I remember as a child, loving to lead. Just give me a pretend marching band, or a line of my dolls and I would become an instant leader, teacher or whatever the occasion called for.
As a teen, I was the leader on our debate team which segued into teaching a class of second graders while I was still in high school and this moved me into many positions of leadership. Through it all, I learned a lot about leadership. The good, bad and the not-so-good. I learned how to lead groups of women coming out of the prison system and groups of homeless women in my adopted state of Minnesota.
Now my leadership skills have been tested with the people I live and work with in our 55+ senior community. I work as an office assistant and activities director as well. Right there, between those two titles is where any resemblance to normalcy ends.
Our 90 unit community consists of a hodge-podge of seniors who are still surprised that we have been dropped into a whirlpool of diverse beings with whom our only similarities include the fact that we are aging.
I have never lived alone for very long. I have been a wife, mother, grandmother-raising-grandchildren and suddenly I was thrust into uncharted territory. The dreaded “living alone” found it’s way to my life and amidst the downsizing and the repetitive, “I’ve never lived alone for over fifty years” (tolerated vaguely by my peers who have done it longer than yours truly) I gave up on the pity party because it was not well attended.
I became aware of my new-found passion. I would bring these folks back to life! I had experienced every form of senior bickering, bullying, belly aching and I was tired of it. I wanted them to be tired of it too. Then there was the daily exchange of vicious gossip as well as “what the doctor has me on today” and if you are visualizing a group of women in rockers, knitting booties and crocheting shawls, please remove that image and replace it with those who are rolling around in motorized chairs ( don’t need ’em but they were part of some salesman’s crafty pitch) and when they try to stand, there follows a series of expletives because everything below their waists have turned to mush. The only activities they are interested in are the ones that include eating. Our activity book has greasy fingerprints where the paces have been turned again and again, charting the next donut, pancake or perhaps just a plate of sugar eating event.
Well, I wasn’t having it! I brought in nutritionists, was given grants for exercise equipment, pushed walking and doing better balance classes and got certified as a Tai ju Quan leader to push gentle movement for all.
I then worked hard to launch a little encouragement group called, Senior Talk with Zenobia. I introduced subjects such as bullying among seniors ( the struggle is real, everybody) hoarding, combating gossip, racism ( it is alive and well among seniors of diverse cultures) and fun stuff like our old music and movies that we loved. We brought in four raised gardens and still there were the excuses. “It’s too hot” or the reverse, but when we worked our beautiful gardens, everyone crowded around to get the spoils.
I know this might sound like a vent, but I had never, in my wildest imagination envisioned such discord and intentional dousing of the bright bulbs that used to be our bright minds and have them reduced to the fodder of “what’s the weather today” and “Has the mail run yet?
What happened to the leaders, marchers, the loud voices demanding justice? I have worked with these groups for quite a few years and I feel the pull of disappointment and discouragement working it’s way into the seams of my seventy year old body. A body that still feels and needs the challenges of life. I love people. I have an excitement for life, but I feel as if I am manually blowing up balloons that have lost so much air that there is no gumption left to inflate.
Fellow seniors, we have to keep knocking on the door of life. We have to keep being visible and alert! Less in tune with what we have lost ( hearing, teeth, etc) and more in tune with what we are gaining. There is more adventure ahead…it keeps calling to us and it is our job….no, our responsibility to answer.
Zenobia Silas-Carson is a native of Chicago and has lived in Minnesota for the last 30 years. She has worked as an advocate for battered women, and those being released from the prison system. Zenobia is also a former elementary school teacher and nursing assistant. Currently she resides and works in a fifty-five plus community where she holds the position of office assistant and activities director. She facilitates three food programs, is the proprietor of Zenobia’s Community Store and in her so called spare time is a life coach for seniors. In her other spare time she is a mother grandmother, great grandmother and licensed minister.