Jane B. Schulz, parasailing on her 80th birthday

Never Too Late

Written as a presentation to two groups at First Broad Street United Methodist Church: Teammates and the "Over Seventies" Luncheon.

On my 80th birthday I went parasailing. Secure in my strapping, I giggled as the boat went faster and I rose higher. When I reached the prescribed height, it became quiet; I looked around at the ocean, the clouds, the distant houses and I felt FREE. I was ageless.

It was one of those things I had always wanted to do and there are still many more. Never too late? Never is a strong word. At this stage in my life I would have to make a few exemptions. For example:

Although Sarah and Abraham were far beyond the child-bearing age, I would exclude that possibility. Another exception calls to mind the old man who told his friend he was going to get married. Asked his friend, “Is she pretty?”

“No, not really.”

“Is she rich?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then why in the world are you getting married?”

“She drives at night.”

I can’t drive at night. I don’t swim, and I don’t play the piano. After I retired from teaching, I decided to take lessons to learn two things I had always wanted to do: swim and play the piano.

I really never had the opportunity to learn to swim as a child, with most of my water play taking place in creeks. So I registered for beginning swimming and found myself in the shower room with 18-year-olds. I did learn the basics and was awarded an A by my generous teacher, both of us realizing that I would never be a good swimmer but that I would possibly not drown. About 2 years later, when I was teaching part-time, I had a young woman in my class who looked familiar. I asked her if we had met before and, in front of the class, she said with a smile, “Yes m’am, we were in the same swimming class.”

Next came the piano lesson. I signed up for a class and the instructor, whom I knew, suggested that I take private lessons with him. He turned out to be the most patient man I have ever known. I did practice (but not enough), went to my lessons and sat down to play at my long-neglected piano. I picked up a book that had Battle Hymn of the Republic in it, opened it up, and played, “Mine eyes…have seen…the glory of…the coming…of…the Lord.” It didn’t get any better. The only person who wanted to hear me play was my husband, who had had a stroke.

Then I enrolled in a weight-lifting class. It was a full class of freshmen and I made a B in that course, but did acquire some skills in body building – skills that have served me well. The students were kind to me; one young woman stayed close to me because she was afraid I would hurt myself. I began to like the routines and have continued to use them in my exercise program. Soon after I moved to Kingsport I joined a gym and although I have modified the weights, I go to the gym three times a week. One Sunday afternoon I was going through my routine and noticed a nice looking young man watching me. Soon he came over, introduced himself, and said “You’re the strongest old person I’ve ever seen.”

With these experiences, I have decided that there may be a few things I cannot do, but I know with all my heart that it is not too late to grow. I can grow physically, intellectually, and spiritually.

Physical Growth

At the doctor’s office I picked up a pamphlet entitled "Exercise and Age – A Prescription for Mature Adults." I thought that had my name on it and it was from the Harvard Medical School. There was even a portion titled Never Too Late. It states: “Nobody should be deterred from pursuing exercise because of age. Research has shown that even people who begin exercising in their 90s and 100s realize gains in both cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness.” That made me feel young and I ain’t about to quit!

Of course eating right is part of physical growth (there might be a better word for this). We are bombarded with information, threats, and enticements in this area. It always amuses me that the TV recipes for Martha Stewart cakes are always followed by ads for Weight Watchers and Curves programs. One of my little lady friends phoned me yesterday to tell me a joke along this line of thinking. She said a friend was trying to lose weight and as she was approaching her favorite bakery decided she would not stop unless there was a parking place right in front of the bakery. It seems she had to drive around the block eight times before that parking place was available.

The point is that it really is never too late. I don’t want to be saying “Had I known I’d live this long I would have taken better care of myself.”

Intellectual Growth

As everyone knows, there are many opportunities for intellectual growth. There are classes in every category offered in a number of surroundings: colleges, churches, community centers, and individual groups of persons interested in a common subject.

I have a young friend, a hairdresser, who told me one day that she would like to return to college to become a physician. When her children were young, she cleaned houses so she could be at home when they returned from school. As they grew, she went to a beautician school and became skilled in that work. I asked her, “Since you have three years of college and your children are grown, why don’t you pursue that career in medicine?”

She replied, “That would take me 8 years and I would be 40 years old by the time I finished!”

I countered, “And how old will you be in 8 years if you don’t go?”

