July 2013 Archives

My mother-in-law - whom I call Mama-Jean - just turned 90 years old. She still drives - quite well, I might add. She can hold her own in a conversation about current events. She asked me to teach her how to do Sudoku - at age 88. She has more friends than I do and can work a room like the best of politicians. Getting onto her social calendar can be a challenge: between mah-jongg and acting lessons and bridge (in addition to all of the usual medical appointments and the daily routines of shopping and laundry) there is a full schedule to contend with. But - most importantly - Mama Jean is an optimist and full of gratitude for the blessings in her life. She is my role model for healthy psychological aging. She gave a speech at her 90th birthday party that Bill Clinton would envy. She is the epitome of the "healthy-minded" individual described by William James in his seminal work, The Varieties of Religious Experience.


William James is often thought of as the "father of American psychology." He combined his study of the human psyche with his optimistic philosophy of human religious experience in articulate discussions and writings. James felt that a connection with the Divine was separate from any given religion and free from any or all dogma. He believed that Walt Whitman, the poet laureate of the common American, embodied healthy-mindedness in his absolute enjoyment of the natural world and its wonders.  James was a firm believer in optimism and gratitude, long before the current "positive psychology" movement and 12-step programs. Mama Jean and James would have been fellow travelers had they met one another.


At this point in my life I hope I can walk and talk by the time I am 90 (if indeed I make it to 90!). Mama Jean's life so far exceeds these simple life tasks, even in the midst of her medical challenges and her widow status (my father-in-law passed away 20 years ago).  She could teach courses in optimism and gratitude - she does that anyway in her conversations with others, usually through Yiddish sayings and humor. I am blessed to know her - and she is even my mother-in-law to boot!


Thank you, Mama Jean, for being you.




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