Being called…

According to Stina Hanson, ‘we come into being as a response to a call from the other’.
I find this an incredibly beautiful quote. It is in our engagement that agency is activated. By responding to being called, our Being comes to life. If no one calls our name, will we know who we are?
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
If no one calls us into Being, what happens to us – do we no longer exist? Coming into Being is such a powerful descriptor for the reason that we are here – to Become, to grow. It also incorporates what Ubuntu stands for – that “I am because of you”. Desmond Tutu says “it is not ‘I think therefore I am’ it is ‘I belong, therefore I am’”. I think we not only wait to be called upon, but also that we are to call on one another, to hold each other accountable.
COVID-19 taught us so many lessons. One of them is that we are all connected to each other, that we are all responsible for each other, and that this idea of individual rights at the expense of others is simply no longer tolerable. Trump’s idea of the world is being showcased as the biggest disaster ever. I cannot help but think of the biblical phrase “am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer, in my opinion, is yes, you are. We all are.
Holding this sacred space means that I am mindful of you, I see you, I honour you. The person begging at the traffic light, the man offering to push your trolley at the shops or the parking attendant. And that (s)he not just your brother, it is (wo)mankind, it is our planet, every animal and plant on earth is your brother, and you its keeper. People living with dementia are also our brother and sister, for it is in our calling on them, literally and figuratively speaking, that they Become. Their Being-in-the-world is affected by our calling on them, the way we see them, think about them and treat them. The same holds true for every interaction that we have – it is our calling that determines their becoming.
The severe isolation hopefully taught us what it feels like when not being called.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 <> <>


Older people and Well-being “A large body of empirical and theoretical research, however, supports the idea that negative changes increase in later adulthood and old age, as everyday experiences and stereotypes might indeed lead us to expect (P. B. Baltes, 1997). At the same time, many studies show that for the large majority of older people, subjective well-being does not decrease in later adulthood, at least into the early phases of old age (P. B. Baltes, 1997). This implies the existence of different mechanisms at work, which buffer or completely absorb the impact of increasingly negative development influences.
This aspect of aging has never been more important than it is today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century: Society is graying (Williamson, 2002), and historically speaking, this is a “young” phenomenon (P. B. Baltes & Baltes, 1990). Nevertheless, despite the growing population of elderly people—both because more people are living to reach old age and because on average they are living longer (Maier & Vaupel, 2003)—there is much evidence that elderly people in this aging society will do better socially, physically, and psychologically than any older generation before them. “ Part of the ageist society that we have created is the (accepted) projection of an image of decline and deficit in the later years of life. We have all come to believe that it is nothing to look forward to, and that being old is often a time of misery. For the most, that is what we are fed by mainstream and social media on a daily basis. I want to challenge that based on the article cited above.
There is now a wealth of evidence that is worth paying attention to, not only for what it produces, but for the fact that it is based on research that includes the global South (previously known as the “third world” or “developing countries”). Unfortunate as it is that it still does not cover older people across the spectrum in developing countries, it gives a good indication of what we consider to be a global phenomenon – that older people generally believe that they are living a good life. Of course when we focus on deficits and decline and our research explores only those aspects, we will have a skewed view of the well-being of older people. (Someone recently explained how statistics work: if you have your head in the blazing oven and your feet in the freezer, your ass will be warm…). What statisticians want to find they will find.
The upshot of this is that if we (as the general “younger” population) see older people as “suffering from…”, that will be the way that we frame their Being-in-the-world. It creates the lens through which we see older people, which in turn becomes the way that we treat them. Of course, even worse is the secondary affect – older people start believing what we tell them and what they read about themselves in the media – that they are indeed a “care burden on the world economy”!
Whilst thousands of older people died during the COVID-19 pandemic, this does not mean that as a population they are feeble or frail, nor that they are the worst off in terms of well-being during this time. On the contrary – every single older person that I spoke to seems to be strong minded, grateful for what they had and not nearly as phased as some of my younger friends were. There is a quality in ageing that somehow we often do not see (or perhaps want to see) – and I don’t quite know how to describe it. “Downward compensation” comes to mind, that older people develop the ability to see that there are always other people who are worse off than them. But there is more to it – gratitude, grace, a focus on the bigger picture, insight, wisdom and a strong sense of resilience (I am still unpacking resilience).
The stories of sad old people crying themselves to sleep at night, depressed about their children not visiting and being locked down….well, I am sure that there are some for whom this is a very trying time. However, we need to start listening to all the stories of older people with a different perspective, really hear them, and learn from them. Their wisdom is what the world needs now more than ever. While we sweat the small stuff, they can teach us about gratitude and grace, which is really what the world needs now more than ever!
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 <> <>


