non-residential university that serves primarily adult learners, and a university which has re-invented itself many times in its long history under the watchful eye of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, homecoming is a very fascinating event--we don't have sports teams, or a marching band, or a school dance, and our alumni are very diverse in most ways, especially generationally. What we do have to offer during homecoming are many interesting educational presentations and events sponsored by various departments.

I wanted to let readers of this blog know about one event in particular, a panel presentation with three of my colleagues who do great work at other educational/advocacy organizations in Oregon and whom I consider to be important partners in the realm of Gerontological work.

Here are the details:

The event is on Friday, October 16th, 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. in the Old Library on the Marylhurst campus. Our focus? Emerging issues at the local, national and global levels related to aging and later life. The panelists? Dr. Margaret Neal, Ph.D., Director of the Institute on Aging at Portland State University (she'll be talking about her work around urban planning and age-friendly communities); Dr. Jan Abushakra, Ph.D., Coordinator of the Gerontology program at Portland Community College-Sylvania (she'll be talking about her work around older learners and career retooling); and Jerry Cohen, J.D., Director of Oregon-AARP (he'll be talking about AARP's current initiatives around health care for all). I'll be the panel organizer and discussant.

My hope is that we'll have an interesting, rich collaborative conversation about how the issues we work to address at the local and national level are connected to larger global trends. It would be cool, as well, to talk about whether and if gerontology as we do it in the U.S. has relevance for other places on the planet....we'll see if we get to talk about this!

The event is free-of-charge but if you're local and would like to come, please do RSVP.

For more information: http://www.marylhurst.edu/alumni/alumniweek2009.php

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Just A Provocative Thought

Here's a thought to digest!

"The closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped." philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer

How would the world be different if we all dropped our masks or maybe never created them in the first place?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Upcoming Event: Positive Aging Conference

For those of you who are interested in this subject the 3rd Positive Aging Conference is coming December 7-9 at Eckerd College in St Petersberg, Florida.

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the first two and I am fortunate again to be able to attend this year as well. I am looking forward to topics such as Life Transitions, Creativity, Wellness, Community in the second half of life. It is a wonderful conference in a great place.

Hope you will join in the discussions. For those of you who are not able to attend I will be writing about the conference in this space. (But then you will have to put up with my interests and biases! :-) So attend and get the info yourself, first hand!)

Hope to see you in Florida!

David

Here's the link. http://www.eckerd.edu/positiveaging/

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Growth

"Growth in old age" says Joan Chittister, "requires the curiosity of a five-year-old and the confidence of a teenager." Change is the very essence of life. It comes whether we like it or not and it usually is not change itself that is so challenging as it is our attitude and ability to embrace it. At least it is for me and others I talk to about such things.

I suspect that the second half of life can liberate us like no other stage of life. With no child-rearing, career-building, fortune-hunting duties to occupy our time and energy the external striving is over. We don't have to prove ourselves anymore nor look for approval. Yet it continues to challenge everyday. Neither is it "a time of rampant narcissism. It is the point of life in which everything we have learned up until this point can now be put to use."

Can we embrace a life that has no titles, careers, or need to climb the social ladders of earlier life? That is the question, isn't it? We can be whatever we want to be. We are now free to do things that have value for us as individuals.

The only requirement is that we first consciously choose this new life and way of being. This is not always easy as this newness requires a commitment to change. And perhaps change in ways that we have long resisted. To be more authentic, to say what we really feel and think. To do what we really want to do we first must embrace the idea of change. This clears our view and sharpens our focus to see life with all it's glorious possibilities.

I hope we will all enjoy the journey!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

And yet, and yet...more on letting go

David, I've been thinking about your lovely mini-essay on Letting Go for the past two weeks, and the theme of letting go seems to keep appearing in my life right now (or perhaps it is always appearing my life but I'm actually noticing it right now!?!). When I read your wise words, I thought of what a difficult human struggle it is to do so, at all life-course stages, and also how crucial it is to help each other learn how to do so over and over again.

