I started my blogging life in 2008 partly as a way of capturing my experience of a sabbatical in America. In the spring of that year I spent a month in Washington DC followed by three months in Chicago. It was a rejuvenating and very significant time. I managed to get over to Washington for the annual American Society of Ageing conference and here is my blog from that day.

I kept the rather incidental comments about  the conference and meeting up  with an old friend as a way into  the profound effect that  this extraordinary woman had  on  me and hundreds of other people  gathered in that enormous ballroom.  What a legacy she has left ..

Picture the scene. 3,600 delegates crammed into the Ball Room of a Washington Hotel listening to a choir of ‘seniors’ as they call them over here. I am feeling the after effects of too little sleep and some jet lag having just flown from London yesterday. It is the Aging in America conference and the start of a sabbatical. I’m findng hard to unwind from work and home but the conference programme is 269 pages long and only covers four days!

I have already been taken on a journey through the demographic time bomb of China by a group of academics and bump into an old friend from Princeton Theological Seminary. We met eight or nine years ago and she still remembers Temple Balsall and the lunch I cooked all that time age ago. Abigal Evans is Professor of Practical Theology and we share an interest in health, ethics and death! Despite the queue lunch was good! I firmly resisted chips!

The first day ended with the most extraordinary reflection from Maya Angelou – she sat in a chair – and without a note talked about her life and especially the meanings and humour of ageing. Moving – tender – rich – honest – wise and deeply spiritual. Her love has been carved out of the rock of pain, rejection and deep oppression. She showed 3 600 people how to laugh at themselves and how important was the work of presence with older people. She reminded us of how badly we can treat older people but above all of the power and virtue of courage.

We listened to her poetry and she asked us to change the world through our influence. Her smile and eyes will remain in my memory for a very long time.

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