In the process of exploring the narratives of older people living in Hangberg (a marginalised fishing community above the harbour in Hout Bay, Cape Town) I am struck by something that I find particularly difficult to describe. The stories are filled with hardship that is almost impossible to fathom and at times very hard to listen to. Time and again I find myself deeply moved when I look at the person in front of me, trying to think how they managed to absorb all this pain, to survive, to still be kind and gentle. The word that comes to mind is resilience, yet it is not quite the right word. “The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness” is how the dictionary defines resilience.
I don’t think this is what I am seeing, for the people I speak to are not necessarily tough, and I am not sure if they would consider themselves to have ‘recovered’. Yet, they have something almost mystical about them that fills me with awe and makes me incredibly humble. I would not have survived had I been exposed to what they lived through. In their telling me their stories there is not a hint of negativity, no hatred, no accusation. Apartheid meant that they were forceable removed from their homes (where I now live), that they we displaced to a life of hardship. To this day the properties on which they live are not theirs. And since their fishing quotas were taken away from them, they had to resort to “poaching” which makes them “criminals” in the eyes of the law.
“Based on a review of the literature, eight constructs (purpose in life, self- esteem, life satisfaction, cognitive flexibility, proactive coping, social support, locus of control, and stress management) were identified as the most common constructs theorized to underlie resilience.” Of course the research was done in the northern hemisphere where these constructs could possibly make sense. In Hangberg, I am not so sure…
Something that stands out stronger than anything else is grateful acceptance. Whatever life threw at them, and trust me some of it was terrible, is now on reflection gratefully accepted. They live under circumstances that can be described as inhumane. And yet, they are content. When they look at their lives, they say “it is good”. And then there is their gratitude towards God or Allah, something not necessarily religious (at least not in the way that I was brought up with religion). There is an acceptance that this was the life they had to live, they want for nothing, they seem to have few regrets, and feel that their lives “pleased the Lord”.
Of course I want to find that “magic ingredient”, I want to know what is it that so many of us are missing, what do we not see that could make for this level of Being-in-the-world that often eludes those that have everything that their hearts desire. For I know so many people who are rich, have everything that they could possibly need or want, and yet cannot attain this level of Being. Spiritual retreats, holidays in far-off exotic destinations, meditation and therapy of any shape or kind, and yet they have no or little inner peace.
Amongst my friends I see many who are deeply struggling with COVID-19, some who are kicking and screaming against authority, questioning the experts. I see others who are paralysed with and by fear. And yet others who seemingly think that they are “above all of it” and continue with their lives as per normal. I see us making videos, recording our sermons, preaching to the world – whether our audience wants to hear or not. And then I listen to the stories of older people in Hangberg and think “we have so much to learn”. With all our degrees, our wealth, our possessions and so-called knowledge we are not doing too well.
Perhaps it is time that we listen to the truly wise amongst us, the so-called “poor and the downtrodden, the marginalized”. I am not yet sure what their secret is, but I want to find out. Because in listening to their stories I hear that which I can only aspire to – grateful acceptance, being at peace with the world outside and a deep, profoundly deep inner peace which no amount of meditation has ever afforded me.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300

