When his energy began to ebb, and arthritis pain eroded his joie de vivre, my grandfather told me he was ready to die. "I've had a good life, but it's enough," he said. "It's time." A few months later, he died peacefully at home, before any hospital could get hold of him. Pop was 95 — two decades beyond the age that the renowned physician Ezekiel Emanuel has decided is the optimal time to exit, lest age render us "feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic." During the last 20 years of his life, my grandfather was none of those; everyone who knew him admired his vigor, his warmth, the twinkle in his eye. Pop extracted great richness from the simplest things. Time spent with his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Playing cards and kibitzing with his buddies. His long, daily walks to the stores. He loved food — selecting it, cooking it, eating it. An immigrant who was orphaned in childhood and went to work in his teens, Pop never had much money or worldly success. But he was a natural Zen master, living in the moment, grateful for what he had. I learned a lot just by watching him live.
Most of us share Emanuel's fear of dementia, disability, and dependence — of living too long. But as a hyperkinetic overachiever, the good doctor wrongly presumes that a decline of any kind is an unbearable humiliation. Lessons await us at every stage of life; as our sense of our mortality sharpens, we have the opportunity to put our egos aside, truly savor our remaining time on this planet, and bestow our love and wisdom on our successors. With luck, that process can continue long after you turn 75. L'chaim, Zeke.