Recently I met a woman on her ONE HUNDRED AND THIRD birthday! 103. That is a big number. She was beautiful and gentle and had a quiet wisdom that matched perfectly with her spunky personality. I'm glad to have met her, and I couldn't resist asking her (what, to me, was) the obvious question. I had to ask.
What's the secret? What's the trick? Someone who lives one hundred and three years must have the manual for a secret formula.
Her lips curled up in a sneaky smile, she clapped her soft hands together and peered over at me - Secret? What's the secret? Oh, there's no secret. I wish I had had a few more moments with her, though, because the child-like, sly smirk on her face made me think she had more to say. She had some secrets. I hope we get to talk again.
That conversation has had me thinking. From time to time, I find myself pondering my own question - wondering to myself what the secrets are. We probably all know them somewhere deep inside. I guess the secret is allowing yourself to get to them, to burst through all of the busyness and flotsam and jetsam of these crazy lives of ours to see the obvious.
One secret keeps burbling up in my mind; and for me, it is symbolized by the picture of a great big dictionary in a warm home I used to know well. I believe - no, I think I KNOW - that one of the secrets is to stay curious, to keep wondering and I hold in my mind the clear picture of someone I've known who wondered and asked until her last days.
Once we had the sweetest of neighbors. Her name was Mae and she was married to Jimmy and years ago we luckily landed next door to them. As we started a family, they quickly became Grandmae and GrandJimmy and they were delights. Our lives are better for having known them. I could write post after post about them, about what they taught me, but today I remember Grandmae's dictionary and consider how it was one of the physical manifestations of a life well-lived for a long, long time. It was living proof of one of her secrets, I just know.
The dictionary was one of those great, big, chunky ones; the kind you see in the library, always opened to a page close to the middle so the chance to find something new is always awaiting the right person. There were signs on the book's edges that were evidence that once each page was framed in gold and its pages were curled in just the right amount, to let you know that each and every page had been attended to, had been studied. It sat on Mae's 'porch', a bright room at the back of her house that had long ago been a porch but years ago had been converted to a comfy den. The dictionary laid atop a table at the perfect height, just under a great big window to the back yard and its old hardwoods and memories.
Just having the book was not her secret. The book was grand and majestic in its own right, to be sure, but it was its aid to a life lived out that made it special. It was its role in her days that I remember, that I draw on when I'm being truly alive. It was how she used it that made it special.
I doubt there was ever a time I spent in her home when she didn't refer to the grand ole' book. I can see her now, jumping up from her perch to look up the meaning of a word, to figure out how to explain something in our conversation. That was one of her secrets, I believe. She kept wondering, asking and jumping up to find the answers. I'd love to know the number of times her sweet hands held that book, the times that great mind was filled a bit more with some new, juicy bit of knowledge. That would be a big number, to be sure.
I won't see her grasp those worn, metallic-edged pages again, but I've got a perfectly clear picture in my head. I carry it with me wherever I go, and I remember to keep wondering. That has to be one of the secrets. I just know it.