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THE MINDFUL WORD by Diana M. Raab
An award-winning memoirist, essayist, blogger and poet living in Santa Barbara, Diana’s been writing ever since she received her first pen more than fifty years ago. She is the author of eight books and numerous articles and poems. Her passions include journaling and inspiring others to write. She’s a regular blogger for the Huffington Post and her website is: www.dianaraab.com.
Aging in America
was excited to be invited to hear Jared Diamond, author of the newly released The World Until Yesterday, speak at UCSB last weekend. This 75-year-old UCLA professor and geographer has a huge following and though I have not yet read any of his books, my understanding was that he is a compelling writer. Certainly anyone who Googled him or looked at his résumé would be easily impressed. For me, however, the best part of his presentation was his classic audience participation. He said he would ask three questions and wanted us to answer by a show of hands. “Raise your hand if you are over the age of sixty-five. Raise your hand if you hope to live past sixty-five. Raise your hand if you have a parent or grandparent who has lived past the age of sixty-five.” By the third question, all the hands were up, thus illuminating the fact that his talk would be pertinent for everyone in the ‘sold out’ auditorium. The audience seemed pleased after the 42-minute talk. However, in spite of the build up and stellar book reviews, I am
Jared Diamond’s most recent book is The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
uninspired to read his works, and a group of us who chatted at the Beachside Café afterwards shared the same sentiments. In Diamond’s defense, and according to last weekend’s New York Times book review of The World Until Yesterday, in the 499page tome he covers many subjects, and it would have been impossible to address all of them in this lecture. Unlike most writers on a book tour, in lieu of reading excerpts, Diamond chose to focus on one subject, which was the difference between aging in America and more traditional communities. As quoted in The New York Times, he held up “tribal societies as a mirror for our own lives.” The topic of aging is interesting and timely indeed, but sadly, I did not learn anything new about growing old in the United States versus in traditional cultures. It seems common knowledge that the elderly in the United States tend to be isolated and often living far from their next of kin, whereas in tribal cultures they continue to play roles such as bestowers of wisdom and caregivers for grandchildren. Diamond did say that certain characteristics of our modern life were superior to traditional life, but accentuated the fact that where we fall short is in our child-rearing patterns, dispute resolution, and the treatment of the elderly. He spent most of the time discussing the latter subject. “Loneliness,” says Diamond, “is not a problem in traditional societies as people spend their lives in or near the place where they were born, and they remain surrounded by relatives and childhood companions.” There is no doubt that the quality of life lived by seniors is very dependent on their usefulness, and of course their health condition. “Patriarchal societies,” says Diamond, “tend to care for their elders more readily.” He mentioned, and perhaps this is a well-kept secret, that American hospitals have a mandate to give preference to younger patients. While practicing nursing in Canada in the 1980s, I don’t remember anyone ever alluding to this mandate. I agree that loneliness and isolation are serious problems facing the elderly in America today. However, it is important to acknowledge that some seniors decline living with their families because they cherish having their privacy, even though
being surrounded by loved ones does offer security, especially during times of trauma or illness. Some seniors simply choose, due to circumstance or life path, to be independent and take care of themselves like they probably did their entire lives, and we know that people age like they live. Thus, I believe the communal life is not for everyone. In my opinion, Diamond refrained from eliciting much sensitivity or
“It is important to acknowledge that some seniors decline living with their families because they cherish having their privacy…”
awareness to differences in needs and desires among our population. My mother is a perfect example of someone who prefers her privacy. She was an only child of two working immigrant parents and often fended for herself. She is now 83 years old and has been widowed for nearly 25 years. She lives on the opposite coast and declined an invitation to move near us. She loves her independence and daily routines, where she does what she wants to do in the restraints of her own time frame, without the need to take others’ schedules into consideration. This independent routine sustains her. We speak on the phone every day, but outside of her few activities, like sessions with her personal trainer, lunch with friends and daily visits to her horse, she does not have much human contact. Her younger friends don’t want to be bothered and the older ones have passed on. At some point she will need assistance and I will then have to make some hard decisions. I suppose it gets down to how an individual has lived his or her life. She was always independent and will probably die that way. It is her choice and that’s part of the beauty of living in America. Freedom of choice.
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Santa Barbara Film Festival 2013