Monday, November 10, 2014

We that are left grow old . . .

It's been a time of remembrance . . . a time of honouring the fallen . . . a time of reflecting on the tragedy of young lives lost in warfare.
"They shall not grow old," we've been reminded, "as we that are left grow old . . . "

It's true.
But let's switch our minds for a moment from that heart-wrenching moat of poppies to 'we who are left' . . . we who are left to grow old.

Surely we owe a debt to those who died?  Surely we owe it to them to make our old age a time of celebration?  A time to of fulfilment, passion and positivity?

Sad to say, all too often this is not the case.  But it seems timely that, in Remembrance Week, I should have learned of an Australian initiative, the 'Men in Sheds' movement, which aims at doing just that, and which was recently introduced to the UK.

It can be forgotten that, at heart, we're creative beings.  Without the incentive and urge to create, in effect we cease to be.  What's more, age does not diminish this creativity.  Which prompts the question, why are so many elderly people deprived of an outlet for their abilities?

Men, in particular, can find retirement very hard, unless . . . yes, you've guessed what's coming next . . . unless they have the opportunities afforded by a garden shed.  A shed, or a workshop, in which they can hone their skills and promote the flow of their natural talents.

Since its inception in Australia in 1995,  'Men in Sheds', a movement which fosters friendship as well as activity, has extended its beneficial work worldwide.

Here in the UK, over a hundred and forty flourishing Sheds have already been established.  Stretching to all corners of the kingdom, their imaginative activities range from growing moustaches as a charity fund-raiser, to building a Viking boat!

I must admit to a personal interest in this venture as it endorses my own experience.

Every week, on behalf of the Pets As Therapy charity, I take Chloe, my cat, to visit our local care home.  It's a very good care home.  The elderly residents are well looked after, in-house activities and entertainment are provided, the individual rooms are immaculate.

If any of the newcomers express the desire to see Chloe, I take her to to meet them shortly after their arrival.  At this point, with few exceptions, the men and women are articulate, self-possessed and confident . . .  happy to chat and circulate.  But, as the months pass, almost invariably I observe this individuality and self-confidence being eroded.

Why is it eroded?  Quite simply because they have little say in their own lives, no responsibilities, no major decisions to make, no work to undertake, no outlets for their abilities.

Although physically fit, they often spend the greater part of their day on their beds.  There's no point, as they see it, in getting up.

It's not enough to be alive.  It's not enough to  be mentally and physically fit.  There's a vital need for a sense of purpose, for the knowledge that our talents are contributing to the welfare of the whole, that we are each of us a vital and unique piece in the evolving jig-saw of humanity.

So, as we honour and remember the young who died, let's celebrate the work of Men in Sheds.
Let's honour an older generation whose members are fired by an ageless sense of purpose.

And, should they need an example to guide them on their way, there's a shining star in Iowa who can offer them limitless inspiration!

Yes, it's true, 'we that are left grow old' . . . but wouldn't you agree that we owe it to the fallen to make this a life-affirming process?