Becoming REAL (rough draft)

The following is the first draft of our talk next month to the Jenkintown Kiwanis.  It is very much a work in progress!

Becoming REAL

Everything I know about the essential nature of aging upward I learned from Margery Williams’ classic, The Velveteen Rabbit.  And from my mother, Katharine Reynolds Lockhart, aka The Velveteen Grammie, who quoted from the children’s classic to describe her own experience with growing older:

 “Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to those who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

In 2000, a year before she died, Mom wrote to an online circle of friends,  “I can relate to that passage. I turned 90 in May.  As the years tick by and my fixtures and fittings become unglued and the “fur” is loved off, a stronger sense of being Real has moved forward.”

17 years after Mom shared that, John & I find ourselves in the vanguard of eldercare evolutionaries, dedicated to helping oldsters elders ancients live as expansively as possible.  We think about my mom, about John’s, about his grandparents & the older friends who seemed to surround me as I grew up & the two of us want what they experienced for the many, not the few.

Back when Mom wrote that, we would have roared at the thought we’d be speaking about the promise of becoming REAL.  In those days, John was busy with his railroad art commissions, while I was on a career high having been named in 2000 a major financial services company’s Employee of the Year.

Then, in autumn 2001, without warning, life went off the rails; our plans were tossed as the Universe took control, shaking us but ultimately leading to a wondrous path we’d never imagined.

Turned out the artist & businessperson had been eldercare evolutionaries in training over all the years that came before, preparing us to be right where we are now, as we are right now – awake & aware of the opportunities as well as challenges of aging upward in America.

Mom caught how many youngers feel about getting up there in years:

Just as little children look at their parents as really old, not-so-young people can see their own parents as shutting down as we age, going into some sort of benign hibernation.

It is true that nature brings us, willingly or not, into more meditative states and slower tempos. Am I bored to tears sitting in the big chair in the living room or in my soothing rocker? No, it is surprisingly rewarding.

The problem is that young kids – looking through the eyes of a still preening self — feel sad and think, “How dull her life must be.”  And too many Ancient and near-Ancient Ones fall for that line.

Truth be told, growth keeps right on going, ideally right out of the ceilings of our cramped opinion.

This old biddy believes that the Lord intends us to live fully–whatever our physical or mental condition–right up to the moment we traipse across the threshold of our spiritual home. 

Thanks, Mom, for summing up our mission, right there in your last line –  to do what we can to help every person experience full lives right up to their last breath, to be the broadest deepest widest expression of themselves possible in any given moment.

That sounds wonderful upbeat ideal – yet with too many oldsters elders ancients, getting them there can be an wrenching ordeal.  Chalk it up to physics – a body at rest wants to stay at rest.

In June, an 85-year old fellow in a senior residence – a family friend, not a client – slipped in the shower.  He caught himself before falling, but bruised his back muscles when he slammed against the shower wall.  He didn’t break anything, but the muscles were bruised badly enough to require a week’s bed rest.  Which is all it took for atrophy to affect his legs & fear to enter his heart.  Week after week, he resisted the staff’s offers to help him do his rehab exercises & he balked at us taking him out for our weekly meander.

After two months of admittedly yum take-out lunches (thick seafood sandwiches from Feast & Fancy) teamed with double-feature in-room film fests (heavy on Fred Astaire & Audrey Hepburn), John & I said ENOUGH.  That Wednesday, we put our foot down & hauled his wheel chair out, taking him OUT.

It was a challenge getting him into & out of the car, but we had a delightful ramble through Ambler woodside, saying BAAAAA at the sheep grazing at Fitz Dixon’s Erdenheim, admiring our favorite steamboat gothic house in Wynmoor, topped with lunch at a favorite diner.  The next week, we went through the same drill, having to weedle & plead to get him out.  The third – still had to cajole.  Then came the fourth – as we walked into his room, he sat upright, broke out in a big smile & a cheery HELLO, swung his legs over the bed.  He was ready to roll!

