The Road is Made by Walking: Tomi’s Story

In the summer of 2010, I had just been through a nasty breakup and could no longer afford my once-shared apartment in Manhattan. I was working from home at the time, so it was easy for me to sublet the place and find new digs, but I also needed to get some fresh air and clear my cloudy head. Traveling seemed like the way to go, and with friends spread out around the country, I felt confident that I could find a place to stay wherever I landed. So I purchased an unlimited rail pass on the Amtrak, sent my cats to live with a friend (I still don’t think they’ve forgiven me for that) and bounced between the east and west coasts for a couple of months.

San Francisco was one of the last stops on my route, and as luck would have it, my housing there fell through a few days before I was scheduled to arrive. In a panic, I logged into my account on Couchsurfing.org and started emailing just about everyone in town who had an available room. I’m not sure if I believe in fate, but there are definitely forces at work in the universe that seem to gently (or sometimes not-so-gently) push me in the direction I should be moving. Tomi was one of the only people who responded to my frantic messages, and she invited me to her home with open arms.

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I’ve never before or since felt so welcomed, accepted, or well cared for. Tomi has a generous spirit unlike any I’ve encountered, and over the next four days, we cooked and shared meals, we talked about our lives and our experiences, and she showed me some of her favorite spots in San Francisco. We have stayed in touch in the five years since then, occasionally meeting up in one city or another, still sharing stories and experiences along the way. I’m so inspired by Tomi and the life she leads, some of which you can read about in Tomi’s story on our Diverse Elders Stories Initiative. She writes about Kanreki, the Japanese celebration of starting life anew at age 60. “I look at this crossroads differently than my parents. Rather than retiring from something, I’m trying to determine what I’m transitioning into. Perhaps this is Baby Boomer presumptuousness about being different than my parents’ generation, or perhaps realism about how much longer I need to earn income,” she writes.

After last week’s White House Conference on Aging, the Diverse Elders Coalition has been talking and thinking a lot about retirement security for our diverse elder communities. The discussion about financial security at the WHCOA felt somewhat inaccessible to our communities, the members of which often face employment discrimination, under- or unemployment, and linguistic and cultural barriers to financial education. As our elders become grandparents, they may want or need to spend more time with their grandchildren; some may even be raising their grandchildren while parents work. We’re interested in learning more about our communities’ experiences in retirement and hope you will share your stories with us. “My crossroads is where work, family, service, and full-time vs. part-time income earning converge,” Tomi says. “The question is what the path will look like, and what will the relationship be between the elements? For now I’m holding this question and paying close attention to the unfolding, with faith that I will create the path as I walk.”

We hope that all of our diverse elders have the opportunity to walk their paths. I, too, look forward to my roads ahead, no matter where they will take me.