Friday, January 21, 2022

Lessons on Living Longer If Not Larger

 Betty White’s legion of multigenerational fans celebrated what would have been her 100th birthday Monday January 17 had she not passed away December 31. They splashed tributes across social media.

Reaching 100 is a milestone not yet commonplace though more frequent than when Willard Scott used to single out centenarians for birthday wishes during his stint as The Today Show’s weatherman from 1980-1996 (he actually began that bit of jolly morning cheer in 1983).

Living longer, if not larger, is a global trend, as The New York Times unrelatedly reported on the day Betty White died. Citing the United Nations, The Times said “there were about 95,000 centenarians in 1990 and more than 450,000 in 2015. By 2100, there will be 25 million.” 

Until the pandemic ended my weekly distribution of kosher meals to aging seniors, I regularly engaged with men and women, mostly women, straddling the 90 year mark. Some were bedridden. Most lived independently, usually in apartments, occasionally in houses they had spent decades in as wives, mothers and widows. They resisted for as long as possible relocation to a senior care facility. 

On January 9, shortly after the December 24 passing of the last of six aging New Yorkers The Times had been following for seven years, the paper printed a moving article entitled, “Some Final Lessons on Life and Loss” (on its Web page it was called “Notes from the End of a Very Long Life”):

There’s much to be learned from those who have come before us and from those who put their wisdoms into words. Spend a moment contemplating three paragraphs from the final article in John Leland’s series:

“How do you make a full and meaningful life when you can’t do so many of the things you once did? The pandemic has brought home how much this question applies to people at any age.

“For almost two years, no one has been able to do things they once did. We all gave up some mobility and time with people, all stopped going to places we loved and felt some degree of isolation. Everyone had to find satisfactions that were still accessible — to make lives of what they had, not what was taken away.

“The elders have been living in this terrain for a long time. Their answers — don’t brood about the things you can’t reach; live as if your time is limited; focus on the people you care about; enjoy the pleasures near at hand — are simple but highly useful, pillars on which to build a good life. Easy to do, hard to remember to do.”