By Judie Donaldson
When I was 40, I did something that I wouldn’t have the courage to do today. I enrolled in a class for people who couldn’t sing, but wished they could. There were seven other crazy people like me who spent eight sessions together singing our hearts out. It would have been a piece of cake if we’d been belting out songs as a chorus. But, no. We were all singing solo – sometimes a cappella, in fact, which was hilarious.
The teacher must have struggled to contain her laughter as she urged each of us to imagine that we were leads in a Broadway musical. The class was taking place in Manhattan, so it was ostensibly easy to fantasize our name in lights, but I confess that this was stretching it. No such vision for me. On the other hand, over the course of eight weeks, I elected to sing the entire score of an off-Broadway musical called, “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking My Show on the Road.” I knew every word and note. Even my kids knew them because I’d been singing them in the car for months. But, sing for other people?
For the life of me, I can’t imagine how I returned to class each week after making a fool out of myself at the previous session. (Actually, I do know why. It’s because the eight of us instantly bonded as a support community.) I did hold the line, however, when it came to our final class, which was a recital. Invite family members and friends? Un uh. My courage quotient didn’t extend that far. I gave myself an “A” for not being a “wanna-be-singer” drop out. No singing fantasies for me anymore.
I want to share a tender story about a group of seniors in England who definitely didn’t drop out. Although most of them had never done anything like this before, they formed a chorus that gained a wide-ranging reputation. They even had their own tour bus! Isn’t it great that so many people were eager to hear a bunch of aging seniors sing? But, for me, what was most touching about them was their friendship and support of one another. The documentary I watched covered a period of at least two years, and, over that time, the chorus lost two of its members to cancer. They cared for them during their illness and dedicated their singing to them after they died. I applauded their courage to sing and perform, and then to carry on in the face of loss.
I’m reporting all of this to you from memory, which is a risk considering my level of forgetfulness. I couldn’t locate their documentary, but a Google search led me to a whole host of other senior singing groups. It’s not surprising because research has proven that music has cognitive and health benefits. Some time ago, I saw a “60 Minutes” segment that showed Alzheimer’s patients who had been sitting unresponsively in their wheel chairs for years, get up and dance when they were given headphones that played music from their youth. I’m going to tell my kids that, if I go down the Alzheimer’s path, they should hook me up with James Taylor, John Denver, and the Mamas and the Papas.
But right now, I’m faced with a new challenge. Dancing! Believe me, I have less of an interest in this than I did in singing, and certainly don’t have any talent. However, I am in an early stage of Parkinson’s disease and, if you know anything about that, the clarion call to people like me is, “exercise, exercise, exercise.” And dancing is ranked high on the list of recommendations. Why? Something about the brain and the feet movements and who knows what else. I’m working up the courage to give it a try. Who knows? Maybe I’ll become a super-fit jazzercise enthusiast. But, I’m not holding my breath.
Why am I writing about all of this? For two reasons. First, something that I call the Nike “Just do it” factor. Or, in other words, courage. Second, something that we can all use — support. Courage is defined as doing something that frightens you, while support is considered giving assistance to or enabling someone to act. Put them together and they make a quite a good team.
At Carquinez Village, we are interested in learning what is important to our members and in understanding how we can support them. We want to be a part of their team. Someone, I don’t know whom, once said, “Aging is a team sport.” It sure makes sense to me. Being a part of a group of supportive people can make a difference in a person’s life. Carquinez Village members and members-to-be, let us support you!
I’ve been reading recently about the revolution in aging that is emerging today. A lot of it relates to changing society, encouraging people to respect seniors, include them and tap their talents. But, I’ve observed that many of us seniors also need to change if we want to live life to its fullest.
Many of us have created attitudinal habits and barriers for ourselves. Do you remember Pogo’s wisdom that went something to the effect that, “We have met the enemy, and they is us?” Like others, I have have my own shackles of caution and fear that set annoying limits on my life. Hmmm. I think it’s time to reread Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be,” which my father gave me when I was in high school. And maybe even to get to that dance class.
If you’re a member of the Village – or even if you’re not – and want to join me in stepping out of your comfort zone in even the smallest way, call me at 707-971-2472 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I can, I’m glad to provide some support.
I want to end by talking about singing again. There’s a man by the name of James Baraz from Berkeley who teaches a course called “Awakening Joy” that hundreds of people enroll in each year. James maintains that singing for five minutes a day will increase your joy in life. Sounds like an interesting hypothesis and a habit worth consideration. And it wouldn’t take much courage to try.