A Proper Mother (Parents – For Better or Worse)

Thanks to Ageless Authors <www.agelessauthors.com> here’s my story in Parents, For Better or For Worse!

 

A Proper Mother

She sits, as erect as a ballerina, in a small boat rocking on a dark brown channel between fields of high growing sugar-cane. Cradling a .22 light rifle, my mother surveys the waters for the alligator who attacked the women working neck-deep clearing the water of fast growing weeds. My father, a retired professional soldier, would chuckle as he told how she cleaned up the ones his bullets missed. It is no mean feat to shoot an alligator in its eye from a rocking boat. Miss and the bullets may ricochet off its hide and enrage the beast.

My mother was an interesting woman, adventurous, fun, gregarious, adaptable, strong willed and English! English in the proper kind of way where loud emotions have no place in your lexicon. I have never heard her admit to being angry – irritated perhaps, disappointed, but never angry, she was too refined for such a gross emotion.

How did this privileged young woman brought up with nannies and servants and birthday cruises in the Mediterranean and training as a ballet dancer come to be in the South American tropics, thousands of miles away from her family?

Love! — and war!

The European war changed everything. The large city where her family lived had thousands of tons of bombs dropped on it and survival became paramount as she watched neighborhoods and workplaces levelled repeatedly and friends and neighbors disappearing without a trace. She was never confident that her home would still be there when she returned from work each day.

On a fateful blacked-out train ride during the war she met a young soldier, looking splendid, she later described, in his red and navy dress uniform. They spoke in person and later by letter, and fell in love.

7 weeks later they met and married, despite the fact she was engaged to someone else. This was not so unusual in wartime, I hear.

In the bleak aftermath of the war, my father took a job in a remote backwater in the West Indies and my mother went to live, for the first time, with her husband and their three year old daughter on a sugar plantation.

The British are famous for being stoic and this trait was steeled by the privations of arial warfare, and scarcity that continued long after peace was declared. My mother’s stoicism was essential when she found herself living in a strange, wild land with enormous insects, snakes, poisonous spitting frogs inhabiting the garden and in nearby rivers, alligators and piranha. The nightly drone of clouds of mosquitoes lulled us to sleep under the mosquito netting. The social mores and customs of traditional plantation life bewildered my mother and marked her as different, as much in her own mind as those of the planters.

Instead of theatre and galleries and grand hotels to which she was used, there was one radio station and, after a 45 minute drive, three cinemas. There was one dentist and an alcoholic doctor who was rarely sober enough to provide the family health care.

All of these she seemed to adapt to without much complaint and came to love the country and the Guyanese people.

She couldn’t bear the inactivity of the expected privileged life of wives living on a whites-only compound on a sugar plantation — nor their gossip — so she busied herself breathing life into the local chapter of the Blind Society. Her mission became locating adults and children who were blind and getting them to medical care.

This took her into little country villages to confront horrible and untreated accidents and impoverished living conditions. She didn’t seem to care that she was not supposed to be there. Like a blood-hound, she just followed up on reports of a child blinded by a pencil stuck in his eye or an old man living in a pit with cardboard for a roof.

Oh, and she couldn’t drive, so my dad assigned her a driver who also acted as a scout. In spite of the tradition that it was dangerous for women and girls to leave the compound unescorted, she and driver, Khan, set off several days a week in search of those who needed help. This prompted regular stream of grateful relatives lining up at our door on Sundays to thank her in person.

She believed very strongly that with privilege comes responsibility and lived her life that way. For all of these wonderful traits, which taught me to work to make life better for others, there were also times when my mother was possessed by the Ice Queen.  I dreaded them!

The Ice Queen frosted all around her and she only communicated in the quietest, tersest, most formal way. When my mother was “upset” with you, you were consigned to what my father humorously referred to as “The Dog House”. This could last for days or longer and was torture for me as, like my father, I tended to blow up when angry and then move on to a better state of mind. I remember as a teenager out of deep frustration after a week or so in the realms of the Ice Queen, holding my mother’s shoulders so she had to face me and imploring “Talk to me! For God’s sake, Talk to me!” -with little effect.

