Yesterday as I stood in a parking lot and looked up, I heard a racket and saw many birds in the top of a tree. It was a tall tree! I suspect the birds were on their way somewhere en masse and saw this perfect stopping place, like a good park bench after a long walk. Oh, look, a place to rest our bones a bit. I can’t know for sure, but it seemed to me that on this very gray day they were loving their place at the top.
Reaching great heights in another way are people who hit the milestone year of 100. On a weekly basis I read to Evelyn, who is 101. This week I happened upon a video called Life Lessons from 100-Year-Olds, about three people, each over 100: Clifford Crozier, 101; Amelia Tereza Harper, 103; and John Denerley, 102 and a half. What do they have in common besides the good fortune of having made it past 100 without incapacitating physical or mental difficulties?
Attitude, that’s what. Good attitude. I notice some common themes among the things they have to say about life.
Keep things in good perspective.
“I don’t have many failures” Cliff says. “If I make a cake and it fails, I have a pudding.” I love this, especially considering how many cakes I have made that were not very good looking, or the time I forgot to put the sugar in the pumpkin pie! (We doused it with maple syrup and it wasn’t half bad!) This is Cliff. He also makes his own bread by hand.
“Everything makes me happy,” says Amelia. “I love talking to people, I like doing things, I like going out shopping. I’ve got beautiful memories and can live happily because of my beautiful memories.” She also has no regrets, absolutely none. Can you imagine having a perspective that allows you to be that happy? To have lived that many years and not be dragged down by what-if’s and oh-why-did-I-do-that’s? To know you did the best you could and to be able to truly say: Everything makes me happy. This is Amelia.
John keeps perspective by refusing to stay stuck in the past. While showing you his iPad, he says, “You’ve got to keep up with the times. What was good 80-90 years ago doesn’t work these days.” I wouldn’t think he necessarily means you have to be a tech whiz, but rather that you recognize the simple truth that some things do change – systems, procedures, styles, techniques – in a constantly evolving way, and it behooves us to stay with the program. We do best when we allow for a beautiful blend of old and new, classic and trendy, order and chaos, rock solid and on the edge. This is John.
Evelyn listens carefully and always wants to be learning new things. We read through a comprehensive biography of Queen Victoria. “Who would have thought she would have a man like that in her life?” she said of John Brown, the unpolished Scot who became Victoria’s sole confidant in her later years. We are now into a rather graphic book about everyday life in pre-Civil War Charleston. “Isn’t that awful?” she says sympathetically when any of the characters fare poorly. Evelyn’s heart is tender, she doesn’t miss much, and she loves Coco!
Be a good neighbor.
Amelia says, “A good idea is to behave well to other people, show them respect. And help them as much as you possibly can and it will be repaid hundredfolds.” Which of us cannot say, have not seen, that good begets good? It certainly might not be that you get back the very thing you give (you seldom do), or that you get something at the time you would think would be best (often we wait), but good comes around and multiplies, and there are more blessings every day than we could count.
“I think I’ve done all that I wanted to do, as long as I can be helpful and keep going. That’s the main thing.” Cliff knows as we all must come to know, that you can’t do everything. You know and spend time with a small circle of people (and hopefully you hold them dear); you travel here and maybe there too, but not everywhere. But it doesn’t matter. We do the next thing with the same full heart and soul as we did the last thing, and that leads to the next thing, and along the way we help as we can – and little else is needed for a full and rich life.
Stay strong (as strong as you can).
I love the vitality, the determination, the utter lack of dejected resignation that I see in these wonderful people. Evelyn enjoys a chocolate milkshake every day (and why not?!). “I don’t know why I’m still here,” says. “But every day I get up and it’s a new day…. Oh, Coco’s here! Come here, Coco!” She strokes this beautiful pug’s fur during the whole time we are reading, and Coco lays quietly at her side and loves every second of it. Maybe we never grow tired of stroking a beloved animal’s fur.
“I’m not going yet,” Amelia says. “I’m still strong. I’m very very strong. I never realized how strong I am.” At 103 she says how strong she is! I love how she then credits her mom and her mom’s cooking. “It’s all the food that my mother cooked and first of all grew in the garden. We always always had fresh food when we were youngsters, always. Straight from the garden, into the pan and onto the plates.” I’m sure there’s more to her longevity than this, but I too am a mom who worked hard to put good, fresh food on the table for my own children, and I will hope it has at least something to do with their good health.
Why not see that today is what we have, and embrace it? Yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t here yet. “It’s just that you keep going. It’s only a number. 101 is only a number,” Cliff assures us. “And you live for the day. Be as independent as you can but don’t be reluctant to ask for help when you think you need it.” Independence and interdependence are not and do not have to be mutually exclusive. I imagine that when Cliff needs someone else for something, he remembers that others have in turn needed him, and I also imagine he shares the bread he makes! Respectful give and take creates the amazing community that community should be.
We seldom know what’s around the next bend in life, but movement forward is what’s important. John’s motto for life mirrors Cliff’s, though he takes the words directly from a Harry Lauder song: “Keep right on to the end of the road…” Don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t think it doesn’t matter if you help your neighbor/friend/cousin/niece/colleague/anyone (it matters!). Stay strong, keep a good perspective and live the best life you can live.