Aging Famously by Elizabeth Meade Howard, Middle school in the 50’s. Elizabeth introduces us to upwards of 30 old people who are not letting age cramp there zest for life and achievement. The cover undoubtedly represents the cupcake Obama gave to journalist Helen Thomas when she turned 89. He also sang Happy Birthday to her. Thomas is just one of these vital, valient souls who show us how to make the last chapter a very fulfilling one. Many of these vignettes are interviews the author was able to arrange with her remarkable assemblage. Some are truly famous (household name famous) like Walter Cronkite, Carol Channing, and Jesse Jackson. Others are writers and artists who continue to create for a smaller following. A favorite for me was the chapter on Hal Holbrook, so famous for his depiction of Mark Twain. His life is a revelation for its courageous triumph over a fraught childhood.
The story that frames these portraits is Elizabeth’s own struggle with grief and aging. The book represents her quest for mentors who got it right. Often she finds them in her own neighborhood in Charlottesville or Key West.
The character Meursault in L’Etranger wishes that there might be a mechanical flaw in the guillotine that is destined to execute him, one chance in a million that it won’t work. Though a few are comforted by belief in an afterlife or in reincarnation, most are facing a mechanism that always works. All these touching stories end (or will end) the same way; we know that, but it doesn’t make it any less chilling. The message, however, is not that it ends; rather these stories recount the gratifying, even inspiring ways others have greeted their limited time.