The Delights of Distraction No.40: Lessons from Centenarians

In trawling through the interwebs to find interesting links to share with you on this newsletter, we came upon this video; an interview with three English centenarians on what it’s like to live so long, lessons they’ve learned along the way, and regrets they have.
In the first few seconds, it is already astonishing to witness their sprightly vitality and enthusiasm to just go out to the shops, even at age 103. With many of our friends turning 40 this year and complaining of imminent middle-aged sclerocis, hardened cynicism and our collective eye-roll at all things that seem pandering, over-eager or just new and unfamiliar; the optimism of these centenarians is so.. Refreshing! And a sobering mirror  - that if we continue to move through the world with our current feelings of disillusionment, we’re unlikely to make it very far.

“I have always been lucky,” says 104-year-old Tereza Harper. “I’ve never been unlucky.” An attitude that undoubtedly got her to where she is  - despite living through extreme hardship, and losing her children very young. Harper immigrated to England from Czechoslovakia during World War II to reunite with her father, who had been a prisoner of war. She lived to witness the many social horrors of the 20th century and many of the 21st. And yet, she says, “Everything makes me happy. I love talking to people. I like doing things. I like going out shopping. Once I go out shopping, I don’t really want to come back…. I’m not going yet. I’m still strong. I’m very very strong. I never realized how strong I am.” 101-year-old Cliff Crozier, dishes out a lesson on how to positively view failure: “If I’m making a cake and it fails it becomes a pudding.”

It had us wondering, what is the source of such strength and joy in their ordinary repetitions of daily life? From what we gleaned: a profound sense of engagement with the world, an intellectual curiosity and a natural stoicism that the good and bad are both ephemeral, that time heals and that, as Victor Frankl asserts  “you always have the capacity to choose your attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

While turning 40 for some of our friends hails a dramatic declaration that life is over, we’re also struck by several others -  women especially who have decided they “give zero f*&#s”. Growing older has allowed them to shed their cloak of expectations (their own and those imposed on them),delink their worth with youthfulness, take themselves less seriously and just throw themselves into the world with playful abandon. It’s the kind of spirit we hope to carry with us, well into our twilight years.
“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” -  Confucius.

And here’s our favourite links from the internet this week:
To Long Read: In the same vein as the centenarians above, we discovered the story of Jo Cameron, an elderly woman in the Scottish Highlands who is the only known person alive with a rare genetic condition that makes it so she does not feel negative emotions like stress, worry, deep sadness, etc. She also doesn't feel physical pain. “There’s a big movement in psychology to say, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ People talk about ‘post-traumatic growth.’ I think a lot of it is bullshit. Look at the data: bad things are bad.” You aren’t healthier after you have cancer or fall down a flight of steps. And it’s only in the movies that getting hit by a bolt of lightning turns you into a superhero; in life, it turns you into a fritter.”
Perhaps suffering is an evolutionary blip that genetic technology can soon weed out of our systems.  “We could all be a little more like Jo Cameron: joyful, compassionate, unperturbed by all the nasty, roiling feelings that turn us, from time to time, into goblins.”

To Short Read: Love is in the air, and as we are developing a collection around a Frida Kahlo inspired tea-party, we came across this essay on the fiery, fierce and independent artist’s just as fiery relationship with her lover Diego, The elephant and the Dove.

To Joy ScrollA beautiful comic by Yao Xiao about COVID-19, grief, and using creative acts to connect to difficult memories. Also - as travel bans still abound, especially for Indian passport holders - here’s  a reminder of just how magnificent our planet is ; from the winners of the international landscape photographer awards of 2020.

To WatchIn defence of love: In this video, one of the great French philosophers Alain Badiou offers a wonderfully eloquent defence of love as “a real, risky adventure”—more needed than ever in a consumerist culture that emphasises individualism, perfect compatibility and endless choice. (Narrated in French with English subtitles).
To Listen: A series of Valentine’s Day vignettes that highlight sweet, tragic,and inspiring love stories from art history.
“From Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, who “felt magnified” by one another as struggling young artists in New York; to a recent love story sparked at the Museum; to Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who found that love could conquer fate and even death, these stories prove that love can mean many things, and each definition can affect the way we make, view, and understand art.”

To Cook: There’s no shame into being sucked into the V-day consumerist celebration of love and all its trappings, and going all out for your loved one with lavish displays of affection. The world is in need of as much gooey, lush feelings as one can muster - and nothing says, “You’re special” more than this gorgeous show-stopper of a cake. It’s natural cloud-like beauty also means you don’t need to do much to decorate - just bake and serve.

To LearnAn animated video that shows you the difference between empathy and sympathy, narrated by Brené Brown. The four qualities of empathy are: 1) Perspective taking. 2) Staying out of judgement. (“Not easy when you enjoy it as much as most of us do!” 3). Recognizing emotion in another person. 4) And then communicating that you recognize their emotion.
Empathy seeds connection, while sympathy breeds disconnection.

And to end, a poem from the Persian poet Rumi, who centuries before has penned these lines on infatuation, the delicious feelings of lust and fascination that signals the beginning of a passionate love story. May you be swept up in the longing that Rumi describes - this is being alive!

I want to see you
by Rumi

I want to see you.
Know your voice.

Recognize you when you
first come round the corner.

Sense your scent when I come
into a room you’ve just left.

Know the lift of your heel,
the glide of your foot.

Become familiar with the way
you purse your lips
then let them part,
just the slightest bit,
when I lean in to your space
and kiss you.

I want to know the joy
of how you whisper
Till next week, stay cosy, basked in sunlight, warm friends and laughter,
Viv & Ami
P.S. After spending most of last year in PJs, we are ready to dress up for a spring fling! Explore our favs from our wear section - easy breezy flowy natural fabrics are handcrafted by artisans. 
Founded in 2012 & based in New Delhi, The Wishing Chair is a women-led homegrown Indian brand creating unique, playfully designed products that celebrate creativity, handcrafted artisanship & Indian craft techniques. Currently our design studio is working on products in the home decor, apparel, accessories and gifting space. Our name is derived from one of our favourite Enid Blyton books we read as kids: The Adventures of The Wishing Chair.

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