By Gary Holdgrafer
Would Still Alive or Second Wind be a better name for Creative Aging?
I have just recently read Toby Macklin’s essay entitled Memento Mori: Living to the Full. He points out that we are now living much longer than in the past and that reminders of death as a part of life, such as traditional funerals, are much less visible. A recent editorial on the subject of death made note of “celebrations of life” replacing funerals as a subtle cultural form of denying death. Therefore, as Toby observes, death does not seem so imminent or inevitable as when it was more in the midst of daily life. Consequently, living fully in the present seems to have diminished in value and urgency. Life is taken for granted until the possibility of death is in our face. Toby proposes that we can both imagine having a long life and also remember that we must die (memento mori) so that we live fully, for all of those remaining years.
Toby’s essay is of great interest to me as one of the leaders of a course on creative aging along with Mary Holdgrafer and Wendy Huntington. It has been run at The Haven over the past four years. I am quick to add that this is not so much a promotion as my reflections on a course that seems so relevant but, so far, has not attracted the attention we think it deserves. It acknowledges our good fortune that we are still aging and that every day we can create full and meaningful experiences, congruent with Toby’s suggestion.
I have thought about why this course hasn’t quite taken off, despite the recent shift in attitude toward aging as a time of opportunity for both personal growth and continued health and well being resulting from living creatively. The course has attracted joking and good-natured teasing, which I interpret as a reflection of discomfort with aging and perhaps the “end zone”. The end zone is determined by doubling your age and then asking yourself if you know anyone that old. At age 50 you are on the one yard line.
We were hesitant to title the course as we did because aging and being creative are both common sources of denial. However, as a field of inquiry, that is what it is called. It is not really a catchy title, and has little in the way of a “stickiness factor” that causes one to pause and then remember it. When we discussed the course with Rachel, we joked that maybe it should be called “Still Alive” as a tongue in cheek reference to other Haven course titles. In retrospect, I kind of wish we had. Creative Aging does not cause anyone to giggle or at least smile and feel enlivened.
I came across a title for a creative aging conference called “Second Wind”. At first I thought that would be a great title for “re-branding” the course. It is a positive frame and I thought “second wind” would be like fresh air breathed into the course. It seemed nicely consistent with breath and energy so integral at The Haven. And then I remembered our vulnerability to kidding and joking. I envisaged teasing comments about aging and uncontrolled flatuence, or a course for “old farts”.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the special people who have attended the course and have made it such an interesting learning experience for the leaders. I believe that they benefited as we did. The course is on the schedule for 2014 under the title of Creative Aging. Should you come across it, kindly think “Still Alive” or even “Second Wind” and pause to smile (and then sign up!). I would like that and it would be a lot more fun.