There are many joys in living with Bill. However, one of the more dubious ones is having to deal with the ravenous hunger he’s developed since turning 80 for books about the meaning of life and other people’s thoughts on death. As he’ll be 87 at the end of January, by now we’ve got entirely too many books like that around the house, just about everywhere except next to my side of the bed.
As you know, I’m deep into an unpaid career as an ostrich about what lies ahead. So I tend to look the other way when Bill urgently presses some new reading matter of this kind on me with an endearing “You just gotta see this!” Well, why wouldn’t I? They generally have titles like The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead. In fact, that’s the very book Bill has just thrust into my hands, allegedly for livening up the blog. (He likes to be helpful that way.)
One Day You’ll Be Dead is by David Shields, who’s a professor in the English Department at the University of Washington and appears in his author photo on the back flap to be relatively young but bald. The front flap explains, “Mesmerized — at times unnerved — by his ninety-seven-year-old father’s nearly superhuman vitality and optimism, David Shields undertakes an investigation of the human physical condition. The result is this exhilarating book: both a personal meditation on mortality and an exploration of flesh-and-blood existence from crib to oblivion — an exploration that paradoxically prompts a renewed and profound appreciation of life.”
Well, I certainly appreciate life. It’s the oblivion business I have trouble with. I’m with Woody Allen, who’s quoted in the book as having said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I would rather live on in my apartment.”
Mind you, that’s not the part Bill marked for me to read. (I found it on my own.) The section he feels good about is on page 186, in a chapter entitled “How to Live Forever (i)”. I do understand that most of us, remarkably even including me, would not want to live on in excruciating pain, or as a vegetable without cognition or bodily control, thanks to the devastations of Alzheimer’s. This is for the other kinds of living as long as possible.
Therefore, just in case any of you, even those youngsters under boomer age, might have some proactive interest in hearing the results of Shields’s research on the goal of living as long as possible, I am typing it out here. That will make Bill happy and get the book out of my office and back onto one of his many shelves. Which will make me happy. I’ve put in the numbers, to make reading easier. Here goes:
If you want to live longer, you should — in addition to the obvious: (1) eating less and (2) losing weight — (3) move to the country, (4) not take work home, (5) do what you enjoy, (6) feel good about yourself, (7) get a pet, (8) learn to relax, (9) live in the moment, (10) laugh, (11) listen to music, (12) sleep 6 to 7 hours a night [that's all?] (13) be blessed with long-lived parents and (14) grandparents (35% of your longevity is due to genetic factors), (15) be married, (16) hug, (17) hold hands, (18) have sex regularly, (19) have a lot of children, (20) get along with your mother, (21) accept your children, (22) nurture your grandchildren, (23) be well-educated, (24) stimulate your brain [does blogging count?],(25) learn new things, (26) be optimistic, (27) channel your anger in a positive way, (28) not always have to be right, (29) not smoke, (30) use less salt, (31) have chocolate occasionally, (32) eat a Mediterranean diet of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and poultry, (33) drink green tea and moderate amounts of red wine, (34) exercise, (35) have goals, (36) take risks, (37) confide in a friend, (38) not be afraid to seek psychological counseling, (39) be a volunteer, (40) have a role in the community, (41) attend church, (42) find God.
Father Shields’s scorecard was 38 out of 42. (Son Shields admits his dad has lost his sense of humor as he’s grown older, so I’m not sure how he scores number 10. Maybe that’s one of the four his father didn’t get.)
I don’t do nearly as well as Shields the elder. I can’t get along with my mother because she’s gone, and was very difficult to be with before that. Church has never been in my life, and I’m not so sure about God, either. It’s hard to nurture my grandchildren, although I’d like to, because they live quite far away and are very busy with their own pursuits. I do like being right, although I no longer fight on the beaches and refuse to surrender. I sleep more than 6 or 7 hours and don’t know whether that’s extra brownie points or points taken away. I used to smoke, but stopped on June 6, 1969, so how do we score that? And the parents/grandparents: how do we define “long-lived?”
But Bill says we’re doing everything right, despite the occasional hamburger, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. I say it’s not quite a crock of you-know-what because it does point us in the right direction, but take it with a grain of salt. (Not too many grains, though.)
And now we’re done and can go back to what we were doing before I began. I hope Bill is pleased.