“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made”

— Excerpt from “Rabbi Ben Ezra” by Robert Browning

For years a little plaque hung on the wall in our kitchen proclaiming the positive promise of aging wellness. “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be” was a reminder of all the joys my wife and I anticipated as we grew older and reaped the benefits of retirement.

Somehow after her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease, Browning’s theme didn’t seem realistic, so we put it away. His thoughts still haunt me, however, as I recall the intent to remind us of the life journey from youth to old age. He speaks of hopes and fears which may be better understood by elders in today’s time of challenge.

I am inclined to still clutch to a positive outlook as we face uncertainty, remembering that optimists have a better prognosis for their future than those who do not have a positive outlook on life. Dare I believe that the challenges we are facing have some positive aspects? Can elders help youth keep alive the spark that founded this great nation? Some have said that there is little reason for hope.

But sufficient reasons for hope are offered by the president of the New Hampshire Endowment for Health, Yvonne Goldsberry, Ph.D. She reminds us that we all have stories of hope. She states: “This is a defining moment in our country. If you listen to the media, you see stories of strife, struggle and crisis … And strife: political, racial, economic — can be deafening. It can drown out the news of success, promise and hope in our country and here in our state.”

Can you stop and count your blessings in the face of disparity and despair? Is dignity, equality and justice still alive in our state and nation? My relationships continue to call me back to a positive place. I always loved to play golf with an old-timer coach from Springfield, who would always greet me on the first tee with “Is this a great country, or what?”

The Endowment website included a great YouTube video to highlight the efforts many of us are engaged in to promote healthy communities. Based on testimony from NBA players, this video clearly pronounces:

“It’s time to talk, listen, learn and respect each other. #Together — In response to the growing concern, frustration, and divide in many communities across the country, NBA Players are using their voices to promote better, more meaningful, communication and understanding. All in the hopes of finding solutions to some very complex issues.”

I find joy in collaborating with community groups on poverty and hunger issues through food pantries and community suppers and care for frail elders. Civic engagement in such events as MLK celebrations, community betterment and after-school programs impacts all ages! These intergenerational partnerships bring elders and youth together and help to dispel fear and promote hope for the future.

Our church, which takes pride in “disagreement without being disagreeable,” is currently promoting wearing a safety pin as a sign that it is “safe” to discuss differences with the wearer. If we can acknowledge experiences of common humanity with our neighbors, it may help bridge our differences. Sharing life stories and working on projects such as food pantries and knitting for kids yield a quality of life with respect, cooperation and friendship.

Perspectives from elders form a rich reservoir to help change perceptions and hopefully lead to healthy policies and practices to support our citizens. Together we who are “age-wise” have influence and the collective wisdom to create a positive attitude and a hopeful outlook.

Sparking an attitude of hope also helps overcome aging’s cognitive decline with a happier frame of mind. Like my wife who smiles her way through dementia, the reciprocity of cheeriness bears fruit in valuable partnerships yielding mutual benefit!

Browning again: “Summon age to grant youth’s heritage, life’s struggle having so far reached its term … ‘Since life fleets, all is change; the Past gone, seize to-day!” And then an injection of hope needed to persevere: “Let age speak the truth and give us peace at last!” YOU GO, SENIORS!

Owen R. Houghton of Jaffrey is an aging wellness educator, Past Chair of the State Committee on Aging, 2015 Vaughn Award recipient and a member of Monadnock at Home. Readers may contact him at nohoughton@myfairpoint.net.

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