There is a saying in the field of aging that you become more of who you are. This is reinforced by maxims that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks (which has been disproved countless times). However, it is very different to learn a new skill than struggling to unravel and rework a lifetime habit of coping behavior.

Many years later, my mother, now widowed and crippled with arthritis, lived in a small town in England. My inherited sense of adventure had taken me to live in California. I managed thrice-yearly visits to her, each of about a week’s duration. On one of these visits, I knew I had upset her and, with sinking feelings, resigned myself to spending the last precious days of my visit with the Ice Queen.

Mother was in her mid-eighties by then and I had no hope of anything changing. So I prepared myself for a frigid remainder of my visit. As I watched her carefully (as only children are wont to do) I saw her struggling with her habitual response, realizing that we only had a short time left together. I had no bets on who would triumph – I knew of old that the Ice Queen would reign.  To my amazement the frost visibly melted, she put whatever was bothering her on one side and in a couple of hours we were off to having fun together.

I have never forgotten that event and as I move further into my own aging I am convinced that I can continue to grow and change – that I can wrestle with my own ways of coping that don’t work anymore and can learn new ways. What a wonderful lesson.

A Portrait of Mother by Maureen Kellen-Taylor

 

ageless authors

A couple of months ago my daughter sent me information on a writing competition for people over the age of 65. An organization called Ageless Authors (www.agelessauthors.com) who describe themselves as a collaborative “effort to recognize your vitality, your strength and your craft. It is designed to highlight the work of writers and artists 65 years of age and older. Ageless Authors is the brainchild of two highly experienced writer/editors – Ginnie Bivona and Larry Upshaw — who have launched a crusade on behalf of senior creativity”.

Of course I love anything that recognizes the talents and creativity that continue throughout our aging. This organization is staffed by devoted volunteers who love writing and want to encourage as many people to write as they can.

Coincidentally, a past client who is in his nineties and writes daily (and also who wrote the most beautifully passionate poem about love and loss that I have read for many years) recently asked me to read some of his writing and give feedback.

I have also recently been involved in a project called Dor Vador, an intergenerational storytelling project with USCDavis School of Gerontology and Professor George Shannon. The objective was to strengthen cultural identity. In Dor Vador we filmed older adults telling stories about when they felt most connected to their Jewish culture, then showed the stories to k-7 graders in Jewish schools and asked the children to illustrate the stories they watched. Finally storytellers and students met and discussed the stories and drawings and asked each other questions. It was exciting and satisfying each time it happened.

Consequently, when I heard about Ageless Authors and how they hold writing competitions then publish the stories of the winners, I was very enthusiastic. My daughter – being very persuasive – talked me into submitting a story – I chose the category Parents, For Better or Worse, wrote about my mother and for the first time sent in a story to the competition.

Now everyone has stories about their mothers (and there are a few urban legends floating around our family about me!) so I will share mine in a different post.

If you are interested look up the organization and start practicing your writing to submit for the next competition http://www.agelessauthors.com.

By the way I fund out today that I was awarded 3rd place  – amazing for a first-timer.

And I feel like its my birthday (My birthday really is Fireworks night!)

 

 

 

 

 

Birthdays

What do you think about birthdays?

Numbers have such an important influence on our lives. And sometimes have no bearing other than to reinforce expectations – and unfounded ones at that.

We ask little children how old they are – perhaps because we don’t know how else to start a conversation. They soon learn to answer proudly “I am four!” But what does “four” tell us about that child and how he or she is being shaped by their experience? Have they had opportunities to learn to swim or climb or look closely at insects or run very fast over a field or learn alphabet, counting or any of a myriad things?

Every so often, I think about the number of years I have lived, because I am at an age when people say “Are you still working?” Whatever they mean by that! (“Are you too poor to stop?” or ”Aren’t you getting tired of the job?” maybe “Aren’t you too old?” or even “Lucky you! I wish I were”)

This week two women friends quietly confided they were approaching birthdays that end in zeros.

