it gives a lovely light!

3/20/06

While perusing Digg.com today, I came across one of those life expectancy calculators, this one courtesy of MSN. I’ll occasionally indulge myself in these, because generally, I like the results: I drink alcohol maybe once a month now, my BMI is still around 25, and I had half a cigarette in 8th grade before I threw up and never touched one again. This particular test, however, places huge influence on how long your grandparents live and your gender.

As a male, I was supposed to make it to 75, which SUCKS. Dying at 75 is perfectly lame, especially if you want to see how everything turns out. So I made myself a woman, and it gave me until 91! How can there possibly be a sixteen-year discrepancy just by having labia?

I went over to the Death Clock, and they were barely more sanguine. I do have more than 1.2 billion seconds left according to them, so that’s something, but I’m still stunned at how much better women are built for life on Planet Earth.

While taking Psych 28 (Personality) with Dr. Richard Lucas – easily one of the greatest classes ever taught in 217 years of UNC’s existence – all of us students were asked to make a little line graph of when we were born, when we were to die, and where we thought we were in relation to those two events. Mine, and many of the kids’ around me looked like this:

BornGraph(bl).jpg

It’s incredible how being a teenager truly makes you think you’ll live forever, or at least until you’re 145. But I have to say that I only gained true sanity in the harrowing months after 9/11, when I fully came to grips with “the rest of my life” not being so impossibly long. When you have some sense of your ending, even if it is far away, it allows you to stop making incredibly stupid decisions and (if you want to) get married and have a child.

Before that conversion experience, I was genetically unable to commit to anything because I feared the word “forever.” Now forever doesn’t seem that long, and part of that is actually comforting. Liberating, even.

But now, with the unlocking of the human genetic code, the lambent promise of stem cells, and the research on shutting down the sub-cellular proteins that say “it’s time to die,” living past 100 looks like it might become quite common regardless of what MSN and the Death Clock say. One gerontologist at Cambridge believes that “the first person to live to 1,000 may have already been born.” That’s the equivalent of a young soldier invading Britain with William the Conqueror still being alive today.

If that’s the case, let’s just agree on this right now: no nuclear weapons used for any reason EVER, no more fossil fuels for transportation in ten years, and let’s think of some truly excellent television pilot ideas AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE. We got air time to fill, yo!

0 thoughts on “it gives a lovely light!

  1. CL

    Hey, there has to be SOME benefit to being a woman. Of course, now all of us will fight over the one man in the nursing home. Something to look forward to.
    I saw Tessa’s ambien article in a local print magazine called Exit yesterday; someone at work was reading it. It either got syndicated from Salon or they stole it! ;)

    Reply
  2. litlnemo

    “I’m no fool, no sirree, I’m gonna live to be a hundred and three…”
    Well, actually, the life expectancy calculator said 101. Pretty good, huh?

    Reply
  3. scruggs

    Mine worked out to be 87yrs; I guess I was dinged a little for a less than stellar family history. But what I want to know ahead of time before I agree to this 87 is: Will I spend my 80’s in book clubs, water aerobics, and generally pleasant activities like my grandmother currently is, or will I be the ragged out chick in some offstrip Vegas casino pulling my oxygen tank around on a cart? If the latter is the case, then you can shave off 5-10.

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  4. CL

    Scruggs, you and I can develop a retirement community that is not lame, where people do more than play cards and show pix of their grandchildren, and where young folks don’t talk condescendingly to us. Doctors get a special rate to live there so they can tend to us and slip us viagara. Masseusses, too.

    Reply
  5. lee

    That calculator rocks! Like, when it asks if mom, dad, siblings or grandparents have had cancer, I can check “no”. But it didn’t ask if I’ve had cancer! So even though I have, I get to live to 97 b/c my family is cancer free! But I bet I took a good 15 years off my brothers’ lives though. Sorry about that boys.

    Reply
  6. Anne D.

    ” ‘Our lives are poems.’ … Some are as short as haiku, others as long as epics filling many volumes. Each is complete in ways we may not understand.”
    I wrote* the above in 1996 when some friends of ours died in a plane crash with their kids. It helps me think about this stuff. And I don’t believe in those “death clock” predictors. My mom’s stats were great, based on ancestors’ health (her mother died at 96, longterm-smoker father at 85), healthy living habits, lack of cardio issues and other predictive problems. Yet at 75 a random cancer spread from her kidney to her bones to her lungs and brain, and she died very quickly. She was utterly shocked by her diagnosis because she’d clearly expected, based on her parents’ ages at death and her healthy lifestyle, to live as long as her mother. So I don’t even bother trying to predict my own life span anymore. Carpe diem!
    *http://www.brownalumnimagazine.com/storydetail.cfm?ID=535

    Reply
  7. Beth

    CL, I’m still laughing about that lone man in the nursing home. To that idyllic community I will contribute the vast library of books that I’ve stockpiled over the years, because I’m a helpless bibliophiliac. I always quote Darryl Pinckney when somebody asks with incredulity whether I’ve read them all: “No, it’s just another one for the nursing home.”
    I’m supposed to live till 97–and though the calculators don’t mean a thing in the face of surprise illnesses like the one that struck my husband three and a half years ago, they’re a nice reminder of the things you have going for you and maybe the things you should pay attention to as well (diet, exercise, stress levels, etc.).

