Illustration Credit: Holiday Couple by Kate Pugsley
Struggling with a life-threatening health crisis in my 30s, I came upon an article about Sarah Conley. She was pictured in her wheelchair, wearing a cap and gown. The great-great-grandmother was receiving her college degree—at 104! Because she gave me hope, I cut out the article and decided to seek out stories about elders like her.
I found Ruby Hemenway, who began writing a newspaper column at 90, never having been a writer. She went on to become the world’s oldest columnist at age 100. George Burns announced at 90 that he had booked a performance for his 100th birthday celebration. Claude Pepper, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health and Long-Term Care, at 85, held a daylong hearing where people over 100 years of age discussed their longevity. The oldest was 112!
These people and dozens of others became my beacons, showing me how the human spirit, and body, can triumph. Whenever I felt disheartened, I’d turn to my collection of file folders. Then, when my own parents began to deal with the many challenges of aging, my “elders” collection took on a life of its own.
As we sat around th …