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Point of View: Is the Air Sweeter?

Wed, 05/31/2023 - 16:57

I was chagrined to learn the other day that when it comes to length of service I am well outdone by Milton Esterow, a 94-year-old who writes culture and arts features for The Times and still uses a 1950 Royal typewriter. There was a photo of him on the inside of the front page the other day, and he looked hale and hearty too. Work, he said, was more fun than fun — words that Mary can imagine me saying.

Montaigne said that he wanted death to overtake him while planting his cabbages — when fully involved in living, I understand him to say, with his boots on. Most who died, he said, were almost dead anyway, so there was nothing much to it in the end. “C’est rien,” my father’s mother-in-law told him and my stepmother on her death bed. “It’s nothing.”

Actually, I think Montaigne said at one point that it was less than nothing, his intent being to dissuade us from the fear of death, which he thought pointless inasmuch as it was going to happen anyway in the natural course of things. Rather than trying not to think of it, we should, he said, think of it all the time. “The usefulness of living lies not in duration, but in what you make of it.” Henry Haney of this place once said the same thing to me: “Life is what you make of it.”

I do think, though, that the more oblivion looms, the more you do want to pay attention, the more you want to listen and learn, the more you want to do things as well as you can, and to do what’s right, especially when it comes to those within your circle. These days, for example, I’m even more excited, I think, while driving over the back roads to a tennis match than I used to be, and I can’t wait for what I’m told will be Spanish classes for adults at the high school in the fall.

Recently, in talking over with an astute physical therapist my latest complaint — fundamentally a pain in the butt, an ailment that most of my doubles partners would consider most fitting — I marveled at the model he held up for my inspection of the intricate spinal column and hip bones. To think that I would probably go to my grave, I said, utterly ignorant of my innards, or of most anything else for that matter. Life, indeed, is miraculous.

Is the air sweeter this spring? Are the trees more beautiful? The light more golden? Is working more fun than fun? Yes, I would say so.

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