Here in Palm Beach, FL, you run into a lot of retirees. People who say, "I've paid my dues and I wanted warmth and I wanted beers at noon surrounded by palm trees and blondes!"
This particular night, Ryan and I were headed out to dinner with his family. As we pulled the dinghy up to the dock, the live music spreading through the air and the lights around the palm trees reflecting a glow on the waves.
There was an art market and artisans were standing behind tables full of their work. Retirees pulled pieces of bread out of brown paper bags and tossed them to the large, plentiful fish below.
I found myself on a park bench with three gentlemen, all over the age of 85.
"Have you heard heard of Moe, Larry and Curly?" He said, squinting his eyes at me.
"Of course! The Three Stooges!"
The men looked at each other and said, "She knows..." and I felt good passing their first test. "You can stay," the man said. I had earned my place on the bench and for the rest of this post, I will identify each man as either Moe, Larry or Curly since I never actually got their real names.
One man was a psychiatrist originally from Arizona (Moe), the second was an engineer from Long Island (Larry) who designed Boeing 707 airplanes, the third (Curly) was an alligator hunter. They were open books and endless flirts. Moe apologized for being improper and proceeded to tell me a joke:
"A woman and man have been together for awhile," he started. His friends rolled their eyes. Clearly, they've heard this before. He continues: "They get comfortable with each other, and he finally asks, 'OK, we've been together for awhile. How many people have you slept with?' The woman says, 'Just one! Just you! Everyone else I was awake for.'"
We all start laughing. He adds, "I bet you'll tell someone else that!" Pointing at me, his finger shaking from age, from laughter. (He was right. I told Ryan not long after leaving the bench, and now I'm telling you!)
After we get through a few more jokes, all fractionally less funny than his biggest hit told above, we get to the real stuff.
Life. Work. Love. Loss. Retirement. Age.
Larry starts it by saying, "We would give anything to be your age again."
"Really?" I asked. "A lot of people my age think we're doing life wrong most of the time..."
"That's how life works. You spend most of it thinking you're doing it all wrong," Curly said, showing me a photo of his wiener dog in front of a sign that said, "Don't Feed the Alligators." He laughed at that photo hysterically, remembering his years of fighting alligators for work to support his family.
"You aren't doing it wrong," Moe said. They're obviously accustomed to tagging in on conversations with each other.
"Look at you guys," I said. "Accomplished! In Florida!"
"Flirting with a pretty girl..." Larry added, and winked at me.
"Thank you," I said. "But really. What are the secrets?"
I recorded their secrets, and here they are for you:
You have to get over your heart breaks. You have to move on. "I've made a lot of mistakes," Larry said. "Yeah, the major one being your wife," Moe added. Larry laughed and nodded in agreement. "But you have to forgive yourself, accept that we all make mistakes and just... move on. Let it go. Life keeps moving and you need to do the same."
Work. But don't work too much. "Some of my best friends I met while designing airplanes," Larry said. "Good men. Smart men. But I always wanted to go home. Time there was special."
Stop, immediately, doubting yourself. "Listen, darling," Curly started with a seriousness in his tone. "If you don't hear anything else, you hear this: Stop doubting the choices you're making. They're your choices. They're yours to make. Make 'em, and make 'em, bold."
Laugh. A lot and often. And with friends. "These guys right here," Moe said, pointing at Larry and Curly. "I meet them here on this bench every Friday. It's how we meet girls." "Me more than the other two," Larry added. "You have to find some people to laugh with. Even if it's silly stuff."
Study what you're interested in. Study long and hard and never stop learning. Larry (the psychiatrist) was holding a newspaper in his hand. "Do you read?" He asked me. I laughed a little, mistaking the question for "Can you read?" "Yes, I read," I answered. He asked me where I went to school and what I studied. "Journalism, English, Education," I answered, complete with my schools. He told me about one of his cases where a patient had multiple personality disorder. "One second he was a preacher, then he looked down, became silent, and when he looked up again, he was a gangster rapper," Larry said. "I had to do a lot of research to help him. Research helps you make better decisions."
Eat good foods. It was time for me to leave. The little plastic identifier in my hand was telling me that a table was open for us. The men saw it flashing and buzzing. "You're going to eat," Curly said. "Good. Eat good food any time you can."
And with that, I curtsied (I don't know why; I felt it was the right thing to do in front of Moe, Larry and Curly).
Moe called out, "Baby, you’re not worth a million bucks."
"I'm not?!" I said. Immediately falling into that self-doubt they warned me against.
I smiled and walked off to dinner. I won't forget you Moe, Larry and Curly! And, in honor of them, I drank straight out of a coconut the next day, confidently, joyously, happily!