By Joan Larsen
Beautiful young people are accidents of nature,
But beautiful old people are works of art.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
I am often known for my good taste in people. And so, for years, the friends I hold the most dear are the beautiful older people that are presently living the life that I also plan to live. I have learned from them. I wish you could know them as I believe my zest for life and excitement often comes from the pleasure – and yes, joy – I have in being with them.
Together, we share confidences of our past lives we never shared before – lives much wilder than you might think for people, unfortunately, given the stamp of “old” now. We laugh. Nothing is sacred anymore, and everything is right out on the table. No one has “given up”. Instead, my friends have learned how to live without regret, persevere through hard times, find fulfillment, and most importantly – age fearlessly and well.
“Lively” in their thinking goes into every facet in life. Dreams of the opposite sex are definitely not dead . . . and my friends haven’t given up. Like me, they have definite ideas who would be “the one”. Several in their late 80s have recently found that warm love can be found the second time around . . . and they have not been a bit shy in telling me “all”. In these cases, “all” is just what you might think. Probably far more than you think – but I can keep secrets!
They love it when I throw out author Agatha Christie’s knowing words:
An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have.
The older she gets, the more interested he is in her.
But “like attracts like” and those who may be “older” — yet feel that life is far from over, find themselves living the good life that so many others have not even experienced. Several years ago as I was leaving from South America’s southern tip on an extensive expedition to Antarctica, a woman travelling alone — who had just turned 92 — was the last to board. It turned out that she was coming off a 90-day round the world cruise . . . but the crème de la crème was going to be her lifetime wish of seeing the most beautiful of all places, Antarctica.
As you might guess, we all knew that she was going to be the most fascinating person on board. I remember sitting with her one evening at dinner for eight. A passenger – curious as we all were – asked if she had had children. Her snappy answer had us hysterically laughing. “Not yet”, she responded. You can imagine that we did not want time spent in her company to ever end. She exuded the zest for life we all wished to have forever also.
I am not the adventurous hiker of mountains that I once was – a confession hard to admit. But I still am game for going ashore by Zodiac raft in the sub-Antarctic islands below New Zealand to hike upward to see the one hidden secret place that the huge albatross birds have chosen as their courting and mating site. What goes on high in the rugged hills where a thousand birds may have gathered reminds me of the formal English courtship ritual dances that we have only seen in the old classic movies we adored.
We were voyeurs – which did not seem right – but our curiosity overrode our rudeness in watching a very private scene. All the way up for the miles it took, I thought I was moving like a “young thing”. But every darn one of those 70 or 80ish men and women aboard managed to pass me up with ease, talking and laughing as they did. . . while I was panting. Heavily.
Sooner or later as the years creep up, we know we are going to have to live on memories. So it has been the wisdom of my special older friends that I have looked to. “Go while you can, squeezing everything you can out of every experience”. “Find like-minded friends whose minds are stimulating and who want to be “on the go”. But most of all – if you can – find love that will form the pieces of your heart forever – as it is the intangible that is the glue of life.”
And one more thing that can make the biggest difference in your later years as well. Find friends that love to laugh as much as you do, but are also there, caring, when things take that downward swing that knocks us for a loop.
All this – and so much more – I have learned from my greatest friends in life — friends who have lived far longer than I have. To me, they are never thought of as “old” – or that dreaded word “elderly” – my own special friends are just that: wonderful friends whose stories and wisdom and love and caring have lifted my own life to new heights and made it oh! so much more rich.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”