Strength in the Struggle
I had lunch last week with four very special ladies. Altogether their years on this earth equaled 371. It was a sad occasion that brought us all together; one of their dear friends had passed away, and we were on our way home from the funeral. In their close-knit community this happened all too often. That day especially tugged at my heartstrings. I had spent many hours getting to know the dear lady who passed away; we played cards with my Mom, we watched the solar eclipse with silly glasses on, and we often dined together. She was endearing to all who knew her. But instead of focusing on the sadness and memories already beginning to fade, these ladies were determined to find strength in the struggle. They were experts at living life to the fullest, regardless of the circumstances.
It was while we were on our way to the restaurant that I decided to observe these ladies as closely as possible. I wanted to learn from them exactly how they have made it well into their nineties, with a continuous zest for life. Each has seen her share of heartache; of losing spouses, and even children. They have physical ailments that would have many of us discouraged and giving up hope. They live on fixed incomes with little possibility of ever having more. So, what is it, then, that gives these ladies the inspiration to continue stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other, as they navigate through their advanced years?
Easily the most observable link that these ladies share is their sense of community. Several weeks ago, my sister and I had “kidnapped” Mom during dinner, which meant she was absent at her usual dinner table and card game. Within moments of getting back to her apartment the phone began to ring. Her friends were checking on her. With each conversation she smiled as she assured them that she was simply spending time with “her girls,” and thanked them for caring enough to call. Another time one of the ladies called to say that she had just gotten some really bad news about her daughter’s health, and just needed a listening ear. These ladies have a strong sense of community.
Another characteristic that they share is fortitude. All of them survived the Depression and World War II; some of them as teenagers and some as young adults. They remember what it was like to have your food rationed and to have to make the best of things. They learned to deal with whatever life handed them – or didn’t hand them. They have buried countless friends and family members, learning to live a life that is full in the absence of loved ones. They have become stronger through the adversity that has come their way.
Each of these ladies also has a strong faith. Although they do not necessarily share all of the same beliefs, they each have faith in the God of the universe. Their faith has gotten them through 90+ years of life and helped them to maintain focus on what is truly important. It gives them a hope for the future. It provides them a compass that is set on “true north.” These ladies have all depended fervently on their faith to get them through.
Another of my favorite things about these ladies is their sense of humor. As I made my way to the restaurant table after parking the car, I could hear the giggling as I walked into the room. These friends are able to laugh; even at themselves sometimes. They find the bright spots and have learned to make light of things of that aren’t so important. They enjoy laughing together and cheering one another on; even if it just means exchanging funny greeting cards.
All four of these ladies continue to have a positive outlook on life, as exemplified by my mother. Not long ago I was at the doctor with my Mom, and he commented once again on her positive outlook. He told her that her attitude and determination had a lot to do with her quick recovery from a recent illness. He also mentioned that he feels like he has a lot to learn from her, and even claims to have occasionally used her as an example to other patients. Last year her surgeon (a completely different doctor) said some very similar things to her.
Finally, these ladies have determination. When I asked Mom about some of the things that keep her motivated to continue enjoying life, she shared with me several of the things listed above. And she added this: “Do what you need to do, even when you don’t feel like it.” In other words take that long walk down the hallway to the dining room, even when you’d rather have your meal delivered. Take your prescription medication, even though it is tiresome and expensive. Continue mingling and spending time with your friends and family, even when a nap sounds more inviting. Keep moving, even when it’s easiest to sit still.
There is so much that we can learn from those who are older and wiser. Watching these ladies “do life” in their nineties is such an incredible blessing. Last week my husband and I spent a few hours with yet another precious friend who is in that same decade of life – in fact she retired from her job at 90 years of age. She has every last one of these qualities listed above. All these women inspire me to want to live out the next thirty years of life full of passion and zeal, as they have. They model what to strive for as my years increase. They help me to realize what an incredible gift I have been given with this life on earth, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to know them.
Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash