The Art and Practice of Vulnerability

Recently my delightful twenty-something daughter shared with me the following TED Talk by Dr. Brené Brown, in which Brown reminds us that the most important thing in any of our lives are the connections we make with others, especially our friendships. As I move through the second half of my life, I appreciate this truth even more. What I want in life now is not more stuff, but more people with whom I can share open, honest relationships.

For this to happen, says Brown, one must be open to being vulnerable. Indeed, she has spent the past twelve years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. What she has learned is that vulnerability is necessary if we are to form meaningful connections and care for ourselves. This is scary because we don’t like to expose our naked selves!

As Boomers, we have relied heavily on our striving and success in the workplace. We have touted our achievements, our academic degrees and awards, even hiding our true selves behind them. Learning to be vulnerable, especially after a lifetime focused on productivity and super-achieving, can be tough and even frightening. But the personal transformation it promises us, is well worth the struggle!

Enjoy Brown’s TED Talk below. If you are like me, you will be impressed enough to order her book:  Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability

 

Boomers: Don’t Call Us ‘Seniors’!

It’s December! Where did the year go? It seems like just yesterday we were looking forward to the start of 2017 and now 2018 is staring us in the face!

I remember my mother used to comment on how quickly the years sped by, the older she got. As a second-wave Boomer, I can see what she meant. I may not be in the December of my life, but I can see it coming!

Which makes me recall a comment that was made to me by a fellow student when I was doing my doctoral work. The project I was creating for my D. Min. thesis was designed for Baby Boomers, to help them transition into the second half of life while growing spiritually. When discussing how to market the program, my Boomer friend Paula turned to me, looked me straight in the eyes, and said: “Whatever you do, do not identify this as a program for seniors. If you do, I will not come. I am not a senior!” I took Paula’s advice and am happy to report that I had so many register for the first course that I had to develop a waiting list for a second course, which was offered later in the year. The program will actually be available in book form early in 2018.

Boomers have always done things their way, and they are doing the second half of life their way too. Someone once said, if you are planning a program for Boomers at your church or synagogue, think of it as a youth group for mature adults. I like that. As Mom also used to say, “Inside I feel as though I am only 18. It’s only my knees and other aching joints that tell me otherwise!”

Check out two articles on this subject which I found recently. Let me know what you think. What moniker would you like?

“Don’t Call Us Seniors”: The Baby Boomers at 65 by Doug Norris, Ph.D. 

“I Say Senior, You Say Señor” by Frank Kaiser 

 

 

Baby Boomers, Voice Issues, and What To Do

My apologies for being absent for so long! I have been battling a particularly bad bug for over a week now and, while the severe head and chest problems are easing a wee bit due to antibiotics, I am still wrestling with a very bad cough and little or no voice! Not great for one whose primary tool of the trade is her speaking voice!

The other day I went back to the doctor’s and she told me that I must not talk for a few days – she clearly does not know me! If I must communicate, even with family at home, I should text them. My husband does not text – lucky guy! It has been a very quiet weekend!

Hopefully I will be feeling better soon and will have my voice back. But as I get older, I notice that my voice has become hoarser. So, I decided to do some research on Boomers and Voice Issues. Clearly, these are not uncommon challenges for people in mid-life. Check out this article I found from a Baby Boomer Retirement blog. It has some interesting insights and helpful pointers! Click here to read about voice therapy for mature adults.

Creating Your Ideal Retirement

The London Creative Age Network is hosting a workshop about retirement and creativity on Thursday, November 9th at the Byron Library. The workshop is free to attend and participants will be guided through practical and non-practical activities to inspire their creativity. Participants are asked to bring a fresh notebook with them to the workshop.

The workshop will be led by Kathy Smith, who is a leader in creative aging initiatives. Kathy is also the recipient of the 2016-17 Province of Ontario Senior Achievement Award, among other honours.

You can learn more about this exciting opportunity to explore your creativity as it relates to retirement on the The London Creative Age Network’s website. Thank you once again to my friend Susan for sharing this information with me!

 

 

 

Hillary Clinton on the Importance of Friends

Currently I am reading Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened? It recounts her story of what went wrong in her bid for the 2016 US election. In it she reveals much about her childhood, education, marriage and motherhood, early professional life and fascinating political career. A first wave Boomer, her memoir shows just how far women have come in the past seventy years and, sadly, how far we still have to go. For whatever you think of Hillary Clinton and her politics, there is no denying that she is a supremely capable, well-educated, highly intelligent woman, who brings with her a vast amount of experience in the field of national and international politics, as well as a deep passion for justice, especially for the children of this world.