Defiant resilience

Defiant resilience
“The life span approach proceeds from the understanding that development at all ages (including old age) is a ratio of gains and losses”
Old age (whatever that means to the reader) is usually (and automatically) associated with loss, decline and negative change, a kind of never ending endurance course full of obstacles (like falls, incontinence, loss of independence etc.). Juxtaposed with this depiction is that of “successful ageing” – those photoshopped pictures of no wrinkles, perfect teeth and a face that screams BOTOX and FACELIFT! Happy couples walking on sandy beaches, barefoot, in perfect shape, in love with the assumption of glorious sex every night and no nocturnal bathroom routines. Well, both of these are a media created fallacy.
“The life span is a ratio of gains and losses”. The entire life span consists of gains and losses that are constantly requiring our negotiating such. As we journey through our lives these gains and losses come our way through our own chronological growing up, our society, our gender and many other psychological and social spheres. We lose our status as a child, gain the status of adult, we lose our status as a single person, gain the status of having a spouse, lose our status of not having children to gaining the status of becoming a parent. And so it continues. There is a constant negotiating gains and losses, what we win on the swings we lose on the roundabouts. That is life. It does not necessarily become worse as we grow older, in fact, we acquire a lifetime’s worth of skills to help us negotiate this journey. The collective of skills that we acquire equates to resilience.
Our development as human beings is a complex tapestry woven within the contexts of history, our cultural and social environments that frame our experience of being-in-the-world. “The life span approach to human development is characterized by six central propositions (e.g., P. B. Baltes, 1987): (1) Human development actually continues through-out the whole life span, (2) it proceeds multidirectionally, (3) it can be described as a gain:loss ratio, (4) it reveals great plasticity, (5) it is comprehensible only with reference to its historical embeddedness, and (6) a scientific explanation of development has to include contextualism as a paradigm”.
“Human life should never be separated from human growth” – principle nine of The Eden Alternative. In fact, while we are living, we are growing. If we stop growing, we are dead. This growth is happening in all directions and in all aspects of our lives, albeit in different domains at different times. It is not always linear or even progressive – we will experience losses in certain areas and gains in others. It is multidirectional and multidimensional. The dynamic process of growth implies that we evolve – we experience gains and losses that form our Being. Plasticity, especially neuroplasticity, means that we are geared to growth, that we can expand like a rubber band and not lose our essence. Our brains have this ability to grow new neurological pathways throughout our life course. We are all grounded and rooted in history – amongst other things. We are ecobiopsychosocialspiritual Beings, not just a body of functions. We are situated within a context – our upbringing, our environment of school and parents and culture all contribute to our development.
We are constantly adapting to a changing world, now during COVID-19, more than ever. The so-called “normal” is something of the past, gone forever. And we all have the ability to adapt, to change, to respond to this crisis. Some people are (stupidly) refusing to accept this reality, mostly in fear of their own development or growth. Yes, we must adapt and develop and change, that is life. “Development is adaptation”. It is a TRANSaction – we are in a transactional negotiation with and between ourselves and the world/nature/environment. Nothing will ever stay the same, that will imply death. The world is changing, we must affect this in a negotiation of development through innovation. This requires (Piaget) that we assimilate the changes, even the disturbing ones, in order to reposition ourselves in relations to this change, painful as it may be. Only then do we transcend ourselves and our environment to a higher level of (in my opinion) consciousness and awareness. And harmony – which does not mean that things will now go our way and be smooth from here on, a mere equilibrium. The only constant is change, our reality is that we have to be open to this change, welcome and embrace it, as it contributes to our wellbeing and growth and ultimately to our concomitant resilience.
Resilience is made up of our biology, our culture and us as developing individuals. Fact is that we will not survive without resilience, it is our way of negotiating our Being-in-the-world, the absence of which will lead to serious psychosocialspiritual illness. These are not necessarily what we would call “coping mechanisms” but are our standing, our position, the way that we present ourselves to the world. For the world does not act upon us, we are co-creators of the universe, hence the multidirectionality. We are intricately connected and connecting with our environment in the most complex developmental system of Creation. There is no other way. “…development is always the product of a complex interaction between nature and nurture, genes and environment, individual and social influences.”
Where does all this lead to? It leads to the wonderful gift of old age, where the culmination of negotiating these gains and losses evolve into wisdom. Old age is not about decline, or at least it does not have to be about decline, if we take this life seriously, apply our minds and engage with what comes our way in a constructive manner. (COVID-19 included). We grow towards self-related wisdom within which we re-evaluate, reposition, reconsider, repair our sense of Being. The closer we move towards our Being-in-the-world the more we will be able to sense the fine balance of gains and losses, and the more able we will be to negotiate this precarious balance without expectations of bliss or misery.
“A large number of national and international studies show that the functionality and overall positive status of self and personality generally diminish little if at all in old age. Indicators for state of mind such as self-esteem, general well-being, contentment with one’s own age, and the conviction of being able to directly or indirectly control one’s own life show little to no change with age. This has made an essential contribution to rejecting, as too partial and incomplete, the stereotype of aging characterized by deficits and losses. This picture has been replaced by the more multifaceted image of “productive” aging, which emphasizes the opportunities and options of “successful aging” alongside the undisputed crises and losses.”
COVID-19 is a gift to humanity, to broaden our horizons, negotiate our standing and interaction with one another and with our environment. It is the time of ageing, creating a new normal that will be inclusive, compassionate and kind.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300

Getting old….

