“Live every day like it’s your last.”
It’s something you’ve heard before. It’s also something that has been ruined, for most people, because of the people who typically say it. You know, the “entrepreneurs,” the people who came up with YOLO and the guys who tan. They don’t mean the words because they don’t live the words. They ruin it. And they are lying to you about the gym they are in the process of owning.
But it’s not fair to disregard or to even discredit the absolute beauty of those words; especially the certain beautiful people who say them. Because there are people who live in that sentiment and there are people who further that mantra. Beautiful, lovely, lively, moderate to severely arthritic people. And they are the best.
The Apache Wells Retirement Community is located in Mesa Arizona. It is a 65 and up living community and it is where my Father lives. The people that live here have names like Edith, and Frank, and Minerva—two Ethels—and they talk about things like Ronald Reagan and Days of Our Lives. They don’t trust Google but The Facebook is ok.
I visited (Apache Wells, retirement living) this past weekend, in town for a wedding, and was able to spend some time with my dad. The best times I had during my stay, on that visit, were the days spent at the Well (Apache Wells, retirement living), chilling with my dogs. With Minerva.
(Present tense narrative, because it works better that way)
It is the first day of my trip, early Thursday morning, and I make my way from my Father’s home to the neighborhood fitness center across the street. It is early, and the Arizona sun has not yet made it’s blossom—I enjoy the cool walk.
“Carol! Good morning. I hope all is well with you and Roger!”
I hold my hand in the air, maintaining a firm wave, yelling at Carol as I cross the street. Carol and Roger are my dad’s neighbors. Carol waters her plants in the morning. She does not hear me and she continues to come up empty on the potted plants, drenching the pavement.
Lowering my arm, and wishing Carol well, I move across the street. I aggressively scan both ways before crossing. The residents of Apache Wells, inside the community walls, are absolute renegades in golf carts. This morning, though, I cross without difficulty.
Within minutes I’m at the door of the fitness center. I scan my Father’s highlight yellow access card and take the handicap lift to the second floor, to center myself. There are only a few others in the gym at this early hour. I do not know any of them. Inserting my headphones, I take to the treadmill after some brief dynamic stretching and begin my morning workout.
There is a light tap on my lower back. I am mid run, trying to maintain a sprinters pace.
Another tap. What’s happening.
Hopping and splitting my feet on parallel sides of the treadmill, I turn around, removing my headphones. Two elder ladies, in matching pink jump suits, are staring up at me.
“We just had to ask, but um, your arm there,” the cute older woman pointed in the direction the other spoke. “That’s, permanent?”
There was steady static of running treadmill exhaust and faint music playing from my vacant headphones, now down at my sides. I slowly follow the index finger of the elder woman pointing, until it’s aim meets my left tricep and shoulder, where I am tattooed. I look from my arm, where she is pointing, and then to back towards the two woman—the two aged bff’s. They aren’t making fun of me, I’m sure of it. This is genuine. They feel a genuine need to know, stopping a stranger mid-run, headphones in, to understand the permanence of my tattoo. This is intriguing to them, like electronic mail, or Carey Grant, and they want to know more. I kind of dig it.
“Yes, ladies, this area here,” straining in voice and muscle as I curl my arm, “is permanent!”
They giggle, and grab each other, smiling as if to say, I knew it.
“If you have any other questions, I’ll just be over, HERE!!!” I rapidly contort my left arm to fit a ninety-degree pointing angle, aiming at the treadmill, using my right hand to push up the bicep of my left arm. The women gasp. And then giggle. Ethel and Ethel love it.
Half an hour later, after an intermittent sprint to jog circuit, I step down from the treadmill. Ethel One is watching me, so I don’t wipe the perspiration from my machine. I wink at her, dirty, and then walk towards the large window by the stretching area.
Down below, in a large Olympic style pool, is a group of old people. There are like 40, to 45-ish of them. Watching for a few minutes, I realize they are exercising. It is a group class, led by the youngest member of the group—kind of like the smartest kid in summer school adage—and they are all loving it. I watch for a few minutes more and I determine that they are having the best time. I want to be a part of it.
I take the stairs down to the first floor. A Civ—I mean Vietnam—War Veteran is currently using the handicap lift. Respect. Once downstairs and outside, I approach the pool area and look for an empty chair. There are a few available on the opposing side of the aquatic reserve (pool). I head that way.
