Did They Get the Lessons Right?

In an earlier post, I mentioned four lessons for happiness from the “oldest old.” John Leland identified these in an article in the New York Times (and as I learned later, in his book).

While visiting my mom, it occurred to me I was in the perfect place to vet the lessons.

We were at dinner in the large Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired dining room, with room-spanning beams and a scale that reminds me of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Middletown, New Jersey.

The dining room is mostly glass, with floor-to-ceiling windows spanning most walls.

Since our party of eight needed to be subdivided, Mom and I were seated at different tables. There had been some scrambling around seating until I said, “Mom and I don’t need to be at the same table. We eat together all the time.”

The woman to my left was in her early 90s and the one across from me was a similar age. The woman to my right had turned 100 in July.

I told them I had read a New York Times article with advice from people who were at least 85 years old about how to be happy. “Would it be okay if I got your opinion on their advice?” I asked.

They looked at me, offered checking glances to one another, then agreed. The table chit-chat ended. This was serious business.

I reminded myself to speak up since most were hard of hearing. “The first one is, ‘Don’t brood about things out of reach.’”

“That’s a good one,” said the centurion. The others agreed.

“The second is, ‘Live as if your time is limited.’”

They were silent. Nodded. If anyone knew their time was limited, it was the women at this table.

“The third is, ‘Focus on the people you care about.’”

“Yes, yes!” Smiles all around. Some quietly said names, treasuring them in their soft breath.

“The last one is, ‘Enjoy the pleasures near at hand.’”

More smiles. “Oh, yes!”

“Those are good,” said the centurion, pronouncing the verdict. The others agreed, then reached for the dinner rolls that were placed but left untouched during the assessment.

Their conversation picked up, with the centurion explaining the plot of Succession to the others. One hundred years old, with the mind of a thirty-year-old.

The next night, I was at a different table with different people, including my mom. It’s one of my favorite tables in the grand dining room because it’s one of two that are round. I like how the shape makes the conversation more communal. It’s also placed, along with the other round table, in an all-glass alcove. With the white tablecloth and views of nature, it almost feels like being in an upscale restaurant.

I told the group about the four lessons from the oldest old. They were curious. I recited the lessons, then asked, “For each of you, what’s one pleasure near at hand?”

“The rolls!” said two of the women as they held them up for emphasis. “The view out the windows,” said two, admiring the turning leaves and the waning sunlight sparkling off the lake. “The company,” said the last.

These are women who use scooters and walkers. The centurion has a wheelchair. These women are disregarded in our society, impediments at the grocery store.

These are wise women.

Someday, if we’re lucky, we’ll be them.

Chewing the Cud of Good

close up of pink thistle petals on a blurred green background

Thankful for good news from friends.



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