Opinion Articles from our Members and our Steering Committee members.

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Chair's Corner

In May and June, we celebrate two holidays – Mother’s Day in May and Father Day in June. Sadly, the war in Ukraine is continuing and we cannot celebrate world peace. This is an appropriate segue into the origins of Mother’s Day from Heather Cox Richardson, the well-known American historian. She tells us “As the reality of women’s lives is being erased” (i.e., by the potential elimination of Roe vs Wade) “in favour of an image of women as mothers”, she wanted to point out why Mother’s Day began in 1908. 

At that time, Anna Jarvis decided to honor her mother. Richardson tells us “Mothers’ Day” actually “started in the 1870s, when the sheer enormity of the death caused by the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War convinced American women that women must take control of politics from the men who had permitted such carnage. Mothers’ Day was not designed to encourage people to be nice to their mothers. It was part of women’s effort to gain power to change modern society.” She noted, “Men were trampled into blood-soaked mud, piled like cordwood in ditches, or transformed into emaciated corpses after dysentery drained their lives away…. The women who had watched their men march off to war were haunted by its results. They lost fathers, husbands, sons. The men who did come home were scarred in body and mind.”

When First Lady Jill Biden celebrated Mother’s Day with an unannounced visit to western Ukraine, she was continuing this noble pursuit of gaining power though peace. She visited Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska at a school currently being used to house internally displaced Ukrainians. On her Facebook page, Biden posted: “On this Mother’s Day, my heart is with you, First Lady Olena Zelenska, and all of the brave and resilient mothers of Ukraine.” 

Father's Day was inaugurated in the early 20th century to complement Mother's Day. Again, war was a feature of this day. Father’s Day was founded in Spokane, Washington at the YMCA in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd. Her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who raised his six children there. After hearing a sermon about Jarvis's Mother's Day she told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday honoring them. 

So, when we think of these days, let’s remember also that in today’s world we have all sorts of mothers and fathers. These mothers and fathers are not only in heterosexual relationships but also represent lesbian, gay and transgender families. They may also be part of immigrant, minority and oppressed groups. Let’s celebrate this diversity as we also remember our own parents.

Heather Cox Richardson, from Letters from an American, May 7, 2022

I told this story here two years ago, but I want to repeat it tonight, as the reality of women’s lives is being erased in favor of an image of women as mothers…. 

If you google the history of Mother’s Day, the internet will tell you that Mother’s Day began in 1908 when Anna Jarvis decided to honor her mother. But “Mothers’ Day”—with the apostrophe not in the singular spot, but in the plural—actually started in the 1870s, when the sheer enormity of the death caused by the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War convinced American women that women must take control of politics from the men who had permitted such carnage. Mother's Day was not designed to encourage people to be nice to their mothers. It was part of women’s effort to gain power to change modern society.

The Civil War years taught naïve Americans what mass death meant in the modern era. Soldiers who had marched off to war with fantasies of heroism discovered that long-range weapons turned death into tortured anonymity. Men were trampled into blood-soaked mud, piled like cordwood in ditches, or transformed into emaciated corpses after dysentery drained their lives away.

The women who had watched their men march off to war were haunted by its results. They lost fathers, husbands, sons. The men who did come home were scarred in body and mind.

Modern war, it seemed, was not a game.

But out of the war also came a new sense of empowerment. Women had bought bonds, paid taxes, raised money for the war effort, managed farms, harvested fields, worked in war industries, reared children, and nursed soldiers. When the war ended, they had every intention of continuing to participate in national affairs. But the Fourteenth Amendment, which established that African American men were citizens, did not mention women. In 1869, women organized the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association to promote women’s right to have a say in American government.

From her home in Boston, Julia Ward Howe was a key figure in the American Woman Suffrage Association. She was an enormously talented writer, who had penned The Battle Hymn of the Republic in the early years of the Civil War, a hymn whose lyrics made it a point to note that Christ was “born of woman.” 

Howe was drawn to women’s rights because the laws of her time meant that her children belonged to her abusive husband. If she broke free of him, she would lose any right to see her children, a fact he threw at her whenever she threatened to leave him. She was not at first a radical in the mold of reformer Elizabeth Cady Stanton, believing that women had a human right to equality with men. Rather, she believed strongly that women, as mothers, had a special role to perform in the world.

For Howe, the Civil War had been traumatic, but that it led to emancipation might justify its terrible bloodshed. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 was another story. She remembered:

"I was visited by a sudden feeling of the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest. It seemed to me a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed. The question forced itself upon me, “Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone know and bear the cost?”

Howe had a new vision, she said, of “the august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities.” She sat down immediately and wrote an “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World.” Men always had and always would decide questions by resorting to “mutual murder.” But women did not have to accept this state of affairs, she wrote. Mothers could command their sons to stop the madness.

