When I Get Old

I’m talking to a friend, a former neighbor, and the mother of one of my childhood friends. Dorothy is 97 years old, an age that most people consider old, yet she starts out most sentences “When I get old . . .” She’s not being coy. She doesn’t feel old and has no serious health issues except when she crochets too long and her hands hurt. She has just returned from a summer in Wisconsin at the family lodge, where she lived alone, although with the help of friends around the lake.

We’re sitting in her living room, the same place I used to play with her daughter some 60 years ago. Dorothy loves knick-knacks, and her small house is filled with them, like the mechanical flower that shimmies when the sun hits it. Her house, like Dorothy, radiates warmth and cheer. Almost every piece of furniture is covered with the colorful afghan blankets she has crocheted over the years.

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Stories of Resilience: Frank

A friend and I were touring a sculpture park when I first saw the elderly man walking slowly with a cane. As we approached, he made a joke about he’d let us pass him, because he probably couldn’t go as fast as we could.

I didn’t have time to get his name, so I’ll call him Frank, because that was my Czech grandfather’s name, and the man I met in the park told me, in the short conversation we had, that he was originally from Prague. He had the same twinkle in his eye as my grandfather, as if he wanted to share with everyone his happiness at being alive.

I’m guessing he was in his 90s, because he told us that he had grown up in a tumultuous time: war and invasions from neighboring countries (Germany and then Russia), and that he could hardly believe he was here, at his age, not just alive but out walking on this sunny winter day in Colorado.

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Stories of Resilience: David

David celebrated his 80th birthday by taking a 2-mile hike alone in the mountains and then hitched a ride back to his car. He had no trouble finding someone who would give him a lift. When he was in his 70s, he had decided to adopt an attitude of being open to everyone he encountered.  It was part of his Buddhist philosophy of believing in his fellow human beings’ basic goodness. When we hiked together, I was always surprised how oncoming hikers would smile broadly at us, because it rarely happened when I hiked alone. But some goodness emanated from David, and people responded in kind.

I met David in his late 70s, when he started a network of meditation study groups here in Boulder. He attended weekly spiritual lectures by well-known teachers but saw the need for more interaction among spiritual practitioners. When I look back at his life, I can see the pattern of wanting to help others and bring people together.

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