The Importance of “Place” As We Age

Place is our home, school, where we work, and if we are religious, where we worship. 

Apartment living, which I did for my first 18 years, does not automatically mean Place as I intend. Place is where a “community” is formed. I have written previously about community and will write more. Still, place without community is just a place, not the Place that I believe is essential to a better aging experience. My family lived in apartments, and the 8 of us were always in tight quarters, so I know it was never a Place for me. 

Place without community is a form of isolation, not a weapon to aid our battle against aging. In fact, it is a force contributing to one’s demise. So, what about living in our own home or a single dwelling? Almost everything about living in and being responsible for a single dwelling will eventually become problematic. Even with many houses on the block you live on, there is no assurance that a community exists. Lenette and I have lived in many places, and only once did a small community exist. In that instance, there were only three homes. The families within them came close to my definition of community, and we all benefited.

Does living with one’s own family make for community? Maybe and maybe not. Many families are dysfunctional, hierarchical, and ruled with an iron fist. How is this like anything we call “community?”

Even if we consider our eventual need for caregivers, will our family and those we must live with be overzealous in their care for us, or will they not care, do too little, or do it with attitude? Aging takes away our freedom to care for ourselves. If we live long enough, we cannot avoid becoming like a baby in a crib. 

We will die, but if we are alive, we must fight this eventuality, and “Place” is one of our weapons in the battle to live while still alive. “Revel” is our community; we know we are fortunate to be here.


A Battle to Fight

As I see it, aging is a fight. Not a conflict we win, but one which we can seriously delay its eventual outcome. Any suggestion that aging is a pleasant journey, as is sometimes put forth by those in their 40s and 50s, is pure speculation bordering on fantasy. How can aging be a pleasant and looked-forward-to experience when most of how we have lived can no longer be lived?

As for me, I must fight and delay to my benefit what is “around the corner.” I need not elaborate on what aging means to those that are aging. We give up most of what we enjoyed in our youth and even middle age. We lose strength and agility and may feel our old injuries return. Simply put, we are not what we were. I am certainly not what I was.

Does this mean giving up and into the inevitable? Unarguably, the “end” is unavoidable. Yet, if we live each day to the fullest, we might delay the inescapable last breath for a considerable time. I firmly believe this because it is my experience, not my “theory.”

While I act on this conviction to live and be in ways I’ll describe in following essays, Lenette and love are the primary reasons I am alive today. Still, what I will write about are also strong contributors. During my preparations for my talk on April 3rd at the Aging Conference, I have begun to fully understand the importance of these other factors.

The first of these factors is “place.” Place is one of the weapons I believe are necessary to fight aging. Place is not just where we live; it includes the community that surrounds, supports, and shapes us.

We cannot give up—Fight the fight to stay alive—We have the weapons


Socialize to Stay Alive

It is now well past three years since Lenette and I sold our home and moved into “Revel,” an apartment complex for seniors. We are happy in our 4th-floor apartment with a patio in full view of the Sierras and Mt. Rose, facing south and west, including fabulous sunsets and storms coming over the mountains. Here, for the first time, we live with people of or near our age, an entirely new and different experience for us. 

We know nothing of “old and retired” since this is so foreign to us, but we are professional observers of people’s behavior. This, perhaps more than anything else, helps us succeed in better understanding “old age.”

Among the residents here, couples are relatively few. Most here are singles, the majority of whom are women. Overall, the population is comprised of former professionals, including teachers, executives, and entrepreneurs. Generally, all here are well-educated.

Many appear to mix with others as we do at meals and activities. Yet, some remain islands unto themselves. These individuals and couples choose to refrain from joining with others. Occasionally, they’ll sit and mix with various people without forming attachments. This I consider a lost opportunity.

I’m not playing with words when I say socialize to stay alive. Socialization is serious stuff. I’m hopeful this essay will give many individuals, historical loners, and newbies the push to break into another’s space. I maintain that socializing is a must-do for every aging person.  Being old is not an experience one seeks; for some, it happens even before they reach their seventies. Rarely, if ever, is this a joyful experience. How can anyone who has been an active participant in living believe that giving up skiing, biking, scuba diving, work, and other much-loved activities is a cause for being happy? Aging sucks, period.

