Early last fall, I had lunch with a new friend, Carlotta Smith. She was a professor at the University of Texas in the linguistics department and we were just getting to know each other. She was in her seventies, although she looked much younger; she was also — as we both knew — dying of ovarian cancer.
“How old are you?” she asked.
Fifty-seven, I told her.
“I just love having friends of different ages,” she said, and her face lit up in a radiant smile.
It’s funny how often I’ve thought of that remark. There was something about it that seemed to capture Carlotta and her openness and the joy she got from life and other people. It’s odd how a single comment can be so telling about a person.
Besides that, Carlotta was right. I thought about her a few weeks ago when I was having lunch with another friend, Alana, who’s also in her seventies. I’ve always seen Alana as a role model of how I want to age — staying engaged and curious about the world.
“The best time in my life,” Alana said, “was when I was about your age. We traveled a lot. Our health was good. It was such a good time for us.”
So I was at the best time of life? Maybe so. It made me realize how much time I spend planning for the future, mining the past, thinking about the unimportant, the transitory. Is this a time of my life I’d remember most fondly, like the girl in “Our Town” who wanted to return to her earthly life on her 10th birthday so she could appreciate a day she’d been too busy and distracted to appreciate?
I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that I have a houseful of books and I spend much of my life reading and loving it. But some of the greatest wisdom I’ve ever learned is from my friends. I just hope they keep talking to me, keep telling me about life — and that I’m smart enough to listen.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)