March 17, 2016

SAGEWorks: Helping Women Rejoin the Workforce

By Vera Lukacs

As part of a larger effort to support and benefit LGBT older adults, SAGE held a special SAGEWorks event on March 16th to help those looking to rejoin the workforce. Panelists included Jason Rosenbaum (Thomson Reuters), Jens Audenaert (ADP), JoAnne D'Aleo (The Transition Network), Angela Lee (Callen-Lorde), Addie Rimmer (Workforce Opportunity Services) and Tawanna Huguley (Good Shepherd Services).

Participant Wanda Lawrence found the event highly informative. “I’m feeling more confident now as opposed to when I walked in the door. This has been a challenge for me but I feel very supported in this space.”

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2016-03-17/c3f59f4c19cf4d92949f611587285b53.pngPanelists at SAGE Center Midtown: Photo by Michele D'Amato

In the article, Older Women Are Being Forced Out of the Workforce, Harvard Business Review highlights a study by economists at the University of California at Irvine and Tulane University that uncovers “robust evidence of age discrimination in hiring against older women.” One example of gender and age disparities in the workforce is the lower callback rate for middle-aged female applicants, as compared to their younger counterparts. The rate comparison between middle-aged and young male applicants was similar.

It’s no surprise that women and men experience the workplace differently. For instance, a woman makes 79 cents to every dollar a man makes. It’s a cold, hard fact that women have a harder time getting jobs, keeping them, and growing within their positions over time — and it’s especially challenging for older women in the LGBT community.

SAGEWorks, a national employment initiative for LGBT adults 40 years and older, connects LGBT job seekers with the skills and support to land a job in their desired field. Programs include 2-week boot camps, individual coaching, work readiness exercises, and more.

To commemorate Women’s History Month, SAGE is sharing the unique perspectives of aging LGBT women. Do you have a workplace story to share? Tell us in the comments!  

Faith, Hope and Justice: A Conversation With Bishop Tonyia Rawls

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post blog on March 16, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Susan Herr

Held in partnership with the Freedom Center for Social Justice, a day-long SAGE storytelling training in North Carolina recently convened LGBTQ activists, aging service providers, movement builders and faith leaders. SAGE’s Susan Herr sat down with Bishop Tonyia Rawls to talk about the social justice mission of the Freedom Center, founding a church, and becoming an elder in a community of faith.

2016-03-15-1458082691-5718444-TanyiaRawlsSH: The Freedom Center has partnered with SAGE for three years as part of the SAGE Story project. Let’s start by talking about the work of the Freedom Center.

BR: The Freedom Center for Social Justice works at the intersection of race, faith, gender identity/expression and social justice. We are committed to the growth, safety and empowerment of the LGBTQ community. Our mission is accomplished through education, programs, partnerships and advocacy. We have three major programs.

The first is the Do No Harm campaign which asks clergy, public officials and small business owners to sign the Do No Harm Pledge promising that they won’t use religion or religious text to create un- safe spaces or violate the law.

Second is the Transgender Faith and Action Network, which is a social network for trans people of faith and allies. It is currently in the testing stage and will have its national launch in spring 2016. The network will provide resources, research, opportunities for connection and tools to build stronger trans-affirming spaces on the ground. We also host an annual transgender retreat that offers an opportunity for refreshing, learning and strategizing.

Finally, we work with key partners like SAGE, NAACP, Southerners on New Ground, Campus Pride and others who share our vision of a world where equal protections and opportunities exist for all.

SH: I was lucky enough to meet you and to learn more about the Freedom Center at this year’s Storytelling Summit in Charlotte. Tell me about the SAGEStory partnership between Freedom Center and SAGE.

BR: We have captured the stories of more than 30 LGBTQ seniors through these summits, many of which we included in a mini documentary produced by the Freedom Center organizer AJ Williams called “Quiet As It’s Kept.” The majority of participants are people of color. However, the group is diverse. The 2014 and 2015 cohorts went through a 6-week training period and learned the skills needed to not just tell their stories, but to turn those stories into positive change and power.