I firmly believe it is important to socialize and listen to the stories others tell. Share your story, too, and give of yourself and allow yourself to be given to. Another thing one must do as one ages is to get a “job.” Take on activities as you once did your work and share that enthusiasm with others. The payback is better health, better feelings, and a better attitude. What more do you want? What more can you expect?


Everyone, Everywhere?

A dear friend, a successful administrator and former executive of a large corporation, asked, “why don’t you carry your message on dialogue to everyone?”

I asked for more information about what she meant. She was thinking of “everyone, everywhere.” So, the more I pressed her, the more I realized that she thought of each person as an island unto themselves and that my message should be directed to those islands.

I immediately thought of Anarchy, where each person is their own leader.  Impossible, in my opinion, because headless, we do not exist. A leader is essential, vital, and absolute to a group, including family, the teacher in school, the owner/boss at work, etc. Yet the issue is not that leadership must exist but that the leader must create the best possible environment for their followers to thrive and to be more of themselves.

Here is the rub. From the beginning of hunter groups to this day, most leaders are responsible for the environment they and their followers live in. Family is the foremost of those environments and likely the most important one to how we grow and mix with the world.  Still, I know through considerable experience that the growth of the individual into being more their own person and having their own voice is doable. This demands a leader who nurtures those they lead to be as much themselves as they are capable of. 

No one fools anyone for long. Even those seriously damaged by their history are capable of change and growth. These are not wishful or idle words. I’ve watched it happen during my considerable experience with children, staff, professionals, and entrepreneurs.

When individuals feel safe, heard, and understood, they open themselves up to change. When they are forced to be closed up by their earliest leaders, it’s not cast in concrete. Those who have learned negative behaviors can unlearn them. Change can and will happen if conditions and events promote it. 


Power for Benefit

I write of these two because they are similar in many ways, and, incidentally, as of this writing, they both live in Florida near Miami.

One was a dentist, and the other a chiropractor. Both were committed to their profession and were excellent practitioners. I worked with the dentist in New York and the chiropractor in Miami to help their staffs function as family team members and to eliminate any semblance of a hierarchy in their offices. 

The dentist was and remains a student of life and what it demands of us. This was equally true of the chiropractor. Both were superb students and never resisted where I took them relative to relationships and dialogue. Neither ever knowingly misused their power and, in fact, fought abusive power when it entered their personal lives. Perhaps they did not see themselves this way, but they would not tolerate those who used power to benefit themselves. I was a witness to this.

Both fed me so well that I still smile when I think of the wonderful food they set before us. The dentist made sure we all had the best of New York’s Deli lunches. The chiropractor made reservations well in advance so we could dine on Rock Crab, a true delicacy in Miami, or huge corned beef sandwiches at Miami’s best delis. 

Working with them and so many others like them was uplifting. Although power in a leader’s hands is too often misused and woefully misunderstood, many (certainly all I worked with) wanted their power to benefit their family, staff, and clients. They employed me to teach them how to elevate them all to the level of being “givers,” not “takers and users.”


A Different Story

I am a former leader, student, and teacher of power, leadership, and relationships. Now, I am a student and participant in the aging process. The former had nearly 80 years of experience and 35 years of study. My study of aging over the last few is a result of simply my being there.  I know and strongly believe in what I studied and worked at, and I loved every minute of it except the travel, which was ultimately why I stopped working. Aging is a different story.

I am 96 years old and somewhat surprised at still being around. I am also pleasantly surprised at the clarity of my mind and memory and that I feel fine. I have no aches or pains, sleep well, eat well (but less), and work out a half hour each day. I honestly believe the reason for much of my well-being is Lenette. I refuse to leave her. After 69 years of being together, we are one, and there is no Sy without Lenette. Ain’t love grand?

I am a well-trained student of people, particularly relationships between those in power and those dependent on them. And here I mean, child to parent, student to teacher, worker to a boss, etc. As I see it, the sadness is that the problems between power and those dependent on the person wielding it are getting worse, not better. 

