Post 8

Expiry Date:
Reflections on the Unpredictability of our Lifespan

I suspect that most healthy people assume they’ve got a decent amount of time left to live. If they’re under 30, then they figure on another 50 years, give or take, and from their perspective, well, that’s forever.

Even people over that age don’t do the math very often, if at all. Do they say, “I’m 55 years old; that gives me about 20 years more”? Seinfeld says that everyone should be allowed to drive their age; if you’re 30 you can drive only 30 miles per hour, but if you’re 80 you should be allowed to go 80 because, after all, you’re pretty short on time! In that world, everyone spends a lot of time thinking about their age and how much time they have left.

If people do pause to do the calculations, they don’t do them the way the insurance companies do – instead, they’ll focus on something like the fact they eat well / never get sick / had a great check-up last year, or the fact that their mother lived to a ripe old age.

We hear stories of the young person who was killed in a car accident, the other person who succumbed to cancer, and another who was diagnosed with the rare fatal illness, but it still does not penetrate into our day-to-day consciousness to be grateful for the gift of time and to be aware of the fragility of life. We aren’t amazed every morning that we’ve been given another day to live, and we aren’t thankful for it. Most of us just assume that we’re going to be here tomorrow and that those we love will be around as well.

It’s something we seem to prefer not to think about at all, and it’s only at certain times, such as during an illness or before taking a long trip, that the thought comes, unbidden, into our consciousness.

We may even be aware that so-and-so is praying fervently to fight their dangerous illness (and we’ll rightly pray for them too), but if we’re healthy, we never think to bring the issue of the length of our own life into prayer. It’s as if we subconsciously think that we get by on our own steam, whereas that person over there needs to depend on the will of God.

But of course, none of us is getting by on our own steam. We’re all, in fact, at risk, and we’re all kept alive for an unknown amount of time by God’s unfathomable will. Who has a guarantee of a ‘normal’ number of days?

I’m sure it’s good that we don’t know how much time we have left on this earth, and I’m sure it’s good that we know our own age as time elapsed since birth (some products are marked with the date of production) instead of the time remaining until death (most products are marked with the approximate date of expiration).

(Imagine such a world — it’d be weird enough if we had an estimated age, but even weirder would be knowing the actual amount of time we all had left! You would see a middle-aged person walking around with the number 6, meaning 6 years left, and next to him would be an elderly lady with the number 20, showing 20 years left. I suppose we’d get used to it, but imagine — in this world, you could easily come across a child walking around with the number 3, showing 3 years left!)

But anyway, wouldn’t it be good, once in a while, to do some guesstimates? After all, even though the amount of time is just a guess, it would be a positive act to put our mind to it, and admit that we really and truly don’t know. At the same time, we’d also notice that the ‘best case scenario’ of living to 115 still doesn’t leave an infinite number of years for us to live.  Perhaps that act of life-math would be enough to stir us out of our complacency and make us grateful for each gift of a day.