I just spent a week with elders down near Asheville, North Carolina. Here on my own back porch again, the tree house that folds out into green leaves and bird song, I’m impressed by how this place restores my artist heart.
Travel is healthy no matter the destination (now there’s a bold assertion) and this trip woke me up. The drive down was only the beginning, listening to Ric Elias describe in his TED Talk what went through his mind as he braced for impact when his flight crash-landed on the Hudson River in New York 2009.
“I regretted time I wasted on things that did not matter with people that matter.”
Thanks to Captain Sully, Elias got a second chance to reset priorities.
Further on down I-77, a longevity expert talking TED said we get happier as we age, mainly because we finally grasp our mortality. Considering our limited time left, we tend to focus on the positive. Professor Laura Carstensen had solid studies to back this up.
My anecdotal findings at Carolina Village shows residents focused on TV, old favorites like Mash and Matlock shuffled with ads for drugs with endless side effects, foods with soaring calorie counts, politicians with impossible promises. Clearly, odds are stacked against the positive here.
Village elders are fascinated with and put out by the interminable gestation (January ’13 is the due date) of their new dining room, the construction of which requires long detours by walker, cane and motorized scooter to get to the quite serviceable make-shift eating area. I once took my lap top to a sunny corner lounge around lunch time, planning to get some work done to the hum of washer and dryer. Plop. Plop. I look up from my little hexagonal table with plastic begonia centerpiece to see a suave gent and swooning matron on adjacent sofas, she with a basket of tupperwared pasta salad and soup de jour for a future meal, he with a kind smile, both with labored breath and tales of woe regarding their daily trek for nourishment. ‘Do you feel stronger since you’ve been walking more?’ I ask, full of hope. ‘No, I don’t think so,’ she replies.
Still no sign of the upbeat focus Professor Carstensen’s research had promised.
Conversation at the Village covers the practical (does your detergent give lots of suds? - look at mine - no suds!), the historical (I used to build houses with your father) and the wistful (I lost my wife 2 years ago; I’m ready to follow her). Intricate webs of inquiry suss out health issues, lunch dates, card games, great grandchild wonderfulness and the Cary Grant/ Deborah Kerr movie on Tuesday night with free popcorn optional, hankies a must. But the conversational content, I finally figured out, is less important than the simple, infinitely positive act of connecting.
I’m not ready to slow down and smell the sclerosis (sorry), but the elders have given me what a flock of birds and a steely nerved pilot gave Ric Elias - a glimpse of my options from here on out. Elias ends his talk by saying, ‘The only goal I have in life is being a good dad.’ And what about me and my number one goal? Be a good artist? Yep, that’ll positively do.
Painting by Carl Gussow