On Friday evening, my friend Mary invited me and my family for a meal. She cooked a delicious vegetarian supper – and pizza for the kids. We shared a bottle of wine and great conversation and a lot of laughs. She was happy for my son to watch the England game on TV. She knowledgeably discussed football with my son and dance with my daughter. She told us about her busy week – Keep Fit on Monday; Bell Ringing on Tuesday; Swimming on Wednesday; Tai Chi on Thursday – and the church walk the next day she was planning to take part in.
Nothing extraordinary in that, you might say. Maybe not. But Mary is 87 years old.
For Mary, age is just a number. And she doesn’t intend to let that number stop her. She wants to live. She loves doing things. She loves meeting people.
I make myself go out for a walk every single day, whether I feel like it or not. It gets me out of the house and takes me out of myself. Other people who sit in their house on their own all the time drive me crazy.
She’s always lived life to the full. But sometimes, that has been more difficult than others.
Her husband Alan died eight years ago and she suffered a small stroke soon afterwards. Four years ago, after 37 years in her house, she decided to leave her home and move into a retirement apartment. There was a certain sense of relief as looking after the house was getting too much and it was much better being closer to the shops, but leaving all her friends in Sunniside was really difficult and throwing things away to fit into a much smaller place was really, really hard.
And then there’s been the diabetes and the arthritis to contend with. The cancer on the lower eyelid and the resulting operation to lift the drooping eyelids. A broken shoulder on holiday and a knee replacement operation. Various chest infections and problems with the voice and throat.
Mary has had plenty of reasons to feel sorry for herself.
Mary has had plenty of reasons to stay home.
Mary has had plenty of reasons to feel her age.
And this is what makes her extraordinary: that will to keep going, come what may.
I will not stop! Why would I? I’m not scared of the future, but I do want to live a full life and make the most of every moment. People tell me off for not acting my age. I don’t want to act my age. I’m less self-conscious now. More confident. It’s great!
Mary knows that she is fortunate to have a close family and lots of good friends. She gets out a lot – to the ballet, opera, theatre, cinema – and she loves to try new things. Being interested in such a lot of things and being curious about life is what keeps her young, in her opinion.
And now there is bell ringing.
Bell ringing is marvellous. It’s the highlight of my week. I love that it’s something completely different. I’ve just started. I couldn’t even really read music before. I never gave it a thought that I might be too old or I might not be good enough. I absolutely love it. We’re performing at the Queen’s Birthday Celebrations in Whickham Village and I’m studying to take Grade 1 Theory.
Mary is an inspiration. She hasn’t had it easy and yet…just look at her! Just listen to her! Just watch her bell ringing!