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Eliminate the fear of aging

Dr. Bill Thomas' "Second Wind" theatrical event at Minnesota Orchestra Hall on May 9, 2014.

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What do Boomers (and almost everyone else) fear most about growing old? Lack of money? Lack of mobility? Lack of independence? All three?

Poster from Dr. Bill Thomas' "Second Wind" tour that depicts how elderhood can be transformed.
Poster from Dr. Bill Thomas' "Second Wind" tour that depicts how elderhood can be transformed.
William Fietzer
Gerontologist Dr. Bill Thomas opening his "Second Wind" non-fiction theater event.
Gerontologist Dr. Bill Thomas opening his "Second Wind" non-fiction theater event.
William Fietzer

Turns out that aging doesn’t scare people half so much as the cultural stigma attached to it. That’s the major message of Dr. William Thomas‘s “Second Wind” tour event at the Minnesota Orchestra Hall on Friday afternoon, May 9, 2014. Through a combination of speech, documentary, and music, his three-act “nonfiction theater” event sought to replace the stereotypes surrounding aging with hope, purpose, and transformation.

The first half (Act I) contained a series of five short speeches about aging given from a variety of professional and cultural perspectives. Psychiatrist Dr. Janet Carter and Greenhouse Project Director Susan Frazier examined the topic from the psychological and health care perspectives. Aging is neither a problem to be solved nor a limitation to be overcome but an opportunity to grow, explore, and contribute because, as Carter observed, the research shows “as we get older, we also get wiser.”

Writer Ashton Applewhite and Lifesprk Director Joel Theissen took the cultural and humanist approaches. Fighting ageism, according to Applewhite, is a cultural battle against the tyranny of “Still,” as in her example of an 83-year-old “still” driving her car. For everyone aging is a battle to stave off “innerkill” and “keep doing the things we want to do because “older people are still themselves, just older.” White’s health care anecdotes about allowing patients Fred and Joyce do what they loved to do caused everyone in the audience feel “the contagiousness of the spark” of joy and purpose he had restored in them.

The second half (Act II) consisted of the 30-minute version of Michael Rossato-Bennett’s documentary film, “Alive Inside” and music performed by guitarist Nate Richardson and flutist Samite Mulando. The film documented how music as “a container for living” enabled care givers to breech the walls surrounding institutionalized dementia patients through music therapy. Mulando’s infectious Ugandan rhythms demonstrated the power music has to get even the most rhythm-challenged audience members dancing in the aisles.

The event’s use of media was no more innovative than PowerPoint presentations written large, but its message was persuasive. At the end Dr. Thomas stepped on stage, thanked his colleagues, and then transformed the occasion into an interactive experience. “Act III begins outside those doors. It’s your life. Go out and live it.” How everyone addresses their anxieties related to growing older remains up to them, but “Second Wind” demonstrated how those fears can be alleviated.