Community Meetings

A year ago last August, we started having a “Meeting with Matt” each month, as a way of having an informal forum for anyone who wants to attend to share what’s on their minds with me. I can’t believe a year has gone by already! Over the last year, we’ve discussed topics ranging from building security and history, to ageism and social accountability. No topic has been off the table, and as I look over the last year I see a mix of achievements and things that still need to be done. More than anything, though, I see a list of priorities that we have created together in open dialogue. I can’t imagine a better way of ensuring that the priorities for Homewoods never diverge away from the priorities of the people who call it home.

I’ve been very pleased to see how many people attend, but I know there are a lot of folks who can’t make it, or maybe don’t feel like coming. That’s ok too – Robin has diligently taken notes for me each month, and we do our best to make sure that anything newsworthy that comes up gets communicated through official channels. I also try to do my very best to bring concerns that individuals bring me throughout the month to the meetings to discuss with the entire community. And if it isn’t something that needs to come to the attention of the entire community, I still have an open door policy and welcome one-on-one conversations.

Over the last year we’ve talked together, debated, shared jokes and stories, and even sang around the Christmas tree. This month, I thought it’d be fun to celebrate the anniversary with a little bit of a party. We can still talk about serious topics, of course, but I’m always on the lookout for a reason to eat something sweet and have some fun. I hope to see you then!

Declarations and Duties

We’ve made it to summer at last! This month, I’d like to turn again to a quote from an author who makes frequent appearances in these messages, Mark Twain:

“Many public-school children seem to know only two dates: 1492 and the 4th of July; and as a rule they don’t know what happened on either occasion.”

I can see why public-school children, or anyone, might be a little confused about the meaning of those dates in the context of American history. Columbus did sail to the Western Hemisphere in 1492, but didn’t even come to North America. He wasn’t the first or the last to visit, and he was distinctly different from the colonizers who eventually formed the cultural foundation of our nation. Similarly, July 4th was the date our thirteen original colonies declared their independence in 1776, but the Continental Congress actually declared legal separation on July 2nd of that year, and the war for independence wasn’t really over until 1783. From there, it took another six years to set up governance as we know it today. 

What strikes me about both of these dates is that while both are significant milestones, they underlie a process of change and development that are still relevant today. Our nation is built on a five-century tradition of immigration. While there are tragic and long-lasting negative impacts in this history, we can also look back and see that around halfway through, people were bold enough to stand up and say,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

What a statement! I am captivated by the idea that we chose to declare our freedom by first declaring our equality under God, accepting that there are rights that no individual, community, or government should stand in the way of. The acceptance and implementation of this philosophy has been a laborious project for every generation since its inception, but it remains a continuing beacon of what we strive to be. 

Mr. Twain might be correct in stating that we tend to not know what happened on the above dates, but I would hope that we all have at least an inuitive understanding of the magnitude of what we’ve inherited. It’s our responsibility to hold on to it and improve on it if we can, for the good of ourselves and future generations.

Disrupting Ageism?

This month, I need your help. Back in mid-May, Annie and I went to a conference for all of the nonprofit and mission-based housing and care providers in Oregon, and the theme was, “Life on Purpose.” We attended all sorts of education sessions and networking events, but the one that has been stuck in my mind was a session entitled, “Disrupting Ageism.”

The meat of the session was a good reminder of how prevalent negative ageist ideas are in our society – ideas that mistakenly relate biological age with death, disease, disability, dependency, decline, etc. We know that aging does not automatically equal these things, yet our persistent stereotypes encourage us to treat older all older adults as if they are a homogenous group suffering from a universally negative, progressive condition. Under this scheme, we perceive the ideal of “aging well,” as being measured by how much physical capacity a person retains as they age. 

I’m all for debunking these degrading and depersonalized views of aging in favor of something better, but where I need some help is in figuring out what that “better” should be. The theme given by the presenter at that session, and echoed through the rest of the conference, is that we should be looking towards old age as a time of purpose, and as providers, we should be looking for how we can enable that purpose in the people we are serving. 

I don’t take any issue with anybody finding and fulfilling their purpose, but I felt uncomfortable with how active a role they suggested I (and the rest of the attendees) should take in enabling that process. The current paradigm of enabling a “purposeful” life is to engage people in activities and “bring them out of their shell.” But who am I to assume a person is in a “shell,” and why should I take a role in “bringing them out,” as if my permission and effort are required?

A Call to Action

So this is where I need your help: I want to understand this from your perspective. The biggest mistake people make when attempting to correct social injustices is to apologize and move on to a different paradigm, without taking the time to actually have a conversation about it. So what do you think? Do you feel like your life has purpose and do you feel like that purpose is affected (positively or negatively) by your age? Do you feel like we do things in our community that help or hinder your ability to realize and achieve your purpose? Could we be doing things better?

I don’t often admit it, but I’ve actually been aging for the last few decades at the same pace as the rest of you, and I hope to continue aging for many more years to come. I find that I have a vested interest in this discussion, not only because I care about you and I care about justice, but also because I’m working through these ideas for myself as my life continues to change and evolve. So let’s have a discussion about aging!

May Message

According to Ovid, May is named for the maiores, which is Latin for ancestors. It’s fitting, then, that May is the month traditionally chosen to honor our ancestors by cleaning cemeteries and adorning graves with flowers. We choose especially to honor our fallen soldiers who died in the service of our nation on Memorial Day. 

Though it is now over a century old, I still find meaning in John McCrae’s famous poem, In Flanders Fields.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row, 

That mark our place, and in the sky, 

The larks, still bravely singing, fly, 

Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We are the dead; short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe! 

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high! 

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

There is an incredible depth to the gentleness of May echoed in the poem. McCrea’s poem describes a vision of sacrifice and loss contrasted with new life and growth. Similarly, May’s longer days, warm afternoons, and blooming flowers show us that same taste of new life, while the foggy, misty mornings and crisply cold evenings remind us of what we are leaving behind. While the poem ends in somewhat of a threat, the admonishment is to take up the torch – to honor those who have gone before, and to protect the new life that will come after.