Last week I mentioned that, in my studies on women and aging, there seemed to be several key factors that contributed to their resilience. The first is community.

 What I am talking about here is the importance of building good social relationships and meaningful friendships. The research shows that women live longer than men because we are much better at social connections. Even joining a walking group, a yoga class, or a book club, or attending regular services at a church, synagogue or mosque, play a significant role in keeping you healthy. We know, for example, that people with a good circle of friends are better able to handle serious illness and many even recover faster if they have a supportive network.

In a book called Aging Well, Harvard scholar George Vaillant, wrote that six factors predicted healthy aging for a group of Harvard men who were part of a study that began when they were all young, back in 1938, and which continued into older age. One of these men was the late President John F. Kennedy. The six factors that predicted healthy aging were: physical activity, absence of alcohol abuse and smoking, having mature mechanisms to cope with life’s ups and downs, and enjoying both a healthy weight and a stable marriage. No surprises there.

What did surprise the researchers was the role that community played in the men’s resilience and ability to age well. “When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment,” said Vaillant. “But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

Canadian author and psychologist Susan Pinker agrees. She argues that social gatherings are critical to our resiliency and well-being, especially as we age. Indeed, the lack of close personal friendships may shorten our lives faster than cigarettes, salt, sugar and animal fat.[1] Real time, face to face contact, can help us to live healthier and longer lives. Chatting with friends on the porch or over the back fence, playing cards once a week, meeting friends every Tuesday morning at the coffee shop, or going to choir practice every week, can actually lengthen your life and bring you more happiness. And thank goodness we are beginning to move into a time of fewer social restrictions after this long Covid winter, because get this: Study after study shows that these kinds of activities will do far more to promote health and longevity than “slathering on the sunscreen, downing fistfuls of vitamins, …., or sweating it out at the gym or with hot yoga.”[2] 

Again, the key to resilience and healthy aging is “relationships, relationships, relationships.”

The Canadian Mental Health Association says that those aged sixty-five and older suffer from higher levels of depression that the younger populations. Paul Links, former Chief of Psychiatry at the Schulich School of Medicine at Western University, says that his own extensive research in the field also bears this out.[3] He has seen the increase in depression among seniors firsthand in his practice. Links points to the lack of “connectiveness” these people feel to others, their sense of isolation, and loneliness as chief causes of deteriorating mental health among older adults.

Of course, if you are feeling this way, especially for more than a day or so,

 it is imperative to seek medical help. But finding ways to maintain old friendships and build new ones can help to give you the resilience that is so important as we age. Friendship may in fact be the best medicine you can take!

[1] Susan Pinker, The Village Effect. How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us healthier and Happier. (Toronto, Vintage Canada, 2015.), p. 7.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Carstensen, A Long Bright Future, 98.

Women and Aging and Resilience

          A couple of weeks ago I was invited to address a special event in honour of International Women’s Day at the Seniors Centre in St. Marys, Ontario. My topic? Women and Aging and Resilience. I identified several women I have known who exhibited tremendous resilience as they aged.

These women all defied the notion that aging is a disease, a problem that must be fixed. As the great Catholic spiritual writer Henri Nouwen once said, “There is the temptation to make aging into the problem of the elderly and to deny our basic human solidarity in this most human process.” The feminist Betty Friedan once commented that the discrimination from which she suffered in her early days because she was a woman was nothing compared to the prejudices she faced as an older woman. She blamed this on the tendency of professionals, scholars, social service workers, clergy, and politicians to view elderly people as “problems to be solved.”

I don’t think it will be a surprise to you when I say that as women we continue to experience a double jeopardy – sexism and ageism. And of course, if you are a person of colour, or lesbian or bi-sexual or trans, or if you are differently abled, then those jeopardies are multiplied and compounded.

So what to do? Well, I think there are lessons we can learn from the stories of  resilient women we have known that can help us to break the bias and combat the challenges women face as we age. I believe that we can all learn to develop resilience by practising five simple steps that I will highlight in my blog over the coming weeks.