I wish we could say we’ve never run into heartbreaking situations.  One of the worst was the mother who refused to do anything with us because IF she enjoyed herself, it would lighten the burden of guilt she laid on her physician daughter for not spending every spare moment with her widowed parent.  The wonderful gentleman we had to drop because the daughter insisted we do housework & walk the HUGE German Shepherd because “you work for me.”  Or the mother whose children wouldn’t listen to concerns that she seemed a bit more depressed each time we saw her –  they were so full of themselves, they brushed away the books we suggested, refused to talk to their parent’s senior residence’s counselor & boasted to everyone about the book they’d write on how eldercare should be done – you don’t want to know the end of that story.

We’ve known some sad situations, but they’ve been rare.  People bring us on board BECAUSE we’ve been around the eldering block before, want our perspective.  They want us to be open & honest with them about what we see, offer opinions & suggestions if asked, but that the final decision is either theirs or their parent’s.

One older woman particularly stands out.  Her family brought us on because of her growing depression after their father’s stroke, just after they’d sold their house & just before they’d moved into Rydal Park.

Outside of our Moms, Anne Davis Hyatt & her family remain the high water mark of our eldering experience.  Her situation should have been particularly bleak.  She moved into a single-person unit instead of into the spacious apartment they’d picked out TOGETHER

Anne was alone, without her husband, without any friends, with six children who’d never been involved in her care, who loved her but were more like their engineer Dad than their super social Mom – oh, and she’d recently been diagnosed with early stage dementia.

But her six kids swung into action, laser focused on how could they serve as their father’s earthly hands, on what they could do to help their mother feel as fully herself as possible.  They researched care options, ran financial diagnostics & kept in close touch through phone conferences. Their findings suggested that pouring money into enrichment could lengthen her time in Independent Care, be less expensive than Personal Care – –  AND she’d be happy.

John & I were brought on right off the bat, within months of Kent’s passing, one of three different care partners, each with a different approach & particular strength. We got Anne OUT, Tamar accompanied her to art classes & Bible study, played the piano for her & read aloud, got her over to Bryn Athyn on Sundays for church & throughout the week to visit classmates friends family.  The third person, arranged by Rydal Park, escorted her to concerts & movies in the auditorium.  Her daughter, Lisa, visited her every Saturday morning & had her to lunch every week after church;  her sons alternated taking Mom out to Sunday supper.

The Hyatts used Rydal Park as one of several tools in their kit.  By including the personal family community in their mother’s weekly mix, they made the most of each & did their Dad proud – they were, indeed, his hands in this life, making sure his beloved wife was in a setting that allowed her to be her best self.

In her last year, even when Anne could not remember the day or date from moment to moment, she was ALWAYS ready for the next moment of joy.  She didn’t remember our names, but her face always beamed when we came around the corner because she knew she was about to have FUN.

The Hyatt children gambled that if they invested in enrichment activities – services not covered under Medicare or LTC – it would extend her stay in Independent Care, delay the onset of further dementia and reduce the amount of expensive, not necessarily all that personal personalized care.  This past January, John & I had a rollicking Saturday supper with Anne & several of Rydal Park buddies, six of us crowded & crowing around a table for four.  She had Sunday lunch with Lisa, supper with Hugh or Justin.  She chummed around with Tamar on Monday, had her quiet Tuesday (what we dubbed her “sabbath”) & should have had Wednesday dinner with us except she took a fall that morning moving the few feet between her bed & bathroom.  She was admitted to Abington Hospital, was in good spirits but declining on Thursday & on Friday, after the family was gathered, she was gone.  What a way to go!

