While working as Activities Director for an assisted living facility, I became very close to a resident named Mattie Cofer. She was 100 years old, sharp as a tack, and fiercely independent. I knew her for only about a year and a half, but during that time she had a deep impact on my life. She died suddenly in May, just a few weeks short of her 101st birthday. I want to share some of the lessons that she taught me.
Humility: She was a devout Christian but was humble about her faith. She didn’t brag about being “saved,” rather she wondered if she was good enough for Heaven. She showed her humility through self-deprecating humor: “I am not worth a dime”.
Strength: Although she was 100 years old, Mattie had strong bones, the kind many 60-year-olds dream about. She spent most of her life working on a farm, and she thrived on drinking a lot of goat milk. She fell three times while living at the facility where I work. Only the last time did she break a rib. For someone who was almost 101, that is not too shabby. And her mental sharpness was exceptional even compared to residents twenty years younger.
Hard work: Mattie always said, “I worked harder than any man,” and she meant it, every word of it. She plowed fields, sewed her family’s clothes, taught generations of children Bible lessons, and was a longtime church elder. One of her frequent statements was, “Hard work—it won’t kill you!” She also ate healthy home-grown food up to the time she moved into our facility when she was 99. Yes, she kept her own garden until then.
Walking the line: Mattie said time and again, “You got to walk the line, Chris.” Her constant advice helped to keep many people straight. In fact, she walked the line so well God probably hired her as a crossing guard in Heaven. She would even say that preachers are not any closer to God than anyone else and that if anyone tells you they don’t sin, they are lying.
Fun: Mattie thought that having fun is good. She was a jokester, with a sarcastic kind of humor born of the Great Depression. She made fun of herself and anyone else and didn’t keep things too serious..
Teaching: She felt that it was a great service to be a teacher, in order to better the community. She was a spiritual mother, a great teacher, and a church elder. She helped others by her presence alone. She was one of those rare individuals with that inexplicable gift. Now that she is gone I miss her more than I can say.
As human beings age, we naturally conform to the ideals of T’ai Chi. The way energy flows through the universe: Water finds the lowest places, what goes up must come down, yielding is the way of the universe, we should observe nature and work with it, not against it. In living these principles, Mattie Cofer was a fine T’ai Chi master.