The group was great, much larger than expected, actually. I'd say, by the time I pulled out the first article, about 20-25 people had taken their seats - they were ready to go. It was time to talk about the world.
Mary Jane first suggested the idea to me about two months ago - to come up to Garden Village (my adopted retirement community - the first place I visited for interviews when I arrived in Kansas City) - and do a kind of current events discussion group thing. (Mary Jane is the activity director at Garden Village). We didn't know what it was going to look like but I certainly had no problem with winging it, this being the debut and all. I knew I was comfortable there, so it was pretty much going to work out, no matter what.
Over the weekend, I spent some time perusing through the NY Times, KC Star and looking at different web news portals. By the time I'd finished, I'd plucked out about ten articles - more than enough to keep us busy for an hour or so. I was excited about heading back up to Garden Village since I hadn't been up there in ... well ... it had been too long.
"Save One For Me!" - As soon as I walked into the place, I saw Mary Jane, walked over to give her a hug and heard a voice from above. It was Martha, one of my favorite Eldercation interviewees. She was walking on the third floor and I saw her waving over the balcony, flashing her warm smile, as always. She was laying a claim to the next hug, of course.
Once Mary Jane and I had worked our way up to the third floor, there were more hugs to be had - and new introductions as well. Mac was there - all 101 years of him (he'll be 102 this coming December 23). And Faye was there, too - some of my favorite folks. Mary Jane and I decided to move the group from a formal, rows-of-chairs setting, over to an area with couches, pillows, comfortable easy chairs - to keep things more relaxed and intimate. I'm glad we did that.
Once settled in, it was time to start class. And it didn't take all that much to get started, let me tell you. No matter the subject, the group was more than eager to express themselves. One subject, in particular, started to take over the session and you won't be surprised by what that was. One week out of the election - possibly one of the most important elections of our time - the news cycle was still focused on the political world, so there was little I could do to avoid the topic. And, trust me, I knew this was going to be the issue of the day and did my best to set up escape-hatches beforehand, just in case things started to get out of hand.
"I don't want any bloodshed today," I joked more than once.
And they all laughed when I said it, too. Still, I could feel the energy and could see that certain people were just itching to "have their say," which they were able to do ... until I stepped in with a "Whoa" and another joke about people not killing one another. The good news is that we ended up having a spirited discussion about voter turnout over the past 50 years, and there was another article which talked about a proposal to have early elections in Missouri for the next election. Those topics kept things pretty neutral, which was good. Toward the end we talked about the current economic crisis which then prompted folks to share stories about the Great Depression, which always interesting to hear about, especially because of what's going on these days.
And that's the way things went. It didn't take all that much to fill an hour. In fact, I wasn't looking at my watch, but I'm pretty sure it ended up lasting closer to two hours - the time flew by. Before people started to take off, we talked about a next meeting and decided December 8th would be a good date for all of us. We also talked about people clipping their own articles for the next session - items they run across in the paper, online, or even something they see mentioned on TV. This way, everyone agreed, they'll be more involved for much more than just the one or two hours we spend together.
When it was time to finally break things up, everyone came up to thank me for coming in - for putting the discussion group together which, of course, was more Mary Jane's idea than it was mine.
"Thank me? Why?" I said. "I love doing this."
The fact is, every time I head up north to Garden Village, I get re-energized. I view that place as a kind of fueling station - a place that reminds me about why I'm doing the work I'm doing. Weeks and weeks go by where all I do is sit in the Roasterie or the library and I write, transcribe, write, and then transcribe some more. And I start to forget why I'm doing all of this in the first place. But five minutes sitting in a circle looking out at 20 faces - 20 curious, smart, smiling, fantastic faces - and I'm home again. And it feels good.