Kristine Berey on becoming a senior at The Senior Times

Kristine Berey's nursery school in Budapest, 1959.Kristine Berey's nursery school in Budapest, 1959.

Please click here for stories and remembrances from The Senior Times newsroom as it celebrates its 30th anniversary.

I was reading The Senior Times long before the term “senior” came to mean anything to me. I enjoyed the fact that there was so much to read and such a variety of topics to discover in each edition. I learned about celebrations of light in various cultures in retired history professor Elizabeth Champion’s column.

Just recently I told my kids a story I had read in an article by Ursula Feist decades earlier, about how in her elementary school in Berlin during the Nazi years, Feist’s teacher made her stand in front of the class, demonstrating what perfect Aryan features were supposed to look like — not knowing Ursula was Jewish.  Hating to drive, I enjoyed “Life without my car” by publisher Barbara Moser, then sharing her life with her readers much in the same way she does today.

At The Senior Times, I had a chance to write about such incredible individuals as Rita Levi Montalcini, 102 at the time, who received an honorary doctorate,  presented to her in Rome from McGill University, for her contributions to medicine. Her words — “The secret of life is to keep thinking. And to stop thinking about ourselves. That’s the only message I have” — are still with me. Her seminal research on a protein molecule, known as the nerve growth factor (NGF), is now used in cancer drugs and in the search for a treatment for multiple sclerosis. She worked in a barn, underground, after being forced to leave her post at the University of Turin under Mussolini’s anti-Semitic race laws in the 1940s. That same university honoured her years later. Of her hope in seeking to conquer MS she wrote, “Although we are very far away we must never surrender.” She continued her research past her 100th birthday.

Early on, Barbara sent me to cover Owen Rowe receiving the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for his contribution to Canada. A native of Barbados and member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, it is because of his tireless efforts that 300 West Indian Veterans were honoured with a commemorative plaque at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, for their contributions during World War II. But it is his infinite kindness that is remembered by those who knew him. By the end of that first evening when I met him, I felt as if I had been the one receiving a medal. As then MP Marlene Jennings said, “He made you feel as if you were better than you thought you were.”

There is a lot of personal experience in The Senior Times. When Bonnie Sandler writes about a situation at a senior’s residence, or Joyce Blond discusses a legal issue, it is because they are or were there, at the front lines. As much as I believe in authenticity in writing, I had great doubts about one of Barbara’s articles. It was an account of her colonoscopy and I blanched at the thought of writing about that publicly. However, readers told me they finally had themselves checked after reading that article and I am now convinced that article helped save lives.

The Senior Times’ strength is that it is eclectic and inclusive. After all, regardless of age we are all seniors, or seniors-to-be. You never know what you’ll find because contributors include people of various ages and backgrounds.  A travel article by Barbara’s daughter Molly Newborn still makes me laugh. She gave a hilarious account of being surrounded by people who, to her initial shock, turned out to be nudists. I also recall an extremely enthusiastic restaurant review by a young man with a very healthy appetite, describing a roast turkey being served to him as though it were an angel descending from the heavens.

Ageism is on the rise

Somewhere along the way I’ve noticed time flies even when I’m not having fun, and I see my senior years on the horizon. I think The Senior Times has an important role to play, that it is now needed more than ever in our youth-obsessed, technologically dominated society.

As people live longer, ageism is on the rise. It is no prettier than any other “ism” and like another “ism” it is driven by fear.

We tend to associate age only with loss, but aging is also about gain, as anticipation is imperceptibly transformed into understanding.

Your perspective expands, as does your freedom to become yourself (a lifetime process, in my opinion) unhindered by the obligations young people face in forging a future. As you stop counting your own years, you begin to see others defined by their age, and their struggles, innocence or joy touch you in a way not possible when you were their age.

We had discussed removing the “senior” from The Senior Times and I am glad we decided against it. By pairing the word with the content of the paper, The Senior Times continues to defy stereotypes. Congratulations Barbara, may The Senior Times continue another 30 years!

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