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A Piece of My Mind
June 19, 2013

The Things That Matter

Author Affiliations

A Piece of My Mind Section Editor: Roxanne K. Young, Associate Senior Editor.

Author Affiliation: International Longevity Center, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York (hamermandj@aol.com).

JAMA. 2013;309(23):2447-2448. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.6936

She felt rather inclined just for a moment to stand still after all that chatter, and pick out one particular thing; the thing that mattered . . .—Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

About a year ago I sat in on a graduate course on Modern British Texts that featured three authors—Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, and W. H. Auden—given by Edward Mendelson, the Lionel Trilling Professor of English at Columbia University. It was a wonderful experience for me to go back to my alma mater almost seven decades later, to revisit “humanities” that had so blown my mind then. Of course, this time I was a curiosity in the classroom, with students in their 20s and 30s, but I felt welcome, and could hold my own. I got to know Professor Mendelson well enough to tell him about myself as a geriatrician, interested in aging, and he thought it fit to give me a copy of a book he wrote a few years earlier, called The Things That Matter,1 reviewing “what seven classic novels have to say about the stages of life,” spanning “birth through parenthood,” and concluding with “an unknowable future.” This seemed to me a meaningful context in which to present a piece of my mind.

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