Recently, I’ve noticed that we’re back to being “totally amazed” that some movie star still looks great at 70. Wow! We’re treated to her “whatevers” and fabulous, age-less face. Men seem to get a polite pass and are called distinguished. The rest of us are going about our lives, wrinkles and all. I admit to being occasionally shocked when I glance in the mirror or see a recent photo. Can I be that old? Yes, and so what is the attitude the elders I want to be around take.
Many women and some men are actively following their heart’s desire regardless of the “number” they are. Here are some wonderful, inspiring models. I’ll start with my dearest friend, Joan Robins, who took up photography later in life and is now a few years past 80. Her wildlife posts—especially birds—are restorative on a bad news day. And check out the size of that camera – You go girl!
You can find some of Joan’s photography in “Other Makers” on this website.
While searching for an interview with Lucy Ellmann, the author of Ducks Newburyport, and someone, who in one email changed my writing life—the result being The Red Kitchen—I found this UK publication. Excerpting from the longer article, I offer these wonderful elders as further proof of what is possible.
One of my favorites is Sister Madonna Buder, age 90, “The Iron Nun” who was born in St. Louis (my hometown) in 1930 and is still on the run!
Sister Buder is a member of a non-traditional, non-canonical Sisters for Christian Community. “To this day I’ve run 400 triathlons, 45 of them Ironman distance,” she says. “It’s strange, it wasn’t just sports which I lacked in my life for many years, but also self-confidence.”
Ah, the old saboteur of who are you to attempt such a thing? And her response is evident. If you’d like to hear from her, here is a short YouTube link:
Speaking of “It’s never too late,” this nonagenarian regretted his lack of a college education at the University of Palermo. Giuseppe, age 93, enrolled in an undergraduate degree program in history and philosophy. “I was having doubts: everyone else on the course was so much younger than I was.” He almost dropped out but soon connected with the other students, decades younger. Overcoming technology, he used a typewriter to write his thesis. “Three years later, six weeks before my 97th birthday, I graduated top of my class.”
Don’t you wish you could be in a class with Giuseppe and grab a cuppa afterward?
Not to be outdone (and a personal inspiration to me as a writer) is Margaret Ford, age 94.
This is what Margaret said writing about her family. “For a while I was concerned about what readers might think of me. My family isn’t perfect, and neither am I, but I laid it all bare. Writing it down was liberating really; it taught me not to care.” Margaret was surprised at the amount of interviews and “fuss” that was made over A Daughter’s Choice. Not resting on her literary laurels, Margaret is working on her next book and said, “I’ll be 95 in May, so I’d better hurry up.”
You don’t have to run a marathon or write that book; you can start a career like UK comedian Natalie Levant, age 89. Her description of retirement is a corker!
“I tried acting how a 77-year-old widow is supposed to. Knitting wasn’t doing it for me, and I hated going to the nail salon. The prospect of cruises left me queasy.” Someone noticed her sense of humor and said she should try being a standup comic. “In my sets I talk about the myths of ageing and stereotypes” and offers tips like: “Dress how you like; who cares if your upper arms look like bags of dead mice? That’s more room for tattoos.”
Natalie found that “Kids want to hang out with this grandma after her gigs. It’s so special when they come up to hug me, and whisper in my ear ‘Never stop.’” Natalie always closes her sets with this final tip: “If someone asks you to act your age, politely tell them to f*#*k off.”
Not old? Well, aren’t you a lucky duck! Get a move on and do what you love at least some of the time. It’s called passion and not the Hollywood type.
Whatever your age, it’s increasingly clear that life is short and also that it’s never too late. No matter what you choose to do to add richness to your life– big, like those featured here, or small and meaningful to your family and friends, just do it!
Photo credit – Ian Schneider
Barbara, great examples of living life to the fullest no matter your age! I’ll offer my parents, both physicians, as examples also. My dad worked until he was 90, mom worked literally up to her death at nearly 91. A pediatric cardiologist, she died on the day she was scheduled to give her weekly lecture on heart morphology to medical students. Retirement is not part of my vocabulary!
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments. My mother lived to 97 and remains an inspiration. One of my favorite memories was of her setting off for the high school running track in her 70s and “hanging out with those great kids” afterward.
“Age cannot wither her nor custom stale
Her infinite variety.”
That’s what Shakespeare has Enobarbus say about Cleopatra. He knew a thing or two.
I love this little piece and its message! I find myself in perpetual surprise as I age “Oh… this is what it is like – I just keep getting smarter and smarter with all that life experience!”
Iron Nun!! Oh hell, yes! (Or perhaps I should say, “Heaven’s yes!”)
I think she’d be happiest with “hell yes.” I thought of you when I found her…you go girl as well!
What a wonderful and uplifting post! And good advice, to boot. This is a lovely antidote to other sources of negativity in my life right now. Love it!
Thanks and same to you – lots of love!
Great post, Barbara! Yes, I agree with Margaret. I better hurry up as I’m feeling the pressure from the West!
Hope you’re delighted with the progress of your memoir. Please keep us posted!
Thanks, Catherine. I’m pretty much like Margaret Ford – glad I did it and now I’m on to the next one. Probably too late to become a comedian but do know that if I can’t laugh often – first at myself and then at life – well, I’m sunk. Good luck and keep me posted. XO
I will be 90 in six months. I know it’s meant as a compliment when friends tell me “You don’t look your age!” But, I want to respond: “What is this age supposed to look like?”
Hi Donna – I’m not sure how “this age” is supposed to act either – but you’ve got so much to offer, just keep going.