What if most of what we know about the process of growing older is wrong? What if we could free ourselves from our presumptions about aging’s inevitable decline, and by doing so come to a new, richer understanding of what our late-life years could and should be?
Visionaries are those who see how tied they are to all we “know” – all the conventional assumptions we mostly accept without examination – and choose to cut that cord, to untether themselves from those limitations, and imagine a better world. From among them spring the innovators – the mavericks who kick-start revolutions and movements that change the world. Our aging society desperately needs its visionaries and innovators to lead the way, because so much of what we accept now is simply unacceptable – especially for those of us in the Baby Boomer generation who aren’t willing to settle for less from life than we’ve had in the past, and are searching for a greener horizon ahead.
Dr. Bill Thomas – author, performer, and expert on geriatric medicine – is one of those innovators, and he’s shaking up the status quo on aging at the precise moment it needs a good shake. His Eden Alternative project is about changing how we live our latter years – rejecting the soul-killing isolation that is the lot of too many of our seniors in favor of creating warm, vibrant connected communities, and offering meaningful activities that stimulate, in place of boredom and entropy. His combination of inspiration and can-do practicality is lifting all our eyes to the possibilities, and will make a positive impact on so many lives for years to come.
What does it take to be a Bill Thomas in Hospice? Caring is where it starts; mission is where it takes you. When you’re on fire with a sense of mission, what’s impossible is just another hurdle to fly over. I remember that feeling from the early days of hospice, that sense of powerful forward momentum that carried me over the many challenges we faced every day. Our office was a remodeled elevator shaft, a windowless space with walls that were 2 feet thick. We didn’t charge fees; it was a free service offered by our community hospital, Alachua General. Our annual budget was $40,000. We created the rules as we went along. Rejecting the status quo was exhausting yet exhilarating, because we knew we were holding a torch for those who would follow. Even on the roughest days, that felt like freedom.
What might you create if you could untether yourself from your assumptions and dream bigger? How can we all – as hospice leaders, healthcare workers, caregivers and human beings – get beyond the traditional frameworks and regulatory abyss that constrain our thinking, and be more like Dr. Bill? It’s a question worth pondering. What I do know is that what we accept is what we get – and if we don’t raise our eyes occasionally, all we’ll ever see is what’s right in front of us.
Dr. Bill Thomas and Patti Moore