John Dabney finds gratitude is the key to resilience

John Dabney’s San Carlos home is filled with life. Jazz plays on the radio; fresh flowers fill his living room. He is eager to talk about music, his ever-growing rock and mineral collection, and the news of the day.

John has always lived life on his own terms, even as those terms have changed. Once an adventure traveler, active rockhound, and music festival devotee, John, 86, is now confined to a wheelchair by his diabetes. But he still has a healthy appetite for life and learning.

“One of the keys to aging is acceptance of the things you can’t do any more. You just have to let go. Beyond acceptance comes forgiveness, and gratitude,” says John. “I’m grateful every morning for the blessings I have. And I have many.”

A former social worker, John knows gratitude is an important part of resilience. He spent his career working with people with mental illness, counseling children and families, and developing a program to assess seniors with depression and dementia.

It was through his job that John met his future wife Jane, when they both worked at San Mateo County Mental Health Services. “She had an interesting rock on her desk, and I asked her about it – that’s how we got started,” he says. “Janie loved me, and I think she made me a better man.” The two enjoyed many adventurous trips together in their 42 years of marriage before Jane passed away in 2007 under the care of Mission Hospice.

When John entered our Transitions program several years ago, one of the first people he met was social worker Tracie Pyers. They have since formed a strong bond and enjoy discussing a wide range of topics, including their shared vocation.

With her support, and his positive attitude and good humor, John has continued to pursue his many interests. A member of two mineral societies, John continues to add to his collection of rocks and crystals from around the world.

He follows musicians from all genres, especially bluegrass, traditional jazz, Fado, and rebetica (urban Greek jazz). Although he can no longer attend his beloved bluegrass festivals, he livestreams concerts and keeps up with a network of friends who share his love of music.

In fact, John’s intellectual curiosity and generous spirit have earned him a network of friends, neighbors, and family members who visit, help with errands, and share conversation. He meets regularly for lunch with former colleagues.

“Getting older is an adventure,” says John. “I’ve done a lot of adventure travel, including taking a safari near Kilimanjaro to prospect for gem crystals of Tanzanite. I’m now learning as much as I did on some of those travels, in a very different way. I’m learning about diseases and treatments that I never wanted to know about,” he laughs.

“I have learned a lot about mindfulness.”

Tracie credits John’s open mind and gratitude with his ability to adapt to the challenges posed by his disease. “John is one of the most resilient people I’ve met in my many years of this work,” says Tracie. “He’s such a life force. He is thriving in this chapter of his life.”