As we go through life, our focus tends to be on our day-to-day joys and pains. The years tend to blend together and go by in a blur that we only notice when we take the time to sit and reflect on the past. Sometimes, it can strike us pretty heavily at how long it’s been since this or that event.
It can serve as a reminder that life is fleeting and all too often, it can leave us wishing we had a lot more time on this earth than most of us get. But for those few people whose age manages to climb into the triple digits, they often look back on life with unique perspective and insight…
For most of us, we’d be more than glad to live to be 70 or 80 years old, so long as those final years are spent in good health. The idea of living to be over 90 years old seems like a possibility so remote it’s not even worth thinking about.
We all want to stuff as much life into our years as possible before things inevitably come to an end. And some of us get far more opportunity for good times, living to be over a century old. Perhaps even more remarkable, some centenarians remain remarkably healthy and clear headed all the way up to the end…
Tamara was one such fortunate woman. Hailing from Chechnya, she was born in 1909 and died in 2013 at the age of 104. It’s difficult to imagine how different the world seemed to her from when she was a toddler to the day she died. However, there’s one other thing that was even more difficult to imagine.
Even though Tamara had outlived all of her contemporaries, there was still a pretty good turnout at her funeral. Of course nearly everyone there was much younger than she had been, with one surprising exception: Tamara’s mother…
When a parent outlives their children, it’s usually the story of a life cut tragically short. But on the day her 104-year-old daughter was being put to rest, Koku Istambulova was there, standing on her own 2 feet at the ripe old age of 123.
5 years later, Koku is still kicking around, fully articulate, able to walk and feed herself about as well as anyone else, although now her eyesight is starting to go. The first thing most folks want to know when they hear of someone so phenomenally long-lived is what their secret is. What kind of life did they lead that let them last so long?
“I see people [who live long] going in for sports, eating something special, keeping themselves fit, but I have no idea how I lived until now.” She doesn’t do any sort of special exercise and the only things unusual about her diet is she doesn’t care for meat and she loves to drink fermented milk.
47,000 Bad Days
You might be thinking that perhaps the secret to her longevity is some idyllic, peaceful lifestyle full of contentment but the truth is Koku’s life has been quite the opposite. “I have not had a single happy day in my life,” she said…
‘I Am Tired’
“I have always worked hard, digging in the garden,” something Koku continues to do to this day, which she’s not at all happy about. “I am tired,” she said. “Long life is not at all God’s gift for me but a punishment.” Looking back on her history, and the history she’s lived through, you might be able to see why she feels that way.
Koku was born in 1889, back when the Tsars still ruled Russia. When she was younger, she’d lost several children, including a son who died at age 6. Her daughter Tamara who’d died at 104 was the only one of her kids to see adulthood…
Then there were all the things that happened around her. “I survived the Russian Civil War [after the Bolshevik revolution], the Second World War, the deportation of our nation in 1944 and through two Chechen wars,” she said.
Worse Than WW2
“I remember tanks with Germans passing our house,” she said. “It was scary but I tried not to show this.” But for her, the Germans weren’t as bad as when the Soviet Union deported all Chechens…
Life in Exile
“Life in Kazakhstan was the hardest for us. When in exile – we lived in Siberia too – but in Kazakhstan, we felt how the Kazakhs hated us. Every day I dreamed of going back home,” Koku said. Still, her constant companion of hard work was always there. “Working in my garden helped me to get rid of my sad thoughts but my soul always wanted home.”
Aside from the hardships of war, so many things changed over the course of her life. Growing up in a devout Muslim community, there were very strict rules for her behavior. “I remember my granny beat me and reprimanded me because my neck was visible,” Koku said, adding that when “Soviet times came… women quickly began to wear more open clothes.”…
Aside from all of the cultural changes Koku lived through so many important historical moments. She was born the same year as Adolf Hitler, was what for most folks would be “middle-aged” at the start of the great depression, and lived through the entire rise and fall of communism.
She also saw massive changes in the way we live thanks to technology. Born just 10 years after the light bulb was invented, Koku was 14 when the Wright brothers made their first powered flight, 24 when the first Model T rolled off an assembly line, 80 when man landed on the moon, and 118 when the first iPhone was released…
13 Hard Decades
But for all her time on earth, Koku still claimed never to have known true happiness. Unlike many old people, she has no words of wisdom or sweet memories to share, just enough hardship for 2 or 3 lifetimes.
“We were either digging the ground, or planting the watermelons,” Koku said. “When I was working, my days were running one by one. And now I am not living, I am just dragging through.”…
“Looking back at my unhappy life, I wish I had died when I was young,” she said grimly. “I worked all my life. I did not have time for rest or entertainment.” While it’s sad to hear that she spent so many years toiling in misery, there is an important lesson behind her words.
Lesson By Counterexample
Perhaps the lesson to take away from Koku Istambulova’s life is not the secret to longevity but rather the secret to happiness. That is to say, do the opposite of what she’s done. Take time to relax and enjoy yourself because in the end, your life adds up to what you spend your days doing.