Space for Experience
Space for Experience - Celebrating the contribution of older people on Silver Sunday
Silver Sunday is a day of fun and free activities for older people across the UK, celebrating the value and knowledge they contribute to our communities.
This is a special day for older people to get involved in community events and activities to bring back some of the traditional community spirit. It‟s also a small thank you for your contribution to society. - Joanna Lumley
On 6th October, choirs and performers of all ages will join together to sing interfaith chants and songs for peace and celebrate the invaluable contribution of older people at Space for Experience at Croydon Minster, 2.30-4.40pm.
Funds raised by the event will support the work of Age UK Croydon
My involvement with Space for Experience has heightened my awareness that I never think of friends of more advanced years as ‘old’, for they are the most playful, active, inquiring, knowledgeable, vivacious, outgoing and generous people who inspire me to live life to the fullest. To say that there is a common theme between them simply because of age, would be inaccurate, as their experiences and personalities are so diverse.
When I raised the issue of the need to more fully acknowledge the invaluable role of elders on my Facebook page I was greeted by host of anecdotes, testimonials, links and insights, which have informed the writing of this blog. There are essential qualities of experience that deserve the space to be honoured, acknowledged and celebrated.
Space for Experience is one of many events across the country which testify to the great diversity of activity and invaluable contribution to society made by older people:
Gloria Hunniford states in her support of Silver Sunday
“These days, many people believe that growing older is something that should be celebrated. After all, we do not have to retire at a certain age anymore and many older people are continuing to keep themselves busy whether it is at work or play.”
Certainly in my city this is true. One afternoon I found myself in the carriage of a train in which a pigeon had decided to take a ride. An impeccably suited man commented “he’s only got a ticket as far as Brockley” and we laughed and began talking. At the age of 85, he was on his way to work at his firm and confessed to me that he was reluctant to go on the round the world retirement cruise his ‘better half’ had planned for them.
Aging for model Cindy Joseph is an adventure of self-development:
“life and you get better as time goes by. You become more self-aware, more experienced, skilled, educated, discerning, and more aware. Life continues to be an adventure, and you continue to be a passionate, feeling, emotional creature. It is time to switch our anti-ageism to pro-age.”
I do not accept my age - I celebrate it! I wear my wrinkles, silver hair & age spots as medals of honor. Life & beauty is all what you make it.
I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that. - Lauren Baccall
Whilst the tabloids continue to try to botox and photoshop out the ageing process, wisdom teaches us that the lines of our experience are beautiful and sing with the songs of our experiences. When I asked friends about their feelings about Aging many of them said they wanted to see more images of older people in the media.
I have thrown out the old paradigm of life looking like a mountain, with an imaginary peak they call the 'prime of life.' There is no such thing. Every second of your life is the prime of your life. Right now. And now. If you take care of your body and live for pleasure rather than success, (which lowers the stress in your body and mind) and learn to trust the universe, you will carry yourself with ease and joy. - Cindy Joseph
I’ve reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks I don’t have to - Albert Einstein
I’m happy to report that my inner child is still ageless - James Broughton
Aging for some people can bring a return to activities and passions from childhood or interaction and play with grandchildren. Inter-generational communication is absolutely essential for people not just to work but to play together fully. There are many projects that use a playful, creative and artistic approach to aging including Singing for the Brain Alive! and cross-generational projects like Creative Generation
Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to do or say at least one outrageous thing every week - Louis Kroenenberger
Later life can sometimes bring playful liberation - George Bernard Shaw commented that he found a freedom in later life because there was no longer anyone to look up to or respect. The perspective of elders gives them the ability to observe, comment, contribute, challenge and subvert the dominant norms and expectations of the current age. One friend described the activism of her uncle who at age 90 chained himself to a double decker bus in Regent Street as a protest for pensioners rights.
Rev June Boyce-Tillman
When fully acknowledged, the elders of a society act as the peacemakers, those whose wisdom is sought in times of trouble and strife. Within families, one of my friends noted, grandparents can spot inherited patterns of behaviour in grandchildren that their parents may not be able to understand. Within communities older people give invaluable service to their communities in so many different roles as creatives, teachers, guides, judges, carers, counsellors and nurturers of the future generation.
