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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You should live so long


Photos of the Day

Other than the fact that I snapped her photo as part of an interview in her apartment last Friday afternoon, the lady pictured here is of no relation to me.
And yet, as I processed her photos the other day and study them now more closely, I see how easily she could be my own grandmother. Her smile, her laugh, the sparkle still in her eyes, her spry little body, her energy, the way she carried herself, the natural instinct she had to hug and kiss me goodbye, all reminds me how long it’s been since I sat in an apartment chatting with my own mom, and my grandmother before her . . . how the years just melt away, as we live so long. 

I’m reminded, first with a jolt, then a laugh:  I’m on my own path, now a grandma, myself. 
Were she still alive, my grandmother Sarah would be 114 - give or take a year, as she never quite divulged her exact age to us. 
The woman in the photo is Mary Kantor, remarkable in her own way at the age of 102. A resident of “Jewish Apartments” - an assisted living campus in Oak Park, a suburb of Detroit -  Mary has lived in those apartments “aging in place,” as the industry is given to  saying, for more than 20 years. 
When asked how many grandchildren she has, Mary needs to stop and think.  Six grandchildren and sixteen great grandchildren?  Or is it the other way around, sixteen grandchildren and. . . no matter, Mary has a lot of descendents, as she enumerates with her own daughter, sitting beside her on the couch. It’s Mary’s daughter who uses the walker we find parked next to the couch in the living room. Mary’s daughter is visiting - from another “senior apartment” where she lives nearby. 
“You should live so long.”


The expression is Yiddish in origin.  “You should live so long,” is generally used to convey nuances of skepticism - sarcasm, affectionate ridicule. . . 
Excuse the expression (another Yiddism) but you should live so long means. . . don’t wait forever, because it will never happen. 
And yet, here’s Mary, alive and living well enough, living through a century of life. We ask what’s “the secret” of her longevity.  A loving family, a caring social network?  Good health, good meds?  Yogurt, wheat bran, a daily walk in the garden, meditation, faith?  No.  Mary answers that she keeps no secrets.  I’ve lived a normal life,” she says, “Who knows, I guess I’m just blessed.”
Come May, the Jewish Apartments supported by caring families and the philanthropic dollars of the Detroit Jewish community will celebrate “Older Adults Month.” There will be a luncheon in honor of those “most senior” among us, ranging in age from 95 years (the “youngsters” of the group) to 108, or whomever remembers the count this year.  Each year the party gets a little bigger, a little giddier as the number of invitees and their offspring keep growing. Older and older.  

It is estimated that by the year 2050, (we should all live so long!) the number of centenarians worldwide will reach nearly 6 million.  Some say that half the babies born in the U.S. today will live into the 22nd Century. 
Imagine. The miracles of science and medicine. The advancement of industry and the workplace. The world a better place? With more to life?  Or just more living in apartments for the “aged.”  With more discrepancies. More decrepitudes and imbalances. More social insecurities.
Most everybody wants a good long life, or to live for as long as possible.  Given the strides made in medicine and the healthcare during the past 150 years, our life expectancy at birth has nearly doubled: from 40 years to 75. With the oldest among us living well past 100 years, some reaching 115 and onward (or so we’re told) it’s not surprising that we’re starting to believe in our own invincibility, that we too can be. . .curiously, deliciously, wonderously, insufferably long-lived.  

May we all.  Live.  So long. 

Photos: VHenoch
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