Lust for Life the Key to Staying Young

Last week, I inhaled the sweet country air as I drove toward Barnstable, a small town nestled by the Atlantic in Cape Cod, Mass. Spring was just arriving, the grass was brilliant green, bright yellow forsythia was everywhere, and perfect rows of daffodils lined the post and rail fences. All along the historically preserved “Old King’s Highway,” I admired the gray shingled homes with tiny, oddly placed windows and the white clapboard houses, with the dates of original construction – some dating back to the 1600s – written on the chimneys.

Anticipating three days of restful reading, walks, and socializing, I wearily opened the door of my friend Susan’s home. She was ready to go, sitting bolt upright in her chair with her eyes sparking and one hand on her cane. Susan is 94 and has to use a cane because of macular degeneration.

After greeting me warmly she said, “Let’s visit John in the nursing home.”

I sighed. “I am tired. How about tomorrow?”

“I guess that’s okay,” she replied. “I get tired, too. I go to bed at 9, and I take a nap every day.”

I should have anticipated that our three days together would be anything but restful. In fact, Susan, twice my age, wore me ragged. The next morning I returned from a long run to find Susan alone in the kitchen, happily cooking breakfast. Bolting unsteadily around her kitchen, unable to see and her cane nowhere in sight, she was scrambling some sort of egg mixture in a huge cast-iron pan. Coffee, juice and toast were also in the making.

Suddenly, it dawned on me: Her 24-hour companions were nowhere to be seen. “Where are Joan and Ann?” I asked.

Susan replied, “Oh, they don’t like to be here when I have a guest, so they’re having the weekend off.”

I showered quickly, realizing that I was no longer just a guest, but also companion and cook. And I knew nothing about Susan’s medications, care or routines!

Susan was not worried about any of this. In fact, she seemed ready to have a ball!

The weekend passed at a frenzied rate. We drove all over the Cape. I followed her directions and we got lost several times, but we always found our way. We ate raw oysters fresh from the sea in Wellfleet, shopped, cooked, dined out, attended the local church’s spring garden show and visited her friends.

We did eventually make it to the nursing home to visit her friend John, a 97-year-old who was recovering from pneumonia. A handsome, proud gentleman, he sat by the only window in his nursing home room to view the blooming rhododendron with their huge purple flowers. When we arrived, he was dressed impeccably in gray trousers, a blue and white striped business shirt and a teal sweater. He graciously offered us water from the plastic pitcher and the last of his chocolates.

John had big plans. “When I get out of here, Susan, let’s take an overnight trip to Maine,” he said. “We can sightsee and research your ancestors.”

Our next day included lunch with Susan’s effervescent 80-year-old British friend. Driving from a lobster lunch to explore hidden beaches, she spied a passing car. Suddenly, in a soft, lilting English accent she sighed, “Oh, a Lexus. I’m absolutely lusting for a Lexus.”

My three days with Susan exhausted me, and those tempting naps never happened. Instead of rest, I was given a more valuable gift from these three indomitable folks who were so pleased to enjoy another spring. They showed me that pride, energy and a zest for living can overcome frailty, illness and the dependency of our latter years.