Who can explain how the heart opens and love blooms? What’s the magic that connects us, one to another? Will I stay soft and open as long as I still draw breath?
I am 65 the first time I step off the plane in Delhi and enter the hot, loud, crowded chaos that awaits me outside of Indira Gandhi International Airport. Before leaving the comfortable coziness of my New England home, a friend with extensive travel experience in India gives me advice: stay with a family if you have a chance. “Sounds great,” I tell her, “but I don’t know anyone from India.” She responds generously: “Let me see what I can do,” and within weeks of our meeting she has landed me a place to stay for a couple of nights upon my arrival – a friend of a friend’s mother.
At an age when many of her contemporaries have either left the planet or are hunkered down in the smallness that life can become, ninety-year-old Rasil welcomes me into her home and heart. I acknowledge that much of my life I have been searching for a mother unlike my own: one who is warm, loving, open, and caring. I don’t anticipate I will find her in an elderly Indian woman whose experience of life is far from my own. Or is it? That first morning when I awakened and walked out to the veranda where Rasil was sitting, I didn’t know a friendship was about to blossom.
She models how I want to live my life going forward into old age: open-heartedly, making new friends and cherishing old, with long conversations and warm laughter and filled with gratitude for yet another day.
I am sitting on my porch on a warm summer day three years after that initial meeting when Rasil calls. “Renne,” she says with her strong accent. No one else pronounces my name quite like she does although she sounds a bit like my foreign-born mother-in-law who died almost a decade ago. “How are you? What have you been doing?” she asks.
“I went to a wedding over the weekend,” I begin.
“Did you dress up?”
“Of course. You’d be pleased.” I laugh. She dresses elegantly while I dress casually, but the flowing black dress borrowed from a friend and the chunky silver necklace inherited from my mother-in-law would certainly meet with her approval.
“And you? Have you been writing?” We are working on her memoir and I’m eager to receive new stories. There’s an easy exchange of talk and laughter and for a moment I imagine that I could be her daughter. She calls me darling. She asks when I will come to Delhi again. She tells me I’m sweet. She downplays that she is lonely in her apartment in New York where she comes for a portion of the summer although I know that she is. “I’ll come visit,” I tell her. “I’ll kick out your grandson and his wife.” There is an easy flow of conversation and I am filled with gratitude.
I have always collected older women friends but now as I’m aging myself and the pool becomes smaller, Rasil reminds me that new friendships can form at any age. She models how I want to live my life going forward into old age: open-heartedly, making new friends and cherishing old, with long conversations and warm laughter and filled with gratitude for yet another day.
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”