We’ve been blessed to work with some remarkable families.  Anne’s children, who suddenly found themselves responsible for their mother’s well-being & saw their care as an extension of their Dad.  The niece who made sure her maiden auntie was getting at least somewhat balanced meals (left on her own, she would have stuck to chicken croquettes & mashed potatoes, no veggies, no water).  The clan matriarch who, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, is blissfully ensconced at the family summer home on a New England pond, each week bringing a fresh influx of this child or that, with his or her family in tow, with the last weekend the crowning glory, with as many children as possible descending to pack up the house for the season – Mary would tell & retell those stories straight through the coldest, bleakest winter day & we’d all feel the summer sun on our faces, the lapping of the water on our feet.

There isn’t a category for what the two of us do.  We call ourselves playfulness coaches working with all ages, all stages.  Eldercare evolutionaries working to radically change our nation’s current woeful culture around the elderly.

We reach to a future we can’t put into words.

This past July, I went to the 6-day International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics 21st quadrennial World Congress in San Francisco.  I went not really knowing my why or what I expected to bring away.  It never occurred to me that I might add value to the momentous gathering of 6000+ specialists from around the world.

What I discovered is that what John & I bring, right where we are, who we are, was deeply valued by the men & women I met.  I met authors & thought leaders I’ve admired for years & was blown away when they told me how moved they were by my insights & perceptions.  It seems they’re so caught up in their specialities, they appreciate getting the view from the trenches.

John & I will always make time for a client or two, will always be there for our friends, whether an oldster elder ancient or their family, but we’ve cut back in order to reach forward.  I recently got Cyber Access for the Technically Timid off the ground;  CATT spins socializing into social networking, offering a friendly human interface to provide the tech timid with hands-free Internet access – just as I did for Mom many years ago.  Have laptop, will travel. And we’re working on a book – That Your Days May Be Long, nurturing a 5th Commandment meme & mindset for our modern world.

John & I look forward to developing new tools for families friends care partners to include in their own kits, to helping them become playfulness coaches.  John & I took unexpected paths to this work & we love it.  We get to touch people’s lives, to nurture a new norm where oldsters elders ancients look around as they trip the “old-o-meter” into their 70s 80s 90s beyond, finding their hair has been loved off, their eyes dropping out, loose in the joints & shabbier to look at – and it doesn’t matter because they’re still truly madly deeply themselves within each moment, each situation, on track to becoming REAL.

Doesn’t get any better than that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Impracticality – my college years

A month ago today, I set off on a singularly impractical journey, across the country to San Francisco for the International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics 21st (quadrennial) World Congress.

I am a playfulness coach, not a gerontologist, geriatrician, clinician or statistician.  Yet there I was, this time a month ago, at Somerton station getting on a train down to 30th Street Station & then a 2nd train down to Philadelphia International Airport.  Heading west for reasons that I could not express to myself let alone other, a trip underwritten in total by friends & family because John & I are temporarily without clients, therefore income.  Practical people would be saving every penny for September’s BIG school tax bill, not waving goodbye to each other as I headed out to the City by the Bay for scholarly presentations on all manner of elder care.

But I have never been practical.  Chronically successful – yes.  And all of those successes were fully rooted in the decidedly impractical.

Take my college education.  My career goal since my tweens was to teach 7th Grade at our local elementary school.  Which was why, when I was a college sophomore,  I was hauled into the Dean of the Education Department’s office – if I wanted to teach, WHY was I getting my degree in Religion & Philosophy (with a minor un History) instead of, like other wanna-be educators, an Ed degree?  See, back in the mid-’70s, as it had for decade upon decade, our local college only offered the two degrees – Ed for teachers, Religion & Philosophy for guys going onto take ministerial training at the Theological School.

Girls don’t take that degree,” I was told.  Except – I did.  

As diplomatically as possible, I explained to the Dean, also Head of the Ed Dept, that I believed teachers needed to have as broadly-based an education as possible, that the Ed degree was too restricted to “The Teaching of...” courses rather than mind-massaging history, english, psych, science courses that couldn’t be squeezed into the Ed program’s possibilities.  I explained that our small college offered a large number of exceptional professors, so why should I go to West Chester or the University of Delaware, when one of the best colleges was right in my own back yard.  I talked about coming back for a 5th year of Ed courses, which he thought was totally nuts – why not get my degree in Ed & come back for a year of enrichment classes?  “Because, Mr. Gladish, if I got my Ed degree & a job was available, I’d take it & skip the extra courses.”

