Can a trip to Greece reveal the wisdom of aging gracefully? At the age of 73, Daniel Klein, a successful author with a philosophy degree from Harvard and a background in comedy, was facing the prospect of significant dental work. His dentist informed him that his lower teeth needed to be removed due to the normal wasting away of the jawbone associated with aging.
Klein had two choices: He could either get a set of dentures or get a set of implants. Opting for implants would entail a minimum of seven visits to an oral surgeon, located an hour away from his home, over the course of about a year. The financial costs would be pretty significant, too.
This relatively minor malady set off an existential angst. Klein characterized his decision as one of either embracing the popular concept of the "new old age," which essentially amounts to a denial of aging by our youth-obsessed society—-or accepting this next chapter of his life with dentures and "an old man's goofy smile."
With a pile of philosophy books tucked in his suitcase, Klein decides to return to the Greek island of Hydra, where he had visited before, to reflect and observe the lives of the elders there. The purpose of his spiritual journey is "to figure out the most satisfying way" to experience old age—-the years between the prime of life, when people still have many goals to pursue and achieve, and "old old age," when mental and physical capacities are inevitably compromised provided they live long enough.
Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life (Penguin, 2012) is a little book with a lot inside, part travelogue with a hefty helping of wisdom. Klein tries to sort out the relevant lessons that can be gleaned from the older men of Hydra and from the ancient philosophers. He expounds on the thinking of Epicurus, who advocated the narrow self-indulgence of simple pleasures, as opposed to immersion in the broader political or material world. Klein suggests that only in the later years do people have the accumulated experience, patience, and idle time to thoroughly enjoy good food and company at an unhurried pace like the men sitting around in the taverna outside his window.
The author emphasizes that life prior to old old age has discrete stages, each with different pleasures that need to be savored for their uniqueness. His practical tale will be of interest to those at midlife and beyond, both to help them understand their own lives and those of their parents and grandparents.