Monday, June 15, 2009

Aging Well

Three years ago, I felt ready for the AARP, even though I was only 39. I was in the middle of the end of a sixteen year marriage, and had two children I was terribly worried I was about to ruin. But one day near the end of the school year--we had transferred in that September--I noticed a sweet little house for rent across the street from what had now become my children's beloved house of learning.

It's a neighborhood established around the time of the Great Depression. The school's older parts were built by WPA programs, and, thankfully, there are still plenty of Craftsman-style touches, including ceramic fireplaces and a real icebox. My little house is 1200 square feet, big by many urban standards but a postage stamp by those of Texas. Still, its graceful lines called to me, and I got a couple of trusted friends to accompany me when I went to see it.

Both exclaimed, "oh, it's so pretty!" when we walked in, but it had been inhabited by students for a number of years and needed cleaning. A lot, as it turned out, but it's become a lovely spot of refuge, though the location straight across the street from the school has been a mixed blessing. I do enjoy the house and love the community, though, and have been happier here than any place I've ever lived.

One of the the greatest gifts in this community is my neighbor, Judy. When I moved in, I felt beaten down and thought my life might be over, or at least the good part. But Judy, who had raised four children, mostly on her own, showed me wonderful friendship and, as it turned out, reminded me of joy in our common interests: our kids, of course; but also, books, books, books; and food. Judy is not just a great parent (her children and their spouses are all exceptional people and raising wonderful children of their own) but an accomplished author who has found ways to weave what she loves into her reading. Her expertise--oh yes, along her journey she had the intellectual firepower and the will to earn a Ph.D--is Western Literature, and she has been for a number of years the publisher of a wonderful academic house, TCU Press, and has authored many books.

She is also an accomplished cook and a cookbook author, the latest of which is called Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books. She is also a devoted blogger (see Judy's Stew on my sidebar) and has been very encouraging of my own efforts.

Did I mention Judy has crossed into her seventh decade? Given my sense of feeling ancient no less than three years ago---and yet now I feel younger than I did a decade ago--I have spent some time thinking about what it means to age well. She and others, like my parents, have given me a good example. I read quite a bit about this sort of thing, and will share more as time goes on, but when I see people who enjoy their lives into their eighth and sometimes ninth decades, it boils down to a few things.

First, stay curious. The people I admire and are often friends keep reading, talking, and, above all, are open to learning new things. Second, seek out as many thought-provoking people in your life as possible. The "older" people I know (although I've met "old" people who are twenty and "young" people who are eighty) have friends of all ages and types, and make sure to get out and spend time with them. Finally, take care of yourself, but don't be so uptight about it that you don't enjoy life. Walk, stretch, eat well and with people you love as often as possible. Have a glass of wine. Watch movies that make you laugh, cry, and think. Take naps without guilt, on the best sheets you can afford.

Judy and I enjoy good meals together on occasion (I always seem to find a way to get invited to her house, and should return the favor more often) and she and her family have generously welcomed me into their circle. She has many, many friends, and is a new convert to yoga. She writes every day, and we trade books all the time, although she outpaces me. Oh, and did I mention she still works full-time and is only gearing down now? Check out her blog. You'll learn how to cook, and more than a little about parenting well. The best part is that you'll meet a really, really interesting person. Which is your first step to aging well.

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