Monday, March 3, 2008

One Meandering Mini-Rant and a Hike

I went to a conference on aging last week. There were speakers and workshops and sponsors with tables of information and free gifts with names of companies on them - pens, rubber balls, pill holders, pencils, emery boards and all matter of items.

The talks got me thinking. The workshops got me thinking. Lots of good thoughts. Thoughtful thoughts. It was an odd experience. I heard words and phrases and concepts, many of which I hear all the time, sometimes coming from my own mouth. For some reason, perhaps because I was in strange territory, where I had no agenda and no need to engage in my customary ways, I could hear and think more freely.

One smart and eloquent speaker talked about four essentials for positive aging - Challenge the body; Challenge the Mind; Control Emotions and Embrace Spirituality, not necessarily religiosity. Another bright, entertaining man spoke of the need for residents in nursing homes to truly be able to feel at home. In our own homes we get up when we like, eat when and what we like, get dressed when and if we feel like it, and, get this one, have sex. Why are the benefits of, and the need for the freedom and the right to have sex in nursing homes and assisted living facilities rarely mentioned?

In one workshop we each made a list of ten things that we like to do, favorite things. We then switched lists with someone else. Ugh. No. I want my list back! Not hers! And I thought about freedom to live and be. And I thought about what I feel like when I’m sick or in some way unable to go about my regular business - after surgeries; sports injuries; c-section; childbirth; the flu; various and sundry viruses. Everything is so different, really different. I want and need help and sometimes resent it. I want and need companionship and love. And, more than ever, I want to be home.

Then came lunch. There wasn't a whole grain in sight. The lunch, not atypical for this type of event, was at best unhealthy. White boxes were marked Chicken Salad or Hoagies and packed with the following: Hoagies on white rolls - turkey, ham, roast beef and cheese; a bag of potato chips; a chocolate chip cookie; mayonnaise and mustard in tiny plastic packages; a lettuce leaf and a couple of slices of those tomatoes that we get in the winter - pale red, tough, tasteless. Chicken salad the same. A few of us held out for "vegetarian" selections that arrived later. They were identical to the others, just without the meat. Chris told me not to be sad. I said I wasn’t sad. I was disdainful. The fact is, I was sad and, as is my custom, mildly outraged at our society and the food industry.

I looked around the room, at numerous large tables of mostly women, many of them caretakers of the elderly, nurses, and nursing assistants. (The nursing assistants are commonly referred to as CNAs, a practice that sometimes feels dehumanizing to me, but that’s for another time.) How can we expect to nurture our bodies and spirits in old age if we don't nurture them when we're young? How is it possible for us to continue to feed on animals that are horribly abused and brutalized, to support industries that perpetuate the abuse, and truly nurture our own spirits? If we can’t change our ways for the sake of the animals, how about for our own sakes? Does lunch have to be unhealthy? Do jobs have to be stressful, lacking in reward, leaving little energy for much else in life? How can those caring for our loved ones best challenge their minds and bodies and find spirituality and learn to find comfort in their emotions? Grrrrr. I just don't know.

After the conference, we got some hippie food for later and drove to the Shenandoah Mountains to hike on the Appalachian Trail - five lovely miles of wintering trees, a waterfall, scores of deer, a woodpecker, one raccoon and a cat.

1 comment:

Chris Forbes said...

That was a lovely hike, Judy. And, I'm glad you got to go to the conference. Freedom to think outside the box of everyday living, while looking, sadly, into a pathetic box lunch. How we live, how we age. Need good food. Need exercise. Need spiritual renewal. I think spiritual really means love. Love thy neighbor as you do yourself. Start with the self.