Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Wake-up Call From Which We Heal

We've been issued a wake-up call for mid-lifers (Boomers), caregivers, and humanity. In many of his writings, Dr. Bill Thomas wakes us from denial about aging, shakes up the way we think about elderhood, and reshapes it as a beautiful thing. I’ve just read his latest searching and rattling article, and would like to offer a few reflections on the parts that made me sit up straight. They left me with more questions than answers, and that is good—in the questions is exactly where we need to be. You can read Dr. Bill's article in full in the AARP Journal, (linked below) but here is where it took me. Dr Bill says,

“The postwar generation’s dim but growing awareness of aging is beginning to generate intensely private concerns that people are reluctant to discuss openly.”

So, we as a generation (and culture), have mounting intensely personal concerns about aging that we keep bottled within us? Yup, that rings true, but join me in thinking a little deeper. A challenge of this proportion to our collective sense of reality can only continue for just so long before something gives. How long before we’re all turning to meds to appear functional? Oh, right, that’s already happening. But what are the implications of this cultural blindness for the quality of Boomer caregiving? How can we do caregiving well when we not only don’t understand it, we resist the very fact of it? Fortunately, Dr. Bill points us to a more forgiving way of seeing.

“We can learn to read the story of our lives as it has been written around our eyes and mouth and across our foreheads and cheeks. We can begin to reinterpret the changes as signs of important signifiers or our unique journey through life.”

So, our ultimate "pill for inner peace" isn't to be found externally, in products and services, pills and liposuction. This is good news (and much less expensive)—there is a broader context within which we can begin to make sense of our lives as a whole. We can achieve a new way of holding our lives that brings us to a kinder and gentler place. Dr. Bill elaborates:

“The path to personal happiness and fulfillment I am offering to you has just two steps:

1. Stop pining for what is already gone.
2. Start searching for the person you are meant to become.”

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. This quest for the person I am meant to become is a mission I can get my heart around, is big enough to call on all of my life’s learning. This is, really, my new purpose for this stage of life. I’m 58, post caregiving, post 9-5 corporate treadmill, and I’m smart enough to refuse to settle for anything small for the second half of my life. Nope, I won’t settle!—I will fulfill. How profoundly exciting! He’s speaking directly to me when he says,

“Elderhood contains a revolutionary and liberating developmental potential. Persistently and deliberately misinterpreted as mere decline, elderhood is actually the rich reward that goes to those who manage to outgrow the frenzied jangle of adulthood and enter voluntarily into a new and much more soulful way of being.”

Over the last five years since my mother died I have been experiencing this shift to a “more soulful way of being”. It feels so right. But what are the implications for society if we do heal what is broken in our relationship to life before it is too late? I’ll leave it to you to read that provocative part of Dr. Bill's article.

For now, I am brought back to what this means for caregivers. As we embrace our own aging, can we stop resisting the aging of our Elders, and how would that feel? As our individual hearts open to a life-serving way of being, might we, as a culture, be empowered to heal our relationships with our Elders? Can we embrace their aging and ours? Could we all heal simply by each of us asking, "Who am I meant to become?" What do you think?
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