I celebrated my 75th birthday last week, while traveling to MO-Ranch, the 500-acre Presbyterian retreat center on the Guadalupe River at Hunt, TX, west of San Antonio. Dr. Redshaw and I were going there to lead a weekend workshop on “Telling Your Life Story.” Now that we are back home in Sherman, the best description of our experience I can think of is “rejuvenating.”
The word “rejuvenate” has long been a favorite of mine, and I suspect many of my readers agree with the idea that “to make someone feel or look younger or have more energy” is a very good thing. Peggy and I are both retired college professors, and meeting a new class made up of senior citizens (as opposed to the 20-year olds we had grown accustomed to teaching) is always stimulating but also disconcerting—how receptive will they be to our approaches?
In this case the seniors embraced our strategies and our program with more enthusiasm than any previous TOS (Telling Our Stories) class we had ever taught. We felt rejuvenated as one by one they responded to our request for specific memories they wanted to write about. It soon became clear that our approach opened not only their minds but also their hearts. The rapport and trust within the group was phenomenal.
Another meaning of “rejuvenate” is “to make something like an institution or system good or effective again.” That is what this class did with the TOS life story process we have developed over the last 27 years. In this age of rapid change, sometimes it seems that anything a decade or two old needs to be thrown out or at least extensively revised. On the contrary, this class showed us that the principles of TOS did not need revision. We feel that our program has been reaffirmed and declared good to continue into the future.
There are other ways in which I feel rejuvenated by this experience. My maternal grandfather, known in our community as “Professor Jones” because he had taught school as far back as the 1890s, was a key role model for me. While traveling to Texas from Tennessee to begin his teaching career, he turned 21 on the train. Several times during the weekend, I thought about him and that journey, seeing a parallel between his birthday at one end of the age spectrum and mine at the other. Both of us were on a journey to teach in a new and challenging situation, hopeful but not knowing what we might find.
For all of you male readers who have reached my age of 75 or surpassed it, I have good news: we have gained a new privilege. When going through airport security screening, we no longer have to remove our shoes! On the other hand, you are certain to be asked how much metal you have in your body. Fortunately, I have none.
To match the lifespan of Grandpa Jones, I’m going to need several more rejuvenating experiences. He celebrated his 90th birthday in 1961, when nonagenarians were scarce as hen’s teeth.