Grow To Appreciate What Lies Ahead

Last week, 41 senior citizens from the mid and Western United States landed in the Northeast to do a few things they hadn’t yet done in their long lives.

They wanted to see the Atlantic Ocean, eat fresh lobster, see a lighthouse, and drive through little towns dotted with the reds and yellows of the soon-to-be-sleeping maples.

Mostly, they wanted to be 30 again and feel the breeze blow their hair and jar their memories.

Between the 20 couples, they had, collectively, 1,038 grandchildren. If that’s not some kind of record these days, I don’t know what is. If you do the math, you come to the quick conclusion that these couples bore eight children apiece, and those children also had eight children of their own.

One day on the tour bus, one woman got on and announced that her 64th grandchild had been born that very morning. You can imagine that I spent many days as their tour director looking at pictures of little blond headed babies that they stored on their iPhones.

These were proud, church going couples and they were lovely. The thing they were most proud of was their families.

Besides oohing over their pictures, my job was to make sure they had the time of their lives. They had been dreaming of this trip for many years and they’d saved their energy and their pennies to be there.

I’m not sure what magic transpired, but I have never seen such spry 80-year-olds in my life. They climbed up steep walkways to view gorges, took long walks through hill and countryside, and were up every morning by 6 to drink endless cups of coffee. They smiled all day long, barely napped, and had the lovely demeanor of people who’d lived happy lives.

I think they’ve restored my faith in humanity.

I’m not much of a fan of getting older. It really isn’t an easy thing to do, and we have to rely on the people around us to show us how to do it gracefully.

I’ve often thought of the whole aging process as an unfair occurrence. Anyone who makes it to 60 in this world should be lavishly rewarded given life’s difficulties, and creaking bones and wrinkles never seemed like much of a reward to me.

But I’m beginning to see that getting old is a privilege.

Today there are about 40 million Americans over the age of 65 and studies show that despite aging bodies, seniors actually enjoy greater well-being as they age.

And here’s the most important point: Physical health isn’t necessary to be happy. That’s what our country’s senior citizens seem to be saying.

One day, we stopped at the beach so my group could feel the sands of the Atlantic on their toes. I stood by the boardwalk and watched them as they threw rocks into the waves and were chased by the surf.

For a moment, I could see the children that they used to be – the Willy’s and the Bobby’s and the Suzy’s all playing in the sand. They knew this would probably be the last time they saw the Atlantic Ocean in their lifetimes and they enjoyed every minute of it because there wouldn’t be a next time.

They lived every minute this way – treating the seconds that passed as a giant treasure. They got more out of a moment then some people get from a day.

I thought about getting older, how I’ve lamented the empty nest, how I’ve resented change and the natural ebb and flow of life. I’ve spent a lot of time wishing I could have a million moments back, wanting to wake up to find my red-cheeked girls jumping on my bed and begging for waffles.

We don’t stop growing, even when we’re growing old. But it’s easy to get stuck along the way, especially when you’re used to having nothing but time in front of you. One day you wake up and realize you have more memories behind you than you have time ahead of you.

I sent that group back home on the plane – their pockets full of beach rocks and specks of sand between their toes.

And I thanked them for showing me what it’s like to feel so full of life that there isn’t room to yearn for something more.