“She’s aging well, isn’t she? Her gray hair, her smile.”
I was visiting my Dad in Baton Rouge last October and joined his Monday night dinner group. Each person sitting at the table was special to me because I’ve known them since I was a little girl. They were my friends’ parents and my parents’ friends.
They’re all getting elderly. I don’t know their ages, but I think that my Dad—78 years old–was the youngest in the bunch, besides me of course. So it’s not surprising that aging was the topic among the group. Aging clamored for their attention lately. Joe was fighting cancer. Dad and Doris had lost their spouses. Richard had a bad back.
That’s why I found it ironic that as they talked about aging, they were talking about me. I hadn’t seen Richard in many years, so I think that my gray hair took him by surprise. It’s funny isn’t it, how we’re so aware of our own aging, but forget that it’s happening to everyone else too, both young and old?
Richard’s surprise is what prompted Sarah to say, “She’s aging well, isn’t she?”
Then they all chimed in. I respectfully listened like I did as a girl when I sat at their dinner tables. I enjoyed the irony that I was the subject of aging and I also enjoyed the distraction from deciding between crawfish etouffe or Dad’s favorite–shrimp and corn chowder. When the waitress came to take our order, I closed my menu with a choice in mind. And they closed the topic, “You look so much like your mother.”
That was a year ago.
Monday night we returned to the same restaurant for their weekly tradition. The table was the same. The food was the same—a small bowl of shrimp and corn chowder for everyone except me. I ordered a large plate of crawfish etouffee, my new regular.
But the group was different. Aging danced with everyone during the past year, and she danced with Joe right off the stage. Joe and Candy began the Monday night tradition, but now Candy rides with Dad and Doris since cancer’s grip brought Joe’s life to an end.
So it’s no surprise that “aging well” was the topic again. But this time they weren’t talking about me. Or Joe. Julia was the spotlight. She’s an old friend of Doris’, but a new friend to the Monday night group. She’ll turn 100 at the beginning of next year and had as many stories to tell as her accomplished age.
She told of their pet monkey wreaking havoc in their house, the wild duck that flew in through the chimney, and how she got married by phone to her husband who was stationed in Pearl Harbor during the war–and we think we’re fancy with our modern technology. She talked with more spunk than the rest of us combined.
When we all thought we were about to go home, she invited us to her place for ice cream. And the stories continued, along with a tour in her garden where she grooms her own bonsai trees from a variety of species. (I think that’s going to be my new hobby.) She showed us books that she’s written, art that she’s created and drift wood that she’s collected.
We could have listened longer into the night, but most in the group are early risers, so it was time to pause until next Monday’s supper.
I couldn’t help but think about how inspired I was by Julia’s life as Dad and I buckled up in the front, and Doris and Candy settled in the back. I was about to say how much I wanted to grow old like Julia, but Candy spoke up before Dad even pulled out of the driveway.
“She’s such an inspiration. She makes me want to grow old well.”
I loved hearing Candy say that. Once again, I found some irony that someone in her eighties was inspired that night to age well.
Julia inspired me. Candy’s inspiration inspired me. Truth is, each person sitting at the table on Monday nights inspires me. The empty chairs inspire me too.
It’s not their specific ages. It’s their attitudes at their age. They’ve known pain and suffering, in their body and soul. They’ve grieved losses. But though aging dances with each of them–as she does with all of us, their souls seem only stronger.
When I join them on an occasional Monday night supper, I don’t see their age. I see their joy.
And that inspires me to age well.
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God:
see all, nor be afraid!”
from the “Rabbi Ben Ezra” by Robert Browning