Being Relevant

“The most important thing for a human being is to be relevant,” says Henry Winkler the actor perhaps best known for his role as Fonzie on the 1970’s television series Happy Days. The 67- year old Winkler made an appearance on the NBC Today Show in November. He was discussing a Broadway play in which he has a starring role. The interviewer asked him why at an age when many people slow down he was still working so hard. Mr. Winkler replied he loved every minute of his busy life and reflected on how important it is for human beings to continue to feel relevant no matter how old they get.

A friend talked about working in a nursing home over the Christmas holidays. He walked into the room of an elderly resident on Christmas Eve and found her crying. Although she required long term care her husband did not, so he still resided in their family home. A daughter lived in a distant city and had invited her father to visit for the holidays. He had decided to go, even though his wife couldn’t make the journey. In the past, Christmas gatherings had still been at the couple’s family house and the woman was able to leave the nursing home for the day to attend. Now she was alone while her family had their holiday reunion without her.  “I’m not relevant to my family anymore,” she told our friend who had just experienced some family trauma of his own. He said he was also alone for the holidays.  “Could you pretend to be my grandson just for today?” she asked. He agreed and after his shift was over returned to the woman’s room to talk and share a meal with the grandmother he’d adopted for Christmas.

Feeling relevant in our communities and our families is important. Having a necessary role to play in the lives of our parents, children, siblings or partner is healthy. It is rewarding to know someone else is depending on us even in a small way and that our presence in their life makes a difference. If we don’t have family members of our own, there are always people in the world looking for connections and support and we have the option to build reciprocal relationships with them that make us feel we are relevant

After our professional careers are over it is important to find avenues that will allow us to continue contributing to our communities as volunteers or part time workers. If we are lucky like Henry Winkler we may be able to find new opportunities to use our career gifts. I know I went through some struggles and detours after I retired, till I found opportunities to put my teaching skills to good use in places other than a public school classroom. Now I give tours to kids at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, mentor university students studying to be teachers, and I’m trying my hand at writing books for young people.  It’s a good fit and makes me feel like I’m still a relevant educator.

I’m aware that as I grow older it may be more difficult to continue to feel relevant and it will require initiative and effort on my part to make relevance a reality, particularly if health problems complicate my life.

Patty Randall a Canadian writer and speaker with a popular website about aging says that doing something relevant is the key to a life that continues to be filled with passion and purpose. 

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