SH: The keynote speaker for this year’s event was the Reverend Nelson Johnson, Pastor of the Faith Community Church. He described his decades-long journey from homophobia to the leadership role he now uses to counter oppression of LGBT people in some Christian denominations. As a recovering fundamentalist myself, I was moved to tears by his story. Why did you invite him to be the keynote speaker?

BR: One of the things we are committed to is not working in silos. While we are unapologetic about our work with and for LGBTQ people, our general concerns are bigger than that. He may be a Black preacher who once held fundamentalist anti-gay views, but he is also an elder who lives in the South. We have far more in common than not. The only way we can cross those bridges to one another is to be willing to let ours down. Reverend Johnson is committed to justice, period. He is a long-time civil rights activist and has been willing to do the often hard work of self-reflection. I honor that part of him, which is why we invited him to share his journey.

SH: You and your wife Gwen moved to Charlotte from D.C. in 2014 to establish Unity Fellowship Church Movement’s first flock there. The denomination, founded in 1982, was born from a need to minister primarily to LGBT Black people during the height of the AIDS crisis. How is the genesis of Unity Fellowship alive in your church today?

BR: Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte was the first church in the denomination to be established in the Bible Belt. The Founder, Archbishop Carl Bean, established a phrase that “God is Love and Love is For Everyone.” In 2014, I founded Sacred Souls Community Church, which is now entering the United Church of Christ. We have been able to expand our reach to all of the members of our community in a way that looks beyond race, class, land of native birth and any other measure that keeps people marginalized and oppressed.

SH: Do elders play as powerful a role in your church as they do in other faith communities?

BR: Elders are those 45 and older who play a vital role in every aspect of our ministry. In addition to their experience and spiritual depth, they have skills that can come only with time. I have grown to depend on them as a pastor and they are some of our strongest advocates for spiritual and social justice for all.

SH: Do you consider yourself an elder?

BR: My mom died at 58 years old and my grandmother at 56. They were both amazing women who impacted not only my life but the life of so many others who looked to them for wisdom, guidance and support. At 57, I find myself functioning in a similar role. I celebrate my life and appreciate the opportunity I have been given to share my experiences, resources and support to those coming along. I view this role as an elder as one of the highest honors one can hold. I believe the world needs us.

SH: SAGE works to ensure that LGBT older people are represented in a wide array of anti-discrimination efforts across the country. North Carolina, where SAGE has two affiliates in addition to our partnership with the Freedom Center, is one of the states where we have focused our efforts. Do you feel hopeful about North Carolina’s ability to advance policies that protect LGBT people of all ages?

BR: North Carolina is going to surprise many people because we have been working together across lines of difference to stand strong against those forces that seek to distract citizens from the real issues that harm them. We also are holding together to reject the notion that the differences between us far outweigh the needs we have as a state. The Freedom Center is working together with groups as diverse as the Latin American Coalition, Time Out Youth, historically Black colleges and other “unusual suspects” to look at politics, justice, faith and hope through a lens of new possibility. LGBTQ issues are being taken out of the box and now applied to life in general.

Follow Susan Herr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/herrview. Follow #SAGEStoryLGBT on Instagram.

March 15, 2016

Engaging Volunteers in Grassroots Awareness Building

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition on March 15th, 2016. Read the original post here.

by Tim Johnston, Assistant Director of Social Enterprise and Training, and Sherrill Wayland, Manager of National Projects, at SAGE.

Sometimes it feels like every time we turn around, somebody is talking about working at the grassroots level. From grassroots education and political organizing to crowdsourcing and the hive mind, focusing on grassroots engagement is certainly popular, but what does it really mean, and why is it useful?

