When a dear friend fell last month and crushed her hip, I was on my way out of town — escaping the summer heat and all ready for a "Calgon, take me away" weekend. But hearing the news stopped me in my tracks. My car made a beeline to the hospital, and as they prepped her for surgery, we sat visiting, exchanging the "how can this be happening?" kind of conversation that occurs between friends at unexpected moments.
Reassuring her that modern medicine would put her back together again in no time flat, I exited the hospital, visibly shaken and stirred, realizing our generation of baby boomers is now entering the Twilight Zone – or shall I say, twilight years. None of us is 37 anymore.
So here we are — the generation born between 1946 and 1964. We're projected to live longer but because of unruly lifestyles and a world gone viral, many of us, experts say, are doomed. Despite being better educated and more savvy when it comes to health matters, we'll likely face more sickness (heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and the "c" word) in these coming years than generations before us.
I'll attest to that. It's been an eye-opening summer. A string of friends and loved ones have fallen on hard times, suffering some really serious stuff in the life department. One is up at Stanford, another at Community Regional Medical Center in the rehab unit, while yet another awaits the prospect of a new liver. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I'll stop here to avoid massive reader depression and simply sum things up: life is fragile — handle with care.
Sadly, few of us know what's really going on behind the velvet curtain in other peoples' lives — on the flip side of the happy Facebook posts — the struggles, financial woes, the push and pulls. Grim news headlines don't help either. Airplane disasters left and right, children abandoned at the borders, parents leaving kids in hot cars. Human drama at every intersection. It's enough to make you sick.
Last week I received an anonymous article in the mail titled: "Keys to Longevity: Five things the Greeks can teach us about aging well." A few decades ago I might have tossed it in the garbage, but instead, I put on my readers and dove in with anticipation. I've always liked the Greeks, notably my former boss, Peter Mehas, and Kopi Sotiropulos, everyone's friend and favorite television personality. And besides, some of the wisest minds who ever lived were Greek — Socrates, Plato, Aristotle.
Reading with enthusiasm, I learned about Ikaria, a small Greek island, dubbed a "blue zone," one of the few places in the world where people lead healthy, active lives past the age of 100. Sign me up, I thought to myself, riveted to learn that people living on this island are also far less likely to develop Alzheimer's or depression. Not too shabby since there are many days when I can't remember what I've eaten for breakfast, where I've left my car keys, or gotten out of bed with a case of the blues or blahs — sometimes both.
I nodded in agreement through the entire article, enchanted by their no-longer-secret secrets: They know how to break from the stresses of daily life. As with many countries with hot climates, they stop midday to take a quick, restorative nap. Imagine a 20-minute power snooze on these scalding Fresno days. They drink to their health. I'm not talking ouzo, although a shot now and then should have probably been added to the list. Their staple beverages are Greek coffee and mountain tea, made from native herbs like sage, mint and rosemary.
I'm not sure if this next tip will make it past my editors, but the old folks on this island also seem to enjoy a good romp in the hay. Apparently there are anti-aging benefits to sex — it boosts the immune systems and reduces stress. And here's one that will make it past any editor: The Greek diet is heart-healthy. Fresh olive oil, mixed vegetables, Greek yogurt with honey. And finally, their last secret: Family is everything. This one, by far, was my favorite piece of anti-aging wisdom. In Ikaria, it's almost impossible to be alone and lonely-hearted. Neighbors visit neighbors, and the old stay with family rather than move into assisted living facilities or rest homes. Everyone takes care of each other.
We're all getting older. You. Me. Even our favorite celebrities whose birthdays and ages appear in the daily news. Shocking, I know. So what do we do? Move to Ikaria? Or make the most of it? Eat healthy. Laugh more. Celebrate life with family and friends every chance we get. Maybe showing up at St. George's Greek Festival later this month (Aug. 22-24) wouldn't be a bad idea, either. We can all reap the benefits that come from dancing under the stars on a moonlit summer night, Greek-style eating, and embracing our inner "Opa!"
I'll drink to that.