I have just finished teaching a course on reproductive technologies at OSHER at Dartmouth. A small group of women, meeting each Tuesday for 2 hours, for four weeks. Eight hours, not counting the mid-class break for the snacks that someone brings, of conversation about the how and why of reproduction after death, the history of surrogacy, whether or not someone is considered a parent in the eyes of the law, and why doctors who assist in the creation of babies might want to help some but not all who seek their services. At the same time, in the classroom next door, was a slightly larger group studying the Armenian genocide, complete with a platter of Armenian pastries and a newspaper article about the Pope’s recent pronouncement. People would file in later that evening for the alliterative More Bliss: Basic Buddhist Beliefs, or a course on the Kingston Trio. And that’s just part of what was happening on a Tuesday in the spring quarter.
I should mention that no one taking these courses is young. OSHER is dedicated to providing continued learning to adults. Many, though not all, arrive on a bus from a local senior community. Hearing assistance devices curl up on the discussion tables; name tags are printed large enough for actual reading. Hardworking and endlessly patient OSHER employees must guide everyone gently into the digital age of Google Drive.
It should cheer we aging folk to know that curiosity and the need for interaction may remain with us until the end. I am told that people in nursing homes who may be frail of body and maybe even of mind will respond to bird feeders placed outside their windows, hungering to know all about the next avian drama. Never an athlete in any sense, (and having the sense to restrict my physical self to walking and Pilates), I am grateful for my lifelong love of reading, writing, learning, and conversation. Assuming available transportation to places where others gather, these appear to be the skills that will carry me into my next decades. It may be true that the brain, like the rest of the body, suffers various assaults from aging, but even if not in mint condition, we all like to keep on ticking. Contrary to our folklore, curiosity does not kill the cat; it gives it nine long lives.