Dr. Mario Garrett defines aging-well as an intergenerational experience. Being a world-renown gerontologist with many interests, he draws upon real-time narratives rather than dusty text books for insight. Devorah Medwin caught up with the charismatic professor to talk about life and death for our newest monthly feature, aptly named, the “Exit Interview.”
DM: Why are you so committed to the idea of celebrating aging?
I started with a PhD in loneliness and then, as a gerontologist, became very interested in dementia. I felt compelled to push back on the medical interpretation of dementia and aging — show the positive aspect of death and also a new mythology for dementia, as in, Love me for who I am, not who I was in the past.
DM: What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
It’s not based on what you need or want, but on being happy where you are. Appreciating where you are. There’s a wonderful Greek word, Eudaemonia, which refers to a state of contentment. That’s this year’s overarching theme for your film series.
DM: In less than three sentences, what is one lesson from your forthcoming book?
To be happy with what you have, happy and aware of it. Things don’t make you happy, you have to nurture the people around you, the little things, the relationships.
DM: What is your current state of mind?
Meditative. I am looking forward to an 8-month sabbatical traveling. I’ll have a back pack and that’s it.
DM: Do you have a favorite writer, book?
Salman Rushdie. Midnight's Children
DM: What is one thing people would never imagine about you? Your greatest fear? Most treasured possession?
I am quite solitary. Also very deaf in one ear! I have given away most of my possessions, including my Alfa Romeo, but I keep a tape measure with the markings of my daughters’ heights as they were growing up. I travel with that. It marks not only their height, but the passage of who they were as kids and individuals.
DM: What book would you like to be buried with?
Not buried, cremated. With a wonderful book of letters, Marguerite Yourcenar's ‘’Alexis.” She speaks to the ambiguity and the nobility of being human.
DM: What is your exit plan? How would you like to die?
I don’t want anyone around me. I’ve talked to my daughters about it and they understand. I will take an exit in a proactive way…I’m not a good patient.
DM: If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Not as an animal, but a plant or a tree. Something that would allow me to watch the passage of time, a Willow or a Cyprus perhaps.
DM: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“I think you’re lost!”