Wisdom From A 94-year-old Woman

PHYLLIS_02_037highPhyllis Sues just turned 94! In celebration of her birthday I wanted to share an essay she wrote for my latest book Advanced Style: Older and Wiser :

On the Internet, TV, and radio, in magazines and newspapers, everywhere you look—it’s all about age. I’m approaching my mid 90s. But what I really am is a yogi, tango dancer, jump-roper deliciously enjoying every breathing minute of a fantastic 92 years. 

I’ve had a very creative and active life from the minute I was born. Good genes and a good mom and dad. Challenge was part of my vocabulary at an early age. Living a successful dancer’s life in New York City in the 30s, 40s and 50s and performing in five hit Broadway shows Kismet, Oklahoma, Bloomer Girl, Brigadoon, High Button Shoes, and dancing to the choreography of Agnes De Mille, Jerry Robbins, Michael Kidd, and Jack Cole, that’s called living in style.

To be 92, or any age, and sedentary, and dealing with memory loss is no way to live. Aging can be exciting, creative, active, and even daring. But—that’s a huge but—it’s not easy to own this. It takes work, desire, and most of all loving what you do every day, every minute, every second, even if it’s washing dishes. I never questioned why I was on this planet. I knew instinctively I was one of the lucky ones. Now at the age of 92, I realize I’m not just lucky. It takes plain hard work to be in the kind of condition I’m talking about at almost any age.

I learned the word dedication when I took my first ballet class with the great George Balanchine. And that dedication has filled every part of me for 92 years. I use the word challenge constantly because that’s what it’s all about. I look for and long for challenge every waking moment. My mantra, “never give up,” is a driving force that will always make me a better dancer, yogi, jump-roper, musician, and even a better writer.

I mention “musician.” My mother was a concert pianist so it was only natural that I should also be a pianist. I did give it a go for a few young years, until ballet took over my life. Between the age of 14 and 75 the piano was far from a part of my life, until my mom passed away in 1993 and her beautiful Steinway grand piano was shipped to me. That was the rebirth of piano in my life and the birth of creative improvising, which led to the composition of six tangos for the album, Tango Insomnia, featuring piano, bass, percussion, violin, bandoneon, guitar, and flute, and a jazz album, Scenes Of Passion, featuring piano, bass, percussion, and guitar. My favorite song on Scenes Of Passion is called “Nite Time.” It’s a true story, and a piece of my life during my second marriage, and if you take it as a personal experience, it’s very meaningful. I can’t say I wish it had never happened because I firmly believe all that happens in life happens for a good reason and we’re not God, so we have to accept whatever comes in whatever shape or form.

Actually some of these things were not in my grasp until age 85, even trapeze.

I had one other career at age 50: fashion designer. That lasted 22 successful years. There’s no question, I’ve always been active in many ways all my life. And looking ahead, who knows what’s still out there? Whatever it is I’ll be ready. 

If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m still very much here. What’s good about living is living. I rarely think about the number 92. As you know, it’s just a number. It’s what you do not how you count. 

I know you hate to hear this, but I’ll say it anyway. “If I can do it, you can do it!” Even though I have arthritis and osteoporosis, I don’t allow either of them to be active members of my life. And neither is cancer, which I conquered at age 79. 

 So you see—if I can, you can! That’s the title of my someday autobiography, If I Can! You Can!

More essays like this in the book HERE.