Age, loss & JOY

Joy in the age of loss, an article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, went straight to my heart – there was a picture of an older man in a wheelchair having breakfast alone at  sitting, alone, at a table that sits six.  A breakfast setting well-known to John & myself, in Rydal Park’s café; until John his current Wednesday morning commitment, we were there regularly, enjoying breakfast with resident-friends.

I remember even further back, two years plus, when Anne, who lived at Rydal Park for years, & I would breakfast at a table in front of the pictured set up – – back then, there would have been at least one more table, making enough settings for eight or more friends to gather.  Every morning, there was the same group of friends, men & women, having a grand time carousing over eggs & pancakes, waffles or whatever.  The laughter, the high times, the great & grand spirits.  John & Ramie were the group’s Trivial Pursuit masters – – sometimes I’d butt in with an answer!

Over the past few years, first this person then that moved or had health issues that kept them from being part of the breakfast bunch, or died.  John & I know people who now sit – by themselves – in the same place they did back then.

Reading the lengthy & terrific article is a a goad to get back in the groove, to swing by – solo – on Wednesday morning’s for breakfast with dear friends I dearly miss.

And it’s a kick in the butt to get Cyber Access for the Technically Timid FINALLY up & running, because many elders let their social world contract,” too many shrink down when they could open up.  Unlikely?  Not to my mother, who marveled at 88 that – thanks to unimagined Internet connections – her circle of friends & friendly acquaintances was growing larger, not smaller.

My determination is not just for the olders’ sake – Mom’s online circle showed how youngers of all ages benefitted from connecting to her, learning first hand, real time, of her unabashed attitude toward & appetite for LIVE, her zest for living in spite of being considerably slowed down, her approach to dealing with life & family challenges, her value as a resource of “she was there” history & culture-rooting stories…  The reciprocal advantages between Mom & her devoted online followers, many of whom never met her but were among her most devoted friends, went on & on.

Perhaps what Mom showed more than told was the power of purpose, at any age, and the importance of flexibility, of living within THIS moment instead of bemoaning life is not as it was.

Whether twenty-something youngsters or readers inching well into their sixties, Mom’s honesty & humor blew preconceptions about aging out of the water, exemplifying what the article says about how it helps when olders believe life has meaning & purpose, whatever their age.  That life is fuller & infinitely richer through a well-cultivated spirit of gratitude, curiosity, continual personal growth.

Smiling, thinking of how much Mom would have LOVED today’s article by the always spot-on Stacey Burling.  Looking forward to printing out this treasure & sharing it with friends & family.  Even more, looking forward to heading to Rydal Park next week for Wednesday breakfast with David & Rob & John.

And, hopefully, Jerry, too!





From zilch to ZOWIE!

Return with me to 2010, more or less the year it first fully hit that my life path had doubled back, taking me to one-on-one social enrichment work with olders elders ancients.

John & I discovered that the active, engaged, fun lives our mothers had experienced weren’t the norm for too many olders.  Mom M. was fully independent, except for the help John gave with heavy shopping, right up to her sudden death, at home, at 87.  My mother had her final fall hours before she was to throw a brunch down in Virginia for metro-D.C. based friends & family; five weeks later, as she was being discharged from a suburban-Philadelphia hospital for home & hospice, her doctor begged me to take one of the other patients, to leave Mom – “I know that if I’m feeling down, a visit to your mother’s room will leave me smiling.”  Oh, and she spent that last week answering e-mails from a local college’s Psych 101 students.

That was 09/2001.  Over the next 15+ years, John & I slowly discovered – to our great surprise – a gift for helping people be as fully themselves, whatever their situation or circumstance.  The challenge was finding information on helping olders connect to their creative cores.  There was LOTS of info on day-to-day functions, on diseases & cognitive impairments, on PROBLEMS associated with aging up through our 70s 80s 90s, but ZILCH on ways to support people without age-related conditions to STAY that way.

Determined to learn more, I looked to child-focused research, articles, book, because they sort of seemed somewhat close to what we sought.  And I was right!  Lots of material on engaging, connecting & growing relationship that related to both youngsters & oldies but goodies.

