I grew up with Roadrunner cartoons. You remember – the coyote running off the cliff and hanging in mid-air while coming to the realization that he would be falling, falling, falling, until there was just a puff of dust on impact?

I think that has prepared me for our current state of the world and working in, with, and mostly around the functional impediments that seem to be everywhere these days. Folks, we are off the cliff and hanging in mid-air!

End Days?  Already?

It is getting harder and harder to ignore the increase in catastrophic events. Hottest temperatures ever recorded!  Teamsters going on strike will cause total upheaval in distribution systems! Healthcare workers quitting at record rates! Tap water poisoned with heavy metals and microplastics! Unbreathable air from wildfires! Ocean rise due to melting ice cap! Ancient methane gases being released with unknown consequences!

The gap between the daily deluge of disasters and my quiet life in the country is pretty wide!  I still drink my designer coffee, shop at well-stocked stores, order excess indulgences from Amazon, and expect my air conditioning, internet 5G connection, and electricity to be available to me 24/7.

Paved Paradise, Put Up a Parking Lot

There is a line in the Joni Mitchell song, Paved Paradise – “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone” that should be a reminder to us all. Lots of things are going, going, gone, and there are too many of us who will end up with that surprised look on our faces, asking, “How did that happen?”

It is not for wont of being reminded that there are things that need doing!  And, while it is definitely too close for comfort, there is just a slim chance that if we each do something, we might be able to salvage enough to carry on, at least for a little while longer.

Those of You Who Know Me . . .

I have been accused of being optimistic, and I accept that label, because it has generally served me well. But optimism is in short supply these days. There is that Roadrunner inevitability in the air, but I don’t think we will be laughing when Porky Pig comes on and says, “That’s All Folks!

The best way I know to manage these feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and dread is to do something that helps someone else. This doesn’t mean grand gestures, although those are always welcome! No, I am suggesting small but steady random acts of kindness.

Actual Things You Can Do

  • Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while and have a conversation – not a text!
  • Smile at a stranger
  • Let someone in line ahead of you
  • Open the door for someone
  • Compliment someone on how nice they look

Now do these same things for yourself!

  • Have a conversation with yourself about all the good you have done and why you are a good person
  • Let yourself smile!
  • Create an opening for something new to enter your life and let it in
  • Open your mind to a new idea or way of looking at things
  • Look at yourself in the mirror and just say, “I love you!  You are beautiful! You are smart! You are caring!”

OMG – Not that New Age Stuff!

Well, actually, Yes!  After all, this is dawning of the Age of Aquarius!

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation . . .

Music/Lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni

Those were goals back in the 60s. And we made some progress, but now we need to retrench and recommit.

What’s Different Now?

In my starry-eyed youth, I had passion and endless stores of energy, but little lived-experience. I gave lip service to my elders who had, after all, only lived through a Depression, a World War, and economic booms and busts. They obviously didn’t understand what was important!

Now in my seventh decade I still have passion, but my stores of energy are needing different management. I have lived-experience (and dare to call it wisdom), and now appreciate with much greater humility just how that wisdom directs my actions.

Re-Claiming the Pulpit

Long-time readers will be familiar with my promoting the work of Bill Thomas and his seminal book, What Are Old People For?  But it is the second part of that title that motivates me today:  How Elders Will Save the World.

It seems like such a huge task, saving the world. Who do I think I am anyway? After all, I am just one person. I don’t have any special powers or lots of money or even hold office. I’m tired most of the time, and I’ve done my bit. Why can’t I just be left alone to knit or garden or play golf or watch re-runs of the Golden Girls or whatever else I do to fill my day?  Because my “day” is going to last decades. And, boy howdy, I am going to be soooooooo bored!                                                    

Elders Will Save the World by Telling Stories

Not everyone who lives a long life will be able to share what they have learned. Some of this is because many of us are stuck in our Golden Ghettos, and we only have each other to talk to. Some of this is because outlets for storytelling have become repositories of social media mud-slinging. Some of this is because we have succumbed to the ageist myth that we have nothing to say and nobody would listen anyway.

Thomas says,

What is little recognized in our time is that, for elders striving need not be yoked to doing, getting, and having. An elderhood that understood its own story would be well suited to passing on just the right bit of wisdom to a grieving mother. It would be delivered, as wisdom always is, in the form of a story told by one person to another. (p. 294).

What Stories Do You Have to Tell?

I have a protest story about being at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 in Chicago, when our country was on the verge of tearing itself apart.

I have a coming-of-age story to tell about driving across country alone, staying with friends and family as I made my way to California, not knowing where I was going to end up or how I would make a living.

I have a grief story about starting over after the death of my husband, finding new purpose and meaning in my life in helping others while I healed my own heartbreak.

I have a ‘ta-da’ story of discovering the joy of writing and becoming a published author in my sixties.

The World Needs Our Stories

Yes, we are in a pickle right now. Things are looking very bleak. Maybe we really are in End Times, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing everything to preserve and share our stories.

Thomas suggests, “The final task of elderhood is the creating of a legacy that can serve others, and, later, be handed down to those who have yet to be born.”  I am sure there will be a future anthropologist or archeologist who comes upon remains of our civilization and does their best to figure out just who we were.

It’s time to get to work and help them.

5 responses to “Didn’t See That Coming!”

  1. Debbie Koshansky Avatar
    Debbie Koshansky

    Thanks, Mary, for another discussion of how to navigate the current societal concerns at our age. It does seem like deja vu. I have been telling my daughter, daughter-in-law and pre-teen granddaughter about the issues we worked hard to address in the ’70s and tried to help my son understand that the world he has lived in since his birth in the ’80s is not how it always was or has to be-Trickle Down Economics has not been a friend to many. It is hard to feel optimistic about the current state of affairs but we will keep on trucking!

  2. nan sullivan Avatar
    nan sullivan

    golden ghettos? what about the rusty ones? or those with no ghettos? as folks talk about diversity and inclusion for the young, the elders need it as well among their own

  3. Berkeley Fuller-Lewis Avatar
    Berkeley Fuller-Lewis

    WOW — Mary, THIS blog (today’s) approaches true poetry, in its (your) holographic reflection of the inter-connectedness of so many of humankind’s “issues” ~ with those of us who HAVE remained (or become) awake in our elder years — with us possibly having some way to influence those issues for the better. I’ve saved this one to read and re-read. Thank you.

  4. Patricia Bradley Avatar
    Patricia Bradley

    Oh, Mary, your words are always golden and worthy of reading without all the huge subheads and illustrations. Let the words stand alone…they can! Pat Bradley

  5. Karen Langer-Gault Avatar
    Karen Langer-Gault

    Thanks Mary. Right there with you once again! Also, shouting out a “Hello!!!” to Debbie Koshansky. It has been a very long time. I’m glad to see you two have stayed in touch!

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