He thought it was totally impractical, a waste of my time.  But I went ahead & did something beyond his ken, without his blessing.

Was hauled back into his office before graduation.

Are you still planning on coming back for a year of  Ed courses?” he grilled.

“I am.”

“You understand that taking that extra year, getting those classes, is no guarantee you will get a job teaching?” he continued.

I took a deep breath before stating what was, to me, the obvious.

You do understand that if I do NOT take the extra year & classes & a job does open up, I definitely WON’T get it.

He did not like my response.  Again, he thought it was utterly impractical, a waste of my time.  And once again, I went right ahead & did it.

Fast forward a year & I was getting ready to teach 6th Grade. Four years later – was teaching 7th.  All on a Bachelor’s degree in Religion & Philosophy (with a minor in History) plus an extra year of “Teaching of…” classes.

Something I didn’t know at the time I was taking my impractical stab at my future that there was a lot of talk about expanding the course offerings, something that some of the more longtime professors & administrators resisted – “WHO would want to come to this college for anything but an Ed or pre-theological school degree?”  was their argument.  Well, there I was & at least one other woman (and high school classmate – the Class of ’70 clearly had its fair share of rebels), telling them in word & deed – “WE  DO!

When I graduated in 1975, what is currently Bryn Athyn College offered just the two degrees.  In 2017, you can still take your degree in Ed or the equivalent of Religion & Philosophy – or you could choose one of two fields of study..

 

  • The Human Society Major (HSoc) uses a multidisciplinary approach with anthropology, history, political science, and sociology studies included.
  • The Interdisciplinary (ID) Majors allow students to complement their study with another chosen field.

Offering majors in…

  • Anthropology
  • Biology
  • Business
  • Dance
  • Engish
  • Fine Arts
  • History
  • Human Society
  • Nursing
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Pre-Med
  • Psychology
  • Religion
  • Sociology
  • Advanced Interdisciplinary

Who could have guessed when I was so outrageously impractical in pursuing my heart’s desire LIFE that things would fall as they did?  But one of the things I’ve learned for sure over my 65 years it’s that we should never rule out the power of the impractical.

Film & Family – The 100-foot Journey

Film & I have fit together like a hand & glove since I discovered the joys of Leslie Howard, Ronald Colman & Warren William as a young child.  I woke up in the wee small hours of this morning, thinking about movies that I love that celebrate the heart, bones & community of FAMILY.  

The Hundred-Foot Journey  immediately came to mind, disturbing my rest as the joys of that film robbed me of sleep & filled me with fresh appreciation of its message of families – ones of flesh & blood, ones of kindred spirits, even ones of the work place, all of which are celebrated in this cinematic delight.

The film is a hymn from my heart.  It starts with an unimaginable family tragedy, sets surviving members on a journey into uncharted waters, has characters making leaps of faith that seem wildly irrational & are because they are heart-rooted,  intertwines talent & opportunity with bold action, elevates the improbable to the pursued to the fully realized.

It is, as my own experience has played out, LIFE as it unreels out when rooted (love that word) nurtured celebrated within by through the community of family & our family of communities.

It was an extraordinary night for me, with little sleep but a cavalcade of thoughts & images about first community & then family, then the two mixing matching interwining.

We can’t fake family, can’t manufacture it.  Family is what it is, whatever that is – of shared genetics, of shared interests, of shared work, of shared kinship of spirit.

