It’s Not Too Late

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Artists are alchemists–turning the ordinary into gold. Writing, painting, music are creation acts. The artist is recreated by the experience, and then readers, watchers, listeners, gazers become renewed.

In creative moments, we are ageless—old and wise and making things new. Since the act of creating something, anything, is timeless, daily moments of life become adventures.  Memories weigh as priceless—the past is in the present, and in the future. Retirement is not “the end.”

“I’m too old” is something we tell ourselves keep from facing the challenge of being a beginner. Anyone can tell themselves they’re “too something.” “Too young” to have enough experiences, “too busy” to have time, “too stressed” to take the time, “too late.”

At age 76, Judy Collins gave 150 concerts and used her time on the road to write a book. Georgia O’Keeffe worked steadily into her 90s. I am writing books for the first time in my life. I could not have done so any sooner because the writing needed a mature writer.

Every person is creative. Every person has the power to make small, seemingly insignificant moments blaze in color or form or sound or word. Now is the best time of all.

Different…Not Less

If you were to build a perfect society, how would you build it? What you include in it would be telling. But perhaps more revealing would be what you might exclude from that perfect world.

What kind of society might result from endorsing a belief that a society without disabled people is “perfect?” Voices like mine  will, no doubt,  be dismissed as the whining of a ‘special interest’ group. I have never been able to understand why. I am frightened of the times that seem to be coming. Societies with goals of eliminating the birth of children with Down Syndrome—not the cause, mind you, the births. Perceptions of beauty as shallow as Hollywood noses and dental veneers.

Dr. Temple Grandin didn’t talk until she was three and a half years old, communicating frustration instead by screaming, peeping, and humming. In 1950, she was diagnosed with autism, and her parents were told that she should be institutionalized. Yet she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and both masters and doctoral degrees in animal science.

For the past decades, Dr. Grandin has  been a professor at Colorado State University. She tells her story in her book Emergence: Labeled Autistic, a book which stunned the world because, until its publication, most professionals and parents assumed that an autism diagnosis was virtually a death sentence to achievement or productivity in life.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. From Stephen Hawking, a man in a wheelchair who can’t speak and is one of the smartest people in the world to Francesco Clark, a quadriplegic and CEO of a beauty product company, don’t ever think a disability means someone who is not impressive or successful.

What a tragedy when those who think themselves “normal” (read “superior”) fail to see the rich lives of the disabled.  What darkness lurks in hearts who are uncomfortable or even fear those who are different in some way…what ignorance to live that way for a lifetime. We are all imperfect human beings. Disability can happen to anyone.

Tell your children that they don’t need to fit in to feel good about themselves, and use the lives of the disabled as examples.

Henri Nouwen wrote of how God reveals himself through the reality of disability. Without trying to romanticize the complexity and hardship of any disability…

I suddenly realized that Adam was not just a disabled person, less human than me or other people. He was a fully human being, so fully human that God even chose him to become the instrument of His love. He was so vulnerable, so weak, so empty, that he became just heart, the heart where God wanted to dwell, where He wanted to stay and where He wanted to speak to those who came close to His vulnerable heart. Adam was a full human being, not half human or less human.

 

 

The title of this post comes  a book by Temple Grandin.

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Old Dog, New Tricks, New Hope

We were having difficulty with a student. Language barriers, mental illness, fear, culture shock, and expectations converged on an adult learner, and she was in danger of academic failure. The faculty bantered about what we could and could not do to help. The director dismissed the concern by saying, “Research shows that she is too old to learn at this level. After forty, you may as well forget it.”

I gasped. The faculty gasped—only one instructor and the director were under forty. I gasped at the insult. I gasped at giving up on a student without intervention. I gasped at prejudice and stereotype. I gasped that the director, a Christian, could reconcile such a view point with Christianity.

The idea that older people lose the capacity to learn is pervasive in our society. We hear it all the time: “Mom’s a little slower, and we need to help make decisions.” “It’s too complicated—I will handle it for you.” “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” (see video). Of course, if people have dementia, they do need help. But most are quite capable of learning new content and making decisions on their own.

Many previous studies failed to identify factors such as early dementia or other medical causes. Those over fifty will be happy to know that research dispels some lore about how people’s brains perform as they age. (One such study—Healthy Brain, Healthy Decisions: The MetLife Study of Decision-Making Potential) And more good news, age-related characteristics like life experience, reasoning ability, and accumulated knowledge enhance learning.

Let’s hear that again: Healthy older adults show no decline in decision-making, and learning capacity may actually increase with age.

Jesus takes captives and turns them into free people. The ability to make good choices–to learn–is a fruit of spiritual growth (Galatians 5:23). If you are not able to do that now, God will help you. He will work in your life through a process of spiritual growth. God has given you freedom, and commanded you to take control of the things that He has entrusted to you. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

By the way, the director who dismissed learning abilities in a student is now nearly fifty.