Nineteen young men died in Prescott, Arizona while fighting a forest fire. Nineteen young men, who thought they had a long life ahead of them. Nineteen young men, who lived dangerously as they performed a job they loved. They will never grow old. They will never see their children graduate from high school. They will never hold a grandchild. But they lived each day to the fullest — making plans for the future — experiencing love, friendship, and fellowship with others who had the same dreams and goals.
I am more fortunate than these 19 young men. I did grow old. I’ve seen my children graduate from high school and held my grandchildren and I’ve tried to live each day as if it were my last. I had breakfast this morning with a fairly new friend. Mary is 84 and I love hearing her stories of rural life in Kansas and Oklahoma. Stories of the dust bowl. Stories of traveling with her young husband in a 24″ trailer from one job to another every few weeks or months with the railroad. Stories and more stories.
There was a story posted on Facebook today that you may have seen before as I’m sure it must have made the rounds But it reminds me of Mary and it reminds me of why I’m still doing what I love to do as I approach my 73rd birthday.
An 87-Year-Old College Student Named Rose
The first day of school our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn’t already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder. I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being.
She said, “Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I’m 87-years-old. Can I give you a hug?”
I laughed and enthusiastically responded, “Of course you may!” and she gave me a giant squeeze.
“Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?” I asked.
She jokingly replied, “I’m here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids.”
“No seriously,” I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age.
“I always dreamed of having a college education and now I’m getting one!” she told me.
After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake. We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months, we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this “time machine” as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.
Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up. At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet. I’ll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor.
Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, “I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I’ll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.”
As we laughed she cleared her throat and began, “We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing.
There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You’ve got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die.
We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it! There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up.
If you are 19-years-old and lie in bed for one full year and don’t do one productive thing, you will turn 20-years-old. If I am 87-years-old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn 88.
Anybody can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets.
The elderly usually don’t have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.”
She concluded her speech by courageously singing “The Rose.”
She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives.
At the year’s end Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those years ago. One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep.
Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it’s never too late to be all you can possibly be. When you finish reading this, please send this peaceful word of advice to your friends and family, they’ll really enjoy it!
These words have been passed along in loving memory of ROSE.
REMEMBER, GROWING OLDER IS MANDATORY. GROWING UP IS OPTIONAL.
We make a Living by what we get, We make a Life by what we give.