Tuesday, June 3, 2014


The Keys To Longevity Alive and Well In America
How My Great-Grandfather Made It Past The Age of 100-years-old
And Is living to tell about it

Over the last weekend in the month of April 2014, I paid a visit to the celebrate a milestone birthday for my Great-Grandfather: fabled as the family's very own Uncle Babes, or Zink. As soon as I see him, we exchange smiles, cordials, and terms of endearment. And believe you me, I always pour my heart out each and every time I see him. After all, he's just over 100 years old. At this point, everyday is a celebration for us with him in our lives. But for him, no biggie. It's just another day: business as usual. If you ask him today how he's doing, he may say "Oh, the usual". He may even say something like, "Oh, you know. Nothing bad. Nothing good." Sometimes he has aches and gripes about his aging body: so he'll express that. The truly spiritual soul that he is, he will also say something like: "Well, you know. At this point, I'm just waiting. Waiting for the good Lord. Waiting for Him to call upon me." But get this: he's been saying these things pretty much since I was born. Over thirty years have past that I know him, and he always says the same things. Now, one may wonder: how can it be that he lives on so well amidst waiting to transition? How can it be that this wonder of a man continues to live and work and express himself in this world all while waiting for the good Lord to call his name? Plainly stated: how can he be ready to die, yet live even longer? Is there something he knows and understands that we don't? 

Most days he plods around with his walker. Sometimes he sneaks away from his walker to do household chores: yes chores. And when not doing chores, he's eating, sleeping, reading his bible, watching the news, or sitting in a quite room just staring through the window into the beauty of nature: possibly meditating. In this day and age, most people across the world don't live past the age of 87, according to a 2013 report from the World Health Organization. However, to live past the age of 100 is not as rare as you think. While there are about a 1.8 million people in the United States that make it past the age of 90, there are over 53,000 people within that group that make it past the age of 100, according to a U.S. Census Bureau 2010 report. That being said, Uncle Babes is somewhat of an anomaly. He is a part of a select group of people that have intuitively figured out the secrets to cultivating a long life. I mean I say secret, but is it really secret? I've asked him countless times over the years, "What's the secret Uncle Babes"? The soft spoken man that he is, he humbly replies with the same thing: "I just think of God. I'm just waiting until it is time to be with Him". Now, I realize that statement must mean something very unique to him. And I'm sure that statement probably means something very unique to everyone else in the world. But if you're not a religious person, it might not mean anything at all. But the point is, this idea of "thinking of God" has carried him preciously and gracefully over the years. I've always reflected and thought  deeply about this concept of thinking of God. What does it mean? And I wonder how that has played into his habits, routines, and behaviors? There must be something special about his state of mind that has allowed him to fall into the top 0.01 percentile of the population.

He would be much too humble to speak about some of his siblings. Some of them are indeed alive and well. In fact, he has a brother that is two years older than he. And the brother's wife (his sister-in-law) is 97. And, they all live within the same city here in the United States. Uncle Babes is also very lucky. He has a loving and devoted wife of 58 years: and he gives her a sweet kiss every single morning to remind her of such. Their love has not waned. She is definitely a beautiful, precious rock and anchor in the relationship. She is also about 20 years his junior: making her a 'baby of the bunch'. She does a majority of the household duties. His share of the duties include doing the dishes from time to time, closing up the garage, and pulling the shutters closed around the house. She also prepares all his meals. He eats the same things for breakfast all the time: an orange, a bowl of porridge, and one egg with toast. He may even incorporate a spot of tea, a cup of coffee, or a small cup of cranberry juice. He has been eating this sort of breakfast steadily for a very long time. Lunch and dinner will vary from time to time. It could be a small sandwich of sorts. It could be crackers and cheese with coffee. It could be anything that he's in the mood for: and the same goes for dinner. Uncle Babes does not have many diet restrictions. There are certain fruits and vegetables that he doesn't eat because they don't agree with his body. There are some foods he just doesn't like because the taste is repulsive to him: and believe you me, he will say it like it is when he doesn't like something. Old, sweet and loving, but he's got some mouth when he's ready. But I guess that's the beauty of it all, isn't it? He's honest. And while he eats mostly anything, he eats intuitively and honestly: and what is agreeable to him.

