“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes, for well aimed sling shots can topple giants.”-Maggie Kuhn, 1905-1995
I was just thinking about Maggie Kuhn who I had the pleasure of interviewing in the 1990’s. She was the outspoken founder of The Gray Panthers which evolved out of her experience of forced retirement from a career in peace and social justice . I love this quote: “The older you get the more outrageous you can be because you have nothing to lose.” She told me she wanted this inscription on her tombstone: “Here lies Maggie Kuhn under the only stone she left unturned.” She passed in 1995 and I imagine she is still raising consciousness and maybe a necessary ruckus somewhere. What most touched me about Maggie was how unapologetic she was (and why should she be?) for living in defiance of the stereotypes assigned to older folks. She surrounded herself with people from multiple generations; living in what I call a ‘family of choice’ home in Philly; with people in their 20’s and 30’s. She never married and had lovers many years her junior. By taking a stand for elders, she took a stand for all, since there will come a time when we (if we are lucky), reach our 70’s or 80’s. There are times when I think “I want to be like her when I grow up.” She seemed not to shrink, but rather, to expand when faced with challenges, facing up to naysayers. She was quite a force of nature and spoke openly about sex, which created discomfort in some who listened. According to this WWWOW (what I refer to as Wise, Wild, Wonderful Older Woman), “Sex and learning end only when rigor mortis sets in.”
Maggie feels like a kindred spirit in many ways to the elders that have been in my life, from maternal and paternal grandmothers, aunts and a cousin who were young widows and who recreated their lives as a result (kinda like me, when I was widowed at 40 and started anew). I have been blessed as well, with having my parents in my life into their 80’s and they were marvels at fresh starts following ‘retirement’ at 65 that led to nearly 2o more years of paid and volunteer work in their community. My Dad worked in their Town Center gym, bowling alley and skating rink and my Mom taughter water aerobics and senior stretch class called Stretching With Selma. Their resilience in the face of change and challenges has always inspired me.
These days, I have friends in their 70’s and 80’s, including Hannelore and Bob Goodwin who run Circle of Miracles (an interfaith spiritual community of which I am a part); beloved mentor Yvonne Kaye, veteran radio talk show host, author, speaker, interfaith minister; Denny Daikeler; interior designer and writer who with another friend, minister and educator, Gary Culp create exquisite dance perfomances. He and his wife Jennifer moved from Pennsylvania to Mexico and run a multi-cultural school for children of ex-pats. Jim Donovan (likely the youngest of the bunch), wrote a book called Don’t Let An Old Person Move Into Your Body, that speaks about the outdated ideas around aging and the ways in which we can maintain not only longevity, but quality of life.
These friends inspire this about to turn 54 year old, to live each day as outrageously as possible as I recognize my role as family matriarch and fellow WWWOW!