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Dreams, Independence, and a New Season of Life

Independent Living and Embracing Aging

An ongoing series with Chaplain Howard Earle

Independent Living residents of Beacon Hill at Eastgate meet every week with Chaplain Howard Earle to discuss the realities of aging. Every week, they discuss new topics. Read more below!

My sophomore year in college I took an intro to fiction course. The particular section of the course I enrolled in focused on fantasy literature. By the end of the semester, we had read nine books, some of which were classics. I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien and several books by C.S. Lewis. These classic stories were beautifully constructed with masterful character development. The authors we studied that semester took us on journeys to magical places while weaving in complex themes such as honor, conflict, betrayal, and loyalty. Characters such as Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and Aslan were my companions for an entire semester. While I enjoyed taking the ride through their stories, I hold them responsible for me needing to wear corrective lenses now. 

It’s easy to associate fantasy with childhood and adolescence.  We all remember the fictitious characters of our childhoods and the stars of childhood literature. However, fantasy is not just a childhood dwelling, but fantasy is just as common to the human experience as daily news. Based on it’s definition, the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable, we all engage in fantasy along our journey. Whether you thought of winning the lottery, being crowned Ms. America or a princess, or crushing a 400-yard drive to a hole-in-one, we’re all too familiar with fantasy. Perhaps these initial sentences have caused you to revisit some of your own fantasies. What are they? Did you ever wish you could fly like Superman? Did you ever picture yourself flying on a Pegasus, or performing on stage before a crowd of thousands? Don’t worry! It doesn’t matter if your thoughts are outlandish. They wouldn’t be fantasy if they weren’t.

This was a discussion starter in one of our Nobody Asked Me (NAM) groups back in February. We laughed as we reminisced about some of our childhood fantasies. I love watching our residents light up when they talk about their childhood experiences and their view of the world. Side note, fantasizing can be healthy as long as we are able to separate fantasy from the real world and not get the two mixed up. Dreams and fantasy are not for children only. One is never too old to dream. Your chaplain gives you permission to dream. If you feel so inclined, wear a cape like Superman, but remember, you can’t fly! And for all of the critics and super-realists, there is a fantasy that subtly overtakes us all. It Is the fantasy of permanent independence. Independence should be appreciated as a time-sensitive gift rather than a right. We are afforded a span of years in which we can move about the world on our own terms with no assistance. This span of time varies from person to person, but what is constant is that no one remains independent.

Gone are the days when you could bounce out of bed, hit the ground running, and conquer the world all before noon. Now it seems you sometimes need help to tie your laces if you’re still wearing shoes with them. Tasks you used to perform effortlessly now require assistance and supervision. I’m sure It’s a blow to the ego when you first realize your independence is diminished.  But I encourage you to lean into this new season. We live in a culture that is obsessed with autonomy and self-reliance. We are bombarded with images, videos, and soundbites of people experiencing life in a carefree manner with no assistance. Aging is natural and as we age, we change. Maybe you aren’t as spry as you used to be, but there’s still plenty of life to be lived. You’re slower now. What’s the rush? Make them wait or tell them to go around! Embrace those who assist you as friends. Permanent independence is a fantasy, but aging gracefully can be magical!

The Nobody Asked Me (NAM) group has become a safe place for residents to gather and talk freely about the realities of aging. Join us on Monday at 2:00 p.m. in the Vistas Lounge or Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in the chapel. I’ll see you there!

You belong here.

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Beacon Hill at Eastgate is a distinctive, not-for-profit retirement community located in Grand Rapids’ desirable Eastgate neighborhood.

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