The Area Agency on Aging is formally advised by a number of wise people. One of them, a retired physician, approached me after an Advisory Council meeting. He said it had been a good meeting, but I needed to know that his mind couldn’t compute as quickly as it once did and that the staff had a tendency to get enthused and talk rather fast. When they did - he couldn’t follow. Maybe we could slow down our speech a little he suggested. A reality check - I was so glad he’d said something.

A recent article in the New York Times by Abigail Zuger highlighted a new book entitled “My Mother, Your Mother” by Dennis McCullough, a family physician and geriatrician at Dartmouth Medical School. Zuger draws a parallel between the Slow Food movement and what McCullough sees as a need for Slow Medicine.
Slow Food is an international movement diametrically opposite of fast food, emphasizing slow, convivial and deliberate meals using natural or indigenous foods. We have a wonderful chapter here in southwest Michigan.

When I was a kid we lived a half block from my grade school and two blocks from a small but well stocked market. It was common for my mother to ask me to go down to the market in the afternoon for a couple pounds of ground beef or some other item.

Before I worked in the field of aging I worked with adults with disabilities. There are a lot of parallels in the life issues people face. How to get around if you can’t drive. How to get dressed, run errands, do chores, cook if you can’t use your arms or can’t walk. Some blind friends showed me the world from their perspective and taught me a lot. They made me stronger by showing me their strength.

On a recent trip I found myself sitting on a plane next to two young professional men. Both were from Michigan, both were moving away. One was in construction. Work had dropped off and he had taken a job in another state. His wife was searching for a job in the new locale so they could complete the relocation. The other had seventeen years at GM but was flying home from an interview he was feeling hopeful about. If it panned out, his wife would also begin a job search and they would move.

 

My grandmother was born in 1891. She and a number of her nine children have lived well into their eighties and nineties. Her oldest son, a ninety-four year old widower, has lived alone until just recently. Time however, does catch up. In 2006 and 2007 I lost my father, three uncles and two aunts.

I always loved the discussions, stories and reminiscence at holiday gatherings and other family events. Particularly in a big family, there was lots of fodder about who did what. Aside from being entertaining and funny, the stories by their nature were embedded with the reality of the times and made history come alive.

Although I fell towards the younger end of twenty-nine grandchildren, my grandmother and I were close. I visited as often as I could. When she died I remember feeling the loss not only of her, but of my personal connection with a totally different era.

She was a teenager in 1907. Looking at government statistics for that year, only eight percent of American homes had a telephone and our average life expectancy was 47 years old. There were only 8,000 cars in the whole country and only 144 miles of paved roads. Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California which boasted only 1.4 million people and ranked 21st in state populations. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska weren’t yet part of the country. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30.

The average U.S worker in 1907 made between $200 and $400 per year - sugar cost four cents a pound. More than 95% of all children were born at home. There was no Mother’s or Father’s Day. Crossword puzzles, canned beer and ice tea hadn’t been invented yet. Two out of every ten adults couldn’t read and only six percent of Americans graduated from high school. It was a different world.

Nowadays I’m sensing the same feeling of loss with the next generation slipping away; history on the move. My parents, aunts and uncles were and are part of the “greatest generation” - my own parents being married in 1940. Their stories span World War II, the invention of jet airplanes, space exploration, television, calculators, interstate highways and air conditioning. I don’t like having to say goodbye and it feels a little foreign to slowly transform into being the next older generation. You wonder if you listened well enough. It makes you cherish every remaining member.

Now in my fifties, I catch my own grandkids listening with amusement to stories in my own life – of milkmen delivering milk and me being pushed through a milk chute to unlock the door to the house because I was the only one little enough to fit. Or the birthday in the 1970s when my husband delighted me with an FM converter for my car so I could listen to FM as well as AM radio. The eyes rolled at that one.

The pace of change seems to continually quicken. Looking at changes in the past twenty, fifty or a hundred years, it’s hard to imagine what daily life will be like in the next twenty, fifty or a hundred years. It’ll be a totally different world. I can’t imagine.

