The Luck of the Agedby Jon Schwartz January 2, 2015
It was a hot summer day, nearing 100 degrees, when Dora Tuchin and I went to lunch at D.Z. Akin’s. We were there at the peak of the lunch rush and there was no parking to be found. Cars were lined up in all directions. I came to the conclusion that it would be best for me to drop Dora off at the front entrance and then I would find a spot on the street down the road. When I told Dora, who is 103 years old, my idea, she was not ready to give up on finding a spot together.
She said, “Honey, keep driving around, we’ll find one, I’m good luck.”
I appeased her but in my head thought the effort would be fruitless. As I made the loop, I was amazed to see an open spot! I couldn’t believe it. Was I overheated and in a daze or did a parking spot really appear within 30 seconds of our last go-around? The parking spot seemed large and so perfect; I could have fit two of my cars in it. We pulled in and I looked over at Dora and she gave me a big smile.
When setting up the time with Dora, I was expecting to talk mostly about her community-building efforts in our San Diego Jewish world. However, halfway through our lunch, I realized that our conversation went deeper than her years of hard work. I was blown away and inspired by her attitude. At 103, she has faced hardships, loss, aches, pains and other maladies that are especially common with age. However, she maintains the most incredible sense of hopefulness and confidence about the future.
She is an eternal optimist with flowing phrases like: “I have had the most wonderful life,” “We all have bad days, tomorrow is a new opportunity,” and my favorite, “Honey, tell me about you?” She is genuinely interested in learning about the people with whom she engages in conversation. Clearly, she is a local celebrity at D.Z. Akin’s, as many people were coming up to our table to say hello. Even as her fans said hi, she made me feel as though I was the only person in the room.
I share this story because it’s nice to highlight one of the most remarkable people I’ve met in my life, but also to explore the importance of optimism and resiliency, especially as we age. Research shows that optimistic people, compared with more pessimistic people, report less pain, have better physical functioning, experience fewer symptoms of disease/illness and even are less likely to be rehospitalized following coronary artery bypass surgery. These findings have been retested in multiple reliable studies and published in credible journals in medicine, gerontology, psychology, and more. What if some industrious pharmaceutical company could develop a pill that mimicked optimism? Supposing there are no harmful side effects, I’d venture to guess that the company would rake in billions from such an endeavor. Or maybe if we all learned to see the glass as half full, we could harness the power of optimism all on our own.
I don’t exactly think that Dora’s optimism is what made a parking spot open up in the D.Z. Akin’s lot that day, but I don’t think it hurt our chances either. I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to find that optimism as often as possible. In so doing, we will create greater resiliency for the next challenge that comes our way. Dora and her 103 years can be an example to us all.