I am reminded one of my favorite poems by Stanley Kunitz, The Long Boat:

When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family of ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endless drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.
____

Also, the morning you posted your Letting Go piece, I read a haiku by a Japanese Buddhist who was writing 200 years ago or so named Kobayashi Issa. It, too, resonated:

This world of dew
is a world of dew,
and yet, and yet.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Four generations, four days

If there is a singular human being who is responsible for priming me to become a gerontologist, it is my maternal Gramma—Jewell Cochran. My Gramma comes from poor, scrappy folk. No one knew who her father was and she grew up without much stability. After her teenage mother abandoned her she was fostered by various family members until in her late teens she left her people in the Yakima Valley to move to Southern Oregon, where she found a job as a waitress. She met my grandfather, Preston Gustav Hotz, a much older man who frequented the cafĂ© where she worked.

This grandpa is a pivotal character is my family history as he changed Jewell's lot in life in many ways, and thus, two generations later, mine. At the time he met my Gramma, he was training to become a geologist, and she yearned to become his assistant, as well as his partner. In fact, they spent much of their life, along with my mother and her two siblings, exploring in a little Airstream trailer the Western United States, surveying and mapping the Great Salt Lake, Mt. Shasta, the Klamath Basin.

My small, strong, stubborn Gramma spent most of her life dreaming on behalf of others – sometimes even living vicariously through others. Her life was never quite big enough for her, so she tried her hardest to create bigger lives for the rest of us. I was the first person on either side of my family to pursue college besides my grandpa the Geologist, and I owe this to my Gramma, as she planted the notion in me like a dormant seed for some new kind of plant, and she protected me the best she could from the harsh conditions of my immediate family so that strange seed in me might grow. (When I was in college and graduate school, I would send the materials for each of my courses to my Gramma—syllabi and reading lists, even books, and copies of the papers I was writing – so that she could follow my journey, think along with me, see how her work on my behalf was amounting to something.)

Recently I saw my Gramma Jewell—This past July, my thirteen-year-old daughter Isobel and I traveled to Spokane to fulfill a recently-made promise to reunite, at least one time per year, with the women on my mom’s side of the family. It was a short, intense trip—there are 4 generations of us now, and many of us have fraught, complicated relationships, we carry difficult family history around with us in our bodies; we are all so much the same, and so very different in so many ways. Finally after all of these years, the adult women among us are more realistic about how much time we can live under the same roof together—4 days is about right. 4 generations; 4 days! Our 4 generations includes my 87 year old Gramma Jewell, my 62 year old mother Susan, 59 year old aunt Martha, 42 year old me, 32 year old cousin Rachel, 13 year old Isobel, 3 year old 2nd cousin Samantha (who sometime demands to be called Sophie), and her 10 month old sister Emily.

My Gramma has lived with my aunt and her family ever since my grandfather died of Alzheimer’s a few years back; soon after he died, she started having a series of small strokes. Whereas she used to divide her awake time as an old woman between taking long walks, writing letters, helping with chores, and reading, now she spends most of her time sitting in her recliner reading large print books and observing the activities unfolding around her; her lucidity is ever-shifting, so it is of benefit to sit quietly beside her for long stretches of time so you don’t miss one of her insightful questions or statements.

The first night of our visit, I crawled into bed beside her. She asked me a series of questions to confirm that what she was remembering about me was in fact accurate—which of “her girls” I am, where I live, what I do. She got all the details correct. She was a little confused by my daughter, whom she hadn’t seen for a year and who has undergone a teenage-transformation. While I snuggled-down in bed with my Gramma, she on her back, I on my right side with my arms and legs embracing her and my body curled around her, eventually she cast her mind into the remote past, when she was a girl picking apples on an orchard; when she was a young married woman and mother, raising small children and helping my grandpa with his work. She was luminous there beside me, in her flannel pajamas, her teeth and face freshly washed, her hair cut exactly like mine but completely silver. The smell and feel of her skin – like a soft, almost over-ripe peach – started to unwind tight little tangled balls of my own memories. I had temporal distortion—Isobel had changed so much in the past year; I certainly felt time working on me; but my Gramma seemed suspended in time.

So, why do I tell you these stories from my life? What relevance do they have for our work as intentional-agers and radical gerontologists? These stories foreground relationships, specifically how who we become as we travel through the life course happens in the context of the web of relationships of which we are a part – together we dream, grow, fight, get stuck, care, misunderstand, and try again. These stories also speak to the tremendous capacity we humans have throughout the life-course for transformation, for thinking new thoughts alongside old thoughts, for trying out new ways of being alongside old ways of being.

We all have our own version of these stories.

