Can Old Age be Beautiful?
The Role of the Elderly and Caregivers in an Ecological Civilization
a collage of reflections for thinking about Aging and Caregivers
in appreciation of the work of Caring Across Generations
Honored to be a caregiver and honored to receive care
Old People and Caregivers
in Humane, Sustainable Communities
Not just a lump of matter
Modern thought sees the world as being comprised of matter in motion, atoms as physical building blocks, ...and human thought as being similar to computer processing. The dominant metaphor of modern thought is "the machine." By contrast, the postmodern outlook is captured in a phrase from Muriel Rukeyser 's poem, The Speed of Darkness,"The universe is made of stories, not atoms." In this view, atoms and molecules are not lumps of matter, but parts of a relational matrix, each with its own perspective and contribution to a multiplicity of stories. The universe is alive, not dead, and pulsating with intertwining purposes that are not simply imposed by human consciousness.
Everyone contributes to the multiplicity of stories. The elderly have more stories than the rest of us. They are worth hearing again and again, in a spirit of loving-kindness. Their stories are our prayers.
Creating an Elder-Friendly Culture
We want to create a culture that embraces the joys and complexities of aging, celebrates multigenerational relationships, and fully appreciates the value of care work - the work that makes all other work possible.
The Remarkable Skills of the Caregiver
Care is the bread of life.
It is more important than appearance, affluence, and marketable achievement. When we take care of each other, the holiness of life is found in the grittiness of love. It is never easy and it is always holy.
An Ecology of Care
We process philosophers and theologians often talk about the importance of developing "ecological civilizations." In early June of 2015 the largest transdisciplinary conference ever held in the world will occur under this rubric: Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization. If you would like to learn more about it and many other exciting developments, let the website Pando Populus be your guide.
Here let me link the general theme with that of elderly care.
An Ecological Civilization is a civilization of respect and care for the community of life. It cares for people, for animals, and for the earth, none to the exclusion of the others. It is ecological in two senses: 1) it seeks harmony with the earth as it also seeks harmony among people and 2) it understands the primacy of felt relations in human life, at the heart of which is care. An Ecological Civilization is an ecology of compassion, an ecology of care.
The Republic of Stories
If we are lucky enough to live in such a society, we have grown beyond a mechanistic way of looking at the world, in which all things are reduced to lumps of matter or inert facts, and grown into an organic way of looking at the world, in which all things are appreciated for their stories. We know that everyone has a story to tell and that all stories count: the stories of the very young, the very old, and those in the shadows of life. We care about their stories and we care about them. We participate in what Arlene Goldbard calls The Republic of Stories.
In such a society we are indeed individuals, each unique and none replaceable. We respect ourselves and one another in our differences. But we do not succumb to the cult of individualism or, for that matter, the cult of youth. We know that every age has its joys and complexities, and that old age can be a blessing because it provides opportunities for loving more, learning more, connecting more, teaching more, and laughing more.
Caregiving as a Holy Vocation
In short, in an Ecological Civilization our vocation -- indeed our joy -- is to help build local communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, multicultural, ecologically wise, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind.
Of course the Earth matters. We take care of the Earth, from whose womb we emerge, as a source of beauty and as the elder of us all. We know that, long after we are gone, grandmother Earth will survive. We honor her wisdom and live from her beauty. We stop polluting her, denuding her, demeaning her. We are her children.
But we the children also take care of each other, enriched by our differences in ethnicity, religion, ideology, sexuality, gender, and age. We know that our differences make the whole richer.
The elderly and their caregivers have a special place in all of this. The elderly are the sages, the ones who have built upon a lifetime of experience and whose very longevity is an inspiration to us all. The caregivers -- family members, professionals, home health care assistants -- are the champions who make this possible. Truth be told, they are much more important than baseball players who make millions of dollars for running down a fly ball or throwing a knuckle ball.
Caregivers for the elderly deserve our respect and a living wage that makes it desirable to do the work they do. Theirs is a holy vocation, as high if not higher than a parish priest. They need our financial support, our emotional support, recognition and understanding, and time to recharge, as you will discover in the Caring Across Generations website. Time to get started. Some of this begins with cultural changes and some begins with policy changes. Let Ai-Jen Poo explain below.
-- Jay McDaniel
Caring Across Generations
Creating a New Infrastructure
About Ai-Jen Poo
Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and Co-director of the Caring Across Generations campaign, has been organizing immigrant women workers since 1996. In 2000 she co-founded Domestic Workers United, the New York organization that spearheaded the successful passage of the state’s historic Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010. In 2007, DWU helped organize the first national domestic workers convening, out of which formed the NDWA. As Co-director of Caring Across Generations, Ai-jen leads a movement that is inspiring thousands of careworkers, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, and lawmakers to work together to ensure that all people can mature in this country with dignity, security and independence....more
Reimagining Culture with Aging in Mind
Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization
On more Thing Before I Go
Reimagining and Reinventing Culture
by John B. Cobb, Jr.
In this track, we will challenge the existing paradigm that often isolates aging adults and those at end-of-life and measures them in degrees of diminishing functions. Our sessions will highlight programs and initiatives across the globe that offer life-giving and community-building alternatives so that, together, we might have the tools to reclaim aging and end-of-life as sacred experiences.