Moving to the beat at 101-years-old

Mary Whitaker Dancing

Often when I visit our church’s matriarch, 101-year-old Mary Whitaker, I play music for her. I’ve created a playlist of her favorites and have it ready to go when I enter her room.

Mary WhitakerRecently, when I walked down her hall, I could see from a distance that she’d dozed off while sitting in her chair. I stepped in the door just as “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain” started playing from my phone. Mary awakened, clapping to the music. Soon she was singing along. When the song ended, she looked up and greeted me with “Well how do YOU do?”

I kept her playlist going: “I’ll be Working on the Railroad,” “Wake up little Susie,” “Froggy Went a Courtin,” “Get Along Home Cindy,” and of course a few Elvis tunes. Mary tapped her feet, clapped her hands, and told me again how she has always loved to dance.

Soon, it was time for her to go to lunch and an assistant came with a wheelchair to give Mary a ride to the dining room. With the help of her walker, Mary Whitaker stood up right by her 101-year-old self. Once she was vertical, she then needed to turn around to sit in the wheelchair. This was a bit more challenging, but not for the reason you might think. See, Mary–now standing–kept dancing! She’d step forward and back, move her shoulders to the music, nod her head, or tap her feet. She eventually danced her way around so that she could back up and sit in the wheelchair, but she didn’t rush. Her priority was enjoying the moment, dancing to the music.

Mary WhitakerMary doesn’t really know who I am. I’m familiar to her in that she recognizes that she should know who I am. But she doesn’t spend any time trying to figure out what our connection is. During our visits, she repeats stories and forgets she’s already told me things she’s told me a dozen times. But Mary is also still teaching me. For example, today Mary taught me that waking up dancing is a possibility and a lovely one at that. She taught me that joy matters and that you shouldn’t rush it: enjoy the music, dance to the beat, relive some favorite moments from yesteryear.

Mary has had a lot of years when she was what the world would consider a viable member of society: a hard worker, a busy volunteer, a hobbyist who dabbled in varied interests, a traveler, a tax payer. These days, it could be easy for some to think she’s done giving back to the community. But they would be wrong.

So, in honor of the wonderful witness Mary has provided to us, I challenge you to spend some time listening to songs that you haven’t heard in awhile. Select tunes that get your feet tapping, ones whose lyrics you memorized long ago. Take your time. Enjoy it. After all, what better way is there to go through life than with a song in your heart and a spring in your step.

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.