"Arise, women!” Howe commanded. “Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’”

Howe had her document translated into French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Swedish and distributed it as widely as her extensive contacts made possible. She believed that her Women’s Peace Movement would be the next great development in human history, ending war just as the antislavery movement had ended human bondage. She called for a “festival which should be observed as mothers’ day, and which should be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines” to be held around the world on June 2 of every year, a date that would permit open-air meetings.

Howe organized international peace conferences, and American states developed their own Mothers’ Day festivals. But Howe quickly gave up on her project. She realized that there was much to be done before women could come together on such a momentous scale. She turned her attention to women’s clubs “to constitute a working and united womanhood.”

As she worked to unite women, she threw herself into the struggle for women’s suffrage, understanding that in order to create a more just and peaceful society, women must take up their rightful place as equal participants in American politics.

Perhaps Anna Jarvis remembered seeing her mother participate in an original American Mothers’ Day when she decided to honor her own mother in the early twentieth century. And while we celebrate modern Mother’s Day, in this momentous year of 2022 it’s worth remembering the original Mothers’ Day and Julia Ward Howe’s conviction that women must make their voices heard.

Chair's Corner - May, 2022

In April, we saw the escalation of the war in Ukraine, and I understood from some DA colleagues that many American Seniors abroad are quite worried about this state of affairs. Yes, we need to be hopeful and indeed supportive of our government’s policies with regards this war. As I said in March’s Chair’s Corner many, if not all of us, “remember the trauma of World War II and many of us, had fathers and relatives who participated in that war. War always brings suffering and trauma.” Let us hope that this war does not drag on and that we can celebrate a peaceful solution to this conflict.

I am happy to report that our WEP Committee had its first meeting on April 6th and a smaller group met on April 9th. We are working hard to come together to eliminate WEP. I would like to thank Rebecca Lammers, Chair of the Taxation Task Force for her help and leadership in our formation of this WEP committee. Also, the Medicare Part B/ Medicare Portability Committee had our first meeting on April 14th. We are liaising with the Medicare Portability Task Force (MPTF), chaired by Heather Stone and thank her for her help. In our new Seniors Medicare Part B Committee, chaired by Toni Kamins (who is also a member of the MPTF) we are hoping to have a clear understanding of Medicare Part B for those of us living abroad as well as to make Medicare Portable. Thank you to all those members of the Seniors Caucus who volunteered for these committees. We need many hands on deck.

Finally, I would like to celebrate with you the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson as an Associate Justice for the Supreme Court. It was a difficult confirmation. I felt horrified and sometimes physically sick by how this dear judge was treated by some Senators in the Judiciary Committee. It felt to me as if their words were shaped by racism and misogyny. Nevertheless, this well-qualified and intelligent woman was confirmed. I am currently reading the biography of Constance Baker Motley, another judge who was an inspiration for Justice Jackson. Both are inspirational women and patriotic Americans.

Exercise and Aging- Part Two

Last month I suggested that regular exercise is a key aspect of managing one’s aging — that it reduces the health risks that accompany aging and that it allows for a more engaged and rewarding life. I also promised to provide you with a recipe for developing a productive and sustainable pattern of exercise.

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” When Theodore Roosevelt said those words, he was not talking about engaging in physical exercise, but if we look at his life, he would likely have agreed with that interpretation. And he would be right in all three regards: engaging in regular physical exercise is hard work; it is work worth doing; and if we have the chance to do it, life has given us a prize.

How can you get started?

It will depend on your circumstances, but let me lay out a suggested approach, with the understanding that you will adapt it to fit your situation.

  • Start with a 40-minute workout, consisting of four minutes of brisk walking, followed by a minute of jogging, and continue to alternate between the walking and the jogging. Do this four times per week. 
  • In one to two weeks, increase the jogging to two minutes (i.e. 4 minutes of walking; 2 minutes jogging; etc.). Then after another week, reduce the walking to three minutes.
  • Continue over the next month to replace walking with jogging until you are jogging four minutes andwalking one minute; and maintain that ratio going forward.

You may think that replacing all the walking with jogging should be the goal, but the short walking breaks protect against injuries and allow you to maintain a better level of effort during the jogging.

Also, after one to two months, increase one weekly workout to 60 minutes.  Having one longer (and hence harder) workout each week will assure that your fitness level keeps improving.

Try to do all your workouts at the same one or two places.  It could be in a park, at a running track or even around your block, but my recommendation is to look for a location where you can go “out and back” — twenty minutes in one direction and then return. I find it much easier to sustain “going forward” than having to run the same lap over and over or than having to make numerous turns. In addition, the “out and back” situation makes very visible your increased fitness, as you can see that your twenty minutes of exercise keeps taking you a farther and farther distance. 

Lastly, let’s talk about boredom.  Some people find the chance to get outdoors and maybe in a peaceful part of nature to be anything but boring.  But you and I are probably not those people.  For us, it is great if we can find an exercise partner.  If not, listening to music, audiobooks or podcasts add a pleasant element to the exercise.  And the frequent changes between walking and jogging can break up the sameness of the exercise.  But let’s not kid ourselves too much.  If we are doing it right, it’s work.  But it is rewarding work.  And, at the ultimate goal of 3 workouts of 40 minutes and one of 60 minutes each week, that is just three hours per week.  It doesn’t have to be fun; we can do that much work each week because it’s worth it.

