If you’ve never read Oliver Sacks, you should. He is a physician, neuroscientist, and best-selling author of twelve books, the latest of which, Hallucinations, was published in 2012. No dry scientist, his eloquence reaches deep into what it means to be human.
In the February/March AARP magazine, he “muses on the gift of a long life” in “The Joy of Turning 80.” I recommend it to everyone, including those for whom 80 looks a long way away. Here I’ll share only his conclusion.
My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective.
One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one has a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like. I do not think of old age as an ever-grimmer time that one must somehow endure, but as a time of leisure, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.
I am enjoying being 80.