Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life Expectancy

It was there in the paper today - life expectancy in America has, for the first time, crept over 78 years. Of course, that statistic is for babies born in 2009, but it strikes me as good news nonetheless.

Except... that means that I am well past halfway home. I guess I have known that, but to see it in stark black-and-white is a little jolting. When exactly did I cross the halfway line? It wasn't when I was 39, because life expectancy was shorter back then. I suppose I could go back and figure it out, but it is not really the mathematical that has caught my attention. Nobody rang a bell when I crossed the midpoint. Nobody waves a flag to tell you when the next lap - or the last lap - is beginning.

Nobody gives you a roadmap or a schedule for your life, of course. We don't know if we will live to be 78 or not. That is an average, so half of us will live longer and half won't make it that far.

I am 46. If anybody had asked me before I saw that article, surely I would not have predicted that I will live to be 92, so I guess I have known that I am on the homeward side of halfway. Still, to read it in the paper is a different thing.

Have I accomplished what I set out to accomplish? Am I anywhere close to "halfway" there? When I was my son's age, getting ready to head to college, would I have been pleased to read the biography of the 46-year-old me? If today I could read the biography of the 56-year-old me, would I be pleased?

In light of the Japanese earthquake - superimposed on events of Libya and Iraq and Korea and Afghanistan - I have read a new round of "Are we in the 'End Times'?" emails over the last week or so. The answer, as always, is "yes and no." The universe is run by a God to whom a day is as a thousand years, so questions of time-and-God are nonsensical. Jesus Himself did not know the answer to the question of when The End will come.

What I have - what we all have - what we all have always had - is today. I don't know how many more tomorrows I will have, but reading the paper today makes it clear that I have a lot fewer than I thought I did.

Simon and Garfunkel sang it well: "I am older than I once was but younger than I'll be. That's not unusual."

Maybe today I should hug my kids a little more. Maybe write a blog with more meaning than this one. Maybe build a bridge or cure cancer. Maybe I should go find somebody I can teach to read.

All I have is today. That's not unusual.

2 comments:

luther said...

Enjoyed your post. Good stuff. Deep thinker.

I'll be 75 in June. Does that mean that I only have 3.25 years to live...don't know.. don't think so. I'm shooting for 100+. But today is all I have and I'm trying to live as if it is the last....
Luther Wood

Jess said...

Regarding half of people living to be older than 78 and half not making it to 78 - if it's a simple average rather than a median or some more complicated statistic, then practically there is more room to die below that age than above it (i.e. more people will die, say, 40 years younger than that age than 40 years older). Probably people who died young have skewed the average down somewhat. Anyway, I would guess that the average 2009 baby's chances of living to be appreciably older than 78 are well over 50%. (Ah, the odd comfort of statistics...)