My choice had been to return to college and I guess I thought everyone wanted to do that. After one year of college, with no funds to continue, I went to Washington DC and worked as a secretary. The agency I worked with needed secretaries to send to Buenos Aires to their office there. All fired up, I planned to take Spanish at night school and get ready for that opportunity. Instead, I met Bill and got married, forsaking my great plans.

Twenty years and four children later, I decided to return to college. I liked it so much that I continued, with the help of my family, until I attained a terminal degree. This degree enabled me to pursue and obtain a full, satisfying career as a teacher.

Someone sent me a similar story about a woman named Rose, who decided to go to college at the age of 87. She became a campus icon and made friends wherever she went. At the end of the semester Rose was asked to speak at the football banquet. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her 3 by 5 cards on the floor. Frustrated and a little embarrassed, she leaned into the microphone and simply said, “I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I’ll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.”

As the crowd laughed she cleared her throat and began, “We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing. There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You’ve got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die. We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it! There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up. If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don’t do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight. Anybody can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding the opportunity in change. Have no regrets. The elderly usually don’t have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.”

At the year’s end Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those years ago. One week after graduation, Rose died peacefully in her sleep. Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it’s never too late to be all you can possibly be.

Learning is not restricted to college. An article in Modern Maturity related the story of a man who began learning to read at the age of 90. In the article he stated, “I think I got tired of writing my name with an ‘X.’” I figured if I could lay a railroad tie as well as any man and cook as well as any woman, I could learn to read as well as anyone else.” He realized his dream when a recruiter for a local adult-education program knocked on the door of his home. Now, when asked how reading has changed his life, his answer is swift:

“I don’t have to rely on other people telling me the truth,” he says. And what does he usually read? “The Scriptures,” comes the quick, proud reply. “I knew them anyway,” he says, “But now I think about God smiling when He hears me read.”

Spiritual Growth

When I joined a new church, I found that there were a number of Bible studies, lectures, and events in addition to the usual sermons and meetings. I joined a Bible study and entered a new field of learning and growing. With daily assignments and group discussion, I journeyed through the Bible as never before, discovering history and ideas I had not encountered before. In addition, I met some delightful people, many of them much younger that I am (well, most people are) and felt a welcome communion.

There are also many opportunities for spiritual growth through retreats and conferences. One of my favorite places is the Methodist Assembly at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. I went there as a teenager and continue to find it restful and inspiring. There are a number of conferences available throughout the year, usually three days in length, with excellent teachers and speakers. Such retreats always bring me comfort and awareness.

When I first came to Kingsport and joined the church here, I signed up for areas of service that would not require too great a commitment. I volunteered to cook meals when needed and also joined the Bereavement Committee. My first call to this committee was to assist in serving a meal to the family of a deceased member after his funeral. During and before the meal, I met Margie, a delightful young woman. We became friends immediately and really had a good time talking and getting acquainted. When I came home, I told the family what a good time I had had that afternoon. They inquired about the event and laughed when I told them, “I was serving on the Bereavement Committee.”

It is also possible and meaningful to follow one’s own spiritual journey. Sometimes reading and meditating are best in solitude. Whatever one’s following or beliefs are, there are many books, tapes, and television programs to assist in spiritual growth. It never ends.


It’s never too late to develop a positive attitude. Satchel Paige, the great and durable baseball pitcher, didn’t know his age. When asked, he responded, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” We have so many examples of exemplary attitudes toward ageing from people like Maya Angelou, Julie Andrews, and the late Audrey Hepburn.

My son John sent me a story that reflects mine as well:

I stopped at a convenience store to buy some cigarettes.

The cashier wanted my birthday.

I made one up. I asked if she wanted my I.D.

She replied that she was only required to see the I.D if I looked under 35.

There was a skinny, wrinkled, bent-over man with a few wisps of grey hair poking out under his baseball cap which he wore backwards – with the bill toward the front. He was ageless, but obviously much older than me.

“Do I look like I’m over 35?” I asked indignantly.

“I ain’t too good at judging. I’m only sixteen.” He grinned.

I laughed “Has it been a good sixteen years?”

“Hell, son, it ain’t quite the party I wanted to be at, but while I’m here I might as well dance.”

Click here to see what my son, "John, the Plant Man," is writing about on his blog.