How to Live to Be 90
(1) Run. Get up every morning and run two miles before breakfast, when others in the household are still sleeping; run in the dark, in the rain, in the snow, in summer heat that ripples the blacktop, run so hard so that your face drips with sweat, soaks your faded tee-shirt, darkens your gray athletic socks, makes your daughters hold their noses and cry pee-you when they hug you. Run every day for thirty years, Sundays and holidays, on business trips and vacations, until your hips will no longer carry you, and then take up walking.
(2) Read. The New York Times, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The Savage God. The Lives of a Cell. A Brief History of Time. Read everywhere–riding the chairlift at Bousquet’s with The Brothers Karamozov in your parka pocket; it’s only a ten minute ride, but after you’ve pulled down the safety bar, settled your skis on the painted rung, slipped your poles along your wrist, you can telemark into another world larger than all the blue hills of the Berkshires, the world of the Grand Inquisitor that poses the only questions worth asking: Is there a God? And why does He permit some to be happy and others to suffer?
(3) Play. Play the piano because you always wanted to and were never allowed to as a child because your parents said it was for sissies, for girls. Play Chopin late at night when everyone else has gone to bed, play even though it’s hard to stretch your arthritic fingers across those octaves, hard to capture all the subtle crescendos and diminuendos, play even though you’ll never sound like your concert-pianist teacher with her nimble, fairy fingers, play because it moves you, because it holds you in the moment, because it makes you forget about everything you have lost.
(4) Laugh. Don’t take anything, especially yourself, too seriously, because it’s all passing, the tragic and the comic, and nothing endures, even the wittiest remarks, the family dinner twenty years ago when you said to your 38-year-old daughter, when she couldn’t seem to settle on an occupation or a boyfriend, much less a husband, “You know, Becky, life isn’t for everyone.” You laughed. She laughed, even though the joke was on her. Over the decades, she has repeated the joke to her friends, who have also laughed. Laugh even if the joke is on you, especially if the joke is on you, because the fool is the wisest man in Shakespeare, and he who laughs lasts, as the bumper sticker sagely says.
(5) Eat. Fill your plate. Take seconds. Take thirds. Steak, scalloped potatoes, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, Stickie buns, anything chocolate—brownies, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate ice cream, chocolate turtles from the fine candy store nestled in gold paper and tucked in colorful boxes that the smiling salesperson saves just for you, that you squirrel away in the top right hand drawer of your desk and munch on to sweeten all those nasty chores like staying up late to finish your taxes.
(6) Drink. Raise your glass. Make a toast. Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Grigio. You’re no oenophile, you don’t really get terms like nose and palette. You couldn’t tell the difference between a dry wine and a dessert wine. You’d be just as happy with a $10 bottle of Fat Bastard Chardonnay as with a $200 dollar bottle of Chateau Margeaux. But you drink because you love the taste of the sweet-sharp, oak-like bouquet swilling down your throat, love the altered state that makes death and taxes fly away, the buzz that fills the world with oxytocin, makes everything worthy of your attention.
(7) Change. Stop drinking. Eat less. Travel to the North Pole. Take a dip in the frigid, 50 degree waters. Leave the western Massachusetts city you were born and raised in, the county where you have lived nearly all your 85 years and move to an assisted living facility on the coast of Maine. Join a weekly men’s doubles group, even though you hate doubles. Walk four miles a day. Walk the flat hard sand of Higgins beach at low tide, in summer and in winter, in rain and in snow.
Break your hip a week before Christmas, recover in Holbrook, the acute care wing which you wouldn’t enter when first touring Piper Shores. Stay there for three weeks, even though the food is terrible and the demented old folks give you the willies. Learn to use a walker, learn to get around with a cane. Return to your condo. Take up all the scatter rugs so you don’t break the other hip. Fly to Florida to The Hillsboro Club in Hillsboro Beach as you’ve done for the past fifteen winters, but this year appreciate it, this year stop calling it the bone yard.
Walk the paved roads near Higgins Beach, enjoy the spectacle of dogs off their leashes chasing seagulls, even though you’ve always hated dogs. Vote for Barack Obama, even though you’ve voted the Republican ticket for most of your life. End every telephone conversation with your partner, your children and grandchildren with the words, I love you, even though you come from a generation that isn’t comfortable expressing sentiment. Hug your friends and family at the beginning and end of every visit. Say, Thank you for coming, say I love you, say I love you.