Several years ago in the National Museum of Kraków, I remember studying the Botticelli portrait of Giuliano de Medici, a historical figure previously unknown to me. I was transfixed by the arrogant tilt of the head, the self-confident expression, the full possession of his black curls, his youth, and his virility.
Naturally, I wondered what became of him. What future was he blithely unaware of in this this portrait? So I looked it up.
He was co-ruler of Florence in the 15th century, the “golden boy” – a handsome, athletic, renowned patron of the arts. His illegitimate son by his mistress Fioretta Gorini, Giulio di Giuliano de Medici, became Pope Clement VII.
He was assassinated by a rival clan on 26 April, 1478, in the Duomo of Florence, killed by a sword wound to the head and was stabbed 19 times.
He was 25 years old.
They certainly knew how to pack it in back then. But that got me to thinking about all those rulers and leaders and authors and statesman who were called cruel or neurotic or selfish or greedy. Are they famous for traits they would have outgrown had they simply lived longer?
Remember, for example, when you judge Mr. Darcy harshly that he is a mere 28 years old, and Lizzie Bennett is just 20. Who among us does not regret being haughty, vain, or silly when they were Lydia Bennett‘s 15? Most of us live it down.
This is a long way to coming around to Jane Fonda‘s appearance at Kepler’s last month. She is still living down the ill-advised moment she climbed into the seat of an anti-aircraft gun in Hanoi in 1972. She was 34. All those workout videos and film cannot erase that indelible moment. Should it?
And here she was a few feet in front of me. (Video below. The first with my Droid. I’ll get better. Really I will.) Now she’s 73 and peddling a book called Prime Time. She’s a cheerleader for the Boomers.
And admittedly a good looking one, no matter how much surgery it took. She was glossy and very thin under a bushel of hair and tinted glasses. As she donned her reading glasses, she said she had “lost eyesight but gained insight.”
The room seemed to be filled largely with Boomers. She gave a shout-out to Laura Carstensen of Stanford’s Longevity Center, with whom she had been spending time during her swing through the Peninsula.
She touched on Carstensen’s main themes: we are, on average, living 34 years longer than earlier generations. What are we going to do with all the time?
“A third of how well we do aging is genetics. Two-thirds is us and the decisions we make.” Over time, she said, we have “less of an ego-stake in the outcomes.” She also said, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”
She began talking about sex for the elderly, getting a ripples of knowing, cougar-like chuckles from the audience. She recommended computer dating. “Over here! Help me, Jane!” one called out. “Match me up, Jane!”
She had a piece of good advice for one of the few young women in the audience (it was almost entirely women): “It gets better,” she said. “Understand that ‘no’ is a complete sentence. Your body is yours. Honor it. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.”
Who would she go back to in time to talk to? “Jesus.” Who besides Jesus. “Eleanor Roosevelt.” I didn’t quite follow the line of thinking.
Someone asked her about becoming a Christian. “It changed my life. It also ended my marriage [to Ted Turner].”
“It has given me a core, a center. …Once we understand spirit, we’re strong.”
She cited Viktor Frankl, and said that a key to living well and longer was “generativity” – a fancy word for sharing. But if caritas is merely another form of self-improvement – is it love at all? Isn’t it simply something else we are doing for ourselvse?
I had never seen Kepler’s so crowded. The room was transfixed. The crowd was well educated, well heeled, well groomed. They had everything, and many of them didn’t seem to know it. They wanted to know how to get more from their lives.
But isn’t there an age when we should simply be giving more?