Perched on the back of her painting kit, feet propped on a pine snag, Cecilia Chang sat eating a sandwich. “I bet I’m the oldest student you’ve ever had,” she said.
I thought about it. “I bet you’re probably right,” I answered.
Cecilia is 72. Her husband, Tamin, is also with us. He is 75. Both are retired research scientists from Rochester, NY. Whether exercising your brain makes you age more slowly, I cannot say, but they are both exceptionally strong and limber. It has been impossible for me to stop them from climbing up and down the steep rocks on the Schoodic Peninsula. I’ve been worried.
Finally, I resorted to out-and-out lying. “I don’t mean to insult you, Grandfather,” I told Tamin, “but you cannot go down on those rocks in open-toed sandals. They are very dangerous. You will fall between the rocks and drown and I will never be allowed to teach in a National Park again.”
“We must respect Teacher and do as she says,” said Cecilia, equally straight-faced. Tamin, being a very courtly gentleman, acquiesced.
I’ve been contemplating the miracle of long marriages recently. Occasionally I’ll see an older couple together, walking with obvious solicitude toward each other. That devotion and mutual support seems to me to be as precious as a newborn baby. Young love is, in a way, simple. It’s out of our control. Old love is a different kind of simple. The raw edges have been scraped away, leaving only the essence of affection. It’s a pity that so few people these days make it that far.
Cecilia took up painting when she retired. “I walk every day,” she told me. “Maybe if I painted every day, I’d be a better artist. But exercise is the reason I look 27 instead of 72.”
Some years I have more enrollees than I can handle. This year we have a very small group. I take a long view about these things. Instead of struggling to fix the problem, I wait to see why it happened. (That’s one of the joys of self-employment.) One of the reasons, I now know, is that I’ve gotten to know the participants this year in a way that’s not usually possible.
As we took our break, Cecilia started talking about her childhood in Taiwan. She told us how she visited a cathedral and felt a great sense of peace. The Holy Spirit drew her back, over and over, even when her father forbade her to be baptized.
There was someone in our group who needed to hear that powerful testimony, and some of us who were meant to be witnesses to the event. From the time I put together this year’s workshop last fall, heavenly wheels have turned within wheels. They brought this particular group of people together for a few galvanizing minutes on the rocks above Frenchman Bay.
Dinner was on the deck of the Schoodic Institute Commons. I was fidgeting because I needed another 2000 steps to stay on track to defeat my son-in-law in this week’s Fitbit challenge. The youngsters in our group wanted to check messages or go shower. Only Cecilia and Tamin were willing to walk with me. We set off down a trail that dropped back down to Frenchman Bay. A pale peach sun hung low in a milky sky above the gentle lapping of the waves.
Now, seriously, how can you not be in awe of this life?