Lottie Daggett was a good friend of mine. She was in her early 90s and I in my 50s when we met. She died at 101 ½.
Lottie rode with me to church for years, and was my “mother” at a number of Mother and Daughter teas. I’d visit her quite regularly, and we’d have fine chats. The two of us would discuss current affairs and the doings at the church. I was continually impressed with the keenness of her mind. For her 99th birthday, she received more than 75 cards. Lottie told me proudly that no two were alike. I couldn’t believe that could be true, so I looked them over carefully. I thought I’d found her out, and I pointed out two “Identical” Helen Steiner Rice cards. “Check the color of the flowers on the front,” she said to me smugly and correctly.
She adopted a stray cat that wandered her way, a cat that just happened to be pregnant. Two of the kittens ended up being mine; an all-black male I named Gus, in honor of Lottie’s late husband, and a marmalade female I named Lottie. Lottie, the human, was delighted with the naming.
Olympia, where we lived, decided to produce a series on Lives of Faith to air on its local television station. Lottie was asked to share her life story and I was chosen to be her interviewer. She came prepared with notes on points she didn’t want to forget; comments about her parents and husband, reflections about her relationship with God and her church.
We’d talk about aging from time to time. On one hand, she was a bit befuddled because she was living so much longer than either of her folks. “They both died in their fifties,” she’d say. “They never got to show me how to be sixty, or seventy, or eighty.” Our most important conversation, though, was on a drive home from church. The sermon that morning had been given by a seminarian who had spent the summer working as an intern with a program assisting persons living with HIV-AIDS. As I drove along, I asked, “what did you think of the talk this morning?” My guess was that I’d hear something like, “That had no place in the church.” What I actually heard was profound.
“I was so pleased I heard that. I don’t know nearly enough about AIDS. I want to know more.” As we rode along, Lottie added, “As long as I keep learning, I won’t grow old. I’ll be old when I stop being curious.”
Lottie and I didn’t stumble on a new idea that particular Sunday morning. People had been acknowledging the connection between curiosity and anti-aging for decades. Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eight. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” We didn’t come upon anything new—we did, though, energize each other with our spirited and slightly gossip, discussion of the “young” and the “old” that we knew.
While I didn’t have it in mind when I started this piece, it has become become Part Two of an Introduction to my new blog. Besides the work I have to do these days—looking, thinking, putting pieces together, I need to make friends with my own aging. It is the work of this life stage I’m in. Again, thank you for reading along.
I believe resources – people, ideas, bits and pieces of literature – come to us when needed. No, I know that to be so, for it happens for me time and time again. This morning, as I do most every morning, I was scrolling through Facebook. I came across this poem by Chilean poet/politician Pablo Neruda.
You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life,
If you do not appreciate yourself.
It was just what I needed to illustrate these paragraphs. I found out it went beyond merely emphasizing my point. It opened up a mystery! While the poem is usually attributed to Pablo Neruda, many believe it was written by Brazilian Martha Medeiras. In just the short amount of time I spent sleuthing, I read compelling arguments for both authors. The world offers us so many fascinating chances to explore and grow; we need not die slowly.