I note that those are the ones that give you pause because the number preceding the zero is about to get bigger than it has been ever before.

Lithe and fresh-faced, with a habitual look of mischief, my  first friend announced that she was going to publicly stay in the 9 year preceding her birthday. Then she strapped on her bike helmet and pedaled off on the several miles’ ride home. She lives fully. Health is important to her, but not only her own. She has made her home as environmentally sustainable as possible; she just finished working on building a Habitat for Humanity home project; and her job involves her in research for sorely needed treatment for a fearful disease. Why should it matter how old she is?

The other woman (with a different birthday) is a mover and shaker who has steadily expanded a well-known non-profit to serve increasing numbers of people in innovative and needed ways. She is also writing a book on her area of expertise. Sweet-faced with kind-eyes, she looks like someone you want to have a good long conversation with. And many people do! She confided with a wry smile that her sister told her that they are old ladies and she should start behaving like one.

I remembered a time when visiting family in England and being told that I scandalized the locals because they learned I was in graduate school and had 2 children. I was in my mid-thirties, but by their standards I was too old to be a student. I remember how grateful I was for living in California where I would not have that prevalent attitude wearing me down.

I am also fortunate to work in the field of aging where I meet people who I know are in their 70, 80 and 90’s who sparkle, who are passionate about something, sing at bus-stops and who don’t buy in to the toxic message that tells us to act our age.

When my daughter was in the 2nd grade, her tap-dancing class was scheduled to perform on the hospital geriatric ward where I worked then. I asked her teacher if I should prepare the kids for the audience with whom they would be mixing after the performance.  I learned that my daughter had already oriented her class and I was curious to know what she told them about the geriatric patients.

“Just look past their wrinkles and you will see nice people with really cool stories!”

Great advice for us all, for meeting someone new, for collaborating in a professional arena – and for looking in the mirror each morning.

A few researchers have interesting things to say about the mindset of “acting your age.” In several studies Ellen Langer, Ph.D. put older assisted-living residents in environments that replicated those of their youth. When they weren’t reminded by their surroundings that they were old, their physical and emotional behaviors changed to more youthful ones (including a formerly wheelchair bound man walking with a cane).

Although the results of her studies were often discounted, one of her colleagues, Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. Medical and Clinical Director at Harvard’s McLean Hospital said of Ellen Langer “She’s one of the people that really gets it”….”That health and illness are much more rooted in our minds and our hearts and how we experience ourselves in the world than our models even begin to understand”. (1)

It is tough to hold onto our strengths and vitality in the face of the prejudices of a society suffering from Decline Fatalism (the assumption that we are doomed to decline when we reach a certain age). The age at which decline is supposed to start differs from culture to culture (note earlier reference to suburban British attitudes).

Dr Gene Cohen demonstrated that participants in their eighties who worked consistently in programs with artists made improvements in various areas and did not decline as their peers in control groups did. (Creativity and Aging)

Experiencing ourselves as being passionately interested individuals involved in a number of interests or exciting work can get us through any number of those birthdays ending in zero in fine style.

Hooray for the French who may have coined the phrase “being of an uncertain age”. If we act and think like 30 or 40 year olds combined with the experience of 60 or 70 year olds, of course other people will be uncertain of our age.

And in the doing of it all, we will be age-uncertain, too.


Just saw a FB post from an artist whose work I hope to show next post – absolutely showing us examples…

  1. Grierson, Bruce “In What if Age is Nothing but a Mindset?” http://nyti.ms/1taWx2s  NY Times 2014
  2. “..those involved in the weekly participatory art programs,at the one and two year follow-up assessments, reported: (A) better health, fewer doctor visits, and less medication usage; (B) more positive responses on the mental health measures; (C) more involvement in overall activities.” Gene Cohen, M.D. The Creativity and Aging Study. <www.creativeaging.org/publications-research/research/creativity…>

     

when you come …..