In 1899, Charles Duell, Commissioner at the U.S. Office of Patents stated, “Everything that can be invented has been invented”. He was wrong.

An American male born one hundred years ago could expect to live 49.6 years. The life expectancy of an American male born today is about 79 years, a full 30% increase in life span.

Isn’t that remarkable? Some of the increase is because of the magnificent technology developed since then, and some is because of antibiotics, but largest measure is because of vaccines, those little pokes most Americans received in the arms when they were young.

Most Americans are strongly patriotic, but ironically a significant number of them resent their national and local democratic institutions, on which they have a direct electoral impact, getting involved in issues of importance.

It became very clear in 1949, after the successful conclusion of World War II, the Truman administration, with the initially demonstrated support of the American people, proposed a national, universal health care program.

An alarmed American Medical Association, strongly opposed to health care reform, solicited the services of Whitaker & Baxter, a conservative political public relations firm, to pit the American public against Truman. Whitaker had discovered that by calling any action by our democratic government “socialism,” detractors could strike fear in the hearts of Americans. So by publicly branding Truman’s initiative “socialized medicine”, they sent Truman’s proposal down to defeat. And nothing in the U.S. related to national health care transpired until Lyndon Johnson proposed government –administered Medicare in 1965.

The social instincts lead an animal to take pleasure in the society of its fellows, to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and to perform various services for them.  – Charles Darwin

In the old Burt Bacharach song, we are told that “what the world needs now is love, sweet love.” He was talking, of course, about compassion, a general feeling of concern for those among us struck by misfortune and deprivation. Given the hate and anger in the current election and the violent conflict in so many nations around the world, his plea seems appropriate today.

At the recent Academy Awards event, Leonardo DeCaprio graciously accepted his Oscar for best actor, then ended his remarks with a plea for the world to recognize global warming as an imminent threat.

One of the fundamental principles on which President Obama built his recent State of the Union address was opportunity. He implied that in our free republic all citizens must have reasonable access to the pursuit of individual fulfillment. It’s called the American Dream. He didn’t get much open dissent from either party.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, …

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

-William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

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Work has meant many things to many people.

With the advent of social media, we have seen a deep concern about bullying arise from a variety of quarters. But bullies, of course, aren’t a new phenomenon and they come in a variety of types.

“Fractured family structures don’t cause poverty. Poverty causes these [fractured] family structures.” Emily Badger, The Atlantic/City Lab.

The death penalty is back in the headlines. James Holmes, the man who killed 12 innocent victims in a Aurora, Colorado theater, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, instead of capital punishment.

Last fall an article in Forbes magazine asked “Can you retire on a million dollars?”

Unless a retiree decides to spend a substantial nest egg willy-nilly, why wouldn’t a relatively prudent retiree with a million dollars live a comfortable retirement?

 The world has no sympathy with any but positive griefs; it will pity you for what you lose, but never for what you lack.  – Anne Sophie Swetchine, Russian-French author (1782-1857)

Democratic presidents back to Harry Truman have pushed for universal health care in the United States. President Clinton made it his primary initiative back in the 1990s, only to have his efforts fall short at the hands of a Republican Congress. Considering that the U.S. is the only modern industrialized nation that does not have health care for all its citizens, policymakers in many nations have trouble understanding how the richest nation in the world could let tens of millions of its citizens become ill or die or become bankrupt because they can’t afford health insurance. Many in this country have been puzzled too.

“It was the delicate balance of individualism and the polis [sovereign state], the citizens’ utter devotion to its good, that made Athens unique.” – Joan Breton Connelly, The Parthenon Enigma

We are fortunate to live in the oldest democratic republic in existence. The freedom and individualism have provided a foundation for the highly touted American exceptionalism we frequently hear about.

If you have been to Williamsburg, Virginia, you may have an idea of how a quaint pre-industrial community looked on this continent 250 years ago. Picture the village surrounded by a few large plantation sized operations and many family farms.

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