Yesterday, we learned from New York Magazine that the world’s oldest person, 116-year-old Susannah Mushatt Jones, lives in Brooklyn. Generally speaking, I think people who have inhabited Earth for any period nearing this number of years should be considered global treasures. Whatever they do, say, or think must, on some level, be valuable; time has proven things to them, perhaps all the more so because they have so little of it left.
Same holds for people who live knowing they will soon die. I regularly think about an essay, “Filter Fish” by Oliver Sacks, which appeared in the New Yorker, technically, after her died. In it, Sacks writes how “in what are (barring a miracle) [his] last weeks of life” he was consumed with an appetite for one of his favorite childhood foods, gefilte fish. Though he lacked an appetite for almost anything, the one thing he could stomach and was fixated on consuming was the Sabbath food, which—because it could no longer be made by his mother or favorite housekeeper Helen, who had long since died—he would procure from a number of New York delis, among which Russ & Daughters was a favorite.
“I cannot eat more than two or three ounces at a time, but an aliquot of gefilte fish every waking hour nourishes me with much needed protein,” Sacks writes. “Gefilte fish will usher me out of this life, as it ushered me into it, eighty-two years ago.”
It seems that, at the end of life, the daily routines that once felt forgettable and inconsequential are revealed as the most cherished. And so I was particularly anxious to learn about the preferences of Mushatt Jones, who was born in 1899 and happens to be our collective neighbor. And from her long life, I’d like to take special note of the following things, surely life lessons for us all.
- Casual swearing is cool: While she once found it odious, Mushatt Jones no longer gives a damn about casual swearing (“though she’d subsequently deny any cussing she did”).
- Don’t waste the time you have in unnecessary pain: Even though she’s losing her eyesight from cataracts, she refuses surgery. Living out her days in post-op recovery doesn’t sound like fun at all. We get it. This could also apply to painful relationships, we think.
- Eat the good stuff: If there is one thing Mushatt Jones loves most, it might be bacon. Four pieces daily compose her breakfast, and she eats it “with gusto.” It’s exciting to know that, despite all the brilliant things we might see and learn in life, our ability to relish a delicious treat will remain one of our most important exercises in happiness. (Also great to know that, if our favorite treat happens to be bacon, we might remain just as healthy for devouring it.)
Then there’s this completely amazing fact: Though Mushatt Jones’ hair long ago turned white, it’s grown back brown in her last days. More proof that the human body is weird as fuck.