“You can have everything, just not all at once.”
(Some sagely advice from Quentin Bryce, Australia’s retiring septuagenarian Governor-General, shared yesterday morning at her farewell morning tea, when asked by a much younger person about her reflections on her career).
Yesterday I was at a fundraiser for the Big Issue. I went by myself, which for a guy with a history of social awkwardness at such functions, was a bit of a risk. I was hoping to meet some new people now I’m living in Melbourne, and I was first to put my name down on the team sheets for the barefoot lawn bowling that was to ensue.
As the start time for the bowls approached, I wandered down to the green. The crowd was eclectic in appearance with a fair swathe of bohemian middle aged types. Then I heard a gruff voice say “Paul?” and I turned around. There stood an elderly gentleman, wrinkles on wrinkles, bedecked in very sensible attire (it’s good to know most of us will end up more sensible compared to when we start life’s journey). “I’m Russ. You’re in my team.” “Nice to meet you” I replied, smiling.
Russ and I played bowls the rest of the afternoon together. Team members of all sorts and ages came and went, all with some loose connection to the Big Issue. Eventually, I asked Russ what his connection was. “Well, I like having a chat with the local bloke who sells the magazine near my home. He told me about today, and, well, I just like to feel a part of something.”
I pondered on that as each ball I bowled ended up too short or in the gutter (Russ, meanwhile, was “landing them on a sixpence”, as the old expression goes). We ended up being on a team of one of the guest musicians providing entertainment pro bono for the afternoon, Mick Thomas from the 1980’s pub band ‘Weddings, Parties, Anything’. Mick had just finished his rather excellent set, in which he shared a story, which went like this: years ago he was playing a well-paid gig at a major tennis tournament, but he was miserable that day. The young audience just didn’t get the music, and kept asking for him to play a Pearl Jam cover. He told them to get stuffed, and then later wrote a song about it. In response to the story, a 50-something groupie yelled from the crowd “we still love you, Mick!”. He smiled back, in recognition of the importance of still having people who would listen to him now.
I paid heed. At the end of the lawn bowls, I stood and chatted some more with Russ, rather than go over to listen to the final musician play. I wanted to know more about this man who had been an adult on earth for three times as long as I. Some key facts emerged: He had spent 9 months on a yacht in 1967, he had been a teacher (of adults) for 4 years at the end of his career and he had a passion for learning. He had tried a technique many years ago that I had also evolved into (see my earlier post “Permission”), that of explaining the training technique to the learners first. Russ shared that it was on the basis of the work of Freud and A.S. Neill’s Summerhill school. Our discussion turned into a vigorous one around learning styles, concept and approach.
My afternoon had not turned out as I expected, but better. I drove home trying to quantify how many elderly people there are, withering on the vine, out of the loop, dislocated, sitting in their rooms in retirement villages and nursing homes; their knowledge, talent and energy going to waste, their lives lacking the fulfilment being useful could bring.
In a country town two weeks ago, I co-ran a workshop with a credit manager of 35 years experience. I threw to him constantly as a subject matter expert, and the 7 new bank managers in the room (most in their 20’s) hung off his every word as he shared his stories. But what will happen when he retires? Should it be just like flicking off a switch?
I feel like I have some unfinished business here. I’ve added two things to my development plan: research A.S. Neill’s work (thanks Russ) and work on how we can get people post-retirement into the workshops we run.