Over the years between our awakening  & today’s relative bonanza of books (think This Chair Rocks, Disrupt AgingEnding Ageism, or how not to shoot old people), I read countless unrelated books that somehow related directly to our goal of assuring older friends that they’re built to keep engaged energized empowered to their precious last breath, that they’ve sold themselves down the river with the myth that life after a certain age is destined by The Fates to be, at best, chronically tinged with soft lens depression.  The energies that lead me to them would lead me to The National Center for Creative Aging, to George Mason University’s Leading to Well-Being Conferences, to Positive Aging, to the IAGG World Congress – – to myself &  my full calling.

Business books were surprisingly helpful.  A lot about nurturing – in spite of perceived barriers – teams hit home.  I remember listening to some guy named Chip Conley give a TED Talk on a business model he’d developed using Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Having taught Maslow for five years to at-risk high school students – – who gave “needs” a whole new meaning to me – – it caught my eye & fired my imagination.

Some six years after hearing that TED Talk, am set a-shiver with chills & thrills – with thanks to Kari Henley – to hear that the very same Chip Conley is bringing karmic capitalism to sharp & savvy eldering in the guise of the Modern Elder.

Circle SEPTEMBER 18 on the calendar of everyone even remotely interested in living as vibrantly expansively wondrously as possible – – the date Wisdom@Work is being released!

From 2010 to 2018 – – how far attitudes about growing “O-L-D” have come, from “seniors” to seriously AWEsome.

Would say “Let the wonders begin!” – – but they already have!

From zilch to ZOWIE – and John  & I are right there, immersed in a movement no longer on the cusp but moving full throttle to fabulous.

John Kotre nails it! “For wisdom to operate in old age…”

For wisdom to operate in old age, it must blend with the world of youth.  It must be open to the knowledge  & innovations of succeeding generations.  ~ John Kotre ~

I’ve seen what happens when olders elders ancients have regular access to a cross-section of ages with whom they are comfy cozy discussing interesting things & I’ve seen what happens with those who don’t.  It’s in no way a scientific cross-section, not even close to objective, but I’ve seen both enough times to know the wisdom of John Kotre’s words.

He went on to emphasize this is especially true with technology, where the capabilities are so vast & change is the norm.  Mom kept up-to-date through me & my friends, other older amigos keep active on tablets & smart phones thanks as much to grandchildren then their kids.  Being computer literate is the secondary blessing – the first is the connection between teacher & student and how often a session of accessing information turns into opportunities to share/glean wisdom.  Think of a generation ago, a grandmother sharing stories with as she showed how to stitch together a skirt or bake a peach pie, a grandfather spending a leisurely afternoon showing how to attach a fly to a fishing rod or use a drill.

How do we blend the generations when children live a distance?  When an older never married or has not children, no younger relatives?  What off-the-wall, out-of-the-box ideas are itching to be tried out, social experiments in nurturing, presenting, honoring wisdom waiting to be set in motion?



Dangerous woman on a mission

It’s rare that I post something smacking of political current events on this blog, but an article in today’s NY Times calls out to be shared, summing up the WHY behind my current calling.  (I regret that it paints the president with such a coarse brush, but even his staunchest supporter should be able to acknowledge that his language & demeanor are rooted in shock jock incivility.)

It seems to me that those who think the president caused the coarsening of America’s character are mistaken – it’s a symptom, not cause.  Presidents are term-limited, but the qualities of our national culture that made millions rejoice at his “politics of rage” will go on UNLESS checked.

Hence my calling – not to take people to task for this that or another thing, but to present & model different ways of engaging with others, connecting within & across communities, feeling about our self.

My hopes dreams endeavors can be summed up in Live Like a LEGO! ~ connect creatively.  Celebrating kindness, generosity – especially emotional generosity, respect, civility & all the other core qualities of a decent life.

Having taught American history from theories about how people first arrived on the continent to 1850, am perhaps more aware than most of the shaky moral underpinnings to what we embody to ourselves as a nation.  I recently wrote out my understanding of our history in order to acknowledge it, then tip my hat as it’s left in the past because my work is rooted in the present, in this moment & this & this.  Not “What did I/we do?” but “What am I doing?”  & “How can I get to better?