To us, grassroots engagement means engaging and supporting a diffuse and diverse network of volunteers; in particular, folks who are outside of our professional and personal networks. Here’s an example: we manage the largest LGBT aging provider training program in the United States. It’s our job to make sure that people all across the country know the unique needs and resiliencies of LGBT older adults and best practices for working with our communities. We have a group of tireless certified trainers, but several years ago we realized that if we really want to reach as many people as possible, we needed to start working at the grassroots level. There are LGBT older adults and allies across the country in places of worship, community centers, and advocacy groups, and we can’t reach all of these groups even with our committed, but limited, training corps. So we started thinking, how can we engage folks in communities all across the country and help them become advocates within their own networks? How can we raise awareness at the grassroots level?

NRC

This led to the creation of the Volunteer Education Ambassador Program. Ambassadors register on SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging website and are given a toolkit including a PowerPoint presentation, a script, and a set of Frequently Asked Questions. Ambassadors are encouraged to use these materials to raise awareness about LGBT aging, and when we receive requests for speakers we can pass those requests along to Ambassadors. With 160 Ambassadors in 43 states, this program has proven to be a great way for us to get the word out about LGBT aging in areas and networks that we otherwise would not have been able to reach. The leadership of a community group in San Diego, Boise, or New Orleans might not respond to our call or email about LGBT aging, but they often are interested when approached by somebody they know.

At this year’s Aging in America conference we’ll be facilitating a workshop about “Engaging Volunteers in Grassroots Awareness Building” where we will discuss the successes and challenges we’ve experienced developing this program. We will be answering questions like, what can a grassroots program accomplish for your organization? Why do people volunteer, and how can you keep them engaged? If you are going to attend the conference please stop by, and if you are interested in becoming an Ambassador please register here!

TJohnston1-150x150Tim R. Johnston, PhD is the Assistant Director of Social Enterprise & Training at Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). He is responsible for directing SAGE’s national training initiatives, developing training curricula, and providing consulting services to both aging and LGBT service providers. He tweets at @johnstontimr. 

 

 

 

S_wayland-1-150x150Sherrill Wayland is the Manager of National Projects at Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), where she manages the day-to-day operations of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging (NRC) as well as working with SAGE’s National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative and other key national projects.

 

 

 

 

March 14, 2016

Navajo Nation Leaders meet with the National Indian Council on Aging

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition on March 13th, 2o16. Read the original post here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Navajo Nation Leaders meet with the National Indian Council on Aging 

Navajo-1024x768
(L-R) Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, Alta Bluehouse, Administrator, Annie Wauneka Life Care, Randella Bluehouse, Executive Director, National Indian Council on Aging, Inc., Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

Albuquerque, New Mexico – March 9, 2016 – It is inspiring when Tribal leaders demonstrate their concerns and commitment to our cherished elders. The National Indian Council on Aging, Inc. (NICOA) in Albuquerque, NM received a special visit from the Navajo Nation President Begaye and Vice President Nez on March 7, 2016. They talked about their plans to create opportunities for intergenerational programs that will bring elders and youth together to strengthen the values of the Navajo Life Ways. Vice President Begay commented that “it is the obligation of the Navajo Nation to ensure that our language, culture and values from our elders to our youth continue to flourish and evolve.”

The Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President graciously offered opportunities for NICOA to have direct access to their office. This access will help in building greater opportunities for elders to age at home and on the Navajo Nation with supports and resources for their needs. Randella Bluehouse, National Indian Council on Aging Executive Director,  states, “I am honored and hopeful for our elders across the Navajo Nation, because this visit was long in coming and sets a strong precedent for NICOA to work with the Navajo Nation as we advocate together to improve the health, social services, and economic wellbeing of American Indian elders.”

The Navajo Nation is vastly rural and faces a growing population of elders that need long-term care and support services, caregiver supports for elders with disabilities and dementia care needs, and for community-based nutrition and social services offered through the Navajo Nation Area Agency on Aging.

