Milestones At The Opposite Ends Of Life

You couldn't help but be charmed this week by the birthday celebration for Walter Breuning.

Breuning is officially the world's oldest man — 114 years young.

At his party at a retirement home in Great Falls, Mont., Breuning sported a natty pinstripe suit, delivered a speech calling on people to be nicer to each other, and graciously accepted a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records, in which he's earned a place.

Now, this prompts a question — what is the secret to reaching such extreme old age?

The previous record holder, a saucy Brit by the name of Henry Allingham, told the Guinness record keepers his secret was "cigarettes, whisky, and wild, wild women." That, and "a good sense of humor."

Breuning takes a more puritan approach: he says it's all about keeping active and not eating much.

Walter Breuning concedes he can't see so well anymore. He can't read much, can't write much. But watching the video of him at his party, chatting with friends, most of them mere spring chickens in their 80s and 90s, he looked, well, happy.

And why not? In an interview with the local paper, the Great Falls Tribune, Breuning expressed few regrets, other than not having served in the first World War. He was never called up to fight. By the time World War II came around, he was too old.

It's fascinating, isn't it, to contemplate that kind of arc to a life. And perhaps I'm drawn to do so because the people I spend most of my time with these days are marking milestones at the very other end of life.

The big event in our house this month was the start of first grade. That's our older son; the younger one's still focused on teddy bears and when he'll be ready to try his bike without training wheels.

There is a sweetness to these early victories that I wonder if you ever really recapture late in life. I mean, for pure joy, does it ever get any better than the day you learn to ride a bike? The day you hit your first home run in a little league game?

Personally, and without getting too specific here, I'll just say I've reached an age where I've noticed my entire social life is suddenly focused on 40th birthday parties. Not mine, yet, mind you. Just.

But look, if Walter Breuning's the standard, that means I'm only about a third of the way through. I could still be kicking around when my great-great grandchildren are hitting homers in little league. It'd be nice to see that.

Meanwhile, happy birthday, Mr. Breuning. Hope it's the best one yet.

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