Telegram From The Future From Hank And Lu
My dad liked to say “”Life begins at 40!” Which makes me only about 22, but nonetheless afraid, like a lot of us, of growing old. So when I received a certain recent email, I took it as if it were a telegram, because when Hank and Lu were our age, that was the common way to convey an urgent message.
Hank and I go way back, all the way to Mr. Resnik’s 10th grade English class at Great Neck North in ‘65. There, he played the teacher, and I the student. But Hank Resnik was well aware these were merely roles we played and masks we wore, and we began a lifelong friendship that year.
The next summer, he took a VW van around the country, and when I visited him upon his return at his W. 13th Street apartment, and asked him what he’d learned, he looked me straight in the eye.
“What I learned is, we’re going to have a revolution.” The next couple of years would prove him almost right.
Hank and I both quit Great Neck as fast as we could. He became a freelance writer (and took a parting shot at teaching in the town with a scathing piece in New York Magazine). In 1970 he published a book about the Philadelphia schools, Turning On The System. (Telling me the title at the time, he said, “Get it?”).
About that same year he met Lucienne, a woman of color (bi-racial couples were still pretty rare at the time) who was 14 years his senior (bi-generational couples are still rare now) and they soon married.
Lu spent years working in non-profits devoted to helping the young before becoming a travel consultant. The two of them soon moved to Berkeley, where Hank clearly belonged, although I’m not sure Berkeley was ready for him. New York energy can go a long way when you leave (if you can make waves here, you can make waves anywhere). They graciously put me up there whenever I traveled to the Bay Area.
In time, they would thrive in every way imaginable, growing an extended family and becoming tri-domiciled, with homes or flats in Berkeley, Key Biscayne and Paris.
Now fast-forward (as life does) to the present.
I recently received Hank’s annual email update on the state of their union.
In his missive, I identify two keys he and Lu have used to grow gracefully and gratefully old.
1) Live to give, and surround yourself with love between you and people your junior.
“The major activity for us in any year is maintaining contact with our extended adopted family. There are eight now, ranging from 38 to 58. We’re telling all potential applicants for membership that we’ve reached our limit. It’s gratifying to be part of the lives of eight people we love (and their offspring) located in four states, Canada, and France.”
I wrote back, asking him to elaborate on this.
“[Our] adopted family…consists of people…that we have either adopted legally or adopted ‘unofficially.’ Three of them grew up in our home. One of them Lucienne adopted as an infant in Liberia after his mother died in childbirth. Two came to us as foster children at young ages (2 ½ and 7 ½), and we later adopted them. The five others came into our lives, and we into theirs, because they had some need for parenting, and we were very open to addressing that need, mainly because all of them were people (ranging from their late teens to young adulthood) toward whom we felt great affection…
He goes on to explain that for his wife, in addition to their adoptees,“an important focus is nurturing the extensive network of friends and loved ones she has built over the decades.”
2) Keep your ass in gear, and in many ways.
Quoting further from his annual update…
“Hank is still a fitness freak and avid bicyclist, riding about 100 miles a week. He’s juggling the equivalent of a time-and-a-half job made up of numerous projects, both paid and voluntary. He didn’t intend to make a mockery of retirement, but that’s how it’s worked out.
“Lu…(people still say Hank looks like the older one)…was also pleased to discover a very agreeable Zumba class in Paris…Together we share a wide variety of pursuits ranging from bicycling to tennis to great food to movies and concerts.
“Dividing our time between Key Biscayne, Florida, and Paris certainly doesn’t simplify things, but it’s a choice we don’t regret.
“From now on our plan is to be in Paris for the months of May, June, September, and October. During July and August we’ll divide our time between Florida and trips to the Northeast and the West Coast. Yes, Florida is hot and humid in the summer, but Lu loves it and Hank doesn’t mind it. Hank just does a lot more washing of cycling clothes in the summer.”
Now here’s the kicker.Take a good look at this recent photo of Hank and Lu, who’s 14 years his senior. They married 40 years ago, in 1972, when Hank was 31. Now do the math, and you’ll see why this woman and couple point the way for us all.
Now by coincidence, I just came across a recent New York Times piece, “Advice From Life’s Graying Edge on Finishing With No Regrets”, in which writer Jane Brody summarizes the practical advice given by 1,000 older Americans about what they did right and wrong in their lives. This was for a new book called “30 Lessons For Living”. Here’s what Brody writes about the part of that book devoted to the ageing process:
“’Don’t waste your time worrying about getting old,’ say the authors. Most [of those interviewed] found that old age vastly exceeded their expectations. Even those with serious chronic illnesses enjoyed a sense of calm and contentment…[One] said, ‘Each decade, each age, has opportunities that weren’t actually there in the previous time.’”
You can read the rest of the book, but the above telegram from Hank and Lu distills it quite well. For me, at a time when Shelley and I have been confronting our fears of ageing, it’s a welcome, hopeful message.