NICOA extended an invitation to the Navajo Nation Leadership, elders, caregivers, and service providers to join us in Niagara Falls, NY from September 13th-15th for the 21st Biennial NICOA Conference on Aging in Indian Country. This year we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the creation of NICOA. The conference registration materials will be posted on the NICOA website at www.nicoa.org. For more information, you may call us at (505) 292-2001.

NICOA is greatly honored and privileged to meet with our Navajo Nation leaders as they plan for the future growth and well-being of Navajo elders, youth and families.

ABOUT NICOA

NICOA is a national nonprofit with the mission to advocate for improved comprehensive health, social services, and economic well-being for American Indian and Alaska Native Elders.

For more information, contact:
Randella Bluehouse, Executive Director
rbluehouse@nicoa.org
505-292-2001
www.nicoa.org

###

March 10, 2016

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

This post, in honor of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (March 10th) comes from Maria Eugenia Lane of NHCOA. This post originally appeared on the Diverse Elders Coalition blog on March 10, 2016. Read the original post here.

Women and girls are often an overlooked population in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Yet, about one-quarter of Americans living with HIV are women and girls. Tragically, many of these women and girls are youth or older adults. Today, about 26% of new HIV diagnoses are youth aged 13-24 and about 25% of those living with HIV are adults aged 55 and older.

The importance in preventing HIV among women and girls is recognized each year on March 10 through the National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day. It is important for the health and happiness of women and girls nationwide that they are empowered to make decisions that will protect them from HIV/AIDS, including abstinence, protection and testing.

Hiv

Diverse women and girls and older women often do not know that they are vulnerable to infection with HIV. These populations especially need to be informed about HIV and the steps to take to protect oneself from infection.

Cristina, Nina for short, for example was an independent teenager with a mind of her own. She wanted to be free and so rebelled against her parents and did whatever she wanted. Only her grandmother could get her to listen, although Nina did not always take her Grandmother’s advice seriously. She thought her Grandmother was old-fashioned. Her Grandmother was worried about Nina, so she talked to her repeatedly about the importance of protecting herself against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Nina dismissed her Grandmother’s advice because her Grandmother’s stress on abstinence as the best way to protect herself from HIV and other STD’s. One day, however, Nina was talking with her friend’s boyfriend when he confided in her that he was HIV positive and he did not know how to tell his girlfriend. Nina was frightened as she thought that this could be happening to her. Her Grandmother’s advice came flooding back. She told her friend’s boyfriend that he must tell his girlfriend and begin to use protection on the counsel of a doctor. She also realized that caring for oneself is more important than anything else. She was so impacted by this lesson that she decided to work with girls of her age to educate them on how to be free and independent while respecting themselves and protecting themselves from HIV.

If you are a woman or girl, love yourself and take action to protect yourself from HIV!

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition. Photo courtesy of Adam Jones. https://www.flickr.com/photos/adam_jones

March 8, 2016

Remembering International Women’s Day

By Vera Lukacs 

In today’s world, women of all ages are largely overlooked, discouraged, and unsupported in accomplishing their goals. This is especially true in the LGBT older women’s community. It is critical that in the larger community we are empowering and elevating the voices of women of all ages and backgrounds. With this in mind, SAGE is celebrating the following individuals: 

 

LtoRKatherineAceyandMichaelAdams
Katherine Acey and SAGE's CEO Michael Adams at Creating Change-- Photo by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

Katherine Acey, recipient of the SAGE Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues, is exceptionally noteworthy. Acey, an Arab American, is a highly respected feminist in the LGBT older adult community. She was the executive director for Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice for 23 years. Two other notable heroes are Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz, recipients of the SAGE Pioneer Award. Berman and Kurtz have been together for 42 years and married since July 26th, 2011— two days after New York recognized marriage equality. Featured in the documentary, Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House, the couple fights for the protection and equality of LGBT elders. 

