I went to a memorial service yesterday for a friend's mother who died at 99. It was full of some 50+ people who knew this extraordinary woman - an ordinary mom who revealed the extraordinary in everyday life. She started using a computer at 83, fell in love with email and the Internet in her 90s, and spent everyday of her life learning.
Her wisdom seemed simple: observe, connect, and act. Observe the world outside and in, connect what you learn from these observations to an ever-changing template of life's meaning, and act wisely from such knowledge wrapped in kindness and love.
She loved adventure and continued to travel until 98. Her philosophy on travel was described in an email she had written to her daughter - take advantage of your youth and run, don't walk, to explore the world.
Yet the words spoken by family and friends revealed the energy source that fueled her longevity - love. She was respected and sought out for her wisdom - even at 99 - because her worldview was constantly changing - updated by her - as she learned more and more. She lived far from a fixed or repetitive self-centered perspective that age can sometimes bring. That was why her interactions with the world were extraordinary despite their ordinary nature.
I only met her once, at a baby shower for her grand-daughter; she was 98 that year. I spent 30 minutes with her talking about how powerful our minds are in shaping our realities. Of course she was well read on the topic and began to cite scientific studies demonstrating the thesis; she made a point to send me two books in the mail upon her return to NYC. They arrived within the week. A woman who was like a sponge for learning, elegant in dress, sophisticated in manner, and true to her word.
A chance encounter that gave me a model for the later stages of life; but then I realized, she is really a model for every stage of life.
It was perhaps most refreshing to attend a memorial service for someone who lived such a vibrant and full life - who died at a time that fit our best expectations, not too early and not following a long and painful illness. Just the natural end to one cycle of life as others - her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren - emerged to continue the process.
May she be a model for all of us as we move through the life cycle - never forgetting to create extraordinary moments in the ordinary nature of life.
Follow Susan Smalley, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/suesmalley