Sunday at the Movies with Ronni
Chained CPI and the Super Committee

Crowdsourcing the TGB Elder Community

It was a long time ago, about six years, that an email arrived from a woman who said she had no stories to tell because her life had been so ordinary. In my response titled (Extra)ordinary Lives on Time Goes By, I ended with this:

”Everyone has dozens of stories, large and small, happy and sad, funny and painful, that shouldn’t be lost because you think your life is ordinary. It is not. Your stories will bring alive times past for your descendants and enrich their lives by knowing the family stories of their ancestors (that’s you someday).

“So let’s say it together one more time: No lives are ordinary.”

That was posted two years before the inauguration of The Elder Storytelling Place and now, after nearly five years of that blog with stories written by dozens of interesting elders, I believe what I said in 2005 even more. I was reminded of it yesterday morning when notification arrived of a comment on a different post – this one from January 2011 titled When Does Old Age Begin?

Lucy, a new reader or one who has not commented before, says she feels that her “life is gone (or a lot of it) and I have no memories, no experience. The time has just gone and I didn't even realize it.” She continues:

”I feel like I missed the boat on everything and that I have been sleeping my way through my life (I mean metaphorically, not being promiscuous) just being a housewife and getting divorced and remarried, dating and such. That is it.

“I have reached 59 years and have nothing to look back on. I had one son, but always feel and know I was not the best mother. Was in a bad marriage and such. No life experience though, I never just did anything, like I read about every one else who is older.

“I regret my past, and that is probably why I am so afraid of getting older. I even just got my driver's license last year at 58.”

(You can read Lucy's entire comment here.)

Whoa. There is a lot going on in those few sentences. On the downside: empty memories, insecurity, fear of aging, ennui, regret. But look at what else: a son raised, learning to drive at an age most people would not attempt it, being a housewife which is so much more that “just.” And all parents know they didn't do everything well.

And I wonder what else Lucy would like to have done that she did not? Sometimes our youthful dreams are overblown (that's why they're called dreams).

When I was in my early teens, I secretly decided that when I grew up I would cure cancer. I was serious about that and held onto it for many years. Please don't laugh. I wanted to make a difference to the world – to which Lucy alludes.

Well, to cure cancer, first you need to like math and science - the particulars of them, not just the oh, wow aspects and that was never going to be me. Plus, one of the things history teaches us is that there are only so many Jonas Salks per generation.

So of course, I disappointed myself. It took a long time – decades - but I eventually learned that we all make differences in other people's lives and if not on such a grand scale as landing a crippled airplane on water saving everyone on board (that's why we have heroes), in smaller ways that are equally great to the people they affect.

And where would the world be if we were not – each one of us – contributing to other people's well-being every day adding up to hundreds, even thousands of ways over a lifetime.

Sometimes we don't even know what good we have done until someone, years later, tells us as has happened to me a couple of times – much to my enormous surprise.

One thing I would suggest is that Lucy spend some time reading The Elder Storytelling Place. There are 1200 stories there now, every one of them written by “ordinary” people about their “ordinary” lives – drama, comedy, tragedy, reminiscence, history, life, birth, death, fears, triumphs, marriage, divorce, sacrifice, successes, failures and laughs – oh, so many laughs.

It is a brave thing Lucy did to leave this comment here among strangers and one of the few things I know for certain about life is that if one person knows, feels or believes something, so do many others.

Lucy is not the only one having these thoughts and I suspect some, like me, have been there and managed to work through it. So some crowdsourcing would benefit a lot of people. Here is what else Lucy wrote:

”I just do not know how to feel and I thought that maybe someone would read through this and offer some words of wisdom on how or what I could do and how to look at my life now.

“As I said everyone, I mean everyone has a life of experiences to look back on, some contribution made by their work and such. If I had that I probably would not mind getting older, and losing my looks and stuff. I could have felt that I had done something worthwhile in this world.

“Well, I am repeating myself now. I hope some one may offer their insight or opinions to me.”

