“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. That in fact it may be necessary to encounter defeat, so we can know who the hell we are. What can we overcome? What makes us stumble and fall, and somehow miraculously rise and go on?”
I loved every minute of it as a historian, a writer and an American. I learned so much about black history, struggling writers, and our own history as a horribly racist country. I had heard much of her poetry from her later years, but did not know her life’s story as a dancer, singer, civil rights leader, etc. I also had no idea she was six foot tall! I believe I first heard about her through watching Oprah. Talk about an intelligent woman with an AMAZING way with words! She truly understood the POWER OF WORDS.
The small piece I would like to focus on here was from an experience Ms. Angelou had with a few young men who were speaking threateningly to her once in her life. She turned to them and said: “When was the last time someone told you how important you are?” These words stopped the youngsters in their tracks, and made me sit up straight and ask myself the same question.
Ms. Angelou’s point was to educate these kids to their own family history. She said something like, “Do you ever think about what your ancestors had to go through to bring you to this place and time? How are you honoring their struggles?”
How rare is it that we honor our ancestors’ struggles? How often do we tell those who make our lives worthwhile exactly how important they are? The world is full of people who need to feel appreciated, and yes even important.
More than 50 million people around the world live with dementia, but the causes of this disease that robs us of our memories and brain power, are not well understood. We received some bad news on this topic this week. As many as 11% of dementia cases in people living within 50 meters of a major road could be caused by pollution and/or traffic noise, a new study suggests. The researchers, who followed nearly 2 million people in Canada over eleven years, say air pollution or noisy traffic could be contributing to the brain’s decline.
This study, published in the Lancet, followed nearly two million people in the Canadian province of Ontario, between 2001 and 2012. There were 243,611 cases of dementia diagnosed during that time, but the risk was greatest in those living closest to major roads.
Compared with those living more than 300 meters away from a major road, the risk was 7% higher within 50 meters, 4% higher between 50-100 meters and 2% higher for those within 200 meters. Researchers adjusted their data to account for other risk factors like poverty, obesity, education levels and smoking so these are unlikely to explain the link.
Dr Hong Chen, from Public Health Ontario, one of the report authors, said:
“Increasing population growth and urbanization have placed many people close to heavy traffic, and with widespread exposure to traffic and growing rates of dementia, even a modest effect from near-road exposure could pose a large public health burden…More research to understand this link is needed, particularly into the effects of different aspects of traffic, such as air pollutants and noise.”
Many studies have focused on the impact of dirty air on the lungs and heart. In early 2016 the World Health Organisation warned that air pollution was leading to as many as three million premature deaths every year. Now, tiny particles of pollution have been discovered inside samples of brain tissue, providing the first evidence that minute particles of what is called magnetite from air pollution, find their way into our brains.
My initial response to this new research is dah! When I first heard about my own serious case of COPD last month, I said to the doctor, “Yes, I’ve had bronchitis in some of the most interesting places.” (Bangkok, Taipei, China, Venice…)
Asia is particularly dirty and I have spent far too much time living there. And Europe isn’t much better, but realistically, most of us breathe polluted air all of the time and somehow believe it isn’t affecting our health. Surprise! It all catches up with you sooner or later.
For decades I have had a personal appreciation of the American Lung Association’s tag line: “When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters…”
“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” – Deepak Chopra
A few years ago I presented a talk to a group of unemployed Americans in their middle years. When I was finished, the first person to raise her hand asked me,
“Do you believe we have to hit bottom in our lives before we truly begin to change?” My answer at the time was, “I did.”
The fact is that most of us will not change until we become uncomfortable enough to admit defeat. Most need to be absolutely convinced that the “plan” they had for their life is simply not working. The way this usually comes about is through a major crisis which demands our complete attention. Divorce, serious illness, the death of a loved one, or long-term unemployment, especially when these occur in our middle years, seem to be the most common stimulants leading to the end of our naïve notion that we somehow can control everything that happens to us. These events become ever more common as we age. These unforeseen and often unforeseeable occurrences tend to inform us in no uncertain terms that changes in our life plan are now in order.
We may first try to defend against the onset of pain and confusion by denying or ignoring this sudden lack of certainty or security in our lives. Most seek to escape into bad relationships, drug addiction, religious faith or even artificially extreme feelings of independence, as they defend against their need to depend on others in their lives.
Even though it may seem completely counter-intuitive at this tough spot, you may discover that accepting and embracing the chaos and uncertainty you feel surrounded by is your first best step towards peace. Stop, sit down quietly, and begin to feel the enormity of this apparent crisis, realizing that this may be one of the most important opportunities of your adult life.
Can you trust in the power of your own psyche to survive this crisis, and in that way heal yourself?
“Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up. – Pema
Know that this is the beginning of your own personal rite of passage into full adulthood. This is a natural, normal stage of human development studied by psychologists like Carl Jung, when he experienced it himself.
Recognize that you are not the first to feel chaos and uncertainty in your middle years. This is a well-documented transition of personal change, growth and human evolution. And the best way to move through this life stage smoothly is to embrace the new information and knowledge you will be given now.
By allowing this in, you have the ability to access the unique instruction this moment has for you. Instead of attempting to run from it, embrace the uncertainty. Begin to believe this moment is giving you access to your own unique brand of power, one you may have never known or acknowledged before. Begin to see that you alone know somewhere inside what needs to happen next. Spend the time necessary to listen to the small, still voice within, the one you may have been ignoring for decades. Recognize this voice perhaps for the first time as your inner guide, brimming with accumulated information and wisdom.
This source knows where you need to go next. It will instruct you in how you must change, grow and evolve into your best self in this moment. The sooner you begin to believe in its power and trust this valuable inner resource, the sooner you will follow its instructions, and find more structure, certainty and peace in your life.