After a year of health crises and legal battles, I took a two-week vacation in China to celebrate my triumphs and victories. I was eager to escape my world and dive into a pool of adventures far from home. As much as I learned about the Chinese people and their culture, I also gleaned a great deal from the Americans who journeyed in my tour group: most notably the two women in their 70s who were traveling solo.
First impression? How interesting could they be? They're old, they could slow us down. Quite speedily, I was won over by the wisdom and beauty of wiser mature women. These ladies were even hungrier for the journey than I was, both fearless, feisty, always eager for a new experience or to try a new food. Each prepared for their travels with a collapsible walking stick, small bills to tip staff who gave them extra assistance and an admirable, burning desire to enjoy life.
Further comparisons? Every evening, during the course of animated dinner conversations while consuming spicy Chinese delicacies on a rotating lazy Susan, each woman gently unfolded her life story as if it were a highly-coveted silk kimono. I learned both were cancer victors. Each lost a body part to the disease. But they would not let the big C take their spirit or their soul. They shared that over the years they'd buried spouses and friends, and cried quietly in solitude over their losses. Each cherish loving grandchildren for consolation and inspiration, mentioning them frequently, sharing anecdotes and photos. One woman, sporting a neon-striped cane and six clanking bracelets, wants to get her first tattoo. She wishes she had someone to sit on her suitcase when packing to go home, so her bag, brimming with gifts for grandchildren, will zip closed. The other cheerfully and pridefully explained in great detail how she pays for everything in her life -- including her mortgage -- with a credit card that offers so many frequent flyer miles that she's taken 29 trips in the last two years. That, and her desire to die broke.
As I'm a single, childless woman, both provided a priceless education for me. Although my late mother was smart and insightful, due to Multiple Sclerosis, her walking became hampered and limited at age 45. So, on this vacation, celebrating my rebirth from a year of struggle, when we three climbed half-way up the aged, uneven stone steps of the Great Wall of China together, holding hands, exhilarated by the crowds and knowing that we were privileged to be healthy, I was living in the moment, making memories and savoring life experiences. The wind whipped our faces when we stopped to catch our breath and take in the sights. Yes, I knew meeting these women enhanced my trip, enriching daily events because of their bravery, curiosity and humor.
Lasting impression: At a time in life when I was feeling old and overlooked, women almost two decades older than me were living proof that vibrant women can get better with age. I now had new things to look forward to! They offered much food for thought as we dined on our last night's Chinese banquet: role models for the future.