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By Roger Cormier and Sandy Cohen

Nothing seems to spread as quickly as inspirational e-mails via family and friends. One such e-mail inspired us to post about it as follows.

The subject of the e-mail was “A dog named Faith.” Born effectively without front legs, his mother rejected her and her first owner considered “putting her to sleep.” However, another person felt sorry for her, adopted her, vowed to teach her to walk and named her Faith. Within six months he was standing erect on his hind legs and jumping forward. Later he learned to walk like a human.

Faith received much notoriety in person and in the media. Her owner decided to give up her teaching job and take Faith on a world tour to preach that even without a perfect body one can have a perfect soul.

Statue of Tasmanian Antarctic explorer Louis Bernacchi and his dog Joe at harbor of Australia’s Hobart, Tasmania

This got us thinking about each of us human beings and our own personal stories of faith, perseverance and accomplishment in the face of physical, psychological, prejudicial and other limitations and bad experiences. Far from being featured in an ever-spreading e-mail, we ourselves often lose sight of what we overcame and achieved, and few if any people even know or recall our story.

Such stories involve acts of faith in ourselves, by ourselves, and often by others in our lives. Today we can take some moments to reflect on our faith stories. Perhaps we will consider thanking someone who believed in and encouraged us, and sharing one or more of our faith stories with those whom we want to know us more completely and/or with those who might benefit from exposure to our stories.

Just as important, we can take a fresh look at current challenges in our life. We then can summon enough faith to meet a challenge as an opportunity for growth, personal satisfaction and giving of ourselves to others in new ways or with renewed purpose and fervor. If we face what seems like an insuperable stumbling block to faith forward, maybe it is time to seek reinforcement from someone close, a professional or a support group.

Whether we face an unwelcome or an inviting challenge, it is important to go beyond stuck patterns, discouragement, stereotypes and myths about whether we can consider and accomplish what calls out from deep wells and sparkling cascades of faith within and outside of ourselves. We can say yes. We can start today and persevere tomorrow with or without an inspirational e-mail.

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By Roger Cormier and Sandy Cohen

A friend in Mexico recently wrote: “Since you are bloggers about life – what are the metrics for success/satisfaction at our age? My story is that life consists of three phases: Learning, Earning and Yearning. Each phase has distinct metrics or so it seems to me.

“Getting good grades and mastering the rules was the first phase’s metrics. The bottom line was key in the earning phase. But now that we’re no longer on the achievement wheel, how do we know if we’re getting to where we want to go? Surely, it’s not all tacos and sunshine. I’d like to hear your take on this phase of life. I have questions, but few answers. All I know is that the stuff I used to know is no longer as true as I once thought, and the stuff that counts in life isn’t stuff.”

There is much wisdom in this friend’s experience. After our formative and work years, most of us reach the third phase, which may or may not include paid work. Our friend works part time.

Without directly asking him what he yearns for, we experience him as a person with a unique joie de vivre, and whose choices are not based on age but on personality, family life, spiritual yearning, personal values, and cultural expansion derived from living in a foreign country (Mexico).

Regarding his question about “the metrics for success/satisfaction at our age,” we would encourage him to be clear about his deepest values, yearnings and means of satisfaction, as well as the needs of people and nature in today’s world. Balancing those factors is an evolving process that requires exploration, gratitude, patience and self-acceptance. Reaching out (and inward) for insight and support can make a big positive difference.

Our friend’s yearning is not primarily about stuff but about deeper experiences of what counts for him and his world in his life. As “bloggers about life” as we grow older, and, more importantly, as friends, we look forward to learning more about and supporting our friend’s yearning as well as his explorations, discoveries and affirmations in his third stage of life as it unfolds.

And, as they say in Mexico, “igualmente,” meaning the same goes for you and for us – as we grow older.

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

Here we are at the start of another year. How many years have we been living and how much longer might we live?

People have varied attitudes about these existential questions. Some feel they have lived long enough, and they await their end. Others want to live indefinitely if they retain their physical and mental health, as well as meaningful activities and a support system. Still others want to live in the moment without concern about longevity. What are your feelings about your now and the duration of your future?

Jesus Castillo Rangel (Don Chuy), Mexico’s oldest man at 121 (Yes, 121!) died last month. At 14, he joined the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Married in 1922, he and his wife were together for 90 years until her death in 2012 at the age of 104. Mentally alert as ever, the oldest man in Mexico woke up on the day of his birthday last October, opened his window and breathed in the morning breeze. One of his neighbors said that Don Chuy usually walked around the neighborhood every day. “He’s a strong man, healthy, a good person and very respectful,” said the neighbor.