The fluidity of time.
At this strange time in our lives time seems to have become more fluid than ever before. Almost like when one is on holiday, only we are not on holiday. We are caught in a time warp, a time like we have never experienced. Even if anyone had warned us that something like this will happen, we would have laughed and accused them of conspiracy theories. We were all caught off-guard, least of all because we did not stock up on alcohol in South Africa.
I wonder how we would have prepared ourselves had we known what was coming. Would we have listened to advice? I somehow doubt it. Strangely, very few people I know prepare themselves, even if they know what is coming. Like getting older. How many people do you know who are really prepared for getting old, never mind for dying? We simply cannot get our heads around the fact that we are getting older and that sooner or later we will die. We put off some of the most basic things, like getting our advanced directive and last will in order. Sensible people, who somehow can be so daft when it comes to preparing for something that we know is coming.
Maybe we don’t know how to prepare? Maybe because we are not surrounded by older people or by people dying in our immediate world, we think it is not out there? Maybe we think we will escape, or that things will change by the time we get there? Maybe we know that nothing can prepare us for getting old and dependent. We allow it to creep up on us because it is simply too horrific to contemplate. We ignore it, dye our hair, go for botox, dress as if we are still young and hang around young people thinking that no one is noticing. Thing is, most people in our immediate circle will not notice. We will not notice. Until suddenly we have a fourty year matric reunion coming up and we haul out some old school photographs.
Thing is, old age is not the monster we make it out to be. In fact, the years after sixty should be the years of our lives. Not because we believe in “successful ageing” – for me there is no such thing! Ageing is not like an exam or a project in which you will pass or fail. It simply is what it is. And yes it comes with aches and pains – some mornings I need a block and tackle to get out of bed. It is what it is. The horror image that the world created in its ageist attitude towards older people is simply not true for most people. Before you know it, you will be there, and it will just be what it is.
So how should we prepare ourselves for old age? Here is my list based on being around older people a lot over the past 54 years:
Accept that you are NOW in the best years of your life, whatever your age. Embrace the age that you are, wrinkles, grey hair, aches and pains included. Hang out with people who are much older and much younger than you. Learn new things, if for no other reason than to be able to be interesting at the next stand around drinks party. Learn to listen to people as if they were the only person on the planet – they will like that and seek out your company. Bath every day to make sure you never smell musty. (It happens…) Always make sure that your hearing is perfect – if not, get a hearing aid. Being hard of hearing makes it difficult for people to communicate with you, and having to repeat everything is a pain. Avoid being cynical as best you can. Try not to be a sour old fart, but make light of life and all its idiosyncrasies. Be the person who other people like being around. Don’t be too serious, don’t be too flippant. Be interested in other people’s stories. Be appreciative of everything that life offers. Make sure you like animals, as they are the best company on earth. Hang on to your home as long as you possibly can, and if it gets difficult get yourself a few housemates. Drink just enough wine (or spirits) to be fun without being sloppy. Be kind. Be generous. Be you. Always.

The full moon…

The full moon slowly appears, following her own magnificent glow. The mountain is edged blue in the brilliant reflection. A soft rain drizzles on the leaves, forming plump drops that fall audibly on my glasses as I try to appreciate the magnificence. A gentle, icy wind cries around the corners of the house. Just like that it is winter again, the strangest of winters this 2020 winter. A coldness has crept into the corners of our society. Harsh and biting.
COVID-19. We have had enough. We need to feel hugged again, connect, be together. This strange, enforced detachment might suit some people. For many it is winter. Dark, biting, harsh. Now more than ever I am aware of the importance of relationships, of our connectedness, of how we become through others. Ubuntu. And how much of that we have lost even before COVID. How selfish, exclusive and detached we have become. And how we now realise the impact of our actions.
I think that for many older people the regrets of a life not fully lived must feel a bit like the COVID lockdown, when you suddenly wake up one day and realise that there are so many things you should have done, that you no longer can. If I think about how I miss a long table with friends and fabulous food, laughter. How I miss travelling, just getting in the car and going away for a weekend to visit my Mother. Of those incredible hugs as my friends come through the gate, the warmth of visitors.
The scars of this lockdown will hopefully teach us the importance of connectedness and how fleeting time really is. Nothing will last forever. Everything we do is an investment towards our own quality of life. We must prepare the soil, sow the seeds, make the memories, cultivate the garden so that one day when independence and memories fade, we have connections that are secure and solid. The deeper the memories, the more difficult for them to fade. We must dig deep, secure the things that we want to keep, the things we will need to treasure when we can no longer jump in the car and visit friends or travel to exotic destinations.
But more than anything else I see personalities come to the surface during COVID that scare the living daylights out of me. People who have become miserable beyond measure, acidic, cynical and downright horrid. Nothing escapes their ire. I cannot help but think what they would be like one day when they are old and life is a bit like COVID-2020. Go and look in the mirror, ask yourself what kind of person you have become in the last few months, and let it be an indication of the type of old person that you might be one day…