National Geographic : 1997 Nov
that you keep us in mind. Human beings who are merely a breath, whose lives fade like a passing shadow...." The words could be sad, but somehow in this chapel of graying sisters they are not. In this community, where the old and the older take care of each other, it seems that the secret to aging well is to find a graceful balance between trying to stay young and accepting the ephemeral nature of life. I recall a talk I had with Sister Esther Boor, the lively centenarian, about the pleasure she takes in playing card games. "I like to win," she told me, "but it doesn't bother me if I lose." It seemed to me that this was her attitude toward life itself, and that somehow it contributed to her happiness and her longevity. It is an atti tude that will never show up in Snowdon's AGING-NEW ANSWERS TO OLD QUESTIONS studies of the sisters' brains. But it is one that already inspires him in his work. "I just love these sisters," Snowdon says of his subjects, who tease him by constantly ask ing when he's going to find a girlfriend and get married. "These are the gems in the gold mine," he tells me, these sisters who have spent their lives in service to others and who have found a way to keep on serving after they die. "This is my body, which will be given up for you," the priest intones in the chapel as the sun breaks free of the morning clouds. I watch the sisters' lips moving silently along with his words. "Do this," they say, "in mem ory of me." [ For more about new research on aging,join our online forum at www.nationalgeographic.com.