Let's pretend for a moment you're 90 years of age. If you are, in fact, already that age, this exercise will be much easier for you.
Sit quietly for a few minutes and reflect on the decades passed. Thoughtfully consider your accomplishments. Be very self-affirming. Maybe you focus on your first job or your first love. Perhaps you choose to do free-floating reminiscence. The exercise will be more meaningful if you lift up a few particularly tender memories and re-connect with them. But these are your own personal considerations. You decide how to proceed.
Done? If not, I can wait.
I don't know many people intimately who are 90 years of age. Or perhaps in these times, with people looking and acting younger than their actual years, I may know many 90-year-olds who have not revealed themselves fully to me. Let me reflect on that possibility before we move on. It actually makes me smile to do so. Smiling is another good exercise as you age — laughing is even better.
The 90-year-olds I do know well are quite stellar. I would like to tell you about one of them. He turns 90 this very weekend. His name is Gail Myers. He is our neighborhood's elder statesman, the honored citizen in our circle of houses. We are a connected and caring neighborhood — and he keeps us that way.
Dr. Meyers is a retired scholar, an author (or co-author) of countless textbooks on communication theory and a couple good-read novels. He was a college president (two different academic institutions) and continued his teaching on many topics until just a few years ago. He still teaches — in every conversation you have with him. There is no topic that does not interest him. His rich body of knowledge, inextinguishable curiosity and constant good humor makes every encounter with him a delight.
Even better — he actively listens to what you say and remembers, asks good questions, hears your answers and then follows up later with relevant acknowledgements. You feel better after you've spent time with him. Gail has modeled the power of other-centeredness for me. Even without all those awards and honors and the prestigious moments he can claim on reflection, this is what I think he does best. He observes, listens, affirms, and empowers. As he looks back on his life, I hope he will clearly see the incredibly positive life-changing influence he has had on countless people — former students, colleagues, family members, friends and neighbors.
In words that barely do him justice, I share my regard for an exceptional and vibrant elder. And in doing so I recall the Guatemalan proverb. "Everyone is the age of their heart." Say that phrase aloud if you will — talk about it with others perhaps? Use it in your moments of reflection. And in the process of doing that, may you call up a sweeping multitude of tender memories that involve thinking, listening people like my friend, Gail. People who help you look back fondly — and forward as well.
Can you tell I'm in love with this man? Not to worry. My husband knows — and, in fact, he feels exactly the same way.
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or Sharon@hmj.com