Aspire to Inspire – Aging in Community
Every day, like clockwork, a new blog or article hits my inbox. The topics are generally about innovation and/or leadership and I read them, mostly, with great interest. Recently, I noticed that a large percentage of said blogs or articles are skewed toward individuals in the beginning or the middle of their careers. That makes total sense, but, what of those nearing or at the end of their professional lives?
We don’t revere or honor our elderly in this country as is done in some Asian and Latin cultures. In fact, we tend to discount them or push them aside for “new” and “improved”. But what of them? What of us? How can we continue our relevance as we age?
I ran across the mural pictured here while on one of my daily walks through the streets of Philadelphia:
“Aspire to Inspire Others and the Universe Will Take Note.”
I’d thought to write a Random Thought of the Day piece about the profundity of its message. Asking the question – did the universe put that mural in my path for a reason? I tucked the idea away for further introspection. Then I came across a note, posted in FB, from a desperately lonely 90-year-old woman to her neighbors.
Her friends predeceased her, her family was distant and it was difficult for her to make friends in her ever-changing neighborhood. In her note, the woman asked (almost pleaded) her neighbors to visit her on occasion as it described her loneliness. The note struck me with a profound sadness as I expect it did for anyone who read it, but, what does that have to do with aspiring to inspire others?
“Aging at home” is all the rage these days, even with the plethora of alternative living opportunities for aging adults. As we age, even the idea of change can be unsettling, even frightening, but remaining in one place, surrounded by the past, stewing in our own septuagenarian or octogenarian juices, may be downright selfish if not emotionally unhealthy.
Do I have any scientific proof to back up that statement? Nope. I have only my mother and her mother, who spent their lives aspiring to inspire others. One of my best memories of my grandmother, a biologist and horticulturist, was the summer before my Freshman year in college. I was living with her for the summer. She was in her 70’s, still driving, working and gardening. One morning I watched her walk out the door with several dozen of her best chrysanthemum blooms. When I asked who they were for, she told me that she delivered them to the local “old folks home” every week. She aspired to inspire the aging with beauty from her garden.
A few years later, my grandmother was confined to a nursing home with a debilitating form of arthritis. I wonder … if there had been independent living options back then and had she opted to move, and rather than deliver flowers to those confined to the nursing sections of a continuing care community, started a garden club and passed on her horticultural skills to others … might she have created a new community of friends for herself, so that when she was no longer able to move, she could continue to inspire others moving through the continuum of aging? I’m not taking away anything from what my grandmother did for her neighbors and those in her community who couldn’t participate more actively. I know many were inspired by her continual gifts.
However, perhaps her arthritis would have been less severe for longer periods of time so that she could inspire more if the independent living community, with its medical supports, had been an option.
My mother, exhausted from raising four daughters, several foster children and three husbands, exhausted from a 45-year career as a psychiatric nurse and substance abuse therapist – pushed my stepdad to sell their home and move into a senior apartment community. He resisted. Didn’t want to live around “old people”. Didn’t want to leave the comforts of home. The same home that my mother was responsible for managing as my stepdad’s vision failed. She won.
They moved and were surprised to find other seniors with energy to spare and inspiration to share. My mom was free to enjoy life. My stepdad enjoyed it with her for the remainder of his life.
Back to the lonely woman who sent a note to her neighbors. She is unknown to me but I wonder if she’d had the courage to move, to look to a future of friendship in a community of her peers, if she would be happy today instead of lonely and searching.
I wonder if we aspire to inspire others through community rather than solitude, if the universe will in turn give us love, happiness and creativity as we age. I wonder …..
Director of Corporate Business Development