Anita Landa, age 80
IT’S AN OLD TRUISM that you’re old when you start thinking of time left. “Oh, look, I’m 50 and I only have 40 more years left to live…” But counting the years left isn’t exactly like facing the inevitable end of those years, the grim reaper in a black cape holding a scythe. That happens in the seventies. It starts with loss; I lost my best friend from grade school, from college, from graduate school in the second half of my seventh decade. Three loved close ones, age mates, life long intimates, gone. For a while after each death I could talk to them, but then the dead finally fade, die, they’re gone. Why? They got fatal diseases, they were misdiagnosed or not diagnosed early enough, they suffered from genetic disorders, who knows why, except they were getting old and who lives forever? Not them and, you suddenly realize, not you. Not you. Because at 79, it finally happens to you. To me. Very suddenly. Looks like a large tumor, growing quietly for god knows how long, probably inoperable. Further tests.
Waiting for the test results, I make a decision: let’s pretend I have only six months left to live. I’ve read enough articles about how to deal with the fatally ill to know what questions to ask. So, first of all, am I afraid? Surprisingly, no. What can I look back on? Having raised great children, been blessed with terrific grandsons; having had wonderful friendships with siblings and friends; having contributed what I could to educating adults and shortening wars. Are there friendships I’d like to mend? No. Old friends to reconnect with? If I had more time. Accomplish in the time left? Finish my memoir and some stories I’ve been writing. Identify family photos. I get up early the next morning and start working.
A week later the CAT scan shows that the tumor is a calcified fibroid, not life threatening, it’s not going to kill me. But it’s destroyed something: the delusion of immortality, of death being something that happens to other people or in a long, long time. I turned 80 bathed in joyfulness, grateful for every moment that’s still left me. I’d wish this could have happen in my seventies, but I think the seventies are about learning rather than celebrating. At least mine were.