It Dawned on Me: Long lives, big contributions

Dawn De Busk

Writer’s preface: This column is dedicated to my grandmother, Virginia Marie Matney Paulk, who died Dec. 23, 2016. She was 99 years old. Grandma Virginia was selfless and giving with a wonderful sense of humor and very little patience for tears and feeling sorry for oneself.  

By Dawn De Busk

BN Columnist

Charles M. Schultz crafted comic strips until a few months before he died on Feb. 12, 2000, at the age of 77. He did not retire at 65, but instead continued until December 1999 to create the Peanuts comic strip with familiar characters that were enjoyed by so many people.

“The continuing popular appeal of Peanuts stems, in large part, from Schulz’s ability to portray his observations and connect to his audience in ways that many other strips cannot. As each character’s personality has been fleshed out over the years, readers came to intimately understand Linus’ attachment to his security blanket, Charlie Brown’s heartache over the Little Red-Haired Girl, Schroeder’s devotion to Beethoven, Peppermint Patty’s prowess in sports and failure in the classroom, and Lucy’s  knowledge of… well… everything,” according to his biography from the Charles M. Schultz Museum.

“Schulz’s understated genius lay in his ability to keep his well-known and comfortable characters fresh enough to attract new readers while keeping his current audience coming back for more,” the museum website said. “When Schulz announced his retirement in December 1999, the Peanuts comic strip was syndicated in over 2,600 newspapers worldwide, with book collections translated in over 25 languages. He has been awarded with the highest honors from his fellow cartoonists, received Emmy Awards for his animated specials, been recognized and lauded by the U.S. and foreign governments, had NASA spacecraft named after his characters, and inspired a concert performance at Carnegie Hall.”

Two contemporaries – Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell starred together in the comical musical, Gentleman Prefer Blondes. While the iconic blonde bombshell Monroe died in her mid-thirty’s, Russell lived to be 89 years old.

The woman for whom Howard Hughes had designed a bra left behind Hollywood after making movies through 1970. Photos of her post-Hollywood life in the town of Palm Springs showed a woman who always wore dark shades of lipstick and styled her hair. But, her beauty was more than skin-deep. Russell was actively involved in her church choir and volunteerism. She wisely invested her money in real estate.

Two comedians of the 20th Century: John Belushi and George Carlin. Like Monroe, Belushi died when he was in his 30s (33) from a drug overdose. The recorded skits from his years with Saturday Night Live will live on forever as comic genius.

But, Carlin, who lived to be 71 years old — which isn’t really that old, continued to evolve as a comedian and author. In 1978, his rendition of Seven Filthy Words ended up as a landmark Supreme Court case. Ultimately the judges ruled that because of the “pervasive nature of broadcasting, it has less First Amendment protection that other forms of communication.” (Federal Communication Commission v. Pacifica Foundation) Also, indecent language is subject to restriction, particularly during the time that children might be in the audience. Carlin’s defiant standup skit defined the allowance of obscenity on the radio and television.

Throughout Carlin’s career, he found and shared the humor in word-play. His standup comedy encompasses topics that make the listener laugh and also to think.

Musician David Bowie died in January last year, two days after his 69th birthday. Bowie wrapped up more than 50 years of making music for several generations with his final album Blackstar, which was released on his birthday. On the website, he “was at the vanguard of contemporary culture as a musician, artist, icon and a constant influence on writers, artists and designers.”

Another musician and songwriter Leonard Cohen toiled joyfully in the studio on his final CD, knowing his life was nearing its end. His son Adam Cohen helped produce the CD, and did interviews on National Public Radio to promote the final product. What happiness and creativity he must have experienced as he and his son bonded more deeply during the making of You Want It Darker. Cohen leaves behind songs with lyrics that can either tear at, or lift, the soul. Most people have heard a rendition of Hallelujah, which he wrote in 1984. Like Schultz a decade earlier, Cohen was immersed in his chosen profession in the months and weeks before his death.

Speaking of Hallelujah, how could I leave out Mother Teresa of Calcutta? Mother Teresa, who was born at the turn of the century, lived to be 87 years old. Her tireless effort to help the less fortunate did not go unnoticed. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Also, she was canonized — named as a saint — in 2016. Her inspirational quotes can be found everywhere, but the real magic was how she bettered the lives of so many people.

There is much joy in the long, productive lives of these individuals. There are too many post-retirement powerhouses to mention, including those citizens who lived and died or are still living in the Lake Region. So many people have lived long fruitful lives and left their fingerprints on the world in a beneficial and valuable way.

Is it luck that leads to a long life?

According to scientific studies on centenarians, people who live to be 100, locking oneself away from danger and never taking any risks is certainly not the secret to a long life.

In fact, being involved and active in the community is one component to a long life.

Another factor in a long life is maintaining an active mind and an active body. It seems complete abstinence is not the answer. Many centenarians have used alcohol and/or tobacco moderately. Also, centenarians have learned how to cope with loss including losing jobs, ending relationships, and watching loved ones die.

George Carlin’s humor revealed a dark view of a long life in America, although he lived one.

“We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get too tired, read too little, watch TV too much. We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often,” Carlin said. “We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years.”

That is a stark reminder to how a human being can spend their days or his observation could be a gentle nudge to shift the mindset.

I actually prefer this quote from Carlin: “Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

Long live longevity.



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