Timeless Advice 

I recently turned 60, and it’s been a surreal experience. I tell myself that I’m not “really” 60, and then I look in the mirror and realize that yes, sadly I really am.

I thought I would commemorate this depressing occasion by sharing a story from my youth, that helped me to terms with growing older. You see, I had always been terrified to grow old and I actually never thought I would. I made a deal with myself to stop at 30. Life was very painful for me back then, and I was struggling to exist on a daily basis.

When I was 16, I read a newspaper article about a woman who was turning 100. I couldn’t imagine anyone living that long; why would anyone want to? Being the weird person I was, I looked her up in the phone book, found her address, and mailed her a letter, explaining my fears and asking to meet her. Imagine my surprise when I received a letter back, inviting me to tea. I donned my nicest clothes and went hoping to hear some wise advice about growing old without fear. The fact that she invited a complete stranger to her house, a street urchin no less, gives you an idea of the kind of person she was.

Louise Tandy Murch was an amazing lady; she lived alone in a huge house that looked dated, as did she. Her face was etched with deep lines that reminded me of the Sahara desert.  She carried in a large silver platter that held a tea service and some scones that she had made herself. I offered to help her carry it, but she insisted she was fine. As we sat drinking tea and eating scones, she shared with me some information about her life. She did yoga every day, despite having pins in both her hips, and she was a pianist. Her husband had been an orchestra conductor and together they had traveled the world. He had died several years before but she said she didn’t have time to give up on life or get depressed (yes, we discussed depression) because she was just too busy. She was currently trading music lessons with a young man in return for free gardening work.

I told her that I liked to play guitar and sing sometimes, so she played the piano for me and invited me to sing. When I started singing, she punched me in the stomach (in the diaphragm) and told me that’s where it had to come from. By the way, that was NOT a gentle punch – it got my attention. She reached into her piano bench and took out a music book with country songs and gave it to me. She told me she didn’t enjoy playing country music but she thought my voice was perfect to sing country. I’m still not sure if that was a compliment or not. 

It was a very different type of afternoon, one that I have never forgotten. All these years later, I still have that music book, and I often remember this incredible lady and her timeless advice for living at all ages. Her secret for living so long was because she was simply too busy to die. I’m fairly sure her advice has had a lot to do with how I’ve lived my life – keeping busy (often too busy), staying involved, trusting others. In a moment of remembrance after my birthday, I decided to “google” her name and found out that the National Film Board has a short film about her life that was directed by Deepa Mehta in 1976. It also looks as if something was in the works in 2014 as well http://www.hollywood.com/movies/at-99-a-portrait-of-louise-tandy-murch-59211080/credits/.

 

I never knew I was in the presence of someone famous, I just knew I was getting some timeless advice about living and aging. Thank you Mrs. Murch, for the lesson and for the example.

By the way – if someone “googles” your name in the distant future, what do you think they’ll find? 

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For the Love of Books

I love books. All books. I hold them in the highest reverence. I love to hold them, smell them, read them, listen to them; I love hardcovers, paperbacks, audiobooks, and ebooks. I have collected leather bound books most of my adult life, especially the classic authors like Hans Christian Andersen, The Brothers Grimm, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Jack London, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells, and John Steinbeck; classic books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Atlas Shrugged, and Vanity Fair; and great philosophies like  Plato’s Republic, and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, and so many more! I’m reflecting on my books today because I’m purging. I’m about to have yet another birthday (will they never stop?) and I’ve decided to minimalize my life. It has to be done sooner or later because (a) I won’t live forever, and (b) I won’t live here forever and I’m tired of carting around boxes of books when I move. It’s nice to pass them on as well, for others to enjoy. Oh, there are some that I will keep – my collection of The Rise and Fall of Civilization by Edward Gibbons and a few first editions, among others.

Books saved my life. When I was first taken into care of the Children’s Aid Society in Toronto, I have given a shower, a new dress (blue and white and way too big), a bald doll (okay, she wasn’t bald, but plastic hair doesn’t count), and a book. The social worker gave me the book when she discovered I could read quite well. I had just turned six. I wish I still had that book. It was about two inches thick and full of magical tales. It slept with me at night; it comforted me when I was sad; it was my daily escape from my painful existence. I read it at night under my covers with a flashlight and when my foster mother took my flashlight away, I opened my curtains and read by moonlight on the nights when the moon was bright enough.  I carried it with me to the various doctors’ appointments and court appearances that eventually declared me a crown ward, when I become society’s child.

I’m sure that book fell apart eventually. I know it was replaced with many other wonderful books though. I remember a grade 5 teacher chastising me for not paying attention and discovering I had a book hidden under my desk. It was Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. She made me stay behind after class and asked me if I understood what I was reading. I did. And I must have been the only kid in my high school who not only loved William Shakespeare, but read all of his plays and even memorized the entire Merchant of Venice. And who could forget Sonnet 29:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

And as a young adult, goofing off with my foster cousin Christine Chartrand, each of us dramatically reciting Shakespeare until we collapsed with laughter.

I always carried a paperback book in my purse. One thing I truly appreciate about being a woman is I get to carry a purse which is the perfect hiding place for a pocket book. On the bus or subway, under my desk, or hiding in the bathroom at work, if I could steal a few minutes to take me away to distant lands, shower me with love and emotions, caress me with caring and compassion and fill my heart and soul with wonder and faith.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail spoke about the importance of libraries and started me thinking about my own relationship with libraries and led me to deciding to share that memory in this post.

I always appreciated libraries, since I lacked the funds to purchase the many books I devoured. I grew up in West Hill, Ontario, and walked 3 kilometers each way to a community branch of the Scarborough Public Library at Morningside and Lawrence. I knew the school librarians very well also. And as an adult in downtown Toronto (and later in North York), the library was always close. I could relax and read, do research, borrow music and movies; it was and is a very magical place.

I’ve been on the library board of Georgina Public Library for a few years (okay it’s more than a few but I won’t say how many), and I love the value that libraries give to our community and to our lives. I once heard the expression that the library is the hub of our community, and nothing could be more true than that. Libraries are the ultimate equalizers. No knowledge or technology is out of your reach if you have a library in your community. You can use the computers and even take computer courses, you can borrow books and movies, either in the library or online, you can join a book club, a writing group, a knitting group. The world is there for you and the door that opens it all is at your library.

I’m sad to see some of my books leave, but I’m sure they’ll have good homes. I did not throw them out. Most of them I sold or gave away (I only sold them because I knew only someone who truly wanted them would be willing to pay for them) and they’ll enjoy a new life, in a new home, enriching other minds. Besides, like children, they never really leave you, they’re always in your heart no matter where you are.

And they’re as close as your library. Go to the library, make new friends, create new memories, gain more knowledge, see the world. It’s waiting for you.