Casa de Manana is home to over 200 senior residents of diverse backgrounds. Residents come from different states and countries, across the political spectrum, different religious affiliations (or lack thereof. The community has its own club for atheist residents), and occupations, among many other factors. The community provides all-inclusive meals and utilities, as well as access to facilities, programs, and activities with their rent. According to the director of Casa de Manana, retirement homes have four levels of care. Casa de Manana contains two of these levels of care: independent living and assisted living. The residents have their own Residents Association in which they gather to inform the staff of changes they want made, or activities, programs, or amenities they would like included. The community has its own trading post, where residents donate old items they do not want and sell them, often to other residents or staff members. Casa de Manana also has a library overlooking the Pacific Ocean, an art gallery, swimming pools, a bistro, a movie theater, a garden with a rosebush that is gifted to each new resident and maintained by a staff member for them, and many other luxurious amenities. Among the residents and staff members we met were a man from Wales, a woman from Prague, Czech Republic who was presenting a travel video on the Netherlands to a group of residents in assisted living, and the president of the Residents Association, who was originally from Tucson, Arizona.
After our tour of the campus, the cohort was brought into a meeting room that was reserved for us. From there, we met Justin, the director in charge of running Casa de Manana, as well as several elderly women residents who had come to speak with us. Our chairs were positioned in a large circle and we all introduced ourselves. After Justin gave his presentation, we broke off into groups, each of us being paired with one of the elderly women from the group.
My group was paired with a woman from Washington state named Alice. Alice was 98 years old, a former lecturer and Dean of Women at a university, a participant in the early women’s rights movement, an avid fly fisher while living in Washington state, and tennis player, the latter of which she played until suffering an injury at the age of 96, which required her to undergo physical therapy for a year in order to recover. Alice spoke of organizing a group of 14 Casa de Manana residents to attend the first Women’s March, then organizing a group of 20 seniors to attend the second Women’s March in San Diego. She encouraged us to educate ourselves about history, reasoning that examining the issues of the past is the way to resolve issues in the present day. Alice stated that in order to reach 98 years old and beyond, you must exercise and take care of your body, and she also stated that attitude plays an important role. She explained that she approaches life with a “my glass is half full” mindset, and she makes constructive attempts to solve her problems instead of complaining about them or blaming other people for her problems. She provided an example of how when she was young, women were not able to own property. After her husband died, Alice was left to raise her children alone, but due to the property laws, she was unable to buy her own house without her brother’s signature. In response to this, Alice took her case to court and sued to buy her house independently. She emphasized to the young women in the group how they have many opportunities available to them today due to the hard work of many women who came before them and fought for future generations to have those opportunities.
As the only male in the group, Alice paid special attention to me, intrigued as to how I had come to passionately support women’s rights in the way that I do. I explained my background and my parents’ efforts to expose my older brothers and me to diverse people and develop respect for them from a young age. Alice used my passion for social justice as a way to illustrate the importance of men and women working together to create a more equal society.
My conversation with Alice was very impactful for me. Her mental alertness, passion for life, activism, intelligence, strong personality, and positive attitude shattered the stereotypes that had built up in my mind about aging. I always pictured aging as coming with a plateau and eventual decline in cognitive functioning and physical ability, a decline which would be long complete by the age of 98, given that one even lived to that age. When I met Alice, I pictured someone who was in her late 70s or early 80s. When she revealed that she was, in fact, 98 years old, I was blown away. Alice seemed to be thriving, rather than merely surviving, and she made sure to emphasize the fact that senior citizens, with some exceptions, are not “put on a shelf:” they still care about life and want to know what is going on in the world and be active, productive, and inquisitive.
Alice also emphasized how much the seniors enjoy speaking to young people. Casa de Manana embodied this through an activity wherein residents gather at a table with young people and discuss deep, complex, and/or controversial issues, such as dating and relationships. Whenever we discuss intergenerational discussion in LCS, emphasis is always placed on the positive impact it has on the senior citizens. Often, their interactions with us are the highlights of their day, possibly even their week. However, I can confidently say that my conversation with Alice made my week. The longer I continue in this program, the more I realize how many commonalities I have with elderly people. Despite the age gap and the disparity in experiences, I can see myself in them, as well as who I hope to become as I age and continue on through my own life. My hope is that if I ever live to be 98, I will be able to replicate Alice’s passion, energy, and zeal for life. You always hear people tell you to “live life to the fullest,” but it often falls on deaf ears, being reduced to a cliché, overly sentimental statement. However, when I think of Alice, she embodies what I believe that phrase attempts to convey. Living to the age of 98 is one thing, but to live that long and still have one’s mind, inner strength and joy intact, that, to me, is what it means to truly be alive. I will always be grateful to Alice for demonstrating that to me, for it is something that I will always strive to achieve in my own life, one day at a time.