Mom & Cher
In 1999, I graduated from residency, and at the time, ‘Believe’ was topping the pop charts at No. 1. A 50-year old Cher had re-invented herself and her music to take center stage once again when most other entertainers her age, and most people in general, start thinking about retirement.
‘Believe’ went on to become a US Platinum Single and re-ignited yet another era of her illustrious career.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2017 in the Monte Carlo Casino & Resort in Las Vegas, that same Cher, now 71-years old, was asking the audience “What is your granny doing tonight?”, before turning on her 3” heels to begin her 2-hour ‘Classic Cher’ performance concert...one of three each week!
This was not a half-ass show. Cher strutted, danced, joked, and belted out her greatest hits (and outfits) with the confidence of her younger years—completely owning the stage and the audience, with only momentary glimpses of her true age.
But, what stood out to me during that night’s concert was the crowd. At least 60 percent of the audience was her age. And, I wondered how each them felt as they reminisced and relived the memories and moments in their lives that each song evoked. Moreover, as most of them sat there...some in wheel chairs, others with canes and grey hair, wobbling to the music, I couldn’t help but imagine what must be going through their minds.
Did they feel embarrassed that she was defying age? Did they wish they had done things differently or wonder what they could have been?
I certainly do not know the details of Cher’s life, but it hasn’t been easy on many levels. Sure, she has had wealth and fame (and probably some cosmetic surgery along the way); but, she talked about taking care of herself physically and reported a personal best earlier that morning of holding a plank for 5 minutes--go ahead and try that right now!
Additional research into Cher's background uncovered that she consciously abstained from alcohol, drugs, and tobacco after observing the effects in her biological father; and, avoided negative people while forgiving those who had hurt her financially and emotionally over the years. During the concert she briefly touched on following her dreams despite the brutal criticisms endured for not being classically trained as a singer or actress. Eventually she would be validated as one of only two women to top the charts with a No. 1 single and win an Oscar for her role in 'Moonstruck'. Ironically, that other woman is Barbara Streisand--the industry's quintessential diva in all respects.
Watching the concert, you cannot deny that a body like that, which functions like that, which can maintain near 90% of her voice like that is a deliberate and conscious effort to live life fully and with the recognition that you can only be active if your body and mind have been well-cared for.
On a more personal level, I look at my mom who is 86 years old and still turns heads. Mom was certainly blessed with a timeless, vintage beauty akin to Rita Hayworth while her younger sister, Shelly, looked like Grace Kelly. In fact, all seven of her sisters were stunning in their own way—highschool must have bliss for them, being the ever-popular Koehl sisters from Akron, Ohio—but, over the years, a substantial difference existed between those who grew old in mind, body, and habits and my mom who to this days lives independently, walks regularly, and remains active in her community. Just a week ago, she orchestrated the Christmas Eve dinner for 9 people making 2.5 trays of cannelloni from scratch.
Why do some people age better than others? On the one hand, there is the natural process of aging, not completely understood, which is related to our DNA, cells, metabolism, and physiology. However, beyond genetics (and incurable disease, disaster, or catastrophe), the medical literature reports a separate, but important contributor known as the "secondary aging phenomenon" which is dependent on the interaction of our genetics with our behavior and habits:
“The physical deconditioning caused not by aging itself, but by a combination of improper diet, decreased muscle mass, obesity, use of medications, and inactivity.”
How we enjoy, or endure, our last years, is not fate or inevitable, but to some degree, under our control. Yes, we have a finite life no matter how well we live or not; but, we largely determine, through our habits and choices, whether we expedite the process or delay it, and the quality thereof.
You might argue that you have to have money like Streisand and Cher, but my mother has lived on a tight budget all of her life--she has never attended a gym nor exercised for that matter in the traditional fashion--but, she is active every single day. She even went so far as to say "Oh, I can do that!" after watching me do the infamous burpee.
My mom’s stage is her community and she hasn’t stopped performing—she is still known as one of the best cooks in our family, regularly hosting anywhere from 6-10 people for dinner. When it comes to eating, she has chosen 'moderation' as her motto rather than denial. She plays piano for church and tithes from her limited income regularly. If she can’t give dollars, she gives in time, skills, and food. She welcomes strangers with a curiosity about their lives that many of us fail to show even to our loved ones. She walks 1-2 miles daily and has never stopped learning...clipping through 3 books last week and then asking "What's on the agenda today?"
Like Cher, she has witnessed the negative toll of bad habits and avoided them. She has certainly had her share of negative people, harassment, heartache and loss, but similarly, has chosen to forgive and carry on with grace, kindness, and composure even in pain. Mind you, she is not perfect, but she has been an example of living well and being grateful for a life full of ups and downs, blessings and loss, pain and heartache.
I believe there is alot of truth in writing your own script, especially for our later years—sure, we cannot choose the "hand we are dealt"—but, we all have the tools to change course, live improved, function at a higher level, and make better choices. There is no reason to live life wishing we could turn back time.
" Today I Will Do What Others Won't, So Tomorrow I Can Do What Others Can't"