June Reading for Chalice Elders: Role Models

At our monthly Elders Lunch (held on zoom the second Friday each month from 12 noon to 1 p.m.), Rev. Sharon shares a reading from the book In Later Years: Finding Meaning and Spirit in Aging by Bruce T. Marshall, a Unitarian Universalist minister. The following are excerpts shared at our June Elders Lunch. The theme of this chapter is “Exemplars” (i.e., role models).

As we age, we look to those who have gone ahead to point the way along pathways we will likely follow. When we consider the question of meaning, others offer guidance. What do they have to tell us about who we can be in the later stages of life? Who do we admire? Who might we emulate? What possibilities does their example reveal? In my conversations with seniors, several cited people they regard as exemplars who serve as models for how they want to age. (p.97)

In his professional life, Jack W., who is 88, was a scientist and professor of physics at a major university. When first meeting him, Jack can come across as gruff and stern. I imagine him intimidating to a college undergraduate. But a conversation with him quickly reveals an active mind that has accumulated vast knowledge over a wide range of topics. When he retired from his professional career, he said, “There was a lot I wanted to learn about history and the social side of life and the artistic side of life. Things that I just never had time for.” In retirement he was able to pursue these interests, such as by traveling and going to the theater. “I reveled in that. And I collected a lot of books on various subjects having nothing to do with science. That has been a great pleasure.” (p. 99)

Jack has lived in this retirement community for 14 years…When I asked him about exemplars or models in dealing with the challenges of aging, he cited people who he encounters each day. “I see a lot of quiet courage here on the part of people who know they are in bad shape, who are trying to live through it. Something parallel to what I’m trying to do .”

“What,” I asked, “is ‘quiet courage?’”

“Well,” he said, “you don’t go around complaining all the time, and you do what needs to be done, and you try to be civil and cheerful to people. It contrasts with some other people who become embittered and quarrelsome and complaining. And I think quiet courage looks like not giving way to emotion. It means being practical and trying to show a positive spirit. It means finding something good in each day.” (p. 100)

When I asked if there was anything else he has found important in living with his own aging, Jack named friendship. “It’s really very important to have someone to talk to who is willing to talk on a more serious level.” He admitted that forming friendships requires intentionality on his part, because, he said, “I’m not particularly gifted with the gift of gab.” So he looks to those who share interests, who work with him on committees. “Learning to make new friends is a very important thing as you age, and it’s hard. It’s progressively harder ,it seems to me, as you get older, to find the interests that can sustain a friendship.” (p.101)