Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why 107?

One of my readers asked me "why would you want to live to 107?"

Why not? Consider the alternatives. Or rather, the alternative. As far as we know, we live then we die and that's it. Lights out. Nothing more. This beautiful magical unique human being we call "me" goes to the place soap bubbles go when they pop.

Some people hold a different view, and there are variations on the theme. They start with the idea that there is some immutable "me" that continues after the death of our physical body. Usually people call this our soul. That's a good enough word for the purposes of this blog.

Maybe that's true. There are people that come back from near death experiences with stories that something of them existed while they were technically dead. There is much discussion about what exactly happens there. Some people believe it's a straightforward telling of what happens, that our soul leaves our body and goes somewhere else, and sometimes meets a presence along the way. Other people believe that it's a form of a dream, similar to the ones we have when we sleep, as the brain reacts to the circumstances of the dying body, or oxygen shortage, or drugs, or pain, or whatever.

For me, what's important about the whole thing is that nobody really knows for sure, in an objective, provable sort of way. You might believe you really know, but then, some people believe they are Napoleon, or some other historical figure. Science hasn't been able to prove the presence or absence of a soul, let alone what happens to it after our bodies die. (For the record I believe I have one, as do most other people, but that's another blog.)

We can remember our past, to some extent. We forget some things, or have only a hazy recollection, some memories are crystal clear, and some of them have been induced or dressed up, or embellished for some reason.

We can look forward to the future. Sometimes we can predict with great accuracy what will happen, and we're already thinking of where the broom and dustpan are to clean up the soon-to-be-shattered cup that slipped out of our hands. Sometimes we are much less certain. Those flying cars, for example.

That leaves here and now. This is all we really have. Some people believe that what we do doesn't really matter, in a great cosmic sense. We live and die. Other's believe that our lives matter, that we might be working off a karmic burden from previous lives, or that our actions here determine our reward or punishment after death.

I take the position that our actions here have consequences for ourselves and others. It might be minutes after you drink and start a car, or decades after that first cigarette you smoked on a dare. We are responsible for those consequences, intended or not. We carry on doing what we think is best, often looking at a very short time scale. Bad shit happens to good people, and good shit happens to bad people.

Humans have been living longer recently. A 100 year old person used to be a marvel. It's not routine yet, but it's no longer a surprise. We're born healthier, due to healthier moms, who themselves had healthier moms. Child mortality is rare, and getting enough food isn't a problem for almost everybody in North America. We have some of the best medical care available, and there is all sorts of fact based evidence one how to have a longer, healthier life. Don't smoke tobacco. Eat a variety of foods, but not too much. Get regular exercise and sleep, not too much or too little. Take care of your eyes and teeth. Get and stay married.

We now see people active into what used to be considered the declining years. Sister Madonna Buder did an Ironman in her 80's. People in their 90's still live on their own, doing their thing. Old age isn't what it used to be. When people ask why you'd want to live a long time, they picture someone in a wheelchair, wearing a diaper, sniffing oxygen, or screaming to be let out so they can go home, year after year. Nobody wants to live like that, me included.

But that isn't what I picture for me. I made choices to get more active and lose weight because I could see the diabetes freight train heading towards me. So far so good. I'm still active, though I'm more careful about warming up and recovery than I used to be. It would be nice to be able to do an Ironman in my 80's, but that level of activity isn't quite what I have in mind. Then again, who knows? I absolutely love getting into the pool in the morning for a swim, or going for a run or bike ride with buddies. I love being able to walk faster than most of the people around me. I love being mentally sharp enough to figure out complicated problems, and melt the brains of the people around me as I explain it. (It's those xl spreadsheets, complete with SQL, that will do it every time!)

When I was a child, life expectancy for men was late 60's or very early 70's, and the last few years were usually pretty scary. Canadian life expectancy  is 80 for boys born recently, and 84 for girls. Even more than extending life expectancy, medical advances are making that time more comfortable. Cataract surgery is routine, as are replacing hip and knee joints. We can deal with heart attacks and the aftermath far better now.

We've just started learning what can be done with reading our genetic code. They speak of medicines tailor made for us, of growing new organs from our own tissues, and transplanting them in when necessary. We may learn to predict which exact illnesses we are prone to, and be able to take action to prevent or mitigate their effects.

When you think of that, living to 107 becomes just the starting point. Why wouldn't you want to be alive, healthy, and doing the things you enjoy doing? Being able to do that will be an outcome of the choices you made. Wouldn't you feel stupid that you couldn't take advantage of a medical procedure to extend your life because you hadn't taken good enough care of yourself?

So, put down the last of the Hallowe'en candy! Get off your ass, yes you, right now! Put on your shoes and go for a walk. Take your kids if you have them. Don't wait till New Year's Eve to resolve to live better. Start NOW!


  1. Mere minutes after putting this up, I got a text from a buddy. It said,
    "I read your latest post as I'm locked in an epic potty training battle with (son). I kinda wish I were dead right now."

    That happened to lead to a long and interesting conversation, but when I was writing the blog, and imagining various conditions, somehow being confined in a bathroom with a recalcitrant kid had not entered my mind. None the less, this is just a small episode. It could have been worse. The battery was well charged on the phone, and there was wifi. No beer or pizza though, at least not yet.

    (It all came out well in the end.)

    1. This comment is epic, hahaha! Also, the parenthesized (?) statement at the end has so many multiple meanings - it's amazing. Simple and concise at its best.


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