Margaret is a Research Associate with CREVAWC at Western University. She has been a champion for the Neighbours, Friends and Families program since 2005.
To be young and vital is nothing, to be old and vital is sorcery.
Carlos Castaneda: The Wheel of Time
Every day is a milestone in the life journey. Over the years, I have come to recognize that there is a core part of me that is unchanging, that remains always with ‘being young’ in the sense that I am who I have always been. There is a constant me. At the same time, I am in constant motion, being moved along with time that is never still, in this body that ages around me. Sometimes I catch a glimpse in a mirror and am struck by the distance between how I feel and how I appear. Am I really a ‘senior’? Already?
The paradox of being human is something that has come as a surprise. I am both unchanging and constantly moving. If I cling only to the constant, to the part that is young, I risk missing the ride. The trick is to stay in touch with both, such different truths of the human experience. Inner youth is a wellspring that nourishes me with energy, vitality and a love of learning. Aging is an unasked-for process that brings many benefits, often invisible until later years.
In the relationship between what is constant and what is constantly moving, I found a key. It helps the unchanging me lean into and embrace the always changing flow of Life. The relationship requires trust in the process and faithfulness to the ride that can twist and turn suddenly. No matter your advantages, the unexpected bend ahead will come. To lean into it and do your best to navigate is the challenge. Aging is like that, there is no way to avoid the strong currents. The more I have support and encouragement to keep paddling, the better.
Perspective that is gained over time with experience can release you from the me-focused pressures and sense of drama that seem so inevitable and intense during those decades of the 20s through to 50s. Along the way, I have discovered that I am part of something so much bigger than this small singular self. In this way, aging can bring a liberation and a renewal in Life that encourages greater understanding and appreciation for the complex interconnections and interdependencies embedded in living.
This richness comes at just the time when my value as a citizen is perceived as diminishing, in a society that is attenuated to the pole of being and staying young. As each generation ages, it passes through the spotlight and drops out of sight. The COVID pandemic has starkly revealed the ways older adults become less and less valued. The unexpected bend of COVID has brought us to many lessons with a clear call to action that could begin by reflecting on how we regard ourselves and the aging process, and what we hope it will be like in future.
If I am lucky, I will continue to age. As I age, I plan to focus on the quality of my relationships, both to the people I encounter and as a citizen in relation to society. This is my best strategy to stay open, a part of things and able to navigate my way in a swiftly changing white-water world. I will have to challenge a strong cultural, often internalized, belief that being older makes one increasingly rigid and unable to learn or to be moved in perspective by others. If you think about it, this is a threat at any age and perhaps the most dire threat of our Age.
Global tensions in 2020 are mirrored by our individual challenges to build relationships between what we value and deem constant, and the constantly moving progression of time. Between efforts to keep things the same and the inevitable press of Life that will have its way. Since the COVID lockdown, many have said that ‘there is no going back’. The pandemic also brought a pause in the speed of our lives. It is a perfect time to reflect on our attitudes and actions, as individuals and as members of a whole society, on how we will create safety, support and dignity to ourselves and others, across the lifespan.
At the Centre, one of the concrete ways we are working to create a more vital and just society is through the It’s Not Right! Neighbours, Friends and Families for Older Adults (INR) public education and skill building program. INR proponents have set a goal to engage all Canadians in working together to create safe and supportive communities with older adults.