Highlights from this week’s conversation include:
Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit abundantagingpodcast.com.
Michael Hughes 00:07
Hello, and welcome to The Art of Aging part of the Abundant Aging podcast series from United Church homes. On this show, we look at what it means to age in America and in other places around the world. We want to foster positive, empowering conversations about how we experience aging, with inspiring stories, perspectives and opinions from our guests. We’ll also look at how society, primarily Western society views us as we age. And hopefully we can upend outdated and negative thinking with inspiring examples of those that are truly aging with abundance. I’m your host, Mike. And I’m pleased to be here with Reverend Beth Long-Higgins, who will also be your host on future episodes. So hello, Beth. You lead the Ruth Ross Parker center whose mission really reflects the mission of this podcast. Can you tell us more about how the center is? Or, actually tell us more about the center and how it sees aging?
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 00:56
Yeah, the center was initiated in 2017, by United Church homes. And originally, the goal was to have an annual symposium where we were taking a look at aging and related topics with thought leaders. And in the course of the past six years, we’ve expanded far beyond that. So today, what we say is that we seek to be a joyfully spiritually vibrant, multicultural, multigenerational community, of individuals and organizations, who together are discovering the riches of abundant aging. And that’s kind of an aspirational part of our aspirational vision of what we’re trying to do.
Michael Hughes 01:41
Well, what a good mission. That’s just so great. Yeah. So
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 01:44
I think that those adjectives, they’re really important. We see aging is natural, and it’s lifelong. And we hope that people in whatever stage of life they’re in are finding how they’re experiencing joy. So that’s a part of being joyful, spiritually vibrant, we recognize it because we’re a faith inspired organization, we pay attention to people’s spiritual journeys, we know that in, in later life. Sometimes people ask different questions or questions for the first time, that have to do with the relationship to something greater than themselves. And so we aren’t afraid to talk about those. And we don’t have a prescription about what that journey should be, or any path or method to that multigenerational, it’s really important as you age abundantly, to have genuine relationships with people, both older and younger than yourself, and to see how you connect cultural community is also really important and recognizing that the more diverse our engagement, the the richer, the blessings can be to to all of those relationships. And we know that as individuals we have to be where we’re at, it’s important for us to reflect on our own aging process, as well as to be aware of how organizations within our culture share narratives, whether those are false or more true to the research and the experience of others. And how do we look at those narratives? And how do we shape and redefine those in a way that’s beneficial for everyone?
Michael Hughes 03:25
Yeah, you know, we’ve talked before about this, Beth, and I’ve really enjoyed our conversations on that subject. I mean, I think, you know, one of the things that really struck me in learning more about you and how you directed the work of the center is that there’s always something to look forward to when aging isn’t there, there’s always something that grows and ages. I mean, it’s the richness of life, you know, and also, that who you are, and what you hold dear to yourself doesn’t sort of age out, right? I mean, it sort of carries you on this journey, right? It’s something that you to look forward to maybe,
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 04:01
yeah, and there’s no particular age at which we’ve reached our peak, or at which we stop growing, or we stopped maturing, we age until we take our last breath. And the general narrative, in the larger culture is that you hit a certain age, whether that’s 65 or 67, or whatever. And then it’s downhill until you die. And that is not the experience of so many. That’s not what research is showing us. And yet, so many people assume that’s what happens that they miss the opportunity and the permission to continue to grow and expand in their understanding and experiences.
Michael Hughes 04:47
Well, I think that you’re gonna get a lot of nodding heads as people listen to this and agree with you on that. One other thing I would like to maybe explore with you on this. This episode is about language. And you’ve taught me so much about just how words and ways of expressing things can really turn one’s perspective around on aging. So can you tell me about the word Still?
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 05:16
Still? Yeah. Dr. Bill Thomas talks about the tyranny of still. So when we use the word still in the aging process, what we’re saying is that someone is doing something, that somewhere along the way someone assumes they should not be doing based on age. And it’s also comparing what you’re doing. If I’m still riding a bike, well, that’s also comparing what I’m doing now is to post what I had been doing in a previous stage of life. And yes, we change what we do. And there are things that we let go of, as we age, but it’s not because of our age, per se. But it does have to do with other physical, or even mental attributes that can come with age, and that age is a piece of it, but it’s not because of the number of years of life that you’ve experienced.
