People unexplainably seem to come into our lives just about the time we need something. Perhaps they have a message we need to hear or they offer the gift of friendship when we need it the most.
For me, that person is Jenny. I think she is truly amazing. I first noticed her at the pool. As I started to shove off the wall for my usual lap swim, I watched an elderly lady donning her swim cap and goggles. Was she really going to lap swim? After all, most of the women her age did water aerobics together. But sure enough, she pushed off the wall and I watched her begin the start of her freestyle workout. Over a period of time we began saying hello and then moved on to simple conversation. It wasn’t hard. Jenny loves to talk. And the more she talked, the more I found her fascinating.
Jenny was born in 1922, the third born out of four children. She used to swim in a creek as a child but never learned true swimming until 1968. Yep, that made her 46 at the time. She had bought a Y membership for her sister and four nieces feeling that it was important for the girls to learn how to swim. But it never was put to use and Jenny decided to learn for herself if her sister’s family wasn’t going to use it. You see, Jenny hates waste. The lessons evolved into being a lifeguard and then on to teaching people with disabilities how to swim. And about that time, Jenny decided to enroll in college. Always being one to set goals, she decided she wanted to become a teacher. She worked her way through Earlham and after graduation worked passionately as a teacher for 22 years.
Noticing her love for children I asked her if she had any of her own. “Oh no honey,” she said. And with a devilish little smile she went on, “I call myself an unclaimed jewel”! Choosing never to marry, Jenny’s classroom children became her own each year. Her freedom allowed her to travel worldwide (Europe, the Middle East, and throughout the states) lending to dozens of stories that roll off her tongue when you ask. “Did I tell you about when I drove a Model T with my father to the World’s Fair in Chicago”, she states, inviting me further into conversation.
Jenny swims 1/4 mile everyday. That’s 32 laps. And each lap takes her 1 minute and ten seconds. I was nosey and timed her. Not bad for someone four years away from being 90. She attributes her good health to daily exercise. “Energy begets energy”, she says with a gleam in her eyes.
As we’re talking I see her look over my head. She immediately calls out hello to a fellow lap swimmer, throwing up her hand high in the air to wave at him. She is strong. She is, well….feisty. In a good sort of way. In a way that must be part of the reason why she can still live on her own; do all her gardening; swim every day; and make two cheesecakes and mop the kitchen floor before our photo shoot.
So, what’s the message Jenny brought to me? The message is that life is what you make of it. If you missed an opportunity once, go back and try it again, because it’s never to late to learn something new. In a culture where youth is glamorized us forty-something people start to feel like if we haven’t accomplished our dreams by now, it’s not going to happen. But I’ve witnessed first hand this isn’t true. And I realize that I have all the time in the world to still continue striving to reach my goals.
Guess what? Jenny learned how to do a flip turn the other day. She always wanted to learn, so Earlham staff and fellow swimmers coached her along in her new endeavor. And by the end of her morning she had it down.
Now _this_ is the stuff of life.