There is a lot of wisdom among readers of this blog. Let's share some of it today.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Roses


Lucy--I am 73 years old. Much of my life is a mystery to me because I don't do a good job of remembering things (no disease - that is just the way my memory has worked over the years). If we were sitting over a cup of tea, this is what I would say to you:

1) Hooray for you on getting your driver's license. It is a first step in changing your life.

2) Whatever you may or may not have done with the first 59 years of your life, you likely have many more years in which to do things. Go out and do!!

3) I am not a big fan of "bucket lists"; but, in your case, I highly recommend that you make one. Perhaps browsing through Ronni's blogs (and others, perhaps) read what others are doing. If anything tickles your fancy, put it on your list.

The list need not comprise "big" things such as seeing the Taj Mahal. Perhaps you always had a secret longing to tap dance...or to help people or animals in one way or another...or to learn that algebra that gave you such a difficult time in 9th grade.

4) Most larger cities have a 2-1-1 service. It is a phone number that a person may call to find the assistance that they may require. The person who answers a 2-1-1 call can also likely help you find free/inexpensive classes, senior centers (with their activities), non-profit organizations who could use your volunteered time, etc. (This may be difficult if you are employed outside your home.)

5) If you are not already in a physical fitness program, I suggest that you start one. Physical fitness adds a whole new outlook to one's life.

At age 70, I started attending my former employer's activity center (it happens to be free to me because, for 19 years, I paid dues; but...there are such centers that in some places are quite inexpensive to the over-50 crowd) and taught myself to swim.

I, who had not ever swum more than 40 feet in my life, now swim 1/2 mile to a mile two or three times weekly. (A secret between you and me: I swim on my back. I haven't developed the coordinated breathing that it takes to swim that far on my stomach. But, hey, I am swimming!)

Good luck, Lucy, and keep in touch.

Ronni--This is one of the many services that you have supplied to us readers. Thank you.

Dear Lucy....Go learn something. You learned how to wonderful. Now go to your local school...perhaps you have free local classes for seniors where you are....and take anything. I'm taking Poetry now and will take Photoshop Elements class next. I discovered at 50 that I love to learn.

I, like you, can remember little of my past. From 1974 on, I kept a journal. Much of what I did then wasn't good stuff, and I find now at 70 I need to forgive myself for many of my actions from those years. I'm doing something about that now every day.

Start a journal of diary, go take an exercise class at your neighborhood Y...they give wavers if you can't afford the classes, drive your wonderful car to a place that needs volunteers. You can really make a difference.

Thanks for giving us a forum, dear Ronnie.

I think I may share Lucy’s sentiments but to the opposite. I view “tomorrow” much as she views “yesterday”. I, on the other hand, wallow in joy when it comes to yesterday. I have been single most all my life and have no children and an extremely small family otherwise. Life experiences in my case do in fact revolve around me in the end, even when they involve others.

There was the time I was trying to nap and a fly was apparently caught between the curtain and the window and buzzing its little head off. After a good thirty minutes of trying to find the little devil I happened to look up and see what I thought was a fly was simply the man across the street trimming his hedges with an electric trimmer.

Then there’s the experience I shared here about getting the remote control and the cell phone mixed up and giving the Comcast lady hell, only to realize that the reason she had nothing to say was because I was talking to her holding the remote control.

And how can I forget as a young boy doing my paper route early in the morning one day and literally falling asleep on my bicycle while coasting down a hill.

Come on Lucy – all those silly little things are the kinds of things we all love to hear about so sit down and share a few, perhaps even the ones that are a bit embarrassing. We ain’t gonna tell!!

One thing I observed many years ago and have applied it to my life all the way along. Some people spend their lives wishing they were somewhere else. Now that doesn't mean it's what Lucy did but I have seen it in others by what they say. I can hardly wait until my son is in school or until this happens or that. That misses out on what is. 59 isn't very old to me. I am 68 (the age my mother got her first driver's license and she had to learn on a stick pick-up truck because that's what my dad had had). I don't think much on what was or will be. I think on what is. Live in today and don't look back on regrets or forward on wishes. Make each day what it can be and don't assume someone else's life is more exciting or anything. We really don't walk in their shoes for the whole package. We only get to live our own and this day, this moment is all we have. I am a big believer in the little moments being the best ones and when I think back on my life what comes to my mind are little vignettes of enjoyment with something like watching pollywogs get legs or a dozen other like memories. Big things just don't seem to me to be what makes up life.

The other key I think is that today is the first day of anything. I had a debate going in another of my blogs (political debate) and he asked-- when does it start? I said today. It always starts today. 59 is a fine time to start. You really just never know what your 60s might hold

Although I'm a writer, my "day job" is teaching college, and I just wanted to add here that I'm always amazed by how strongly my (mostly poor and working-class) students feel about their grandparents. With parents sometimes being flaky or absent, grandparents are the one rock of uncertainty . If for no other reason, record all those little stories so your grandkids, and their kids, can read them someday.

72, retired 7-8 years ago, began volunteering in a friends of the library bookstore, then began managing it. Could not have planned for or predicted the joy this has brought me. Utilizing a lifetime of learning acquired from loving books & spending 1000s of hours in used bookstores to help raise money for my library ($100k last year). Not quite the following by David Viscott - an arguable statement anyway - but close: "The purpose of life is to discover you gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away." Another quote, from Fats Waller: "One never knows, do one?"

Lucy....How about considering becoming a full-time RV'er???
A bit more than 27 years ago, that is what I did. At age 53, just after I had graduated with honors from college, my only home became a motor home. This summer I celebrated my 80th birthday hosted by several women friends at a luncheon in my honor in a nearby fancy restaurant.
My only home is still a Motor Home! There have been only three of these homes on wheels in all these years. I have traveled all over our beautiful country. Been there, done that and now happy to still live in my cozy digs with my cat and my awesome electronic arranger piano keyboard which I play at a local nursing home every Friday morning.....
My life is fun although mostly I just stay home an play with my toys and my cat. My toys are my computer, my keyboard, and my TV.
I plan to outlive my Mom who will celebrate 101 years of life this coming New Years Eve.
We can each in our own way, in our own joy, have great experiences, and no special experiences, and still live fully and happily as long as we choose!

I think the telling phrase is memories "to look back on." To say today is the first day of the rest of your life is so nauseating in its triteness...yet, as with many things that are trite, it is because it contains obvious truth. The ship has indeed sailed on many things we regret not doing.... bungee jumping probably isn't the best thing for an elderly body, for instance. But I think if there are things that are still doable, then by all means, do them now! And the ones that aren't, maybe some new experiences could replace them that would be equally satisfying and exciting. If the fat lady hasn't sang, there is still time! And planning things for the present and future is a lot more fun than looking back and regretting. Hope I don't sound pollyannish or like a cheerleader. Just believe in getting on with it. Lucy could have 20 more years! A lot could be accomplished to fill the pages of her memoirs.

Lucy - how wonderful you have gotten your license!
I am 74 and have had no car since March. I'm on a bicycle again for the first time in about 55 years. The only real regret I have abut no longer driving a car is that I have left the list of ride-givers at my church and have joined the list of ride-takers. You can be a REALLY powerful force for good, and help yourself to feel good too, by offering to help someone get to church, or the grocery store, or the doctor's office, or a local concert, or whatever.
Good luck - Janet

Forgive me Lucy, but I can't resist being facetious. As you age you will remember more and more of the past - sometimes more than you want to. At times when I am not occupied something from my past suddenly pops into my mind. Not always earth shaking things, but ordinary irrelevant things like the name of my 5th grade teacher that I hadn't though of in 80 years. But sometimes the things I remember are wonderful events like the look of joy on my child's face when he/she opened a present that was just what my child wanted.

Lucy, writing your memoirs is a great way to find your past. You may just start with what happened on the year you were born and the narrative will flow. One memory leads to another and soon you find yourself immersed in your childhood and beyond. There will be happy memories and sad ones because that's true in every life.