In short, am a dangerous woman on a mission.

The NY Times article points out a truth that opponents would do well to remember – only Donald John Trump can get away with being unfathomably coarse.  When other people try to go toe-to-toe, it invariably ends in failure; they come across as honorable people saying dishonorable things of which they should be ashamed.  President Trump can do it without any blow back because no one has any illusions of him having any sense of honor, of being capable of feeling shame.  Love him or loathe him, that’s not a condemnation but an objective observation.

Dangerous woman on a mission.  People distrust all those qualities of decency that I listed, plus the many more I left off.  How well I know.  My corporate world co-workers were openly wary of me due to being too nice.  I learned to counter, “You’re too good to be true!” by pausing, cocking my head to the side & replying, “And part of  you believes that.”   If someone said, “You’re different,” I’d get right into their personal space, look them straight in the eye, drop my voice as I answered, “And trust me – you have NO idea just how different I am.”  It was only when I started countering with those two responses that others relaxed around me, were open to being friends.  But to the end, being open & supportive were negatives in the workplace, where people tend to put faith in the negative & see kindness as mindless fluff at best or insincere at worst.

Bring it on!

We cannot counter an coarsened culture with even more coarseness.  We need to be brave, to have the courage to act with restraint without rolling over, countering canny manipulation with conscious awareness of the values we learned at our parents’ knees.  Let Trump be Trump – praise it or rebuke it.  Just don’t lower yourself to the same level.

My thanks to my dear, much-missed mother, who advised me as a young girl how NOT to respond to school yard bullies.  She quoted George Bernard Shaw’s advice – – I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.

Dangerous woman on a mission.  Recognize & call out incivility when it raises its head without stooping to return in kind.  Openly practice the qualities of a decent life.  If you are frustrated with 45, do all you can to channel 16, Abraham Lincoln.  Put your inner Lucy on mute, amp up your inner Charlie Brown.  Focus on resiliency more than resistance, on being awake & aware & active instead of going numb or shrug off.

Forbes had a great article six years back – The Ten Golden Rules on Living the Good Life.  make a great prescription to counter today’s civil malaise:

  1. Examine life, engage life with vengeance; always search for new pleasures and new destines to reach with your mind.
  2. Worry only about the things that are in your control, the things that can be influenced and changed by your actions, not about the things that are beyond your capacity to direct or alter.
  3. Treasure friendship.
  4. Keep your life simple. Seek calming pleasures that contribute to peace of mind. True pleasure is disciplined and restrained.
  5. Master Yourself. Resist any external force that might delimit thought and action; stop deceiving yourself, believing only what is personally useful and convenient.
  6. Live life in harmony & balance.
  7. Bear responsibility for your actions (and lack of them).  Hold yourself accountable.
  8. Prosperity by itself, is not a cure-all against an ill-led life, and may be a source of dangerous foolishness.
  9. Don’t harm others.  Doing people dirt is a dangerous habit. 
  10. Kindness to others is a good habit that supports and reinforces the quest for the good life.

Easy to copy, not so easy to live.  My older sister was uneasy around me because, as she rightly pointed out, I wallow in joy doing things for others.  She was right – doing things for others is a great pleasure.  It wasn’t for her, but she felt like my way was a rebuke to hers.

Mim might have been the first to think my Goody Two-Shoes, Pollyanna ways make me a dangerous woman.  She won’t be the last!

The glories of cupcaking!

No posting yesterday – was caught up in the glorious fun of cupcaking at a church picnic!

Okay, the picnic was inside – the great outdoors was soaked through & through with what’s come to feel like Biblical rains – but the good times were rolling in spite of the being indoors.

My heart soul mind totally fluffs when cupcaking with all ages, but with kids – bliss!  And three of the youngsters knew how to handle an icing bag, which left me in amazement.

Still on the best sort of high, the sort that comes from a combination of youthful spirits, lots of creativity & a bounty of happy smiles.

After 18 months away from cupcaking, yesterday was the second time in about a week when the joy of connecting creatively with kids – and seeing the pride on their parents’ faces – was active in my life.  O be joyful!