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Senior Correspondent

Preparing the Soil

Preparing the Soil

© istock.com/Zbynek Pospisil

“Tilly, do you have a garden gnome ?” That’s what my fiancée asked my daughter after seeing photos of her new plants on Instagram. Recently my daughter has been in a fever to grow plants and build a small garden. She’s preparing the soil, so to speak. 

Working as an immigration attorney in Houston, she uses the garden as a way to step back, find comfort. Literally she goes to battle for individuals who were brutalized, raped and or escaped at near death from their home countries. Yes, as a father I am proud of her. And I’m excited to see her take on this new hobby as a way to bring balance to her life.

When I look at the years ahead I see the soil of ideas in aging fertile yet terribly dormant. Rampant loneliness that’s proven to contribute to the onset of new illnesses, even Alzheimer’s. An incredible vast wasteland that looks like that famous 1931 Salvador Dali painting with the melted clock called “The Persistence of Memory.” 

What the hell is going on here? Why is that the future we have accepted? Older doesn’t have anything to offer? Nada? Zilch? Bupkis? And Bupkis is a Yiddish word you might hear my 96-year-old Uncle Babe say after he visited a number of senior living facilities. “Tuck, I want to go somewhere now where I can live, get a meal, but do I have to be around nothing but a bunch of old people? I hate that.” 

So where’s the ideas? Why is there not an open-age community with a health care facility for older individuals, yet young families could find it attractive as well? Right now financial backers are still stuck in the hamster wheels of old patterns for new senior living developments. Meanwhile we are looking down the barrel of the future at 76 million baby boomers staring back desiring new ideas. We need to get to work and find out how to build these communities. 

Actually I see the wave of such places coming in urban planning. Ideas like this have been attempted by Ryan Frederick, founder of SmartLiving 360. Ryan is responsible for a community near Washington, D.C. This property has a mix of younger and older individuals. The younger individuals or family have a lower cost of staying on the property. The older wealthier individuals take up the slack with their costs. The idea of this project is hopeful. Of course not everyone can handle that higher cost, but this is where the refining of the idea occurs. Then the idea is sharpened and less expensive models evolve.

I believe the preparing of the soil is starting. Take the issue of loneliness. Especially during Covid-19. A new app is available on your phone called Twine. Here you select subjects of discussion. You are then paired up with someone to talk to about purpose, family, politics, money or friendship. The conversations are deep. They last from anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. Groups up to 40 minutes. Later you can decide if you want to have further discussions with that person. Yes, there are ground rules and careful policies. I’ve done it a couple of times and it is remarkable. Imagine people who don’t know each other talking together again? How bout dat? This can occur on the phone, your phone’s video chat. Use of a laptop is also possible. All started by two 30-year-olds. The idea for Twine comes from serial entrepreneurs Lawrence Coburn and Diana Rau. Both had spent time in the mobile phone space. The beta test for Twine will move to a subscription platform to sustain itself financially.

For a number of years I’ve been working on a concept called The Illumination Center. Located on a new multi-generational real estate development. A property with an onsite health care facility but also a place where people of all ages can live and congregate. The purpose of The Illumination Center is to help individuals across all age groups find meaning. Share and collaborate in a place of innovation, and produce actual products and services. “Masters of age,” so to speak, share their experience with younger individuals. And vice-a-versa.

Covid-19 has delivered new ideas as necessity is the mother of invention. Take a mostly free program called “Meet Up,” which originally was meant as a program where you could meet others with shared interests. You physically met at a coffee house, bar or other gathering place to discuss your shared subject. Now it has turned into a strong online presence. Or consider all the connections people make via online videoconferencing platforms like Zoom to discuss books, outdoor adventures, music, sports, wine selection, and World War II. I’ve even done it for a writer’s group. It’s outstanding.

Yes, I’ve decided that I want to be that gardener that brings to the soil new ideas in aging. I’m also an irritating obnoxious ‘wanna be evangelist’ trying to find high ground and yell out, “There’s a lot of manure out there when it comes to aging. Let’s use it to fertilize new ideas.”

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