Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is home to a truly unique phenomenon: One of the five blue zones of the world. To my delight, I had the pleasure of visiting it last December.
In case you have no idea what I am talking about, let’s talk about blue zones for a second. Blue zones are places with a higher than usual proportion of people near and over the age of 100. These extraordinary areas somehow defy the norm, resulting in elderly folks who live extremely long lives. Not only are these people living longer, they all seem to be in surprisingly great condition.
It is an extraordinary experience sitting down with these centenaries and listening to them talk about their lives. We are talking about people who were born before 1920- people who lived through world wars, economic crises, and natural disasters and are sitting in front of you joking and laughing. It’s almost surreal.
At 10X years, Pachito is a charismatic gentleman, as much today as he was in his youth. I remember laughing the entire visit, from his jokes, cute pick-up lines, and witty sense of humor. Of course we ask him what his secret is. His answer is that it is no secret: just love God, be happy, and let your inner child play.
Of all the answers I heard that day about how to live a long life, that was one that stuck with me.
What does it mean to let your inner child play?
These people didn’t grow up with the same kinds of toys that we have today. Of course, they didn’t play video games or watch TV. They couldn’t even take the car or bus to the store to buy something sweet when the craving hit them. Pachito would have had to get on his horse, if he wanted to visit a friend or go anywhere.
In fact, I have come to the conclusion that the inner child more likely refers to the light that shines out of some people’s eyes. The twinkle they have when saying something clever. The sparkle that shines when they talk about the things they love.
For example, Pachito gets this sparkle when talking about his horse, who also happens to be a centenary in horse years. It’s the shine in his eyes when he compliments one of my coworkers and sees her smile in return.
I saw this lively inner child in the eyes of Maria as well. It is the only thing that explains how, at 106 years, she is still able to walk to her chair and sit with a straight back throughout the whole visit. Indeed, the best way to describe María is as a spunky, sweet lady.
For one thing, you notice her style as soon as you meet her. She loves the color pink, as evidenced by her beautiful pink dress and fun jewelry. She is a lady who likes to look good and it shines. Her smile is simply contagious.
All of the centenaries I met seemed to have that contagious smile and ready laugh. These aren’t bitter people. They are people who rejoiced every opportunity life gave them. They are people who may be over 100 years old on the outside, but they are young at heart with energetic souls and active minds.
May we learn from these elders and let our inner children run free as we go through our lives, so that we can grow old and find ourselves at the end of the road with many memories, adventures, and no regrets.