New York City, NY

A Forgotten Life Lesson Shared from a 99-Year Old Filled with Regret

Jordan Gross

Why can’t different be better?

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“I walked out of the hospital, and somebody was staring at me, clapping. Then another person was. Then another. As I walked home, I noticed people on their balconies applauding and screaming and yelling. People were popping their heads out of their windows just to cheer. I walked into my apartment, and I got a phone call. Without even saying hello, the person on the other end said, ‘I told you being a nurse would be more meaningful than you ever could have imagined.’ I knew who it was. I broke down into tears and wept on my living room floor.”

My friend Lara is a nurse in New York City. She has been on the front lines for over a month now treating COVID-19 patients. Her days are excruciatingly painful mentally, physically and emotionally, and they feel endless. But a glimmer of joy presents itself at 7pm every night as New Yorkers go wild in unison to celebrate healthcare workers around the world. This is the scene Lara described above.

It’s a time when Lara feels appreciated. It’s a time when she feels like her work really matters. It’s a time when she is proud to say that she is a nurse, and she loves the work that she does.

The woman on the other end of the phone was Marcy, a 99-year old woman who Lara recently met after finding her in a pool of blood in her apartment. The two shared wine, pizza and Marcy revealed 5 life lessons from her 99 years filled with regret a few months ago. The unlikely duo have remained in touch every couple of weeks.

During that dinner, Marcy shared the importance of Lara’s personality, her desire to help others, and her belief that she was destined for a wonderful life filled with love and relationships and providing value for others and the world. She would do this through her nursing.

When Marcy called to tell her that she was right about what being a nurse meant to the world, Lara just broke down. She sobbed exhaustion tears because of all the hours she was putting in. She sobbed sad tears for the lives she saw lost at the hospital. She sobbed happy tears because she was making a difference. She sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, and then had another conversation about life with her new, old friend Marcy.

She told Marcy about how rewarding it felt to be doing this sort of work, but she also shared openly about how she wished things were back to the way they had been. When Marcy heard this, she decided to share a sixth lesson from her 99 years filled with regret.

I Wish I Would Have Stopped Longing for the Past

“Lara, we are in the middle of something unimaginable. In my near century here on this Earth, I would have called you a fool if you told me there was going to be a time where I couldn’t leave my apartment to go to a restaurant, take a walk, or have a drink. But here we are. And you are at the forefront of it, seeing the effects this disease has on a human being every single day. That is heavy, so I understand where your thoughts are coming from. It is definitely not surprising that you want things to go back to the way that they were, but sadly, we do not have time machines yet. Maybe one day we will, but not now. Let me tell you a story.

I have a beautiful white couch in my apartment. You probably noticed it when you were here last. About 30 years ago, I had a gathering with some colleagues after we closed a tremendous deal. We popped champagne and had expensive wine and hors d’oeuvres and partied throughout most of the night. One of my guests had a few too many, and she began to nod off while sitting on my couch, drink still in hand. When she finally switched from vertical to horizontal, the wine spilled, creating a red puddle remnant of a murder scene.

I was livid. I ordered everybody out of the house, and I scrubbed ferociously trying to get out the stain. I could not. The next day I called in a service to try to get it out. They could not. The couch was ruined. As I looked at it, one of my most valuable possessions, questions started to run through my mind.

What if I had ended the party earlier? Why did I serve red wine? Why didn’t I kick her out when I realized she was too drunk? Why didn’t I put a cover on the couch if I loved it so much? Why was this happening to me?

Every morning I woke up and walked by it, I scowled at that stain. I thought about how I felt before when the couch was perfect. When it was normal. I yearned for that beautiful couch to be just the way it was.

So, you know what I did? I bought a new one. But even when I received this new one, something about it just didn’t feel the same. I knew it was a replacement, an excuse. It was flawed. And I hated that. I was never satisfied with any couch I tried to get to replace that first one. Here we are 30 years later, and I am just starting to realize why.”

Lara didn’t want to interrupt, so Marcy continued.

“Lara, I wish I would have kept that first couch with the giant wine stain as a reminder that our lives are imperfect. The majority of what happens in our lives is very much outside of our control. No matter how much we want to go and change things, especially when we analyze what we could have changed about our own behavior to change the result of what already happened, we fall into a dangerous trap. We fall into this trap that everything is always supposed to be the way that it currently is.

But this is not true, Lara. Nothing stays the way that it currently is forever. Not you, not me, not my couch, not your job, not this world. Look at what is going on around us! We are searching for things to feel the same, to feel normal, when in reality, they are always going to be different.

But why can’t different be better? Why can’t a change be good?

The answer is that it can be. We just have to see it in that way. I chose to see my stained couch as worse, when in reality it could have been better. You can view your current situation with your job and the world as worse, when in reality you can choose to see it as better.

We long for the past because we are afraid the future cannot be brighter. We think things were so good, going so well, that everything was the way that it was supposed to be. Then when something unexpected happens, we panic.

But you don’t have to panic, Lara. I know it is an incredibly stressful time, but there is so much more work for you to do and life for you to live. And it can be even better than before.”

Lara thanked Marcy for the chat and hung up the phone. She wiped the tears from her eyes and looked at her own couch in her living room. There were stains all over it from past dinners, parties, and who knows what else.

She walked over to her window, opened it up, and began to cheer at the top of her lungs for her fellow nurses and frontline workers. Her world may have changed, but her attitude about it certainly would not.

Lara could not be more proud to be a nurse.

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