At forty—even at forty-five—I could, without too much effort, think of myself as “middle aged” and easily imagine that I could live another forty to forty-five years, especially since three of my grandparents and several other relatives lived well into their eighties and remained active and in reasonably good health until the end. But when I turned fifty, I had to admit that it was extremely unlikely that I would live to be a hundred years old and that I had, without knowing the exact moment, passed right on through the midpoint of my life. Still, there was a chance, however slight, that I had used up only half my allotted time.
However, now that I am well into my fifties, the gig is definitely up, and I find myself thinking more and more about how I should spend my precious remaining years. I think about what I want to say to people before I die and wonder whether I have learned anything worth passing on. What do I want to accomplish; what do I still want to find out? My aunt, who is 84 and a voracious reader, told me during a recent visit that if she expected to receive answers to all her questions after she dies, that would be one thing. Otherwise, she’d just as soon stick around awhile and try to figure out a few more things on her own. (I definitely want to stick around awhile myself.)
I recently began reading through my old journals, thinking I should either do something with them or destroy them, and not just leave them unread in a closet to be discovered by others after I’m gone, without at least knowing what they contain. I don’t think I’ve said anything horrible about anyone, and I’ve revealed very few secrets that I know of. But my journals were never meant for public consumption, which makes me wonder whether I should do as my friend Frank did and leave instructions to destroy all my writing, unread, if I die before I have a chance to sort through everything myself. But assuming the journals contain at least some germs of insight or some stories worth telling, what do I want my children and grandchildren to know? What will be my legacy? Who will be the keeper of my stories?