Senior Power:“Life can be beautiful even when it’s not so easy.”

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday January 25, 2011 - 01:25:00 PM

Remember that daytime soap, Life Can Be Beautiful? It was billed as "an inspiring message of faith drawn from life." Broadcast on NBC and CBS radio from 1938 to 1954, it remained a leading drama through the 1940s, sponsored by Procter & Gamble and Spic and Span. Carol Conrad, aka Chichi, was a teen on the run until Papa David Solomon, owner of the Slightly Read Bookshop, gave her a home. She continued to live in the back room of the bookstore while romancing crippled law student Stephen Hamilton. 

“Life can be beautiful even when it’s not so easy,” declares a guest at the Four Seasons Lodge, reflecting on life after Auschwitz. Living well and long is the best revenge on Hitler, writes a reviewer of Four Seasons Lodge, a 2008 documentary. The Lodge is a summer bungalow colony located in the Catskill Mountains off route 17 in Ellenville, New York. (Life after Auschwitz is the collective title of archival material located in the CBC digital archives.) 

We are able to watch and listen as the senior citizens of Four Seasons Lodge spend the summer of 2006. After many together, it could be their last. The colony is for sale; part of their summer is devoted to negotiations regarding its and their future. Some guests may not live long enough to see another summer even if the colony survives. 

The perennial guests arrive on a rain-soaked afternoon and huddle together under makeshift umbrellas. They gather, swap hellos and settle into vacation mode. They play poker, dance into the night and swap stories. No one is discussing the past, only what’s on the agenda. But the shared tragedy is never far from their thoughts. Most are in their 80s. Many years ago they survived the Nazi concentration camps. “This is always behind your head,” says one. 

The people at the Four Seasons Lodge left the wreckage of Nazi-occupied Poland and arrived in the United States. Most are of Polish descent. These annual summer retreats to the Lodge in the Catskills have served as their escape from anti-Semitism and from the isolation they felt as immigrants. As the director prods them for memories or theories about why they survived when others succumbed, some cooperate eagerly, while others balk or change the subject. 

There is no narrative accompanying the film. Life unfolds, revealed gradually by the lodgers themselves. They are Holocaust survivors, but they rarely act the part. Most of the Lodge guests refuse to act their age. And rarely do they wallow in self pity. The past still haunts them, and one guest prefers not to discuss it. Living well is their preferred revenge. It is their senior power. 

Four Seasons Lodge was journalist Andrew Jacobs’ first experience as writer-director. He learned of the colony while a reporter for the New York Times. The first twenty of the film’s 101 minutes have been criticized as slow, but they are essential. A casual shot of the guests playing cards captures their tattooed forearms reaching out. Documentalist Albert (Grey Gardens) Maysles participated in the filming. 

These senior citizens are worth getting to know. They are lively and sometimes comical. Rarely is there a cross word for one another. A few must tend to their loved ones, whose poor health demands constant attention. Ninety one year-old Aaron Adelman suffers from multiple health complications and is hospitalized at one point during the film. They face these tasks with determination and love, never cursing their fate or asking why God decided to leave them with these duties. They understand just how lucky they are to be alive, and they act accordingly. 

Four Seasons Lodge may bring to your mind, as it did to mine, Roman Polanski’s 2002 motion picture, The Pianist. It is based on the autobiographical recounting of how Wladyslaw Szpilman (born in Poland, 1911-2000) survived the Holocaust. Szpilman was a Jewish-Polish pianist, composer, and memoirist. He watched as his family was shipped off to Nazi labor camps. He managed to escape and lived for years in the ruins of Warsaw, hiding from the Nazis. The DVD Polanski's own story of survival during WWII, as well as clips of Wladyslaw Szpilman playing the piano. 



"Sicker Quicker, Broke Faster: Seniors' Fate If Health Law Is Repealed,” by Marilyn Moon (Center for American Progress via New America Media, Jan. 19, 2011). 


Last week (Jan. 13) a regulation to provide Medicare coverage for advance care planning counseling—that is, offer reimbursement to doctors for time spent talking to patients about end-of-life care—was abandoned… for the second time. "Antichoice at the End of Life," by Ann Neumann (Nation, January 2011).