Jan 27 2012

Wanted: Aging Role Models

This week Toronto artist Meri Collier, whose beautiful line drawings of older women grace a few pages of the book, sent me the link to a 4-minute video featuring Maia Helles, a 95-year-old former Russian ballet dancer. It’s a lovely tribute to a woman who clearly lives by the dictum of use it (or should that be “move it”?) or lose it…

And it reminded me of another inspirational woman who seemed not to let growing old interrupt her rich, creative way of being in the world.

I only got to know Doris Shadbolt during the last few years of her rich and extraordinary life, but she left an indelible impression on me and remains a role model for how I’d like to live out the end of my own. Curator, writer, philanthropist, gracious host, inveterate traveler, and recipient of the Order of Canada, she had enormous grace, intelligence, energy and spirit. Although her physical capacities diminished in her later years, making movement and therefore travel more challenging, her frailties were never the focus of her conversation; she remained completely engaged in the world of art and the art of the world until the day she died. Even though she’s been gone now for seven years, I think of her often and the impact she continued to have on people well into her 80s.

Are there any things that you imagine you’ll stop doing once you get to be a certain age?

Which aspects of aging do you genuinely appreciate in yourself or others?

Can you think of examples you’ve experienced of the phenomenon noticed by researchers that older people are better at managing their emotions?

Among the older people you know, who do you find the most inspirational? Why?

Reading the pieces in I Feel Great About My Hands, do any of the contributors strike you as likely role models for aging? Which one(s) and why?

Can you think of any older people whose ways of resisting or dealing with the aging process serve as cautionary tales — roads down which you don’t want to travel?

What’s your favourite memory of the parent, grandparent or other older role model to whom you feel or felt the closest?

How would you like the young people in your life to describe you to their friends?