Joan Wile is the Founder of Grandmothers Against the War and the author of "Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace" (Citadel Press)
90 is the new 60 these days, it seems, as so impressively demonstrated by several nonagenarians of my acquaintance. In 2003, I founded a peace group in New York City, Grandmothers Against the War, and gradually grannies from all over the Big Apple started gravitating to the group, among them four astonishing women past 90.
I thought I was a real hot shot in that I was in my 70's and still out there protesting what I considered an unconscionable and unnecessary war in Iraq. But, I soon discovered I was nothing special, a mere baby compared to some of the hardy specimens in their 80's and 90's who joined up and often out-walked, out-thought, and out-braved me as they protested and sometimes went to jail for the cause.
I am particularly in awe of those four 90-plus women who are part of my group and amaze me with their energy, intelligence, and passionate commitment.
Allow me to introduce you to Lillian Pollak, teacher and marriage counselor, who will be 95 on April 12. There is absolutely nobody like her, I'm convinced. She hasn't one single symptom, if you will, of her age. Always meticulously made up, coiffured and dressed, she is in good health, goes all over the place to cultural events, and is always on the front lines of every anti-war protest within reach of a subway or bus. But, her youthfulness is not merely in her physical stamina. Her MIND is perhaps the most incredulous aspect of this unbelievable woman. Her brilliant analysis of plays, films, books, for one thing. Her memory of names, places, dates, movements, events from her long-ago past, for another. Her quick and sharp mind without the slightest trace of diminution. Her contemporaneousness -- she knows everything that is going on today. And, to top it all off, this brilliant woman recently published a 376-page novel, "The Sweetest Dream: Love, Lies & Assassination," based on her political life in the 30's. An excellent read, by the way, available on amazon.com.
Three weeks ahead of her is Marie Runyon, who was 95 on March 20. Marie, a former New York State Assemblywoman, housing advocate and founder of Harlem Restoration Project, among her many accomplishments, is not in as great physical shape as Lillian -- she is legally blind and partially deaf -- but her personality and mental acuity are incomparable. She is, quite simply, a firebrand. Marie has never hesitated to speak her mind whenever she sniffs injustice, in often very salty language. When she was 90, despite her hearing and sight impairments, she willingly got arrested when our spin-off granny group, the Granny Peace Brigade, tried on Oct. 17, 2005, to enlist in the military at the Times Square recruiting station to replace America's grandchildren in harm's way. Denied entrance, we sat down on the cement ground (not so easy for our arthritis-riddled old bodies) and refused to get up when the police came. We were then carted off to jail in a paddy wagon, Marie among its inhabitants. After a six-day trial in criminal court, I'm pleased to say we were acquitted of disorderly conduct and went on to be a powerful symbol of peace activism here and abroad with our lectures, rallies, performances, and workshops. Interviewed many times on television and radio after our legendary arrest, Marie, with her colorful and outspoken personality, served often as our spokesperson, to the delight of audiences.
And, let me tell you about another one of our Times Square arrestees, 91-year-old Molly Klopot, Co-Chair of the New York branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Molly lives way out in Coney Island in the farthest reaches of Brooklyn. It is an hour's subway trip into her office in Manhattan, but do you think that stops Molly? Not on your life. This, despite the fact that Molly is legally blind! She navigates alone, often late at night, the underground trains and the streets of the Lower East Side where her office is located. This is super courageous, given Molly's diminutive size and her almost non-existent eyesight. They just don't make them like her anymore.
In addition to her tremendous guts and commitment, Molly, a former college teacher and union organizer, is a living representation of labor history beginning when she was a shop leader as a young girl in the Ford Motor Company's plant in Detroit during the Second World War.
Another remarkable woman, who is active at the ripe young age of 90, is Lillian Lifflander. Lillian is a Jill of all trades who mainly worked for organizations she felt contributed to the various causes she was concerned about -- unions, education, the destructive use of Vieques for U.S. nuclear testing, and other crusades. She has put herself on the line many times, getting arrested for the issues she passionately supports. Most recently, she did some jail time with the Granny Peace Brigade in protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This indomitable lady has had a late-in-life career in movies beginning in her 80's -- she is often called upon to be an extra. Of late, she appeared in Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," and, to prove that sex is not the province only of the young, she was cast in the film, "Sex and the City."
So, dear readers, you have nothing to fear about old age. Be heartened and inspired by the examples of these wonderful elders, who demonstrate that one can make a difference, contribute to society, and lead rich, productive lives well into one's 90's, and, I daresay, one's 100's as well. Be assured these four wonders will prove that thesis!
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