“Creating Community as We Grow Older”
“With a Little Help from Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older” – an excerpt
By Beth Baker from the website of the Center for a New American Dream (www.NewDream.org)
Beth Baker is the author of With a Little Help from Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older, which tackles the issues of community and aging in place. Below is an excerpt from Beth’s timely, important new work.
As I was completing the manuscript of [my] book, our neighbor Ann sent an email inviting those of us on our block who are 60 and older to a potluck. She and her husband Merrill wanted to discuss aging in place here in our neighborhood. “I realize that for now, everyone’s mostly healthy and independent, so there might not be too much interest just yet,” she wrote. “But if there is, we’d like to discuss what, if anything, folks have thought about becoming aged, staying in our homes, and building some kind of cooperative network among us.”
We have a close-knit neighborhood, but still, Ann was surprised when 22 people from a three-block area crowded into their living room. Over plates of baked ziti, chicken, and salad, we began a discussion that echoed the themes in the pages of this book. All but one couple, who plan to move to a continuing care retirement community when they reach their early 70s, want to remain on the street. The questions flowed: How would we make our homes accessible? How would we ensure that people felt comfortable asking for help? What kinds of help were reasonable to expect? Should we include the younger families in our network?
By the end of the gathering, we were launched. I realized how far ahead of the curve we were. We were proactively pushing back against the entrenched denial that we were growing older. More important, we were building our network on a firm foundation of trust. We had all lived in our neighborhood for many decades, helping each other through illness, the death of loved ones, new babies, retirement, bar mitzvahs, and other assorted milestones. We had spent countless picnics and New Year’s Eves together. While we are not all close confidantes, we have each others’ backs.
Even before our second meeting, one creative couple was working on a website for our little group. It has photos from various gatherings, some of them hilarious, as our street is locally famous for lampooning topical issues when we march in our town’s July 4 parade. There are links to financial resources like reverse mortgages, to adult education courses, and to upcoming events.
We already are dealing with a serious medical issue as one of our own, who grew up on the street, was recently diagnosed with stage-4 breast cancer. We seamlessly organized meal support and household help for her overwhelmed husband while she was in the hospital. We get regular emails from him about his wife’s condition and unflagging spirits. In one, he wrote: “We believe the prayers and happy thoughts and positive energy sent her way are working. We thank you. Love and white light to all of you.”
I realized that aging in community doesn’t begin when we turn a particular age, be it 60 or 80. It begins right now, whatever our age, forming relationships, lending a hand, sharing a laugh, knowing you’re there for each other. That’s the lesson from all who shared their stories in this book. It matters not what form or structure our communities take—or if they have no structure at all—the point is to have a community, a circle of caring—made of family, friends, and neighbors—who will be there for the long haul, as best they can, as we live our final chapter.