“…when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments?
I said not yet but I intend to start today.” (Raymond Carver)

I have always especially treasured the perspective of my friends who are older. Often I learn simply from how they are and what they do. I discovered that my friend Joe used to print quotes from his wife’s favorite poets and authors to hang on a peg over the washing machine for her to read and savor, transforming this most ordinary chore.

The most important lessons are completely unexpected. Here’s a story of a recent one:

It is an inviting and comfortable house in a pleasant neighborhood close to a beautiful park. Cheerful boxes of flowers line the steps to the front door. Once inside a quick glance reveals evidence of a cultured lifestyle – the many books, art, dvds and cds bear witness to a deep and long-standing involvement in the arts. The artifacts collected from foreign countries indicate well-educated and well-traveled owners.  It is the home of an elderly couple,  sadly each with a brain now mercilessly eroded by disease.

In one room, the old man sits at a table, head down, lost in his own reality. When he speaks, it is in great sorrow about the past and of a life of regret. He declares that he has never been loved. His son, who had traveled thousands of miles from his young family to stay with his ailing parents, carefully prepares each meal and lovingly ensures that it is his father’s favorite food.

Friends of many years come to visit several times a day. Each sits with him, holds his hands and reminisces about the many happy times over the years. We fondly describe the many celebrations and visits and travels and shared meals. Central to our memories is a devoted husband and a vibrantly affectionate wife. Theirs is a great love story, which we have all witnessed over the decades and that continues to inspire us, their friends, through time and into the present. The feeling of love in their house is palpable. We each tell the old man that we love him, but he denies it to our faces.  All the old man can recall is an ancient hurt, a rejection that has erased 60 years of life well-lived.

In a room upstairs, his wife lies dying, her life inexorably slipping away.

At each arrival of friends, she rouses herself and blesses each one of us with her characteristic smile. She murmurs in gratitude at the flowers she receives and when her son feeds her – she says clearly “I am so lucky!”

 

The old man and woman have shared a life in the same house for more than 60 years. They traveled together, went to plays and opera, art museums, sat and read from their extensive library in their comfortable house. They received the same friends and loving attention from their only child. We joked how his view of life’s cup being half-empty was more than compensated by her conviction that the cup overflows.

How is it that their last days are spent so differently?  He, crying and feeling unloved, and she, smiling and feeling so very blessed. Although, much needs to be attributed to the kind of disease they each suffer, it is worth “stop(ping) and ask(ing) for understanding” and  reflecting on how we choose to be.

Do we have a choice? If we each live a life of gratitude and appreciation, do we lay down so many neural pathways that they remain operating right up to the end? If we make the intention now, not knowing how long we have, will it bear similar fruit?

I think it is worth trying because, regardless of the end goal, the process – living – is much more enjoyable.

What important questions to ask. What important lessons to learn.

.

(in gratitude photos and art by M. Kellen-Taylor)

Doorways to Hope

This was published recently in LinkedIn

In just over 11 years 20% of the US population will be over 65 and, if recent ageist tradition holds, millions will continue to be dismissed as useless and obsolete.
20% of society with 40 or more years of life and professional experience constitutes a huge and rich source of social capital. In the spirit of sustainability, organizations in various fields including education, wellness and social service, are changing that waste-heap into recycling and repurposing sources.

Creativity and Aging – An Insider’s Hopeful View.

For the past 35 years my work has been to transform the feelings of purposelessness and depression that often arise from being consigned to the waste-heap of American society. The Arts and Humanities provide one set of useful tools in the transformation from discard to social asset.

The threat of reduction in Federal funds for the Arts and Humanities only reinforces the misperception that the Arts are solely for entertainment -and thus a mere frill. I am countering that misperception with how Arts and Humanities offer, instead, opportunities for meaning and purpose for the remaining 20 to 30 years of living. That is, living in the active sense!

Understanding how and why the creative process affects us is key to curing this political mis-perception.
I also hope to begin to reassure young people that aging includes many adventures, fun, excitement and even a re-ignition of passions and interests that they are presently forced to side-line.

