It's almost crazy to suggest this, I know. We are all so busy, rushing everywhere every day. And reaching out to an older adult is one more thing on our schedule. How can you find 10 extra minutes to give to, gasp, yourself? This is something I personally still struggle with. I make my appointments back to back more often than not, and when one thing spills over into the next, it's the opposite of a 10-minute cushion that I am left with. That's why I find it important to schedule into my calendar a 10-minute cushion BEFORE every time I call my grandma on the phone or attend a storytelling session with my older adult buds.
It's different for different people, but for me, it helps when I take a walk. The time I walk to the storytelling group is when I clear my mind of all my other concerns or responsibilities from the day, and quiet my heart to receive whatever it is that the group will offer me in the next hour. After that hour, more often than not, I find myself returning to my personal concerns or responsibilities with fresh eyes. Sometimes my older adult buds' stories may offer a specific solution to something I am struggling with; without exception every time the stories offer me hope and motivation that it is possible to come up with a solution.
This tip is inspired by the moment I read a personal blog post by one of our volunteers, Jen McGhee, especially this part: “The Best Day of My Life So Far provides a place and a space where people across generations can connect on a deeper level that can be tricky to find in our super busy, hyper-productive society, especially for older adults. For an hour each week, we get to come together to laugh, write, and share stories about our human experience or whatever happens to be of interest to us that day. Around the same time that Best Day came into my life, and partially influenced by the organization, I made the decision to stop letting my busy life get away from me and rededicate myself to spending quality time on a regular basis with my grandma.”
People who volunteer with The Best Day of My Life So Far program come from all walks of life, from teenagers to people who are proud older adults themselves, with different personalities, interests and backgrounds and the most dedicated and passionate ones have one thing in common. They tend to be the busiest people, with great careers, social lives and other interests and responsibilities. Counter-intuitive, right, that the people with the least time to spare give others the most time? Besides sitting with our older adults to hear and record their stories every week, Jen also works behind the scenes on Best Day’s fundraising efforts, while balancing a demanding full-time job, fun life, and takes art history and ceramics classes after work. I am so grateful for Jen not only as a volunteer but as a friend.
Growing up, my two favorite places were the home of my grandparents, Gramagee & Grampagee (a hybrid of gram/p and our last name, McGhee, which inexplicably lost the H when combined) & Aunt Ellen and the library. Time spent with them in their old Victorian home and reading made my young world go round. I was the kind of kid who'd trail behind my mom in the store, tears running down my face as I finished the last pages of a particularly poignant story. From conversations with my grandparents to books to documentaries to podcasts and radio shows, I became enamored with the ability to experience another's narrative.
I've spent the past few years reflecting on this power of storytelling as a medium to transform self, others, and society as a whole. One night, while having one of these introspective moments, I simultaneously decided to research volunteer opportunities. On the first page of the first website I went to, Storytelling Facilitator for The Best Day of My Life So Far was listed. Up until that moment, I had no idea such a thing existed and was intrigued by the serendipity of it. I emailed Benita right away to express my interest and heard back from her almost immediately.
After our initial conversation, I did some research on Best Day and in keeping with the theme of 'bests', discovered that my best friend from middle school, Cara Scharf, was on the Board of Directors and head of the Development Committee. When I mentioned the connection with Cara to Benita during our first phone conversation, she responded that she was literally supposed to be on the phone with Cara at that exact moment and had to call her as soon as we got off of the phone. While we laughed about the serendipitous connection, we decided to confuse Cara by having me send her a text out of the blue to tell her that Benita would call her soon. From the get-go, things clicked and the energy within the organization was great.
I've been working with the group for three months now and feel grateful for the existence of Best Day and for the opportunity to work as a facilitator and development officer. Two of my overarching goals in life are to effect social change on a macro level and create opportunities to share our humanity on a personal level. Best Day accomplishes both of these in a real and lasting way. Each week, I am blown away by the words shared by the older adults. The depth of beauty, insight, and pure poetry that comes from a sheet or two of paper exquisitely written in the span of 30 minutes is stunning. One of the stories that sticks out from our most recent session was a story about parakeets. Who knew that a three minute short story about a group member's children's pet birds could leave you with tears in your eyes?
The Best Day of My Life So Far provides a place and a space where people across generations can connect on a deeper level that can be tricky to find in our super busy, hyper-productive society, especially for older adults. For an hour each week, we get to come together to laugh, write, and share stories about our human experience or whatever happens to be of interest to us that day. Around the same time that Best Day came into my life, and partially influenced by the organization, I made the decision to stop letting my busy life get away from me and rededicate myself to spending quality time on a regular basis with my grandma; there is no one else like her on earth and as the old song says that she lovingly sings to us time and time again, we belong to the mutual admiration society. I'm excited to be a part of Best Day and look forward to watching our organization grow and impact the lives of countless older adults and their communities.
… And below is the parakeet story that inspired Jen’s personal story, of course ;)
Adam and Eve parakeets, the children’s intro to the wild life.
Yes she henpecked him
At night he would pick the lock on the cage, ease out of the cage cove
Out he would fly-
He hung out all night
Day in and day out
She always squaked, squabbled, nagged
And cleaned his feathers
Each night, he made his grand escape
Before returning home in the morning to his cage
He, Adam, would fly to each room
And pick our hair, our cheek
And wake us for the new day
Then Adam returned home to his henpecked environment
This ritual continued for almost a year
Our family commented one day,
One day, we are going to find Eve, flattened out
And Adam will be out of his misery
And then, it happened
One night, Adam and Eve, both out of the cage, walking on the living room floor and conversating
She fell over and died
The next day the children shoe-boxed her, buried her in the backyard facing the kitchen window
Adam stood duty on the kitchen window facing Eve’s grave
Never moved or ate anymore food-
Just looked out daily, without movement
And one morning, Adam lay on the kitchen floor, dead of a broken heart
A henpecked man does not mean an unhappy man if she’s the Love of his Life.