The energy down here is intense; palpable. It is beautiful and it also very real.
One aged husband is helping his wife balance on her aqua noodle. She struggles, and laughs, and he makes a joke about noodles, and their soft, pliant nature. I think I hear a reference to the little blue pill. The man has no shame, and I respect it so much. Three or four couples adjacent laugh at him. “Oh no, Betty,” a woman says addressing the female counterpart of the comedic duo, the one trying to balance on the noodle, “Frank is making dick jokes again!” Frank shrugs, in a manner that imparts his affinity for making others laugh while also putting out a hard, IDGAF (I don’t give a f*ck) vibe. “I’m too old to worry about being appropriate. NOW GRAB THAT BIG SOFT NOODLE BETTY!” Everyone laughs. Everyone laughs and everyone continues their water fitness.
When I make it to the empty chair I had set my sights on, I realize I am smiling. I have been smiling since I’ve been outside. After the ‘noodle’ banter, George told Herman that his son was marrying a young woman who was way too pretty and that you shouldn’t marry overly pretty woman because you can’t trust them. He puts his arm around his wife and kisses her as they wade in the water. Everyone laughs. Francis tells Donald that once Jim—her husband struggling to stay above water—croaks, she is coming over for that margarita they’ve been talking about. More laughter. Dot pushes Muriel’s buttons and slaps the lid of her visor. Kinda awkward. Mickey shoots water through his noodle into the air and it lands on Frank. Frank laughs from his belly, “DON’T SPRAY ME WITH YOUR LITTLE NOODLE, TED!” We are all laughing now, even Muriel.
I need to get in the pool and join this madness. Quickly I place my gym bag on the chair and remove my shoes and socks. Then I pull my shirt off and over my head. It takes me a minute because the shirt is saturated and sweaty and it sticks to my back. When I finally remove the t-shirt, and can see again, I notice two women standing next to me, directly in my personal space. Two elder, matching, bff’s.
“Hey y’all, take a look, Ethel and Ethel bagged one of them flat-bellys!”
One of the older gentleman of The Well, from the South (georgia I think), named Tug, shouts that. He is referring to me as the ‘flat-belly,’ as if I’m a type of goose. I’m not mad, though, because I’ve been working to avoid complex carbohydrates and obviously it’s paying off. I’m also excited to see the Ethel’s again. I turn, and smile towards both of them. I hold out an arm for each, and motion to the pool.
“Here’s to looking at you, kid(s).”
Ok, first, to my friends and to the readers my age: that last line I dropped on the Ethel’s is one of the most famous lines in all of cinematography and a party to the greatest romance in film history. If you don’t know the movie, I’m not going to tell you. Because it’s embarrassing. Obviously, Ethel and Ethel were all over it.
Second, though, and way more important, is in address to the factual retelling I just laid on you; why it actually holds merit. I made jokes, and made up names, sure, but there is real substance here. Real substance that can be applied, and appreciated, if you only just take a minute to truly value the way in which the age-elevated (old) live.
Old people, regardless of how unintentional it is, are the greatest practitioners of mindful Zen living. No doubt. They are unconcerned with impermanent things, like thoughts and extrinsic opinion, because they are at the point in their lives where all they really value is kindness and compassion, and having a great fucking time. I wasn’t joking about the aggressive, borderline inappropriate jokes that were made. Initially, I was uncomfortable. But no one else was. They didn’t care, or rather, they liked it, because everyone enjoyed each other, and respect and consideration were always underlying the interaction. When time is of the essence—let’s call a spade a spade, that upper room isn’t too far off for them—mindful, present living is how you will live and you will not want it any other way. Each moment, and interaction, and distasteful joke, is precious. You are forced to focus on the good, and the humor, and the fun of each moment. There really isn’t time to become sensitive to extraneous, coerced implication. And really, who gives AF? Tug and Frank don’t (maybe Muriel). They don’t care. They want to make people laugh, and enjoy their remaining time, fully present in the interaction.
That, in it’s essence, is mindful living. I can’t make the strech and say that Buddhist practitioners lean in to dick jokes or flirt with feminist “red-line” dialogue, but I do know they live present, and they live happy. They view time the same way as my friends at the Well. There is a here and a now and anything else doesn’t really matter. We are not guaranteed the future, just right now.
So, enjoy it. Live it fully. Grab that big, soft noodle and appreciate being alive. Live every day like it’s your last.