We know some people who are the antithesis of who we want to be as we get older. (No, it’s not you who are reading this, you folks are all exemplary and shining beings 😉 ) These people I’m referring to are becoming (in my opinion) closed-minded, and all too willing to accept more and more limitations on their lives as they age, whether physical or mental. You might know someone like that I’m guessing; someone who has increased their dislikes to the point where they’re only happy in a very narrow range of circumstances. I was grousing one day (yes, me, little miss sunshine) about how I don’t want to end up like them, when I realized that being a complain-y pants is not who I want to be either. I told Mark that rather than trying to be anti-insert name here, I wanted to be pro-Joan!
I was reading an article about successful aging and how having a positive role model makes all the difference in your attitude towards getting older and that your attitude makes all the difference for your later life. Check. We’ve got that one covered. Our friends Hank and Joan are respectively 83 and 80 years old. We met them over 20 years ago when they were living in the town where we had a weekend place. Their spark set them apart even then from their contemporaries. They were very active in the community, volunteering for even the unpaid and time-consuming chores of town board and town council. Joan, an accountant, drilled me early on about our plans for early retirement and made me make sure our plans were solid. Mark and I still remember a hike we took with Hank on a sand dune trail where he kicked our asses even though he was (and still is!) over 20 years older than we are. It was then that we decided we wanted to be them when we grew up.
They left our town before we did, to move into a Quaker retirement community in a high-rise in Chicago at a mere 70 years old. Their other friends thought they were crazy to willingly live in what is essentially an old-folks home at such a young age. But they didn’t see it that way. They gave up the chores and the maintenance of a house in the woods for an apartment in a community where they can take every advantage of city living and age gracefully in place. They did the Swedish death-cleaning before it was fashionable, sparing their kids the burden of dealing with their effects when they do shuffle off to Buffalo.
We talk about once a month, and it’s always off to the races with a wildly meandering conversation. They’re the kind of people you’d never run out of things to talk about. Not only are Hank and Joan curious about the world and very engaged in politics, they’re willing to admit when they don’t know something. They don’t start with an opinion on controversial subjects and then back-fill it by searching out confirming evidence. They start with an attitude of openness and curiosity. Joan has begun our conversations by asking what we knew about transgender people, or about white supremacy, telling us she realized she didn’t know too much about those subjects so she went to the library and has a stack of books to read.
Besides being our models of healthy, active, curious aging, they’re also our travel role models. While they’ve never lived abroad, they have traveled extensively, to places I’m still only dreaming of. They’ve camped in Mongolia, they’ve seen the “-stans”. They were on that boat to Antarctica that had to be rescued by the Argentine navy in 2007 (look up the footage if you want to get vicariously sea-sick). At 80 and 78 years old, they hiked the 4 day, 53 kilometer up-and-down-and-up-again Milford Track in New Zealand. They were the last of their group to arrive at the lodging at the end of each day, but they made it, to the cheers of their fellow hikers. I don’t know how I would fare doing that right now at 59. Joan described the adventure in her annual letter, cribbing a line from comedian Steven Wright, “I went on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I tell you what, never again”. Among their upcoming trips, Covid willing, is a terrestrial galavant through Greece and a small-ship cruise through the Mediterranean and the Middle East via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea and onward to India.
I always prefer to go towards something than away from something when it comes to making plans and changes. Knowing what you want makes it easier than only knowing what you don’t want. I have my theme of the year, Endurance and Duration. I’m making the Pro-Joan Plan my theme of the decade. (Mark is on the Pro-Hank Plan, which is the Pro-Joan Plan, just conversationally quieter.)
Cheers as always,
We have other wise and adventurous elders in our lives. You who continue to learn and grow, you who up and moved to France in your 70s. You know who you are. You’re fabulous too 🙂