While most people don’t live past 100 (let alone 120), many of us in current times will live well into our 90’s if not to a centennial-or-beyond birthday. We may have vague feelings about how we want our future to unfold regarding, for example, our health, spiritual life, connection with communities, and contributions to improve the world near and afar.

Is now the time to clarify and decisively act upon those feelings? If not, what are we waiting for? If such feelings and decisions evoke a fear of aloneness, is there someone or a network or group with whom we can share them and welcome their caring input? Before taking any such steps forward, it might help to remind ourselves about all that we are grateful for and proud of in our lives to date. Then it can be one step at a time to add to what is positive and redeeming in our life story.

No matter our current age – 50’s or younger, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. We and our world deserve for us to build upon our past, to make life- and self-affirming changes going forward, and to welcome unplanned opportunities to grow in self-acceptance and solidarity with people close to us and with others in our local and world community. Let’s go for it while the going is good.

Roger-Sandy

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

Now that we have the prospect of living at least 20 to 30 more years than previous generations, how can we prepare for and use those years? Our choices are no longer limited to work, then retirement; good health, then quick decline and death; expanding horizons, then sunset and darkness. Whether we are in our 40’s, 60’s or 80’s, we can choose to grow, contribute and thrive within ourselves, socially, and in a world hungry for what we can offer.

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People of any age can take a fresh look at their bag of tricks, and add a few for opportunities and challenges on the road ahead. Retirement no longer is either/or regarding work or involvement in the community. Health is not solely a function of our genes. The world’s problems are not only for the next generations to solve.

Organizations such as Second Journey (www.secondjourney.org) encourage and gather people who are creatively aging or who are working with and dedicated to such people. This online organization helps aging people find their untapped potential for growth and for social, civic and environmental engagement.

Aging advocates such as psychiatrist Gene D. Cohen suggest such tools as a social portfolio, analogous to a financial portfolio, to build up and diversify interests, activities and involvements for active and satisfying aging, and for the prospect of reduced mobility, energy and social interaction in one’s advanced years. His book, “The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life,” offers some why’s and how’s toward this goal.

Not all people want to continue to work when they reach a financially viable retiring point. For those who avoid change, anything new and different makes them uncomfortable. Some are skeptical toward people who choose new paths and involvements in their later years, and they assume that such joie de vivre is possible only for people who have been lucky to live “the good life.” Security and familiarity remain the top values for some, even if they are bored, bitter and bereft of purpose and people in their lives.

What a shame it would be if we failed to respond to the gift of prospective longer lives with wide-eyed anticipation. Whatever our personal history, we can choose to enrich and deepen our own and others’ lives today and throughout our time to come. Today truly is the first day of the rest of our lives, a good day to revisit our life ahead with fresh eyes.

Roger-Sandy

Sandra Cohen and Roger Cormier

Seniors and younger baby boomers often find themselves torn between wanting to address the big picture of people and planet problems, and getting through days filled with too many tasks, choices and decisions. How can we resolve this dilemma?

Comparing ourselves with people who are featured in the media for chucking a career and starting an amazingly innovative and effective medical, social or environmental program can be very discouraging. Putting ourselves down because we barely get our work and domestic activities done, and cannot even find time to volunteer in our community will make matters worse. Resolving to stop thinking about it may make us feel guiltier.

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We sometimes hear exhortations like “Follow your passion or your heart’s delight and you’ll find your role in the world and your own personal happiness.” Yes, we can pay more attention to what makes us feel good about ourselves and alive to our experience. But how can we be sure that such attentiveness will help reveal who we really are and how we can contribute and make a difference in a world full of so much injustice, suffering and waste of the gifts of the earth?

Talking about it with a professional or personal friend can help. Putting it aside at times can give us much needed relief. However, a good option is to consider a few ways to contribute that speak to our personal values and financial resources. Examples might include:

  • Empower people and communities in situations of poverty, illiteracy, disease or social injustice by making a micro loan to a person or group to help them start a business or resolve a community infrastructure problem (Examples of microfinance organizations: Finca International – http://www.finca.org; Kiva – http://www.kiva.org).
  • Contribute to supporting the education of young people in a third world country (Example of a nonprofit organization that accepts donations for scholarships: Journeys Within Our Community (Cambodia) – http://www.journeyswithinourcommunity.org/sponsor-a-scholarship-student
  • Name in your will one or more nonprofits, whose missions and outcomes appeal to you.