Often, family shows up, unannounced yet as strongly linked as generations-long relatives.  Smiling, remembering how “Mom” Zeigler, mother of one of my dearest friends, a GUY, found me very suspect because her son was thiscloseto a gal who was not an in-law, who had no claim on his friendship through marriage.  Hearing about the relationship from far-off Iowa, she was leery of my intentions.  When she & “Dad” Zeigler finally came East to see just where their son & his wife had settled down, finally met me, she took one look, burst into a huge smile, wrapped me in one of the best hugs I’ve ever received, and proclaimed, “My goodness, you look more like my daughter than my daughter does.”  We’ve been close in heart, if not in distance. ever since – family that existed & only newly discovered.

Just as we are called to honor our parents – to see them as fully human, ergo fully flawed – we are called to see our birth family in the same way.  Some families, like the only apparently fish-out-of-water Kadams, are headed by strong parents, living & dead, tried by fire, thrown into situations requiring every smidgen of resiliency, tenacity & (literally) the seasonings of love.  Some are semi-dysfunctional, like the widowed Madame Mallory, who pours her love into gastronomy instead of people BUT ends up as tenderized as the meat in the boeuf bourguignon Hassan serves his father.  Others are open for what comes, providing support & encouragement as needed – like Marguerite.

It’s my experience that we start with the family we get;  learn to identify & appreciate its basic ingredients,  how to make them work together, what to add reduce eliminate; then bring in new features, new elements to achieve a more fully-rounded & realized recipe for personal family community happiness.

There is a wonderful, small moment in the film when Madame Mallory questions Hassan adding new seasonings to a classic sauce – she clearly loves the new flavor, yet questions going against tradition.

That is what all of us are called to do with our birth families – in order to let them become their best version, each member has to tweak it according to our tastes, hopefully producing an end result that all can at least appreciate & savor.

Whatever our “family of origin” situation, if we can respect its core ingredients, hold in our hearts that no one is setting out to sabotage us or it, accept that we’re each doing the best we can in any given moment given that moment’s realities for us, we can end up with something that might not be completely to our tastes yet fully satisfies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Efficient Heartbreak

John & I are blessed that – up until two years ago – none of our older friends seemed to be burdened with lives that were sad, empty echoes of earlier years.  Both our fathers died in their early 60s, yet both our mothers lived full & vibrant lives up to their last breath.

The older people we knew & know through our community may walk a bit slower, may not be up for a set of tennis or playing Twister with their grandkids, but for the most part they remain sharp & interesting & engaged in life.

Up until the summer of 2015, the closest we came to a neglected oldster in our life was a client who was a maiden auntie; she grew up spending ALL summer at the family shore house & was sad when every year seemed to find her nieces & nephews arranging shorter & shorter visits to a place that was, to her, paradise.  But they DID still get her down!

We only knew best practice – or darn near close to – families.  Until Rochelle.  Her life went into a tailspin around this time, two years back – due to remarkably lousy decisions by children who were well-intentioned yet seemed to believe, even before her diagnosis of early stage dementia, that being in her early 80s precluded her from having any weight in determining her path forward.

Months before her diagnosis, before the decision (made by her children with only cursory attention to her feelings) to move to her oldest son’s house, Rochelle had planned to take a granddaughter on a graduation trip to England.  The two had delighted sharing tales of Mrs. Tiggywinkle, Benjamin Bunny & Peter Rabbit; as adults, they share a passion for Jane Austen.  The trip moved forward, with the addition of another, older grandchild to lend a hand.  For Rochelle, the dementia diagnosis changed the journey from a special time with grandchildren to  a glorious last hurrah.

It was a great success!  While the older grandchild visited friends in London, the two gals took a luxury coach tour of the Lake District, keeping eyes peeled for squirrels, rabbits & porcupines.  It was as grand a tour as our friend had hoped.

Back home, things were happening in her absence.  Her oldest had promised that he’d get started on cleaning out the house while she was away.  It wasn’t so much cleaNing as it was cleaRing.

When she arrived back to her lovely home on four wooded acres, tired but blissed, she practically floated in the door, where she was greeted joyfully by her devoted Shih Tzu.  She walked through her kitchen – she was home!  Walked through the dining room – home! Walked into the music room – and the first thing she spotted was the wall opposite the door, the one that housed her extensive prized vinyl collection – empty.

