Just hours before Mary Margaret died, the rain that had battered the city for weeks stopped and the sun burned alone in a brilliant summer sky. The nurse took great care to describe the scene to me later. Mary Margaret had asked the nurse to bring her to the window. With the sun on her face, she closed her eyes and listened to the birds. She drew deep, contented breaths and tapped her fingers to a song only she could hear. The nurse went away and when she returned Mary Margaret was unresponsive. A short while after the doctor declared her dead the rains began again and hadn’t stopped since.
In Mongolia once I met a woman who was a hundred years old. This was fifteen years ago, so doing some simple math has her born in 1902, give or take.
The story of the twentieth century has been told many times by sources more eloquent than I, so I won’t bother to even try, but I ask you to keep any of those narratives in mind as you consider this woman, born somewhere on the Mongolian steppe at the dawn of the American century.
She was born in the waning days of the Qing Dynasty, and was nine years old when her country broke away from China. The ensuing battles lasted until she was about twenty. Mongolians had originally rallied behind a Buddhist theocracy, but when the dust settled they were a Socialist state about to launch a massive nationwide purge against religion.