The Insider: Practicing both art and aging for many years, I am sharing from the perspectives of an artist, a teacher, a developer of arts and humanities programs for adults and children, and as a past expressive arts therapist. This paper addresses work with aging adults but can and does apply to all ages – as research has consistently demonstrated the benefits (1, 2)

Although I describe the creative process in terms of the arts – visual, performing, literary – because I know about them, it is vitally important to acknowledge that creativity expands far beyond them. For example, my father, a retired mechanical engineer, designed and built working models of all kinds of machines. This miniature working steam-engine is a beautiful embodiment of his esthetic and creativity.

Involvement in the creative process means exploring the potential inherent in music, writing, performance, painting (or engineering design) and then actualizing it. At the same time we are also exploring, both consciously and intuitively, aspects of our own potential. We learn to actualize these through expression. This makes for a satisfying integrity to optimizing the aging /human process through the arts.

When a musician picks up an instrument, even if you know the piece she is going to play, you do not know how she will play it and how you will hear it. Imagine the hushed anticipation of the audience right before the performance begins, that exciting moment of “not-knowing”, when the music is still a potential. The musician begins to play, the actor speaks the first words of his part, the painter lays color onto the canvas, and all the possibilities – whatever they might be – are decided upon, actualized and become embodied into the final piece. This is also a great metaphor for living.

In the same way that artists actualize the potential of their latest piece, creative aging includes involving each individual in exploring his or her potential, and bringing into being, undiscovered aspects. It is such an exciting process of discovery! Over and over again, I hear “I never knew I could do that! How wonderful!”

This process can continue if we let it, until the last breath. I remember a hospitalized man in his late eighties in a visit by an artist from my team, enthusiastically confiding that he had “another design“ for their ongoing work together.  Neither of them knew that this was his last day of life. He had spent his prior final days in a sterile hospital room engrossed in imagining colors and shapes and mentally moving them into satisfying and beautiful patterns. Although his body was completely immobilized by disease, his imagination remained active and flew free. (3) We used one of his designs to advertise the Elder Banner Project of which he was a participant. (**)

Knowing this kind of freedom is a possibility invites us to reach for that freedom.

Stepping into the creative process is like boarding a plane. After take-off there is little sensation to remind you that you are traveling at 700 miles an hour, 38,000 feet above the earth’s surface. Similarly, being immersed in creating moves us into “creative time”, or flow. In that state there can be little sensation of time passing as we are transported out of the studio into other worlds. I think of this timeless place as a connection with the eternal, when the artist becomes ageless, and draws on past experience while reaching into the future.

The created piece itself, be it music or sculpture, writing or painting, has a similar ability to transcend time and place. The lines drawn on paper, thousand of years-old splotches of color on a cave wall reach across centuries and countries to touch us and share with us the artists’ views and experience. The hospitalized man was re-living his life and love of the abstract paintings he saw in the Berlin of his youth. That youthful vigor continues to be palpable in his remaining art-work. It reminds me that creativity can transcend and transform, even momentarily, the most dire physical state.

We have all felt how music can, and does, transport us. I listen to the guitarist playing a favorite and I am once again a dancing 17 year-old. Music can also serve as a two-way street. In our work we watch where, over and over again, a piece of music reaches the mind-spaces into which confused, institutionalized people have retreated and gently draws them back into present time-space. We watch in wonder as the musician throws out a life-line and we become connected in a group of people swaying in shared time.

The arts are an integrative force. Just as time and space are integrated into the moment of creating, our varied physical and emotional experiences are integrated, brought together into a coherent pattern. Using our eyes, hands, ears, arms, imagination, memory and feelings to create a painting, brings sometimes fragmented or forgotten aspects of ourselves into working in concert. In writing we bring forward ideas, experience, knowledge we did not know existed. The Arts and Humanities become doorways into social contribution and connection.

