What is your narrative about your own aging process? We don’t just start to form narratives about our aging after we have experienced decades of life. It is really a life-long pursuit. It just becomes more pronounced as the years of experience accumulate in the past. Age presents challenges as we learn to navigate the changing world from our changing bodies. In addition, age also comes with benefits and opportunities, although we sometimes have to look intentionally long and hard for them. And the wisdom that can accompany age can grow as we reflect on past experiences and learn new insights for our perspectives for the future.
30-Minute Narrative Rule
One of my mentors from college continues to inspire me. Dean Olson (I just can’t lose the title and call him Bob) shared a helpful tip in a conversation a few years ago. Dean O. and his wife, Shirley, will gather with friends and former colleagues from time to time, both in their Ohio home and during the colder months when they enjoy the sun and warmth of Florida. Whether host or participant, he has a rule: the group can spend 30 minutes complaining about aches and pains and their latest medical and physical challenges, but that’s it. The rest of the time, the conversation must turn to things other than aging-related challenges. What a gift!
It is important to name and acknowledge the challenges. But it is equally important to limit the amount of energy and focus they consume in our hearts and minds. There are more important things to consider beyond ourselves in the world. And with this realization, we can perhaps see the benefits that come with age. When we reflect on our experiences, wisdom can grow, and perspectives can widen like never before.
Benefits of Aging Narratives
At the recent Wisdom Conversations event, sponsored by the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging, Dr. Paula Hartman-Stein introduced the group to narrative gerontology. The gathered group of 40 clergy and lay leaders in ministry with older adults were asked to list CBTs: challenges, benefits and tips of aging.
CBTs of Narratives
From their own CBTs, the group compiled newsprint sheets full of lists. It was apparent that the challenges came to mind easily. The idea that there are benefits to aging was a little more of a stretch. For our culturally trained minds believe aging is only about demise and a downhill slide to death. As for the tips, these were more personally shared in a writing exercise during which the participants wrote a letter to their younger selves, describing a lesson or tip they have learned as they have aged.
Narrative Toward the Light
We set this annual event at the backdrop of Epiphany, recognizing that the journey toward the heavenly light continues to lead us to a relationship with the divine. Recognizing the gifts that the wise travelers — astronomer-kings — brought to the Christ child, we pause to reflect on the ways the light is leading us in our own lives.
For the time with Dr. Hartman-Stein, we had opportunity to write. But we also had opportunity to share our writings with each other. The power in reading our brief aging narratives aloud to others was powerful. To me, it was a testimony of the power of community.
An Aging Narratives Gift
The poem that follows is the culmination of the group’s words of challenges and benefits as collected on those pieces of newsprint.
We offer it to you as a gift in this Epiphany season. Perhaps you will see the divine light through the hope and humor, honesty and humility that comes in your own journey. May you acknowledge the challenges. May you claim the benefits. Our hope is that the light will lead you further in the wisdom of the ages with an abundance of tips to guide the way:
What Aging Brings
By participants at Wisdom Conversations: Our Narratives of Aging
Sponsored by United Church Homes’
Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging
At Parkvue Community, Sandusky, Ohio
Edited by Paula E. Hartman-Stein
January 7, 2019
Aging brings challenges:
A worn out body
Exercising every day.
Falling asleep while reading
Falling asleep while driving
Staying awake when you wish you could sleep
Feeling grouchy due to pain
Feeling lonely due to loss
Having trouble bending
Planning for your ending
Searching for your tribe after friends die
Aging brings benefits:
Getting away with saying almost anything
Spending less time with those who annoy
Spending less money on movies and meals
Spending more time with grandchildren
Traveling and exploring
Singing no matter if you have a deaf ear
Taking classes with no grades attached
Finding an encore career
Mentoring to the young
“Be-ing” more while doing less
Having less to prove
Enjoying the silence
Growing in wisdom, devotion and grace
Pausing, pondering, praying
Being bold while claiming old!
May you form narratives in this new year that help you expand your understanding and experience of aging.