Who are some of your favorite heroines? It can be a celebrity, a friend, or an inspiring family member like mine.  

When I was asked to write about the significance of Women’s History Month and SAGE’s work with women throughout the years, I spent days racking my brain trying to think of who I could claim as an inspiring female role model. I thought about women in history like Audre Lorde, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and CeCe McDonald. Or maybe I’d list some of my best friends, who are all doing incredible work for the women’s rights movement. While making burritos for my partner and I on a Sunday night, my mind suddenly went to my female role model: my 14-year-old cousin, Olivia Najarian.  

I first heard about the remarkable work Olivia is doing with the World Bicycle Relief through her mother’s Facebook. World Bicycle Relief is an organization that provides bikes to people in communities that are less fortunate. In April 2015, Olivia kick-started her work with the organization by writing an essay for their blog on why she wanted to fundraise for them, and the importance of certain disparities between western culture and that of other parts of the world. She is currently working on a project of her own called Good Spokes, a nonprofit that aims to provide safe access to education on health care for people in need. Olivia is just one example of what a young woman can achieve with a bit of support, encouragement, and a lot of determination. 

Vera Lukacs is SAGE's Digital Media Assistant. 

March 7, 2016

SAGE Story: Diversifying Public Narratives on Aging

12841378_10154197993090353_2398435676462151264_oThis week, thanks to the generous support of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, SAGE Story continues to bring storytelling to LGBT older people around the country to address discrimination and reshape the narrative on aging in America.

Piloted in New York City and expanded to multiple sites in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other states, SAGE Story draws on the unique life experiences of LGBT elders to diversify the public narratives on aging and LGBT rights. Stories this week include Gwendolyn in North Carolina, who discusses faith and how her relationship with God connects to members of the LGBT community. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Shelby shares her struggle with discrimination during her gender transition.

Follow #SAGEStory on social for more stories. To learn more about these and other stories, or to share your story, visit sageusa.org/sagestory.

February 29, 2016

The History & Future of the Black Trans Rights Movement

Presenters-- History and Future
Martin and Vazquez with SAGE event attendees

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's Digital Media Assistant, Vera Lukacs, shares her experience from attending an event at the SAGE Center Midtown.

On February 23rd, 2016, Jevon Martin and Mya Vazquez hosted a talk on the History and Future of the Black Trans Rights Movement at SAGE Center Midtown. The speakers discussed the past, present and future of the black trans rights movement throughout history, while facilitating an ongoing discussion with those who attended. 

In recent years, the transgender rights movement has become more visible in the media and our everyday lives. However, trans people, and especially trans people of color, are being killed and discriminated at an alarming rate. According to the NCAVP’s Anti LGBTQ & HIV-Affected Hate Violence in 2014, 80% of homicide victims in 2014 were people of color. Furthermore, 55% of homicide victims were transgender women. “The transgender rights movement is something that feels new to a lot people, and to other people, it doesn’t feel that new. But we don’t tend to recognize just how far back it goes and how intertwined it is with the history of the entire LGBT movement.” said Pony Knowles, the program coordinator for the event. 

Tumblr_m5m9acz4wr1qgh5fh
Sylvia and Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson (far left)

Jevon Martin, the NYS Chapter president of Black Transmen Inc., spoke about his own transgender heroes from the past, present, and his vision for the future. Martin began by showcasing transgender individuals such as Tracey Africa, a transgender African-American woman from New Jersey. She modeled all over the world from Milan and Paris, and eventually was the face of the Clairol Born Beautiful hair color boxes. Next on the list was Willmer “Little Ax” Broadnax, a famous musician born in Mississippi. It wasn’t until Willmer died that people found out he was assigned female at birth. Martin went on to talk about a few notable individuals, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two of the most visible pioneers in the transgender rights movement and Stonewall riots. 

