Ben Patterson writes in The Grand Essentials: "I have a theory about old age. … I believe that when life has whittled us down, when joints have failed and skin has wrinkled and capillaries have clogged and hardened, what is left of us will be what we were all along, in our essence.

"Exhibit A is a distant uncle. … All his life he did nothing but find new ways to get rich. … He spent his senescence very comfortably, drooling and babbling constantly about the money he had made. … When life whittled him down to his essence, all there was left was raw greed. That is what he had cultivated in a thousand little ways over a lifetime.

"Exhibit B is my wife's grandmother. … When she died in her mid-eighties, she had already been senile for several years. What did this lady talk about? The best example I can think of was when we asked her to pray before dinner. She would reach out and hold the hands of those sitting beside her, a broad, beatific smile would ...

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