Exploring elderhood: a new stage of the life cycle

Opinion: Columns

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By Marc Blesoff

CONSCIOUS AGING

Largely because of longevity, our culture has entered a phase never seen before.

Dr. Bill Thomas (of ChangingAging) speaks of an emerging new stage of life that follows adulthood. This new stage, which can be called "elderhood," has its own standards and its own values, distinct from adulthood. One of the factors leading to the dawn of the elderhood stage is today's longevity, previously unseen in the human species.

JoAnn Jenkins, CEO of AARP, in her book Disrupt Aging, notes that we have increased human longevity more since 1900 than in all human history before that time.

Today, we are pioneers in this new stage of life. We live in a time analogous to when most people believed the earth was flat. Back then, gradually, more and more people came to understand that the earth was a sphere. They were the growing thought leaders, but they still believed the sun orbited the earth.

Right now, we are all behind the curve on aging in an aging America — individuals, institutions, governments — all of us.

Just doing "more of the same" will not cut it. We cannot afford to lose our elders — and the wisdom and vision that comes with us.

It is in the above context that Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb is hosting his community forum on Aging in Oak Park - The Next 50 Years. I am honored and excited to be one of the panelists for this event.

Fifty years ago, Oak Park took a visionary and courageous stand by passing the first fair-housing ordinance in the United States. The pioneers in those days knew what was right and acted on it. They acted on it imperfectly, but they acted.

Fifty years from now, how will today's elderhood pioneers — you and me — be viewed? Will we be positive, yet imperfect, role models? Will we have been able to build inclusivity into our efforts from the very start? 

Will Oak Park be appreciated as a national model? Will the consciousness of aging run through every fabric of our community? Will we have been able to change our individual, systemic and cultural views from 'aging = bad' into 'aging = beautiful'? Will we have been successful in building an age-diverse, strong and humble TeamOakPark?

I have written here previously of Ram Dass' comments on "how the early explorers felt after the theory that the world was flat was replaced by the spherical concept of our planet. What courage that theory must have released, thus allowing explorers to go fearlessly into the unknown."

We are on the verge of passionate and fearless and imperfect exploration into aging in Oak Park — indeed, aging in America — over the next 50 years.

When an older person struggles with opening a jar, a jar they had opened easily in the past, they may feel like a failure, perhaps even ashamed. We need to change that self-blame, that cultural blame, by re-engineering the damn jar!

Bring your questions, comments and passions and join Mayor Abu-Taleb on Jan. 10 to talk about re-engineering that damn jar.

Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb will host a community forum titled, "Aging in Oak Park – the Next 50 Years" at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 10, in the Veterans Room of the Oak Park Public Library, oppl.org/calendar.

Marc Blesoff is a former Oak Park village trustee, co-founder of the Windmills softball organization, co-creator of Sunday Night Dinner, a retired criminal defense attorney, and a novice beekeeper. He currently facilitates Conscious Aging Workshops and Wise Aging Workshops in the Chicago area.

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