    Reply
  8. Mom

    Carpe diem, indeed, Anne.
    I have a good friend, a man with whom I share emails almost daily, and phone calls about once a week, and a visit (at his house, becaue he’s allergic to the cat at mine) about once a month. This unlikely friendship means that each of us has someone to talk to very freely whenever we need/want to, and we know each other, after several years of this, very well.
    Since we are both at an age when most people retire, and when the cells start to check out, we have often discussed aging, death, and dying. And he has often expressed amaszement at my lack of fear of dying. I’m totally afraid of and adverse to suffering, but being dead? It’s the great “undiscovered country” and certainly a pain-free state… and I’m really too busy to spend any time worrying about it, though I’m not afraid to talk about it with him. He, on the other hand, is terrified of the prospect of his aging and dying, almost pathologically so.
    OK… I am past seventy, I still ahve three “jobs,” (at the moment four projects) that I need to earn my keep. I work many hours every day, travel between coasts and into the mountain states to accomplish all this. (It helps that most of this work is music-related, which is better than having three jobs at WalMart, Macdonald’s, and the Senior Center… but still…) I could mention havng several very interesting (grown) kids who make my life interesting, and my granddaughter Lucy who puts at least an hour on my life-clock every time she smiles at me. But mostly I have not stopped living. I wake up every day to that day, and no other, and with the thought “OK, I get to do THAT today. Yay!” Currently (not in order of reference) I am editing a music book, teaching a codger to write music and lyrics, finishing a major recording/writing project for kids, and writing a new piece for orchestra. I don’t have time to be bored or scared, and while I know I could drop in my tracks at any time, I plan to… well, drop in my tracks, and be grateful for all the thousands of days I’ve had.
    My frightened friend lives up on a nearby mountain, rarely comes to town, wakes up every morning thinking about all the aches and pains he has, does his work (he’s a freelance writer/ editor) while the thoughts of death and dying lurk in the back of his mind, and … well, doesn’t get out much. His creative life has come to a standstill, and he can’t seem to get going. Why start writing that piece when he might be dying or dead at any moment….
    OK.. a long time ago, when I was nine-months pregnant and facing a C section (and scared of it) I moaned to my brother-in-law, who was staying with us at the time, “I can’t even get up the mental energy to fold the laundry. Why bother? I might be dead by this time next week.” and he replied, “Yes… but you can’t count on it.”
    Life changing words. I don’t know what my expectancy is. What I can “count on” is that today I have to write some music, edit six lessons for this music project, get some pages of copy to production, and go teach my codger composer about the propoer notation of compound meters. I’ll worry about my life expectancy later.

    Reply
  9. Angela

    Ian, having ANY Mormon genes automatically boosts you 15-20 years. I don’t think the age calculators account for that.

    Reply
  10. xuxE

    i usally try not to dwell on my future or past a whole lot, but having kids has made me feel closer to the whole birth/death cycle.
    my grandmother just passed recently, fearlessly, with champagne toasts and never losing her dignity. i think that is definitely the way to go if you have the chance. watching her approach as an alternative to the white knuckle high anxiety and mega-family-drama dying method was cool because now i know it really *can* be done in a positive way, and it kind of takes the sting out of looking at my own mortality.
    it also makes me really understand having a wake and celebrating the person after they die. but maybe there should also be a death party BEFORE a person dies… note to self – make a will and require that people party around my deathbed.

    Reply
  11. scruggs

    CL, that sounds like a good plan, as long as the doctors are McDreamy (to supplement the one male resident) and we can talk condescendingly to the young folks.

    Reply
  12. Rebecca

    Yahoo! I got an even 100 but my poor husband only gets an 81.
    Hey, I have a great idea for a TV show. There’s this guy who writes a blog and has a comments section with a bunch of people who regularly contribute. Many of them are mid to late 30’s and all went to college together. But there are also a bunch of other people who found the blog through various connections. So there’s this whole “Six Degrees of Separation” thing going on; or some of their lives intersect regularly but they don’t know it like in “Love, Actually”. The ensemble cast includes a lawyer, a doctor, a writer, a level-headed conservative, a stay-at-home Mom, etc… But the main character is the blog writer. Imagine how much fun it would be to flesh out JBoogie for TV! Or maybe he turns out to be your Dad. (No offense to your Dad intended.)
    “thirtysomething” with an internet twist. Art imitates life, right?

    Reply
  13. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    My expectancy is 96 years. And you know what? I don’t think I want to live that long! Alzheimer’s is in my family, and I would rather die at 78 with my mind and facilities intact than live to 96 without them.
    I like Rebecca’s idea!

    Reply

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