To me, one of the miracles of life is our ability to re-invent ourselves, to progress, to go on despite advancing age to new activities, new friends, new places. This year I’ve watched at least two close friends from our area and myself reach out to expand ourselves.

First let me tell you about the others.

Jasha Levi, who just turned 90, spends hours a day on his computer adding to a memoir of a life that started in Yugoslavia, continued throughout Europe during World War Two as he fled one step ahead of the Nazis and eventually led him to the United States where he has never stopped re-inventing himself. Some of the hats he has worn in his life include teacher, journalist, architect, foundation head, master gardener, author. There are more. Jasha has just published the second volume of his memoir (A Tapestry of a Life) and is traveling near and far on speaking engagements to discuss his work and his life.

He and his partner, Mary Hunsicker, a retired dermatologist, recently spent a weekend in Connecticut where they met with a consortium of Jewish organizations. In his spare time, he is studying Italian (which he spoke as a youth) and he and Mary see all the good movies, attend lectures, theater and opera.

Toby Israel’s degree is in environmental psychology. A baby boomer with two grown children, she has been an educator, worked to help clients find their “inner design” and is the author of the well-received “Some Place Like Home.” Her blogs appear regularly in Psychology Today and she’s worked for architectural firms and furniture manufacturers.

Toby also spends a lot of time on the speaking circuit. Her newest venture was born after her own bout with breast cancer five years ago. Uncomfortable in the standard issue hospital gowns during her radiation treatments, she was determined to make that necessary experience more pleasant for women in the future. She developed a colorful, soft silky kimono style robe which several hospitals, including the University Medical Center at Princeton Medical Center and Capital Health, have purchased for their patients (U.S. 1, October 12, 2011). Further, Toby, understanding the importance of friendship, inspires interested women to write personal messages which are sewn into the gowns. She’s even set up weekly “sewing circles” to accomplish this labor of love.

As for myself, I’ve been a writer since second grade, when Junior Scholastic paid me $5 for a poem and my family determined that writing would become my life work. I worked in journalism, editing and public relations. The printed word has been my life. In every town I’ve lived in over the decades, all the librarians knew me well. There are books in every room of my home except for the kitchen — there, you’ll find the newspapers and magazines. If I’ve had any addictions at all, it’s always been to The New York Times (since high school English class) and The New Yorker.

After retirement I trained to become a Literacy Volunteer and decided to concentrate on working with adults from other countries who had studied English and were now living here and wanted to improve their Americanisms, writing and vocabulary. No beginners for me! That’s another specialty. In two years with Mio, here from Japan with her graduate student husband, she and I totally bonded. I became more than a language coach — I was a life coach. When Mio left to pursue an MBA at MIT where her husband is now teaching, she attributed her success in being admitted partially to me. She wrote on her Facebook page:

“I was Phyllis’ student for more than one and half a years since I moved to Princeton from Japan. Although it was my first time to live abroad, Phyllis made my transition into the new environment really smooth; her support went beyond improving English. Phyllis quickly understood my interests and brought me relevant articles from NY Times and other sources. I am especially grateful to her for teaching me how to communicate with native speakers and live positively in the U.S. Thanks to her professionalism and enthusiasm, I moved onto the next step as an MBA student in Boston. I believe you will also enjoy learning from Phyllis!”

This year I’ve been working with three remarkable young women. All here with their husbands who are in graduate study and research at the University. One is from Japan, one from Finland and one from Spain. All are accomplished and successful within their own fields — museum education, social work, marketing and food – and all are ambitious, hard-working and exceptionally bright.

While I recommend the formal training I had from Literacy Volunteers — 25 hours over eight weeks — I have developed my own methods of teaching. Basically, I work with the New York Times and the New Yorker. Using these publications, I explore each student’s interests, passions and life goals and then bring in articles that pertain to them. I’ve never had a problem finding a folder full of pieces to fill our weekly sessions. We discuss language usage, vocabulary, writing style, ideas. The Arts section is for my “museum gal”, the Food section for the one who volunteers at a farm and devours recipes and cooking classes,

Stories about New York’s homeless policy and immigration provide fodder for the social worker. I seek out and tell them about events and programs that fall within their interests. Thanks to my suggestions, the “foodie” went to Meat Week in New York City and visited a “cheese cave” there on another occasion. Before the student from Finland leaves town — she and her husband, doing neuroscience research at the University, have been living in New York and commuting — I highly recommended that they attend the Radio City Christmas Show. The Spanish student wanted to know all about Halloween and wound up making prize-winning costumes for herself and her husband.

So this has become another career, well into Senior Citizenhood. I love it. I can’t wait to meet with each student. And I feel that I am making a difference in their lives as I enrich my own. But it’s more than language. It’s human contact. Life coaching as well as language coaching. Face to face. Not on line.

The moral: It is never too late to start something new.

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