Conversation Café – Sunday March 11 at 2pm at Hesperus – Tickets here
The first guest this Sunday will be Jane Haque. Jane’s recent book Freeing The Pieces is not just a memoir – she gets behind all the photos and mementos of the the happy moments, and explores the underlying meaning and lessons of her experiences. Finding Gold is the central theme, and it strikes me that this is also the theme of the Conversation Café. The guests are
giving us a picture of what they are learning in the Third Age of life – their memories are simply the raw material.
Actress Marianne McIsaac is another featured guest. It is not widely known that Marianne had roles in feature films such as Citizen Gangster and War Of The Worlds. We know her better for her work as an inspiring theatre teacher at Ryerson, and for her tireless efforts to redirect adolescent hormones on the stage at the Toronto Waldorf School. On Sunday she will be offering a dramatic reading from the one-woman show she adapted and toured. It is based on the (rather dramatic) life of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Shishir Lakhani (see earlier post) and a fourth “mystery” guest will round out the program.
There is a widespread belief that aging is a process of decline, a disease, a bad thing. Participants in the Shadowpath Conversation Café at Hesperus are having a different experience. They are learning about creative elders who are saving the best for last.
For example, Shishir Lakhani will be in the hotseat on March 11. Details and registration here. (He was originally scheduled to appear on an earlier date.) Shishir is a retired entrepreneur who has spent the last ten years being a tireless advocate for the Heart And Stroke Foundation (see earlier post.) At a meeting of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, he described how the single-minded focus that is often necessary for success in a business career can have adverse effects on personal health and well-being.
Shishir’s discussion of spiritual opportunity cost really caught my attention. The relentless attention paid to external goals can undermine personal health and inner development. The business mission is etched into a person’s very being, and obscures any signals that call for a course adjustment.
In his book Phases, Dutch physician Bernard Lievegoed makes a similar case. He explains why aging is nothing to be feared, particularly if you have been spiritually active in the earlier phases of life. He describes the existential crisis that hits people who have done nothing else but chase personal success, pushing aside everything that might interfere with his career… Such people are less able to cope with the biological symptoms of aging, and are prone to much suffering as they get older.
So we’re very grateful that Shadowpath is hosting the Conversation Cafés at Hesperus. Much more than fireside chats – they are kindling new fires!
The purpose of life is to have a purpose. – Shishir Lakhani
In my previous post, I wrote about the Conversation Café at Hesperus Village. The Shadowpath team is doing a great job of bringing together creative elders from around the community and stirring the pot.
The first ingredient at the next event on Sunday February 18 is Shishir Lakhani, B.Sc. PQS DTM:
Actively retired and gratefully giving back, Shishir believes that the purpose of life is to have a life of purpose. Born in Africa (of Indian heritage), educated in England, Shishir has made a fulfilling life in Canada. Shishir has an extensive business background of over 30 years.
I’m sure that Shishir will bring lots of spice to the conversation, so come along and taste it!
I met Alex Karolyi several years ago, and was really inspired by her energy and enthusiasm. Her mission of bringing theatre into everyday settings is so relevant and needed!
Her group has produced several programs at Hesperus Village (where I live,) and each time, folks discover new horizons in their lives. In other words, we’re not just having a good time at an event, but discovering new possibilities for the future.
At the first edition of the Conversation Cafe last month, Alex interviewed Peter Dennis and Mary Warkentin (with her dog.) We often hear older people interviewing younger people, and it’s really refreshing to have it the other way around. We do have alot to learn from each other!
Oh, and by the way, Alex will have me in the hotseat this Sunday February 11, along with a female guest… Click the link below to register, and to find the dates for future Conversation Cafes:
Phoebe, younger and older
I have been living at Hesperus Village for several years now, and have heard many stories from older people about their youth and adult life. Although there may be regrets and a touch of sadness, there is usually an overriding feeling of warmth and gratitude for all their life experiences and special human relationships. For instance, I remember Phoebe speaking about her participation in the groundbreaking work of the brain surgeon Wilder Penfield, and how happy she was to have had this opportunity. Her expression in the photo above captures something of this highly refined emotion. (Watch the Hesperus video for some other stories. If you don’t have time for the whole 12 minutes, tune in for the conclusion at the 10-minute mark.)
It is for this reason that at Hesperus we sometimes speak of the fulfillment of old age. Aging is not an illness or a disease, but a ripening process with wonderful fruits. Expressions like aging with grace, dignity, success and so on, are well-intentioned, but stigmatizing. Let’s just call it AGING!
If we would just take a little time and listen to the old folks, we might discover that aging isn’t so bad after all – We might even learn…
How do you make a young doctor really understand what it’s like being 74? Virtual reality.
This is the theme of We Are Alfred. (See the full story and video here.) Young doctors experience a simulation of everyday events in the life of Alfred, a hypothetical older person with several sensory deficits. For instance, in the birthday party shown above, the participant experiences the effects of macular degeneration – and feels the disturbing emotional disconnections that come with it.
This project is a promising first step in developing empathy. Doctors become more sensitive to what is actually happening, and are in a much better position to help. Rather than jumping to conclusions about cognitive deficits or psychiatric disorders, they can begin to have real dialogue.
Still, much of medical education is designed to suppress empathy, so that doctors will be clinical and “objective.” Leading medical schools are slowly changing this attitude and ensuring that young doctors understand the need to engage with people. Our second story, an article in The Atlantic , describes a project at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Before dissecting a cadaver, first-year med students are invited to meet the surviving family members. The story concludes:
Lunch was served sometime during the story and empty plates were cleared before the family finished their biography. When the story caught up with the present—ending with the donor willing her body to OU College of Medicine—the students sat for a moment in silence. “It was humbling,” Thurman recalled, “to think she was our first teacher.”
Recently, I read the book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer. Now, I am reading SIXTY – A Diary of my Sixty-First Year by Ian Brown. Iyer and Brown are similar in many respects: they both are excellent writers, global citizens and keen observers. Having said that, I would much prefer having Pico Iyer as a guest in my living room.
For Pico Iyer, physical and sensorial constraints actually provide stimulus for deeper insight and – adventure! Following the likes of Leonard Cohen, he turns simple, everyday moments into epiphanies. Ian Brown, on the other hand, seems fixated on the symptoms of physical aging, and says little about the tender spiritual impressions that aging brings. It seems there is nothing in sight but the end.
Much of modern healthcare and social services seems to be about caring for people – focusing on their needs, minimizing pain and waiting for the end. But what we really want to do is care about people and create many magic moments together. This is healing.
Note: Thanks to my old friend Cynthia Dann-Beardsley for inspiring the last paragraph of this post.