Originally posted October 22, 2014 on the Huffington Post
About the time my wife and I finished watching Ken Burns’ incredible 14-hour seriesThe Roosevelts: An Intimate History, the October 2014 issue of The Atlantic magazine arrived. It contained a feature article by Dr. Eziekiel J. Emanuel, a prominent oncologist, and of course, brother of Rahm Emanuel, the current Mayor of Chicago and former White House Chief of Staff during President Obama’s first term.
To put it mildly, both the title of the article (“Why I Hope To Die At 75” ) and the article itself were eye-catching. They were certainly highly controversial and thought provoking.
In no uncertain terms, Dr. Emanuel made the case why both he and society would be better off if he died at age 75. In brief, by the age of 75, he will have lived a full and rewarding life; he will have made all the professional contributions he is likely to make; and, most significant of all, his mental and physical functions will have begun to deteriorate noticeably, if they have not diminished seriously already. Supposedly, the clincher argument, for which there was the only supporting graph in the article, was that as most people age, their productivity declines rapidly.
In arguing his case, Dr. Emanuel was quick to make the point that he has always firmly opposed euthanasia, and further, that in contemplating his demise, he was neither depressed nor maudlin. If anything, he was too matter of fact and “logical.”
The Roosevelts made a dramatically different case. Early on, virtually all of the Roosevelts experienced great disappointments — in many cases, out-and out betrayal. Throughout their lives, they suffered from extremely serious and debilitating emotional and physical illnesses. And yet, time and time again, they were not only able to overcome their various afflictions and disabilities, but were better because of them.
Yes, they eventually succumbed to old age and died. But the key point is that unlike Dr. Emanuel, early on they were able to confront and overcome their losses, not be dragged down by them. In other words, they didn’t shrink from the all-too-real actuality of loss, whether it be emotional and/or physical. Indeed, it helped them to better understand and emphasize with the losses of those who were far less fortunate than them.
Although he acknowledges the role of spirit in his article, Dr. Emanuel doesn’t have an accompanying graph showing that spirit often, but not always, grows with age.
In sum, I cast my spirit with the Roosevelts.
And, oh yes, I am a highly engaged 76 year-old man, and extremely proud of it! But then according to Dr. Emanuel, I’m just an “outlier.” I’m among the small numbers of “senior citizens” who are still creative well into old age.