Happy Birthday: 58 down, 23 to go

On October 20, 2010 I turned 58. Maybe not such a big deal, a birthday like any other birthday but I have been thinking about this age issue more and more as of late. All of us know intellectually that we are not going to live forever but emotionally, I’m not sure that message always hits home. Death is such a long way off in the future at some vague, undefined moment that it just doesn’t seem significant. I guess this may be the difference between turning 58 and turning 28.
I’ve known for some time that I probably wasn’t going to accept getting old too well. Notice what I said; I used the expression "getting old" as opposed to "getting older". It isn’t so much the idea of age itself, I think it’s more a question of quality of life. As long as I remain active and lucid, age doesn’t seem to be a concern. However, I do have to face up to the reality of age in that I’m statistically getting more prone to having a wheel fall off of the wagon. It’s not that I’m living in an unhealthy manner – I think I eat right; I exercise regularly – but with age comes the slow deterioration of our bodies. You just can’t escape that. (see my blog Immortality)

If I take the number 58 and reverse the digits, I get 85. Now at the age of 58, I can argue, we can argue that somebody is still middle aged, depending on how vibrant they are I suppose. But 85? No, that’s "old"; there’s no doubt about that. 85 is no longer middle age. However, for me the big surprise was calculating that 85 is only 27 more than 58. In just 27 years I’ll be 85. In just 27 years I’ll be… ah, old.

[chuckles] But there’s more! I remember looking up the stats on life expectancy and in double checking those numbers; I find that the average life expectancy here in Canada, according to 2008 figures, sits at almost 81 years. 81 is only 23 away from 58. I see that there are different numbers according to province, date born, etc., but I think this points out the general idea I’m trying to bring up. And before any of you say something to try to lessen the seriousness of such numbers to make me feel good, I would remind you that my own father died just 2 days shy of his 80th birthday. Somehow, that now seems to make 80 or 81 a realistic estimate.

In my blog The Start of the 4th Quarter, I talk about friend who brings up a football analogy to describe us soon to be reaching the age of 60. A game of football is divided into quarters and he was seeing from 60 onwards as the 4th and last quarter of the game, our lives. His point was to tell me to do it now, to travel and to do what requires some degree of physical prowess as the chances of something happening to us which may restrict us physically are going up. This is an excellent reason to undertake voyages like Egypt. [chuckles] It may also be a good reason to jump out of an airplane! See my blog Parachuting: If God had meant me to… 

So, what can I fit in for my remaining time? Do I get My 15 Minutes? In my blog A hundred years from now it won’t matter I talk about this common saying which generally means that in a hundred years, I’ll be dead, anybody else who knew me will be dead and everything about me will consequently be forgotten. I discuss that at my age, I no longer have to say a hundred years; I could just as well say 50 years or 40 years. Hmmm, StatsCan seems to indicate that I can now start saying "23 years from now it won’t matter".

Now before you start thinking that I have gone off the morbid deep end let me jump back with a bit of perspective by laughing about all this. Looking at the end may seem depressing but it’s a fact of life. It’s an inevitable fact of life; we can’t escape it. Consequently, what else can you do but laugh about it? What’s truly important is accepting that every ride comes to an end and I must graciously accept the end of my ride and – if you’ll continue to permit me this analogy of some amusement park ride – I must give up my seat for the next person. It’s only fair; it’s only common courtesy.

The question is then, how can I make this a good ride? Egypt? Parachuting? Just what else is on the Bucket List? What else should I put on the Bucket List?

From my blog The Start of the 4th Quarter (June 8, 2010):

Part of my reflecting on soon to be turning 58, on soon to be entering the 4th quarter of my life, is what probably all of us mere mortals think of when looking back: what have I accomplished? What have I accomplished in my life? Anything worthwhile? Anything which will last? I could reflect on that; I could rationalise; I could dwell on the failures; I could dwell on the successes. However, I was reminded the other day by a man who was 73 that "it ain’t over til it’s over."

This quote was made by Yogi Berra and refers to how the Mets were trailing so much during the division finals that it looked like they would be unable to win. Nevertheless, the Mets did rally and went on to win the division title. Hence the idea of the quote referring to only at the very end of the event, does anybody actually know the outcome. The 73 year old I mentioned above was pointing out to this 57 year old that quite simply my life is certainly not over and who knows what else may happen between the age of 57 and death?

It ain’t over til it’s over. Hmmm. China? Bungee jumping? Actually I did look up bungee jumping and there looks to be a great place north of Ottawa called Great Canadian Bungee Jump. Unfortunately, the rules state you can’t wear glasses when you jump. Ha! What’s the point of trying to scare the heck out of myself if I can’t see? In fact, if I can’t see I’m not sure how scared I would be. [laughs] I guess I’ll have to think about that one. In the meantime, I’m got the photographic evidence of my skydiving so I’ve got permanent bragging rights to that!

For a lark, I just called up Google and typed in "I’m depressed about getting old" and guess what? On the very first page of search results, I see these entries: "I’m 20 and I’m scared of getting old", "I’m 14 and I’m depressed about getting older" and "I’m a teenager, but I feel like I’m getting old". Excuse me, but what the heck? – Finally I found one entry written by a 51 year old who turns out to be a woman and who is probably going through menopause (not said by me but by another commentator) and who is advised to look out for depression. Ah, I suppose we all need to look out for depression.

Well, that was an eye opening Google search. I guess not everybody is taking this getting old stuff with equanimity. Now this reminds me of the sun coming up in the morning scenario. To explain: We can’t control whether or not the sun comes up in the morning. We may want to change this but we can’t; it is completely out of our control. However, we can control how we feel about it. If we can accept that the sun is going to come up in the morning; we can move on and focus on other things. But if we get stuck on the sun coming up, if we can’t let it go, the result is that we get frustrated and possibly angry. And since we can’t change whether the sun comes up, we have let ourselves in for a grave disappointment. We may be angry at first but sooner or later we are going to get depressed about not being able to do anything about it. It is only by "letting go", accepting it then moving on that we truly come to terms with the sun coming up and make peace with that which is outside of our control. Acceptance of what we can’t control is freedom.

Of course, the sun coming up is an obvious example of something we can’t control. In reality, there are situations where the distinction between having control and not having control is subtle or even difficult to figure out. If I do actually have control, I should continue because I may be able to affect the change I want or need. If I don’t have control, I’m going to be wasting my time and frustrating myself. This can be the hardest part of the issue, figuring out whether we have control or not. Nevertheless, the premise remains: acceptance of what we can’t control is freedom.

I am inevitably going to grow old. Yep, that’s a sun coming up in the morning scenario. My job sucks; my boss sucks; my company sucks. Well, that one is up for grabs. It could be something you can change by finding another job but there may be other factors which come into play: the job pays too well to give up; the job is close to where you live; your pension is fantastic; you get to steal all the pencils you will ever need. In that case, we come back to acceptance of what you can’t control. Don’t worry, be happy.

[sigh] 59 here I come!

Click HERE to read more from William Belle

2010-10-22

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