Exercise and Aging

How are you Feeling Today?  As we enter YEAR THREE of the pandemic, we have to ask ourselves - am I moving enough? Am I making excuses to stay in, not walk, not stay mobile? 

To repurpose an old joke, most of us are not at all afraid of regular exercise. We can sit on the couch and watch someone else exercise with no discomfort at all! 

However, when it comes to doing the exercise ourselves, it tends to get buried beneath higher priorities for most of us. Nonetheless, we are not doing ourselves any favors by skimping on our levels of exercise, especially as we age. And most of us are aware of that fact.

I think that if we were on the Family Feud game show and the question was, “What should a person do to reduce the risk or ameliorate the effects of such chronic diseases as arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease?”, many of us would correctly guess that the top two answers are: (1) Engage in regular exercise; and (2) Maintain a healthy weight. However, knowing those answers and achieving those goals are two different things.

I am going to focus on the question of regular exercise. Let me start by acknowledging three things: (1) regular exercise will need to take different forms for different people; (2) changing one’s routine and daily patterns to add sustained regular exercise is daunting to consider and difficult to do; and (3) there little if any positive reinforcement for weeks or even months. Nonetheless, over time it will reward you in ways that you might not have anticipated. 

If your exercise program is built around regular walking and jogging, it will have the well-known benefits of reducing the risk and severity of many chronic diseases and reducing excess pounds. But it will also have a positive effect on a person’s daily life. Specifically, a person who regularly jogs or walks continuously for 30-40 minutes is likely to maintain a good level of mobility. This is particularly important for older people, because a loss of mobility is directly related to the loss of one’s independence and the abandonment of desired activities and interactions with friends. In short, a loss of mobility shrinks a person’s world. The effect of suitable regular exercise in terms of continued mobility is a hugely valuable benefit.

The second collateral benefit to regular sustained exercise is the person’s own perceptions of him- or herself. For example, suppose you are visiting Iceland and someone recommends that you see its largest waterfall, Dettifoss. It is located nearby, but it is a one kilometer walk away from the nearest road. Do you decide whether to visit Dettifoss by answering the question “How interested am I in seeing another waterfall?” or by answering the question “Will walking one kilometer each way be too hard?”? You can see that the person who asks the first question has a very different and more positive sense of self than the person who asks the second question. Having confidence in one’s physical capability instead of having concerns about one’s physical restrictions produces a very different sense of self. 

Let us suppose that I have convinced you to start or increase your exercise program. How can you do that? I will lay out the steps for creating and carrying out a program tailored to your situation—in the next newsletter. Stay well until then!

A lovely rendition of La Bamba to get you moving from Playing For Change | Song Around the World.  (Courtesy of Irene Chriss)

Chair's Corner - February, 2022

Let us remember that February is Black History Month, and for nearly fifty years we have marked Black History Month by recognizing and honoring the contributions and achievements of Black Americans. Black History Month is a time to celebrate and highlight the wide-ranging roles so many Black Americans have played in our country’s history. We reflect on the contributions of African Americans and how important it is for all of us to make our communities more equitable and just. 

Also, let us remember that there are currently more than 4 million African Americans over the age of 65… with a projected growth of about 12 million by 2060. Like the general population of Seniors, African American Seniors are living longer. However, unlike their White counterparts, “African American Seniors experience significant health disparities, including lower life expectancies and an increased risk of chronic health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, dementia, stroke, and cancer. In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in the impact of racism on the quality of life of African Americans, sparked in part by the Black Lives Matter movement. Research indicates that African Americans—young and old—experience subtle and overt forms of racism. African American Seniors, however, have also experienced cumulative race related stressors that negatively impact their physical and mental health.” 1

For African American Seniors, exposure to cumulative experiences of racism has resulted in limited access to resources such as education, employment, health care, housing, and political participation, contributing to health disparities and increased rates of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and dementia.” 2

We need to be sensitive to our African American Senior brothers and sisters and offer them understanding and empathy. For African Americans, the effects of racism are felt daily. Racism also intersects with other forms of discrimination, including ageism, classism, sexism, ableism, and heterosexism. All Seniors should aim to understand the lens through which individuals view their experiences.

Recently, in pondering Black History Month, Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, said: “The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Jim Crow aren’t “Black History” but European, American and World History. Our history is about a people with roots and hope, who suffered and challenged these evils as multi-faceted, dynamic, diverse beings. + Black History includes Black Joy.” Let’s remember this Black Joy as we celebrate Black History Month for people of all ages and races.

  1. See: The Cochran Firm, Race, Sex & Age Discrimination
  2. Adomakoy, Frances (2018) African-American Older Adults and Race-Related Stress: How Aging and Health Care Providers Can Help, American Psychological Association, Office of Ageing

See also — For Black workers, age discrimination strikes twice