For the past couple of months, post-family reunion, I’ve been reflecting upon how I’ve had some movement in my ways of being in the world and relating to the women in my family – it feels like a miracle, especially as I wasn’t expecting it, worried I didn’t have the capacity, though I have hoped. Since the trip, I’ve been asking questions such as: From where do these glimmers of new patterns of thought come? Are they the inevitable fruits of being worked on by life for a few decades? My provisional answers are: Perhaps, probably, in part, but something else needs to happen – we know this from our own experiences and it is supported by scholarship on development and learning in adulthood, psychotherapeutic perspectives, as well as centuries of insights on spiritual practice– to experience deep development and change, we must in some way accept what life gives us and, like alchemists, take it through some sustained, ongoing process of intentional reflection that causes it to transform into the source of new thoughts and actions.

This is quite powerful, yes? You see--We have the capacity to take our own selves as the objects of our inquiry; we can ask questions, we can refine our questions about ourselves as we accumulate more experiences. If we are fortunate, we have people in our lives who love us, who figuratively or for real crawl into bed next to us or sit beside us waiting until we say something meaningful; they reflect our best selves back to us.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Aging and Materialism

As we all know, thanks to technology and medical advances, the average life expectancy continues to increase at a very high rate. If we believe we are only our body, then keeping it alive is the ultimate goal and we become obsessed with “looking and being young”. Isn’t this the ultimate definition of materialism? Keeping our body away from deaths’ door?

Part of our mythology is how long we can expect to live. But it seems that mythology changes slower than reality. We are adding years to our life-span and have no mythology about what that means. No mythology to support us to find a sense of place and where we fit in our culture as we get older. This can be emotionally painful. I know that there are times when I feel this way. And this usually causes me to become fixated on acquiring “more”. More time, more health, more youthfulness, more experiences and more possessions.

This is not to say that getting happiness and joy from what we have is not a good things as we age. I know that I get a lot of satisfaction and joy from my possessions. But I really don't need to acquire another TV set or a bigger house or another car or even newer golf clubs because I am learning that true fulfillment, at this time of life, comes from other sources.

So when do we have enough? And just maybe our culture is failing us by promising that we would all be happier and more fulfilled in the second half of life if only we would continue to accrue more comfort and material things?

If we can move beyond simply identifying with our bodies and possessions how much suffering could be eliminated? How much comfort and joy would there be in the world?

Here are a few ideas for living more intentionally:

• Find peace in every day
• Practice humility
• Search for a sense of spiritual well-being
• Increase our awareness with less control from the ego
• Find ways to be in-service to others
• Live authentically by being true to our deeper values
• Share our lives with others, intimately.
• Be purposeful in every moment

And here is a really hard one....Remember that the ego is what experiences aging (and mortality). As Ram Dass says ‘When the Ego thinks it is dying, it mistakes itself for the whole --- body, soul, awareness- and often people who are ripening into God run around to different doctors because they develop an even more intense dread of death.” Hmmm! There is a lot to chew on!!

Please share your wisdom on this topic.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Where Are The Elders?


Where are our functional Elders?

If they are around they are certainly hard to find.  I’m not talking about the demographic of everyone over a certain age.  I’m looking for those men and women, of any age, who make it their calling to continue their own spiritual, psychological and emotional development at the same time they are being in-service to the following generations.  Are they culturally hidden or really not there?  Are they even relevant in this day and age? Hmmmm!

I did a quick search, recently, for elders in my neighborhood on the internet and it illustrated part my point.  To be an elder in our society, it seems, you have to have a physical ailment, in need of a place to live, in need of a price discount, need legal advice for dealing with abusive families,  or have any number of other problems that need to be solved. If we were to believe this as the total representation of an elder then it would seem that elders can’t take care of themselves and are, indeed, are nothing but a ball of problems and a burden to society. I don't believe this to be true.

Ancient societies had a place and purpose for the elders. They were often honored for their wisdom and contemplative skills. I love the story that American spiritual teacher Ram Dass tells. I think it goes something like this: While traveling in the Himalayas he was approached by a friend who upon greeting him said “You’re looking so old!”  Ram Dass, being a typical Westerner, reacted with some horror to being called “old”.  Then he realized that his friend was actually congratulating him for becoming an elder, white hair, wrinkles and all.  In some places in the world elders are still cherished and even celebrated.  Why not here?

