Aging Gracefully

I watched If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast last night, an HBO film about…

I’m not sure. About life, sure. About Carl Reiner a little bit. Mostly about other people, all in their 90s or 100s and all keeping pretty busy.

I came to it with a little help: I listen to Marc Maron’s podcast a lot, and a couple of years ago he interviewed Mel Brooks. It was a great fit, and they seemed to bond a little over comedy and being Jewish and just stuff. Brooks set him up with Carl Reiner, and eventually Maron interviewed Dick Van Dyke too. All comedy legends, all getting up in years, and all remarkably engaged and active.

Listening to these three conversations so close together, I started wondering. How was it that these guys, all well past the average lifespan, all having outlived women in their lives, were doing so well?

I thought at first that there must be something about the comic mind that keeps age at bay, although this film shoots through that theory. The subjects of the film are all up there in years, but what they do varies a bit, even given that Reiner and the director have chosen mostly show biz types (and there’s no mention of economic insecurity, which has to play a part).

And all show signs of something that’s just now occurred to me, oddly on my mind the past few weeks: People get better. Listening to James Taylor the other night, it struck me that he was an awfully good guitar player, something I don’t remember focusing on when I was younger, and suddenly it made sense. He’s been playing guitar forever; of course he’s better at it.

We see some of this, in the most amazing harmonica playing I’ve ever heard, in a centenarian singer who still sounds sharp and clear, in some stunning piano playing and dancing and running and yoga. It’s a remarkable display of living.

It’s not a great documentary. Some interviews are dull, and the one with Kirk Douglas provokes more sympathy than insight; it was included as an example of persisting when facing serious illness in later life, although Douglas’s strokes have left him hard to understand, and he’s much more impressive when writing.

There’s also Jerry Seinfeld, a full generation or so behind these people, who provides a little context but for the most part seems to be there because he’s Jerry Seinfeld.

And it’s a little scattershot, but that’s enough. I enjoyed it immensely, and it’s nitpicking to compare it to other documentaries. It’s definitely worth watching for just the joy these folks seem to experience daily. Inspiring is the obvious choice of words, but it’s more than that.

I spent some time yesterday in conversation with my grandson on Facetime. They just moved out of the city to a beautiful house on a lake, well into the hill country, and I watched him toss rocks into the water, in his element. The lake is full of bass and catfish, and I see a fishing rod in his future.

And I see this, which is enough.

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