We practitioners in the field of Creative Aging believe that an individual’s potential does not disappear with age. That it is always there to be discovered is the crux of our work. For older adults to comprehend that we all continue to possess potential is vital. It is vital (from vita meaning life) because, in the face of widespread ageism, this reminds them/us that we have a purpose, that our experience is useful and valuable, that we can have hope.

With increased longevity, the demographic we call “older adults” includes several generations. We hear a great deal about the Baby–boomers and their needs, desires and hopes for the future. They can’t help the noise because there are so many of them. Most important, they are acknowledging the wounding this society inflicts on its aging individuals. I like to call the immediately preceding generational sub-group, Path-finders, and I am a member. We are quieter because, like all scouts, we need to hear the sounds and see the clues in the surroundings that indicate the direction of the path. In so doing, we revolutionized popular music, the theater and visual arts as well as social mores in the 1960s and after.

The Greatest Generation (of WW2), Path-finders, Boomers, the arts give us all ways to continue to be creative, self-respecting people, certain of our purpose and of the value of our contributions to our families and communities.

We are finding new ways of being the path for future generations to follow in joyful anticipation.

“So treat your dancers well
And
Remember their place.

They were not put here to serve you
But instead they give you grace.“

Caroline McElroy (4)

Maureen Kellen-Taylor, Ph.D. is a Visiting Scholar at The USC Davis School of Gerontology, Rongxiang Xu Lab for Regenerative Life Sciences. She was Founding Director of ArtWorks at Mount Zion Hospital, San Francisco; provided arts, humanities and intergenerational programs along with wellness and lifelong learning to 34 apartment communities in Southern California, for 14 years with EngAGE; adjunct faculty in Quest Lifelong Learning programs for South County Community College District, Hayward CA for 12 years; recipient of California Arts Council funding for 5 years and their Directors Award for dedication to the Arts in California.

References
1. Washington State Arts Commission, 2006. Arts for Every student: Education Resources Initiative, Washington State Arts Commission, Washington State http://www.arts.wa.gov
2. Silk, Yeal Z. Mahan, Stacey. Morrison, Robert. 2015. The States Status Report A Review of State and Regional Arts Education Studies. Americans for the Arts, Washington, D.C. http://www.americansforthearts.org
3. Artworks at Mount Zion Hospital, The Banner Project: Making the Invisible Visible,1981-84 San Francisco CA. A project under my direction that took designs from homebound elders to be constructed into 8ft x4ft banners by active elders and then displayed publicly.
4. Gibson, Ph.D, Morgan and Kellen-Taylor, Ph.D, Maureen (eds) 2014. Engage in Poetry: an anthology of poetry by residents of active aging apartment complexes.

Reflecting, Building Momentum and Relishing the Day

Back to the original point of this blog – to make a new road map for aging – or in other words to create a new story that is relevant to us now in this time and place.

Discussions with friends about what we can call the process of living life after a number of years, yet not invoke all the unpleasant and often untrue associations with the word “aging”, are stimulating and energetic.

I ran the name “Building Momentum” (The Frameworks Institute) from my previous blog entry past a couple of friends – and although they like the verb and the action inherent, they said it seemed too abstract.

L. who, after 90 or more years of living, has the first thought upon awakening daily of “Good! Another day to Paint- and Love my wife!” This touches on the important aspects of long life (in my book) – Creativity, Love and Appreciation.

A conversation with A. brought up the words “Relishing”, “Reflecting” – and, said quite wistfully, – “Relaxing”.

Another name”Recounting” grows out of my exciting intergenerational projects of putting old and young together in art and learning processes (and I like the potential double entendre). Combine these to the current process of “Reframing” and the alliteration is very pleasing, however a bit low energy for my tastes.

Florida Scott-Maxwell wrote: “Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting, and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age.”

What an exciting prospect!

Some years ago, on a walk towards a city park, I met a tiny grey-haired woman who almost danced up to me. “Don’t forget to admire the tulips,” she said with great enthusiasm and joy ” They are gorgeous and make the day special!” I had just met the passionate eighties embodied.

