End Notes of a Very Long Life by New York’s Oldest

“No, no,” Jonas replied. “The it’s good. It is here who needs help. The world needs a lot of help. I’ll be very busy, busier than I’ve ever been.

It was a statement that what you did mattered, and that it just didn’t stop to matter even when everything else was lost.

For nearly seven years, Ruth and the other elders served as penpals for a country most of us have not traveled to, although many will. Their dispatches were generous, surprising, predictable, enlightening, contradictory and at times full of beans, worthy of what novelist Penelope Lively, born a decade after Ruth, called “this place where we come with some surprise – ambushed, or so it may appear.

They were, after all, stories of loss: accepting the loss, resisting it, living fully with it while acknowledging the pain it brings. That is to say, they have been life stories. And as such, the stories end in this final article in a Times series that began under the Obama administration.

At the end of each year, I asked the elders if they were happy to have lived it. Did the year have a value for them? The response was always the same, even from those, including Ruth, who had said throughout the year that they were ready to go, that they wanted it to end as soon as possible. Yes, they said, yes, it was worth living.

I haven’t been able to ask Ruth that question this year, so her last words will have to be her answer. When she couldn’t speak on the last day, surrounded by her family, she simply kissed her daughters’ hands. But before that, she turned to her nurse. – Thank you, she said without speaking again.


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