Michael Hughes 06:15
Right? So people seem to, it’s almost like people set an artificial barrier and age. And they also, you know, when these things happen, I can understand how, you know, if your function changes, and it changes what you’re able to do, then, you know, that can just seem like a closed door. And hopefully, as we continue to explore the subject, we can inspire people to open related doors, or, you know, find other ways of just kind of regaining that joy, or rediscovering new things that bring joy and aging, you know, is very inspiring. Yeah. One of the other words that you’ve explored with me is the word support, and, you know, United Church homes and what it does with community living, being careful with my words here, folks that may have functional or other limitations it you know, and to basically, you know, live in the place that they choose for as long as they want. So tell me what support means, in that context to you?
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 07:16
Yeah, I like the word Empower better. And yes, we do need support throughout our entire lives in a variety of different ways. None of us is an island unto ourselves, we are interdependent. But except in very few cases, and severe situations, everybody is in a relationship. So even if you are an individual who is in need of someone to physically care for you, you’re still in a relationship with them, and you still have things to offer them in that relationship. And so how do you participate in that relationship that encompasses caring for your physical needs, for instance? We don’t ever check out of a relationship.
Michael Hughes 08:06
Great point. So when you think about this podcast series, man, we’ve talked a lot about the sorts of positions, or things that we want to kind of bring light to, is there anything that within the series that we haven’t really chatted about yet, or things that you want to explore on the podcast that you think folks should know, in this first episode of 2023,
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 08:25
I look forward to talking to other thought leaders and other folks who have similar perspectives, because it is a lonely space to be in, you kind of feel like you’re the only one and you know, you read about someone else or research here or there. But you’ve kind of felt like you’re a voice in an echo chamber. And it’s nice to be in conversation and hear more than just your own voice coming back to you. So to be in conversation, and to be a connector, that’s a part of building the relationships and building the community. And, you know, a big part of this has to do with ageism, that, again, that’s a part of the vision of us as an organization. And that really is about justice, work and advocacy work. How can we conquer ageism? We are in the middle of the World Health Organization’s decade for healthy aging. They have launched ageism, combating ageism campaigns. And there are others around the globe, who are working on this. But again, we can bring people together who have similar perspectives. And we can share together and kind of build this network is kind of a great opportunity. And then finally, before I go on, I forgot whenever we use the word ages, and we need to define it to make sure people know what that is. And that’s how we think, feel and act about somebody else based on how old we think they are. So it has to do with stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.
Michael Hughes 09:54
So we ageism can kind of go both ways, right? Yep.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 09:57
I experienced significant ageism in my 20s. If I was a young professional in a field predominantly, occupied by men. I looked much younger than I was. And we experienced a lot of assumptions. And people discredited me because of how old they thought I was. So it just didn’t happen throughout the lifespan. And so our conversations about ageism can include all of that. And we also recognize that, given where we are with United Church homes in the focus of what we do, we’re specifically lifting up the ageism that happens in later life.
