When my mother was alive we counted her birthdays by her number of years on earth.
Yesterday, for my sisters and daughters and I, her 99th birthday was marked with the number 2. It was her second birthday since leaving this earth February 25th, 2020. She was 97.
When she was born in 1922 in India, the average life expectancy in her land of birth was around 25 years of age (I should mention that was for the average Indian who did not live as privileged and protected a life as my mother and her siblings and cousins, the majority of whom have all lived beyond the age of 80, Of my mother’s 9 siblings, 3 continue to grace us with their presence).
When my mother arrived in Canada in 1946, life expectancy was around 60 years of age. As in so many things she did, my mother defied the odds.
One day last week, before I headed off to the mountains to play ‘Chef’ at Mt Engadine Lodge, I met a man jogging through the park while I was walking with Beaumont the Sheepadoodle.
He stopped to admire Beau and told me he and his wife were dog-sitting his son’s Labradoodle. “They’re such great dogs,” he said.
I agreed and then asked him about the running shirt he was wearing. It had a photo of a city skyline imprinted on it and the word, in big bold letters, BOSTON, printed beneath the skyline.
“Did you run the Boston Marathon?” I asked.
He smiled, touched the shirt with one hand against his chest and said, proudly, “Fifteen times.”
“Wow!” was about all I could respond.
And then he went on to extoll the virtues of staying fit, of having a hobby, of being engaged with life.
That man’s name is Gerry Miller. “You can connect with me via social media,” he told me as he prepared to start jogging again (he was on kilometer 15 of his 32 km training run). “I’m pretty well known in jogging circles and in the elder community.”
When I got home I looked him up.
Well known? How about renowned.
At 85 years of age, Gerry is the number 1 ranked over 80 marathon runner in the world (an activity he took up at the age of 58 at his son’s urging). He holds 3 gold medals and 2 silver medals in his age category and, at the time of our chat, was preparing to run the London Marathon this October — as long as they let me into the country, he told me with a big smile.
In our brief encounter Gerry reminded me of the value of ‘attitude’.
His was infectious. Exuberant. Invigorating.
So much so, I wanted to drag my running shoes out from the back of the closet and hit the trails again. But not before first googling the question, “Does running with severe arthritis in my feet make it worse?”
Sigh. The fact is, any impact sport will negatively impact arthritis.
Time to formulate Plan B.
Time to augment my daily walking with biking, swimming and weights (gently of course 🙂 ).
My mother was 97 when she left this earth. Never a particularly active woman, arthritis ate away at her body strength and agility with every passing year and though her mind stayed alert, she lived with excruciating pain. She seldom complained about the pain. She did complain about what she perceived as God’s Plan.
Often, in her final years she would ask, “Why doesn’t God take me?”
And I would reply, “Because he’s not ready for you yet.”
“I’m ready,” she would respond.
My mother left this earth ready to go. She’d been preparing for her departure for years.
I don’t know when I will leave this earth (none of us do) but I do know, I want to spend each day with an attitude like Gerry’s. Active. Engaged. Eager to take on new challenges. Excited about the next opportunity. Looking forward to the next kilometer or adventure.
Aging is not a death sentence. It is an integral part of living, as natural as breathing. We can’t avoid getting older. We can avoid getting old — in our thinking, our way of living, our attitude and our outlook.
And to do that, we must keep moving, doing and being excited about life.