Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Age is just a number

Her white hair, tied into a messy bun.  Her face, deeply lined, framing the brightest blue eyes you have ever seen.  Her face, permanently creased into a smile, looking like she is responding to a delicious joke you just told.

Skippy is friends with my uncle Harry, and when I came into town last time - for the funeral of my cousin - she offered to put my mother and me up for the night.  We showed up, and got loved on by the most delightful 87-year-old there is.  We talked for hours - about her garden, about her doll collection, about the beautiful land she has overlooking the marsh on Myrtle Island.

She reminds me of Cool MA. My compadre's grandmother lived around the corner from me when I was growing up in Greenville, and she was one of the most amazing, kindest women I have ever met. The stories I hear of her bestow on her the status of a minor deity.

Cool MA reminded me of my Nana, who was a chief cheerleader for everything her grandkids did.  She walked the beach for hours, marveling over evey shell we found, remarking with ineffable happiness how smart, how strong, how fast, how observant we were.

My Nana was very reminiscent of my Aunt Lolo.  Lolo was the brightest, happiest, kindest, most adventurous woman I have ever met.  I always loved going over to her house, even when I was at an age where going over to an older family member's house holds no appeal.  She was just cool, and had fascinating stuff to look through from her many travels.

Beautiful, strong, smart, kind, loving women.  And as they grew older, impossibly, their beauty deepened. In a culture that worships youth and strength and virility and unlined faces.... and in a culture that subsequently discards the young and beautiful when they become neither, I am blown away by these ladies, who seemed to weather the process with such incredible grace.

My cousin Andrew (genetic researcher, runner, musician, and dancer extraordinaire) is running in his second marathon, and blogging about it as he does his prep.  His running of the Chicago marathon is benefitting a charity that provides safe, affordable housing for seniors (if you feel so inclined to do such things, please support his effort).  His writing explores some of the issues about aging, and includes inspirational stories of people who bloom in old age.

As I am solidly (and getting more so every year) middle aged, I find myself fascinated to read what a scientist is thinking about the aging process.  The issues with memory.  The loneliness (so far his best blog entry here, which included a nice bit on juggling.) The life changes. 

And as I read his blog, reflecting on these amazing women in my life, and I find myself trying to figure out what made them special.  How did age develop such a lovely patina on their lives? What made them beautiful? 

I suspect that there are some common elements, and I am going to work to adopt them:

They sparkle.  There is joy that they find in the people around them.  As long as I am frustrated by the people around me and grumpified by the incompetence of the morons I find myself surrounded by, I am, well, angry.  I am crotchety.  I am unhappy.

These women all found joy in the relationships. They are engaged, and truly delighted to spend time with you.

They also take joy in meeting new people.  Nana met my college friends when I came to visit; Cool MA rode around with my compadre and me, and Skippy adopted me when I was in town for only a weekend.  I, by contrast, find myself unwilling to meet new people, because I have enough friends, thank you very much.

They challenge themselves with new tasks.  Skippy talked to me today about her gardening - the potatoes that she planted last December.  Lolo traveled all over the world, always reaching for new adventures.

Finding joy.  Enjoying the meeting of new people.  Accepting new challenges.

What else is there that keeps the people you know young? 

Include some stories in the comments.... stories of incredible women who inspire you and make you aspire to their level of greatness.

1 comment:

benjamin griffeth said...

My great aunt, Emma, is this type of person. She has been widowed for most of my life having lost her second husband to cancer (my grandfather's brother died well before my birth). She has lived as the family Matriach in Belton in her family home alone and comfortably so. When I was a child and when MY children visit her, the discussion is always about the child in the room. "What do you see? What are you doing?" Later when we were old enough to follow the adult conversation, she would invite us into the conversation, "What do you think about what was said?" Endlessly fascinated and fascinating.
She was a "stroller". We would all afternoon around a quarter acre garden or the koi pond or the cow field as she would talk about her world. It was always simple and never about what she had but who she had seen and talked to.
I wonder about the common experience of childhood or early adulthood in the depression. Simplicity of life. Joy in relationships not in things. Not caught up in competition but collaboration to make everyone happy.
Maybe it is time for another trip to Belton. Emma is 93 and still looks 70.