Her treasured record & CD collection – gone.  Video tape & DVD collection – gone.  Most of her books – gone.   Disappeared  in the name of efficiency (“so so much easier doing it without Mom around to slow things down“).

It is hard to imagine that things could possibly go downhill from there, but they did.  I haven’t the heart to write about it now – envision things going from bad to unbelievably worse.

How comforting it would be to say that the family learned,  but they seem almost invested in not seeing how their actions contributed to their mother’s sharp decline.  Not seeing they could have done anything differently,  they continue along their grief-strewn way, oblivious of the devastation left in their wake.

As far as John & I can see, the ONLY constructive thing that has come out of what feels like a never-ending heartbreak is that we’ve experienced the worst practices situation that had always eluded us.  Where Rochelle had been one of our sustaining clients, we were dropped by the family when we spoke out as advocates;  she’s now a cherished friend visited visit once a week, whisked (with sweet pooch) out for a drive & lunch, then back for a classic video.

John & I are currently between clients (translate – little income at the moment), but we consider what’s spent on lunch & movies to be priceless if it gives a friend options choices FREEDOM – she chooses when to eat, what to order & which video to watch. Her joy at those simple pleasures is a priceless reminder to us of the many things we take for granted that she treasures as rare & empowering.

If I had three wishes, one of them would be to sit her children down & get them to understand that what they did in the name of efficiency caused deep damage.  From the moment she saw that entire wall of empty shelves, Rochelle knew she no longer had control over her own life.  In an instant, she gave up.

In the place of the woman who had readily shared her desires & hopes, Rochelle became someone who agreed with whatever was suggested, however ill-conceived or wrong headed.  She stopped caring about anything other than her dog & she only has her from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon.

Her apathy was brought home when we reconnected this past winter, having heard she was now in a senior residence.  Her physical therapist confided. “In all the months I’ve worked with Rochelle,  she’s never shown any motivation to improve.

Terrible damage was done in the name of efficiency.  More damage is being done because of supposedly adult children who seem to care less about their mother’s well being & more about assuring themselves they know exactly what to do in a situation they’ve never face before that has brought countless others to their knees.

Maybe that’s it.  Maybe they are afraid of feeling vulnerable, about admitting they don’t know, that they need to reach to an astonishingly wide range of others to get a handle on the one they claim to love so much.

That might not feel efficient to them, but of how much more effective it would be!

I love NextAvenue.org – but…

I love nextavenue.org  BUT gotta say that its articleIf you want growth & happiness after 60, stretch your limits” makes it sound like it literally IS a  s t r e t c h  for people to be inherently happy, as a natural state of being, 5 years BEFORE we’re eligible for Medicare.

Count me in with those who agree with Linda Carstensen‘s study-based hypothesis,  “Older people are happier,” captured on her TEDxWomen2011 talk.

Is that because, as a playfulness coach, I’m predisposed to think of happiness as our intended default?  Will digging deeper into Ginny McReynolds article reveal aha insights that sings true?

Stay tuned!

 

“Magical Realism” & Aging Upward

What a great term – “magic realism,” a phrase used to described the critically & commercially successful author Isabel Allende’s writing.   It also describes what I believe about aging upward, what I saw my mother, other adults around me live every day.  Magical realism.

In fiction, magical realism is not escapist – it is engagement.   It takes us outside of the everyday experience to experience every day’s reality & our personal deeper truth.  It escorts us from where we are situated in the world to see our place in it.  Where science fiction  & fantasy often interweave the serious with escapism, magical realism is always serious, always striving to convey different experiences, perceptions, views that actually do exist, or existed at some point.  It is different from what we or our culture experiences as reality, so we can’t lump it under realism.

