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The Second Half: Does the oldest man inspire you?

October 20, 2010

By Kathleen D. Tresemer
Columnist

“Remember that life’s length is not measured by its hours and days, but by that which we have done therein. A useless life is short if it lasts a century. There are greater and better things in us all, if we would find them out.”—Walter Breuning, at his 113th birthday party

Many of my Second-Half pals think I’m nuts: “Who wants to live to be 120 years old anyway?” they exclaim.

Well, I do, and I’m not alone. Walter Breuning celebrated his 114th birthday in September, holding the title of “World’s Oldest Man.” And from what I could tell, Walter is fairly content with his status. Hey, the guy even has his own page on Wikipedia, which describes him in his most recent decade:

Having lived at the Rainbow Retirement and Assisted Living Center in Great Falls, Mont., for the last 30 years, Breuning is in excellent health, even after a lifelong habit of smoking cigars, completely quitting in 1999. He is able to walk, and eats two meals a day. He still maintains a sharp mind and accurate memory. For example, he can remember his grandfather talking about his experiences in the American Civil War when he was 3 years old, and remembers the day President William McKinley was shot as the day “I got my first haircut.” He has no prescription medications. In November 2007, at the age of 111, Breuning was fitted with hearing aids. On his 112th birthday, Breuning said the secret to long life is being active: “[if] you keep your mind busy and keep your body busy, you’re going to be around a long time.”

View the entire page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Breuning.

“Well, he sounds happy to be alive to me,” I grumble, but there seems to be no changing the minds of people who don’t believe.

Articles about Breuning say he gets up and exercises every day, then dresses himself in a suit and tie to socialize with the other seniors at the retirement center. Photos of Walter on the Internet show him to be a chipper, smiling, dapper sort of fellow.

I found a video interview of him on YouTube, dated Aug. 31, 2010. In this video, Walter said we should exercise our minds and bodies daily and remember that, “Every day is a good day!”

One of my favorite health professionals is Chiropractor Dr. Jarrod Kerkhoff—I asked him what he thought about the oldest man in the world: “He lives in Montana? It’s impressive that the oldest man alive was raised in the United States.”

Good point—I remember when the “Oldest Person” title always went to someone living in Siberia, or on a mountain top in Tibet. These record-holders were reported as having lived solely on yogurt made from yak milk and pine needles mixed with dried herring—GAD!

No wonder we don’t want to live to 120, if we have to be a one-person freak show just to get there. But can you relate to a guy who wears a pinstripe suit and patterned tie, who says his longevity is simply the result of exercising his body and mind every single day?

A Second-Half gal pal told me, “My husband would only want to live to 120 if he could sit in a Barcalounger for hours each day, drinking beer and eating pork rinds while watching old re-runs of Three’s Company.”

By some, that was considered the ultimate retirement: endless leisure. Now, many of us can only hope our seniority offers adequate food, shelter and medical care, topped off by the occasional visit from loving kids and grandchildren. The idea of leisure lurks in the same hiding place as our former dreams of becoming an astronaut or winning the lottery.

So, you don’t want to be old, poor and sickly, but would you want to be 120 if you were as healthy and happy as Walter?

David Leonhardt, motivational author known as The Happy Guy, gives us insight into our age resistance: “Once upon a time, the elders of the village were revered. They bore both knowledge and wisdom. Now, we settle for just knowledge. …The elders were our leaders. Now, we downsize them.”

Read more from The Happy Guy at his website, thehappyguy.com.

“The Happy Guy is right!” I cried. “We should be revered for our wisdom!” To be totally honest, I think we should be revered simply for making it through Dippity-Doo, Vietnam, the Ford Pinto, Pet Rocks and the ever-so-boring 1980s. I can’t understand why no one is lining up to receive my brand of wisdom!

Speaking of age and wisdom, French woman Jeanne Louise Calment (Feb. 21, 1875-Aug. 4, 1997) was the oldest human ever at 122 years. She lived on her own, until finally moving into a nursing home at age 110. She even appeared in the movie Vincent and Me when she was 114! I’d say Jeanne was a pretty spry senior. Doesn’t she inspire you to give old age a try?

Hubby doesn’t get excited when I talk about living to 120. After all, this is the man who proposed to me when he was 40-something, who promised me 50 years of wedded bliss if I would only marry him—so romantic! When you ask him about getting old—really old—he recites his favorite truism from Maurice Chevalier: “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”

I think Eleanor Roosevelt put a nice spin on this aging thing: “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”

Like Walter…and you.

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at kdt-insights@hotmail.com.

From the Oct. 20-26, 2010 issue

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