Connect (verb) 1. to join, link, or fasten together; to unite or bind
--Random House Dictionary
“Just how did you get to be 100 years old?”
That was the question my centenarian grandfather, Armand Bolduc, was asked over and over again in the weeks leading up to his 100th birthday, which my family celebrated last Saturday. To get to place 100 candles on your cake is very, very rare, even in these days of amazing medical technology and increasing life spans. Of those who were born in the first decades of the last century, 99 percent of them are now gone. Only one percent made it all the way to triple digits. By getting to ten decades, Grandpa has beaten the odds and then some.
So what is his secret, the secret to a long life? A quick search on Amazon.com turned up 4,844 titles on longevity, touting everything from drinking red wine daily (bottoms up!) to special diets, even caloric restriction (think rice cakes). You could move to Okinawa, an island off the coast of Japan, where more 100 year olds live than in any other place else on earth. Closer to home, there’s Loma Linda, California, the United States’ capital of longevity. Maybe living long is all about what zip code you call home.
There’s genetics, the pre-configured construct of our genes but we have no control over this. That’s out our hands and yes, I’m hoping I’ve got Grandpa’s DNA, but who knows? Taking good care of your body—a no brainer. Eating well. Exercising. Not smoking. Drinking (if at all) in moderation. Having access to good health care. Some studies have shown that having faith in God or a higher power helps us to live longer.
But in witnessing my Grandfather’s life now for 53 years and seeing the longevity of so many folks I’ve served as pastor (I once did a funeral for a 106 year old woman!) I think I finally found the fountain of youth, the key to living a good, long life. The “secret”.
It came to me as I watched a slide show my brother assembled with images of Grandpa’s life, from 1913 to 2013. Save for a few formal photos where Grandpa stood alone, in every single other image, he is always with other people. Always connected in relationships, loved and loving others too.
In a sepia toned photo from his Canadian boyhood, the family out for a canoe ride, Grandpa squeezed into the boat with his Dad and siblings. Crouching down with my grandmother next to my toddler Mom squeezed into a high chair, new parents smiling proudly. Standing on a windswept Florida beach with his brother, spitting images of each other. Grandpa as groom at his second wedding after losing his first wife to early death. He found love again at 72. Beaming as an 82 year old great-grandfather holding his first great grandchild in his arms, generation to generation. So many photos of him: with friends, and cousins and neighbors and people and loved ones.
In the book, “Younger Next Year” by Doctor Henry Lodge and his 79 year old patient Chris Crowley, they argue that long life depends on three truths humans can control. Nutrition, exercise and most important, in my view, connection. As Crowley writes, “We are hard wired to be deeply connected to – and caring about – one another. We get isolated at our peril....We are built to work and live in close connection….to care deeply about one another. Get isolated and you will literally get sick….A guy who has a heart attack and goes home to an empty house is four times as likely to have a second heart attack and die, as a man who goes home to a family….We are not built for being alone.”
So want to live to be 100? Stay connected. Be connected to others in a multiplicity of relationships. Family. Volunteering. Faith communities. Sports teams. Book clubs. Sewing circles. High school friends. A choir. Your neighbors. Anywhere with anyone who gets you outside of yourself and reminds you that you are made by God in this life not to be solo but instead to be together.
Such advice might seem obvious yet the truth is that much in modern life does its best to disconnect us from giving connections. We’re more connected than ever before in human history—500 million Facebook users can’t be wrong, right? Yet status updates and newsfeeds are no substitute for a face to face cup of coffee and conversation with an old friend. In person. Not on a screen. We’re more economically prosperous than ever before yet: if all this endless work to accumulate all this stuff takes away precious time to be connected with others—is all that frantic striving really worth it?
So happy birthday Grandpa, and to all whose longevity and “joie de vivre” inspires us “youngsters” to keep on keeping on. You’ve made it this far in lives filled to overflowing with relationships and with simple human love.
Connected. Connecting. That’s a life lesson we all need to learn.