gratitude52, Week 11: My “Aging Gracefully” Role Modelsfeatured

gratitude52, Week 11: On Aging Gracefully {the ponytail diaries}

gratitude52 (because “52 Weeks of Gratitude” is too much of a mouthful) is a year-long challenge/series on, obviously, gratitude. Read more about the challenge here and all gratitude52 posts here.

I’ll be honest — I had a really hard time figuring out what to write about this week.

Someone who inspires me? Well, I wrote about my dad not too long ago…I wrote about my husband back in week 2…I’d write out some former teachers, but that’s coming up in week 43…

Then I thought of not just one, but three someones.

I think a lot about getting older. Not just older in the sense of “oh my GOD I’m gonna be 30 in less than two years and I am not grown-up enough for that!” but older as in elderly. I think in part, it comes from watching others around me age and deal with retirement and moving to nursing homes (that’s not what we call them anymore, is it? Senior facilities or whatever?) and deal with dementia and Alzheimer’s and carrying around oxygen tanks and adjusting to walkers and wheelchairs. And then I think about how I want to age, if I’m lucky enough to have any control over that. Ideally, I’d be like the ninety-one year old woman who finished the Rock n Roll San Diego marathon last year. Yeah, the full marathon. At ninety-freaking-one. It took her over 7 hours, but she was still out there doing it. Incredible.

A few years ago, I was in the locker room at the gym. I was in one of the changing stalls, so I couldn’t see the group of ladies chatting nearby, but they were certainly “of a certain age” and talking about some friends of their’s, who were also “of a certain age.” I don’t remember the context of their conversation (one had a birthday coming up, maybe?), but I clearly remember one saying “Well, when I’m in my 90s I’ll be…doing the bar, picking up younger guys!”

I almost started laughing out loud. What a fantastic attitude — for someone who’s already, I’m guessing, in her 60s or so, to 1) still be going to the gym and working out and 2) have so much confidence and optimism.

Much more recently, I was walking Onyx on our usual morning walk. There’s a sweet older man we sometimes see and talk to (depending on how early I get going in the morning). This particular day, we passed him and I said good morning and he said “Good morning! What a beautiful day! How are you?”

And with that kind of enthusiasm and kindness I couldn’t not stop and chat for a bit. I said I was doing great and asked how he was. And I’ll never forget what he said:

“Oh, well, I don’t know if you heard, but my sweetheart passed away not too long ago. And ever since, I’ve been, you know, trying to figure out what to do with myself. Should I go back to work? Should I, I don’t know, read to kids at the library? Should I read? Should I take up a new hobby? I don’t know, but you know what, it’s been so amazing trying to figure it out. I feel like — you know in A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, and he’s been been visited by the spirits, and he throws open the window and says ‘I am as light as a feather!’ I feel like that! And it’s wonderful!”

Holy crap, I damn near started crying. First of all, how adorable and sweet is it that this elderly man still calls his late wife his “sweetheart”? And then, my God, how many people my age have that outlook on life? I feel like so many people in his situation would sort of just start waiting to die — thinking, “well, my wife’s gone, I’m retired, I have nothing to do, and, oh, my back hurts, and my knees are giving out, and my stomach can’t handle rich foods anymore, and…”

SCREW THAT. Who cares if you’re 16 or 65? Why should anyone ever feel like there’s no more life left in them? I walked away thinking, “I hope I have half his spirit when I’m his age.”

And finally, there’s my grandfather. When I was little, I honest-to-God thought he knew everything. He used to tell us stories about Indians and the solar system and his childhood in Minnesota and so much more. He worked as a (very successful) landscape architect and will look you in the eye and tell you he’s never worked a day in his life, because he loved what he did.

He used to carve wooden duck decoys (and paint them with perfect accuracy) and has more recently moved on to carving the most incredible, intricate, personalized hiking sticks for each of his grandkids. (Every time Husband and I use ours, we get compliments on them. People don’t believe mine is handmade, that’s how amazing it is.)

He told me, shortly after retiring, that he picked up a habit of sitting out by the pond in his backyard (that he designed and built himself, btw) for at least 20 minutes every day to “think deep thoughts.” He meets up with his twin brother and some of their childhood friends for a “scouts in the woods” camping/hunting trip every year.

He is the most generous person I know (once, he got “mad” at Husband for not letting him pay for a $2.50 cup of hot chocolate). He takes so much pride in his family (“the clan”) and I love seeing how happy he is when we’re all together.

He is unfailingly optimistic, humble, and grateful. He encourages me just to sit and be. I can’t even picture him being mad or upset. When I hear “you’re as happy as you decide to be,” I think of him.

When I told him last year about my plan to quit my job and start freelancing, he immediately said “Good for you!” Not “are you sure you can handle it?” or “what if you don’t make enough money?” or “why would you give up the benefits and security of a steady paycheck?” No, it was immediate congratulations and validation. “Good for you taking action to make yourself happy.”

I am so grateful to have such an example to live up to.