Life lessons

| 19 Jul 2012 | 12:40

WEST MILFORD — If you’re reading this at age 40 or so, you may be thinking getting old is light years away. Brace yourself; you’re aging as you read. For example, did you know that since age 35 your bone density has been decreasing?

While a senior’s arteries, eyesight and hearing may be on the slippery slope, it’s the mind and heart of the senior that counts; they are the engines that power the ship through life’s turbulent waters. With age comes wisdom. So what have these seniors learned over the years?

Cindy Alfano, 65 A 45-year West Milford resident, Alfano has two daughters, Wendy, of Pompton Lakes and Kim, of Colorado. She worked as a caterer and store manager and is a long-time volunteer at her church.

Harry White, 69 A 39-year resident of West Milford, White worked as a Maywood police officer, juvenile detective and crime prevention officer as well as a part-time truck and bus driver. Married to Lillian for 47 years, they have two children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. White is a Deacon at St. Joseph Church.

Your most important life lesson?

Alfano: “To have faith in God because he’s always there for you.” It took some years for her Catholic faith to develop, but now she fully realizes the importance of God in her life, recognizing his help in troubled times.

“I’ve also learned that God puts people in our lives for a reason. That special person in my life is my partner, Bob Sautter. He came into my life 14 years ago when I needed him most. He’s loving and understanding; he’s a blessing.”

White: When his daughter was four years old, White was chastising her for nibbling on party treats put out for company. “Don’t eat those, they’re for the people,” White said. “Aren’t I a people?” she asked. Go right ahead and eat them, he told her. “I took that as a significant lesson; take people for who they are.”

If you could have one “do-over” what would it be?

Alfano: “The one thing I would have done differently would have been to further my education. I would have liked to have gone to college.” As it turned out, she became a single mom and took various jobs close to home to care for her children.

White: “I turned down full scholarships to several colleges and left home at 17 to join the Air Force. Today I’d take the scholarships.” He eventually earned a degree in criminal justice but he was studying and working full- and part-time jobs simultaneously. “I think my family suffered tremendously. I’d go 10 days at a time without seeing the kids.”

Who was the most influential person in your life?

Alfano: “My mother, an amazing woman. A woman who took in ironing and babysat to provide for her children. She taught me love, patience and faith. I learned to accept life day by day.”

White: He found his marriage to Lillian to be life altering. “I think because of who she is, a very strong person who put up with a lot of my nonsense, I grew as a person. She kept me on my toes, that’s why I’m so tall.”

How has your life been different from what you imagined it would be?

Alfano: “My life was totally different because I got married so young, but out of it I have my beautiful daughters.”

White: “I imagined I’d be living in Maine on a farm, with a horse,” but after trying out a Maine winter, that plan was scrapped. On a trip to Jungle Habitat, the Whites discovered West Milford and settled in town. They never owned a horse. Too late now – climbing up on a horse is out of the question.

What’s the best part of being a senior?

Alfano: “Not having the responsibility of being a single mom and a homeowner with full-time jobs. That was tough.”

White: “Life is slower and easier. We’re very happy with our lives. We don’t want for anything. Life is grand.”

The worst part? Alfano: “Health issues, but that just comes with age.”

White: “I’ve found your brain doesn’t age as quickly as your body. I say ‘I can do that’ and then pay for it for several days.

What advice would you give to young people?

Alfano: “To believe in God because you’ll be able to deal with whatever life hands you.”

White: “Don’t be afraid to dream, but be realistic. Plan to fulfill your dreams. Be prepared to be flexible because sometimes life kicks you in the head.”

Do you feel more connected to others now?

Alfano: She values all her friendships but senses a different kind of bonding with senior friends; trustworthy and with the commonality of all having been around the block. “I take their advice to heart.”

White: “Sometimes I feel a little more isolated because we don’t socialize as much, but we are more connected with the family now that we have more time.

Are you more comfortable in your own skin?

Alfano: “Definitely. This is me and everybody doesn’t have to like me. I don’t judge people, everyone is different. Think how boring it would be if we were all carbon copies.”

White: “Absolutely. My attitude is that I’m not going to try to impress you. I am what I am but at least I haven’t gotten to the stage where I go out to get the paper in my underwear.”

By the time you’re a senior you’ve hit some bumps in the road. How has this changed you?

Alfano: “You learn to accept what you can’t change, to deal with it, have a positive outlook even when things seem overwhelming. Take it a step at a time and pray.”

White: “I’ve learned that life is very tenuous, you have no idea when things will change. I don’t believe anything is permanent.”

Do you feel seniors learn not to judge themselves or others as harshly?

Alfano: “I think so. I accept people the way they are. In a discussion it’s not about who’s right or wrong, this is just how another person feels. It’s not worth an argument.”

White: “You don’t look at people for what they are but who they are. I think I’m the hardest judge of myself; I still need to work on that.”

Perhaps we’re all still works in progress and seniors have just clocked more hours on the job. Consider this: “Youth is a gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” Garson Kanin