We were in a room full of people, and I noticed her right away. She was 82 and didn't look a day over 65. Her head held high, she dared anyone to think she was less than a principal player in the room full of much younger "wanna be's". I was immediately struck by her confidence, her honesty, and above all, her melodious laughter. She was a goddess without being a diva, confident without being haughty, and oh so comfortable in her own skin...causing the rest of us to watch in awe as she worked the room.
I think I was drawn to her mainly because I have really been struggling with my own concept of aging this year...while staring a monumental birthday in the face....the Big 60. Until recently, I have been able to ignore aging because I have, for the most part, looked younger than my years. The past few years have been different. I have had to look honestly in the mirror and realize aging has snuck up behind me and is breathing down my neck! Instead of embracing this process, I have felt a growing sense of panic. What am I supposed to do? Do I look at Botox? Restylane? Or something more invasive? What does healthy, wholesome aging look like? I'm searching through blogs about aging, reading magazine articles, watching television infomercials about aging and I am more confused than ever. My parents didn't really prepare me for this new challenge. In the past, people got older, accepted it, and moved on to the next chapter in a resigned manner....what else could they do?
Today, we have so many options (whether they are healthy or not), and many of my peers are choosing to postpone the inevitable through plastic surgery, exercise and diet, meditation, vitamins.... and the list goes on.
The woman facing me had truly found the secret to youthfulness and I was so excited to visit with her. First of all, she had birthed seven children and had 14 grandchildren! This told me she was courageous and unafraid of life's challenges. She had a zest for living only overshadowed by her love for her family. Secondly, she learned long ago the importance of taking care of herself every day. Her oldest grandson told me he has always remembered his Nana taking the time for herself everyday. Wow! This isn't selfish or narcissistic...it is healthy and even her grandchildren respect and love her because she first respects herself. We counselors call this "self-care". Many people fail to see the importance of it, but this component is key to aging gracefully.
The next thing I learned about her was her constant thirst for learning new things. She began taking painting classes 5 years ago and paints every day. Can you believe it? This woman who is in the last chapter of her life realizes the value of learning everyday! Between caring for her family, her commitment to serving others, she took time to learn and appreciate the arts. Amazing! How many 82 year old people do YOU know that are unafraid of learning and discovering?
And the final component I gleaned from our conversation was that she loved to laugh and find the humor in life that others are too tired or too small to see. I would say at least half of our conversation was punctuated by bursts of laughter or gentle chuckles. Ahh...how pleasant the sound of communal laughter is in a room full of "jockeying for position".
We had an opportunity to visit again a few days later and I shared with her my admiration. She told me, " You know, I realize my husband and I are in the last chapter of our lives. But I don't feel like it is a free pass for giving up. There is still so much to learn and do and see. In many ways, we have only just begun."
My response to her was, "I am so blessed to have met you. Finally, I know what I want to aspire to be as I age. I want to be YOU!! Seriously, 'Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number'....and each day brings opportunities for service and learning I have just begun to unwrap."