Here in Florida, the average population is somewhat… you can say… mature. But I’m fast realizing that age is only a number and the kind of life you live has nothing to do with where you are on the great timeline of life. Living the life of your dreams can come at any age and, in fact, can see you switching things up for yourself many times over, such as in the case of an encore career.
Awhile back, Kevin and I were headed to see a speaker at a local church. We left the kids at home. I said, “Do you think we could have brought the kids to this?” He replied: “Honey, we ARE the kids.”
After I stopped laughing, I realized it was true! I’m 39, which doesn’t feel particularly young most days. But it feels like just about everyone here in this community in Florida is at least 20 years older than me. Most people are retired or at least semi-retired. Almost no one walks around with four kids. I stand out here for my lightness in years every bit as much as I stood out in Belize for my lightness in skin.
My Senior Moment Came in the Form of A Wake-Up Call
It was a balmy night when I had my first Senior Moment, a term I use lightly to mean opening my eyes to the wisdom around me. We were out on a date at a local restaurant within walking distance of our house. We ordered a couple of beers and sat down on the outdoor patio, right under the vivid, sparkling stars. A really cool blues band brought the stage alive. Even though the area for dancing was exceptionally small, people of all ages were jumping up to shake their booties. Some were quite geriatric but once they were out there, they exuded a lightness of limb and joy of being that belied their gray-haired status. They shone brightly, despite their accumulated years on earth, or maybe because of them.
And there I sat, tapping my foot and bobbing my head like a silly fool, while my butt felt absolutely glued to the chair. I was frozen, either unwilling or unable to step out onto that dance floor. I sat there, full to the brim with inhibitions about dancing in pubic, even though people in their 60s, 70s, 80s–and I swear even 90s!–were bustin’ a move on the dance floor, wrinkles, varicose veins, belly bulges, and all. Tell you what, they might not have as many days left as I might, but they were grooving and I was sitting. Who, in this scenario was maximizing their time the best, do you think?
It was awesome. You always hear the jokes about Florida being full of geezers. While it may be true that the average population remembers parts of history I have only read about in books, “old” is not the adjective that always comes to mind when you meet people of advanced age. They’ve only acquired, amassed, learned, dreamed, engaged, borne, enjoyed, and shaken their booties longer than I have. They’ve earned grace. And there’s something about the generation (or two) before me that just simply… knows how to live. I’m in my head most of the time; they’re in their heart. I’m worried about what Sandra and Jennifer and Denise think of me… and they’re carrying on with a wild abandon that says, “Honey, I’m done with all of that. I’m just glad to be ME. I’m just glad to be HERE.”
Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve gotten this far–retirement in Florida–that brightens their eyes and invigorates their step. But maybe it’s also because these folks have gotten to the point in their lives where they say, “Screw it. I’m done pleasing everyone else. I’m done living by other people’s rules. Now is MY time.”
Saying Goodbye to Old Life and Saying Yes to a Better Way
So my “Senior Moment” is the feeling that I’m somehow missing the lesson that all of these older people have learned already. They seem to feel free to be themselves, to soak up life, and to leave the old ways behind. Some people I meet have sold most everything, stashed the family photos, and now spend their time doing things they love to do. The biggest aha! part of this Moment in my life is that age doesn’t matter as much as the kind of thinking you’re willing to do. You can be a burned-out 30-year-old who is deteriorating. Or you can be a buoyant 70-year-old who is aflame. You’re only as young as you feel.
Mind you, some of the “oldsters” down here aren’t old at all. But here’s a group that said goodbye to their former life and started fresh near the palm trees. Maybe it was the cold northern weather that perpetually chapped their hands and tightened their chests; maybe it was the pace of east coast living where stress was on the menu every meal of the day. Or it could be that they simply wanted the beach and sunshine and to be close to the activities they love. Whatever it was, there’s a pretty good handful of people from New York, New Jersey, New England, Pennsylvania, Michigan, even Canada and England, who name themselves as the artist formerly known as Stress Puppy but now boast that they “live where other people vacation.” Many people have a new life down here. A new job, or even volunteer job (one where they can wear flip flops and the sun shines on them most days). A new house (where outside living is the norm). A new set of rituals (which often means rising with the sun and drinking coffee to the sound of chirping birds all year long). Some come down for the whole year; some only come for a few months. But, however long they’re here, they’re here with a smile on their face.
There’s the couple from Maine (guy was a commercial fisherman in former life) who sells lobsters and other seafood using their connections back north. There’s the couple from Michigan who downsized their larger house in the snowy climate for a smaller house with a dock–and a sailboat–here in Florida so they can sail down to the Caribbean whenever they fancy. There are artists and chefs and writers galore. Business owners and yoga instructors and real estate experts, too. They’re not rich people. They’re not people who achieved the highest social or material success in life. They’re just regular people who said yes to a better way. Who said yes to the way that best suited them.
Do What You Love, and Do It Often
The difference is subtle. And maybe you have to look to see it. A slight upturn in the face, a bounce in the step, or even a way of holding the shoulders back to the warmth of the day. There’s an aura of people letting go here, not only of their old life, but of old fears and tribal beliefs that don’t suit them anymore. Grace, freedom, and relief glow from their eyes. There’s a feeling of giddiness that they escaped (especially when a big snow storm hits up north) that you can’t miss.
Of course Florida is not a paradise. This area of Florida, at least, has crazy traffic, too much retail, and a growing population of young people who wear their hats sideways and can’t make eye contact with adults. Your skin suffers in Florida if you don’t watch out, and the summer months are a humid hell.
But if you wake up in the morning in a little town like Englewood, a forgotten little place on the Gulf of Mexico… if you listen closely to the sounds of life… and inhale deeply the smells coming in your wide-open window… and close your eyes on the particular aura of this place… you’ll feel what I’ve felt. It’s a place people come for a reason. They come with purpose. They come, after having done all manner of other things they didn’t want to do, to finally relax and enjoy life. They come to soak the sun into their bones and let their toes breathe in sandals. They come because they always wanted to do it, and then they finally just bit the bullet and did. They didn’t come because they were done living. No, they came because they are the kind of people who have long understood how to follow their hearts in order to live their best life possible.
So the next time you think of Florida as “God’s waiting room,” think again. People here aren’t so old that they’re dying. No baby, people here are just old enough to know how to LIVE.