Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Purpose On Purpose

When I was a kid one of the most often-used expressions we used was the phrase “on purpose.” If I broke a window in the neighborhood with a baseball, the real issue broke down to whether or not I did it “on purpose.” If I emptied the cookie jar and did it ‘on purpose’ (how else does one eat more than their share of cookies?) I would get punished. As a result, we learned to say “I didn’t do it on purpose” right upfront when the issue of our behavior in any situation was likely to be raised.

Let me switch topics briefly. I have the continuous privilege of being associated with a wide variety of remarkable people who, as the younger set likes to say, are “really into music.” As a prime example, in the Suncoast Concert Band in Sarasota, Florida I sit next to Bill Millner in the tuba section. From mid-October to the end of April, the band rehearses three times every two weeks and plays sixteen concerts each season to sold-out audiences. By way of an additional example, there’s a guy, Jim something, in the clarinet section of the band who will be 100 years olds in the near future. Then there's Joe Bruno, an outstanding trumpet player, in his late eighties, leads an active and fabulous Dixie-land band and has played for years with the nation’s finest singers and bands. I could go on-and-on about others as well. In Venice, Millner, 86 years of age, also leads and conducts the Venice Concert Band through a similar season of rehearsals and sold-out performances. More than a thousand people flock to monthly concerts and 800 season tickets for next year's concerts sold out in less than a day earlier this spring.  In addition, Bill gets huge laughs for telling some really bad jokes during these concerts. I know they’re bad jokes because when I repeat them to my friends, I just get blank stares, and I know it can’t be how I tell them. I do think it is important, however, to always give the punch line of a joke right up front. But I digress. Notwithstanding the jokes, Bill is a shining example of a man with a purpose whose age is only an after thought. I should mention that he also plays frequent gigs professionally. The word ‘ageless’ comes to mind. Bill and the others represent the kind of people found in both bands, around sixty really fine musicians whose lives, in part, are centered around performing good music to appreciative audiences. And good music it is, for these are pretty darn good musicians. Most of these band members are retired musicians, or teachers of music: All with the sense of purpose of maintaining their substantial musical skills for the pleasure and enjoyment of others.

An article in today’s New York Times talks about how important a sense of purpose is in senior citizens. The article reports:  Patricia Boyle, is a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago. She and her colleagues have been tracking two cohorts of older people living independently in greater Chicago, assessing them regularly on a variety of physical, psychological and cognitive measures. What have the scientists learned? Following almost 1,000 people (age 80, on average) for up to seven years, Dr. Boyle’s team found that the ones with high purpose scores were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of Alzheimer’s than those with low scores; they were also less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor. “It also slowed the rate of cognitive decline by about 30 percent, which is a lot,” Dr. Boyle added.Purposeful people were less likely to develop disabilities . . . those with high purpose had roughly half the mortality rate of those with low purpose. This protective effect holds through the years. Those with a sense of purpose “want to feel part of something that extends beyond themselves.” People with purpose “have a sense of their role in the community and the broader world.”
To tie this all together, these band members all accomplish this “purpose on purpose.” To me, it’s as much fun as being a kid again. Yes, I admit it. I do it "on purpose."

Just saying . . .

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