My life is enhanced by the convivial restaurant manager, a custodian at O’Hare and an inspiring Lyft driver

Some jokes about growing old coax a laugh and then a cough.

Question: “What is the best thing about growing old?”
Answer: “No peer pressure.”

It’s funny, until the back story slams home. The guffaw turns into a sigh as you accept the sad reminder that more and more names showing up on the obituary pages are from your old address book.

It’s also a reminder of the importance of connection; the need to be part of things however modest our contribution.

When we lose our connection to the world at large we’re in danger of withering away, becoming increasingly negligible until we disappear. Just about every resource for seniors recognizes the menace of isolation and loneliness and does everything it can to promote socialization.

The exercise programs, lectures and tours are wonderful occasions to interact with contemporaries. But just as important as the events noted in your appointment book are the everyday occasions to participate in this wonder called life. They’re under our noses on a daily basis.

Understandably, at our age finding a new BFF is probably far-fetched. But the little episodes, the feel good experiences are there in front of us. Try this experiment the next time you walk down the street: notice the moment when you catch the eye of a passerby; smile; and count the times when you get a warm smile in return.

It’s these everyday experiences that keep me feeling connected and relevant and still in the game.

My friends and I thought our eardrums would bleed when the music blasted the Latin rhythms at the west loop Mexican hotspot where we were having dinner. The younger patrons were having fun, amped up, riding the energy of the music and our options were clear, be cranky or crank up the level of our conversation and join in the hubbub.

When the manager passed by our table I asked if there was a prize for being the oldest patrons in the restaurant. He laughed and a few moments later it was complimentary tequila shots all around. The point I’m making is we didn’t present ourselves as “old” people. Our wrinkles didn’t obscure our sense of humor, our enthusiasm, our willingness to participate rather than patronize. We had fun. And the manager was a sweetheart of a guy.

Before boarding our flight to Mexico I used the restroom at O’Hare’s International terminal. It was spanking clean and I thanked the custodian for doing such a great job and told him how much his effort would be appreciated by the passengers. The look that lit up his face poured light into the room and my heart opened wide in response. I think he literally grew taller. He was recognized; he was respected; and we were connected because I too, felt acknowledged and valued.

My interest in the Lyft driver’s unusual background was genuine. “You were a policeman,” I exclaimed. “And now you’ve left the force to become a therapist helping veterans with PTSD. Wow, you’re an inspiration.” The driver was unassuming but I sensed his appreciation of my affirmation. I had reached out, offered encouragement and admiration for his difficult decision. He gave me back thanks and a glimmer of optimism that I would call upon when the nightly news reported the day’s Sturm und Drang.

These everyday chance encounters are not monumental but their importance cannot be over-estimated. They keep us engaged; they’re little sparks that keep the fire going; they help us surmount the losses and remind us, we exist; we are not alone; we are part of the web of life.

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