What would you do with 7 extra years added to your lifespan? That’s 2,557 days. It’s huge. What would I do? Would I spend them well? Put a lot of quality life into the living? What have I done with the last 7 years? Can I look back on them as time well spent? I believe so. I have nourished a wonderful 30+ year marriage and raised two beautiful, kind daughters during that time span. I have literally climbed many mountains, and skied off the top of a bunch of them. And I believe I have done good work, created good places. At the root of these questions is the question “what makes life worth living.” What does 7 good years look like?
I’m an architect, not a philosopher or theologian. I have spent about 30 years so far trying to create really good places for more frail seniors, people on the Autism spectrum, those with dementia and others with challenges, live and be. Hopefully well. I call it Supportive Living, wanting to move the limiting word “senior” out of it. Some have been successful. Most have at least created authentic places that embrace privacy and autonomy and support the staff to do their work well. But is that good living?
These questions and issues have been floating in my mind for years, while perhaps I have been too overwhelmed by their gravity to address directly, head on as every good question or problem should be. Or maybe I sensed their solutions in the work I do were too complex. It’s much easier to just make pretty buildings.
These thoughts were originally sparked by reading innovative thinkers in this field like Roger Landry (“Live Long Die Short”), Bill Thomas founder of The Eden Alternative, and the genius Oliver Sachs. I was so inspired by thoughts of what could be. But I would have time for that later… And then, about a month ago, I saw a local news story that reminded me of this calling, the reason I actually chose to design in this field, and reignited my passion. The news story discussed a collection of research on what one could do to increase their likelihood of a longer and better life. The story noted that a healthy lifestyle, including things like eating well, managing weight, and exercise could add up to 7 years to a person’s life span. The story went on to say, and I have heard this before, by those above and others, that connection to a community and having a purpose in life was an even bigger factor than a healthy lifestyle in potential longevity. It hit me hard, as it should. The most important factor in BOTH living longer and living happier was purpose and community connection.
Have I created places for real community engagement and continuing ones purpose? “Sort of” didn’t feel good enough. So I decided to write and sketch and think, start this blog, to do better, with a goal of continuing a dialogue about how we can better create settings for those who need Supportive Living that authentically and meaningfully engage
the broader community and embrace opportunities for rich, fulfilling and purposeful living, regardless of challenge or age.
I think it’s going to be hard. If I’m honest it is rare, very rare, to truly have these settings for this population today. But I am hopeful, and excited. I see new possibilities everywhere, and our cultural awareness today is so open and thoughtful and ripe for new ideas.
I’m going to try to be kind, honest, and forward thinking, as well as realistic about the challenges.
But I do believe It is worth the effort. And I do believe anything is possible.
WBA – Concerto Consulting