Michael Hughes 10:37
Well, so I’m just gonna put a little plug in here for the podcast. I will do it at the end, but I’m gonna put it in now. Because what inspires me is this idea of building a coalition and joining voices and finding voices in this space. So we would love and we encourage folks that share, our thoughts are really just like to share a perspective on what we’re saying, you know, whether you think it’s right, whether you think it’s wrong, please, you know, come into conversation with us. And you can find that at the abundant aging podcast.com. We also have United Church homes.org/parker-center. And if you’re listening to this past June of 2023, hopefully our abundant aging resource site abundant eeg.org will be up and running. So check that out. But these are all ways that you can get in touch with us and let us know what you think. So Beth, I, one of the things that we’ve talked about on this show is asking our guests three questions about aging, that we think will compel people’s thinking and discussion. But I think we need to walk the walk. And so I’m going to ask you these questions. Or sorry, may I ask you these questions? Please do. Okay. Okay. Question number one. When you think about how you’ve aged, what do you think has changed about you, or grown with you, that you really like about yourself,
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 11:53
I really appreciate that a lot of my education is grounded in the cycle of having experience, and then reflecting on that experience, and taking what you need, and then having an experience and reflecting it. And that kind of builds on each other. Mary Catherine Bateson talked about later life as being the stage of an act of wisdom. And that’s what wisdom is, reflecting on that experience. And then learning from that. And so I think what has changed is, you know, the accumulation of all the experiences I’ve had, and the intentional reflection about it. In one of the things that I find interesting, there have been times when we’ve reached out to individuals who are later in life that we’ve wanted to speak at one of our events. And aging isn’t necessarily their field of study, but we wanted to hear from them as individuals or elders, and they were unwilling to do so. And it’s because they have not done reflection, reflecting on their own aging process and are comfortable then reflecting on that in public,
Michael Hughes 13:03
is that a good or a bad thing that it
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 13:07
makes me sad for them. And it makes me sad, because I think that we can learn something from everyone. And, you know, the challenge about aging is we don’t know how we’re going to experience it. Because it’s ahead of us. Whereas people who work with children, they were once children, they had children, they have some experience about what that was, like for people who work, you know, with anybody younger themselves, we have our own experience that can bias us one way or another. But for aging, the only way we can learn about aging is to be in a relationship with people who are aging ahead of us. And so it makes me sad, because I would like to learn from those individuals. But if they haven’t done their own reflecting about that, then that’s just going to limit what I can learn. Okay,
Michael Hughes 14:03
you know, this just put something into my mind here about, you know, these examples, you know, because if we look at aging and more of a macro sense, we see that, you know, over the last 50 years, we’ve seen, we’ve seen average life expectancy rise from you know, 60s 70s 80s and so we’re continuously they’re sort of like an on mass aging example, right? I mean, people who are the greatest generation, you know, they didn’t necessarily have a lot of examples of people that were aging into their 80s and 90s. At scale, now they’re living it when we can learn from that experience, and certainly as you know, generational you know, the boomers, they want, what the what their parents had, you know, those sorts of things, but it’s almost that it’s not just aging, period, it’s aging with abundance, you know, this idea of, of aging, enjoy aging, in richness, aging, you know, with Vitality, you know, and tapping into All these different emerging sources of vitality as one ages, right, so, so it’s almost like, you know, our experience, you know, you know, X number of years from now. You know, hopefully we’ll have and this is I guess what we’re trying to foster here with, with these shows are just these examples, these touchstones for people to not only be inspired to age but also to share their stories as they age.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 15:25
Exactly. So you know, when we talk about Ubuntu aging, in part, it’s a nod to the fact that life expectancy has increased significantly over the past century, it’s a nod to the fact that there are more people aging than ever before. And it’s a nod to what you were just talking about the depth of the experience, and the richness of the experience. So yeah, one of the best jobs I attended the past year was a panel conversation with three retire gerontologists, they had all worked together at a university, and the panel conversation was asking them, okay, now that you yourselves are in your 70s, and 80s, and you are experiencing aging, what are what have you learned about all of those things that you taught for all those years about the aging process in your own experience? And it was really very interesting. And I just was so appreciative for them being so personal, in a public way, about that process. So yeah.
Michael Hughes 16:29
Okay, question number two, what has surprised you the most about you, as you
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 16:35
i think that it’s time to become more myself, you know, there’s a thread through our lives, and it continues that, you know, it meanders and whatnot, but in every life stage, you know, there have been different twists and turns. But as I look kind of retrospectively about my aging process up until this point, there’s that there’s some very definite spreads, and some of those have grown thicker, and more secure. And it all leads to just building on the opportunity for me to explore the question, what gives my life meaning and purpose right now? What brings me joy? And what brings me joy today, in my sixth decade of life, is different from what brought me joy when I was six, and that is absolutely okay. But it’s also not disconnected. There. There’s definitely a through line between.
