“Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. died today at the age of ninety. The exact cause of death has not been determined.” --radio news broadcast, May 7, 2000
"The consequent improvement in health and increase of longevity is one of the most remarkable and admirable characteristics of our age. Even if science had done nothing else for human happiness, it would deserve our gratitude on this account.” --Bertrand Russell
I was just reading a blog post where the author wrote about the sensitivity people have to their aging. I remember two references I made in the past year to women who died in their thirty-ninth year of life. Perhaps this sensitivity is bizarre, especially at a time when octogenarians receive little note for their longevity. But, shouldn't someone die in their seventies, we still speak of their relatively long life. We do not wonder why they died.
Why do some people feel insecure when pondering their movement into their late twenties, their thirties, or their fortieth birthday? Why does a book about the last third of life shake up someone in their sixties? The presumption, if optimistic, is one that the receiver of the book will live to ninety. I think that is most ambitious, even if the recipient is forced, somehow to accept, or face his own mortality for the first time in a while.
“I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”-- Woody Allen
I write this, maybe because at thirty-eight, I have many thoughts on this subject. I mean, after having all this time available, I tend to ask how I account for the last thirty-eight years. It is why I am back in school. It is why I am back with my doctors. It is why I am reading more about positive attitudes, and taking more positive actions. This is why I am learning how, through my inactivity alone, I have lost considerable muscle mass since this time, last year.
Reading that blog post challenged me. Do people feel insecure because they are sad about being older? Do they mourn the loss of physical agility, of physical beauty, of lost business opportunities, or is this about the reaper? I laugh when I hear stories of people's lives, and when interviewed, almost all of them answer the interviewer's stock question with an erroneous claim that could they go back in life and do something over they “would not change a thing.” Am I alone in thinking this is patent bullshit?
Maybe we are not creative. Maybe we are so lost in imagination, or so distrusting of our judgment, that we deny that maybe one or more of the disasters in our life would have been best left undone. Perhaps the idea -that we could avert, divert, or redirect our actions and make a better path for ourselves- is so threatening we dare not admit it to the man with the camera. To make such an admission could open a door where we would have to admit some mistake long forgotten, a mistake that caused more pain than it solved.
Of course, allowing myself the fancy of giving a positive answer to the question would show how honest I can be. This is a moment of truth. It is not like any man will catch me off guard. What would I say if I can say it? How much of my underbelly would I dare show?
“Well, Barbara, I always thought not getting my teeth capped was a major mistake. It is hard to admit this in front of you. I believe that was the worst decision of my life.”