There is a touch that takes a lifetime to achieve. Locking this touch away is like stripping from ourselves part of being human.
Dr. Bill Thomas
From the movie “Alive Inside”
A few weeks ago, the Wabi Sabi Film Festival presented a free digital screening of the movie Alive Inside. It was a powerful and successful event. People were moved. Heartfelt expression was the theme of the post-movie discussions.
Aside from highlighting music therapy for people living with dementia, the movie is a graphic commentary on the state of “nursing homes” in our country. Dr. Bill Thomas was interviewed on-screen about his groundbreaking approaches in Eden Alternative elder living. His quote above is from the movie. Alive Inside is both a hopeful and scary movie.
Over the past four months, I’ve been scared. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic scared me, it has prompted me to fear and deny my aging and dying. This, in turn, has pissed me off. Not a great way to be — scared and pissed off.
I cannot know what is going to happen in my own aging and dying, but I do know it is going to happen. Fearful speculation can be downright unhealthy. People with a balanced view on aging live an average seven years longer than people who fear and deny aging. My being scared and pissed off will not delay or deter any of what will inevitably happen. It will, however, inhibit my own conscious aging and help cultivate internalized ageism.
Internalized ageism causes us olders to lock ourselves away, just as our society locks away our older people in “nursing homes.” Today that is completely the opposite of what is called for. Today we must be anti-ageist. And today, for us olders who are white, it is in our own interest to be anti-racist.
I compare my scared and pissed off to the day-in-and-day-out scared and pissed off of Blacks and other people of color in this country for the past 400 years. It is insufficient for us olders to raise our consciousness about ageism without fighting against it. The same is true about racism. Olders who are white need to do the hard work to become anti-racist allies. Let’s enlist our own anti-ageist allies as well.
The “touch” that Bill Thomas refers to in the quote above is more than just a momentary physical act. It is also a way of being that takes a lifetime to achieve. And it is a way of knowing. It is a quality of mind that, as Frank Ostaseski has said, “senses what is needed without relying solely on rational processes.” In this sense aging is noetic.
I wrote here last year that, as we age, our rhythms change and not only do we have the opportunity to get closer to being the person we’d like to be, we also have the opportunity to become better acquainted with our intuition. We can start to “know” what is really important.
My colleague Evalina Everidge notes that as olders, many of us know the importance of an honest self-inventory of our implicit bias, not only about ageism, both cultural and internalized, but to racism and all forms of marginalization. As older people, we have an important contribution to make in shaping a new future in partnership with the younger generations.