You can’t pass a magazine stand or turn on the television without being bombarded with the latest and greatest longevity cure. The answer to a long and happy life can be found in A Century of Wisdom. In this book, Caroline Stoessinger conveys the life and lessons of Alice Hertz-Sommer, the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor. Alice is 108 years old. One might wonder what wisdom is left in the mind of an old woman, but for Alice, older and wiser is trite, but true.
It seems that old age is a state of mind. Recently I’ve heard about a 105-year old woman who pumps iron at Anytime Fitness and a 100-year old who went hang gliding. Over a century old herself, Alice still plays the piano. To Alice, age is simply a state of mind. “My mind is young … what you see is only the outer face of a very old woman.” In a century she has done a lot, though I don’t think she has gone hang gliding. She has seen the best and worst of humanity and unimaginable evil. At the end of it all, she still has a smile on her face.
She was ahead of her time when she was a young woman. Her attitude about parenting, dating, and sex were far ahead of her contemporaries, which makes her relevant to todays readers. She has something to offer readers of any age.
What’s her secret to longevity? “Experts” suggest the right workout, supplement, or super fruit will ensure a long life. Alice ate a simple diet every day until recently when she started eating meals on wheels, which probably has a lot of sodium, so I doubt that is her key. Her secret is music. Whenever something goes wrong, she plays Bach, and she is transcended above even the darkest clouds. Music is life-sustaining to her; it is her escape, yet she is not disconnected from the world. She constantly learns and experiences new things.
Her entire lifetime is condensed in a little over 200 pages, but every page is jam-packed with Alice’s wit, charm, and wisdom, not to mention Stoessinger’s elegant and surprisingly upbeat writing style. Despite losing her family, possessions, and home during the Holocaust and her son decades later, her optimism, determination, and music allow her to overcome the worst circumstances and see the humanity in everyone–even those who imprisoned her at Theresienstadt. We could all use a daily dose of optimism and learn a lesson about life from Alice.