By Clare Dinnocenti
Aging gracefully in a society that no longer attends each other.
I remember a time in Royersford, Pennsylvania when my mother was ill. Each of the ladies in the neighborhood took turns feeding us–seven children plus my dad. In our little community that was the normal flow of life. Of course, I also remember my own mother going down the block with dinner and fruit on many occasions.
So what happened? What happened to civility and community? There is still some of each in Royersford, Pennsylvania, but it is the residue of my parent’s generation who participate in it. Actually, at least three of my siblings continue to enjoy this noble environment. They continued as contributors in that paradigm and now reap the benefits. It may have cost them a bit of their privacy, but they are more than compensated in the beautiful way that people care for and about each other.
Those of us who moved from Royersford and took up careers in cities traded our small town gifts for higher paychecks, higher education and what we believed to be sophistication and culture. We succeeded in enjoying a different kind of fulfillment in our lives. When we are under 40, the idea of community is not of significant interest.
In 1987, Scott Peck wrote a book about creating community called The Different Drum. I had a wonderful reaction to that book and smugly thought, “Royersford was such a community”. Still, in 1988, lack of community in society was not very important to me or my peers. Now, however, as we watch our parents aging and, correspondingly, prepare for our own, that community life looks very “sweet”.
In my quest for understanding, I have paid more attention to people over 70 during the past year. The idea of aging has become significant. There are many more questions than answers, many more problems than solutions and far too much misunderstanding. Books such as Another Country by Mary Pipher, Ph.D (recently reviewed by Oprah) explain the conditions and problems. This particular book offers insight for those who seek to understand and–understanding is paramount.
Ms. Pipher sees the loss of community as detrimental to both our aging population and its caregivers. She also focuses on the impact of our rapidly changing lifestyles–generations are distancing each other in more ways than miles. She strongly suggests counseling for families dealing with the responsibility of caring for parents and grandparents.
My “higher” work of the past 20 years (teaching self-esteem), has encouraged me to explore the reasons why some older people become “elderly” (less productive and more needy) and others become “elders” (continued productivity and more independent). Although my research is limited (interviewing relatives, acquaintances and occasional visits to senior homes), one quality is pivotal–attitude.
It is apparent that the self-acceptance we develop throughout our lives determines our ability to cope with change. Over the years in our lectures and workshops, self-acceptance and self-understanding became the most sought after gifts. It appears that creating these gifts in our lives, at any age, will enable us to gracefully and graciously approach our own aging and assist those we love along the same path.