The Magazine

Growing Older

The best is yet to be, with adjustments.

Dec 31, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 16 • By ELISABETH EAVES
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His travel ethos, too, is refreshingly contrarian in a world of bucket lists and “must-sees.” He observes fellow septuagenarians “setting off on expeditions to exotic destinations, copies of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die tucked in their backpacks.” But, as he writes, “at the twelfth place to see before dying, viewing exotic terrain can get to be old hat—you’ve already done ‘exotic’ eleven times.” 

His message isn’t just that newness can get old, but that there’s nothing wrong with you if it does. After pondering an acquaintance who wears a testosterone patch to make himself feel sexual desire, and takes Cialis to be able to fulfill it, Klein concludes: “Wanting to want something that he doesn’t really want that much, and in his eighth decade, no less, just seems counterfeit, untrue to himself.”

Rather than ticking destinations off an arbitrary list, Klein settles into his home away from home. He frequents his favorite taverna, hangs out with his 72-year-old friend Tasso, hitches a ride on a donkey when he doesn’t feel like walking, and meanders over to the next village, Vlihos, pausing to relish a cigarette on the way. Most of the wandering he does is through his books. He takes the reader with him as he tries to work out how to be “authentically and contentedly old”—sharing not only what Aristotle, Plato, and Epicurus himself had to say on the matter, but also checking in with Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Shakespeare, and Sinatra, among others.

Fortunately, Klein resists easy answers. While he appreciates the slow pace of life on Hydra, he doesn’t suggest that getting off the beatentrack and consuming more olive oil will make every member of the AARP feel fulfilled. But lessons do surface that sound like good advice: Hang on to your friends whose companionship you can enjoy “without wanting anything from them.” Hang on to your spouse, because a long marriage, with its shared memories, is “one of old age’s greatest consolations.” Live modestly and moderately, like an Epicurean rather than an epicurean, and you might have a shot at enjoying the phase of life that Epicurus believed was its pinnacle: “It is not the young man who should be considered fortunate, but the old man who has lived well,” he is recorded as having said. “Because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man has docked in the harbor, having safeguarded his true happiness.”

Klein never reports back on the state of his teeth, but he makes a satisfying case that the road to old-age happiness doesn’t pass through the oral surgeon’s office.

Elisabeth Eaves is the author, most recently,  of Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents.