Happy Birthday, Betty!

Betty's 90th Birthday

Betty’s 90th Birthday

A new old friend, Betty recently celebrated her 90th Birthday by inviting 20 people to a buffet dinner in a local hotel. There were representatives from almost every decade in the last century, literally from 9 to 90!

Betty has endured so many hip surgeries over the years that she has only one hip. As a result she is unable to walk or do much for herself. Caregivers come to her home three times a day to get her meals and help her in and out of bed.

You might think Betty is sad or depressed. You might think she would feel sorry for herself. But not Betty! She may not be able to walk but she is a walking example of how to enjoy life.

Betty has lived in her inner city home for 50 years.  Her oldest neighbour, Mary was taken to a nursing home on the day of the party. That was sad for Betty. Part of her purpose lately has been watching out for Mary, who has steadily deteriorated over the past few years. First her hearing; now her, mind. She’s been showing up at Betty’s at 10:30 at night, thinking it’s morning and scaring the Dickens out of Betty.

After five decades as neighbours, Betty and Mary are more like sisters than friends. Sadly Mary’s mental decline is ending their relationship. When Betty and Mary are both gone, their old homes will be dozed to make way for duplexes or mansions. Their decades of memories will be wiped out.

Betty’s kitchen is like Grand Central Station. I pop in to water her flowers or bring Divot, our 14-yr-old Golden Retriever, whom Betty loves, for a visit. Invariably I meet a different person every time, having tea with Betty!

Betty is determined to stay in her home until she dies. I hope she makes it. No matter how well meaning the “homes” are, they’re not the same as Home. The parade of visitors will slow to a trickle and eventually dry up. The staff is so harried and thinly spread, they have little time to interact on a human level. And the food is dreadful, almost completely void of nutrition and therefore, taste. No wonder people are dying to get out of there!

At her party the guests inquire with each other about our connection to Betty. One woman said her parents lived two doors down the street. For years Betty drove them to the grocery store. “Knowing my parents,” she laughed, “they didn’t buy one drop of Betty’s gas, so this is payback for me!” In her tone, shone love for Betty and the honour she has in paying back Betty’s kindnesses.

I know why Betty came into my life a few years ago: since my grandma’s been gone, I need old ladies in my life. They help connect me to “the good old days”, when I was eight and Grandma was my best friend. Much of what I learned from Grandma, I see again in Betty. They’re both tenacious old birds with a love for their people. I continue learning from Betty:

Have friends of all ages. And celebrate with them. Friendships take effort. It isn’t called “cultivating” friendships for nothing! I doubt Betty was thinking about being 90 when she was driving her old neighbours to the grocery store. Pay it forward is not just a cute slogan. It really works. One day when I’m old I hope to have younger friends who are willing to lend me a hand or an ear from time to time. I’m counting on good deeds being like stocks, paying me dividends in the future.

Happy Birthday, and thank you, Betty, for your friendship, for your never-give-in spirit and for reminding me that longevity depends on friends.

Magic Kayak Ride

Healy LakeMy kayak slips through the water like a diamond blade through the mirror lake, silent but for the occasional lazy splashing of my paddle.

I glide. I listen. Glorious silence. The lake inhabitants (cottagers) are mostly still dreaming.

My brother-in-law and I are both early risers and we slip away before anyone is awake. Stolen time.

He is the perfect kayak companion, willing to maintain long chunks of silence but for the odd word of delight over the treasures we discover.

We slide past an island where great carpets of moss fold over the floor of the forest, glowing fluorescent lime green. Sunlight filters through the canopy creating dancing designs on the carpet. We call it the Enchanted Forest.

We find a quiet cove where 150 year-old tree stumps give evidence of the logging that occurred here in the last century before the river was dammed to create this lake. We allow our imaginations to reveal faces and other images in the ridges of the rotting stumps.

In another small bay we spend ten minutes watching a lone duck feed and preen. We are sufficiently still that the duck seems to forget us and goes about its business.

“Remember to breathe”, I remind my companion. And myself.

Amid such beauty, it is easy to forget.

Reluctantly we move on.

We paddle into another area where the water has a tablecloth of blooming lily pads. We can feel them caress the skins of our kayaks as we float over them. Eerie scratching sound vibrates through the kayak and into my being. The plants seem unfazed by our intrusion, subtly floating into place as we pass. I pick one blossom to share with the sleepyheads back at the cottage.

In some calm areas, we marvel at the waterbugs flitting over the surface of the water, parting like so many loyal subjects as our kayaks flow through their picnics.

We chat briefly about how soul-filling these surroundings are and how we all need more of this connection to nature.

I suggest that his search for a new career/retirement job could be right under his nose with photo and story opportunities so rife in this environment. He agrees to entertain that possibility.

On our way back we spy a giant snapping turtle sunning himself on a large boulder. He looks like a garden sculpture. If he hadn’t slipped into the water I would still believe he is made of stone.

We return to our now-worried family at the cottage with our tales of the wonders they all missed. Our narrative is woefully inadequate; such moments must be touched, tasted, seen, smelled, and heard.

Our smiles prove that a small piece of our burden was lifted from our shoulders in that two-hour jaunt along the shore of an island in a lake in Ontario. If only everybody could experience that!

That little kayak trip is now in my library of magical moments of my life.

I urge you to seize opportunities to connect to nature on a regular basis. It will give you the silence you need to think through your problems. It will alter your outlook of the world.

With thanks to Cindy and Don for sharing their piece of paradise with us.