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I'm in my 30s, and 2 of my closest friends are in their 80s. Here's what I've learned from our age-gap friendships.

Art, Kate, and Jack standing on a street.
Kate Oczypok is in her 30s and has made friends with Art (left) and Jack (right), both in their 80s.Courtesy of the author
  • When my husband and I moved to Rockville, Maryland, we started going to a new church.

  • One evening, I met two ushers named Art and Jack.

  • I've been friends with them for nine years now.

Throughout the nearly 20 years I lived in the Washington, DC area, I attended about five different churches, eager to find one that was a good fit for me. When my now-husband and I moved to the Rockville, Maryland area in 2013, I found a church within walking distance, which was important to me, as I didn't have a car. I crossed my fingers that it would be the missing puzzle piece to my life and provide the faith community I'd been searching for.

Lo and behold, all it took was two 80-somethings to welcome me warmly into their community and get me involved. Despite our age-gap, we've become great friends, and our friendship has only deepened in the last nine years. Here are some important life lessons I learned from them.

Friends may come from unexpected places

One Saturday evening Mass, I smiled at an older man who ushered every week. He'd always smiled at me as he walked to the back of the church to grab the baskets for the weekly collection. To my surprise, he walked to my pew and whispered that one of the usual ushers wasn't available and asked if I could help take up the collection with him and another older man who usually helped him.

Typically, ushers are usually men. Women are also welcome to usher, but traditionally, most churches tend to attract men in their 70s and 80s for the volunteer job. I immediately agreed to help him, surprised he approached me to ask for help rather than the older men sitting near me. Later, I learned that the usher, whose name was Art, thought I had a warm smile and seemed friendly. I thought the same thing about him!

I was happy to learn that despite growing up in The Silent Generation, when Masses had very distinct traditions and rules, those born at that time may be more forward-thinking than I thought.

Kate and Art, both smiling and wearing yellow shirts.
Kate and Art met while ushering at church.Courtesy of the author

You never quite feel as old as you are, whether you're 35 or 85

The whole young-at-heart cliché is actually quite true. Ever since that evening I helped usher, I ended up becoming a regular at 5 p.m. Saturday Masses. I became close to Art, as well as the other man who helped that night, who was named Jack.

Jack, who was also in his 80s, was the head of a thriving auto empire. I admired how humble he was. He had money, but you'd never know it. Along with a couple I met who was in their 70s, Art and Jack would watch out for me and always make sure I got home safely, offering rides to and from church.

Though I'm in my 30s, I often still feel like a teenager when I put on the music I listened to decades ago, like the Spice Girls and Britney Spears. It was refreshing to me to learn that Art also stayed connected to his interests from childhood. He had an elaborate model train village in the crawl space in his basement that he had been adding to for decades. He wore a train conductor hat when he showed off the space, getting the same twinkle in his eye that he probably had when he was a child in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The same goes for Jack. He was a pilot in his earlier years, and on rides home from church he would tell me tales about how he would fly to his home in Florida. He owned four planes since the '60s, and at the time, kept a flying license. While a corporate pilot would fly the plane, Jack still rode in the cockpit, as giddy as a 20-something.

Both Jack and Art taught me that no matter how old you may be, you always feel young at heart. By continuing the hobbies and interests they loved in their youth, they have managed to stay active, happy seniors.

Be kind, be humble, and stay hopeful

Finally, meeting Jack and Art reminded me of three simple life lessons: be kind, be humble, and keep the faith. That simple act of kindness Art showed me that Saturday evening resulted in eight years at that church before my husband and I moved.

Jack's modesty about his accomplishments showed me that no matter how much money or how many honors or awards you may have, treating people the way you want to be treated is so much more important. You'd never know Jack was a millionaire. To me, he just was the octogenarian friend I got to know on rides home from church.

Both Art and Jack have also taught me to stay hopeful. Art lost two wives over the course of his life, but he stayed hopeful, not only in love (he has been with a female companion since the death of his second wife) but in his religion, too. They showed me how in life how essential it is to have faith in something, whether it's family, friends, love, or your chosen religion.

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