Early 20th Century Boardwalk - Beaufort, North Carolina

"Beware of Conventional Wisdom"

In November 2013, Borden wrote:

Chasing Monarchs - Mexico - 2012
Pundits often recommend that people ought to marry someone like yourself, with exactly the same values, same religion, same ethnic tribe. In other words find your clone. But unsaid is that doing so can also result in missing out on what could be. That has certainly been my experience!

After Grace Breslin, my beautiful and good wife of 30 years and a daily Roman Catholic mass goer, died , I looked for another Grace. Instead my Episcopalian soul met and fell head over heels in love with Gloria, a good looking Jewish woman of great style, whose wit, intellect and zest for life captivated me. Both of us had long, successful marriages that ended with the terminal illnesses of spouses six months before we met.

After 11 wonderful years, I lost this new love of my life, Gloria Krasnow Liebenson. To the outside world we were living in sin since we did not marry to avoid problems of inheritance. We were unconditionally committed to each other. Our relationship that began when we were in our 80's gave each other the unexpected and surprising gift of endless banter, debate, travel, a passion for the arts and politics, and so much more. We amazed each other with the different sides of our aging personalities. What fun, what caring, what love, until illness took her away. What great gifts we were to each other so late in life. The cliche of sunset years being the best suddenly became appropriate. Who would have thought it possible?

So what have I learned about life after 93 years? First of all, be careful about chasing butterflies. Last year, while visiting Mexico, to help deal with my grief over losing Gloria and to start the healing process, I ventured with my amazingly adventuresome niece, Nancy, to visit the monarchs that migrate each year to the same 7 or 8 mountains in a remote area about 200 miles southwest of Mexico City. It is a beautiful, awe inspiring sight to see a dozen, then hundreds, then thousands and possibly millions of monarchs come to life and fill the skies and everything below. This transcendental experience of nature was still resonating on the way down the mountain when I had a very hard fall off the horse that had taken me up. Somehow I survived (barely), got back to the States and after a spinal operation and months of learning to reuse the atrophied muscles of my body, I can now walk again with the use of a cane and live independently even though I have limited use of my arms and hands. My neurologist thinks that in another six months I may resume most former activities - except for riding a horse. So be it. I am alive. 
The butterfly experience was in reality but a fleeting glimpse - a glimmering-no more the size of a particle of dust in the vastness of time and space, of Nature’s Grand Design in which we are struggling to adapt or slightly change.

Setbacks and crises force one to focus. What is really valuable in life?

I’ve learned to be open to change. I was a pacifist before World War II but volunteered for service before Pearl Harbor when the horrors of Hitler were starting to emerge publicly. One day, when bullets started coming through our Navy dive bomber’s wings over Tokyo Airport, I put away my camera, took over a machine gun and started shooting back! That major change in attitude has enabled me to embrace minor changes now as needed, sometimes even with grace.

I’ve learned to face big decisions of life carefully. Follow your heart. Follow your dreams. Shoot for the stars. After the war I was invited back to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was also accepted as a student at the Harvard Law School. While contemplating my choices I received an invitation for an all expenses paid trip to New York for an interview for “an exciting new adventure in film publishing” - my life’s dream - with Louis de Rochemont, a two-time Academy Award winner! I worked with very talented and creative people around the world and eventually served as president of the various companies producing and distributing everything from block-buster spectaculars, regular features and educational films and TV for schools. I was never bored , dealt with new subjects , new locales and new people every day and loved every minute of an extremely rewarding and fulfilling life - and never regretted my decision.

I’ve also learned that material things have less and less importance the longer one lives. A penthouse in New York and a seaside villa in Europe can be great fun and wonderful for sharing with others but eventually not very important in the scheme of things. My comfortable, one bedroom, ground floor cottage on the protective campus of Noble Horizons in the foothills of the Berkshires is much more appropriate and valuable to me, particularly at 93.

I’ve learned to bond with those around me and not to isolate myself in past memories. Today counts most. It may prove to be the most rewarding time. On a recent chilly afternoon while sitting with others in Noble Horizon’s garden getting some sun I started chatting with a very old woman next to me who kept nodding off and I was afraid she might fall. I instinctively tried to prop her up by taking her left hand and shoulder with my two weak hands while continuing to chat. She opened her eyes, smiled with a glow and whispered, “This is the first time in over fifteen years I’ve felt human flesh next to mine.” Whether our paths cross again is not the point. The power of touch is an underutilized therapy. Connectivity and empathy for others may help with personal problems as well as worldly ones. At least one very young highly successful business leader, the CEO of Warby Parker, the online seller of eyeglasses for the masses, uses a variation of this theme. He has all new team members share a fun fact about themselves, usually something humiliating, with all the others. It makes that individual memorable to the others and also makes that individual vulnerable. He believes it’s through vulnerability that human beings create connections. The more vulnerable we can be with one another, the more that we’ll trust one another and the more we’ll be able to work and live together. I learned that all wisdom is not vested in the old.

Becoming a mentor and friend to ten year old students brings a new perspective to living. When local middle school children visit Noble, it is hard to tell which group gets the most out of our shared living.

Lastly, I’ve learned to have no fear of death. I’ve sworn off life-extending machinery, operations and medicines, other than pain killers as needed. Sustaining one’s quality of life with as much dignity and grace as possible and with a minimum of burden on others is not a bad goal for the very old. One telephone call to the Neptune Society and my dead body is removed. No viewings or formal services as my ashes are added to the dust, muck and slime of the sea, from whence we came. And whether there is a welcoming shore on the other side or not, I am ready. I’ve had a wonderful run!

Chances are everyone 93 years old is strange at times or a bit nutty with at least six degrees of separation from reality but I write these thoughts with the hope that they came to me in moments of sanity. DNA makes us unique unto ourselves. Have reverence for all life; celebrate the joy of living uniquely; join the search for truth, beauty and goodness. Our differences make us human.

F. Borden Mace

November 20, 2013