Michael Hughes 17:34
I think that yeah, so you’re not losing? What inspired you at age six. In fact, it’s a pathway to what you’re now you know, how do you find joy now? Yeah. Yeah, that’s wonderful. Okay, question three. Is there someone you’ve met who works with you? Oh, sorry. Let me just read this again. Sorry. First podcast, okay. Is there someone that you’ve met, that is, or someone that’s been in your life that has set a good example for you and aging someone that inspires you to age abundantly from their example, I cannot
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 18:05
give you one, one person might, because this is a part of most of my presentations. These are individuals that I’ve called aging heroes, but actually, we’re kind of changing that language a bit. And we’re talking about those who are my age, abundant aging influencers. And I’m just gonna list five. And just real briefly, the first is my mom. And she is one of those persons that most people who know her are like. I want to be like Shirley, when I’m, whatever age she is, at that moment, her connection to other people is truly inspiring. And the second person is Eleanor. And the thing about Eleanor is that she and my mom were friends for over 60 years. It’s not that they lived in the same town. But it was a friendship that actually grew in, in later life, in so together, the importance of friendships, and Eleanor. She, in her later years, was living in an assisted living community that didn’t have a whole lot of programming. You know, she was in her late 80s. And her daughters gave her an iPad and she learned how to use it. And she had friends who would bring in supplies, and she would, she knew the folks in her community, and she would reach out and invite those folks who are able and interested and they come into a room and she had a table there. And she set up the iPad and they’d watch a YouTube video about how to paint a landscape. And they would sit there and paint and they would watch a YouTube video about how to do this. And they would sit there and do that together. Her creativity up until she literally could not do it anymore was truly inspirational. And then there’s Jack, who kept on learning. He was attending a class at his Church at the age of 95. And about process theology. And when I saw him coming out of the room one day said, How are you doing? He said, I’m doing great. And he had his arm load of books. He said, I don’t really understand much about what this is about. But it really is very interesting. You know, she was willing to, and it was being taught by a 24 year old, he was willing to continue to learn about a subject she knew nothing about from somebody who was 70 years, his junior, that truly is abundant aging. To me. Marian, is an individual who didn’t let her past define her future. She is a woman who had a difficult life, several very difficult marriages. She addressed it, she acknowledged what those were like. She took what she needed from those experiences. And she left them behind, and she was able to move on in her life. And she really was able to experience a very significant relationship, and a lot of joy, and was a significant mentor for many people. And finally, Ruth is another individual who was just very vibrant. I mean, when she was at, she decided she was leaving the home that she had built, and moved into a community because she wanted to make that decision. She didn’t want her kids to have to do that. When she was 92, she had a health incident, which sent her to the hospital for the first time. And in the hospital, she said, I’m going to have to go to rehab, go ahead and get rid of my apartment, and I’m just going to remain in that skilled nursing home, which she did not need to do. While she was there then she was going to everybody else’s rooms and reading to them and checking on them and advocating for them. And when people would ask her, Ruth, what’s, what’s the key to your vibrancy. And she also died when she was in her mid 90s. And she said, I learned a long time ago, it’s really important to be friends with people who are younger than you are. Because there aren’t many of my contemporaries who have left who are left. And if I hadn’t developed that ability, I would be without anyone. And so Ruth is also one of my abundant aging influencers.
Michael Hughes 22:20
Well, I mean, I think we’re gonna continue to ask these questions for our guests. I mean, I think it’s just so inspiring to hear these answers. And, and with that, we’re gonna we’re actually gonna wrap we’re gonna wrap this first episode of 2023. So I’m gonna do the like, share, subscribe thing. It’s abundantagingpodcast.com. And so you get notified of new episodes as they come out. And we want to hear from you. What’s changed about you is that as you’ve aged, that you love what has surprised you most about how to define abundant aging, and who is your abundant aging hero. So again, that’s abundantagingpodcast.com. You can also visit the Ruth Ross Parker website at unitedchurch homes.org/parker-center. And, again, if you’re listening to this past June, June, July, hopefully abundantaging.org will be up so please check us out there and please give us that feedback. Finally, very important, please keep Friday, October 6, 2023, on your calendar, when we will be hosting our annual Ruth Frost Parker center symposium. Join us live or virtually for a great day of sessions all around this year’s topic, which is about…
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 23:24
Dismantling Ageism, how stereotypes prejudice and discrimination based on age affect us all. And October 6, that’s the day for the symposium. And October 7, friends, is Ageism Awareness Day, which is a national movement. And so connect with us either in person or online for the symposium and watch for other opportunities in your community to help us address and overcome the negative stereotypes about aging.
Michael Hughes 23:59
Awesome. Great. Well, great. Thank you for listening everyone, and we’ll see you in the next episode.