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  • Seniors Acquire Generational Experience

    • Posted on Dec 14, 2015
    Here's a short speech I gave yesterday (Sunday 12-13) to a "Commencement" of 
    UNI seniors and elder seniors together who had been getting to know each other as part of Professor Kathy Oakland's "Human Relations" class.  Each of the seniors were assigned to get to know an elder senior well enough to tell a compelling story about their (the elder senior's) life, which was published in the "SAGE" collection. 

    It's groundbreaking program, and it's generating quite a buzz on an off campus. 


    December 13, 2015 
    NewAldaya Lifescapes 
    Cedar Falls, Iowa 

             Where has “Seniors Acquiring Generational Experience”—SAGE—been all these years?  Why hasn’t this program been around for decades?  Old and young go together like sunrise and sunset, and when they share time between them a whole new day appears.   Until now, most of us missed that obvious connection, at least in a higher education setting.

             The four-semester-old SAGE vision at UNI and NewAldaya has produced a unique youth/age synergy.

             I witnessed it firsthand from college seniors telling their stories in Kathy Oakland’s class a couple of weeks ago.  Their excitement is compelling and memorable, as is the newest printed book of stories, hot off the presses.     

             “Seniors” in the acronym SAGE applies to both young (college) and elder seniors.  Elder seniors inevitably have been transformed not only from schooling and teachers, but by life, having witnessed depressions, wars, assassinations, and technological earthquakes that shifted the very ground under their feet—from analog to digital, dial tones to smartphones, broadcasts to podcasts.

             Anyone over sixty feels bewildered at times and looks to youth for guidance on USB connections and multiple terabyte external hard drive storage devices.  My hat’s off to any elder who’s comfortable with Twitter and Instagram. 

             Thus elder seniors have survived unprecedented change, technologically, culturally, socially, intellectually, and politically.  

             Moreover, elders have personally experienced loss and heartbreak beyond anything most young seniors can imagine.  By the time they’ve reached seventy, they’ve grieved for many lost loved ones and friends, and experienced the suffering that defines the human condition.

             In other words, they have plenty to talk about.

             Sharing their experiences in conversational socializing with young seniors offers the equivalent of an archeological memory dig, a search into the past for what’s real and valuable that would otherwise be lost.  Just as important:  the intimacy that grows out of sharing stories. 

             Let me share a story about my dad, who lived the final eight years of his life here at NewAldaya.

             He was newly widowed when he first arrived, grieving the loss of his second wife. Suffering from grief and depression, he probably wouldn’t have lived much longer.

             Angeleita and I felt lucky to find a place for him rather quickly in an independent living apartment at what was then the Cedar Falls Lutheran Home.  He soon made card-playing friends, and with his gift for putting people at ease, laughter surrounded him.  Needless to say, his depression disappeared,

    and he lived eight more years, celebrating his 95th birthday with friends and family at NewAldaya.    

              Where some elders become grumpier with age, he became kinder and funnier—in the ha-ha sense—and I credit daily socializing here at NewAldaya.   

             For years every Sunday afternoon, Angeleita and I would visit and bring a small cooler of beer. I always felt like my Heinekens were contraband, since Lutherans weren’t known for approving of public consumption.  

             We felt like smugglers.

             After he died in 2008, we wanted to honor his love of socializing by helping create a place where meeting and greeting—with a little beer/wine—gets built into the very design of the room.  That would be a bar, tavern, a saloon, a lounge, or our favorite word for such places, Pub. 

             Elm’s Pub, to be exact, and Elmer, my dad, would be honored and delighted to know that his legacy of sharing an occasional beer and conversation with relatives and friends now graces Main Street here at NewAldaya.  No more smuggling.

             What’s not to like about Elm’s Pub?

             Socializing, playing cards, sharing a drink can be criticized or trivialized as being mere time-killers.  But as I hope all seniors know, socializing at its best means energizing and rejuvenating through storytelling, making connections that would otherwise be missed.

             On a small scale, it’s love.  

             Dad and I grew closer in his later years, and I treasured our Sunday afternoon talks.  We weren’t just passing time. By sharing our stories, we went beyond “father” and “son” roles and became intimate friends, especially as we shared grieving over the untimely death of his son and my brother, Jim.     

