Meet Margaret Barner Trachta, who just celebrated her 104th birthday. She is my mother-in-love, as I prefer to call that relationship. She has had an amazing life. And though she's limited, she's still luminous at 104.
And so I wonder, if you were to live that long, is there a way to predict how you'd be?
Margaret grew up in Plentywood, Montana on a wheat farm, and then taught in the one-room schoolhouse there. That tells you something about the self-reliance and practicality that are woven into her nature.
When she fell in love with Stanley Trachta, he was headed into the military, so she waited--engaged for four years. That tells you something about how she knows what she wants and is willing to wait for it.
She and Stan were stationed in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. There are many stories about Stan, of course, but one about Margaret is that she took her baby daughter, Mary and hid in the sugar cane fields in case there was to be an invasion by land. The woman is brave. And resourceful.
Stan was a career Marine, so they moved every year. Marg had to pack everything up and move her two children into new schools. She is an incredibly hard worker. When they settled in Tucson and bought the Rocking X Ranch (which we own today), they turned it into a summer camp. Marg also worked for the Girl Scouts. She has always given to children. And never was afraid to chase a bear out of the front yard, banging on a frying pan.
Fast forward to her 100th birthday. She was healthy then, and planned a party for over 100 of her friends (all younger than she, of course.) Dressed in a snazzy new suit and sparkly earrings, she worked the room, greeting everyone by name. She always had an incredible warmth, and everyone who knows her loves her.
Marg had a stroke the next year, and so life is limited now. She can't communicate well, except non-verbally. She gazes into your eyes and smiles; I try not to break the stare. She makes her wants known, and has a temper. Her devoted daughter Mary, who takes care of her at home (with lots of help, of course) has to maintain a sense of humor. Her adult grandchildren (along with her great grandchildren) come to visit. On her birthday, she was surrounded by flowers.
Of course the brain and body change at this advanced age, but I think the fundamental qualities that she polished and strengthened during the last 104 years are still intact. She's still self-reliant, even while being dependent on others. She still knows what she wants and will stubbornly wait for it. She is still brave. And still, in her way, resourceful. She still loves children and is excited when they come to visit. She still has an incredible warmth, and all her caretakers and fans love her.
Clearly, what we love now is not what she does, because she can't do much. We love what she is. We love her spirit.
Don't you hope that however many years you'll be alive, you'll still exhibit the spirit, the qualities that you're working so hard to develop now? After all, it is that spirit that still lingers like a perfume, even after our loved ones leave their bodies and move on. It's what we are. It's our essence. I think that's really about all we need to remember.