People, not catastrophe

Last October, when I was contemplating this blog, I chanced upon a lovely radio conversation about aging between CBC broadcaster Michael Enright and University of Toronto professor Andrea Charise. I can’t begin to relay all they talked about (it’s well worth the listen for the details), but the gist of it was a reminder that how we speak about things has consequences. The phrase “grey tsunami,” for example, may do the shorthand work of expressing urgency about the rising number of seniors in our society and the challenges this demographic shift involves, but it also creates, said Charise, a “dehumanizing” narrative about aging, a narrative that’s “not just decline but catastrophe.”

She wasn’t suggesting we grab for the opposite extreme of putting euphemistic “shine” on the facts. Rather, she said, we need to see and speak aging’s “textured reality.” And in her U of T course “Aging and the Arts,” Charise uses literature to do exactly that. There, students discover “individualized experiences of aging,” complete with nuance and ambiguity, and in the process grasp that there’s a “multiplicity” of them.

Textured reality, I thought. That’s it. That’s what I’m after. Neither striving to “shine” nor pitched to gloom, but simply writing my own experience of it. Which exists beside another’s and another’s. There’s no one-size-fits-all version of aging. Mine, his, hers, his, and hers. A rather large mass of us currently in this together, yes, and some of us are grey, but we’re people and diverse for all that, a full-throated compendium, not a dangerous tsunami.


Wisdom is not a function of age

The word wisdom is often uttered in reference to the older person, as if greying hair and creaky bones and experience on its own produces good judgment. But here’s the truth, which I’m feeling very strongly in wake of the Florida school shooting: experience is multi-faceted and wisdom is not age-related. I’ve met some rather foolish seniors (I’m not talking dementia either) — goodness I still have my own measure of foolishness to resist — and I have met and seen some very wise teens.

And where I’m seeing them now is on television, massing across America, speaking truth to power about guns and violence. They apologize for being young, but oh my, the wisdom and courage they show. “We may be young but we’re old enough to get this,” one says. “I understand,” says another, “what it’s like to fear for your life. I understand…” “We will not be silenced,” they say, over and over. Determined, together, passionate, thinking righteously!

And then I watch a Florida legislator, his face cold, try to justify why he voted No to a bill to debate (simply debate!) banning assault weapons, and I see foolishness writ large. Just one among many, making excuses, beholden to the NRA, putting out words that sound smart and assuring but ring wrong to the core.

I’m far away, I’m a Canadian outsider, I’m older — but I watch and I’m proud of those kids. I’m hopeful. I’m anxious for them too. My generation resisted the awful Vietnam War and eventually “won” but oh how ugly it got.

Can I do anything besides “thoughts and prayers” for these teens? For starters, I want to reach out to youth I know, be alert to their idealism and wisdom, commit to never discourage that in them or try to explain their fears and longings away.






When Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday converge

I find myself pleased today about the (apparently rare) convergence of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, though I’m not entirely sure why. It may be as simple as my habit of organizing life into clusters, a “while you’re there anyway…” habit in order to save a trip. Why not get two significant days over at once?

Which reminds me that my special Valentine, the man getting old beside me, has always been quite the opposite. If he noticed that he needed something, say staples, he would drive off to the office store for them, leaving me to sputter that we could have put it on the list or done it on the way home from somewhere else. (He approved this message, BTW.)

At the source of the many ways H. and I are different are strengths, I think, that are mostly complementary. And at the very least, we’re now memento mori (remember that you will die) for one another. I look at him sometimes and it occurs to me, he might be handsome but he’s definitely getting older. (Men’s jowls loosen too, I’ve noticed.)  

        A heart-shaped cookie imprinted with Remember U R dust…

I spotted a good one on someone’s social media feed this morning: A Valentine’s card that said “Hey girl, Let’s contemplate our mortality together” with a picture of a heart-shaped cookie imprinted with Remember U R dust.

Seriously, I’m grateful H. and I are still together. For friends whose partners have died, this joint day (either one) may sting. Currently two people dear to us — the friend H. immigrated to Canada with nearly 48 years ago, and the beautiful woman with whom we share grandchildren — are in their last days in hospice care. Anyone who knows love and mortality knows that these do — and will — converge.      

Fear like a curtain

This post scrapes close to the bone. It’s about something that shifted inside me a couple of weeks ago, the short version of something I related at church (my faith tradition is Mennonite) when asked to participate in a sermon on “work” through various seasons of life.

After reflecting on that, I segued to the Sunday before, when a phrase in a text I’ve heard many times — I urge you, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies… — flashed as if neon. I’d just visited Mom, 95, just witnessed the state of her body and mind, which also reminded me of Dad’s decline via Alzheimer’s. I realized that, on account of those years and experiences, our shared genes, and my wish to stay in control and not be a burden, I was carrying a perhaps unreasonable but nevertheless heavy dread of — and resistance to — aging the way my parents had.

Now here it was: offer your body. This brain, heart, lungs, all of it, into what the inevitability of aging might entail.

     I carried a dread of aging the way my parents had.

I tussled with it all that day. I knew it wouldn’t make an iota of difference to the unstoppable march of time and what was in store for me whether I trusted or not (as if prayer is manipulation!), but I wanted to say Yes, to let go as it were; I sensed Spirit pressing exactly that point.

And finally I could.

What I hadn’t anticipated, and didn’t tell the folks at church (insufficient time had passed to observe it) was the effect of Yes. It’s like fear was a curtain. When flung apart, I could see the sun was up, the landscape a-light with possibility. It energized me for today.


Friends: Someone alerted me to some rather jarring ads after this — and other posts — (which I don’t see). WordPress makes money off these for (free) use of their program (which I like working with, I have to say); yes, I can pay a fee for no-ads, which I already pay on my other site; was hoping to avoid, as it gets expensive, but they seem to corner a person this way. 🙂 Please ignore or forgive these ads while I consider what to do. Gratefully, Dora