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When aging changes its tune

by Emerson Lesher

What to do with old people? Often, our response has been to simply avoid, protect, isolate, or placate them. We have been slow to encourage older adults to engage, emerge, enrich, and empower. The stories we tell in our culture about aging tend to be negative, focusing primarily on the limitations and restrictions it brings. Yet our current demographic context, which reveals an aging world population, and God’s idea of abundance across all stages of life call for new and positive stories of what the third age of life might be!

Young@Heart, a 2008 documentary about a community chorus of persons whose average age is 81, offers one such story. Challenging fundamental stereotypes about older adults and aging, this Northampton, Mass.–based group has toured the U.S. and Europe and performs songs by such rock legends as Bob Dylan, James Brown, The Rolling Stones, and Coldplay.

As the members prepare new repertoire for an upcoming local concert, the film highlights several members, revealing the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beauty of their past and present. As the weeks of practice before the concert pass, Young@Heart members laugh, love, give, mourn, overcome challenges, and—perhaps most importantly—create community and purpose together.

But most of all, they capture the fun, hilarity, energy, and drama that comes when grandparents bring the music of their children and grandchildren’s generation to life. Suddenly, the songs written to describe the challenges and triumphs of youth are reinterpreted to describe the challenges and triumphs of old age!

Young@Heart is rated PG and is great for persons age 12 to 112. But don’t let the word “documentary” scare you; this fun flick will make you laugh and cry, appreciate rock in a new way, and may even challenge you to write a new story about aging.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2009 issue of In Part magazine.

Emerson Lesher was first introduced to Young@Heart by his teenage daughter. He now uses it as a training experience with employees at Messiah Village (Mechanicsburg, Pa.), where he serves as president. Emerson is a member of the Grantham (Pa.) BIC congregation.

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