Personally, I want to believe that there is a growing group of individuals who seek peacefulness and emotional stability; contemplative yet authentic lives; life-long self-discovery and growth; and show a commitment to emotional, intellectual, and personal integrity. Individuals who are wise, spiritual, generative, and humorous.  Furthermore, I want to believe that our culture is smart enough to create special places where such individuals would thrive and have a recognizable positive impact on our communities and society.   I'm fascinated by this issue and will be writing more about functional elders in the weeks to come. 


I wonder what such civic structures would look like?  Maybe we need an Elder assigned to every school yard as a soothing presence over emotional or physical nicks and scrapes?  Maybe it is an organized group of Elders tasked with testifying at every city council meeting to advocate for future generations?  How different would our lives be if we knew that we could have access to someone with these qualities to provide council and console us at any age?  Imagine! Now that would be radical!

Please give us your Elder story!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

week-end reflections

Happy Saturday. Whew, what a week! (I see there are now three followers of this blog--a dog, a cat, and David, who is playing a dual-role as contributor and follower...interesting! Well, all are welcome, including non-human creatures or the human creatures behind them.)

So, I did this presentation at Summerplace Assisted Living this past Wednesday. Since I wasn't sure who would attend, I decided to put together a hybrid presentation, a combo of interaction and conversation with whomever showed up, distilled and translated notions from my work as an academic gerontologist, and some family history stuff, sort of a synthesized story to illustrate some of the ideas at the heart of intergenerational inquiry.

I began by asking participants who they were, why they came to the presentation, and what they thought "intergenerational inquiry" might mean. There was quite a mix of attendees: David came (thanks, my friend), as did a lovely woman who is a journalist, covering the senior issues beat for a local newspaper. There were also several elders who live at Summerplace, some of whom came on their own volition (there was a retired psychiatrist who made some cool observations during the presentation), and some who were wheel-chair bound and parked in the audience by their nurses. Some of the staff of Summerplace took part, and there was a handful of community members who attended (including the adult daughter of one of Summerplace's residents).

(I'd like to discuss in a future blog entry the opportunities and challenges involved in presenting to an audience that is so diverse in terms of intent, agency and capacity. For example, some participants didn't have a choice about whether or not to attend and, in fact, demonstrated confusion about where they were and what they were doing. I don't think we talk about such things -- the shadow-side of Gerontological work -- as much as we should.)

After my introduction, weclome, and initial interaction with the participants, I talked a bit about what I might mean by intergenerational inquiry...well, actually, I said less about what I mean and more about why being committed to doing intergenerational inquiry is so important:

--Aging is a lived experience, a life-long journey that we are all embarked upon, though we are at different stages in the process depending on our chronological age and life-course stage.

--We have much to learn by embarking on this journey together; we can develop deeper understanding by intentionally creating opportunities to interact and know each other, to discover our shared interests as well as all the ways we are unique creatures.

--More specifically, we can think together about difficult issues, we can solve problems and create new ways of thinking and being in the world in order to make life better for all creatures. We are experts on our own lives, and we are teachers for each other.

--And coming to know each other, being present before each other, thinking together, is about telling each other our stories, as well as creating new stories together.

I spent the rest of my time with the folks assembled before me telling some past and current stories about my family, specifically my relationships with the four generations of women on my mother's side of the family, and how through these relationships we are collaborating in each others' development as humans (sometimes unwillingly!). Telling stories from my life turned out to be a good decision because doing so served as an invitation to the participants to reflect upon their own relationships, to tell stories from their own lives. We spent the last 20 minutes of our time together exchanging stories, asking each other questions, as well as giving each other glimpses into our vulnerabilities, the ways in which our hearts are broken open by life (by being the daughter of a mother with advanced dementia; by being the wife of a husband with Parkinson’s Disease who will no longer leave the house; by being the nurse in charge of the dementia unit at the assisted living facility; by being an elder journalist who sees the disconnect between what is important to elders and how aging is portrayed in mainstream media).

As for me, at its roots the work to which I have committed myself is about what it means to travel through the life-course together as human beings. For me, the promise of gerontology and the kind of work I get to do with colleagues and students at my university and elders in the community is essentially radical, as it is about holding on to hope, to the expectation that we can keep growing, that we can make a profound difference in each others' lives.