He doesn't have many needs or wants either. Aside from the occasional visit to the doctor's office for a check-up or for the party we had for him this past weekend, he doesn't do much. Family and friends alike will pop in to see him from time to time. They bring him little treats and gifts: and of course their sweet company. They talk about the past and relive memories of growing up. Uncle Babes has spent time in WWII fighting on the side of the British Royal Army. He has spent time in United Kingdom. He has spent time in Jamaica, W.I. He has spent time in New York City. He has spent time in Florida. So naturally, he has stories that run the gamut through all of these experiences: jobs, people, and interactions alike.  His memory is pretty sharp for the most part. These days he forgets certain things: like details and names of people from over 50 years ago. Now I know that sounds like it ought to be a likely occurrence when you get to be his age. But prior to a couple years ago, he could tell you the full names and backgrounds of some of the servicemen he toured with during the war days. He could tell you the names and backgrounds of all his girlfriends prior to marrying his wife. He could tell you the names and backgrounds of bosses and superiors alike. He could tell you stories upon stories for days. And forget it when he breaks out "the book": it is a photo album that he has which looks like it should be in a museum. He is an amazing storyteller.

So what have we learned from Uncle Babes? Is there anything truly special about his life? He would probably say no. But here are my observations from over the years:

A Human Computer
Now this is a man that thought the iPad was stupid the first time I showed it to him a few years back. Instead of using a computer to store all his information, he stored all his information in his brain. He kept a mental note of dates, records and stories. He was his own computer. By retelling the same stories over and over, he kept the information fresh. By looking at his photo album from time to time, he would recall certain people, places, experiences. So by using the information, he kept his brain sharp. By exercising the faculties of his brain by recalling memories, he maintained and continued to strengthen his internal database of information. He keeps his brain strong by challenging himself and reminding himself how amazingly powerful he is.

Healthy Habits 
He does the same things all the time. He doesn't try to deviate too much. Every now and again he will do something innovative: like move a cushion to a new place or eat something new or play with my stupid iPad. But for the most part, he is a man of routine and habit. He wakes up at the same time. He eats at the same time. He mouses around at the same time. He does his chores at the same time. He watches his programs at the same time. He gets ready for bed at the same time. He goes to bed at the same time. And then, the day begins again. His habits are his work. His habits and routines are his devoted activities. His habits and routines are his breath of life.

Longstanding Marriage
I've never been married. But I'm smart enough to know that every relationship is subject to challenges and obstacles. It's not that every relationship will experience challenges and obstacles, but it is indeed a possibility that these things may come up. The beautiful thing is that we have the choice as to with whom we want to experience these challenges and obstacles. We don't have to force ourselves to endure the ebbs and flows of a relationship with someone that we are not overall happy with: we always have a choice. And in this case, they have truly and lovingly chose each other.  There is passion.

Now all that being said, I cannot speak on the nature of their marriage over the course of the 58 years it has lasted. But I can speak on what I observe with my own eyes throughout the years. I see them kiss each other every morning. I see him ask her if she needs help. I see him telling her how beautiful her hair is. I see him doing chores without asking at times. I see her making all of his meals. I see her cleaning up behind him. I see her making his doctor's appointments and making sure he takes all his medication. I see her rubbing his feet to make sure he gets good circulation in his legs. I see him rubbing her feet because he knows she's on her feet all day. I see him read the bible while she listens. I see her allowing him the space to be by himself. I see him allowing her the space to be by herself.  There are lots of other things, but these are the things I feel have probably contributed to their longstanding marriage. And I highly doubt these are things that are recent. Like the rest of his life, they all seem like healthy habits. Also, I think it worth noting that he had lots of life experience and lots of girlfriends before he finally settled down and married his wife. He was probably in his forties. And it seems as though he was in no rush or pressure to make that decision. She was well worth the wait.

The Keys
Now, I wonder if he does everything while thinking of God, as mentioned earlier? I wonder if he is doing every single activity, habit and routine while actively aware of his waiting game with the Lord? Is he readily thinking of God in everything that he does? Is he readily thinking of death while living? What is his concept of death? Maybe for Uncle Babes, death does not exist. Maybe for Uncle Babes, his entire life is a patient wait at the bus stop: eagerly awaiting the Lord to bring His bus on through to pick him up. Maybe for Uncle Babes, life and death are one and the same: one cloth with two ends, one fabric with a left and a right. Maybe for Uncle Babes, the sky above and the ground below are living expressions of the Lord, and he is waiting for his command and direction. Maybe for Uncle Babes, his life is filled with a happy balance: nothing bad, nothing good.

Maybe for Uncle Babes, the secret key to longevity is his love, devotion, and passion for all things...

Whatever it is, he seems alive and well.

Happy Birthday Uncle Babes.
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