Because of the sudden death of a friend a few months ago, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about what really matters to me in life, as well as how I spend the hours in every one of my days. How much time do I waste doing what I "should" be doing, rather than what I want to do? Can I alter my behaviors so those two things are more in consonance? How? I've always been a political animal, though certainly not in the standard way. I have always voted, though never in my lifetime for someone I truly wanted, but rather the candidate who seemed less heinous. That admission is surprising, even to me, at least stated so baldly. And yet it's true.
As I've aged, even going to Occupy meetings, which can be endless though intellectually challenging, has begun to feel like a drain. Helping to plan marches seems best left to younger activists, though when I see an eighty-year old being interviewed at a rally, I raise my fist in solidarity. I have quite a few years before I reach that pinnacle, but I know I am on the way there. Will I still go to rallies at that age? Is this one of the ways I want to spend my time? I don't have an answer to this question yet, but I do know that what I see happening to my country's priorities -- at least as expressed by my Congressmen and women, and even my President -- is frightening. These views have little to do with what I was taught a democracy means, and ours in particular. I have also come to acknowledge that what I was taught about working hard and attaining my piece of the American Dream in the 50s doesn't have much in common with the lives of my peers, and certainly little resemblance to the possibilities for my own children. If I write about this, or read about it daily, I feel discouraged and tired.
A friend sent me a clip of a Meet The Press program with Rachel Maddow. Although she didn't offer actual statistics on a job by job basis that morning, she was talking about the fact that women earn less than men in this country and that we need a policy to deal with this long-standing problem. The Republicans on the panel didn't want to talk about policy: they wanted to deny the problem altogether. The friend who sent me the clip said she wanted to hurl her clicker at her television set when she was watching it. So did I. Again, what to do? How much energy to devote to this, and other equally serious problems affecting my country?
I prefer taking a walk, swimming my laps, enjoying a Nia class, talking with my partner, spending time with my children and grandchildren and writing fiction. I also want to continue to be engaged in the world around me. So I decided to attend a seven-hour workshop offered by MoveOn across the country to talk about the future, and how we might want to shape it. If I'm not around to enjoy this new vision of our our country and planet, my children certainly will be. The day-long conference was the most hopeful group experience I have had in a long time. Many of the faces at the event were unfamiliar. Several people said they had never attended anything like it before. And some of those folks were my age. That makes me feel better. A wide range of ages are represented in this 99 percent I read about on a daily basis. We all have an equal voice. What a novel exercise, to break up into small groups to envision a new community and what we want included in that community. Each person's contribution inspired someone else's.
All of these ruminations as well as the workshop is helping me form an answer to my initial question. At my age, in this time, what is my place in this troubling world? First, I would suggest it is spending more time spending time with the people and doing the activities I find inspiring and just plain enjoyable. Honoring my self, and what that means to me also counts for a great deal. And finally, engaging in the world by working with groups seeking to create an alternate vision of community, state and nation to the extent that the work does not become a chore, still seems important to me. That seems a good place to reside, both within and without.
Check out the slideshow below for "7 Ways To Find Your Place Over 50."
Sites like the Aging Network's Volunteer Collaborative and Idealist can be a great starting point for gathering ideas.
Especially at this time of year, canvassing, organizing, and inspiring others to get involved can be a great way to get fired up about local and national issues.
Senior Corp, a program of the United States government founded during the Kennedy administration, "connects today's 55+ with the people and organizations that need them most," encompassing a Foster Grandparent program, a Senior Companion program, and a wide volunteer network.
Programs such as Volunteers In Medicine and Score.org (a mentorship program for small businesses) allow retirees from the for-profit sector to use the professional skills and knowledge they have acquired to give back.
Environmental preservation is something post50s from all walks of life and across political lines can get behind--and the "grey and green" movement has some unique benefits for the older generation, such as improved physical health from getting outdoors, and greater payoff in terms of mental well-being than other types of volunteer work.
Of course "your place" can easily be found in your own backyard (see the previous five slides)--but if you've got an itch to see more of the world, there are plenty of international volunteer opportunities targeted for post50s.
...or through the Red Cross, mentor or tutor kids in your community... The possibilities are endless!
Follow Nancy Alvarez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@littlenanster