serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

First Impressions

Posted by Jim Selman on 10/9/06

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I arrived in St. Lucia yesterday after an all-night flight and grabbed the first taxi in line. The driver was an “old” guy who wasn’t talkative and didn’t seem too happy. We had a 90-minute ride to the hotel on the other side of the Island, so after a while I tried to make conversation by asking some inane questions like “How many people live here?” and “Have you lived here all your life?” The driver’s responses were more like New York City than what I expected in the Caribbean: “Didn’t you read anything about our Island before coming?”, and “Everybody asks me that stupid question – where do you think a black man my age would be from, driving a taxi on a Sunday afternoon?”

Okay, he got me. I was embarrassed, but mentioned something about coming to give a speech on aging. He laughed and started telling me how stupid the topic was, that aging is just a natural part of living, like dying is natural as well, and that’s all there is to say about it. I pressed him a bit by suggesting that while the process of aging is natural, our experience of it is largely cultural and not always the same from one culture to another.

For the next hour, we had a delightful exchange. This retired school principal showed me that in St. Lucia, people have the same fears and concerns about getting older as we do, that entropy and loneliness are the biggest threats to well-being. His wife lives on another island, and he spends days at a time without talking to another soul. As we talked, I learned that people on the island generally retire younger than in North America— usually in their 50s. I also learned that he took his first vacation off the island 5 years ago and loved it, and now looks forward to his annual adventure to new places. He thanked me for the conversation, saying how much he missed having thoughtful dialogue since retiring and how so many of the people he drives are either drunk or so self-absorbed that there is no room for connecting. His biggest quandary is whether to move to the island where his wife lives and risk falling into even more isolation or keeping as active as possible for as long as possible.

St. Lucians get older like the rest of us. I hope that some of what we are exploring and creating in North America can extend to other parts of the world as well.

For me, my new friend Ryan Baptiste has opened my eyes again to the fact that who people are is a whole lot more important and more interesting than how old they are and our first impressions.

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “First Impressions”

  1. arrived here your comment on TGB about “elder media.” the honesty and insight of this particular post caught my attention. yes, we do make assumptions about “the other”–especially as aging americans.

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