In November 2004, I took a one-day workshop that lasted eight-years (and still counting).
The previous December, my mother had died after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. It had been a devastating experience for me to see “the rock of Gibraltar” of my life suffer. She had been an independent person who raised five children through a lot of hardship without complaint. At work, she and one other secretary managed the vocational department of the local high school, keeping things organized for 21 teachers and all the students who wandered into the department office. I was haunted by the memories of her last years which were marked by overwhelming anxiety, severe hearing loss, and a failing ability to handle the simplest of tasks.
Also, during the previous fall, my oldest entered her freshman year of college. Although I knew that was a positive development for my daughter, I knew I would be needed less and less by my children in the future.
At this point, I read the workshop description in the Brown Learning Community catalog for “The Middle Years: A Woman’s Rite of Passage, An Opportunity for Choices”. It began “The prerequisite for this workshop is to be female and middle-aged (40-79) so that you can bring your knowledge and experience to our exploration of possibilities for today and the tomorrows.” Hmmm, I thought—that’s the first time I heard the age of seventy-nine described as middle-aged! The workshop sounded promising so I signed up.
Anita Berger, psychotherapist and adult educator, led the workshop of about twenty women who ranged from the age of forty to their late seventies. It was a very interesting day that covered so much material, that we chose to eat our lunch at our desks while the workshop continued.
A few weeks later, I received a call from Anita, saying she was organizing a group, that would continue studying and discussing the topics covered in the workshop. I signed on to a study group that met every three weeks for two hours.
A small group of us convened in January 2005. The composition varied a bit in the first year. After about a year, a woman joined the group who hadn’t attended the workshop. The group of five women, gelled into The Women’s Study Group, led by Anita Berger, who has kept us focused for eight years.
Let me tell you a little bit about the members. One member is an 85-year-old active writer who still attends yoga class. The rest of us, now in our late fifties, include a musician/music teacher, two businesswomen, and me. And, of course, Ms. Berger, a very intelligent, progressive, and strong-willed adult educator who won’t let me tell you her age. Let’s just say she is an inspiration to all of us.
Over the years, we have discussed books and articles on many factors that affect the development and quality of life of all human beings regardless of age. I am struggling to describe all the different topics we read and discussed over such a long period in a short post. Here are a few: neuroplasticity of the brain, nutrition, exercise, genetics, and environment. But the theme that came up over and over again was the importance of relationship. Relationship is very important to the development of a newborn baby. Relationships remain important to maintaining health throughout life including into middle- and old-age.
As I reflected on our studies, I realized that Anita Berger had created a living laboratory of relationship; six women helped each other through all the typical challenges of life as they read, talked, and learned together.
I plan to discuss topics that affect our quality of life in this blog. Readers are invited to share their knowledge and experiences so that we can all continue to learn. ####
The Thai Elephant Conservation Center
Here are some photographs that I believe show the power of relationship. Click on one of the photographs to see the slideshow.
I took these photographs a few years go at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, which I visited with my family. We rode elephants bareback for two days in an educational program at TECC. The center raises funds to care for the elephants at the center as well as other elephants that live in protected forests.
These pictures show two underweight working elephants that had been brought there to be cared for before giving birth. One baby elephant was just a few days old and the second was a few weeks old.
At the time we visited, the TECC hospital was caring for elephants maimed by land mines. The Thai Elephant Conservation Center was a really special place that I will never forget.
Here is a link for the TECC: Changthai.com