By Gary Hibbs
Theologian Henri Nouwen, a favorite author of mine, wrote a short little book with Walter Gaffney over forty years ago entitled, “Aging: The Fulfillment of Life.” In it, they said that “We believe that aging is the most common human experience which overarches the human community as a rainbow of promises. It is an experience so profoundly human that it breaks through the artificial boundaries between childhood and adulthood and between adulthood and old age. It is filled with promises that it can lead us to discover more and more of life’s treasures. We believe that aging is not a reason for despair but a basis for hope, not a slow decaying but a gradual maturing, not a fate to be undergone but a chance to be embraced. We, therefore, hope that those who are old, as well as those who care, will find each other in the common experience of aging, out of which healing and new life can come forth.” They speak of the primary importance of older adults “as our teachers, as the ones who tell us about the dangers, as well as the possibilities in becoming old…to, show us that aging is not only a way to darkness but also a way to light.”
I believe this captures much of the reason that Riderwood is such a vibrant community, filled with light. Just last month we had another panel session with residents and a group of students from the UMBC Erickson School of Aging. The residents share what it’s like to get older, particularly in a setting like Riderwood, and the students get to ask questions, which results in wonderful dialogue. Every time we have these classes, the students are, to use a phrase I hear quite often afterward, “blown away” by how their negative stereotype of aging as simply a negative decline is positively transformed. They hear and see hope and promise for growth and service through our resident stories. Powerful.
Surely, aging has its difficult aspects. Yet, there is so much richness to be embraced, and I am so grateful for the residents who choose to embrace the possibilities. And this is often in the midst of challenging circumstances. As older adults, you teach us all in word and deed how fulfilling every stage of life can be. Thank you, residents, for that gift.