Sometimes we deliberately bury pain and unhappy events to spare ourselves. But age helps look at those things objectively.

Sure, we know so much more about child rearing than we did when we were young parents so we berate ourselves for not doing better. But we have to forgive ourselves, too. You were in an unhappy space when your son was small and I am sure you did the best you could under the circumstances.

If our children turn out well we can take credit for nurturing them. If they stumble and fall we can blame it on nature. We always have an out. ;-)

Others have made good suggestions. I will just add, don't put off doing what you want to do while you still can. By my 86 year old standard you are in the best time of life and there are many opportunities to make the most of it.

Lucy, wow! Where to start? First of all, congratulations on getting your driver's license. That's wonderful! Driving has always meant independence to me (which will make it hard to give up if/when that time comes).

Regrets, I've had a few (to paraphrase the late Frank Sinatra). Like you, I've lived a pretty ordinary life. There were so many things I wanted to do/be when I was young. However, in my 20s and 30s, the "party scene" somehow ended up as priority #1. Needless to say, that stood in the way of my other dreams and kept me from pursuing my goals. By the time I decided it was time to change direction, I was almost 40. I never had kids, which is O.K. I probably would have been a pretty irresponsible mom, but no one is the perfect parent anyway.

Some great things have happened to me since--and some not so great, including one huge disappointment approx. 10 years ago. But here I am, 7 weeks short of 75, still relatively healthy, mobile, working P/T and remarried for 33 years to a wonderful man (this after 2 divorces and plenty of dating "Mr. S.O. Wrong").

Do you like cats or other animals? I started volunteering for a no-kill cat shelter in January of this year, and it's become almost like a 2nd job at times. I love the shelter kitties, as well as our own two cats. I've met some terrific people, too. Now that you can drive (hooray for you again!), there are lots of opportunities to give back or just to enjoy.

(One thing that I didn't see mentioned above: if you feel really "down" and have for quite a while, it might be a good first step to consider talking to your doctor and/or a counselor.)

I do hope we hear more from you. There's a lot of collective wisdom on this site, and YOU can add to it.

Lucy -- it's never too late -- now that you are "older" you might also have a better idea of what you really like and want and can now go out and have those experiences. Good luck!

Dear Lucy,

Start your day as most of us do...with a visit to Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place..You will be happy you did.

As Ronni advised, read the comments we post here in response to something she writes. We all have different ideas about things and we share our ideas with each other.

Very soon you will feel part of the TGB family and will get quite a few ideas from us that perhaps you can use in your life.

Hope to see your name here with a comment. We already know that you are a good writer by the letter you posted.

You are most welcome and we hope to hear more from you.

Dear Lucy,

It's never too late to be who you might have been.
~ George Eliot, English novelist (1819 - 1880)

Forgive me putting the quote first; I don't mean to be trite or cliche', but that perfectly states something I firmly believe. It took me a number of years to reach the point in my own life that I was able to stop lamenting the things I didn't do; stop wishing I'd done differently; stop living with regrets. We are, too often, our own worst enemy. I think if you showed the courage to get a driver's license, to write and post your letter here, you are far stronger than you realize and thus, can do whatever you choose to do. You can choose to live in the present and not look back; choose to focus on others; choose to be happy where you are (bloom where you've been planted ;-)); choose a hobby, a part-time job, or to be a volunteer. As someone already suggested, you might choose to start reading this and other blogs; then venture the occasional comment and you'll soon have new friends, because many of those bloggers will respond to your thoughts and comments. If you're involved with something/someone/some cause, you'll wake up some morning and find that you no longer have time to dwell on what might have been, because you're too busy with what IS! I, too, hope to see you back here, letting us know things are better.

I just wonder why no one has suggested that there might be a possibility that Lucy is depressed (there could be any number of reasons, including menopause). I have, in the past, been treated for depression, including with meds. I've been in a funk recently (still trying to adjust -- at age 71 -- to figure out what the hell my life is for/about, after a decade of not having a life except for taking care of my mom; tomorrow is the first anniversary of her death).