             In effect, we had formed a mini-SAGE, and I related our stories in several Courier columns over the years.

             The beer wasn’t important—just an excuse to get together and share something we both enjoyed. That’s why SAGE makes so much sense.   It’s about finding common ground, reaching new levels of understanding and empathy that all but inevitably grow out of combining youthful enthusiasm with elderly experience.   

             So kudos again to UNI, especially Kathy Oakland, and to Millissa Tierney and Kristena Potratz at NewAldaya for

    helping develop and support this game-changer of a program.  Even though the idea was staring everyone in the face, it took visionaries to first see it and then make it happen.

             Everyone wins.   




    Go comment!
    Posted in
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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  • We Should Have Known

    • Posted on Dec 06, 2015
    Here's this Sunday's (12-6) Waterloo Courier column--instances of being blind to what's right in front of us.  The new film Spotlight reveals this, as does my own rather shameful experience with smoking, and Republicans' continued support of Donald Trump.  We should know, and should have known,  

    Why do we often miss what’s right in front of us?  We have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear, as the Bible so memorably puts it.    

    Three instances worth pondering: 

     First,  “Spotlight,” a disturbing new film about the Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile priests in Boston.  It’s a horrific scandal that shook the Church to its foundations worldwide.   

     Four smart and motivated Globe investigative reporters—the “Spotlight” team, grew ever more amazed in 2001-2 when they uncovered Church policies that enabled priests to continue abusing children for decades.  The power of Boston Catholic church officials was all but absolute.  

     Yet the film reveals that the scandal could have been exposed much sooner had these same reporters been paying attention. During their investigation, they learn that they ignored hard evidence sent in by victims—at least a decade earlier.  

     One of many victims, in frustration, tells the reporters flat-out:  “I sent you all the facts years ago. But you buried it.”    

     These conscientious investigative reporters are dumbfounded. Why didn’t they pursue it when they first received it?  Many more victims would have escaped trauma had they paid attention.    

     They can’t explain their inattention.  In so many words, they admit “we should have known.”  

     Besides being a severe indictment of the church hierarchy for actively allowing crimes against children to continue, “Spotlight” reveals how those who ignore evidence share some of the guilt.  

     “Good Germans,” as one of the reporters sheepishly admits, referring to those German citizens who went along with the insanity that gripped Germany for over a decade. 

     Second, I remember with shame my own guilt in UNI classrooms, on a vastly smaller scale, of smoking in class during the 1970s. I would even occasionally bum cigarettes from students who seemed happy to share.  Many others did too.   

     Now we would be kicked off campus and fined, and rightly so.   

     We didn’t see polluted classroom air right in front of us. We should have known.  
    Groupthink, peer pressure, everyone’s doing it, all contribute to explaining it.  But that’s not all.   

    In fact we’re not convinced at the time it was really wrong.  What’s a little friendly smoking between scholars?  And in “Spotlight,” what’s a little priestly indiscretion compared to all the good the church does?  That’s exactly what the Catholic Cardinal of the Boston Archdiocese tells the reporter in “Spotlight.” 

     We have to be deeply and finally convinced, in our heart of hearts, that no rationalizations justify the actions we’re witnessing.   

     Finally, and all but inevitably, we should know by now about Donald Trump.   He has announced his intentions loudly and clearly, many times over.  They’re bigoted, impractical, embarrassing, foolhardy ideas.  As some of his fellow Republicans assert, “He’s not a serious candidate.”  

     When questioned about his exaggerations, distortions, and outright lies—often by Republican candidates—he goes into bully mode, shouting and repeating. He’s a master of the “big lie” strategy that steamrolls those who want to believe.  Worse, he plays off current terrorism fears and gins up patriotic fervor—sure-fire triggers for angry and fearful supporters.  

     They say “He gets things done.”  “Fact checkers are biased themselves.”  “He’s not politically correct, but that means he’s free to tell the truth.”   “He’s not beholden to big money.”   All rationalizations.  All false.   

     Here’s a man whose shameless, egomaniacal blowhardiness knows no bounds, and his button-pushing has garnered support from Americans who should know better.  

    I’m waiting for Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich—relatively reasonable candidates—to come out and say they’d vote for Hillary before Trump.

     It won’t happen.  But it’s what they already should have done.  

    Go comment!
    Posted in
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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