Danny Goldfield is traveling the country, meeting and photographing centenarians for his project To Live 10,000 Years. His goal: Document one woman and one man age 100 years or older in each of the 50 United States.
“If you’re a hundred, you’re supposed to be a funnel of knowledge. You’re supposed to be a wise person, you know….” —Arlyne French
One of the first centenarians I met when I started working on To Live 10,000 Years is Arlyne French, an artist and photographer in New Hampshire. We’ve stayed in touch ever since, and now Arlyne is my dear friend. Her sense of humor about life and longevity is inspiring.
Arlyne currently lives in her bungalow at Havenwood Heritage in Concord, New Hampshire. Her walls are covered with artwork that she has created and collected throughout her life. Her current projects are all out in the open on tables dotted around her home.
“My house is never neat, because I’m always in the middle of something.” — Arlyne French
The day Arlyne and I first met was a couple of weeks before Christmas; that afternoon Arlyne schmoozed with a stream of friends and shoppers at a local arts & crafts sale, where she made big-time cash selling her handmade jewelry.
Months later when I was down south, on my way to New Orleans to photograph another centenarian, I stopped to visit the gravesite of friend of mine who had died too young. Afterward, as I was sitting in my van, ready to leave but feeling sad, Arlyne called me out of the blue. She was sweet, positive, and kind. She told me about her son, who she’d lost to suicide, and how we have to move forward with love even in the face of inexplicable loss.
When I returned to New England, I visited Arlyne again, and she told me that this would be the last time I would ever see her. She’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had decided against all treatment options. Daily rides for radiation therapy would be too much of a burden on her family, and surgery was a “ridiculous option at 101 years old”, she said.
Arlyne had decided that she had lived enough — she seemed very much at peace with her decision.
The next day, Arlyne called to tell me that she had changed her mind. She was going to have the hysterectomy — she still had some living to do after all.
Three days after the surgery, my phone rang and I heard Arlyne on the other end. “I feel great,” she said. It was a quick call — she was in a rush, heading out with her family to a restaurant that night for dinner.