Contemplating Eternity

Contemplating Eternity

Who said, “Life is short”? A lot of people who are no longer with us, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Goethe, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Not me, however. I am rising 75 and it seems to have gone on forever—not that I want it to end just yet.

The Greek physician Hippocrates is credited with being one of the first to proclaim (in Greek) that “life is short,” which he followed with “the art is long.” Human life, indeed, was shorter on average 2,500 years ago, roughly 27 years. But the good doctor didn’t have much to complain about, unless you consider 90 years to be short: he is thought to have been born in 460 B.C. and died in 370 B.C.

A woman in California just celebrated her 116th birthday. She was born when Teddy Roosevelt was president.

Over the millennia our lifespans have been getting longer than the ancient ones, with a few exceptions. Adam is reported to have lived to the ripe old age of 930, Methuselah to 969. Talk about the good old days. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that in 2020 our national life expectancy at birth for males is 74.2 years. It was 73.2 when I was born in 1949. I suppose that makes me above average.

Few species are as long-lived as we are. Anyone who has owned a pet knows that. A twelve-year-old dog is living on borrowed time—never mind other creatures great and small. If you don’t swat it, a common house fly will buzz around for several weeks. A mosquito spends a bloody week on this vale of tears.

Your average ring-tail lemur enjoys a better run, about 20 years. The king of the jungle, the African lion, can live for 30 years, assuming it dodges the poachers. A 70-year-old elephant is commonplace. Just so we humans don’t get a swelled head, please note that a Galapagos tortoise can live for 175 years, as one did in captivity. That would mean this individual was a teenager during the Civil War.

My lifespan is difficult to quantify at this point. I am being treated for various ailments. In the ideal world, an American male who reaches the age of 65 can expect to live another 13 years, until he is 78. That gives me four more years, in theory.

Herculean measures are underway to make this happen. The jury is still out on whether they will succeed, or if I will get close to or surpass that target figure. If money alone were the determinant, you would assume the odds are good. Last year, my various health care providers billed more than three-quarters of a million dollars for my care. My insurance company agreed to pay less than a third of that total. Apparently, my providers, who didn’t squawk, make a profit at the lesser amount.

I contributed $6,700, the annual out-of-pocket cost I was liable for based on my policy. This year it has started all over again. Can you imagine how people without health insurance cope, or survive? I could be the six-million-dollar man before this is over.

We all gotta go sometime. We know that, but most of us don’t dwell on it. It is such a preposterous notion that people as fascinating as you and me would disappear into the unfathomable ether, poof, now you see us, now you don’t. No more egregious puns or profound insights into the human condition.

Given recent developments, I think about it now more than I used to. My father read the obituary pages religiously, which I thought was strange. I don’t anymore. Three of my four grandparents reached 90, and my father and mother made it to 94 and 98 respectively. That’s a bit extravagant. But an 80th birthday would be nice.

I’ve done OK in my “short” life. As a freelance writer, I have written umpteen millions of words, many of them coherent. My wife and I raised a son, Jackson, of whom we are most proud, and he and his wife, Sarah, are raising a son, Walker, who is rising two, has a sense of humor and world class hair. I am grateful for the people my wife and I know and love.

I submit to you that it’s been a long haul. I recently reconnected with an old friend, my best buddy growing up in the 1950s who I hadn’t seen or talked to in decades. We laughed about the “capers” we committed in our suburban Long Island neighborhood. We were totally free range, just be home by dark. Boredom was our archenemy. We survived somehow.

All that seems so long ago and far away—and yet as vivid as anything that has happened to me recently. Our conversation helped to fortify me for the year ahead.