Cranky, stubborn, senile, helpless, incompetent, sedentary, reclusive. And thus, irrelevant.
The list of unflattering stereotypes goes on for those in the evening of life, according to Mary Anne Ingenthron, a member of Davis’ Active Older Adult Discussion Group.
“We live in a world where we place a lot of emphasis on productivity — on work, physicality,” she said. “As people retire, the attitude in our culture is that they’re worthless: ‘Get them out of the way, they have nothing to contribute.’
“That’s being exaggerated today with the rapid pace of technology. We all have the experience of 5-year-old grandchildren knowing technology better than you do.”
But there’s a productive force, a “conscious aging movement,” looking to neutralize this perspective. The definition of senior life is reviewed thoroughly by the Active Older Adult Discussion Group, and the conclusion is opposite to decrepitude.
The ongoing discussion — often taking place at the Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St. — offers instead an ethos of acceptance, wisdom and endless possibilities for the aged. The local seniors banded together with this mentality in late 2011.
Since then, the group’s members have been inspired to embark on individual creative endeavors — from painting and writing, to pottery and more. One of them is 76-year-old Lyle Seeband, who refers to his retirement as the best portion of his life.
What’s he doing in his golden years? “Too much, as a matter of fact,” he said with a hearty laugh.
Seeband, a longtime instrumental musician, began seriously studying voice only about a year and a half ago, about the time of the group’s inception. He improved his singing abilities by joining the Sacramento City College Choir.
On May 27, 2012, he was invited to perform with the local choir for Memorial Day in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. After nearly 75 years of ignoring his vocal potential, he found himself in a prestigious music venue — receiving a standing ovation.
Seeband’s story of igniting passion, though more dramatic than most, is not unique among the group. Nearly all of the members have in their own way connected with new and old interests.
Any skeptics of the senior collective’s zeal have only to look toward people like Ingenthron, who has taken many Sacramento City College digital art courses, giving her a strong affinity for Adobe Photoshop and book design.
Or the commitment to memoir writing of 80-year-old Robert Smith, who already has a hefty collection of stories composed.
Or even the studies of clinical psychology, 146 college credits worth, pursued by Yolanda Reina Guerra. “I like to give advice, but I don’t think anybody takes it,” she said, stirring a chuckle out of a room of her peers.
A principal post-retirement pursuance for MariLyn Brinton, 85, has been the Active Older Adult Discussion Group itself. She was the originator, and now hosts meetings on the second Thursday of each month with assistance from Ingenthron.
“We have a lot of fun, don’t we?” she said to a unanimous affirmation. “We tell jokes. We try to stay on top of the issues affecting seniors. … Health is always an issue, but that’s not all of it.”
The discussion group’s conversational territory was recently condensed to the themes present in “From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older,” by authors Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald Miller.
“It was so wonderful,” Brinton said. “I underlined just about every page, it seemed like. It provides us a great structure.”
For a group full of members with a proven eagerness for the new, a book that champions the introduction of adventure and experience into the aging process was a perfect guide for their activities.
It inspired reflective exercises; life reviews that are quietly done during meetings. Ingenthron said it is meant to impart lessons about passing on a legacy, not just what each person has earned, but what they have learned.
And, most importantly, it’s intended to influence each member as they “live their last years with serenity, purpose and compassion,” Ingenthron explained.
While there’s no guarantee the stigma associated with old age will ever fade, it’s clear that the spirit behind this “conscious aging movement” is no closer to doing so itself.
“Part of it’s about a culture change,” Ingenthron said. “We need to change the paradigm. We want elders to be respected more, but we’re also aware that we have to earn that respect.”
To learn more about the Active Older Adult Discussion Group or to inquire about attending a meeting, contact Joan Tuss at 530-757-5588 or [email protected].
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett