By: Craig Statton Atherton CEO
A recent segment on CBS Sunday Morningnot only greatly inspired me, but also made me feel a bit uncomfortable. You may have seen the story out of Canton, Ohio, where a 95-year old great-grandfather, Mr. Daniel Biss, observed that a young boy in his neighborhood, 4-year old Dylan Stitch, was afraid of jumping off the 20” diving board into his father’s waiting arms. Mr. Biss, a World War II and Korean War veteran, knows a thing or two about courage and hoped he could inspire the boy, so he borrowed a set of swim trunks, stepped onto the diving board, and dove into the pool. It wasn’t the prettiest dive according to Mr. Biss, and he later admitted, “I could have done better.” Nonetheless, his dive had the desired effect because later that same afternoon, Dylan jumped off the board into his father’s arms, and has been jumping without hesitation ever since. As Dylan’s mom said,“It was really neat that [Mr. Biss] inspired him to do it. It was a neat moment.”
As a person who oversees a senior living community, I was thrilled when I listened to Mr. Biss talk about helping “convince” the young man by showing him he could dive off the board. This is the wonderful spirit of so many seniors who have contributed to building our country by embracing any challenge that stood before them. Every day I interact with elders who have the passion and vitality to be involved in their communities and teach their grandchildren or great-grandchildren lessons about life. At our community, we seek to foster this spirit of purpose and independence which allows our residents to become or stay involved with their passions and pursuits — in art or acting, in mentorship, in physical fitness activities like line dancing or Tai Chi, and so much more. While we have yet to offer a diving class, I am reminded each day of the great resources, treasures, and wisdom our seniors offer to our world.
But getting back to the CBS segment – why did this very great story also make me feel uncomfortable?! Someone captured the event on video, and as Mr. Biss stood on the diving board, preparing to inspire, he wobbled and had to be steadied by another adult. When he wobbled, I worried, and wondered what would have happened if he fell or had been injured when he dove off the board. This inspirational story would not have been aired by CBS, and instead could have been part of a news exposé on “Seniors Taking Risks: What Went Wrong?”
It is not news to say that the process of aging results in physical and mental limitations in all of us. These limitations come sooner for some and later for others, but all of us will eventually experience bone and muscle deterioration, loss in our senses of touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste; problems with various body systems including cardiovascular, digestive, and urinary; and the natural loss of cells in our brain. This process can be slowed with proper lifestyle, diet, and exercise, but it cannot be stopped. As these limitations grow, they can require us to change our lifestyle and limit our freedom. Recently, I spoke with a dear friend who is in his late 80s, living in his home alone, and is worried that he might not pass his driving test which is coming up in a few months. The loss of this license would affect his independence and his ability to visit friends and family in his community, something that he loves to do. Yet, if he shouldn’t be driving, it is much safer for him, and others, if he graciously adjusts to this change. The risks could be too great.
Our challenge as a society is to preserve as much independence and autonomy for our seniors as possible, while at the same time maintaining safety and security, so that we can continue to enjoy this rich heritage we have been given. No system will be perfect. Families and loved ones will have to compromise. Elders will have to accept some limitations, and some “safety rails” will have to be put in place. When these are understood, new inspiration and joy can be found. The good news is that Mr. Biss did make a courageous dive, young Dylan overcame his fears and decided to jump, and all who saw the story were inspired. More times than not, when the right things are put in place, the right outcome results. There’s nothing like a little senior inspiration!