Advice from a Senior Freshman
A friend of mine refers to serendipitous meetings as Crazy-Right Moments, and I had one this week, and it felt, well, crazy that I could be in the right place at the right time to meet the right person.
I was waiting for a flight and popped into a cheesy store to purchase a souvenir t-shirt for my boyfriend. He was sitting in the food court behind the store, separated from me by a wall of glass. Holding my fashion choice against the windowpane, I pantomimed and fruitlessly shouted, “This one?”
He responded by vertically expanding the empty space between his hands.
I grabbed a larger, longer shirt and held it against my core and pointed, “This one?”
Okay, this one.
I turned to the petite woman standing behind the cash register, wrapping up her discussion with an existing customer. She smiled at me and took the shirt. Thanks to her nametag, I knew her name—Joyce.
Joyce: (Smiling, shaking her head.) Who are you buying this for and why are you shouting and waving through a glass window?”
Me: Sorry. My boyfriend. He normally never wants a souvenir.
Joyce: Why isn’t he paying for his own shirt?
Me: It’s his birthday present.
Joyce: How old is he?
Joyce: (Laughing.) Well, that’s good. It’s good you’re acknowledging his birthday but better that you aren’t keeping count for him. I’m 71 so I know a few things about birthdays.
I can’t help but exclaim disbelief—manners don’t appear to be my forte this day— Joyce moves gracefully, has radiant skin, and her smile is wide, happy, and luminous. I couldn’t have begun to place her age, but it wouldn’t have been in her seventies.
Me: I take it you’re not ready to retire.
Joyce: Life is too expensive to retire at 65 anymore. I meet people every day who are 65 or older and they can’t afford to retire, or they’ve gotten bored and want to work again. Some of these people stop working and sit at home all day.
Me: So you enjoy working to stay active and avoid boredom?
Joyce: Oh, when I retire I will not be bored. (She leans in and whispers.) When I retire, I’m going to college. Did you know tuition is free at my age and I can get my B.A. degree? Free. When I finish, I am going to get my Master’s and then I’ll be on to law school. I’ll have my law degree by the time I’m 81.
Me: (Smiling. Big.) I tell her about an article I recently read about Barbara Beskind who is 91 years old pursuing her dream job as a tech designer in Silicon Valley.
Joyce: I’m serious. I’ve always intended to go to college and travel, but I had children instead. Do you have children?
Me: I do not.
Joyce: That’s good. Don’t. If I could do it again—nothing against my children—I would’ve gone to school and travelled instead. Reading and traveling—these are the secrets to a good life. And are you aware most kids today don’t know how to speak because they never read?! It’s hard to believe.
I could have spoken with Joyce all day. I’d love to hear about her life and choices. I wanted to know where she was born and where she grew up. Joyce would have been born at the end of World War II and was a young African American woman and mother during the civil rights movements and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and present for so much of America’s history—all of which I can only visit by a book or documentary.
Personally, I already consider Joyce a motivating instructor of vitality. I feel inspired by her eagerness to continue her education and her fearlessness and lack of intimidation to resume her goal fifty years later. I wish we had the time to sit down for breakfast and chat. I want to tell her about my novel, Tiger Drive, and share character Janice Sloan’s secret plan to pick up her dreams where she lost them thirty years before when she had her first baby.
Joyce and I continue to talk about her experience, and I quickly learn she enjoys reading people as much as she enjoys reading books. And she does both very well. She walks me to the front of the store and starts to greet passersby. She implores me not to look but to listen.
Joyce: (Discretely.) The next couple passing by is very unhappy.
Me: (I can’t look at them.) How can you tell?
Joyce: They are walking beside each other but several feet apart. Her face is straight and her shoulders are tight. The man is dragging his feet and he looks like he regrets spending any money on the trip.
The couple passes by and I glance. Joyce might be on to something. I can feel the tension rolling off of them.
Another pair has caught Joyce’s eagle eye and she cheerfully says, “Good morning.”
The woman with the perfect wedge-cut hair turns sharply towards Joyce, frowns and mumbles, “Good morning.” She turns forward and starts digging in her purse for her Smartphone. The man she’s with never bothers to look up from his phone much less acknowledge Joyce.
Joyce: They aren’t happy. They aren’t in sync and they don’t know where they’re going. Literally.
Sure enough, a few strides later, the pair splits and each heads in the opposite direction, staring at their phones, until the woman senses a void, glances up, and rushes to catch up to her partner. He never once speaks to or looks at her.
I wonder what Joyce might guess about my relationship if my boyfriend and I crossed her path. I’m utterly charmed by her, and I wonder if she will pursue psychology or sociology in college. She is clearly a student of human behavior and she knows where she is going—to college.
She currently doesn’t have any new customers so we are able to speak a while longer. Joyce is clear that her customers are her priority, so I use her time wisely and briefly tell her about my website and how I like to learn and share lessons from my elders. I tell her about the first Vitality Stories Lesson #1 about my mother, Bonnie, achieving one of her dreams at 79. I hand Joyce my card, ask her if I can write about her, and thank her for the lessons she shared throughout the conversation:
- Read and stay educated.
- Travel as much as possible.
- Having children isn’t for everyone.
I will also be more conscientious about my own body language and the energy I carry in public.
Serendipitously, after meeting Joyce, I read the daily entry for Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart:
Having experiences is called living.
Sharing experiences is called loving.
Let yourself enjoy both.
In my Crazy-Right Moment with Joyce, she demonstrated all three. Joyce is action and forward movement—She puts the JOY in Joyce.
I have more to learn from this sassy, senior freshman, and I hope she’ll stay in touch. Seventy-one years old? Who the heck is counting?
Image created via Canva