The older I get, the more religiously do I check out obituaries. I doubt that I am not unlike many other of my contemporaries and folks who are much older than me. Of particular interest to me is the causes of death.
But there is one aspect of obits of the elderly that gnaws at me. It concerns particular phrases or sentences that I note all too frequently for my taste, especially regarding octogenarians and nonagenerians. The phrasing tends to run something like this:
The day before he died, Mr. Doe oversaw preparations for. . .
He had turned in the final draft of his manuscript only a week earlier. . .
His death occurred while traveling to Europe to consult with. . .
Despite his illness, he had been working tirelessly until the month before he died to. . .
Fortunately, my excellent health has persisted into my early 70s, but no one would ever write upon my death how productive I have been in retirement.
What I want to know is why much of society seem to lionize those individuals who refuse to cease working so as to stop and smell the roses. Indeed, I admire them immensely for having plunged into new projects, continued with older ones, dedicated themselves to volunteer work or perhaps embarked on a wide range of other rewarding pursuits.
Among those who come to mind are Liz Smith, Jerry Lewis, Richard Wilbur, Nat Hentoff and Pablo Picasso. Henry Kissinger is, of course, still among us, a workhouse from all appearances at the age of 94. His latest of books was published three years ago when he was 91.
I was once caught with ol’ Henry–then in his ’50s– in the same section of a revolving door at the Plaza Hotel when trying to get a quote from him for the A.P. I wonder whether he was thinking of me when he made the following declaration:
The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.
Another of my new best friend’s oft-quoted remarks is one that I relate as maybe the most pertinent reason for some individuals to cling to their careers. Says Kissinger:
Power is the great aphrodisiac.
Perhaps that is the best reason to keep working. Remember the statuesque Nancy? They were married in ’74 and remain so.
At the same time that I have enormous respect for the productive aged, even those closer to my time so far on earth, I also find myself resenting them. They make me feel guilty for my leisurely pursuit of those of life’s pleasures that work doesn’t provide.
Yeah, I know that no one can make me feel guilty. That’s on me.
But, but. . . I plan to continue traveling, reading, socializing, writing, exercising daily at times that happen to be convenient and otherwise living a life of leisure after having worked hard from age 15 until I retired at the end of 2016.
I just wish I could manage to do so without that mantle of guilt.