They are a hospitable, open, positive and friendly lot the Americans that I have had the joy of meeting so far. On Tuesday (yesterday!) I took the Metro train out towards the National Cathedral to meet Dr Gay Hanna. She is the Director of the National Centre for Creative Aging working alongside a pioneering medic Dr Gene Cohen. This is tremendously innovative work on the edges of the ageing field – most funding organisations want to support projects that extend life rather than improve the quality of it. The work and people were impressive -I loved the energy and enthusiasm for art and older people. You can learn more about their work at www.creativeaging.org . They are part of a growing interest in health and the arts. There is a great deal of attention paid to the design of buildings and their internal ‘feel’.
It was a smooth journey on the train taking abut 45 minutes (and at $2.85 that is pretty good value – or £1.50 in your funny money!) The offices are based above The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Adult Day Health Centre (wouldn’t you love to have something named after you?) and I had the chance to see their work in action. The activities schedule would make the fittest of my parishioners tired! They combine structured activity, tasty food, caregiver support, entertainment and art therapy in one multi functional space. It is a specially designed – light and open sets of rooms full of engagement and music and enjoyment. Walking, cookery, poetry, golf – the list goes on. See their web page at www.iona.org. There was an amusing moment when I saw a cemetry through the parking lot – and my host apologised – ‘Don’t worry,’ I replied ‘it is where we are all heading – good to be reminded!’ I couldn’t gauge how that went down but I think that it is true?
Gay Hanna and Gene Cohen are passionate advocates for their work. they believe that old age has all kinds of possibility and that as we get in touch with the creative then we can improve the quality of our life. they remind us that our models of aging – our vision of what is possible – is a critical part of how we view, treat and provide for them and us.
Perhaps all this sounds too American and not for us?! Surely not – isn’t there something that we all wished we had learned ? A period of history – a language – the piano – or painting a masterpiece. Why waste all this on the young!
I talk further with Gay about her own work as an artist. She has a Masters degree in Fine Art and is a skilled sculptor – in stone. Artists don’t need too many words she tells me – just a mask and the readiness to experiment. I told her about my favourite tale about Michelangelo who was rebuked by an observer when they saw him working at a piece of marble. ‘What a waste’ was the comment about the chunks of marble falling to the floor. The more the marble wastes declared the artist the more the statue inside grows. That has remained a powerful paradigm for me and the work amongst older people. How do we enable what is inside to grow? So! How about it? How about getting our hands dirty? Lets get creative and see what emerges from our souls.