While she is the first to acknowledge that hers has been a very privileged life, there have also been major disappointments along the way. Her failure to win the highest seat in the land must count as the most crushing defeat of all. How does she keep going? She gives the credit to her friends, both women and men, many of whom she has known since childhood or university.

Especially since she has moved into her more mature years, she says that these friendships are more important than ever. As she observes, “studies show that when seniors interact on a regular basis with friends, they have fewer problems with memory and depression, greater physical mobility and are more likely to get regular physical check-ups.” For this reason, she says, she is holding on even more to her friendships.

These years are important ones for nurturing old friendships and building new ones. As Clinton notes, friendships “literally make us strong.”

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Hillary Clinton with friends in an undated photo from a 1950s-themed party at the White House. (Source: NYTimes.com)

 

 

 

Giving Thanks for Those who Made a Difference in Our Lives

The past year has been a rough one for several of my Boomer friends. Less than 12 months ago, my friend and colleague Kerry said good-bye to his elderly mother. In July, one of my girlhood friends said farewell to her mother. And just a little over a week ago my dear friend Maralyn buried her aged father. In each case, my friends were burying their only surviving parent. For them, the passing of their parents represents an end of an era. They have become their own front line.

With all the recent heartache and disaster, and with so much in the news about those who commit acts of terrorism or egregious hate crimes, it is important this Thanksgiving weekend to remember those who have made a positive difference in our lives, especially the men and women who showed us a kinder, more just way to live.

Such was the example of Beth Rickerby, the mother of my oldest and dearest friend Liz, and my Pioneer Girl leader at Campbell Baptist Church in Windsor. This Thanksgiving I pay tribute to this kind and gracious woman.

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From left to right: Beth, Ken and a friend

For me, Beth Rickerby has always been the epitome of beauty, faith, strength and intelligence. Her style and grace were embodied in her Jackie Kennedy-like good looks, her tremendous fashion sense, and the elegance with which she always carried herself. Her composure and self-assurance were not based on any personal conceit or desire to impress. She was just comfortable in her own skin, but for my friends and me she was quite simply the classiest Mom in the neighbourhood. She was also the only Mom in the neighbourhood who went ice-skating with us! Her laughter could fill a room and was easy and contagious, but never demeaning of others. She was fun to be around and she was beautiful.

But she was much more than a pretty face! She was in many ways a real renaissance woman: cultured, articulate, well-read, and talented. A member and volunteer of the Windsor-Willistead Art Gallery, it was not uncommon for her to rent original pieces of art which she hung above her living room mantel, usually scenes from the beautiful Canadian countryside she so loved. As a youngster, I can remember her challenging Liz and me to expand our vocabulary through reading. She said that we were over-using the word “nice” and needed to grow our language skills. She was an accomplished seamstress who often made many of her own clothes. I also have lovely memories of her working in her garden, or singing as she sat at her piano and played her favourite hymns and songs.

A special memory I have is sitting at the Rickerbys’ dining room table in their home on Gladstone Avenue, enjoying a tea party with Beth’s good china, crystal and silverware – a favourite pastime of ours when we were young.  Liz and our friends and I were all dressed up in elegant party gowns which Beth had purchased at the Maycourt Club re-sale store where she volunteered regularly. We felt very grown-up and terribly sophisticated!

It goes without saying, that Beth was also a great cook. Her Beef Bourguignon was famous among the many friends she and Ken entertained in their incredible home. She was an understanding teacher too. I have wonderful memories of her teaching me how to use a measuring cup and measuring spoons and patiently supervising me as I made muffins in her kitchen so that I could earn my Pioneer Girls’ baking badge.

