March 2002
Vol. 2 No. 10


Shirley, 64, was on her way to fix her friend's computer when I bumped into her at the gym the other day. She wanted to be sure they'd be able to communicate over the next few months while Shirley was out of the country on a sailing sabbatical. Then they were going to enjoy a friendly workout together before Shirley headed out to sea the next day. By the way, their workout this time was the game of Scrabble -- and Shirley's pal is Ceila, 96.

For those who might be wondering what a 64 and 96-year old would have in common to develop such a strong friendship, take a look at some of your own treasured friends and ask yourself whether age ever comes into the equation when making friendship choices. Hopefully your answer is no -- and frankly, research has shown that there are actually benefits of having both older and younger friends -- so here we are again asking our familiar question, what's age got to do with it?

Shirley told me about Ceila several times over the past few years, and I'd always said I'd wanted to meet her. And now after my initial meeting and observance of their special relationship, I can see why the two have stayed connected...and will continue to do so over the next few months eventhough Shirley will be many miles away.

"She stimulates me," Shirley claimed of Ceila. "She's engaging -- bright, interesting, witty, funny, and one heckuva Scrabble player -- she beats me routinely and I swear I really am trying to win!" Shirley laughed.

Their relationship started as a professional one, over seven years ago, when Shirley started teaching a strength training exercise class at the retirement community where Ceila lives. I can remember Shirley telling me countless times that I had to stop by to see her class and particularly one of her best students who was 96-years young. Although the workout component is an essential part of any exercise class, most participants will tell you that equally important is the social element -- meeting new people, making friends, and genuinely caring about each other -- celebrating the good and supporting the challenges each face in their lives.

Shirley and Ceila's story is no different. Although it's been almost two years since Shirely has taught there, their friendship has grown ever stronger, eventhough they no longer have their exercise workout in common. As is typical with many new friendships, Shirley and Ceila met by having one thing in common, yet over time they discovered they actually shared many other interests which have contributed to the special relationship they both now cherish.

"Shirley is such a giving person," Ceila shared. "She cares so much about people and she's truly a joy to be around. I learn alot from Shirley."

On this recent visit, it was as much about spending some special time together before Shirely set sail for six months, as it was about making sure she reconfigurated Ceila's computer so the two could stay connected via email. Apparently during their last visit, Shirley inadvertently discombooberated something and Ceila was anxious to get her computer back in working order. Imagine that, a 96-year young recognizing that something was amiss with her system -- and equally impressive, a 64-year young friend who can fix it!

When we arrived, Ceila was already challenging herself with the newspaper's daily "Word Jumble" and quickly recruited Shirley and me to assist her with one that was way beyond both our capabilities. We all sat and played with it for a bit before finally giving up after Ceila chimed in, "Well, we'll just have to wait to learn until tommorw's paper gives us the answer!"

After a brief chat about the country's current events, including a quick review of the Sunday New York Times, which Shirley brings to Ceila each week, it was on to tackle the Macintosh. Although Ceila says she doesn't go on-line that much, she does use her computer to correspond with her neice in France, as well as other family and friends from around the globe.

"Having friends and people to communicate with is one of the most important things in life," Ceila shared. "But as you get older, it seems more difficult to keep in contact with people. The telephone becomes a challenge as the hearing dissipates, writing gets a bit tricky to do and read, and even the computer can be a bit overwhelming to learn initially. But even with my fading eyesight, I can still see the screen's large print and the stimulation it provides is well worth the effort."

Stimulation is a key element to aging well and is undoubtedly another reason why this ageless friendship works. Although we all recognize the importance of stimulation, the challenge often lies in finding others who share the same interests.

"It seems harder to make friends later in life," Ceila said. "But loneliness is even worse -- at any age. We get all caught up in our own routines and just don't realize how much more enjoyable life can be when it's shared with other people. Friendships take time to develop. They evolve over time -- which can actually be a wonderful journey if people would just give it a chance."

Although Ceila and Shirley have developed a mutually beneficial friendship that has expanded beyond their initial meeting in exercise class, it was that one common link that began a chain reaction which has now evolved into something beyond either one of their expectations.

"It feels more like peers -- not a generational gap," Shirley said. "And the wisdom this woman shares -- that frankly, can only come with age, is probably what I love most."

Although both admit they've always been interested in people -- and are probably happiest when they're around people to share, laugh and be with, get out of the way when that Scrabble game comes out because no one stands a chance when these two battle the board!

Kelly Ferrin is a local gerontologist residing in Carlsbad. She is a certified
AARP retirement specialist, motivational speaker, consultant, and author of a
nationally released book titled, "What's Age Got To Do With It?" For column
ideas contact her at (760)438-2126 or on the internet at
Kelly Ferrin, Gerontologist Lifestyles (760)438-2126

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