First, what is resilience? Think about people who are able to bounce back from hard times. You’ve known people like this. They may have suffered some tragedy or major setback in life and they’re down for a while; but then somehow they manage to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again. They bounce back. Feminist theologians Janet Ramsey and Rosemary Blieszner write that, resilience “implies an ability not only to cope with traumatic difficulties, but also to respond with flexibility under the pressures of everyday life. People who are resilient have the ability to move beyond being survivors to being thrivers.” They quote the author Ursula Estes who says that resilient women are like “tough little plants” who manage to send out brave little leaves anyway. Estes wrote of women who, their bad times behind them, put themselves into “occasions of the lush, the nutritive, and light” where they could “flourish, and thrive with busy, shaggy, heavy blossoms and leaves.”

Today I invite you to take some time to reflect upon the resilient women you have known. What was it that gave them the power to bounce back from challenging or difficult situations? What enabled them to “keep on keeping on” when others might easily have thrown in the towel? Make a list of the traits or characteristics that spring to mind when you think of these women and note their beliefs and practices too.

These resilient women are all around us. They are ordinary people we encounter everyday in life. They are women from whom we can each learn so much!


Do any of you remember the “Duck and Cover” exercises from the sixties? As I listen with alarm to the news coming out of Ukraine, the heartbreaking devastation the Ukrainian people have suffered, and Putin’s threats of nuclear war if NATO implements a “no fly” zone over Ukraine, my mind takes me back to images of elementary school children huddled in fear under their desks with their hands over their heads.

Ironically, the drills were intended to give people hope, to help them think that there was something they could do to defend themselves against a nuclear attack. In reality, however, they did not do anything except terrorize young children. They certainly would not have saved my friends and me, living as we did right across the river from Detroit.

They did, however, leave a lasting legacy. As historian Dee Garrison argues, “these civil defense drills in schools would later fuel antiwar and antinuclear activism, on the part of outraged parents and the students themselves.”

But what do we do in the face of a madman who will do whatever he can to get what he wants, which today is Ukraine and which tomorrow could be much of Europe?  In such frightening circumstances, we must pray and pray hard.

Today I invite you to visit our United Church website and meditate on the prayer provided by Rev. David Sparks.

In prayer lies our true hope.


This month marks the beginning of Women’s History Month. Plus tomorrow we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Breaking the Bias”. So for all you Star Trek fans, here is a story to warm your heart as we remember a woman who broke through the biases of gender and colour.

You may recall that black actress Nichelle Nicholls played the role of Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series. She was much beloved but, after a while, she decided that it really wasn’t for her. Understandably, she resented the racial jibes she often received from some of the cast and crew. So she handed in her resignation. However, her boss Gene Roddenberry begged her to take the weekend to reconsider. “Don’t you see what I am trying to do here< Nichelle?” he asked her.

That weekend she chose to go to a major rally. She hoped to be able to meet the famous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but soon she was interrupted by someone who told her that she had a fan who really wanted to meet her. Nichelle did not want to shake hands with any more Star Trek fans. She wanted to meet the great man himself. Well, you can imagine her surprise and delight when the adoring tan turned out to be King himself! He said that he and his wife were her biggest fans. In fact, they would not allow their children to stay up to watch any other TV program but Star Trek.

It was then that Nichelle told him that she had turned in her resignation. King was shocked. He urged her to reconsider and even echoed her boss’s words: “Don’t you see what he is trying to do here?” He told her that what she was doing was vital to the cause of Black Emancipation. By creating a character with “dignity and knowledge”, she had given young black girls an important role model. He then added: “When we see you, we see ourselves as intelligent and beautiful and proud.”

The following Monday Nichelle went back to Roddenberry and told him she was staying. If her presence on television could provide her people with a positive image of themselves and inspire them to reach for the top, then she had no other choice but to remain and fulfill her calling.

Because King believed that Uhura’s presence on the Enterprise’s bridge was crucial to the greater Civil Rights Movement, Nichelle knew that there was nothing else she could do. As a black woman her role was an early step in breaking the bias.