Wisdom of the Sages

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My glamorous friend’s glamorous mother died recently at age 90. She was known, among other things, for her youthful appearance, which allowed her to bluff about the true number of years she’d lived, even to herself, for her entire lifetime. Her secret, which she revealed to her daughter only on her deathbed: “Whatever you do to your face, do to your neck.”

Good advice, even if some of us learn it a bit too late.

It’s always wise to honor the thoughts and advice of those who have lived long enough to imbue them with real meaning, but it seems especially profound during this season, when we’re all urged to slow and be a bit more contemplative, more thoughtful.

The musings of celebrities get the most ink — like Bette Davis’s oft-quoted quip about aging not being for sissies. But we all are surrounded by wise older souls whose sagacity too often goes untapped. A gift you can both get and give back to the seniors in your life: Ask them to share their  thoughts on whatever topic they hold dear. Then listen.

No celebs quoted here. But below, some ruminations from people age 85 and well beyond that, collected over time and throughout the country: some practical, some profound, some laced with humor. All of it the wisdom of the sages.

On Living Well

“Always listen to the other person. You’ll learn something. Try to sit back, because you will learn a lot more listening to others than telling them what you know.” — Mildred, age 101

“I learned early in the Navy that if you talked too much, you were bound to get in trouble. Keeping my mouth shut helped me many times in life.” — Ken, age 89

“Think positive about everything. Don’t let the little things bother you.” — May, age 95

“Have a pet. Life gets lonely sometimes. Pets are reminders of how we’re all living things.” — Anonymous, age 100

“I don’t like stress. I can’t stand arguing. If anybody is fussing, I’m gone. I like to be around positive people — people who lift you up, not bring you down.” — Mary, age 101

On Staying Healthy

“Fall in love, get married. Sex is to be encouraged. The use of vitamins? Forget it. And I don’t encourage going to a lot of doctors, either.” — Robert, age 100 (a practicing physician)

“I put my health down to whiskey and cigarettes. I only have drinks when I’m out, but my doctor said I wouldn’t be alive without them. I’m still alive, and I can lift my elbows. It’s great.” — Anonymous, age 100

“Keep active both mentally and physically every day. Life has so much to offer. Take a walk if you can. Even if you are wheelchair-bound, do some movement of your arms and legs. Read magazines or books and share your thoughts with others.” — Lenore, age 89

“Make sure you have some olive oil. And make sure you have some very single day.” — Swan, age 94

“What you do when you’re young, it will hunt you up when you get old. If you’re young, take care of your body and live right and go to the doctor and keep yourself in good shape. Don’t abuse your body in any way, shape, or form. Now if you don’t do that, a lot of things come out later on in life.” — Charlotte, age 85

On Aging

“We can forget what lies behind, but need to look forward to what lies ahead.” — Marietta, age 84

“I make myself go out every day, even if it’s only to walk around the block. The key to staying young is to keep moving.” — Ruth, age 90-something

“The most important thing to do is to make some time to fix yourself up everyday. You’ll feel better about yourself — and you never know who will see you.” — Anne, age 87

“Aging is wonderful in almost every way — until it becomes hard.” — Fay, age 90

“Find the magic. The world is a magical place in lots of ways. Enjoy getting up in the morning and watching the sun come up; that’s something that you can do when you are growing older. You can be grateful, happy for the things that have happened. You should enjoy your life. Grow a little.” — Edwina, age 94

On the End of Life

“Some time soon I’m going away to some place else and that’s OK. It may be a year or so or it could be tomorrow, but suddenly I don’t feel fear or even wanting to delay it. I’ve had my day, a pretty good full day, meeting most of the challenges that came my way and exploring more of the roads that beckoned. I don’t feel I missed much, or that there is much more to do. So let those who follow have their day and be equally fulfilled. May they happily accept change.” — Louise, age 90

“Instructions to my friends in case of my death: Take estate money for a cocktail party at your house for my friends — with perhaps an interval of amusing anecdotes about me. Emphasize amusing — no weepy encomia.” — William, age 86

“I’m like a small child standing on the edge of the world. I’m ready to step off now.” — Jacomena, age 95

“When you get old, you see that life is winding down. Is it sad? No — not if you decide it’s not.” — John, age 87

“Don’t die too early.” — Anonymous, age 102

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