“You’ve got to move to change the state you’re in.”- The Levins
My parents recently shared a marvelous HBO documentary with my wife Julia and I, titled, “If You’re Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast.” The quote belongs to George Burns but show is the inspired by Carl Reiner, writer of The Dick Van Dyke Show, among other amazing accolades. It spotlights individuals in their 90’s, who are actively doing what they love and exemplifying the phrase, “still going strong!” It featured not only Carl’s fellow comedians, singers, actors, and writers but runners, painters, sky divers and more.
As a performer, any time I see someone decades older than me still rocking it, I am seriously heartened. If it is being done, it can be done.
Dick Van Dyke- 91, Carl Reiner- 95, Mel Brooks- 91, Norman Lear-95 years young
When I was young, I joined a band of merry makers who performed comical skits for a local nursing home. We didn’t “knock ’em dead” but we didn’t stir them to life either. The truth is, we weren’t very good but this was my first real exposure to older people sitting around, seemingly lifeless. To my young mind, they had been attacked by the spiders of time, who had consumed their vitality and left them covered in cobwebs. It terrified me.
When I came home, I told my mother about the experience and began to cry saying that I did not want to get old. My mother hugged me and told me not to worry. She suggested that I continue to focus on doing what I loved. Then she said something that sent up a flare in my mind that has never gone out: “Every age is the best age to be.”
Betty White, actress and animal rights activist is 95
My fear was assuaged and I remembered my grandmother. My grandma Ida was filled with vitality and so were her gingerbread men with their raisin eyes and buttons. These cookies were always preceded with a mighty hug and practically leapt from the dish, rising up with the love that had gone into baking them. Here was the difference. My grandmother’s vitality was not inspired by fulfilling some stereotype or motivated by winning my affections, but was driven genuinely by merely offering love.
One of the points made in the film was that one key to vitality was spending time each day in face to face engagement. Not on the computer or phone screen, but face to face with someone in conversation. Face to face engagement with life itself. Actively enjoying life is its own vitality generator.
My family exemplifies this. My mom, in her eighties, does Kundalini yoga, meditates, swims, does her crossword puzzle, and laughs with abandon. Her older sister Phyllis is still auditioning and acting in LA. My dad remains an avid reader, actively studies history, goes out with friends, and is the classiest host of life’s party that I know. His older sister, Bev is 89, volunteers at a pre-school, plays mahjong, and just got back from seeing her 98-year-old cousin whose catch phrase is, “We’re on the move!”.
Before we saw the documentary, Julia and I were pondering all the time spent in youth, pining to be older. She conjectured about how much more constructive life could have been or how much fun could have been had instead of yearning for the things that could be done when we were “old enough”. That yearning is supplanted, for many, with a new yearning for all the things that can be accomplished once we are sufficiently prepared. Life can be postponed with the thought that everything must be “in place” before we begin to live our dreams. Conversely, we can miss opportunities, telling ourselves that we are no longer in our twenties, thirties, forties, etc.
Ursula Le Guinn, author is 87
The documentary mentioned how much energy we now spend as a society trying to remain young, not allowing ourselves to see how beautiful we are, where we are.
Over the past few years, when Julia and I have gone to sing for local assisted living residents, we have witnessed drooping spirits rise up and bloom as they start to sing along with songs that they remember. This isn’t just a remembrance of the past but a shared connection with others in the moment.
Tony Bennett, celebrated singer is 91
Active engagement with something or someone we love, puts the wheel back in our hands. Whether we are blessed with examples within our circle of family or friends or take heart from documentaries like Carl and his friends, we can choose to do what we love, with love and share that love at any age. When love drives the boat, we can navigate the waves with pleasure.
“Hope brings motion. Motion brings change. Change is your friend when the going gets strange.
The going gets strange.”- The Levins
Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, peace activist is 90