Dinner With the Ladies

September 28, 2010

Recently while in another city for a medical conference, I had a rare opportunity to dine with five women who are between 90 and 94 years old. While they’ve had health issues, they are all doing pretty well. It was an inspiring dinner on so many levels.

Recently while in another city for a medical conference, I had a rare opportunity to dine with five women who are between 90 and 94 years old. Two were my husband’s grandmothers and the other three were their friends. All continue to live independently in their own homes. All continue to play bridge and mah jong regularly. One even plays tennis. While they’ve had health issues, they are all doing pretty well. It was an inspiring dinner on so many levels.

As a physician with a growing geriatric practice, I would wish these ladies’ experiences for all of my patients - continued vitality, health, and enjoyment of life into their tenth decade. They are so fortunate to maintain a high degree of independence surrounded by friends they have known since grammar school. Their longevity likely owes itself to a number of factors including excellent genes, good fortune in life, and sound health behaviors.

However, I believe there are a few other factors that are equally important that our current society no longer values. As I mentioned, they have been friends for many, many decades. This social support is crucial for subtle and overt health benefits. They value something that is losing importance in our highly mobile, fast-paced world - friendship, time together with the sole purpose of enjoying each other, shared laughter, and a helping hand when life deals a crushing blow.

They also prioritize things that I have to admit I allow to settle somewhere at the bottom of my list. These women have found comfort in their role as wives, mothers, sisters, and friends without inordinate pressure to succeed professionally (in part because of limited opportunities to do so) or to do everything.

Around me I see exceptional women - physicians and other health professionals who are also wives, mothers, sisters, friends. In addition to fulfilling these roles in the best way they know how, they seek professional excellence, personal growth, and fulfillment, and do a whole lot of other things in addition - sit on school boards, run marathons, learn musical instruments or new languages, run committees. I wonder what is lost along the way. Perhaps, in this multitude of tasks we lose a focus on the joy of life - just sitting around the dinner table with friends, leisurely playing a game of bridge, tennis, mah jong, or Wii bowling.

I would count myself exceptionally fortunate to be sitting in a restaurant in 50 or 60 years, surrounded by friends I have known forever, simply enjoying the moment. However, that does not happen solely by accident or luck. In order to value it then, I would have to value those moments now. There are far too few in my super-busy, hyper-organized life that exudes efficiency and productivity, but which is frighteningly anemic on simple enjoyment.