It is important for me to have images as touchstones to remind me that I choose a dynamic path over the state of stagnation and decay so often depicted or implied in this culture.

I am playing with these and there will be many more to come:

    

or

   or

    

What language do you have to offer that inspires you towards long living?

Much to think about!

(images by M.Kellen-Taylor 2015/17)

What do Core values sound like??

Recently I had a conversation about meaning and purpose in later life with Dr. Rod Paton from the University of Chichester, England when he was in Los Angeles. He mentioned that he was supposed to retire 8 years ago but had not. Instead, he re-directed some of his time and energy. His is now a self-described “phased” retirement and he attributes the meaning and purpose for his life to incorporating his core values in his work. He continues his university involvement two days a week because “there is still something for me to do there!”

He has had time to write a second book (Lifemusic: Connecting People to Time. 2011.). In this book he explores the archetypal properties of music, challenges cultural norms and advocates for an inclusive, non-elitist philosophy of music and communities. Therein lies his statement of Core Values.

Rod is passionate about music and while he continues to compose and play many different kinds of music (notably Ascension JazzMass) on a variety of instruments, he also promotes involvement in LifeMusic, which was why he was in Los Angeles.

He says “It is always difficult to describe exactly what happens in a LifeMusic session. Improvisation is so under defined, nobody quite knows what to expect…… But the group …….picked up the ideas as I explained them and entered into the spirit of the improvising immediately. The LifeMusic method works by providing an anchor or framework for the each improvisation (a holding form) but then letting this go or at least pushing it into the background so that the really creative stuff can be fore-grounded.”

He has been collaborating in LifeMusic with Hedda Kaphengst of Klawitty Theatre in Ireland and he recently joined her in visiting Southern California where I introduced them to several groups of seniors..

The first was in senior housing in North Hollywood. He unpacked a suitcase of intriguing percussion instruments and invited the group to “pick one, any one, …there is no wrong way to play these instruments in this workshop.” he assured people. The group tentatively experimented with sound for a short while, and then LifeMusic stories began when he asked people to share their first memory of music. Several remembered, with pleasure, being constantly surrounded by music as children and described their musical family members. Others recalled riding in the car listening to the radio with a parent as a special experience. Each account evoked recognition and even more stories from their listeners and we saw how the bonds of shared experiences began to form.

IMG_1700

When playing resumed, it became obvious that the music-making was now a collaboration. The participants were no longer following a “leader” but, by listening to themselves, they began to trust their unique contribution to the music. Gradually members spontaneously stepped into the circle, some danced around, stopping in front of other members and communicating with their instruments. A dignified silver-haired retired psychologist swayed into the center and, with arms raised, gracefully danced in obvious delight.

In another workshop, a shared acapella Sammi folk-song brought the whole group to their feet to move enthusiastically to the beat and, when it was finished, to roar with joyful laughter.

At a final performance Hedda sang a fitting Irish tribute to The Lord of the Dance. Only then did Rod reveal that he had put a couple of poems written by a group member to music. As he played and sang, the poet’s face became illuminated and she was engrossed in absorbing the full experience of hearing her poems sung. She and all of us present were touched to tears by the beauty of the words and music together. How satisfying to bring such an experience to fruition!

Later Rod commented about being in Los Angeles and seeing tourists taking “selfies ” at the gates of famous people’s houses.  “Nowadays, we take our inner hunger for meaning and purpose, which we used to serve ceremoniously to the gods, and project it onto screen gods (and goddesses). But why not celebrate our own awareness?”

Hedda and Rod have departed for the United Kingdom secure in the knowledge that they involved groups of participants in celebrating an expanded awareness of music-making, and through the process connected people to music, forged deeper ties between neighbors and brought moments of timeless joy to those they touched with music.

There is indeed something for Rod “to do there”, which also gives him a feeling of meaning and purpose as he models how integrating core values into our lives is a tool for regeneration.

What core values are you bringing to your work and daily life?