Keeping Your Mind Agile, While Finding Joy, Meaning and Friendship by Reading with Another

Today I am thinking of my Aunt Grace. Warm and fun, she was a real people person. She was interested in everything you did and thought. Moreover, she possessed a wonderful curiosity about life which I think helped to keep her vibrant. She remained intellectually curious until her death at the age of 86, often asking me questions about characters in the Bible or scriptures she found puzzling.

One great sadness of her life was losing her eyesight, which began to deteriorate in her early sixties. But she never complained. She loved to listen to audio books and derived much pleasure from this pastime.

Navigating the newspaper was much harder for her. So she developed a practice every morning of speaking with her elderly friend on the phone. Her friend was nearly 100 years old, but thankfully her eyesight had not been affected by the aging process. So she would phone my aunt every day and read the highlights of the local newspaper to her. Aunt Grace often joked that they would start with the obituaries, just to make sure their own could not be found there. Then they would go on to other sections of the paper, my aunt’s much older friend reading aloud to her over the phone, and then the two of them engaging in some lively discussion about the most controversial news items or editorials, or tackling that day’s crossword puzzle. (My brother William, a real logophile and lexicographer, would receive almost daily phone calls from Aunt Grace, asking about the meaning of a particular word or seeking out his advice on the more vexing word puzzles.)

I truly believe that my aunt’s morning ritual with her friend was a double blessing. It kept their friendship alive and their minds agile.

Today we know that exercising our mind is just as important as exercising any other muscle in our body. Indeed, our mind flourishes when we do crossword puzzles or read a good book. The latter can be made even more meaningful when shared with another. As the research carried out by psychiatrist George Vaillant has shown, the key to successful aging is “relationships, relationships, relationships.” This is why couples who read to each other grow even closer and why adult children and friends who read to older adults find their relationships taking on new meaning. It is why people who volunteer as reading coaches at their local elementary school often experience renewed energy and increased personal satisfaction, and why grandparents who make a regular habit of reading with their grandchildren, even via Zoom or Skype, find that their relationships deepen and blossom.

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says to his followers: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Boomers may have more time to engage in physical exercise, crafts, hobbies and social justice causes. Along with the former, one of the healthiest, easiest and most pleasurable endeavours we can pursue is taking the time to read with a spouse, a parent, a grandchild or a friend.

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