The year 2022 has ended amidst health concerns, high food and gas prices, the border crisis, quarreling by politicians, and the list goes on. We are confronted with uncertainties.
Now we are faced with the new year of 2023 to start again, to do it better, make it better, and a chance to face the future with more unity and purpose.
Happiness and gratitude are choices we all make. Even though there will be bad times and some terrible times, we will also have good moments and maybe even spectacular moments. The way we look at things, our attitudes, and the choices we make can be the difference between victory and defeat.
I celebrated a birthday at the very end of December. Along with that comes the facts that can’t be denied. We may look young, but the reminders from our bodies tell us that our knees hurt, we may not have the endurance we used to, we may forget names and events that happened in our past, and a little nap in the afternoon seems like a good thing.
About a month ago I watched a TV program where a reporter was interviewing people on the street. One woman he approached gave her age as 59, and he asked her how she felt being that old. She laughed and said it was the best time of her life, that she didn’t feel old, her children were grown and on their own, and she was free from keeping up with the latest fashions, hairstyles, vacation destinations, etc. Just listening to her made me feel happy. She was grateful for every moment she had.
I recently attended a memorial service for a man who savored life. He enjoyed his relationship with God, his family, and appreciated the employment opportunities he had received during his lifetime. He was very organized and at some point had written what he wanted for his memorial service when that time should come. He was gifted musically and wanted his service to be one that showed his love of songs and Bible verses. He was not diagnosed with a fatal illness, but he died suddenly one day. It was unexpected. His family made sure that he received his final wish. At the service, we sang some of his favorite songs. Family and friends shared stories that made us laugh and brought tears to his family’s eyes. It was one of the most uplifting services I have ever attended. He believed that death was a beginning and not an ending. How grateful he was to have a belief like that.
In December 2022 I learned about a woman who, at the age of 90, graduated with a Bachelor of General Studies degree from Northern Illinois University. Joyce DeFauw started attending the university in 1951. However, she fell in love, left school, and married. The couple had three children and at some point, her husband passed away. She eventually married again and had six more children. Today DeFauw has 17 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren. But 2019 brought a change to her life when she expressed her desire to go back and finish her education. DeFauw enrolled at the same university. She bought her first computer, a family member showed her how to use it, and she was on her way. We were just about at the point when COVID started, and she couldn’t attend school in person. But DeFauw already had her computer and e-mail set up and ready. In an article written by Sara Smart dated December 11, 2022, DeFauw stated she was “thankful she had the opportunity to get to go back to school and get her degree. It’s nice to finish something you started.” Her advice was “Don’t give up. I know it can be difficult, but everything in life has its ups and downs.” She was grateful for her chance to complete something she had started many years ago.
I came across a story about Jonathan, a Seychelles Giant Tortoise, who celebrated his 190th birthday. It was so interesting I had to share it. He lives on the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. Jonathan’s breed normally lives to approximately 150 years old. He was delivered as a gift to the governor of Saint Helena when he was about 50 years old. In an article by Peter Aitken published Dec. 3, 2022, Aitken wrote, “… he [Jonathan] outlived both World Wars. He is older than the first photograph and has lived through the administrations of 39 U.S. presidents.” Also happening during his lifetime was the first phone call in 1876 and the first people to walk on the moon in 1969.
It is estimated that he was born in 1832. Therefore, he was given the date of Dec. 4, 1832 as his birthday even though the exact date is not known. Some scientists believe he could be even older. Locals consider him a celebrity, and he has been the subject of many photographs by visitors to the island over the years. His picture is also on the back of a Saint Helena five-pence coin. Residents honored him with three days of birthday celebrations. Aitken wrote, “Scientists have even studied Jonathan to determine what health benefits they might glean from his diet and his cells. Because his cells do not mutate the same way the cells of humans do, scientists hope he could reveal some secret to fighting cancer in humans.”
Jonathan has three other giant tortoise friends living with him: Emma and David, both 54 years old who arrived in 1969, and Fredrika, 31 years old who arrived in 1991. Jonathan has been named the oldest-known land animal alive, and Guiness World Records has declared him the world’s oldest chelonian (this includes categories of tortoises, turtles, and terrapins). In an article by Rachel Treisman dated Dec. 7, 2022, she wrote “Jonathan is blind and has no sense of smell, but his hearing is great and he loves the company of humans … favorite foods include cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, apples, bananas, and lettuce hearts.” Jonathan makes his way slowly through life and does not understand his celebrity, but the people around him spoil him, watch out for him, and are grateful for the life they see in front of them. Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn about all of the things that have happened during Jonathan’s lifetime?
Life is a journey. Perhaps we should learn to be happy whatever our age may be. We do not get to choose the length of our lives. What we do with it is up to us.