When my father turned 80 years old he told me that he never believed he would live to be so old. None of his family had and he said plaintively that, “No one taught me how to be old.” He died 10 years later after pain and suffering and the knowledge that he was leaving his beloved wife with worsening Alzheimer’s.
So, who has taught you how to live and thrive as an older person? How many role models have you had that were willing to share the highs and lows of an aging body with aches and pains? Who has taught you how to live with the losses of old age? And, who has been a positive role model to show you the joys of aging?
As the class, How to Become an Exceptional Elder, began to come together in my mind, these questions hung in the air. There is not ONE teacher for all of that, but many. The list of notables as my personal teachers include his Holiness the Dalai Lama, President Jimmy Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbara Jordon, Betty Friedan, Mohandas Gandhi, Black Elk and Will Rogers. We could get into the list of saints and sinners that have taught me, but not in this public forum.
People not on my list are insincere, cowards or full of hubris….young or old. So, now that I have figured out that how we need many role models for this aging gig and each of them may teach us one way to survive with joy and some of them may teach us how NOT to survive with joy we need a list.
The students in my class will be asked to think carefully about the people around them and who is modeling the best actions and behaviors as they age. Just like magazines tell us to get rid of the toxic people in our life, I would suggest we get rid of the role models who pull us down into negative thinking about this last phase. Life is difficult enough without negative energy around you. My gut tells me that we have people on our list we have watched struggle with aging and have come out on the other side with an attitude of positive acceptance.
Asking the correct question of people to get a full answer is important in teaching. Please leave a comment about what you would ask or what type of model is important to you.