MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And now, a birthday celebration.
ROSA FINNEGAN: My name is Rosa Finnegan, and I've been very lucky to be 101.
BLOCK: Not only that, today, she turns 102.
FINNEGAN: Sometimes I feel as though time has gone by so fast.
BLOCK: Rosa Finnegan is from Massachusetts. She left school to start working at 16, first at a silk mill, later as a waitress. She began her last job at a medical needle manufacturer at the age of 82 and only left last year reluctantly. Finnegan says there are still things - important things - she's learning about herself.
FINNEGAN: I always felt that I could work forever. Made me feel like I was a worthwhile person. I liked the companionship of people around me and we're all working. I really feel like a dope. I should never have stopped. That was the sorriest day of my life.
Here I am, at the end of my life in a nursing home. Let me tell you something that happened to me here two months ago. It's going to be a little hard for me to talk about this because I'm ashamed of myself, in plain English.
One day, they came and asked me if I'd like to move to another room. And when I was taken to the other room, I saw Ada, a black lady sitting there in her wheelchair with her oxygen tank beside her. And we had a nice little chat and I left. But first thing I noticed was that she wasn't white, like I am, which is the thing that stopped me from moving into the room with her.
And when I got back to my own room, I sat there and I said, what did I just do? Rosa, you're not a nice person at all. I felt very bad about that, so every time I went by her room, I would go in and sit and talk with her. And I met all her family. There was always someone there from the family to be with her. If she had some cookies or candy or something, she'd always say, here, have some of this. I felt kind of warm every time I went in to talk to her. And we got to be friends.
When it comes right down to it, she is not one bit different from me. She believes in the same God I do. She has children, grandchildren. And one day, one of the aides came to me and said, Rosa, do you want to go in and talk with Ada, she's very sick and I don't think she's going to make it. Well, I went in and I did the best I could. She was sort of semiconscious and I leaned over and said, hi, Ada, how are you doing? And I didn't get any answer. And her son was sitting there. And I said, if she should come to a little bit, please tell her that I was here and that I'm thinking about her. He said, thank you, I will. That night, she passed away. I haven't got over it yet.
Even as old as I am, you think you're not prejudiced but all of a sudden, you really find out you are. How stupid I was. Because before you know it, it's all over. Thank God, I had a chance to really get to know this wonderful woman.
As nice as this place is, there's an undercurrent - it's sad, also. I get up now in the morning and I'll say to myself, what am I going to do all day now? I think about my life, the way it used to be. Then I say, oh, don't be so crazy. It can't stay the same forever and you can't live forever. Just think how crowded we'd be if no one ever died.
So some days, I feel very blue. Other days, I get up and say, well, the sun is shining. It's going to set pretty shortly, I hope. I try not to be sad about it because I'll be kind of glad to go. Wherever I'm going, I'm glad I'm going to go.
BLOCK: That's Rosa Finnegan. She turns 102 today. Her story was produced by Ari Daniel and Caitrin Lynch.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.