In the same way that Isabel uses magical realism in her writing, she brings it into her talk on living passionately, given at TED2014.  She shares stories about people who are living in our country, our world who experience LIFE in different ways, as a different reality.  The woman whose red patterned shoes announce on her feet the free spirited activist in her heart.  Sophia Loren looking the way she does at the age she is due to … spaghetti.  The old woman who saves young girls from parents selling them into slavery.  Different worlds, different experiences, different perspectives than what’s outside my door, yet they ARE real inside my head.  Magical realism.

In her stories, Isabel may interject a ghost, not to create a frisson of fear but to manifest a reality I believe but  been spooked into hiding or silence;  to show  a reality beyond anything I could experience, yet can feel through another’s eyes.

Isabel weaves just such a tale at TED, making the audience – and viewers – see her exotic world through our own eyes.  She takes the kid of twenty-five by the hand to show what being seventy-one can be, reminds the 90-year old of the richness of aging upward.

For too many years, the magical realism spun around aging was a horror story, burdened with limitation loss liability.  Isabel invites us into her life, to feel its passion, to experience it (including erotic fantasies) as if it is our own.  Then to weave our tale of magical realism, welcoming others to enter the story & help us celebrate the years!

 

Ashton, Paine & Common Sense

The first thing I did this morning was listen to Ashton Applewhite’s recently posted TED talk.  The message – ageism kills spirit as readily as isolation kills the body – is all-important, yet it is the messenger who leaves my jaw dropped with amazement.

When I started working as a corporate speech writer, the goal was to make every word count, to have every one convey the message I wanted to send.  Ashton uses every word to CONNECT.  Oh, to have such a gift!

It is no mere jest to compare Ashton to Thomas Paine.  Washington’s leadership would not mean zilch, ditto Franklin’s diplomacy & Jefferson’s brilliant words IF the everyday colonists hadn’t been won to the cause, not just in the fresh exuberance of the early days, but in the deep slog of Valley Forge.

Like Paine, Ashton connects with her audience by sharing a common sense message we already know in our hearts.  Paine rallied the troops by touching a deep personal aha that we could not be Americans as long as we were under British rule; Ashton rallies us by laying out the fact that we cannot be full humans, at any age, if we hold that only the slimmest sliver of time represents our best self.

It’s possible that I will go to my grave unable to fully put my finger on what it is in Ashton’s 11.5 minute talk that fires my appreciation of how she articulates her message.  It is true that it should be required viewing for every communications student, every speechwriter.  What fun it would be to sit down with Pete Boericke, my boss at Prudential Healthcare, to dissect what it is in her presentation that bowls me over.  Her simple message – let’s end ageism – is conveyed through simple words, through a pared down delivery.

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP CEO, help open the International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics 21st (quadrennial) World Congress, in San Francisco.  Meeting & speaking with her later, I took the opportunity to tell her how, to me, she is the Benjamin Franklin of today’s revolution against ageism to Ashton Applewhite’s Thomas Paine – she has the gifts & savvy to draw major allies into the fight, while Ashton is out rallying the troops to take the fight to victory.  She thanked me – and agreed!

We are the Washington in that picture.  Each of us needs to lead our own revolution against promoting ageism in what we say, in what we accept from others.  We need to accept & take & embody leadership in living as fully & vibrantly as Ashton does.  If we don’t, it won’t matter what she did back in April, back on that fabled TED stage in Vancouver.  We – each & everyone of us, whatever our  age – need to lead the fight to be fully HUMAN at ever moment.

Then, as now, it’s about claiming the freedom to live without shackled to alien ideas & labels.

It’s not cute & coy to equate Applewhite with Paine – they are cut from the same cloth.  She, like he, lays bare what we all already know, acknowledges our plight, steels our spines & lets us know that victory can be ours by taking the fight to the enemy – the many that make a buck off pushing age as something to be battled & conquered.  She deserves the love & thanks of man & woman, as we take up Ashton’s common sense cry – “Let’s do it!” – and fight the good fight until the final battle is won.