Which leads me to the most profound way Beth influenced my life. Henry Adams once wrote: “A parent gives life, but as a parent gives no more. A murderer takes life, but his deed stops there. A teacher affects eternity; she can never tell where her influence stops.” Beth was a real teacher. She mentored me and many others both by what she taught and how she lived those teachings. It was Beth’s deep personal commitment to Jesus Christ, her love of the scriptures, the joy with which she sang our hymns of faith, and her dedicated service to her Church and community, which made the deepest impression on my young life. Every week for nearly seven years Beth ferried me, along with Elizabeth, back and forth to Pioneer Girls at Campbell Baptist Church in Windsor. For at least four of those years she was my Pioneer Girl leader. I have often said that if it had not been for her and her strong witness to Christ and his teachings, I would never have found my way into service in the Church or heard the call to ordination in the United Church of Canada. Beth taught with her total self, openly, honestly, and with integrity. She was very perceptive and never afraid to challenge the system when it needed to be challenged. I remember when my own three sons were little, she told me that “we still had not found a way to teach little boys…. that somehow the system had failed them.” And I think she always strove to find ways to meet their needs and concerns, as she did with all the children who came under her tutelage, boys and girls alike.

THE MOST POWERFUL LESSON SHE TAUGHT ME, however, came one late afternoon in the summer of 1967. The Rickerbys, and maybe some others as well, were having a drink and visiting with my parents in our living room at our home in Windsor. This was not a usual occurrence. My parents never entertained and, in any case, they were almost old enough to have been Ken and Beth’s father and mother. But from the sounds of things, at least from what I could hear from our small den across the hall, they were having a good visit, some animated discussion, and a few good laughs. Then the mood changed. Even though I was only 12 years old at the time, I knew something was wrong.

Remember this was the time of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Things were very tense across the border in Detroit. Indeed, by the summer of 1967, Detroit’s predominantly African-American neighbourhood of Virginia Park was ready to explode. Some 60,000 people were crammed into the neighbourhood’s 460 acres, living in squalor in divided and subdivided apartments.

The explosion came in the form of the 12th Street Riot, which raged for five days and five nights and which could be heard even from our comfortable homes across the border in Windsor. It was a violent public disorder that turned into a civil disturbance of such magnitude that Governor George Romney ordered the Michigan Army National Guard into Detroit and President Lyndon Johnson sent in both the 82nd and 101st Airborn Divisions. The result was 43 dead — most of them poor and black –, 1,189 injured – most of them poor and black, over 7200 arrests – again, most of them poor and black, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. The scale of this riot was surpassed in the US only by the 1863 New York Draft riots during the American Civil War and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Tomorrow is actually the 50th anniversary of the 12th Street Riot, a riot that changed the face of Detroit forever.

Back to the scene in our living room that hot July day. The Rickerbys and some others were enjoying a drink and some lively conversation at our home. The subject of the race riots in Detroit was naturally part of the discussion. How could it not be?  Sympathies were expressed for Detroit’s black community and genuine outrage at the deplorable conditions in which they lived. But then the conversation took a different turn. It became more personal. Remember this was also the year that the movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” came out. The film, which debuted on June 12th, 1967, gave a positive representation of interracial marriage, something that was very rare in those days. Everyone was talking about this movie, especially our parents. The film centered around an upper class white couple played by veteran actors Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy who find their attitudes seriously challenged when their daughter introduces them to her African American fiancé. Needless to say, the film engendered a lot of controversial discussion here in Canada too. Would you allow your daughter to marry a black man was the question that came up that afternoon in our living room. I listened quietly but intently from my perch in the other room. What would they say? What would they do if I came home one day with a black fiancé? Or if Elizabeth or Martha announced one day in the future that they were dating a black man? Would they be accepting of our decisions to venture into an interracial marriage? I waited with bated breath to hear their answers. The only person who gave an unqualified, emphatic yes was Beth Rickerby…. And they laughed at her. They all laughed at her…. But independent as she was, Beth held her ground. She was very gracious about it, but she remained firm. She did not give an inch. And in that moment, I knew that something very significant had happened. It was one of those moments of epiphany when the earth seems to shift under your feet and everything begins to change.

Now I adored my parents. I still do, even though they have been gone many years. And of course, when you are only 12 years old your parents can do no wrong. (When you become a teenager, they can never do anything right. But I wasn’t a teenager yet. I was just a young girl who believed that everything her parents did and said had to be right, without question.)  But in my own childish way, I think I recognised (even if I would not have been able to articulate it back then) that their laughter was cruel and wrong-headed.