As they say, “Try it, you’ll like it.” It may help you resolve guilt and uncertainty about the nagging question: “What more can and will I do to share my resources and improve the world?” What’s more, you can always add, subtract or change your initial commitments as other needs and opportunities come to the fore in your awareness and your heart.

Roger-Sandy

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

In the words of Desmond Tutu, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.” Why and how do we forgive and free ourselves of pain from our past?

Studies have found that people who forgive are happier and healthier. Yet forgiving can be one of the most gnawing and difficult challenges in our lives. A Gallup poll found that while 94 percent of respondents feel it is important to forgive, 84 percent said they need help to do so.

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It’s easy for most of us to forgive someone who accidentally bumps into us on a crowded bus. It is hard to imagine forgiving someone who has abused, betrayed or left someone bereft of support during vulnerable times. The amount of damage, pain, humiliation and feeling of indignation and powerlessness that such behavior causes naturally adds to the innate difficulty of practicing forgiveness.

Here are some quotes that offer some helpful insight into the process.

Alan Paton: “When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive.” Regardless whether forgiveness benefits the person being forgiven, and without respect to an offender’s remorse or changed behavior, the forgiver can find healing, release and a freer present and future.

Lewis B. Smedes: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Another factor that makes it hard to get off the starting block toward forgiveness is the previous degree of intimacy, trust and perceived loyalty in a relationship.

William Blake: “It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” Violation of such bonds can level us and leave us feeling painfully vulnerable for a long time. But forgiveness is not necessarily synonymous with toleration. If the person shows remorse or attempt at improved behavior, it may be time to forgive the other person and then terminate the relationship.

Forgiveness can release both the offender and the offended to grow in mutual respect and caring. Close, longtime spouses, family or friends often reach the point where a gentle, forgiving reminder is enough to abort or prevent yet another annoying or hurtful behavior.

It is just as healthy and freeing — and sometimes harder — to forgive ourselves, when needed, than to forgive someone else. Chances are that something in our mind, heart, soul, behavior hungers for such a tender look from our forgiving selves. Maybe today we are ready to gaze upon ourselves and/or someone else with such tender forgiveness.

Resources: http://www.theforgivenessproject.com (inspiring stories of forgiveness) and “Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness” by Dr. Fred Luskin (available in hardback, paperback and as an e-book).

Roger-Sandy

Sandy Cohen and Roger Cormier

As we grow older and want to make the most of our boomer and senior years, we can take a fresh look at the various parts of our lives. Many of us retire and then volunteer, travel and read more and/or delve into lifelong or recently emerging passions like spirituality, art, cooking and forms of exercise and relaxation. Such decisions may address the “what, when and where” of our daily lives but not necessarily the “with whom.”

We are fortunate if we have friends with much shared history and mutual support. As we transition from our careers to retirement, we can make new, special friends who can further enrich our lives.

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But then there are people who have tended to take advantage of our loyalty without having done their share of initiating communication with and showing genuine interest in us. We can allow ourselves to feel hurt and resentful that such relationships have been mostly about them, and rarely about us. We also can consider whether to continue investing in them out of unreflective loyalty, or to withdraw our time and energy from them in order to invest more in mutually enlivening friendships.

It is up to us to discern whether such personal histories have any potential for redemption. Can we imagine directly communicating our concerns and receiving a response that shows promise of true friendship going forward? If not, maybe it is time for us to redirect our energy to mutually initiating, vibrant and caring relationships?

It has always been our choice. However, as we grow older, we can give ourselves permission to invest less in those who take rather than give. Looking forward, we can treasure more than ever our precious time and sharing with real friends.

Sandy Cohen, R.N., B.A./Roger Cormier, M.A., M.Th.

  For many of us this year’s Thanksgiving Day was very busy just like previous years. However and wherever we may have celebrated or laid low, it was an occasion to become more aware of and thankful for the delights that we experience from day to day.

   Several years ago we made a private retreat to gain insight and direction for career and life transitions. Among other things, the person facilitating our retreat recommended that we adopt the practice of recording at the end of each day several experiences of delight that we otherwise might not savor nor retain in our memory.

   We were so struck by the potential of this simple practice that one of us acquired a small-size journal and began jotting down usually three delights that came to mind at the end of the day. Whether you live alone, are married or live with a life partner, you can benefit from the recollection, documentation and integration of many special individual or shared moments and experiences that otherwise quickly would fade from your radar.

