[While our publisher is on a brief sabbatical, in lieu of our regular “From the Publisher” column we will be having guest writers. This month’s guest column is written by the Beacon’s managing editor.]
Old age is a gift. As Mark Twain put it, “Do not complain about growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.”
I’m grateful for every wrinkle and insight that comes with another year. I’m grateful, too, for the older people in my life who showed me how to age well. What they all have in common, I’ve found, is something akin to hope — and something more: a love of life itself.
My grandparents met at a USO dance; he was a U.S. Army sergeant, she a nurse. Both stationed in England before D-Day, they were married in a small church with only two witnesses: the janitor and the priest. After the wedding, my grandfather fought in Europe, and his new bride returned home to Baltimore, where my mother was born. When I asked my grandmother what it was like not to know if her husband would return from the war, she simply said, “That’s just how it was.”
I admired the two of them not only for their strength but for their delight in life — the way they still flirted in the kitchen, when they thought they were out of earshot, and the way they enjoyed all-you-can-eat buffets. Most of all, I admired their hope. They still planned for the future, keeping up the house they owned for 50 years and sprucing up their yard. They were engaged with life. I watched my grandfather, then in his late 80s, plant a crepe myrtle in his back yard, both of us knowing that the tree would outlast him. He planted the tree anyway, leaving his yard a better place for the next family.
My grandparents on my father’s side demonstrated that retirement is the time to see the world. From their home in Ohio they planned exciting trips to Japan, India, the Philippines and Italy. When they returned, we’d sit on the “davenport” together, poring over their slides and snapshots from each adventure. My affable grandfather, also a WWII veteran, enjoyed striking up conversations wherever he went. He could quote the Japanese man he shared a park bench with or the Irish farmer who gave him directions.
Inspired by photographs of my grandmother feeding the pigeons in Venice, I bought a ticket to Italy and stood in the same square. When I retire, I’ll use that time to see more of the world — and to meet people, like my grandfather did.
My husband’s grandparents, too, were an inspiration. From those two New Yorkers I saw that selling the family home can be liberating. In their 70s they decided to move from Long Island to an oceanfront condo in Rockaway Beach, Queens. Because they weren’t far from a New York City subway station, they ditched their cars and walked everywhere, exploring the city in ways they couldn’t when they were working and raising a family.
“Every day is like a diamond,” she said to me once, still thrilled with each morning’s possibilities.
Every week, they’d take the subway to Times Square or Lincoln Center to see a show or concert, reporting back to us excitedly, sometimes line by line. They wanted to see every new movie, read every new book, and keep up with the pace of life. They thrived in the city, happy just to be alive.
Now my own parents are aging, and my friends’ parents, too. Some have decided to settle in their longtime homes to stay close to friends. Of course, they maintain the house and garden, like my grandparents did. Others have found apartments in walkable senior communities with neighbors who host potluck dinners.
But the older adults I admire most are those who are still passionate about life. Some have found a musical hobby, like my aunt, who taught herself to play the Baroque flute, or the publisher of the Beacon, who is dedicating these months to piano compositions.
Others have decided to eat well, exercise and take care of themselves now, in their 70s, so that they can make it to and enjoy their 90s. I swap recipes with one of those healthy agers, who, after a lifetime of quick meals, now reads books about nutrition, takes long walks on the beach and does yoga. Her lifestyle is a good example for me, a reminder that it’s never too late to take care of yourself.
Others travel the world. One couple will fly to Hawaii when it’s safe to travel; another will take their granddaughter to Bali.
All of them seem to live with hope. They remain engaged with life. They’re still looking forward to that next adventure: still reading the latest books, still playing music, still planting trees.
If I’m lucky enough to have a long life, I intend to do the same.
Please send us your best advice for aging well or, if you prefer, a story about your parents or grandparents. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.