Some of Martin's and Vazquez’s current heroes are Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Kim Watson (who was scheduled to be a speaker at this event, but was injured and unable to attend). Both Watson and Miss Major are influential leaders in the black transgender rights movement.  

Kim Watson is the Co-Founder of Community Kinship Life, an organization that is dedicated to “provide the trans community with the tools needed to achieve their personal goals while having a sense of community and kinship.” Griffin-Gracy is the Executive Director at Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, an organization that serves trans people who are currently incarcerated or are former inmates.  
 
As the event drew to a close, it was clear the audience was left with an appreciation of a community they were not deeply familiar with prior to the meeting. This event, sponsored by SAGE, is part of a larger effort by the organization to bring visibility to the transgender community and create solidarity within the larger LGBT movement.  

February 16, 2016

Supporting Diverse Older Women Seeking Jobs

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's partners at the Diverse Elders Coalition are pleased to present this guest post from Jenna McDavid, Communications and Logistics Associate, Diverse Elders Coalition.

 

I remember reading this article in the New York Times back in January – on New Year’s Day, no less; what a way to kick off 2016! – and thinking about the older women I’ve met and worked with at the Diverse Elders Coalition. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with elders at the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging and the Asian Counseling and Referral Services here in Seattle, and I was fortunate to observe a computer class at SAGE’s Midtown Manhattan Center in New York City when I visited their offices last year. In almost every instance, I heard about the bleak job-hunting prospects for diverse women over 50.

The New York Times article linked above offers some heartbreaking anecdotes of women who are unemployed and unable to find meaningful work; in addition to those who are counted on census data as “unemployed,” still more women are working but unable to make ends meet with low-paying, low-skilled jobs. Add in the multiple layers of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia that our elders of color and LGBT elders may face, and we find harsh employment reality for the communities we serve.

This graph from the New York Times shows long-term unemployment in older American women, but does not account for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

This graph from the New York Times shows long-term unemployment in older American women, but does not account for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

 So, what can we do to support the women in our communities who are looking for work? One solution comes from SAGE, whose SAGEWorks program provides education and training to LGBT job-seekers over 40. I love this program, because it offers support from start to finish through the job-hunting process, including technology and resume-building workshops, computer software and internet access, and job placement assistance.

A colleague at SAGE recently shared with me a recent video interview with Diane Wilson, a SAGEWorks participant from New York, and I was moved by Diane’s years of experience with unemployment and underemployment. She is trained in film and TV production but is currently working only part-time as a professor at a local university. Like so many of the women in the New York Times article and in our families and communities, Diane has skills, knowledge, and training in a specialized field that hasn’t manifested in steady employment, especially since the 2008 recession.

The economic security of our diverse elders is a key priority for our coalition; without steady work, retirement and financial planning, and money to keep a roof over our heads, our communities can neither survive nor thrive. We love what SAGEWorks is doing to support the diverse women who come to their doors seeking employment assistance. Other members of our coalition are fighting, too, to bring economic security to our communities: both NAPCA and NICOA both run successful Senior Community Service Employment Programs (SCSEP) that connects elders with job training and placement. NHCOA advocates for paid leave so that our community members never have to choose between their families and their jobs. And SEARAC has worked to support the economic empowerment of the Southeast Asian American communities across the country.

My resolution this year is to better support the older women in my communities who are seeking employment. Through my work with the DEC and in volunteering with programs like SAGEWorks, I hope that on New Year’s Day 2017, we’ll instead be reading articles about the employment gains being made by our diverse elders. I’ve already even worked out a headline: Baby Boomers Enjoy Employment Boom! New York Times editorial board, take note.

- See more at: http://www.diverseelders.org/2016/02/15/supporting-diverse-older-women-seeking-jobs/#sthash.oimp9DGL.dpuf

 

February 12, 2016

It’s Never Too Early To Start Retirement Planning…Is It?

