Last week in Great Falls, Montana, the world’s oldest man died of natural causes. Walter Breuning was 114.
Whenever someone reaches great age, usually 100 or more, it is tradition that a reporter from the local newspaper asks how he or she managed to live so long. To what do you attribute your long life? Is the standard question.
For many years it has been an irregular, minor hobby of mine to keep track of the answers – not because I’m looking for advice, but because the first one I remember noticing, when I was a kid, was funny: “I smoke a pack of cigarettes and drink a quart of whiskey every day.”
Many of the answers elders give echo the health experts and could be inscribed in fortune cookies:
- Have a positive outlook
- Lots of laughter
- Keep busy
- Honest, good, clean living
- Know yourself
Undoubtedly good advice, but not interesting. Harry Truman didn’t do much better: “Take a two-mile walk every morning before breakfast,” he said.
I’m pretty sure this less famous man was pulling the reporter’s leg: “I made sure I got up every day.”
Although it was a man who said this, just about every woman I know wishes this were the secret to long life: “A little chocolate every day.”
Here’s another involving food from a British elder: “No alcohol, no cigarettes and plenty of fish and chips.” I guess all that grease didn’t matter to her in the long run.
Extremely old people often mention food and smoking – pro and con:
“Be nice to everyone, drink your wine and rest.” Don’t you like how she snuck in the wine there in the middle.
“Eat, drink and raise hell.”
And my recent favorite as written down by the reporter: “…going to bed early, not drinking and giving up smoking in her 90s.”
Walter Breuning gave one of the lengthiest answers I’ve ever read in the story noting his death at The New York Times:
• Embrace change, even when the change slaps you in the face. (“Every change is good.”)
• Eat two meals a day (“That’s all you need.”)
• Work as long as you can (“That money’s going to come in handy.”)
• Help others (“The more you do for others, the better shape you’re in.”)
Then there’s the hardest part. It’s a lesson Breuning said he learned from his grandfather: Accept death.
“We’re going to die. Some people are scared of dying. Never be afraid to die. Because you’re born to die,” he said.
There are a few TGB readers I know of who are living in their ninth decade who might have some pithy advice about long life. But why not let everyone else take a whack at it today, too. To what do you attribute your long life – so far?
Me? I suspect the centenarians who answer this question find it kind of dumb but are too polite to say so and make up stuff. But if I take it seriously, I can’t do any better than those fortune cookie sayings: I think how long we live is just the luck of the draw.
Even so, I like reading what others say.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: Strider and the Baby Bunny Rabbits