Tuesday, December 19, 2006
A supercentenarian looks back over 112 years
But to me, what makes Mrs. Baines so special is not her age, but how she has maintained her independence spanning three centuries, even when women and especially black women were considered second-class.
Mrs. Baines was born in a small town south of Atlanta, Georgia, and lived a pretty simple life. But there was nothing simple about her. She says her first real memory was of a car ride to Canada. In those days very few people ever left their hometowns. She left her country. She later married and had a daughter, who died at an early age. She moved to Ohio where she worked as a "house mom" at a state university. She eventually divorced and traveled to Los Angeles, where she retired and lives to this day.
A few months ago, Mrs. Baines was honored as the oldest citizen in California. President Bush sent her a letter, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to visit with a plaque. She is a member of an exclusive group of people older than 110, the supercentenarians. And researchers believe that by studying these super senior citizens, they may find the secret to the fountain of youth. They're so confident, a new research center is being set up to observe people like Mrs. Baines.
When I interviewed Mrs. Baines for our story on the Supercentenarian Research Center, I expected to meet a fragile, feeble woman. Instead she greeted me in her wheelchair, wearing a fancy leopard print hat and a big smile. She didn't want to discuss airplanes, shuttle launches, civil rights, iPods or politics. Instead, she preferred to talk about her family, her loves, her heartbreaks, her faith. It didn't matter what historic events she had witnessed over the last 112 years. It was more important to her to talk about how she lived.
When I asked why she thought she had lived this long, her answer was... "God. Ask him... I took good care of myself, the way he wanted me to." So simple, but so complex. How do you extract that kind of attitude and put it in a bottle? How do you take that zest for life and make a vaccine? That's really up to the scientists who are studying Mrs. Baines and people like her. But here's a thought. Maybe long life is more than just good genes, exercising and eating well. Maybe healthy longevity depends on your faith, the way you treat people, the way you love, the way you handle bumps in the road and the way you face the day every morning.
What are your ideas for living a long, healthy life?
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