Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

All life is a gift

“I am tired,” said Mr. Hale. “I’m fifty-five years of age, and that little fact of itself accounts for any loss of strength.”
“Nonsense! I’m upward of sixty and feel no strength, either bodily or mental. Don’t let me hear you talking so. Fifty-five! Why, you’re quite a young man.”
-Elisabeth Gaskell, North and South, 1855

Rita Levi Montalcini

At a time when many countries have a compulsory retirement age of 60 for many professions, it is salutary to know that people can achieve great things at a later age. This is illustrated by a man who is enjoying his “golden years” and has sent newspaper clippings embedded with titles such as “All life is a gift” and “The purpose of living is to live.” It clearly illustrates that much can be achieved beyond the time traditionally allocated in the Bible.

The clippings start with Albert Schweitzer, pictured with his wife Helen in 1949. Thanks to his unceasing efforts to help his fellow men, this Alsatian born philosopher, musician, and doctor, became one of the most admired personalities of the 20th century. Known largely for his work in the jungle in Lambarene, formerly French Equatorial Africa, now Gabon, he is shown visiting the United States shortly after World War II. He lived from 1875 to 1965, at which stage the newspaper clipping breaks off.

Next is Alice Sommer Hertz, 106 years old. She is the one who said “all life is a gift,” looking back on a fulfilling career as a pianist. Remaining in good health and playing every day the music of Bach and Beethoven in her apartment in London, she shares the page with a clipping announcing that Woody Allen opened in Spain a cultural center designed by the famous 103-year-old Brazilian, Oscar Niemeyer. Then there is Eric Kandel, 82 years old and happily married for 54 years to his wife Denise, he teaches at Columbia University and in 2000 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Rita Levi Montalcini, described as a tiny woman with a huge hairdo, 100 years old in 2009, also received (in 1986) the Nobel Prize for Medicine, for discovering a protein that allows nerves to grow. Appointed in 2001 by the president of Italy as senator for life, she was also the first woman appointed by Paul VI to the Vatican Academy of Sciences.

Among several obituaries we find Stanley Kunitz (dead at age 100), who had produced a dozen books after the age of 75, culminating with the successful The Wild Brand, earning a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, and two terms as US poet laureate. Dying at 93 was Bruce Metzger, a New Testament scholar who oversaw the 1989 publication in the US of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible; at 92 years of age, Ray Evans, Oscar-winning songwriter whose collaboration with Jay Livingston gave rise to “Silver Bells,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Que Sera Sera”; at 93 years, Robert Adler, physicist for the Zenith company; and at 96 years, Maurice Papon, French bureaucrat turned police chief who had the less enviable record of being convicted in 1998 of complicity in crimes against humanity.

David Bergen, dead at age 94, was a self-described “people’s lawyer,” jump-starting class action lawsuits in Palm Beach Florida. Evelyn Munro, (dead at 92 years) member of the South Tenant Farmers Union, was one of the first racially integrated unions that fought for the rights of sharecroppers in Laguna Beach California; Frank Snowden (95 years) was a Howard University classicist and pioneer for African-American rights, claiming that ancient Greece was comparatively free of the violence and racism that plagued later Western nations; and Peggy Gilbert (102), a pioneering jazz saxophonist and leader of the Dixie Belles. The clippings also have a picture of Elvis Presley in the prime of his life, with the house he occupied for 13 months before he moved to Graceland, listed on eBay at $905,000. It also says that 600,000 people visit Graceland each year, and claims (in a complicated article) that a long life is not a matter of luck, but that nature is Darwinian and selects those who show the most evidence of action and worth!

GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief

Highlighted in Frontispiece Volume 5, Issue 2 Spring 2013 and as a vignette Volume 14, Issue 2 – Spring 2022

Spring 2013



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