  Several ongoing benefits come to mind: What better way to end a day than to relish a practice of gratefulness carried over to our general attitude toward what is given to us, sometimes as fruits of our labor and often completely gratis. From time to time we page through some of our delights and are reminded of positive trends that have been developing but perhaps not yet fully recognized nor celebrated.

  Here are a few varied examples from our many daily delights that may ring a bell or two for you:

Delicious sangria and tapas at a newly discovered restaurant; friendly barista; patron who is deaf and mute wrote us the message “Hope, good soul.”

Capturing via camera some aligned, abundant rhododendrons and roses on our sunlit backyard slope.

Successful, harmonious negotiation re a business contract via telephone.

Delightful repartee with sales person in travel store.

Inspiration from TV coverage of terminally ill former exec’s pursuit of a cancer cure for others; and of a Venezuelan orchestra program for young people who are poor.

Delicious dessert of a sweet plum, fresh cherries and fresh-baked biscotti.

A wise advisor’s choice words: curiosity, beginner’s mind, fresh eyes, surprise, our star, enough.

Reminding ourselves that we are actually retired and can create our non-career lives.

  Daily delights can be extremely varied for an individual and very different from one journal writer to another. We all know how easy it can be to dwell on the down side of our daily experience. Does this simple, immediately-rewarding practice appeal to you as a way to build thanksgiving into your daily life and as a balance for your daily downers? If so, give it a try. It takes only a pen, a pad, a few minutes at day’s end on a daily or intermittent basis, and a desire to treat and renew yourself by recognizing and reliving your daily delights.

 

Sandy Cohen, R.N. & Roger Cormier, M.A.

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As we get older, we think about how we want to spend our available time. Some of us decide to make adventure travel or voluntourism a top priority because we want to experience or even contribute to other parts and cultures of our continent and world. Then the question is where, how, when and with whom. Aside from budget limits and other time commitments, the choices are abundant.

Road Scholar (www.roadscholar.org or 1-800-454-5768) features educational and service adventures in North America and on other continents. Examples are Morocco: Melting Pot of Cultures; and a South African service safari to directly monitor leopards and other wild species. Road Scholar is a program of Elderhostel.

Overseas Adventure Travel or “OAT” (www.oattravel.com or 1-800-955-1926) caters to seniors in general and has special bookings for single seniors. They offer land adventures to countries and regions such as Israel, Africa, Peru,Vietnam and India and small ship adventures to regions accessed by rivers and seas like the Nile, Yangtze, Aegean, Adriatic and Antarctic.

Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com or 1-425-771-8303 inU.S.), of guidebook and television fame, offers “back door” trips in Europe from Scandinavia to Turkey. Not necessarily billed as adventure travel, they nonetheless include sites and experiences off the beaten and comfortable path. Although many tour members are retired, they include Baby Boomers, young adults and families with children of college or high school age.

Other programs include Volunteer-Abroad based in New York (www.crossculturalsolutions.org orU.S.1-800-380-4777) and Volunteer Alliance based in California(www.volunteeralliance.org).

People sometimes wonder why seniors would want to journey to exotic and even wild places with only seniors. The same question can be raised about why older people choose to live in seniors-only communities or spend their non-family leisure time with people exclusively in their age range. At one level, one can understand that some people want to be among people whom they perceive to have much in common with them, like getting older, being retired, remembering the era of big bands. 

However, when it comes to adventurous, exploring travel, our most memorable mates include a couple in their 80’s eating up the wonder and wildness of an African safari with people decades younger than themselves. They were in the thick of the action from beginning to end. They did not just observe but communicated with Masai villagers and their children.

It is great fun to learn how other people at various stages of life respond to the sights and sounds of wild animals and fiery sunsets in nature reserves. Many older people go on tours or set up their own travel adventures irrespective of the age range of fellow travelers or completely on their own.

In whatever way you may select your broadening travel experiences and mates, your underlying motivation may include the satisfaction you enjoy and the memories you treasure. Such travel often leads to enriched understanding and feelings of solidarity with previously unknown travelers, wondrous natural settings and people of different cultures.

Some are inspired to get involved in movements for environmental preservation or service to and empowerment of people in need. Adventurous travelers occasionally make friends with one or more travel mates. Those relationships spring from a common spirit and build upon a treasured experience. Such a blessing is precious irrespective of age.