The Secret to Life

While I was at Disney’s Animal Kingdom this past week, an elderly employee (she appeared to be maybe in her early 80s) walked up to me while I was waiting for my family. Right off the bat, she held out her hand for me to shake and introduced herself as Evelyn, and I knew from the start that she had something important to say to me.

She asked if she could give me “The Secret to Life”, and of course I said she could. Who doesn’t want to know “The Secret to Life”? After all, I had time to spare: My family was taking their sweet time looking at animals, and we were in the AC. Plus, I was intrigued. I was waiting for her to tell me that “The Secret” is to fall in love or figure out what makes me happy and then stick with it, but all she said was that “The Secret to Life is that you have gotta keep moving.”

She looked at me as she let me register what she had just said, and then she continued. “Let me tell you a story,” she started. “About six years ago, I had that dreaded talk with my children. Or, well, they had that talk with me! My children are in their 50’s and they sat me down and asked why I hadn’t retired yet. They said that I was too old to be working forty plus hour weeks and that I am definitely too old to be working at a place like Disney World.” At this, she huffed a little. “I know I may look extremely old, but let me tell you… I feel like I’m twenty-five!” And, with that statement, she did a little boogie. “I get where my children were coming from. I mean, do you know anybody that looks like me that is working at a place like this?” I politely smiled and shook my head no. I loved Evelyn at that point. She had so much spunk! “Exactly,” she went on. “But what will I do if I retired? All of my bills are paid for before I even get them. And I’m not about to retire from a job like this just to sit at home and watch TV all day!” I nodded along, knowing that she had a point in all of this. She was right. She was happily content with her life. It didn’t need to change.

“But let me tell you this, dear,” she said, lightly grabbing my arm. “I got a taste of what it must feel like to be retired, and I didn’t like it one bit! A couple of years ago, I gave up one of my days of work for somebody that needed the hours more than I did, and I figured that I would travel south for the extended weekend and visit the grandkids. And guess what… They all got sick! So what do you think I did that weekend?” She waited for me to answer, and I responded with a slight raise of my shoulders. “I did absolutely nothing!” She laughed to herself and then continued. “I slept, ate, went to the restroom, cleaned a little bit, and then read a whole book in one sitting. That’s what I did!” As a former English major, I didn’t see anything wrong with that weekend to herself. Heck, it sounded perfect to me.

She smiled as if she could read my thoughts. “It was fun while it lasted,” she agreed. “But when I had to get myself out of bed on Monday morning, I looked like this!” She started walking around, hunched over, acting like she was in pain. “For the first time in my life, I actually felt my age. And I didn’t like that one bit! There’s nothing wrong with growing old,” she told me, “but you shouldn’t ever stop moving. That’s the real secret to life. That’s what will keep you healthy and alive.”

I smiled at her as I began to truly understand what she meant. You do have to keep moving: physically, mentally, and emotionally! There is nothing wrong with taking breaks here and there, but you should always plan to keep moving along. Having a goal in mind keeps a person motivated and it also gives them purpose in life. While that’s usually a no-brainer, it was nice being reminded of this.

I gave Evelyn a hug and told her that I really ought to go find my family (because none of my other five family members were within sight anymore), but I definitely enjoyed our little chat. She gave me her soft smile as I started walking away and told me to pass her advice on to those I love so that they, too, will know “The Secret to Life.”

It’s amazing how some encounters with random strangers sometimes have such a lasting impact on us, isn’t it?

Thanks, Evelyn.

Photo by The Walt Disney World Website. 

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