“If you want to predict the future, create it.” Henry Ford

That quote has inspired me so many times, especially when a dilemma or challenge feels particularly daunting.  It seems the embodiment of the American spirit. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The swell, crash and froth of huge, unceasing white caps beating against the light house and break wall until all is awash is mesmerizing from the shore. It’s amazing these structures hold up. Every year some lives are claimed. On the shores of Lake Michigan we live in comfort on the edge of an untamable wilderness.

Nature can put life into perspective. Many use it to bring peace and calm nerves in a fast paced and changing life. I’ve always loved hiking and used to do quite a bit of it. Out of practice for a long time but determined to try again, this year is exciting because two big hikes are planned.

A couple weeks ago I finished the first one – climbing Mt. LeConte in Smoky Mountain National Park. It was twenty years since I’d made that hike. Five hours going up, four hours coming down.  My attempts at preparation on a treadmill were woefully inadequate.  I made it – but the difference between making the hike in my thirties versus my fifties was startling. I hobbled around for a few days, took deserved ribbing from friends and was relieved when walking got back to normal.

My sore muscles were less my age than lack of conditioning. In fact, folks who made the climb that day were mostly in the forty through sixty something range. The twenty year olds were noticeably missing. I hoped that it wasn’t a lack of interest.

I worry our auto dependent; internet savvy society is keeping us indoors too much.

Most of my childhood summers were spent at a family cottage on Lake Huron. My parents never allowed a television there. You could read, play a game, or be outdoors. Nowadays the younger set has many temptations to keep them inside: television, DVDs, internet, cell phones, games that mimic sports and the outdoors rather than actually being there.

A recent research study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported a disturbing trend. In the United States and other developed countries people of all ages are spending less time outdoors.

Child advocacy expert Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, links lack of nature in the lives of youth to disturbing childhood trends such as rises in obesity, attention-deficit order and depression.

 In 1995 the Nature Conservancy started an Internship Program for City Youth to try address youth’s disconnect from nature in New York City. Teens live and work for four weeks on nature preserves. The experience tends to be life changing.

Ersane John, seventeen, reflected back on his month, “There was always something for me to do…..I was helping nature. To come back to the city, to just sit home on the couch and be lazy? It was terrible. I felt homesick for somewhere that wasn’t even my home”.

Are today’s youth building an appreciation of nature? Are they recognizing their own dependence on a healthy environment and understanding how inter-related life is? I don’t know, but I think older generations can help.

National groups like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Administration on Aging, and the National Senior Conservation Corps are active promoters of intergenerational avenues for environmental and outdoor education.  A number of new organizations have been started such as Green Seniors to motivate older generations to get involved.  The Children & Nature Network is building a movement to reconnect children and nature.

There are great local attempts - from scouting to Sarett Nature Center - but environmental awareness needs to be part of our collective consciousness. We need to be involved.

My recent hike sharpened my own awareness - and humbled me to be a little more diligent in preparation before my next hike.

 

In the early 1970s I took a course at Western Michigan University called “Introduction to Gerontology”- the study of age.

As a little boy in the late 1930s, my husband remembers hobos coming to the back door of his family home in South Bend looking for odd jobs or a meal or shelter. It seemed normal to him and he and his friends didn’t think much of the times. His mother would make pancakes or biscuits and find some chore for the transients to do. One of them hand dug a basement under the house and lived there for six months.

This year's early accumulation of snow and ice made holiday travels exceptionally challenging.
A recent wait at an airport was typical for full crowds and bad weather. Seats filled up,
people sat everywhere. Many tapped cell phones or computers. Others read, knitted or tried
to keep themselves busy. Others just watched. Most stayed in good cheer.

“Nothing is certain but death and taxes”. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN 
And maybe we can add that November winds will howl, winter will come and spring will surely follow.
Or…every spring it’s tax time; every fall it’s drug time.
Every fall Medicare beneficiaries who depend on prescription drug insurance through Medicare Part D
have an opportunity to re-examine the varied policies being offered and pick the one that best covers
the drugs they need.

The Area Agency on Aging has a new tree. It’s a Chinese Dogwood planted along the boulevard entrance to the agency. It’s a memorial tree, donated and planted by Bob Dolsen, founder of the agency in memory of Dorothy Richmond. Dorothy was Office Manager of the Area Agency for over thirty years. She loved plants, particularly flowering plants and the beautiful little flowering dogwood is a fitting remembrance of her welcoming style and ready smile.

I don’t know if I have a favorite season of the year anymore. I used to say it was fall because the air was so crisp and colors so vibrant. I seem to cherish them all as I grow older – maybe hoping that appreciating them will slow their inevitable march.

My parents were reared during the Great Depression. Their families believed in hard work, personal responsibility and the value of a dollar – values I’m grateful they impressed strongly on their children. They did very well.

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.

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