Keeper of the Meaning

~By Robin Avery ~

This is the second to last column exploring the life-stage development steps as outlined in the Harvard study titled “Aging Well, Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life.”

Originally, June’s “Generativity” column was to be followed by this one on “Keeper of the Meaning,” and then an exploration titled “Integrity” of the final stage. July’s column about Mindfulness interrupted this plan because I decided a short discussion on mindfulness was an important prelude to the final two topics.

At the outset I struggled a bit writing this “Keeper of the Meaning” narrative because there is so little literature on it, and also because I haven’t yet lived this stage. So, I asked myself, “What meaning?” There was no way to tackle that subject in a column. Then, I thought about the word “Keeper.” I was on the return leg of a 12-mile bicycle ride, head down against the wind in my face, contemplating this concept of “keeper.” I thought perhaps a better word would be “preserver.” I raised my head and saw the woman riding in front of me. She wore a T-shirt with two words – Preserve It! I took it as a sign.

A few days later, I ran into Charlie. Charlie, who turns 90 next month, is one of my favorite people on the bike path. I stopped and asked him to think about the three most important things he would like to see preserved. “I don’t need to think about it”, Charlie said, “They are Honesty, Consideration and Fairness.” He went on to say that in these troubled times, it’s natural to think about these things. So I started asking other elders I met on the trail, and they provided an alphabet soup of positive attributes to preserve. Azziza, at 82 years of age, spent a whole day creating triads depicting aspects of her answer to the question. Hers was a rollicking, fun exploration into what it means to be alive. She enthusiastically “spilled over” and helped me build the bridge to next month’s final column, “Integrity.”

Taking the question to Facebook, where friends and family contributed their views, resulted in so many excellent responses! Some of the responses I received were common sense, some were humorous, and some were enlightened. I am fascinated by how excited everyone was to explore the question.

Here’s what the alphabet of things to preserve looks like for those “Keepers of the Meaning:”

A- Appreciation, Adaptability, Attitude, Accountability and Air
B- Basic Goodness, Beauty, Breath
C- Consideration, Common Sense, Community, Civility, Commitment, Charity, Conscience, Compassion
D- Democracy, Of the People, By the People, and For the People; Diversity of life forms
E- Earth, Education, Ethics, Effort, Equality, Energy
F- Fairness, Family, Freedom from Fear, Free will, Forgiveness, Femininity
G- Generosity, Gentleness, Gratitude
H- Honesty, History, Hugs, Heart, Harmony, Humility, Hope
I- Innocence, Intelligence, Ideals, Innovation, Indigenous Peoples, Integrity
J- Justice
K- Kindness (Garnering the most votes)
L- Love, Logic, Land, Laughter, Letting Go
M- Music, Memories
N- Nature, Nobility
O- Open minds, Opportunity
P- Peace, Play, Purpose, Poetry, Perseverance
Q- Quality, Questioning
R- Reason, Relationships, Responsibility
S- Science, Spirituality, Simplicity, Sanity, Stories, Skill, Sobriety
T- Trust, Truth, Tolerance, Transparency
U- Unity, Understanding
V- Vitality
W- Water, Wilderness, Wonder. Work and Will power
Z. Zebra’s, which demonstrate that white and black get along just fine.

Looking at this list, these seem to be the best attributes of the human condition, things worth preserving and keeping.

Robin Avery

Robin Avery

Robin Avery is a Wisconsin Badger, the Founder of Shanagolden Management, LLC, a Gerontologist, and Founder of Robin can be reached at

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