Credit: Ilene Cummings
Credit: Ilene Cummings
Relishing the effects of the aging process is a shocking idea in our society. We are expected to fight every sign of age. Billions of dollars annually are spent to help people, especially women, look more like their young adult children than who they really are. Sadly, older adults are even encouraged to act like young people rather than celebrate who they’ve become throughout decades of learning.
A whisper-thin (less than 100-page) volume titled “The Truth Is at My Front Door: Spiritual Direction on Aging Beautifully” pushes back against this negative view of women and aging.
The author, Dr. Ilene M. Cummings, was 85 years old when she wrote the book. She has a gift for whittling down truth to its essence. Her book exemplifies what women must learn if they are to age with grace and wisdom; without apology or fear. There are 14 stories in all, each with a theme, a fascinating personal story about the author’s life and what has influenced her, as well as a spot on “Wisdom Lesson.”
Dr. Cummings is a human development counselor who began her career as coordinator of the women’s program at her local community college. She is responsible for establishing the Center for Adults in Transition, a human growth and development program in New Jersey. Currently working on a poetry book with themes such as love, grief, and healing, Dr. Cummings resides in Eugene, Oregon.
HealthCentral discussed “The Truth Is at My Front Door” in the following email interview with Dr. Cummings:
HealthCentral: Dr. Cummings, obviously the wisdom gleaned from your own aging experience inspired you to write “The Truth is a My Front Door,” but what was the reason for waiting until you were in your 80s? Wouldn’t most people feel that they’d better get at it long before that time?
Dr. Ilene Cummings: I wrote the book in my 80s because I had settled down long enough to write it! (It’s) so humbling to write, while at the same time — very fulfilling. It took a long time to write such a short book because it stopped me in my tracks. Sometimes I counted my blessings, and sometimes I wept.
HealthCentral: Most of us who are even middle-aged have had moments that stun us into realizing that we are no longer young. You addressed that time for yourself in the wonderful chapter when the young man on the bus called you ma’am. That was a pivotal moment for you.
Dr. Cummings: Yes, that gorgeous young man on the bus — I remember him as if it were yesterday! He will never know how much he influenced me.
HealthCentral: Your “Wisdom Lessons,” which you apply to each chapter, are meant to be completely absorbed. One I especially like is “Love yourself through all the regrets and missed opportunities — the wish-I-hads and the if-onlys.” If you had to pick your favorite “Wisdom Lesson,” which would it be?
Dr. Cummings: A favorite wisdom lesson — that is hard, but I do have a few examples:
From “Follow the Thread,” page 14-15:
“A thread is a metaphor for the repetitive patterns of behavior that weave through our lives. They are the themes and plotlines that define us. How we think and what we do, over time, will create a thread. Identifying our aging thread is a powerful exercise in taking responsibility for our future.”
From “Forgiveness Helped Me to Let Go,” page 37:
“Forgiveness is the best beauty compound of them all.”
From “The Older Woman and Her Young Man,” page 45:
“The tale told here is not an invitation to start dating younger men. It is a story illustrative of thinking outside the box, challenging the status quo, daring to be different, loving your body no matter how old it is and what shape it’s in, risking gossip, jeopardizing family acceptance, gambling on approval, and chancing being laughed at, which all fall into the messy category of societal pressure. Aging beautifully has a great deal to do with looking back on our lives and feeling a sense of completeness. No regrets.”
From “The Pink Chrysler,” page 70:
“When we are conscious of the legacy we wish to leave, we act accordingly. Every step of the process opens us to a life commensurate with aging beautifully.”
HealthCentral: In my view, it takes generations to come to the conclusions that you write about in your book, and I’m proud to see someone like you put their wisdom out there for the world to view. Was there a time when you were nearly swamped by the lessons piling up?
Dr. Cummings: I was never swamped by the lessons that had piled up. In fact, I loved it all! My master’s degree is in human development. My doctorate is in human development and spirituality. By the way, I got that doctorate when I was 72.
HealthCentral: Thank you for your time, Dr. Cummings, and thank you even more for your marvelous book. I welcome the chance to suggest “The Truth Is at My Front Door” as a meditation book for women who dread the journey of aging.
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Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.