“Oh, the places you’ll go!” – Dr. Seuss
What exactly does place mean for each of us now? Where is your place in this evolving world?
Finding your place, by definition, is being a part of something. Like your place at the table, or each piece in a place setting or on a chess board, intentionally positioned in relation to the others. To find your place in the world, it helps to first know yourself and then recognize the world and the people and places around you. Nearly 20 years ago, my yoga instructor Carrie put it this way, “Root down to lift up”.
As we’ve each been disrupted in different ways, we have always had full control over how we react to evolving circumstances. Alongside uncertainty, isolation, fear, anxiety, depression and for many even devastation, stands hope and vibrant possibilities for fulfillment and joy.
We each have this extraordinary opportunity to reimagine our lives and forge a new path, a new place; and to impact a life, a community and even the world – for the better.
Two populations have been particularly impacted by the pandemic: The elderly and youth.
The vast majority of older adults, because of their age and/or compromised immune systems, are still sequestered in place with varying levels of care. According to NIH (National Institutes of Health), preliminary research has already shown many of them to be suffering from increased incidence of depressive disorders and complex post-traumatic stress (PTSD) due to the pandemic.
On the other end of the spectrum, more than 1.5 billion children in 188 countries have been separated from their friends, their education and daily lives. Even as schools begin to reopen, concerns for health and safety – of students, their families, teachers and administrators, still loom large. And what will school be like this fall, anyway?
When we started Sweet Readers, nearly 10 years ago, I was fascinated by the duel impact adolescents gave and received to and from older adults in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. After witnessing hundreds of middle school kids become empowered as they revitalized adults struggling with Alzheimer’s and reading Erik Erikson’s 8 stages of life, I came to understand that the unlikely similarities the two populations shared contributed to the positive results we were seeing.
Our middle school students’ bodies and brains were changing rapidly as they tried to find their place in their evolving world – no longer the “cute” elementary school kids and not yet the “cool” high school aged kids. Meanwhile, our adult participants were navigating similar experiences as their bodies and brains were also changing rapidly and they too were challenged to find their place in their evolving world – did they still have purpose? Did they matter? The similarities are something we call “Dynamic Synergies”.
Outcomes for both groups were largely dependent on the experiences and people in their lives during these transformative times.
Now, the Dynamic Synergies have expanded. Students of every age have been impacted by the pandemic and older adults, regardless of their mental or physical health, have been isolated. They need each other now more than ever.
I’m reminded of Dr. Greg Petsko’s (then director of the Appel Alzheimer’s Institute at Cornell Weil Medical College’s) comments after observing our programs back in 2012; he said:
“Anybody who knows anything about medicine understands that one of the most potent healing weapans we have is the human touch. But that isn’t necessarily only restricted to physical contact. It’s also the meeting of one mind with another and the connection of an emotion between two people.”
If you are in your 70’s or 80’s, then you came of age or were a young adult during the 1960’s – also a time of upheaval, protest, uncertainty and revolution. Our older adults of all ages, having navigated those troubling times and benefited from five decades of evolving perception and wisdom since (during which many raised families of their own) are uniquely well suited to share their insights, experiences and provide invaluable supports to our youth.
As John Lewis wrote in his last days,
“You must study and learn the lessons of history … The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time.”
Our youth, with their open hearts and minds, relative innocence and genuine curiosity, can give older adults vital stimulation, lively debates and new perspectives as well as joy to quell the effects of isolation, anxiety and loneliness. Together, through shared, expanding Dynamic Synergies, they can find their purpose, their place and impact each other’s lives for the better.
These past many months we’ve been forced to slow down, to “root down” if we chose. We were (and still are) in that strange “waiting place”. During that time and continuing now, many of us were/are still disconnected from others in sometimes heartbreaking circumstances. During these same months, however, I have had the great honor to oversee the evolution of Sweet Readers and profound impact for our participants across four generations, two countries and six states. I have watched human connection transcend geography, illness and age and overcome tremendous challenges. I have learned that the thirst for love and understanding is universal. To discover, support each other and be together (while also maintaining important alone time), is perhaps our greatest place, regardless of where each of us is in our individual journey.
So what will be your next step? What matters to you? Where is your place?
It is now (and for many has already been) time to “lift up”. It doesn’t have to be complicated, daunting or even time consuming. I’ll leave you with the advice of two great writers:
“You are a light. You are the light… Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates.” – John Lewis
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose….Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So, get on your way!” – Dr. Seuss
Wishing you a meaningful and relaxing end of summer.
See you in September!