That incident has always stayed with me and I have re-visited it many times over the past 50 years. It informed my conscience and called me to question the values and assumptions that had shaped the basis of my privileged white-skinned childhood. Moreover, it taught me that real beauty is not skin deep but permeates one’s whole being. For all her physical beauty, her elegance, her charm, culture and grace, Beth Rickerby was above all one who possessed deep caring and compassion for others, especially the vulnerable and oppressed. During her final years, when she suffered horribly in body and in spirit, I understand that she could sometimes be difficult. But much more significant than any foibles she may have had was her passion for the underdog. She could be fiercely independent and very outspoken, but thank God she was. People who have no voice often need someone to speak on their behalf. Through her simple words that day, she taught me that “faith without works is dead” and that faith that does not take seriously the concerns of the world’s poor and outcast has no credibility. Beth Rickerby’s faith did not stop at the edge of a well-manicured lawn. It flowed over into the lives of everyone she encountered along life’s path and into all she said and did. It affected not only her dealings with people but also her determination to live with respect in creation and honour God’s good earth.

Beth’s witness that day in our living room taught me something else, namely, that we call can make a difference where we are. For all that we need those who march in civil rights parades, whether they be related to race relations or women’s rights or the rights of our LGBTT or indigenous brothers and sisters, and for all that we should give thanks for the martyrs who gave their lives in sacrifice for those and many other noble causes, we also need ordinary people – not perfect people – but ordinary, decent and honourable men and women who are willing to speak up and hold their ground at the office wine and cheese party or the neighbourhood BBQ or the living rooms of our nation.

This weekend, as I give thanks for the ordinary people like Beth Rickerby who influenced my life for good,  I recall a line from George Eliot’s great classic novel Middlemarch, which ends by praising the good deeds of ordinary people. Speaking of the heroine of the story the novelist writes, “the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive; for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

 

 

 

 

Finding Happiness in the Second Half of Life

Friend Mike Ashton just forwarded me an excellent TED TALK which every Boomer should listen to! “There’s More to Life than Being Happy” with Emily Esfahani Smith. It’s all the stuff that Jesus talked about, only put into contemporary language. Boomers especially will want to pay attention to what Smith refers to as the Four Pillars of Meaning: Belonging, Purpose, Transcendence and Storytelling, all necessary for a successful transition into the second half of life. Watch, enjoy and learn!

Remember what the famous missionary doctor Albert Schweitzer once said to a group of graduating students: “The only ones of you who will ever be truly happy are those of you who have sought and found a way to serve.” Good advice for all, especially those of us navigating the second half of life!

Exercise and the aging brain

What a beautiful Fall day! Not too hot and not too cold. Just perfect for a run through the woods! There are few better ways to spend an hour than to go for a run.

You are probably aware of some of the major health benefits that a regular run can bring, like helping you to maintain a healthy weight, improving your mood and reducing your risk of disease.

But here’s something that you maybe didn’t know. Researchers have discovered that running in particular can help to prevent cognitive decline. So, guess what I am going to do today? You got it! Going for a run! (I am long overdue; but the good news is that it is never too late to start!)

Check out this excellent article that my wonderful Millennial daughter Alexandra forwarded to me.

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What if running is not an option for you? Consider Ageless Grace!

What is Ageless Grace?

Ageless Grace is a cutting-edge brain fitness program based on neuroplasticity that activates all 5 functions of the brain – analytical, strategic, kinesthetic learning, memory/recall, creativity and imagination – and simultaneously addresses all 21 physical skills needed for lifelong optimal function. Created by Denise Medved, the program consists of 21 simple exercise Tools designed for all ages and abilities. These exercises, based on everyday movements that are natural and organic, focus on the healthy longevity of the body and mind. To learn more, go to agelessgrace.com

A New Program: Living Life on Purpose

Just learned about a wonderful new program being offered in London! It’s called LIVING LIFE ON PURPOSE and it’s based on  Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness.

“During this 6 week program, the group will share the twelve evidence-based strategies that she discusses in the book. Then, according to the course description, they take specific strategies chosen by the group members and put them into practice.

Content includes:

  • Gratitude and Positive Thinking
  • Investing in Social Relationships
  • Managing Hardship & Trauma
  • Living in the Present
  • Committing to Your Goals
  • Taking Care of Your Body & Soul
  • Improved Mood and Well-Being
  • Strengthening Relationships
  • Improving Coping Skills
  • Reducing Feelings of Loneliness
  • Enhancing Your Quality of Life
  • An understanding of which activities naturally bring joy to your life

….Living Life on Purpose is a perfect opportunity to get out and learn some customized ways to bring happiness to your life.”

Why not check it out by visiting: http://www.thirdageoutreach.ca