I think that Maude had it right. 80 is the perfect time to die.
I was talking with Lucas the other day and he said something that really stuck with me. It was about breaking your life up into segments, and in doing so, giving yourself the opportunity to reinvent.
0 to 20. The whole world is new to you and you’re learning how it works.
20 to 40. You’re getting to know yourself.
40 to 60. You’re using what you learned about yourself and the world around you.
60 to 80. This is free play time. You’re passing on what you’ve learned to others, using the resources you’ve amassed to do thing you want to do, checking things off the bucket list, and basically not giving a hoot because you’re old now and you can get away with some pretty awesome stuff.
80 to 100? That’s the crap years. Your body starts to well and truly fall apart. You have to rely on other people to care for you. This could be family, and if that’s the case then your continued existence is forcing the people you care about to sacrifice good years of their own lives, and money they could be using for themselves, in order to maintain a body that will, ultimately, fail no matter what anybody does. I’m not sure if it is worse or better to be watched over by strangers, but if you and whatever family you have don’t have enough money you must now rely on whatever system your government has in place to for your “care.” Be prepared to be ignored, minimized, and resented for using up resources which, by the time I am that old, will likely be very limited. Your two cents? No longer valid. The person you see in the mirror is a stranger. Technology has passed you by and things that the younger generations do with ease just confound you. You and those who care about you must watch helplessly as you become frail, incontinent, and confused. You’re trapped in a failing flesh vessel and you’ve outlived your usefulness.
Why would anyone put themselves through that? Get while the getting is good, I say. It’s never too early to start working on your escape plan. Pills or gas are my two favorites at the moment, but I’m hoping that by the time I’m 80 there will be more options, or that methods will be easier to access and more reliable. I’m looking forward to putting my affairs in order, saying my goodbyes, eating one more delicious and decadent meal, and slipping away quietly in the early evening.
But for right now, it’s an exciting time for me, isn’t it? I’m just a little over halfway through my life, and against all odds I seem to have come out in a much better position than anyone expected. For the next 19 years I get to use what I’ve learned so far. One of the standout lessons for me has been that life is short and unscripted, and it’s up to us to shape our own future. For many years it felt like my life was out of my hands, and that I was being pulled along against my will. My 30′s were all about changing that, and at 41 I finally feel that I am very close to achieving the perfect balance in my life. With respect to the segments of life that I outlined above, the question I’ve been pondering recently has been this: what should the next 19 years of my life look like? How do I want to spend that time?
If I hadn’t experienced chronic pain and been through two hip surgeries last year, I would probably choose to continue pursuing some sort of humanitarian career while amassing money so that my 60 to 80 stint could be comfortable. I would deny myself in the present so that when I was in my 60′s and 70′s I could finally take all those trips I’ve dreamt of: trekking up to Everest’s base camp, hiking to Machu Picchu, crossing the Gobi on a camel, swimming in cenotes. But after the pain of my last few years, I don’t trust my physical form anymore. I’ve had a glimpse into what it’s going to be like to be old, and I hate it. The body rebels. It stops obeying your orders. You don’t understand what that’s like until you experience it, and once you do, you can’t forget it.
So the clear choice to me is to live in the present. I’m going to take those trips to far-flung parts of the earth now, while my body will still let me swim, hike, and climb. I’m going to create awesome memories with Lucas, so if a point comes when I am debilitated, he can look back with gratitude on all of the adventures we had together. I’m going to create art now, while my hands can hold a paintbrush and my eyes are aligned with my mind, because I can’t be sure this will always be true. I’m going to do as much as I can with this brief life of mine, so that whenever it is that I die, be it tomorrow or in 39 years, the life that flashes before my dimming eyes will be full of beauty and laughter, friendships and sunrises, adventure and love. It took me 41 years to get to the point where I loved myself enough to be able to give myself this gift. I’m so pleased to be here.