Some time ago, I wrote my own obituary. It was for an assignment, but it really got me thinking: how long do I really want to live?
My obituary is dated October 2100, when I’ll be 105. Jenny Jiskani (1995-2100—I’ve always hoped to live in three centuries), as the obituary goes, dies in her Manhattan apartment with her Pakistani Jain pacifist husband at her side.
“Jenny is survived by her three children, all adopted; six grandchildren; and eighteen great-grandchildren. Ziazan, adopted in 2022, was followed by Beryl in 2024, and Lila in 2030, from an undisclosed location in the pacific island region,” is the last paragraph of the obituary, after it reports that Jenny has written numerous novels and found the good in a rowdy Rottweiler mix she adopted from the local pound when she was 67.
Some people, such as star-crossed second-world-war Austrian lovers, are 16 going on 17. Others, like adorably precocious pre-adolescents, are 10 going on 35. I, on the other hand, am 19 going on 67. I always have been, except when I wasn’t 19, at which point I was 16 going on 67, or nine going on 67, or even four going on 67.
67 has always seemed like an ideal age to me. It’s old enough for people to give up their subway seats for me, but it’s not quite old enough to need anything unseemly, like adult diapers or bedpans. I want to be 67 so I can knit with abandon, stroll in the park with my basset hounds, and wear comfortable yet tastefully appropriate clothes. When I’m 67, I’m not going to let myself go, per se, but my grooming standards are going to go from outside world average to farm camp strenuous. Many of my hobbies—baking, knitting, journaling, collecting Russian nesting dolls and miniature purses, and drinking tea—already naturally align themselves with being 67, so it will hardly be difficult to adjust to my advanced age.
But age is an enigma. My whole life, I’ve been young. I’ve never known anything else, so it’s possible that being old is kind of terrible. We do live in a youth-obsessed culture, so I’m worried that yearning to be old is an example of me neglecting to check my privilege, as the kids call it these days.
A more pressing concern, though, is that I’m terrified that I’m wasting my youth. Youth is such a prized commodity in our culture that it seems absurd to wish I were 67. You’re only young once, people say; you might as well live it up. I won’t be 19 forever. I know that. Time moves pretty quickly. As Ferris Bueller says, if you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you just might miss it. What if I get to 67 and wish I had done more exciting things when I was 19? What if I get to 67 and feel horrible and old? Or what if my interests at 67 suddenly shift and I find myself longing to drink beer and do adventurous things, like stay up until 4 a.m. and balance on slack lines? Or worse yet, what if I don’t make it to 67?
To get rid of that harrowing thought, I’m going to distract myself by fantasizing about what my life will look like at 67. Each night, I’ll read by candlelight until 10 p.m. and then sleep peacefully until 7 a.m., at which point I’ll take a brisk stroll around the reservoir where Jacqueline Kennedy used to walk (as long as it’s not underwater due to global warming at that point) in my pink jogging suit, and then I’ll arrive a daring 25 minutes early to my job as a children’s librarian. My life will be slow and I’ll bask in all the knowledge that I’ve accumulated. It sounds like a great life to me, spending lazy afternoons doing a slow breaststroke in the communal pool and playing bridge and reading books.
Many people shudder at the thought of being old. In October, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, the brother of Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, wrote an essay called, “Why I Hope To Die At 75,” published in the Atlantic. The essay’s point is that life after 75, fraught with diminished creative and mental functioning, is not a life worth living. In order to manifest his vision of not living past 75, Mr. Emanuel plans to refuse all life-extending treatments after his 75th birthday: no chemotherapy, no surgery, not even any blood pressure medication. It’s certainly noble of him to refuse to be a drain on the economy, but I wonder if life post-75 is entirely without meaning: Mr. Emanuel seems to forget that despite their smaller mental capacities and subpar innovative qualities, old people have what young people lack: vast quantities of experiences of all kinds, good and bad.
It might be the predictable plot of every young adult book whose delinquent main character is forced to do community service at a local nursing home, but it’s true: old people see things differently because they’ve seen it all. Mr. Emanuel might be right that life after 75 lacks meaning for the liver, but what about the young people who seem hell-bent on destroying the country? Old people, especially those who have had as much life experience as Mr. Emanuel has had, might think about sharing their wisdom with the young masses. Not all old people are wise, of course, and many often make crude or culturally insensitive remarks at the dinner table, but we can still learn from their mistakes if they would only let us—and if we would only listen.
I want to be 67 for my own enjoyment, but I think I want to be 87 for other people. I rather like the idea of being a hero. Maybe that way I’ll score a longer obituary in the New York Times.