On Saturday, Jeff and I were in New York City with his family to celebrate his grandfather's 90th birthday. We had a lunch at a trendy restaurant in the meatpacking district followed by a reception at a nearby hotel.
It was a really nice event - there were about 45 people there, including both of Sidney's kids (Jeff's dad, Mike, and Jeff's Aunt, Liz) and their families, as well as Sidney's nieces and nephews (some all the way from California) and other relatives. There were a number of friends that also made it - people who had worked with Sidney when he was a physics professor and later a dean at NYU.
After lunch, people gave some speeches - Jeff's dad gave a very nice speech about his father's impact on his life. Dan, Jeff's cousin, talked about the importance of continued learning and appreciating every new experience - including the experience of growing old.
Dan included a short story in his speech that I thought was interesting - he was talking about the positives and negatives of growing old and compared it to Pliny the Younger, who was a writer in ancient Rome. Pliny the Younger was present at the eruption of Vesuvius, and at first was very upset and worried because he was clearly very near to this dangerous event, and wouldn't have a way to escape, but then thought, on the bright side, that he had never had a chance to witness the events of a volcano so close up before, and that this was a great and unique opportunity to learn something new. Though the story is a bit extreme, I think the lesson of trying to learn in every occasion is an important one, and one that can help you enjoy your life rather than worry.
After Mike and Dan had spoken, others were invited to say a few words. I really enjoyed this part of the afternoon, because up until now, I had only really known Sidney in a "grandpa" context. His friends talked about him and told stories from his younger days - it was very interesting to think what his life must have been like and what he must have been like then.
I think having a party like this is a great idea. It seemed so meaningful to Jeff's grandpa to have his family and friends around, to share stories and enjoy the day. I remember my great-grandma, who lived at my house for a number of years while I was growing up, would talk about some of the aspects of old age (she was born in 1907). She used to say that she thought it was silly that people wait until your funeral to send you flowers, and that she'd much rather people send her flowers now, while she'd enjoy them. I thought that was a great point, and that this party seems to be an example of people doing just that - let's celebrate people while they're here, make the time and effort to see people and talk to them. It's something that is really important at any age, because you never know what life will bring.