Act3 – The Art Of Growing Older

By Adrian and Judy Reith

Friday, 27 April 2018

What's With The Attitude?


Attitude is one of the four roots of a successful Act3.

One of the brilliant things about writing this book is getting to sit with people who, like our dog Ollie, have a positive attitude to life.

We love Roger's story: he'd just been given a cancer diagnosis – with a 1 in 10 chance of survival.

The consultant went out of the room, and said – 'I’ll leave you to have a bit of time on your own.’   I was so far off from the implications of this  – I chatted to the nurse instead.  We asked her about the prognosis, 'what is the most important thing for getting through this?'   She said, 'attitude, definitely!  The people who come through this best have a positive attitude.  If you have a positive attitude that means so much.'  

Clearly it means a lot to the medical staff as well – everybody wants to help people who have a positive  atitude to go forward.   It also gave me the incentive to go on, to get into my garden, my own bed, see my kids, carry on with my marriage.  You feel so much lighter – you feel your shoulders going down.   A lightness of feeling, I suppose spiritually, or emotionally.  You think, ‘this is OK, I can do this.’ 

And Roger did do it.  Against the odds he has come though this rare condition, Richters Transformation, by way of chemo, and then a stem cell transplant.  He describes it as a marathon, not a sprint.  But then he talks about other patients he met who had a different attitude.

There were one or two people having the chemo with me who were bitter, and I felt rather sorry for them, but I also thought, 'you have got this so wrong.'  They were rude to the nursing staff, they were bitter to each other, and the attitude!  They didn’t survive – they were the ones to go first. 

Those with a poor attitude?  One I came across was poisoned spirituality, and physically, but if you’re poisoned as person, you’re not going to get through.  This woman was at her wit's end.  She was giving grief to her husband, the chair was uncomfortable, and the nurses were incompetent.  I understand she didn’t come through, but the harder you make it for yourself, the less your chance of survival.  I think an illness extends your character – it almost charicatures you – the good blossoms, and the bad will dominate if you let it – to your detriment.  I’m sure the bad parts of me were there too, but the positive attitude dominated.  

What advice would you give to someone in similar circumstance?

I would say – 'what are you going to do today to really enjoy it while you’re still alive?  Learn something new even in the most dire circumstances, almost at the point of death, something to look forward to the next day.'  It then becomes a positive habit, and of course it depends on those around you.  Being in love is about the best medicine you can have.  

An irony is Roger's new relationship with Nicky had started only weeks before his diagnosis.  Her attitude to him and his disease and her part in his recovery is immense.

Another person we spoke to about the importance of attitude in Act3 was Dr Ruth Holt.  Profoundly deaf from an early age Ruth had been for 32 years an academic and paediatric dentist and retired early at 55, struggling to hear patients as her deafness worsened.  She had always been very positive even as a child, she said, and would never allow her hearing issues stop her achieving her ambitions.  She's since had cochlear implants and says her hearing is now about 80%.

Always interested in arts and sciences, Ruth decided it'd be a better financial prospect to go into dentistry, so that was her first career.  Her second started in mid-life with an arts foundation course at Central St Martin's, then a BA, and then an MA at the Royal College of Art.   Now, aged 71, she's a woven textile designer based in Suffolk, creating extraordinary one-off pieces.

We wrap ourselves in scarves, woven, knitted, printed, functional or fashion statement, to lift our spirits, to comfort ourselves, to express our identity.  I design and make scarves that are one-off pieces of textile weaving, of shifting nuanced colour.  

My textile weaving is inspired by the many moods of the Suffolk landscape and by the power of memory to stir and haunt us.  

I love the differences in colour and texture that can be achieved with looms of the size and complexity I use and my textile weaving uses a variety of weave structures giving a range of fine textures.  The final  outcome, never completely predictable, is a result of interaction between weft, warp and weave structure.

You described a helpful thing in your transition to Act3 is to 'become unbuttoned'.  Why unbuttoned?