The pioneering work of Rev June Boyce-Tillman has consistently demonstrated that music can create peaceful connections between generations, faiths and cultures. She travels globally lecturing, performing and conducting events including Space for Peace which forms the inspiration for Space for Experience. In her keynote address Music as Spiritual Experience (2004) she defines the capacity of music to create connection:
This is clearly a function of the music experience which enables us to contact other cultures separate from us historically and geographically and also has built into its nature the notion of the relationship between past and future in the evanescent present.
I teach kings the history of their ancestors, so that the lives of the ancients might serve them as an example, for the world is old, but the future springs from the past. - Griot Djeli Mamadou Kouyaté
There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age - Sophia Loren.
The gifts that are handed down from elders to other members of society can take many forms - our cultural, spiritual, social and material inheritance - are rich and multi-layered. Many West African musicians such as Toumani Diabate are descended from griots/ jalis who are considered the guardians of the oral tradition, walking libraries of knowledge.
The wisdom we gain from learning from our ancestry is vast. Older people are witnesses and storytellers, who hold endless amounts of knowledge, helping us to understand where we stand in the evolution of our families, communities and societies. The Amazings is one example of a social enterprise that celebrates the skills of elders giving them a platform to teach and share their gifts.
The gratitude we feel for our elders can be expressed and celebrated in so many ways: a friend described to me how she was deeply moved by leading a Chinese Tea Ceremony at a civil partnership in which the couple offered their parents tea with gratitude for bringing them up.
Catherine Pestano, organiser of Space for Experience talks of the event as an opportunity to offer thanks:
Our lives are shaped by the actions and sacrifices of those who are older than us. This is an unusual creative chance to reflect on and celebrate our memories and appreciations of the older people in our lives, in our community, in our hearts.
The leader of Croydon Imagine group said that Age UK Croydon funding made it possible for them to purchase of a karaoke machine so they are very delighted to be able to express their gratitude by performing at Space for Experience
Society tells you that when you're old you have to retire. You have to defy that. Please know that being 80 is not a scary thing. When you're 80, your life is much freer. I have energy. I walk a lot but also I work all the time. We don't live by just sleeping and eating. We need pride and dignity in our lives. Work gives you that. Art is like breathing for me. If I don't do it, I start to choke. - Yoko Ono
Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art. - Stanislaw Jersy Lec
Creatives who began their careers in later life include: Mary Wesley’s first novel was published when she was 71 like the earlier Mary Delany, Bluestocking artist who also began her career at 71. Other artists continue to flourish prolifically in later late: Michaelangelo and Lucien Freud both continued a long life of painting until death. Sculptor Louise Bourgeouis, successful in her 80s and 90s described the creative drive to make something “not, different! Better!” as “the wisdom of the elders.”
There is no doubt that ageing can bring challenges - in later life we may face health issues, bereavements, losses and isolation. However these are very individually determined and experienced. Ageist stereotypes can damage people of all ages - labels such as ‘little old lady’ ‘dribbling idiot’ or ‘sulky teenager’ create needless divisions which are infact only skin deep. Approaches towards older people can be patronising, condescending, inconsiderate and in the worst case scenarios dangerously abusive.
Commenting in The Guardian on “fabulous fashionistas” a programme featuring women of an average age of 80, Michele Hanson despairs that the interviewer asks a Baroness why she goes to the hairdresser every week - “Why not? Would she ask a young woman that question?”
In truth the need to live a happy, healthy and fulfilling life drives people of all ages and results in a diversity of expression which is as variegated as there are people on the planet. We need to continue to challenge assumptions and to maintain inter-generational dialogue. It is essential to create a space where everyone can flourish and harvest the lessons and gifts of experience.
Katie Rose - September 2013
Written with grateful thanks to my ancestors and to my community of friends of all ages who contributed ideas and stories for this hub.