One example is the modern way of communicating with each other. Is texting really the best way to accomplish this compared to being face-to-face, present, listening, understanding, and confirming? Note that agreeing has nothing to do with what I suggest. Are we losing much by not engaging in the art of dialogue? Sadly, I, for one, think so.

Aging will happen—living means this to you, me—we do not give in


The Fighter

He was not just a chiropractor but a student, teacher, leader, and spokesperson for his profession. While I knew him, he never gave up the fight to have his profession recognized as a legitimate answer to the many medical problems people face everywhere.

We met when he invited me to speak to a group of chiropractors about staff issues. Once again, I discovered that the problem they had in their offices was the same one I found in other professional offices. Leadership, I discovered, is the problem in all relationships, particularly where there is an obvious head that holds power. Where does this not exist?

I have written endlessly about my ignorance of this fact. My being a leader for a quarter century did nothing to make me aware of my power and influence over others. It took working with professionals and entrepreneurs to see this. The man I speak of saw me as the one to assist his professional brethren in realizing this truth. He knew that employees with effective leadership could better meet the needs of their patients. This man was way ahead of his time.

I became a student and teacher of power, but he knew about this relationship defect before I met him. Working with him was a pleasure because he was passionate and believed so strongly in the worth and value of chiropractic. If he is still alive, he is still fighting to bring his profession to greater acceptance. 

I know what I know—I know the body, the fight—I will not back down


The Professionals’ Professional

He was a professional and an entrepreneur. He sought the best of everything, from his practice to the seminars that he put together. I lectured for him in various venues, including a week-long trip down the Colorado River from top to bottom. His programs were classy; he brought in top speakers, fed great food, and never interfered with my or other speakers’ philosophy. His way was to do it big and to do it right. The professionals that enrolled in his many programs came for this.

His main hobby was flying a glider; of course, I was up for that experience each time we came together. He gave me the wheel every time, and we would fly with the uplifts and the downdrafts. I loved every second of flying and his coaching me. He enjoyed what he did and what he created for others. He was definitely his own man and, no question, his own voice.

I was the prime lecturer on our trip down the Colorado River, holding a session in the morning and another in the early evening. I love to teach, and with good participation from my professional students, it’s always fun and games to me, even if the subject we discuss is heavy, as it so often is.

This is an example I will always remember. I was lecturing to a mixed bag of professionals, discussing the leadership role and that manipulation by the leader of any sort ultimately does not work and that “Behavior Modification” is a wasted technique with people close to the leader. Two psychology professors jumped to their feet and challenged me. They obviously thought differently and said so. I did not back down and challenged their belief in the process.

This was typical of what this professional did for other professionals who desired to be the best. He was a powerful presence who, nevertheless, loved dialogue.


Aging—The Golden Years?

I’m 96 and doing well, so I have something to say about aging. I hope whatever I write is valuable to those already a member of my population or moving into it.

Regardless of what is said and written about “those golden years,” I don’t think so. I think “old age” sucks. So much takes place when you get there—and “there” can be a vast territory. It may happen in the mid-sixties or seventies and, for sure, the eighties and up. 

Almost all of us who are “there” must give up skiing, biking, hiking, and sports activities in general.  If we work out (as I did) regularly, our routine changes or diminishes; if one is not determined, it goes away completely. None of this is voluntary, but it happens because we cannot do what we did yesterday. On the other hand, my being in excellent shape certainly contributes to my sticking around. Frankly, I think it has mostly to do with Lenette.  Love is that strong.

We live in a senior complex that is like a resort for people 55 and older. Aging brings with it a variety of disabilities. Most here are in their 70s and 80s, and many have infirmities that have made living in their own homes too demanding. Many are single, for having lost a spouse is probably the best reason for being in a facility such as this. And many of the residents are here because their older children live in Reno, so a support system is immediately available for them.

As I’ve written before, leaving our home on the river was difficult. Not quite traumatic, but close. We had never been with people our age, and this has been an entirely new experience for us. Very quickly, we have learned what “old” means.   

I am getting old—What does this mean now to me? –A challenge, for sure