I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak at a healthy living workshop earlier this week at the senior center in Bucksport. The event was coordinated by center director Sue Ann Craig, in conjunction with the Bucksport Bay Healthy Communities Coalition and local aging in place organizers.
Aging in place is the catchphrase used these days for the effort to help older Mainers stay in the home and community of their choice as long and as independently as possible, through systems that enhance safety, health, social engagement and other aspects of daily life. In broad strokes, these systems include affordable housing options, transportation services, access to health care and personal assistance as needed, opportunities to engage in community events and other considerations. Communities across Maine are getting on board with the need to adapt to their changing demographics — is yours?
Bucksport has been working at becoming age-friendly — safe and welcoming for older residents — for several years, thanks in large part to an active, engaged and self-advocating population of seniors, many of whom attended Tuesday’s workshop.
The event featured two speakers, interim town manager Sue Lessard and me, with opportunities for discussion and a casual lunch. Lessard led off with a recap of Bucksport’s progress and challenges in the aftermath of the 2014 closing of the Verso Paper mill, the town’s leading employer. The audience listened intently, then challenged Lessard with questions relative to improving transparency in town governance, the frequency of transportation service to Bangor, the needs of adults with developmental challenges and the possibility of maintaining a year-round public restroom downtown to encourage shopping and the use of the city’s inviting mile-long walkway along the bank of the Penobscot River.
Suddenly, in the face of these serious-minded ideas, the breezy Powerpoint presentation I had prepared on the topic of “active aging” seemed a little inane. Clearly, this group knew all about the benefits of staying active and engaged as we age. Nonetheless, with help from the town’s digital media troubleshooter, we got the technology working and I fired up my inexpert slideshow.
Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I think it went OK. It helped that I have a long and abiding affection for the town of Bucksport, which I came to know in the relatively prosperous days of the early 1970s, when I first moved to Maine. I told my audience about driving across the old Waldo-Hancock suspension bridge, recently replaced by the cable-stay Penobscot Narrows Bridge, and staying at the historic Jed Prouty Inn on Main Street, now converted into senior housing. I admitted that I thought the paper mill was an unfortunate blight on the landscape until I smartened up enough to understand that it was the very foundation of the town’s prosperity and culture.
They listened patiently as I recounted my divorce, my subsequent foray into online dating and my first eyeball-to-eyeball meeting with Douglas, which kicked off, prosaically enough, in the parking lot of the Bucksport Hannaford store and wrapped up with dinner at MacLeod’s Restaurant. Now, I said, nearly 45 years after realizing that Maine was home, I live just across the river in Sandy Point and turn gratefully to Bucksport for shopping, entertainment and the services of my fabulous massage therapist.
Eventually, I got around to talking about active aging, including the benefits of a holistic approach that attends to our physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual needs. As we grow older and our abilities and goals change, I said, we should aim for balance in these essential elements of our humanity, for it is in that balance that we find wholeness, health and true well-being.
What I didn’t say and should have was this: as a woman in my 60s, I understand from a personal perspective the need for communities to come together and plan for a future that includes, upholds and honors our senior citizens. And it is incumbent upon each of us, to the extent we are able, to be part of that process, to make our voices heard, to contribute our intelligence, creativity, compassion and idealism to preparing for our own aging in Maine.The lively, engaged group at the Bucksport Senior Center knows just what I mean, even if I didn’t have a Powerpoint slide to illustrate it.