Recently, I surprised my family by flying home for my Nana’s 85th birthday. It was a bit risky – surprising an 85 year old – but luckily Nana was thrilled and survived to tell the tale of her eldest (and, of course, favourite) granddaughter travelling cross-country to see her.
The truth is – it was an easy decision. She’s an amazing lady, my Nana. The epitome of class and grace, she knows every rule of social etiquette and is responsible for my table manners and ability to make pastry from scratch. She has the patience of a saint and an ever-so-subtle habit of being charmingly manipulative when she needs to be. She is a master of the long-lost art of letter writing. She is one of the busiest social butterflies I know and, at 85, has an impressive number of well-kept friendships with people from all ages, countries and backgrounds. And she still has that sparkle in her eye – a certain je ne sais quoi – that I suspect (hope) she has passed onto the women in my family.
I think celebrating an 85th birthday – whether as an invitee or the guest of honour – you can’t help but get a bit philosophical and nostalgic about life. This is what crossed my mind that day:
1. Cheating is not a dirty word
If you’ve ever seen a game of bingo in a nursing home or party games at an 85th birthday, then you’ll have noticed – the older generation have no qualms about cheating! It’s not in a competitive way or necessarily because they are sore losers, but it’s just perceived as part of the fun of the game. They are from the days when there were no overly-PC rules or certificates of participation or gluten-free-vegan birthday cakes – you just played the game in the most fun way you could.
We’re often led to believe that success is a final result and only achieved by working hard or winning fair and square. But some things are just down to chance or luck or fate – or whatever you want to call it. And taking the game (life) too seriously is just going to make you an unhappy player. I think 85 year olds take Katharine Hepburn’s view that “if you obey all the rules you miss all the fun“.
2. Every year is a blessing. Don’t get caught up on the number.
I’m certainly guilty of this. It’s not uncommon to hear one of us complaining over a bottle(s) of wine on a Saturday night about the woes of turning 28, 30, 32 etc. Rather than considering her age a depressing fact of life, my Nana wears it as a badge of honour. She is says that every year – and every birthday – is a blessing. End of story. It’s not a benchmark or a deadline or indicative of anything else. I think it may be easier to say that at 85 when most of your major life events have occurred and you know how it all works out. But, “the race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself” – so, don’t get too caught up on the number. Be grateful that you have lived to experience another year.
3. Just keep going – use whatever means possible.
At 85 years young, my Nana still goes to her weekly yoga class. She admits that she mostly enjoys the meditation, but knows that yoga is great for her balance. While she can’t necessarily stand on one foot in tree pose, she says that she can lean against the wall to do the balancing postures. And, rather than the usual “vinyasa and jump through” or “roll up one vertebrae at a time”, the yoga instructor tells her elderly yogis to stand up after their floor work “however they possibly can”. I couldn’t help but laugh a little when my Nana told me this. She quickly followed with “don’t misunderstand me – I can still get up. It’s just not as elegant as it used to be”. I felt so proud of her in that moment. We sometimes expect things to be easy – or at least look easy – otherwise the temptation to give up can become overwhelming. But the reality is, the risk of just stopping soon becomes more dangerous than the risk of trying – however clumsy and inelegant it may look.
4. You spend your later years replaying memories – make them worth watching
During her birthday, I noticed my Nana carefully watching all her friends and family – the interactions, the laughter, the games. It was like she was taking a mental photograph of a scene she never wanted to forget. Later that day – while we were recovering from our cake comas on the couch – she talked about the importance of family and doing the things you want to in life. If you do what you enjoy, you create happy memories for yourself – and in your later years, she says, you will think about those memories a lot. The following week, another special someone (and much younger than 85) made a similarly profound statement that, at the end of the day, life is just a collection of moments and stories. I think half the fun is that you don’t often know you’re making a moment or a story until some time has passed. So, by the time I’m 85 I hope be replaying memories like the best dramatic rom-com adventure film I’ve ever seen – probably with just a touch of tragedy, action and (I’m sure, by then anyway) some sci-fi.