On a scale of 1-10, where do you rate your attitude most days?  How would friends describe you? Upbeat and positive?  Or are you the Eyore of your crowd?

If you’ve been reading my stories for a while, you’ll recognize this one.  It was among my first and continues to be a favorite.  The message is timeless and worth repeating often — as often as it takes for us to absorb the wisdom of these people.

Last week I received a beautiful letter from my 94-year-old uncle who has some challenging health issues and still maintains an amazingly positive spirit.  He wrote,  “I try not to concentrate on all the things I can no longer do and focus on the things I can still do.  There is always something to be thankful for and something to produce a good laugh.”

Then I thought about my other uncle.

Uncle Bud is  95 years young and continues to make homemade bread, yeast rolls, and cookies in between playing 18 holes of golf once or twice a week.  Every spring he plants a huge vegetable garden with help from my cousin Janet.  U.B. can tell you anything you need to know about any sports team.  To him, age is only a number on paper.  Never in his head.  Is that all about attitude too?

So how do you develop an attitude like these two nonagenarians?  A really good attitude.  You might even call it a great attitude.    

Maybe the answer lies somewhere in this story.


Meet Jane & Lew

My mother- and father-in-laws, Jane and Lew Johnson, were married 75 years and raised two sons.

I was lucky enough to marry one of them.

Once I wrote about routines and Jane and Lew had theirs.  It consisted of morning coffee.  Breakfast.  Lew reading the newspaper.  Jane working the crossword puzzle.  A walk.   Then errands.  Together.  Maybe a round of golf.  Lunch.  An afternoon nap.  And just like clockwork, a 5 o’clock glass of wine.  They used to call it their “fix”.

Eventually, their remarkably good health gave way to old age.  Jane developed macular degeneration which left her legally blind. Lew’s vision was compromised by cataracts.  They had one good ear between the two of them and even that one wasn’t very good. Their bones became brittle. They walked a little slower, stood not quite as tall, had some bad falls, a few injuries here and there.

 

All About Your Attitude

Dave and I often took them out for dinner and I will never forget one night in particular.

After a nice evening, we drove Jane and Lew home and said our good nights.  Dave and I got out of the car to walk his parents to the front door and were told . . . in no uncertain terms . . . that they could manage just fine on their own.  Thank you very much.

I think they were insulted.

We did what most kids do when their parents tell them something.  We obeyed.  Then we sat in the car and watched while they climbed the stairs to their second-floor condominium.

Of course, there was an elevator.  But to quote my in-laws,  “That’s for old people.”  Ninety years and change didn’t qualify as old in their opinion.

We could see them at their front door and waited for Lew to find his keys. Jane was blind. Neither of them could hear. And at the time we had no clue that Lew was suffering from dementia.

Lew fumbled. Tried one key. Then another. And another. Then Jane tried. Again.  Still, the door didn’t open.

Just as we were about to go to them, Dave and I watched Jane and Lew do the craziest thing:  They doubled over . . .  with laughter!   The hanging-on-to-each-other, laughing-so-hard-you’re-crying kind of laughter. Laughter that comes all the way from your belly snorting kind of laughter. The throw your head back and let it out kind of laughter. Then a hug. Followed by the door finally being unlocked.  They went inside still laughing and didn’t give us a second glance.

When I think of Jane and Lew, that’s the moment I remember. The moment when I realized, in spite of all their challenges, they found humor where most of us would find frustration.

They were each other’s Valentines.  Every day.  Always holding hands.  Rarely separated.

It was heartwarming to see the bond they shared.  Heartbreaking to watch it unravel.

How Do You Approach Each Day?

Within a year, Jane was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died. We discovered Lew’s dementia was more severe than we’d imagined. He could not comprehend that his partner of more than 75 years was not beside him.  He died soon after.

Recently I found a letter one of our kids wrote to Jane and Lew during those last years. She wrote,

“You are a living example that attitude in life is everything.  You greet each day as a blessing, with a smile on your face and warmth in your heart.  Through the years as your health failed, you never let it slow you down or dampen your spirits.  When many may have retreated or given up, you continued to read, write birthday and holiday cards, dress impeccably and show incredible grace in all social situations.  It is your strength and fortitude that I love about you and carry with me in my heart always.”

There it is.  In the very first sentence.  “Attitude in life is everything.”

It’s why everyone loved Jane and Lew. It’s why they looked forward to every day. It’s why everyone else was “old” because in their minds they stayed perpetually young.

What do you think?  Is attitude everything in life?

Maybe it is…

It’s hope versus despair.

Optimism instead of pessimism.

It’s compassion, kindness, and simply trying to live life the best you can every day.

Being grateful for each day.

It’s rooted in faith and whatever that means to you.

 

What do you do when you’re challenged?  

What happens when you’re fumbling for whatever it is you’ve lost?

Sometimes people never find someone to love for 75 years. Sometimes they do and that person is taken too soon. Sometimes fate plays an unexpected role in carefully laid out plans. Children reward and they disappoint. Friends drift in and out of our lives.

Change happens.

And when it does . . . and it will . . .  I hope you’ll remember Jane and Lew. I hope you can picture them laughing at the top of the stairs, fumbling for their keys. I hope you understand things were not looking too rosy in their lives at the time.

I hope you remember this:  In life, attitude is everything.

It seems to have worked for Jane and Lew.  It continues to work for my Uncle Ward.  And my Uncle Bud.

I’m betting it will work for the rest of us too.