This could possibly be the best time of my life. Things don’t get to me the way it used to. I’ve seen enough. And I’ve seen everything at least twice.
Eric, 65, joined the Senior and Disability Action network a few months ago at the urging of a friend. The SDA mobilizes and educates the aging population and people with disabilities to “fight for individual rights and social justice” through one-on-one support and “collective action” working together to “create a city and world in which seniors and people with disabilities can live well – and safely.”
Eric is both a community elder and disabled – and a Vietnam War veteran. The irony? He was not injured while serving but rather in San Francisco, where he is originally from, some years later.
Shortly after joining SDA, he realized that aging and disability could be considered one and the same. “I never thought about it before,” he said, “And while I know it’s delusional – I don’t think of myself as being a ‘senior citizen…’ but the disability part is more present with me.” Joining the community at SDA opened his eyes “to the fact that this problem is not going to go away – that of aging and disability.”
Eric is motivated in his community service work to help other people who are struggling with aging and disability in one, realizing that the longer one lives, the likelier one will experience “some kind of disability.” He clarifies, “It may not be major – but it’s still real.”
I’m not physically able to do a lot of things I was able to before. But my mind is a lot sharper and I see things a lot clearer than I used to… Aging has to do with your mental attitude.
So how can San Franciscans contribute to the well-being of folks who are both aging and disabled? Eric suggests supporting initiatives that provide appropriate housing for those who are aging – so they can stay in one place in a comfortable living situation that is built with the various needs of disabled folks in mind.
“As Americans, we’re taught to be individualistic and independent. It can be a bad thing and it divorces you from other people in general.” And can potentially cause setbacks for people living independently.
“I was asked by my neighbor what I thought about aging. I said to her, ‘Well there’s good things and bad things. I’m not physically able to do a lot of things I was able to before. But my mind is a lot sharper and I see things a lot clearer than I used to…Aging has to do with your mental attitude.”
“I’ve felt 30 years old since as long as I can remember,” he shared over coffee at the All Star Cafe in downtown San Francisco. Eric’s mother passed at 67 years old. “It doesn’t have to be that way unless you want it to be that way,” he adds. “She suffered from a bad depression, she watched a lot of bad television shows, she stayed home all the time, she stayed in bed, smoked her cigarettes and drank her coffee – so she died when she was 67…I couldn’t talk her out of it – you gotta live how you wanna live. I didn’t want to nag her. I wouldn’t want her to do it to me.”
“I always give people the benefit of the doubt … If you open up to them, they’ll open up to you.
“90% of all this sh*t is in your mind,” Eric believes. And “once you know that, if you don’t let people talk you out of it,” you’re good. Fight, believe in yourself, get active.
Eric has been working since he was 16 and after Vietnam became a nurse, working at General Hospital for five years out of a twenty-year career. He served the areas of the Tenderloin and the Mission, where he spends a lot of time now. He used to see patients on the street but believes they opened up to him because he didn’t have a superiority complex and had a good bedside manner.
“I always give people the benefit of the doubt,” he says. “If you open up to them, they’ll open up to you.
Between meetings at SDA and other community commitments, Eric would like to go back to work. He’s looking to “contribute something more to the world” still. While searching for work can take some time and is dependent on networking, he is not worried.
“I believe that things work out the way they are supposed to,” he says, calmly.
All photos courtesy of: Sahara Marina Borja