Sometimes I daydream about having my own office. Right now, I use a hutch in the kitchen, which doesn’t allow enough square footage to personalize this space. When I have an empty nest, I can convert one of the kids’ rooms into my office.
As I thumb through magazines, I think about selecting all new furniture and cabinets for a cutting-edge, modern feel. My shiny office might be adorned with chrome and glass furnishings. I’d populate them with black office accessories and add a splash of color—maybe turquoise. But if everything is straight from the factory, my office will not project depth, complexity, warmth or wisdom.
Sometimes I fantasize about selecting furniture, rugs, cabinets, shelves and objets d’art that will give my office a traditional feel, something along the lines of a library in a Victorian mansion. Maybe I could even find a sliding ladder for my bookshelves? Then I worry that my office will feel inflexible, stuffy, musty and entrenched in tradition for the sake of tradition.
The better option might be to find a way to combine tradition with innovation. This way I can acknowledge the strength of tried-and true designs while at the same time showing the willingness to try out new ideas, to respond to the present moment, but in ways that draw on the wisdom of experience. Maybe choosing the theme “four seasons” and mixing old items with new would express the value of continuity amid constant change.
As a member of Reliefs Society, I see this same principle in action: consistency amid change. We have a long-standing organization that reaches back into the 19th century while also responding to very contemporary concerns. On the micro level, we also have tradition and innovation within our own wards.
I’ve attended many wards where the Relief Society is populated by women ages from at least eight, possibly ten decades of life: those 18 and 19 years old in some wards, as well as women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and in some wards, women 100 plus years old.
In the US, the average life expectancy has raised by decades over the last century. Recent medical innovations give people more ability for more years, allowing people greater years of productivity at home and in their communities, including their faith communities. People are postponing retirement and working into their 70s and beyond.
I am thrilled when I see auxiliary presidencies and church committees that show diversity in age range. Yes, it might take a little more time to explore ideas when women have diverse generational perspective–just like it takes a little more talent to decorate an office with items that are both heirlooms and newly purchased. However, I feel more confident that the needs of all women are considered when a diversity of age range is represented.
True, some of the more mature sisters might have mobility problems or other issues that prevent them from actively serving in auxiliaries or on committees. Advocacy for people with disabilities doesn’t need to stop when a person’s disabilities are age-related. The hard-won wisdom of mature women can be shared with others if Relief Society sisters will seek them out and ask them to share their insights.
It’s truly a win-win proposition available to all who will broaden their sphere of influence beyond their comfort zone. People usually just to make connections with people whose age differs only 15 years or fewer—whether that’s older or younger. Similarly, sisters who have already launched their children could make an effort to befriend women who still have children at home. We are a more mobile people, so we don’t always have extended family living locally. But we can establish fictive kin networks that offer some of the benefits of extended families.
As a gerontologist, I have frequent opportunity to interact with women in late life. They still have a role to play in teaching, mentoring, and blessing the younger generations. Everyone wants purpose throughout their entire life span. Research shows that social engagement correlates with quality of life and length of life. And involving older adults is decidedly not an act of charity on the part of the younger women. And when I say “younger,” I might be referring to someone who is 60 because I associate with octogenarians and nonagenarians on a regular basis.
So when I get my new office, I hope to enjoy an heirloom desk with a state-of-the-art computer, combining the best of tradition and innovation. And when I interact with women from church, I hope to make an effort to form intergenerational relationships because they enrich the lives of Relief Society sisters from all nine decades.