In my constant search to get out of the workplace, I am always wondering how long do I really need the money to last? How long do I really need to live?
A few weeks ago, in one such mental upheaval, I read The Atlantic’s “Why I Hope to Die at 75“. In this piece, the author introduces the idea that he wants to live 75 years exactly. Much to the dismay of his family, he is absolutely certain.
Some notes from the piece:
…Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.
…Living too long is also a loss…
He indirectly introduces this idea that life is only worth living in so much that we are healthy, able-bodied, and contributing. Thus, he essentially wants to die before his imminent decline in mental status, physical status, and everything in between.
He defines a complete life as:
– Giving and receiving love
– Being there to watch his children grow up
– Witnessing the birth of his grandchildren
– Pursuing life projects
– Making life contributions (whatever they may be)
– Freedom from major physical and mental complications
He intends to plan and attend his own memorial service. I’m not actually opposed to this idea; I too want to hear people share how I may have affected their life before I’m too dead to appreciate it! He confirms he is not suicidal and actively opposes physician-assisted suicide. But his intentions are to engage in no life-preserving measures after his predetermined death year.
One thing he does assert that I agree with is that we are all sort of in this race to prolong death. In his words, advances in medicine have “slowed the dying process not the aging process.”
No one is living younger, they’re just taking forever to die. With the calls I get at my job, I can relate. Pretty regularly, I get osteoporotic women telling me that aging is not easy. Half are confused, most are broken, and almost all are sick with chronic disease. To be fair, one of the drugs I support is an osteoporosis medication so those calls are obviously weighted for a geriatric population, but that’s kind of the point I’m making.
On the one hand, the author sounds like a white man full of hubris and now cliched privilege who wants to leave Earth having left no sad marks. Yet his writing has lingered with me.
I often and recently have felt after watching my aunt’s decline after age 62, that 62 would be a good number of years to live. But using his template of a complete life, I wonder, if I even need to make it to 62.
Let’s take a look at his list.
1, Giving and receiving love. I have never married. Thus by some standards one could argue, I have not reached this benchmark. But for me, my parents have loved me enough to create and care for me. The romantic love I once thought essential seems to be the hero’s journey for fairy tales not real life. In reality, everyone agrees marriage and relationships are hard work. And I can barely keep the job that pays me. To that end, I find comfort in the fact that God’s love ultimately is enough. I know God thus I know love.
2, Being there to watch his children grow up. I have chosen not to have children. It is not something I have always wanted. I have a long ongoing diatribe on why anyone has children, but that’s not the point of this exercise. In short, child-rearing outside of the Bible’s command to be fruitful and multiply and grow God’s army is a personal choice – much like running marathons, veganism, or any great number of lifestyle hobbies. Thus, this gets a veritable check mark on the complete-life list.
3, Witness the birth of his grandchildren. See #2.
4, Pursue life’s projects. At 35, I’ve had 2.5 careers. I’ve pursued everything I’ve thought of doing to some degree. I attempted to be a teacher and that was going to be my big contribution to the world. Those kids ate me alive. Then I tried again to do something that had a purely financial benefit. That has lasted a lot longer than my career in the classroom, but has not been the panacea I once thought. Everything in between can be tallied under my 0.5 career. Sure if I had to do it all again, I might pursue a career in radiology or food science, but in terms of the actual pursuit of a life project, I give myself a check mark.
5, Make life contributions. This is a toughie, but then I look around at my average man. What real contribution has anyone made other than the great leaders of our time – the people who are actually breaking down boundaries; blazing trails; and overcoming real adversity and living to talk about it. I’ve been racking my brain for the last 34.9 years, and I have no great contribution to make to humanity. Living 40 more years isn’t going to change that. Plus the author doesn’t necessarily say that you shall make a contribution but that one will have had enough time to do so if it were to ever happen. He was thinking more along the line of scientific contribution- things that actually take time to fully realize because of the sheer amount of time research and development can take!
6, Freedom from physical and mental complications. As it stands, I am writing this with a wrist brace sitting on my bed with my wedge pillow used for reflux prevention. In the corner are my orthopedic shoes I wore to work this week where I have a sit-to-stand desk to combat recurring back pain and bursitis accompanied by my wrist guard for the alluded to carpal tunnel. I’m already down one major anatomical organ and have two food sensitivities. And I keep meaning to take a photo of all the medicine I took this year. Spoiler alert: it’s almost twenty. Hmm, maybe I’ve lived past my physical prime?
Is that really all there is to life?
So with what seems to be a complete life, do I hope to die at 35? Maybe not hope, but I wouldn’t be that mad. As long as I didn’t succumb to a violent death, I would not want anyone to think I died too young and that I had “so much life to live.” When my cousin died in his early twenties, one well wisher wrote in her condolences ‘I’m sorry you didn’t get to live the life we hoped for you.’ I don’t want anyone to write that for me. I’ve done everything I’ve set out to do. I guess what I’m trying to say is I wouldn’t want anyone to mourn what they think I might have lost. Much like the author, I wouldn’t consider not living longer a loss. For me though the bigger question is, is that shortlist really all there is to life?