If I was to give an award for Woman of the Year, it would have to go to my aunt, Soledad.
During our trip back to New Jersey this weekend, we thought we wouldn't have time to see her or her daughter, Solie, and Solie's husband, Mark. Bill and I had--no exaggeration--wall-to-wall visits with family and friends. Those visits were packed in between 20 lovely hours of highway driving.
But since our son, Joey, lives a hop, skip and a jump from Solie and Mark, we decided just to barge in on them on our morning walk. Hey, if you can't barge in on family, who CAN you barge in on? Solie immediately got on the phone and told her mom we were there, and like Barbara Eden poofing out of a genie's bottle, there was my aunt at the door.
Now this is all happening before eight in the morning! It was Saturday, the weekend, and my aunt was peacefully in bed, getting her rest. Yet minutes later she comes through that door as vibrant and beautiful as a bouquet of mountain wildflowers.
This is a woman who is 70+, going on twenty-five. Actually, Soledad is younger than a lot of twenty-somethings I know. She's a walking bottle of champagne, only bubblier. She wears a size 8, slimmer than she's been in many years, because even at her age, exercise is not only important to her but it's a source of true enjoyment. She told me that our visit that morning was an answer to prayer because she hadn't seen me in a long time and she'd asked the Lord to bring us together again. We're more than just an aunt and niece; we're close friends, too.
Soledad is one of those people who's never starred in a movie. (There's a LOT of us like that, right?) She was never a corporate CEO or a politician or anything that got her name on the news. She was never on the New York Times bestseller list. In her lifetime she's been a wife, mother and grandmother, and when it comes to her Cuban cooking, she can mop the floor with any famous chef out there. Oh, and the lady can out-dance all us forty-somethings at a party.
Yet whenever I think about Soledad, the first thing that comes to mind are the words, joie de vie. That's French for, "joy of life." She's one of the people I've known who absolutely loves life, and she expresses that love of life every single day in everything she does. After our visit, my husband remarked about that as well, that she's in love with life and not at all embarrassed to show it.
This isn't a person whose life has been all rainbows and sunflowers, either. Soledad has shed her share of tears and faced more than her share of adversity. That makes her inner strength, her ability to laugh and light up a room with her megawatt smile, and her sincere faith even more remarkable. You would never know by looking at her that this woman has known hardships, because she reflects an almost childlike excitement and she's never stingy, never holds back with a smile or laughter or words of pure affection.
My best friend, Linda, recently told me she's always been interested in reading about longevity, how she reads any article she can find, trying to figure out what it is that makes some people live longer than others. I don't know if my aunt will live to be 100 or more, though she's certainly a good candidate, but I do know that she lives as if every day is her last her on earth. She savors every day, she has to enjoy it, she has to laugh and shine that light inside of her, and she has to make all who love her know they're in her thoughts and in her heart, even when they're miles away.
That's even better than blowing out 100 candles!