On my next birthday I’ll turn 60 and there will be no more denials about reaching the backstretch of life. I’ll be approaching the final chapters of a book that is about to shift gears and unleash a whole new glossary of terms – Medicare, Medicaid, Medi-Cal, Social Security, COLA’s, Last Will and Testament, CalPERS, CalSTRS, Final Expenses, and–of course–the dreaded R-word. (Please note that I kept Alex Trebek and Wilford Brimley out of it.)
Some people welcome retirement. Some have been looking forward to it for their entire working lives. Not me. I told someone recently that when I retire I would likely be doing the same things I do now – reading, writing, being a smart-ass. Might as well get paid for it. If I have any control over future events I would like to work at least another 10 years. I’ll be happy to re-assess everything at age 70. At the moment the prospect of retirement feels a little like death to me. I’d like to push them both back a ways.
A cold reality about this stage of life is the departure of people close to you. It builds until your time comes, I suppose. I haven’t had too much experience with death yet – I’ve lost my grandparents, my father and several close friends. But I certainly know it’s coming. We all know it’s coming.
One of the questions we probably all dwell on is ‘when?’ How old will we be? I asked a Ouija Board that question when I was just a kid – maybe 10 years old. I asked when I would die and it told me “50.” Naturally, I was curious and a little frightened in 2008/2009–the year I was 50–but the board must have meant something else, or nothing at all, because it’s a toy. But how the hell did the pointer move?
As you probably know, actuaries have turned analyses of lifespans into a robust industry called life insurance. But actuarial tables are widely used in a number of areas to assess risk and uncertainty. The Social Security Administration maintains actuarial tables that tell me my current life expectancy is 81 years, which still doesn’t make any sense of my Ouija Board experience. If I make it to 70 my life expectancy jumps to 84, and if I somehow make it to 86 my life expectancy would become 91, which means I would be scheduled to die in 2050 – aha!
There is some comfort in that information – the actuarial tables, I mean. They say I’m supposed to live quite a bit longer. But we all understand it’s a mere statistic, a projection that has no real bearing on life; no meaning when it comes to health or random occurrences. My heart could explode tomorrow, or I could be run over by a Google robocar while trying to cross the street. Nothing, of course, is certain. A close friend who died just before Christmas was my same age–59–and passed away in his sleep after a lengthy illness. It serves as a poignant reminder that while tomorrow always comes, it certainly didn’t for him, and the day will come when it won’t for you and me.
This friend and I had several discussions about the big questions. Is there a God? Is there an afterlife? He wasn’t a religious man and, I must say, neither am I. But he was somewhat aggressively in-league with Athieism (there is no God, period), while I am more agnostic – I don’t believe there’s a God or afterlife but at some level I hope I’m wrong. One thing is for sure: he now knows the answer, or he doesn’t.
So I guess we’ve now reached a point where I’m supposed to explain what this piece means and try to tie it all together in a nice bow. I’m not sure that’s going to happen. When it comes down to it I really only know a couple of things – 60 years is a long time but not nearly long enough; and life really does go by in a flash.