This morning as I was riding my exercise bike in the gym, I saw an older woman walk between two of the recumbent bikes in the row in front of me. She was followed by a man who only looked marginally more aged. She chose the one on the left, saying it would accommodate the man’s sneakers more easily. She got him going on the bike and walked away.
“I’m 94 years old and still kicking,” he announced to the lady on the bike next to him. As he turned his head to speak, I got to see his face. He had the most beautiful, almost wrinkle-free skin and sparkling blue eyes. He looked like he had at least several more years of life in him, if not a couple of decades. “That was my daughter helping me,” he said. Compared to him, she really hadn’t looked young enough to be his daughter.
The lady on the bike next to him perked up and tried to keep the conversation going. “My, that’s really quite wonderful,” she said.
“Yes, it’s been a long and good life.” He smiled brilliantly, a little mischief sparkling in his eyes as he answered the woman.
“There is a born charmer riding among us,” I thought, listening to them talk.
“My wife died last year,” he said, with no particular note of sadness in his voice.
“Well, then she lived a long life, too,” the woman replied.
“Yes, and it was a good one, too.” He turned to face the bank of televisions, perhaps to think about his wife. My time on my bike was up, and I left to move on to other exercise.
My grandfather had beautiful skin like that. He lived to be 98 and didn’t stop working until he was 93. His mind could have kept going, but he felt his hearing and eyesight made the job too hard and he needed to retire. He could be a sweetie, too, and older ladies flocked around my grandfather like hens around a rooster after my grandmother passed away. It’s not just men who are so blessed; certain older women seem to have that same charm, too.
Maybe it’s just a certain satisfaction with the way things worked out that radiates from and draws the rest of us in to people like this. We all hope that old age will be healthy and we can keep finding life interesting and fulfilling right up until the end. To me these older people still burn with a fire of connection to their world. Based on the few people I’ve had the privilege to know in my life like this, they are often unusually intelligent, too.
My grandfather was born at the very end of the 19th century. He so wanted to make it to the 21st century, but he didn’t get his wish. “It’s been a fascinating journey,” he once said. He looked forward to all the new things he saw and learned each year.
His life began in horse and buggy times, riding in the winter as a child wrapped in wool blankets, to the sound of sleigh bells ringing on the back of a trotting horse. “We used to ride down that long hill, through town, and right across the frozen river to the other side,” he’d told me one day, pointing from the porch of the family home into the distance, tracing the path of the sleigh in the air.
It’s actually my mother who would be almost exactly the age of the man on the recumbent bike today, but she only made it to 85. I remember my mother and her excitement when her friend sent her CD’s and a CD player when they first came out. “Little metal records!” she’d exclaimed. I thought that hilarious, then.
Now I get to be befuddled by the world as it’s been created and connected by the internet. It is so easy to find the answers to even complicated questions. “Just Google it, Ma,” my son often says to me when I struggle to remember something I think I know. The world has become “flatter” as they say, borders so much easier to cross. Interesting times, indeed.