9 Life Lessons From My 90-Year-OId Friend

Intergenerational friendships

He’s 90. I’m 32. We’re friends.

I met Arthur six years ago, thanks to an online ad.

A community-based nonprofit called DOROT — meaning “generations” in Hebrew — was looking for volunteers to visit older New Yorkers, many of whom couldn’t easily leave their homes. The commitment was once a week for an hour. Knowing how much my Pop Pop loved (and needed) company, I signed on.

Little did I know that the decision would change my life. DOROT paired me with Arthur, and we hit it off right away.

“Laura, dawling,” he says in his Brooklyn accent when I FaceTime now from Thailand, where I’m completing my master’s in gerontology. “I miss you.”

I miss him, too, and I tell him that. He’s with me, though — as good friends always are.

Over our six-year friendship, his humor, wit and approach to living has taught me more than I can put into words. But, in honor of Older Americans Month, I’ll try.

Intergenerational friendships

Stopping for ice cream.

1. Go outside. There’s nothing better than fresh air — except maybe soft-serve ice cream and fresh air combined.

2. Change your mind. Arthur, once an English professor and Broadway regular, loves the theater. Or, he used to. Lately he says he doesn’t go to shows anymore. (It might be related to dementia.) At first, I fought him on it, but why? Because that’s who I think he is? People change, at all ages, and there’s freedom in that.

3. Look up and around. When we did go to the theater together, Arthur’s favorite part was simply being there, watching people as they passed and admiring the ornate ceilings, moldings and light fixtures. It really is true, that line from As You Like It: All the world’s a stage.

4. Sample everything. Cheese, olives, cider, sourdough pretzels … When we were hitting the farmers market near Arthur’s Manhattan apartment, you’d better believe we were trying all these things.

5. Send real mail. For Arthur, opening the mail is an event in an oftentimes uneventful day. Knowing this reminds me to pop postcards in the mail as often as I can, to him and to my other friends.

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6. Most problems are make-believe. In response to the dramatic stories I share — bad dates, office dilemmas, other “disasters” — Arthur typically shrugs his shoulders (“Who cayuhs?”) or laughs out loud. Yep, not a big deal, these seemingly big deals.

7. Live in a gallery. Every inch of Arthur’s apartment is filled with art — paintings by a former student, prints from his travels, black-and-white portraits of family. Why not add inspiration to every wall?

8. Roll with it. On our strolls, the sidewalks are often bumpy, making them tricky to navigate with the wheelchair. I get frustrated. (“Where do our tax dollars go?!”) Arthur isn’t bothered by the bumps, though — just by my attitude. We can all be advocates for age-friendly communities, but when you’re out enjoying the day, it’s better to let it go.

9. Sing. And when you don’t know the words, just keep going.

Photos: Briana E. Heard

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