Giving Senior Citizens Space to Feel

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Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

We’re in a time when a woman will be partaking in a conversation and the next thing you know what will come spilling out in an almost even tone is that time when her doctor raped her.

It happened to me this morning.

“Nancy, it was five years before I realized what he did to me was wrong.”

****

On the evenings when I prepare a topic, or prompt, for my senior citizens’ writing group the next morning, my greatest challenge is to try to gauge the mood or mindset of my students.

By this I mean that there is often a push-pull within the group. Some are craving an outlet for their anger about current events and others want to use class time to escape the news cycle.

In both cases they want to strengthen their thinking muscles, exercise their minds in the same way they do their bodies when they partake in Zumba. This is what they tell me, a person with whom they’ve built trust and rapport over nearly two years.

Today I went to the senior center with this prompt:

Write about something that makes you feel alive.

They brightened. Except one. I knew she was upset about the Supreme Court nomination, particularly the President’s mocking of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford at a rally just a few days ago. She wanted — no, needed — to express on this.

Whenever this happens, when they want a little more than my original prompt, I tend to go with it and suggest ideas. Today I modified the prompt by lopping off the last word:

Write about something that makes you feel.

Ah, now she was ready to put pen to paper. All of them were off and running. When it came time to read them aloud around our table, there was meaningful sharing of how much they enjoy the community of the senior center, partaking in creative pursuits, and taking time to help others.

And then came my outlier. She wrote that she was not sure of her feelings, that she was both angry and joyful. She woke up happy and then turned on the news. She went on to express frustration and “disgust” for those who are silent and complacent in the face of a President who continues to deepen our divide and a Senate Judiciary Committee that appears on the brink of pushing through a Supreme Court nominee who is crushing the spirit of most American women with his beliefs and his behavior toward them. They don’t feel represented, not by their President or Congress certainly, but potentially not by their Supreme Court either.

What she wrote on the page ended with a call for empathy, service, and kindness. But in the ensuing conversation she shared so much more. Her own sexual naiveté, among other things.

“I was not sexually assaulted. I was raped,” she said.

I listened. Because of course that’s what’s missing in all this. It feels like no one is listening. Saying Dr. Ford was a credible witness and then turning around and laughing when the President mocks her or saying you respect her but you’re also OK with a sham investigation means you don’t find her credible or worthy of respect. Trying to be a good human and actually being one are not the same thing.

****

In an odd twist on things, when I entered the senior center this morning, the director asked me to help the members craft messages for sympathy cards for a fellow member who had died as well as the brother of a senior center employee. Remember, the prompt I had come up with the night before had to do with what makes us feel alive.

I walked around and asked who needed assistance, then drew them out on exactly what they wanted to convey. They were grateful for the guidance.

When I left I felt like I had had a lifetime of experiences, emotions, and perspectives. And it put my own inner seething on the shelf for a few hours.

Originally published at unfetteredexpression.com on October 4, 2018.

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