Decades ago, when I would start to feel pointless and unconnected, I would find a counselor/therapist who deals with helping women to empower themselves. One way to find such a therapist is to search here: Many have sliding scales, and many insurance companies cover a certain number of counseling sessions.

Also, organizations like Jewish Family Services offer sliding-scale counseling -- and you don't have to be Jewish. They also often offer group sessions, and I have always found these groups to be very helpful, as we told each other our stories and fears and hopes and shared common struggles to feel vital and empowered. We learned from each other and sometimes became friends outside of the group.

It's often hard to move forward from a place at which you feel stuck and isolated. Getting help from a professional is a good thing to try.

Here, in this new community, I couldn't find such a group, so I decided to contact a few places that deal with elders and volunteer to lead a peer-to-peer discussion group about life transitions. And I think I have found an organization that is interested. (I am lucky that I have had training to be a study circle facilitator.) And, of course, I also find blogging a great way to both reach out and "reach in."

Oops. That tiny url didn't work. Here's the link to where to find a therapist.

I'm right with Ronni--every life is extraordinary. Think hard on it, Lucy, and you probably will think of someone or something that is better because of you.

If nothing comes to mind right now, know that it will. Perhaps the next pleasant drive with your new license will be an extraordinary experience.

As usual Ronni you have a wealth of readers who have the ability to put their thoughts into words and share their hard-earned wisdom in a few meaningful sentences. Regretting what we did not do is another way to put off doing something today and as you get beyond 60 you realize that it does not matter what that activity is. Yesterday I went to pick up an early meal at a new Chinese restaurant.

The young mother at the cash register had recently arrived from China with her five year old son who was in the restaurant. He was trying to learn to read, practicing on library books in a big box. His mom had trouble pronouncing new English words and couldn't help him much.

While my order was being prepared, I read with the boy and we wound up having a terrific time. I asked his mother if she would like me to help him learn to read. My offer was warmly received. Now I am going to be stopping by the restaurant once a week after school to help him practice reading.

So I say to your reader who is sad about lost opportunities...Forget about it! Begin living with this day. Start building memories and enjoying new experiences, walk through doors you might have ignored. Opportunities will open to you if you are open to them. Doing makes us interesting.

Ronni, this post is very moving and the comments even more so. Thank you and Lucy, indirectly, for making us all reflect upon the beauty of our ordinariness.

you never know when your ordinary,is someones extra- ordinary.
lucy, who knows how much heck you will still raise.
i like to get up and see if i can stir the pot, raise some hackels, have a laugh and in general be a pain in someones neck.

Lucy, your words and the responses move me. Thank you for writing.

One of the big lessons of life is to stop buying certain cultural messages such as "Unless you're a big deal, your life is meaningless." And if you do think your life is meaningless, it's time to do as Lynn says, "begin living with this day". There are many strategies offered here, from writing to RVing, explore and see what engages you.

Lucy, you sound as if you might be depressed. There is no shame in that. Depression makes it hard to get "up" for even the quiet enjoyments of life, so I second the commenters who suggest addressing that first. My wishes for a good life, however you choose to live it.

What wonderful, thoughtful responses! I'm very proud of the TGB community, and please join us, Lucy! You didn't mention if you have had to work outside the home, but each transition is scary at first and usually rewarding later. When I retired 6 years ago, I got vey depressed and it took awhile & some prof. services to see me out of the fear and blues. I, too, now volunteer at an animal shelter & have found it greatly rewarding. Be open to a new thread or two to come into your life as you reach out as you're now doing. We all care & know you can do it, step by step. Very best wishes, ~Kathi

I want to thank, firstly, Ronnie Bennett for putting my story/comment on her blog the way she did. I was so caring and nice the way she did it So, thank you Ronnie, so much.

Secondly, thanks so much to all the people who left their comments and words addressed to me. I have read and reread them all. Thanks you so much to all of you for taking the time.

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