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Meeting at the Crossroads Convening Remarks

Conveners Remarks,  Indianapolis 
August, 2010

On this good morning, we meet at the Crossroads. The very word conjures excitement  and anticipation of encounters that bring us news of other people and places, that penetrate our same-old-same-old, that give us hope and maybe sometimes generate fear, that broaden our relationships and give us new ideas. Crossroads are generative places.

We are in a state that historically has been a crossroads land, being home to successive waves of Native Americans, from the Mound-Builders of pre-historic times to the tribes of the Algonquians  – the Miamis, Potawatomies, Kickapoos, Delawares and Shawnees. They in turn crossed paths with the French fur traders in the 17th century – when the people of two civilizations collided and the ones with the deadliest weapons were the victors. In the 18th century the crossroads of Indiana were bloody. In the 19th century the crossroads stretched between otherwise self-contained villages of pioneer European settlers. Then in the 20th century came the automobile and the nature of the crossroads changed beyond recognition as Route became the crossroad of the eastern part of the nation.

I once lived in this crossroads city. Sixty-five years ago – in 1945 – I experienced Indianapolis as a crossroad for our nation when I was a Red Cross worker in the Camp Atterbury Separation Center, and there passed before me and my sister workers thousands of service men returning from World War II to their homes all over the United States.

I personally was also in a crossroads situation, if not knowing what you want to do with your life is like being at a crossroads. Actually it feels more like losing your way and not knowing how even to find your road. I did what so many of us do in our bewilderment, I went home. There in Virginia I found a job in the Gloucester County Welfare Dept. and soon knew I wanted do social work. By the next fall I was off to Boston for a graduate degree. I had found my road.

Lately, I've been thinking about the crossroads Frank and I have reached, for crossroad experiences are with us for the lengths of our lives. It is not now so much a matter of choosing the course of our lives, but choosing how we respond to the health challenges that come our way. By good fortune we are new at this, having been blessed with reasonably good health all our lives. However, with age, there are inevitable changes which seem within themselves not to offer crossroad experiences. But our reactions to them do. Do we bleakly resign ourselves to diminishing functioning, or do we take the road of discovery to find hope and warmth in new dimensions of relationship as our circumstances change? We gratefully choose the latter road, and discover new ways of working together. Recently when we had our heavy upside-down bucket tomato ready for hanging, and belatedly realized neither one of us could lift it from the wheel barrow to its hanging place, I was inspired to perch it on my hip as I used to carry our children in their toddler years, and together, with a big one-two-three-go, we managed to hoist the bucket up, with much laughter and hearty self congratulation.

Crossroads of course come in our professional as well as our personal lives. And in my mind they differ from the fork in the road that Robert Frost immortalized:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Frost's fork in the road feels like a lonely place with no greetings from others, no one to tell us what the road is like up ahead. Crossroads are different. At the crossroads we encounter others and learn news of the world beyond our familiar boundaries. And we share our news and experiences with them. Each of us is stretched at least a little, and sometimes a lot, as we learn of things we had not thought possible. Of course, we can turn back to our familiar road, the vision offered by the new road at the crossing appearing alien or perhaps even frightening to us. Or we can give ourselves over to a new vision, and, to our amazement, find that it is the stuff of dreams we had long stifled.

Many here are already walking the new road of person-centered elder services while others continue on the familiar road of traditional elder care.  Sessions abound for learning about the new culture, and I urge you to take full advantage of them. If you are one of a group, be sure to split up so as to cover as many different sessions as possible. But I also urge you to take full advantage of the person-to-person opportunities here. Simply meeting another person for the first time is a sort of crossroad experience – the experiences and ideas one sees in the other may open a new world to us.

Seek out conversations with those who have taken different roads professionally, geographically and spiritually, and ask questions of one another. Which road leads to new learning, growth and development? Which road presents the most challenges? Which addresses problems most creatively? Which is the scariest, which the most hopeful? Which road leads to practice that truly expresses our values about living our days with meaning both in the work we do and for the elders we serve?

This conference embodies new vision. You are at the center of the crossroads where the new ways to put our values into practice meet with the old traditional ways, the new culture path crosses the old. Consider seriously the deep change you have in your power to bring about for all who live and work in nursing homes, in elders' homes and all elder service situations. I urge you to make the vision present in this conference your vision! There awaits you the joy of hearing an elder you serve say, "I thought I came to this place to die, but now I know I came here to live!"
Godspeed to you as you choose your road, or continue on your culture change journey!

The 10th Annual Conference of the Pioneer Network is now convened.

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