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We were trying to find dogs for Luna to play with at the park as we walked home. She had too much energy but after dark here (5ish?) not many people are out and about and the park was almost deserted. As we walked through the shadows and under the pools of light from the streetlamps, a small black figure carrying a trash bag crossed in front of us and threw the bag onto a pile of others and turned back toward us. Bundled in a jacket, scarf, and hat, this little old woman looked up at us and started talking as if we had been chatting with her for days – not meeting her in the darkness for the first time.

“These leaves just keep coming!” She lamented, tossing her hands into the air accusingly at the trees above her house, which was apparently the one behind us. “No one comes, I call, I try, but in the end, I am doing it!” And so we started the conversation about what part of her area was public vs private and why no one from the city was helping her clean out the area. The leaves then cause flooding in her house, and she was absolutely fed up – as she should be.

Soon, as things normally do here, we somehow got on the topic of food and mushroom collection and that’s when she casually said: “I rarely go into the woods anymore to get mushrooms, seeing that I’m almost 90.”

Excuse me…this little woman was just hauling bags of leaves over her shoulders and “rarely” goes into the woods, which means it is definitely still a possibility.

It amazes me the differences I see overall with age and ability here compared to the US and I really do think the two main ingredients for 90-year-olds is our every day here – exercise and healthy food. Yes, in our current day there are absolutely more possibilities to become immobile (only this year did our grocery store start home deliveries) and the food options are more diverse and easy, but overall, I still see a large percent of the population biking to get groceries, clambering on and off buses, climbing endless amounts of stairs to get to ancient apartments sans-elevator, and apparently doing things like yard work in the dark.

This is when thirty feels like I’m ten and should never complain about anything because holy crap – these people will complain up and down that they’re old (this woman’s biggest fear was taking in a stray cat because, in her words, “when I die very soon, the poor thing gets taken by my daughter, I guess, but that’s just not nice for him”, but it certainly doesn’t seem to stop them from doing anything. Death is a part of life – but not many seem to wait around for it.

Once when I was guiding a tour group on the Amalfi Coast, we were walking down the many steps from the bus stop into town and the American college students were complaining. It was hot – probably 90F to 100F and the sun was beating down on the stone village carved into the side of the mountain, and although we could see the beautiful water and the beach umbrellas and the boats floating out in the cove, it was going to take us about 900 steps and a bit of time to get there.

About halfway down, the complaints were getting louder. “What did we pay for if we didn’t get dropped off on the beach?” “I didn’t plan for hiking today and now my feet hurt.” “It’s way too hot for this and my legs hurt from all the stairs.” My explanations on bus licenses weren’t enough to calm them, nor were my comments about how this is just a pre-gelato workout and that the sea will feel that much better now that we worked for it. But then God sent me a white-haired angel.

I saw the top of the fan first, on the steepest part of the steps, it floated into view around the corner before we could even see who was carrying it, and then she followed; the tiniest little woman, wrinkled and bronzed with brilliant white hair, dressed in a shapeless floral summer frock and slippers. She had the oscillating fan thrown high on one shoulder, the blades framing her hair like a halo behind her.

With ridiculous agility, she swung the fan from one shoulder to the other to avoid us, smiling and nodding hello as she glanced up and continued up the steps. I watched the faces of my students transform as she passed each of them by.

No one uttered another word until we reached the beach.

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