Heartwarming Conversations: Fernande and La Belle Vieillesse

The morning I was supposed to fly to Turkey, I went on the Lufthansa website to check-in only to learn that Lufthansa pilots had decided to strike that morning. Long story short, I ended up flying a different airline.

For me it was the stroke of luck in the guise of a bitter labour dispute, because if it hadn’t been for the strike and the rebooking, I never would have met Fernande.

Fernande et la belle vieillesse

This is Fernande. Fernande is 80 years old. She has been travelling since her early 20s, and as she never married she was able to go on, “an average of one or two trips per year.” Since her retirement from her career as a nurse, she has kept at it and as the health of her former regular travelling companions has diminished, she has found new, younger ones.

Fernande was proud of her age and good health, and still had all her marbles. She was also conscious of her own mortality, but rather than depress her, it only seemed to motivate her to be thankful for what she had and to take full advantage of the life she has left.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation.

“I bought this nice watch, because I figured hey, it might be my last.”

“I really have to thank God for my good health at this age. I’ve been travelling since I was a young woman and I’m so happy to still be able to do it.”

“Sometimes I see women my age wearing so much ridiculous makeup. Me, I don’t wear anything. Sometimes I want to tell them, “It doesn’t actually improve your looks! Why waste your time!”

“I really have to thank God that I have such a great life. I have great friends and a great family.”

“It costs nothing to say nice things to people.”

“In many ways, we make our own life with our attitude.”

“I really have to thank God that there is such beautiful nature in the world for us to look at.”

“Have you ever been to French Polynesia? You should go, it’s beautiful.”

But the main point that I will remember about our conversation was when, midway through the flight she told me,

“You’re a nice girl. Je te souhaite une belle vieillesse comme la mienne.” (I hope you have an old-age as great as mine.)

I was so moved that I started to cry and had to explain that it was the sentiment, and not the prospect of old-age, that was making me teary.

To anybody who reads this I extend the blessing. May you too be happy with what and where your life has brought you even up to the very end of your days.

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