In honor of Black History Month, SAGE will be sharing a series of posts from partners and constituents sharing their stories. SAGE's partners at the Diverse Elders Coalition are pleased to present this guest post from Vega Subramaniam of Vega Mala Consulting.

VegaSometimes I wonder if I’m being a bit too morbid, spending as much brainpower as I do thinking about end-of-life experiences. I’m not that old yet. People older than me who are smart and thoughtful about their lives are not thinking about post-retirement life yet. Actually, sometimes when I bring this up, friends will look at me like, “Vega. You’re 50. I think you’ll be working for maybe a year or two still.”

It’s not that I don’t know that I’ve got some employment time ahead of me. It’s that when I witness the stories of my elders, what keeps haunting me is premature death. And let’s be honest: every death is premature.

I think about my father-in-law, Raj: a public administrator, CPA, and active community member. Back in the late 1980s, he and a group of (South Indian Hindu) community members came together to begin conversations about their futures. He was among the oldest of the group, at the time being in his mid fifties. Some of the others were as much as ten or fifteen years younger.

What brought them together was a growing sense of urgency about having an end game in mind. They – their community – were the first generation of post-1965 immigrants from India. They were Hindu and well educated and came to the U.S. expecting to provide a strong education for their children – and then “go back home to India.” That was a dream cherished by probably the vast majority of those early arrivals.

And yet.

A decade, two, three went by, and they remained here in the States. They might have been doing fine financially, but when it came to their retirement – and beyond – they had no idea. In the India they left back in the day, they’d have moved into their oldest son’s home. Here? In the late 1980s? Not likely.

So what was left? What did they have? Each other, as it turned out.

So there they were, in the late 1980s, starting conversations with each other about their post-retirement plans. That led to research on retirement communities, which led to conversations with real estate agents and developers, financial advisors, lawyers – and which culminated in the early 2000s in plans to build a Hindu, vegetarian 55+ condo community on land adjacent to the Sri Shiva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, MD. The community was to be called Bhagya Village, and those initial community members all invested money toward making it happen.

Fast forward to 2008, when the economy was ripped out from under us. The Bhagya Village team had escaped losing money by virtue of a fortuitous decision to postpone buying land based on murmurings of a real estate crash. Averting that disaster, though, meant delaying development for years.

Fast forward to 2013. Raj was now 80 and newly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (i.e., emphysema). Bhagya Village had finally bought land and contracted with a developer. According to the timeline, the first units were due to open in the autumn of 2015. Raj died in December of 2013.

This story, which swirls in my head, is joined by others. One woman I know had a circle of friends who schemed together for their whole lives about their post-retirement adventures. By the time she did retire, she looked around and realized all of her friends had already passed away.

I want to honor and learn from these stories and lessons. So I reflect on them. What’s the lesson? Plan as obsessively and as early as possible so you can realize your dreams before you die? Carpe diem because you never know how long you have? Or are those the poles that we’ll inevitably swing between, like inhaling and exhaling?

There’s a model out there called polarity management, which notes that there are pros and cons associated with each end of any polarity. We’re drawn to the pros of one pole, but then the cons push us like a pendulum to the other pole – where it happens again.

My wife Mala and I are finding our own way through this polarity. Being the self-development process nerds that we are, we spend one weekend in January on an intentional life planning retreat, a practice we started in 2003. As part of that process, we connect with our mission and values, and sketch out our plans for the next couple decades until we (hope to, let’s see what happens) retire. And then we structure our days for this year, and this moment, firmly grounded in our values and long-term goals, regardless of our longevity. At least that way, we can take some comfort in knowing that we have a true north that we’re following.

I had hoped, now, to loop back to the beginning of this post, and offer closure to the question of how morbid I’m being and the stories of my elders that haunt me. But honestly, they still haunt me. For Mala, she’s more settled with the uncertainty, and finding a place in the polarity: carpe diem but feel at peace living intentionally, rooted in values, and heed the Bhagavad Gita: “Be intent on action, not the fruits of action.”