You become more yourself, at ease with the world.  Again, I think that’s partly age, I suppose partly hard work, and then you become more who you are, you become at peace with yourself.  I used to find that difficult, as I was very good at sitting on what I felt about things.  I was brought up to NEVER get angry.  Having to recognise anger was difficult.  I was taught it was wrong to be angry at all, not, 'if you’re angry THIS is what to do about it.'  It made me very good at gatekeeping, and putting a lid on things.  

It was good in that it brought you out of conflict, but on the other hand it meant the conflict was never satisfactorily resolved.  It was also bad in that it stopped you feeling positive things too – you couldn’t put yourself into things and say, ‘Wow this is amazing, so good!'  you were brought up to be terribly measured.  Oh God, so dull!  And missing what life is about! 

To be professional it was much easier to be buttoned up, but not recognising what you feel, that is not good news.  Important to recognise, 'that is making me so furious!'  And of course being deaf was pretty tricky.  Difficult.   And not recognising that is difficult – ‘Oh, that’s just how you are dear, no point in getting upset about it.'  Ugh.

You got help to change career direction.  Would you recommend that?

Yes, because you often can’t see it yourself.  You need taking out of your situation, and if you’re really going round in circles, unless you can remove yourself and talk to someone else, it becomes impossible.  You have all these influences, all these pressures, and you somehow have got to get yourself out.  It’s not a matter of isolating yourself, but saying to your self what you really want to do.  I have talked to so many other people and asked ‘what’s really important to you?’ and they can’t or won’t define it.  Won’t do it.  Either they think it’s an ego trip, or they think they can’t, or just don’t know, but I think it takes a good bit of fishing round.  The other thing I felt when I was doing this, was how difficult it was to strip the ‘oughteries’ away  – ought to do this, ought not to do that. 

 I have been fortunate in having the opportunity to get what I have done to get to this stage.  I really look back and say ‘gosh, I am so fortunate.’

Archie, now 80, left school at 15 unable to read or write.  We don't think we've met anyone with a more positive attitude. Nothing stops him, it seems, despite being the primary carer for his wife Jenny who has dementia.  He wept twice during our two-hour conversation, the first when he feared he wouldn't be enough for Jenny and the second from joy when he described a birthday meal with his family.  He recalled a lesson in attitude when in the Army Catering Corps and ordered to feed 20,000 refugees in Cyprus.

All of the Greeks ran into the garrison where we were living, and the brigadier said, 'set up the catering.'  I organised it, and all the back up - that’s the job.  Within 24 hours, we'd got mobile kitchens running, local bakers, got the stuff out of the fields.  Within 24 hours 20,000 people were getting a meal a day, and I was pleased about that. What was lovely was the brigadier didn’t say ‘will you or wont you’, it was a very good attitude.  

You see a lot of it in the Paralympics – people who have lost their legs, somehow they overcome it, and come out the other end, whereas some people just crumble.

If I have a bad attitude, how do I turn it into a good one?

I think it would be different for different people. For me, it would be my Christian faith.  For others they would see they were becoming a waster – but something has to go on inside.  

You think it’s possible to change your attitude?

Oh yes, I’ve done it myself!  It must be so.  Negative and positive are not far away from each other, the same as love and hate – they’re close neighbours.  But it doesn’t happen easily, it can take a long time, a drip drip.  But it would be nice to think we can be a rainbow in anybody’s clouds – I think that’s a nice thought. 

Archie, you're 80, what do you wish for?

A joyful end.  I think what I feel and want is to be growing old joyfully and gracefully.  Instead of a miserable old git!  It’s very easy to become bitter and twisted, but it destroys you, you’re the only loser, so forgiveness is a must.  Different people have different ways of forgiving, but you hear people say ‘I can never forgive him, or I won’t forgive him,’ so it's a learning process.  I have learned how to be content in a given situation.  

There will be plenty more inspirational stories in the book and Judy and I are delighted that it is now almost 75% funded.  Thank you.  Our enthusiasm for the content of this book has never been higher.  There are so many ways we can make Act3 our best chapter yet.

You can help.  If you have a story to tell about positive change in Act3, or know someone who has please be in touch with us.  We plan to turn these recordings into a podcast.  There's something lovely about listening to a person tell their story at length.  

Let us know what you think and thanks for reading and supporting.

Judy & Adrian


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