by Nancy Hill
In a world that daily throws both curiosities and crises at us, it can be difficult to discern what is important. An unexpected event can render what matters today insignificant tomorrow. How do you keep perspective?
I turned to two groups—children under seven and adults over 70—to explore this question: What is important?
Children, I reasoned, have relatively little to clutter their lives, and in that simplicity they might be able to hone in on what really matters. Adults with more than seven decades of experience would have deep insight into what is most worthy of attention.
I expected to find patterns and did. What people left out was as telling as what they included. No one named prestige or individual success, and hardly anyone mentioned money.
And there was this surprise:
When I began the project, I didn’t know enough people over 70 to create a body of work, so I put a notice in a senior newspaper requesting participants. The response was immediate. And amazing. I met two Holocaust survivors, a woman who had been imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp, a community health nurse who had worked with the Black Panthers, a man with an IQ in the genius range who spent his career working with special needs kids. I met a “Jane,” the name given to all women who worked with an abortion clinic in Chicago before Roe v. Wade, and I photographed a former attorney involved in legislation that allowed abortion under some circumstances for the first time. One woman ran her first half marathon at 79. One gentleman created one of Oregon’s first vineyards.
We live among such remarkable people, yet few know their stories. Why do we show such little appreciation for people beyond a certain age? Policy and decision makers rarely seek their advice. Their faces do not grace the cover of magazines. It is unlikely their stories will show up in a Google search.
I came away from this project with my own list of what’s important. At the top of that list is the importance of connecting with others in general, but in particular with those who have lived long lives. Do not let these people disappear quietly into their homes. Draw them out, engage them in conversation, and learn from them.
Below are samples to the question: What three things matter most to you?
– Magdaleno Rose-Avila (Leno) Born to immigrant parents, Leno was one of 12 children. He began working in Colorado’s onion fields when he 11 and later became deeply involved in workers’ rights. He worked with Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers and in the Chicano movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Together with Sister Helen Prejean, he founded The Moratorium Campaign
* Enjoy meeting people who expand my horizons and give me new insights
*I enjoy reading books. They help me escape from this world of ours
*It is important for me to write my poetry and stories so that I can share my history and dreams with others
– Luca 6
* Mommy, daddy and Elora. My family
*Food and water because if we didn’t have food and water there wouldn’t be any people
*Games because without games there would be no fun
–Starr Farrell A cancer survivor, is a former community health nurse who worked with the Black Panthers.
*Family and friends. Nourishing those relationships as I retain my autonomy
*Maintaining a healthy lifestyle including exercise and nutrition by growing an urban garden
*Seeking information and keeping an open mind
*Family. *Sisters *Bo (dog)
–Frank Thompson who spent 30 years as a prison warden. Two Oregon death row inmates were executed during his years at the Oregon State Penitentiary. He is now a board member for Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
*A healthy relationship with my family and my fellow human beings
*Spiritual God-centered health
*Physical and mental health
*My crazy funny dog Gizmo
*Orrin O. White “Uncle Buddy”
*Soccer since I started playing it when I was 4
–Judith Arcana a writer and activist, was a Jane, a member of the Chicago underground service that helped more than 11,000 women get safe illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade. She holds a Ph.D. in literature and has taught in high schools, colleges, and libraries. She has authored nine books, and her essays and poetry have appeared in numerous anthologies and other publications.
*My health *My dear people*My health *My work
*To be nice to your friends
*Listen to your teachers and you listen to your mom
Excerpt from YES! Magazine. Nancy is a writer and photographer . In 2016 worked on a photo series involving war veterans. In the fall 2016 she began working with Dr. Kathryn Murphy on a photo series of children of substance-addicted parents. Her work has appeared both in print and in galleries. She lives in Portland, Oregon.